In “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” an albatross was following the ship – a sign of good luck – when the mariner unwisely shot and killed the albatross with his crossbow, placing a curse on the ship. To punish him, his crewmates hung the dead seabird around his neck, but the curse remained.
Federal carbon cap-and-trade legislation, if adopted, may become the “albatross about the neck” of Missouri farmers. The legislation, according to supporters, is essential in the fight against catastrophic global warming. Cap-and-trade legislation has already passed in the U.S. House, but is yet to be approved by the Senate.
The House version of cap-and-trade legislation is designed to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by the year 2050. The three primary greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O). Unfortunately, farmers are major emitters in all three emission categories. Cap-and-trade emission fees, called taxes by some of us, could pound Missouri agriculture with a painful triple whammy.
Farming is an energy intensive industry with hefty carbon dioxide emissions resulting from fossil fuel and electricity usage, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. The EPA says farmers are responsible for 32 percent of our nation’s methane emissions and 72 percent of the nitrous oxide emissions. The methane is primarily from ruminant (cows, goats and sheep) digestive tracts, and the nitrous oxide is mostly from soil management with nitrogen fertilizers.
Here’s the real mind-boggler: methane is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, and nitrous oxide is 300 times more potent. One ton of methane emissions is equal to 21 tons of CO2, known as “CO2 equivalent.” If the CO2 emission fee under Cap and Trade regulations is $25 per ton, one ton of methane emissions would cost $525, and one ton of nitrous oxide emissions would be a whopping $7,500. Our U.S. Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, has lobbied for a CO2 emission fee of $70 per ton, a level he believes necessary to wean us away from fossil fuels.
How many cows does it take to emit a ton of methane in a year? The EPA Website says 10.
Some have claimed farmers can earn big money by sequestering carbon. Examples would be tilling plant matter into the soil or growing trees. But, there’s a catch. In order to qualify the carbon credits for sale on the carbon commodity market, a third-party verifier must annually inspect the property, perform complex calculations, and certify the results. The cost for the farmer to have his carbon credits verified each year could be $5,000 and up, reducing the earnings from trading his or her carbon credits, to pocket change.
Some say the financial beneficiaries of a federal cap-and-trade program will be commodity trading companies, consulting companies performing third-party verifications, professors doing climate research and government bureaucrats running the massive cap-and-trade program. It just so happens, those are the primary advocates of a carbon cap-and-trade program.
Ron Boyer owns Surefire Strategies, LLC, and serves on the Missouri Air Conservation Commission.