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Danger, Danger, EPA Says

Published on: 14:36PM Dec 08, 2009

Those old enough to remember the 1960s TV show Lost in Space will recognize the phrase “Danger, Danger, Will Robinson,” which would be uttered by the Robot when his alarm bells went off.

We had a similar signal sent Monday by the Environmental Protection Agency, when Administrator Lisa Jackson set off the greenhouse gas alarms.  Jackson announced an “endangerment finding,” which holds that greenhouse gases pose a serious threat to public health and the environment.  As a result of that finding, the EPA is moving ahead with plans to regulate significant point sources of carbon dioxide and methane – a development that may affect farms and feedlots, depending on how wide a net they cast.

Farm policy organizations like NMPF had fully expected this day to arrive; the process has been snowballing down the proverbial hill for quite some time.  In its defense, the EPA is bound by a Supreme Court ruling to do something to mitigate the flow of greenhouse gases.  The expectation was that Congress would enact a law to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, similar to the cap and trade bill that passed the House of Representatives earlier this year, or the somewhat different bill that the Senate took up this fall.  But the prospects of a final cap and trade bill getting all the way through Congress, and reaching the President’s desk, are far from certain.

So the endangerment klaxon this week is the other shoe dropping.  If Congress doesn’t do something, the regulators at the EPA will.  As of right now, EPA says any source emitting fewer than 25,000 tons of carbon a year will not be covered.  NMPF estimates that figure represents a dairy farm of 3200 cows, of which there are maybe a couple hundred in the U.S. at most.  But the reporting and mitigation requirements may change as the regulations gush forth like a melting glacier. 

As President Obama’s presence in Copenhagen this month demonstrates, this administration intends to do something about greenhouse gases if the Congress does not.  Farmers and consumers have a great deal riding on how it plays out.