Ag lobby blew it on climate bill

Maybe when climate-change regulators strangle the economy and carbon-counters turn gas, oil and electricity into expensive luxuries, farmers will recognize how our "friends" in Washington, D.C., sold us out in the name of political compromise. Capitol Hill's agriculture lobby had a choice: withhold support from the Waxman-Markey climate control bill or agree to a compromise that provides cover to rural-district Democrats who support it.

Without those rural votes, Waxman-Markey was bound for the shredder. With those votes, it barely garnered the minimum needed for passage.

Colorado's delegation illustrates the chasm between Democrats with a real-world understanding of agriculture and those whose concern is as sincere as that pair of jeans they bought for county fairs.

Rep. John Salazar, a San Luis Valley potato farmer, staked out his "no" vote early, recognizing that Waxman-Markey will drastically increase energy costs.

Meanwhile, freshman Rep. Betsy Markey, a former staffer to then-Sen. Ken Salazar, voted for the bill, claiming that "critical adjustments were made to protect the agriculture industry." At least that's what the agriculture lobby told her.

Markey is simply "dancing with the ones who brung her." Defenders of Wildlife spent $1.6 million to beat up her opponent last fall; those who think Markey isn't a hard-wired environmental extremist are kidding themselves.

However, the economic illiteracy of the agriculture lobby is embarrassing. Waxman-Markey's threat to farmers and ranchers isn't limited to the carbon emissions of trucks, tractors and flatulent livestock.

In March, a dozen ag lobbying organizations -- including National Association of Wheat Growers and National Farmers Union -- agreed on nine "Principles for Greenhouse Gas Legislation."

Not one of those principles addressed fuel or energy costs. Yet Waxman-Markey will increase electricity rates by an estimated 90 percent and fuel prices by 58 percent, according to Heritage Foundation's Center for Data Analysis. The analysis projects cap-and-trade will reduce net farm income by 28 percent by 2012 and 94 percent by 2035, That's in addition to $1,241 per year that cap-and-tax will add to the average household's energy bill.

Farmers recognize those costs, but agriculture lobbyists seem just as clueless as lawmakers who think milk and bread come from the grocery store.

Worse still, these lobbyists seem more concerned about "being at the table" than whether the deal they strike will hold up. Simply put, agriculture lobbyists agreed to create a new bureaucracy in exchange for promises that bureaucrats won't regulate agriculture and might even pay farmers for carbon sequestration and tree planting.

EPA's analysis sees little upside for agriculture, anticipating declining crop production due to higher input costs and fewer acres for livestock grazing if landowners are paid to plant trees instead.

The agriculture compromise resulted in a 300-page amendment released at 3 a.m. on the day of the vote. How many congressmen (or lobbyists) read the amendment or the 1,200-page bill? Now ag lobby compromisers want the Senate to hold hearings to examine how these special provisions will work and "the effects of the complete bill on the industry."

It's a little late for that now, boys and girls.

These "principles" were naïve from the get-go. Avoiding regulation that doesn't exist is much easier than expecting special treatment from regulators when the agriculture vote no longer matters.

Agriculture is "a major polluter," according to those who believe trading trillions in higher taxes, higher energy costs, and lost jobs for a minuscule possible reduction in temperatures is a good deal. Once the carbon caps are enforced, will climate-change zealots and non-exempt industries continue to give a pass to agriculture?

For that matter, does anyone believe that China, India or Russia will restrict their carbon emissions once the U.S. unilaterally imposes this burden on our economy? In military or trade matters, giving away everything you have to trade would be recognized as foolishness.

All of this adds up to a rotten deal for agriculture and for everyone who consumes what we produce. Maybe these agriculture lobbyists will understand that when they're out of a job, too.

Mark Hillman is a wheat farmer who also served as senate majority leader and state treasurer. To read more or comment, go to