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An Ag Perspective on Clean Energy

An opinion piece appeared last week in more than one Denver newspaper that attacked Farmers Union for “selling out” agriculture by supporting the amended Clean Energy bill. The piece presents the author’s views and statistics as facts. They are just opinions, not facts, and there are some other facts that should be mentioned as we consider the bill and what it means for agriculture.

Condemning the action by Congress ignores a key fact. The EPA is poised, by order of the Supreme Court, to regulate greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). If a majority in Congress had let the bill disappear into “the shredder,” then farmers could thank its opponents for inviting the EPA to regulate agricultural emissions with no input from agriculture. Thanks to the compromise amendment, we have an opportunity to manage any increased costs to farmers and ranchers. As amended, the bill allows agriculture to have a say in addressing a problem that affects us all.

Farmers Union opposed the bill that came out of Rep. Waxman’s committee because, like so much federal legislation, it failed to take into account the interests and needs of the national community of farmers and ranchers. Through the efforts of Rep. Collin Peterson, Farmers Union, and the National Association of Wheat Growers, the bill was amended to remedy that problem, and we support it because it is the right thing to do. Farmers Union hasn’t sold anyone out, not to the government, not to the boardrooms of corporate agriculture, not to the power companies or partisan political agendas.

A partisan attack group, the Heritage Foundation, tried to alarm consumers and producers with wild estimates of the effect on energy costs. Compelling evidence from a non-partisan entity, the Congressional Budget Office, projects that the costs of electricity, gas and oil will work out to be about $175 per family per year.

What about the cost of sticking our heads in the sand and waiting for problems to go away? That approach doesn’t usually work. Farmers and ranchers, who live agriculture and resource stewardship, understand that there is more to “costs” than dollars on an accounting ledger. Inaction will have serious consequences for the farm, the nation, and the world. If we don’t act, circumstances and consumers will force us to. The Clean Energy bill lets agriculture help solve those problems, rather than bear the brunt for others.

Agriculture has a role to play in addressing those problems. Farmers Union saw to it that this role was reflected in the new bill. Polluting industries will be coming to American farmers for carbon credits to offset their impact on our air and water, using that cap and trade model that got acid rain under control a generation ago. Cap and trade is not nebulous bogeyman; it’s a policy that was endorsed by both Presidential contenders in the 2008 race. Farmers Union has been a leader in creating a carbon credit program that has generated more than $8 million in revenue for farmers and ranchers without government support. With the new cap and trade rules, carbon may well become a major cash crop.

The Clean Energy bill mandates a shift to renewable energy that offers financial benefits to farmers and ranchers. Wind farms will generate electricity for citizens and industry while generating revenue for landowners harvesting the wind. All the forms of renewable energy have the potential to reduce agriculture’s dependence on foreign oil and create new crops for our farmers and ranchers.

Farmers Union recognizes the enormous costs of a petroleum-based agriculture. The average food is shipped 1,500 miles to the consumer, and why is the greatest agriculture nation in the world importing our own food. The emphasis on energy costs will create new markets for local foods produced by small farmers and ranchers. Farmers Union built its history on support for local produce, sustainable farming, and cooperative economies that marry producers to consumer markets.

Addressing America’s energy needs has been a struggle, and we applaud the members of the Colorado delegation in the House who voted for the Clean Energy bill. We are proud of them, and proud of our role in shaping the bill to include agriculture. By being at the bargaining table rather than sulking in the hall, we helped shape a policy that will impact all our lives. Farmers Union improved the energy bill and made our nation’s farmers an active part of our energy future. Our engagement in the process that amended the bill reflects our commitment to protecting the interests of the small minority of our population who grow America’s food. The farmer must make a living wage, or America will find itself dependent on foreign food just as it is on foreign oil. The Clean Energy bill presents us with a chance to keep our food secure.

Kent Peppler, President
Rocky Mountain Farmers Union

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