How Does Agriculture Fair Under EPA Climate Plan?

Groups say farmers could either face higher electricity, fertilizer costs or benefit from offering solutions under proposed carbon emissions plan.

This week the Environmental Protection Agency announced its Clean Power Plan proposal to cut carbon pollution from the nation’s existing coal-fired power plants by 30% by 2030. EPA said the plan will be implemented through a state-federal partnership under which states identify a path forward using either current or new electricity production and pollution control policies to meet the goals of the proposed program.

There’s no question that farmers and rural America have experienced more extreme weather events in recent years ranging from floods, droughts and early-season blizzards. Johnathan Hladik, senior advocate for energy policy at the Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs, said from 2011 to 2013 alone, damages from extreme weather events have exceeded a cost of $200 billion.

The question is whether actions can make a difference.

Sen. Mike Johanns (R., Neb.) isn’t convinced it will and cosponsored S. 163 and S. 1324 that would prevent EPA from moving forward with this rule.

“We can all agree that clean air is worth fighting for, but the President seems to imagine a bubble over the U.S., as if pollution from other countries that generate more and regulate less, don’t reach our environment. This reckless and ineffective rule will have little or no impact on our environment, yet take a devastating toll on our economy.”

With global carbon emissions expected to rise by 31% between 2011 and 2030, a new Energy Institute’s analysis found that EPA regulations would reduce this overall emissions level by just 1.8 percentage points.

The same analysis also predicts the rule would cost as much as $50 billion and nearly 225,000 jobs annually.

The American Farm Bureau Federation said under the plan farmers would face not just higher prices for electricity due to the higher concentration of coal facilities in the Midwest, but any energy-related input such as fertilizer. Rural electric cooperatives that rely on old coal plants for cheap electricity would be especially hard hit.

National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson said rural electric cooperatives provide power to 42 million Americans and account for 12% of the total U.S. electricity sales. “Any regulatory action must consider the impact on rural electrics and the communities they serve,” he said.  

Illinois Corn Growers Association president Gary Hudson called the EPA’s plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions while still looking to reduce the Renewable Fuels Standard as “double-talk.” He said EPA's plan to reduce the volumetric requirements for corn-based ethanol from 14.1 billion gallons to 13.01 billion gallons is the equivalent of pumping 4.25 million metric tons of greenhouse gas – or an additional 900,000 cars - right back into the atmosphere.

Johnson said the RFS is the most important policy to address climate change and called on EPA to withdraw its “misguided proposal to undermine the RFS, returning to the 2014 biofuels targets to its statutory levels.”

Hladik said switching to low-carbon technologies has the potential to create thousands of new jobs in the small towns and rural areas that are the home to the nation’s most abundant supplies of renewable resources.

If the Administration is going to force stricter emissions standards, agriculture can hopefully find some ways to offset estimated increased costs. Johnson called on Congress and the administration to “engage the agricultural community in reducing carbon pollution by creating voluntary incentives for sequestering carbon and implementing conservation strategies that preserve our limited soil and water resources.”

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