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EPA Permitting Could be the Straw that Breaks the Dairy Cow’s Back

May 10, 2010

EPA Permitting Could be the Straw that Breaks the Dairy Cow’s Back

Wes and Bill Kerr at their Dairy

By Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau

The Kerr family in Arizona love what they do. They’re in the dairy business. In fact, they’ve been in it for 83 years if you count the two generations of Kerr in dairy. But their family business might go away if the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) moves forward with regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

EPA’s recent actions under the structure of the Clean Air Act mean that agriculture businesses, including dairies, could be required to obtain a permit to emit greenhouse gases. To comply with greenhouse gas regulations, annual permit costs covering a myriad of businesses would be regulated. Based on a carefully assessed evaluation by the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), estimates put dairy permit fees at about $175 per cow per year. Such expense ultimately put too many farm families out of business, if not all of them.

For the Kerr’s 1,000-cow dairy the cost is $175,000 annually. “This basically puts us out of business,” says Bill Kerr, owner in the dairy.

Efforts are under way in Congress and legal challenges undertaken by state governments are offering corrective paths to undo a very real disaster headed toward farm and ranch families in Arizona and across the country.

In Arizona alone, some farmers and ranchers are estimating that dozens of large animal operations will fall under the permit requirements. This is despite EPA’s original assertion that very few agriculture operations would be impacted.

“We believe the EPA’s greenhouse gas requirements will lead to costly and ineffective regulations on America’s farmers and ranchers,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman. “We vehemently oppose regulating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act (CAA) because we believe it will require livestock producers and other agricultural operations to obtain costly and time-consuming permits as conditions to continue farming.”

In Arizona, the Grand Canyon State Electric Cooperative Association says in a white paper, “Using the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases would be like using a hammer to tighten a screw ─ it may be theoretically possible to do it, but the hammer is not the right tool for the job. Likewise, the CAA is not the right tool for the job of addressing climate change. Congress and the White House must step in to prevent the use of an inappropriate tool to force emission reductions from stationary sources.”

Grand Canyon State Cooperative further explains that the Clean Air Act was enacted to control pollutants on a local and regional scale that cause direct health effects. The act is ill-suited for controlling greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide, for stationary sources like power plants and animal agriculture operations.

Dan Thelander, cotton farmer in Pinal County and someone tracking the issue, believes the endangerment finding has consequences for the economy as a whole. “It’s going to drive up the cost of everything and much more dramatically than some expert estimates have stated,” says Thelander. “Some of their cost estimates are bare bones costs and they’re not really factoring in the various costs that are going to reverberate throughout our entire economy right down to the individual consumer.”

Stallman said Farm Bureau strongly backs a Senate resolution to disapprove of EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations under the Clean Air Act by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), and a companion measure in the House introduced by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.). Stallman and others also welcomed legal challenges from many state government officials who have stepped forward to express their valid objection.

According to Stallman, the Agriculture Department warned in 2008 that if greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural operations are regulated under the Clean Air Act, numerous farms that currently are not subject to a costly and time-consuming permitting process would, for the first time, become covered entities.

“We are concerned that the EPA decision leads us down a direct path that fulfills USDA’s prediction,” said Stallman. “If Congress does not follow the lead of Sens. Murkowski, Lincoln and Reps. Peterson and Skelton, farmers will fall within the scope of regulation and struggle to cope with ineffective greenhouse gas regulations that are not economically sustainable. We urge Congress to take action before the regulations take effect next January.”

In April, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce petitioned EPA to reconsider its finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health and should be regulated under the Clean Air Act.

“The Chamber believes that the right way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere is through bipartisan legislation and comprehensive international agreement. The wrong way is through the EPA’s endangerment finding, which triggers Clean Air Act regulation,” said Steven Law, the Chamber’s chief legal officer and general counsel.

Law added, “According to the EPA, regulating greenhouse gases under the act would subject an additional 6 million small facilities—including hospitals, small farms, restaurants, hotels and office buildings —to an onerous and costly permitting process. The EPA has admitted that such an unprecedented regulatory expansion would ‘paralyze’ and ‘overwhelm’ permitting authorities, leaving businesses waiting months or even years to get the permits they need to keep operating. This admission by the EPA undermines the basis for the endangerment finding, and justifies reopening the process.”

For the Kerr Family and other Arizona agriculture families the toll of this regulation is just too great. For you and me, as Arizonans, it means less availability of nutritious and wholesome milk ─ which also mean higher prices.

So, the big question is, at what cost do we regulate greenhouse gases? If the cost to regulate rises to the level of putting Arizona farm, dairy and ranch families out of business, then we’ve got our priories wrong.

Editor’s note: Much of this article originally appeared in the May 2010 issue of Arizona Agriculture. Murphree interviewed the Kerr family to understand the impact of EPA’s potential regulation on their Dairy for Fill Your Plate.

Related Article:

Horror Flicks Can’t Hold a Candle to Greenhouse Gas Regulations

One Comment leave one →
  1. LynceteteTwen permalink
    May 16, 2010 9:43 am

    Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!


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