The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) is extremely concerned about the potential impacts that the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent greenhouse gas (GHG) ruling could have on agriculture operations. EPA’s decision, announced on Monday, claims that GHG emissions are an endangerment to public health and the environment. This sets the stage for greenhouse regulation under the Clean Air Act (CAA) and would give the EPA unprecedented control over every sector of the U.S. economy.

“It’s premature to issue this kind of finding, especially given the recent controversy surrounding the scientific validity of alleged human contributions to climate change,” said Tamara Thies, NCBA chief environmental counsel. ”Regulation of greenhouse gases should be based on science, and it should be thoughtfully considered and voted on by Congress through a democratic process, not dictated by the EPA.”

The endangerment finding does not itself regulate GHGs; but unless Congress acts, it sets in motion EPA regulation of GHGs from stationary sources and the setting of new source performance standards for GHGs. On Oct. 27, 2009, EPA proposed a rule designed to regulate GHG emissions from sources that emit 25,000 tons per year or more, instead of the statutory 250 tons per year threshold for pollutants which is included in the Clean Air Act. The extent to which EPA can change statutory permitting requirements, however, is unclear. Only time will tell how our federal courts will address citizen suits to force regulation of all sources that emit GHGs in excess of the statutory thresholds. EPA indicated that it also would be developing an approach to regulate GHGs from hundreds of thousands of small operations, including farms and buildings.

While agricultural sources are currently generally not required to obtain permits for greenhouse gas emissions, regulation of GHGs under the CAA may for the first time trigger such regulation. Given the fact that America currently has over 2,000,000 farms, it would be virtually impossible to permit a majority of them. It would also impose massive regulatory compliance costs on producers, which could force many operations out of business.

“Congress never intended for the Clean Air Act to be used for greenhouse gas regulation,” Thies said. “While the Act has done a good job of cleaning up pollutants, it is not adequately equipped to address global climate change. Any attempts to use it for this purpose would be devastating to U.S. agriculture.”

According to the EPA, in 2007, GHG emissions from the entire agriculture sector represented less than 6% of total U.S. GHG emissions in Tg CO2 Eq. At the same time, land use, land use change, and forestry activities resulted in a net carbon soil sequestration of approximately 17.4% of total U.S. CO2 emissions, or 14.9% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

“Agriculture actually provides a significant net benefit to the climate change equation,” Thies said. “Rather than being subject to overly-burdensome regulations, agriculture should be rewarded for the carbon reductions we provide.”

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