‘Cow tax’ may or may not be proposed by EPA

Published 7:14 pm Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Frenzied speculation last week that a government agency was about to saddle American farmers with a “cow tax” to regulate greenhouse gas emissions was unwarranted and extremely irresponsible, said the head of the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association.

“Cattle producers should stop a minute and consider the facts in this case,” said ACA Executive Vice-President Dr. Billy Powell. “Our stance has always been to base our policies on science and documented facts…neither of which seems to be the basis for this scare over a ‘cow tax.’”

So, what’s the stink about?

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On Nov. 25, Alabama Agriculture & Industries Commissioner Ron Sparks caught word the Environmental Protection Agency was preparing a proposal that included taxing farmers $87.50 per beef cow, $175 per dairy cow, and $20 for each hog annually. In a released statement, Sparks said the tax would affect any farm or ranch with more than 25 dairy cows, 50 beef cattle or 200 hogs by requiring permit fees based on tonnage of greenhouse gas emissions.

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson requested public comment and Sparks called on farmers to contact the agency directly, either by letter, email or on the EPA’s website.

Edward T. Schafer, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, denounced the regulation and said it would cripple the nation’s agriculture industry, especially small farmers.

“These operations simply could not bear the regulatory compliance costs that would be involved,” he said.

Even U.S. Senator Richard Shelby penned a letter to Johnson disparaging the proposal.

“Agriculture is Alabama’s largest industry and it is critical that the EPA consider the economic and regulatory impact that any proposed rule aimed at the agriculture industry will have on our state’s producers,” said Shelby.

Ralph Ricks, head of the Butler County Cattlemen’s Association, said he received Sparks’ request and attempted to voice his concerns on the EPA’s website.

“But in typical government fashion they don’t make anything easy, so after 45 minutes of trying I gave up,” said Ricks.

Butler County cattle farmers could not handle the taxes as reported by Sparks’ office, said Ricks.

“It would kill us,” he said.

In a statement on Monday, the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association said those figures originated in a Nov. 20 press release from the American Farm Bureau and were from a non-sourced citation by the Department of Agriculture.

“Following an in-depth search, this seems to be the only record of that figure,” stated the ACA. “Nowhere in EPA’s official submittal to the Federal Register was that figure found.”

Sparks said there was no overreaction on the part of his office.

“When the federal government makes such a request, farmers are right to react,” said Sparks. “With such ill-conceived ideas coming out of a regulatory agency and with such a small window of opportunity for comments from farmers, someone has to keep their eye on these issues.”

Ricks said he didn’t understand why the government was just now becoming concerned over greenhouse gas emissions from cattle.

“Over 200 years ago we had maybe 20 to 30 million buffalo and greenhouse gas wasn’t a problem, but with 10 or 15 million cattle, that’s a problem?” he stated.

Sparks cited the matter as an example of the lack of communication between federal and state governments that has been an ongoing problem for the agriculture industry.