Answers lacking on cap and trade

Rik Dalvit/For the Capital Press


The U.S. Department of Agriculture and its current secretary, Tom Vilsack, seem to be in denial about current legislation before Congress aimed at curbing atmospheric carbon emissions in the name of lessening the impact of global climate change.

Not only that, but some major news outlets, including the New York Times, are playing along with the USDA game of issuing nice statements without significant research to support the conclusions.

That's tough stuff for us to say as a newspaper serving producers. But we said it in late July after the agency issued a 13-page analysis of HR2454, the climate bill that passed the House and awaits action by the Senate.

Vilsack in July told the Senate Agriculture Committee that the nation's farmers as a whole will make more money than they lose as a result of the legislation.

The key element of HR2454, and of companion Senate bills, is the notion of charging carbon emitters and sponsoring a carbon-trading system. Smokestack and oil refinery emission controls, proponents reason, will cap carbon escaping to the atmosphere, slowing the rise of air temperatures.

That, anyway, is the theory. In addition, it will drive up the cost of motor vehicle fuel, fertilizer and electrical energy. All these are huge expenses for farmers and woodland managers and for the truckers who make the distribution system work.

Last week, the secretary had his chance to update that flimsy July report from USDA's Economic Research Service. The agency's chief economist, Joseph Glauber, delivered it in a telephone briefing for news reporters Dec. 2 and in testimony before the House Agriculture Committee.

The New York Times, covering the Dec. 2 briefing, said statements were based on a "new analysis."

Our Wes Sander, who covered the same event, correctly reported the secretary admitting that some agricultural producers may well lose more than they gain. There's no "new analysis" unless you count the 30 pages of testimony Glauber delivered last week as his opening statement. Data are still grounded in cost estimates for the big program crops, such as soybeans and wheat. Other data uses ERS farm expense economic models.

Want to take a guess what they show? Total costs go up for all classes of farms.

To get at long-term impact on fuel and energy costs, Glauber relies on a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency economic model. It shows that the impact of HR2454 in 30 years will have driven the price of farm-use fuel up 9.3 percent from current levels. Fertilizer prices will be up 17.6 percent. Net farm income nationally could be down $1.72 billion. If the full emission reduction scheme of cap and trade comes into force, the high side is a $4.9 billion negative impact on net farm income.

We think Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., ranking Republican on the ag committee, hit the nail on the head.

"The conclusions of all the studies remain the same, that cap and trade has the potential to devastate the agriculture community with higher energy prices," he said after hearing the USDA economist.

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