Unknown Economic Effects of Greenhouse Gas Regulation on Agriculture May be Forestalled

By: Anthony Cash, Staff Member

The Southwest Farm Press recently reported that the American Farm Bureau Federation ("AFBF") voted at their annual meeting to oppose "cap and trade legislation," such as the American Clean Energy and Security Act ("ACES") that was passed by the House of Representatives on June 26, 2009, and any attempt by the EPA to regulate green house gases under the Clean Air Act. Top Concerns of AFBF Delegates, Southwest Farm Press, Jan. 15, 2010, http://southwestfarmpress.com/news/afbf-concerns-0115/ (last visited Jan. 21, 2010). However, commentators have pointed out that the economic impact of ACES or any greenhouse gas regulation on farmers is widely contested, with the AFBF estimating income losses to farmers at $5 Billion by 2020 and Iowa State's Center for Agricultural and Rural Development arguing that there will be very little impact to farmers. USDA Climate Bill Analysis: Ag Gains, Southwest Farm Press, Jan. 15, 2010, http://southwestfarmpress.com/legislative/laws-column-0118/ (last visited Jan. 21 2010).

With such widely varying economic analysis, it is difficult for lay persons to understand exactly what impact such legislation would have on agriculture, generally, and in the state of Kentucky, specifically. Clearly, more public debate is needed on the issue to fully vet the claims proffered by various groups. However, such a debate cannot fully occur if the Environmental Protection Agency succeeds in its attempts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions through the powers granted to it under the Clean Air Act. This action by the EPA follows from the Supreme Court case of Massachusetts v. EPA, in which Justice Stevens wrote for a five member majority. Justice Stevens wrote, "In short, EPA has offered no reasoned explanation for its refusal to decide whether greenhouse gases cause or contribute to climate change." Massachusetts v. Envtl. Prot. Agency, 549 U.S. 497, 534 (2007).

As James Madison, speaking of the importance of the Senate in Federalist No. 63, articulated "[T]here are particular moments in public affairs . . . when the people may call for measures which they themselves will afterwards be most ready to lament and condemn. In these critical moments, how salutary will be the interference of some temperate and respectable body of citizens[.]" The Federalist No. 63 (James Madison). Thus, the recent renewal of attempts by Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to pass legislation that would foreclose the EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gases, regardless of the motivations behind the legislation or the wisdom of a policy regulating greenhouse gas emissions, may enable a more meaningful public discourse on the possible economic effects of such legislation on agriculture in the United States and fulfill an important function of the United States' bicameral system of legislature.