Too Many Exemptions Can Spoil the Bill

By Tim Portz
n the July 27 issue of Agweek magazine, an opinion column written by U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., outlined the amendments he introduced into the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 before it was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. Peterson is pro-agriculture and his ability to get the amendments into the bill is an indication of his skills as a statesman.

He successfully included an exemption for agriculture and forestry from any cap and trade regulations, while simultaneously allowing farmers to benefit by selling offsets generated on their farms. If these measures survive in the bill and eventually become law, Peterson will have positioned his constituents well as the country moves into a carbon economy.

It's not likely, however, that legislators from states where agriculture is not a priority will allow all of Peterson's amendments to go forward without comment. Legislators would love to be able to position their own constituents in such a way, sidestepping the costly pieces of new policy, and fully maximizing opportunities for new revenue. How long, however, before the auto industry, the steel industry, the oil industry, and vitally important entities cry foul and site their own importance in the American economy as reasons for exemption or relaxed regulations?

Ultimately, every industry or corporation, and finally all of us, are trying to understand how to move forward into a new energy and economic reality with as little disruption as possible.

If we believe that greenhouse gases must be reduced and that placing a value or cost on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases is the best way to reduce emissions, then not everyone or every industry can be exempted. Something has to change. Less carbon must be emitted. New energy sources must be developed. All sectors must participate. As a Midwesterner and a professional in the ag energy space, I'm thrilled with Peterson's amendments, but realistic about their chances of long-term survival.

If I could choose only one of Peterson's amendments to survive, it would be the one that excludes the much-debated international land-use change calculation in any life-cycle analysis required for biofuels. Peterson rightly attacks the notion that no industry can be accurately singled out as the contributing factor to global deforestation.

No matter how the bill shakes out, it presents real opportunity for the ag and energy sectors. What seems to be up in the air are the nature and amount of heartache that come along with that opportunity.

Tim Portz is a business developer with BBI International's Community Initiative to Improve Energy Sustainability. Reach him at [email protected] or (651) 398-9154.