Ag’s Two Faces In Global Warming Debate

Ionce asked a well-informed acquaintance what the consequences were if he was wrong in his insistence that global warming was simply Al Gore’s revenge for the 2000 presidential election.

“Well,” he replied, “if I’m wrong my grandchildren will curse my name.”

That introspective reply come to mind after the narrow, 219 to 212 U. S. House of Representative’s vote June 26 to approve sweeping climate change legislation that, the New York Times noted, will “transform the way the nation produces and uses energy.”

A funny thing happened on the way to that sausage making, though: Big ag was big time opposed to any climate legislation unless it got a piece of the pork pie during the transformation. The initial bill, pushed by Californian Henry Waxman, contained not one morsel for agriculture.

So House Ag Committee boss Collin Peterson marshalled farm and commodity groups to help him wring major concessions from Waxman and his allies. In the end, most of ag’s biggest wishes were granted and the Peterson amendment – with its rock-solid aggie vote – became part of the Waxman package.

But the hothouse farm vote cooled when the entire bill, with the farm-favouring amendment, came before the entire House. Thirty-one of the Ag Committee’s 46 members – all 18 Repubs and 13 of Peterson’s 27 Dem colleagues – bailed.

Memory fails to recall any other legislative vote when farm forces switched sides, faces and votes with such breathtaking speed.

The lack of GOP votes on the final bill wasn’t a surprise, especially after party leaders cleverly presented the bill’s untested “cap-and-trade” plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions as a big government “cap-and-tax” plan.

Also, the GOP’s oft-ally, the American Farm Bureau Federation, supplied aggies in both political camps two big reasons to oppose the bill by offering little blue sky in its estimated cost of Waxman’s cap-and-trade concept: $5 billion less in farm income by 2020 and nearly three times that smack by 2050.

Prior to the final vote, neither the Congressional Budget Office nor the Environmental Protection Agency had time to estimate what farmers (mostly landowners) could earn under the Peterson conservation and carbon sequestration add-ins.

Robert Young, AFBF’s chief economist who came up with the farm income cost figures, estimates the Peterson amendment could cut his $5-billion-by-2020 hit to farm income by “certainly less than half and more like a quarter.”

So, the net loss to farm income could be $4 billion or so by 2020, he estimates.

But, Young quickly adds, “That’s using EPA’s current numbers. Who can really say what energy will cost in 10 years? The point of the legislation, however, will remain the same: to raise energy prices in the hope of limiting use in order to lower carbon emissions. We simply ask, ‘Is there a better way to reach that goal than ‘cap-and-trade?’”

It’s a fair question, but one that’s been asked – over and over and over – mostly to stall all climate change legislation, believes Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union. NFU, with a three-year-old carbon sequestration project that’s paid nearly 4,000 farmers in 31 states about $10 million, is a strong backer of the House bill.

“The far bigger question when it comes to cost,” offers Johnson, “is ‘What are the increased costs to farmers and ranchers if we do nothing?’”

The answer, as my friend who’s cold to global warming honestly acknowledged, will be known to our – hopefully loving – grandchildren.

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