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A Voice from Fly-Over Country
December 30, 2008

Cow Tax Could Destroy Livestock Industry:
EPA Says Cattle Pollute Air

by Robert L. Hale

Will we be eating beef or tofu in the future?

Federal rules and regulations always have broad impacts and rarely ever go away. If rules and regulations make sense, are cost effective, and address real problems, then they promote the general welfare. When they do not meet these criteria, the general welfare suffers.

In the case of imprudent and counterproductive rules and regulations, some people gain. For example, the “new jobs” created to implement these measures provide work for some. And “special interests,” whose agenda is furthered, feel vindicated. Everyone else ends up footing the bill and receiving no benefit or are harmed. Not only are compliance costs imposed; often, goods or services that would otherwise enter the stream of commerce never do.

A recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal illustrates an imprudent and counterproductive idea. A 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling concluded that greenhouse gases emitted by the “belching and flatulence” of livestock constitute air pollution. The EPA, in response, is moving to solve this “air pollution” problem in classic bureaucratic style: it has proposed fees and would create a new bureaucracy while not actually addressing the alleged problem. After its proposal, a hailstorm of protest followed and it is now denying it was serious about the plan.

Under the plan, cattle operations with 50 or more cows would pay an annual tax of $87.50 per cow; for dairy operations with 25 or more cows the annual tax would per cow is $175; and for hog operations with 200 or more the annual tax per hog would be $20. Based on 2002 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) animal inventories, the EPA plan would impose $10.17 BILLION in fees on cattle, dairy, and hog producers.

The EPA claims its proposal only affects operations that emit 100 tons of carbon or more. There are no studies showing that the emissions cause any measurable harm to anyone. Spokesmen for the cattle, dairy, and hog industries claim the measure would drive thousands of producers out of business.

Bruce Friedrich, a spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, believes it “makes perfect sense if you are looking for ways to cut down on meat consumption and recoup environmental losses.” Interestingly, no one explains how the proposal, if implemented, would “recoup environmental losses.”

The EPA says the “fees” will cover the cost of issuing a permit for the livestock operation. They will also add more than $10 billion to American’s food bill. This huge cost, however, is just the beginning of the impact of such a plan. The likely outcome would be elimination of thousands of producers. Imports would replace the lost production. As with oil, America would become dependent on foreign suppliers of beef, pork, ham, bacon, and dairy products.

Of course, if there were measurable benefits, such a scheme may arguably make sense. However, the proposal is not driven by any identified actual harm. The EPA is proposing a drastic solution to a non-existent problem. The agency is now running from its proposal.

This is classic “special-interest” legislation. It has nothing to do the promotion of the general welfare, which is the responsibility of government. Instead, it has to do with promoting quasi-religious adherence to creating government jobs, increasing the revenue stream for government, and promoting elitist ideologies.

The EPA’s proposal would not reduce carbon emissions. An EPA spokesman said, “The only means of controlling such emissions would be through limiting production, which would result in decreased food supply and radical changes in human diets.” The EPA and those behind this proposal know exactly what it will do. It has nothing to do with carbon emissions and everything to do with imposing a radical ideology on the American people, whether they want it or not. Carbon emissions are simply the pretense to accomplish this goal.

In typical agency speak, EPA spokesman Dale Kemery denied that this is a cow tax. He called the rules notice an “in-depth exploration of the opportunities and challenges that the application of (Clean Air Act) authorities would present.”

If EPA had no intention of implementing the plan, why was the plan proposed? It was proposed because it is the opening move on the way to destroying an industry and changing America’s eating habits. This is one more example of how special interests force changes, whether we want them or not. This is nothing new. Wetland preservation and seatbelt laws began the same way.

Prepare for tofu and empty pastures.

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A Voice from Fly-Over Country is copyright (c) 2008 by Robert L. Hale and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved.

Robert L. Hale received his J.D. in law from Gonzaga University Law School in Spokane, Washington. He is founder and director of a non-profit public interest law firm. For more than three decades he has been involved in drafting proposed laws and counseling elected officials in ways to remove burdensome and unnecessary rules and regulations.

See a complete biographical sketch.

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