PIERRE — A proposed federal regulation could lead to massive new fees for livestock owners, which local ranchers say could drive them out of business, but the proposal will probably be blocked by a bipartisan group of legislators led by Sen. John Thune.
The Environmental Protection Agency floated the idea of regulating greenhouse gas emissions last year, both from man-made sources such as factories and automobiles and from livestock.
This regulation, with the potential to require expensive new fees for ranchers, has led to an uproar from livestock producers across the country and spurred Republican Sen. John Thune to create a bill forbidding the EPA from regulating methane produced by animals.
The permits in the proposed idea — which may never be implemented — rise as high as $85 for a beef cow, $175 for a dairy cow and $20 for a pig.
Methane is a greenhouse gas helping to trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere — and in excess quantities, helping to warm the planet, scientists say. According to the EPA, methane is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat. Because of this, efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and slow the pace of global climate change have run up against a cornerstone of South Dakota’s economy: livestock production.
The legal basis for the permits would be the Clean Air Act. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 2008 ruling, declared greenhouse gases are a pollutant under that act, and the federal government has the authority to regulate them.
“We just think this is not what the Clean Air Act should be about,” Thune said. “The Clean Air Act is designed to get at smokestack industries and emissions by automobiles. It shouldn’t be targeted at livestock.”
Thune has attracted a bipartisan group of co-sponsors to his legislation, including Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
“If you put that kind of a fee on top of livestock in South Dakota, it would absolutely devastate our state’s largest industry,” Thune said. “We want to make sure that never happens.”
The American Farm Bureau is supporting the Thune-Schumer bill.
“Our livestock producers are very concerned with the fact that it was even on the EPA’s radar screen,” said Michael Held, CEO of the South Dakota Farm Bureau. “It would be exorbitantly expensive.”
Local ranchers say they can’t afford an $80 per head fee.
“It would put me out of business,” said Ron McQuistion.
“To say the least, I’m against it,” said Mack Wyly. “These cows aren’t making any money right now. They’re probably losing money on today’s prices. You stick another $80 on there and I don’t think anybody would survive.”
Thune said he believes there is enough support to pass his bill forbidding the EPA to regulate livestock emissions.
“I think people sometimes don’t understand and appreciate the impacts that these types of things will have economically in rural areas of the country,” he said. “We’re going to do our best to make sure that they do understand that, and that when they come up with bad ideas like this, they know they’ll face strong bipartisan resistance in the Congress.”