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RSS By: Steve Cornett, Beef Today

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The real “cow tax”

Dec 17, 2008

By Steve Cornett

It looks like the “cow tax” brouhaha was a bit premature, but don’t think there may not be some fire where the smoke seems to have cleared.

The notion of a direct, per head, tax drew plenty of flak from the country. Even Chuck Grassley recognized it as lacking “common sense.” But Obama’s EPA doesn’t have to do a direct carbon tax on cattle. It has other options to increase the cost of production enough to reduce livestock numbers further.

Carol Browner, expected to be named today to head the new administration’s new policy council that is to coordinate climate, environment and energy issues, was hardly a shrinking violet on environmental issues when she served as head of the Clinton EPA.

As the Wall Street Journal noted in an editorial, she is not likely to follow the Bush Administration’s idea of exempting carbon from the Clean Air Act.

If you visit the Ag Web's "Talk Cattle" discussion board, you’ll see that a lot of cattle producers—and, we’d hope, feed producers as well—reacted negatively to the idea of a cow tax. They rightly note that such a tax would drive many producers out of business.
The question is how effective that argument will be against a Carol Browner armed with Michael Pollan’s ruminations about farm policy. Mr. Pollan, you’ll recall, sees cattle production and beef consumption as problems. Running producers out of business and reducing cow herds is exactly what he and his followers want.
They think cattle are a significant producer of greenhouse gases and they think beef consumption adds to health costs.
There is no indication the Obama group will or won’t adopt a direct “cow tax” to achieve that end, but it won’t take a “cow tax.” It will simply take tougher regulations on manure management. If what has always been defined as a “benefit” in cost-benefit analysis can be redefined as part of the “cost” –and that is exactly what Mr. Pollan and the New York

Times think cattle production is—then the industry-regulator relationship could change drastically.
And when it does, you may wish they had simply imposed a $60 or $100 per head tax upfront. What happens may be much harder on your bottom line. 
It’s time for cattle producers who hope to see their businesses stay in operation long term to get involved in their local and national organizations. All that howling about the cow tax turned heads in Washington. But the next move won’t be so obvious, and it will probably have more PR finesse behind it.
You need professional representation, or there is a chance the Obama administration, through folks like Ms. Browner, will be remembered as the era in which cattle went the way of the sheep industry.

Steve Cornett is editor emeritus at Beef Today. You can reach him via e-mail at

This column is part of the Beef Today Cattle Drive e-newsletter, which is delivered to subscribers biweekly and includes beef industry analysis, timely production information as well as the latest beef headline news. Click here to subscribe.


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EPA Whistleblower Illegally Fired While Carol Browner- Energy Czar Soars Through Transition

Time magazine reported that Carol M. Browner's nomination Monday for the newly-created Energy Czar position, raises embarrassing questions in the Environmental Protection Agency's employee relations history due to Ms. Browner's loss in Coleman-Adebayo v. Carol Browner on charges of discriminating against employees based on sex and race, as well as retaliating against whistleblowers and denying them their civil rights. The announcement was 2 weeks ago just as the successful plaintiff in the case, Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, was illegally fired by the present EPA Administrator, one of Ms. Browner's former assistant administrators.

Time quotes Coleman-Adebayo as saying Administrator Browner "...wasn't at all sympathetic to complaints about civil rights abuses. We were treated like Negroes, to use a polite term. We were put in our place." ? Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, a former EPA employee whose complaints of a "racially toxic" environment there led to the signing of the Notification and Federal Employee Anti-Discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2001. (TIME, February 23, 2001)

"It is very disturbing to me on the heels of my being illegally fired," said Dr. Coleman-Adebayo, "not fired for cause, not fired for performance issues, but because of health concerns ?that the very woman I prevailed against in court is being elevated to a White House decision-level position?what message does this send to others in the Federal government who are considering exposing corruption or discrimination? Should government managers take comfort in the fact that employees can prevail against them in Federal court, Congress can unanimously condemn their leadership and pass a law to stop them, and they still may be tapped for a high level position? How tragic."

Coleman-Adebayo is referred to in Time's reporting as the woman with "a streak of Rosa Parks," for her staunch refusal to look the other way on criminal activities in an international mining operation in South Africa. When she reported retaliation, discrimination and the denial of her civil rights to then-Administrator Browner, Browner refused to intervene. Before Coleman-Adebayo faced a federal jury, she was the target of death threats. A jury verdict found in Coleman-Adebayo's favor, awarding her the largest-ever cash judgement against the Agency. Ms. Browner never took any action against those the case exposed for wrong doing; even after Congress order her to do so. It wasn't until Browner's successor, Christine Todd Whitman?in her first act as EPA Administrator?announced that the verdict in Coleman-Adebayo v. Carol Browner would not be contested, that the agency accepted responsibility in this historic case.

Congress, outraged at the deplorable conditions inside EPA, by unanimous votes in both chambers passed the No FEAR Act, the first civil rights law of the 21st century, with provisions to protect whistleblowers from retaliation and discrimination. The law mandates that the lessons in Coleman-Adebayo v. Carol Browner be required of all Federal employees every 2 years, to help break down the racial barriers exposed in the lawsuit. Dr. Coleman-Adebayo is widely considered to be among but a few standard bearers for the national whistleblower and civil rights movement. Her firing raises troubling questions as to whether this pattern of retaliation will stop under the Obama administration. Whistleblowers around the country are following this case to see if EPA Administrator-designate Lisa Jackson is going to break from the Bush treatment of whistleblowers and reinstate Dr. Coleman-Adebayo.
1:20 PM Dec 18th
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