As many of you know, climate change legislation, known as cap-and-trade, has passed the House of Representatives and is now ready for consideration by the Senate. Although 44 Democrats voted against it in the House and it required a considerable amount of arm-twisting by House leadership to pass, it is being heavily endorsed by the Obama Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). That's why I sent a letter earlier this month to Senate Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin to request an Agriculture Committee hearing on the impact cap-and-trade will have on our country's farmers and ranchers. It is important that we get answers from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack so producers will know the facts.
When I requested this hearing, I outlined very specifically what I thought it should entail. USDA has publicly stated that the benefits and opportunities of cap-and-trade will outweigh the costs and risks to American agriculture. We need to know very clearly why USDA believes that.
By all accounts I've read, the costs of cap-and-trade for American farmers and ranchers could be crippling. The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) charts agriculture input costs as a whole to increase by $5 billion annually through 2020. For farmers already struggling with production costs, these increases would be unacceptable. The Fertilizer Institute, after analyzing previous cap-and-trade proposals, determined that the cost of corn production could increase by as much as $79 per acre annually. Another organization, the Heritage Foundation, charts diesel fuel to increase by a whopping 90 percent by 2035. And this burden won't be limited to ag producers. Rural states like Nebraska would be hammered much harder than either the east or west coasts. This is largely due to our dependence on coal, the cost of which is expected to double in the next ten years, with electricity costs increasing by as much as one-third by 2040, according to AFBF.
I have urged USDA to provide complete cost estimates for American agricultural producers, whose very livelihood would be critically altered by this legislation. Farm families deserve to know the consequences of cap-and-trade, and USDA is very capable of such analysis. I will not stop asking for it. USDA must support with real data its assertion that benefits will outweigh costs. Anything less is nothing more than empty rhetoric.
As I write this column, I am preparing for the Agriculture Committee hearing on cap-and-trade, scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. USDA will have to provide a long list of benefits to outweigh the overwhelming costs. To stay current on new developments related to cap-and-trade as well as other legislative developments, I encourage you to visit my website, www.johanns.senate.gov, as well as my YouTube page for up-to-date information. I will report back to you next week on what transpired in the Agriculture Committee hearing.