Friday, February 19, 2010

Gravy trains and "cow taxes"

Much has been made by Rep. Gibson and the Farm Bureau in recent debates of HJR 12 (Climate Change Joint Resolution) about conspiracies, gravy trains, misrepresented data, and the alleged "cow tax." During the House floor debate Rep. Gibson argued that a proposed "cow tax," targeted at belching or "foofing" (as my nieces say) cows would result in loses, estimated by the National Farm Bureau at "67.7 million dollars [for beef cattle], $87.50 per head on the dairy side. $175 per head/per year on an animal that might emit CO2." Gibson went on to ask, "Now can you imagine what that endangerment finding [of CO2] might do to American agriculture and in turn to our ability to put food and fiber on the table and our ability as consumers to afford it and eat it?"

During the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee meeting last friday, Sterling Brown of the Utah Farm Bureau, cited similar numbers. The "EPA's cow tax cost to Utah farm and ranch families, if in fact the proposal goes through," he argued, would result in the following costs: "beef cattle at $87.50/head times the number of head in Utah would equal just over $67 million. Dairy at $175/head, almost $15 million for a grand total of $103 million dollars resulting to Utah's producers."** He then estimated the total net farm income in Utah at $196 million. Then as Sterling Brown does the math, "$196 million minus $104 million, which is the EPA cow tax, resulting in $92 million. EPA's quote 'cow tax' takes over half of the net farm income here in Utah."

Scary right? Devastating even. I agree with Gibson and Brown. Family farms and ranches could certainly not bear the burden of a "cow tax" and would be forced out of business. My brother is a cowboy, an honest-to-God, ride-his-horse-every-day-fixing-fence-and-caring-for-cattle cowboy. I know some of the struggles of good, hard-working families involved in agricultural and ranching, and with Gibson and Brown, I oppose any type of "cow tax" on family farms and ranches.

But this is a non-issue, because the EPA is not proposing a "cow tax." The EPA has consistently and repeatedly asserted that they are not pursuing, nor do they have the authority to enforce, a "cow tax." You can read their statement at In fact, as was reported in Scientific America, last fall the federal House and Senate appropriations committees amended appropriations for the EPA that specifically forbids them from requiring agricultural operations to acquire Clean Air Act operating permits for the biological emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other green house gases.

So this begs the question, why is the Farm Bureau making such a big deal about the "cow tax?" Well remember the alleged gravy trains Gibson made reference to in the original language of HJR12? Seems the biggest gravy train here may have the Farm Bureau in the conductor's seat. If you listen closely to both Gibson and Brown's testimony you'll notice that they both hedge a little and use qualifiers when they reference the "cow tax." But that doesn't stop either of them from rolling out the made up figures about how much this would cost the state in terms of lost agricultural revenues or talking about it as if it's inevitable. As observed, "This one is a case study in how lobbyists sometimes justify their own salaries by loudly fighting against hypothetical but nonexistent threats from Washington." Check for a fuller story on how the Farm Bureau created hype about a tax that never was.

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