Posted: March 31st 2009
From the Sioux Falls Argus Leader:
Want to create a big stink? Tell South Dakota farmers you're going to charge them extra because their livestock emit noxious gas.
It's called a "cow tax," and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., wants to remove any possibility - no matter how remote - that the federal government could impose such a fee. He has teamed up with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on a measure that would prevent the government from ever doing so.
The issue first flared up last summer when the Environmental Protection Agency asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to respond to preliminary efforts to regulate greenhouse gas. The Agriculture Department wondered whether those efforts should include regulation of methane gas from livestock.
Thune said such regulation would require farmers to purchase expensive permits, dubbed a "cow tax": $175 per dairy cow, $87.50 per beef cow and $20 per hog. He estimates it would cost South Dakota farmers $367 million.
"The Clean Air Act is designed to get at smokestack industries (and) emissions by automobiles. It shouldn't be targeted at livestock," he told reporters last week. "That kind of a fee will absolutely devastate our state's largest industry. We want to make sure that never happens."
But just the specter of a fee has farmers fuming.
"People in the dairy business are losing money. People in the beef cow industry are losing money hand over fist. Hog and chicken (operations) are spilling red ink," said Todd Mortenson, president of the South Dakota Cattlemen's Association. "The last thing we need to do is pass another tax on them. It's like kicking them when they're down."
For Mortenson, a rancher from Hayes with about 500 head of cattle, such a fee would cost more than $40,000.
Jeff Smeenk, a rancher from Newell, said such a fee would drive him out of business because he would have to pony up about $22,000 for his herd of about 250 cattle. With so much on the line, he's glad Thune put a bill in to stop something, even if it's being dismissed as far-fetched.
"If the EPA can dream something up, they can enact it," Smeenk said.