The American people deserve an honest and open debate on our nation's energy portfolio and how government mandates handed down from Washington will affect their bottom lines. Affordable energy is the driver of our economy and impacts all Americans - from families, to large industries, to our farms and ranches.
In the very near future Congress is going to take up legislation dealing with climate change. No matter which argument you subscribe to (that humans have caused climate change, that it is a natural occurrence, or that it doesn't exist), the legislation and regulations being proposed to deal with it will have a very real impact on us.
A major component of the initial climate change proposal before Congress right now is referred to as "cap and trade."
Cap and trade would impose a limit on carbon dioxide emissions in the United States and require businesses to purchase "allowances" for their emissions. The increased cost of compliance would then be passed onto energy consumers in the form of higher energy costs.
No one is arguing we shouldn't care about the environment in which we live, nor that new technology may lead to innovations allowing us to make more efficient use of domestic energy resources. Last year, I had the opportunity to visit the National Renewable Energy Lab in Colorado where I had the chance to see firsthand some of this new technology.
However, I have serious concerns about cap and trade and its impact on the American people, rural communities in particular.
This is - at its core - a national energy tax which will be passed onto the American people. It will kill jobs, bleed budgets, and lead to more government intervention into our energy policy.
The stakes are even higher for our agriculture industry - the very industry which drives Nebraska's economy.
Agriculture is an energy-intensive industry - relying on fuel for the pick-up truck, fertilizer for the crops, generators to keep heaters on during the winter. In 2008 alone, farmers and ranchers spent $60 billion on inputs such as fuel, electricity, fertilizer, and chemicals.
The Third District of Nebraska is one of the largest agricultural districts in the country, home to more than 30,000 farmers and ranchers. And every one of those producers will tell you even a small increase in the operating costs would have dire results.
As higher energy prices hit other areas of our economy, farmers and ranchers will pay more for seed, equipment, steel, and other supplies. As the cost of production increases, so will the price of food on the shelves in urban areas.
Farmers and ranchers also might find themselves paying for what their livestock "produces" as well as their own increasing input costs thanks to overreaching government regulations.
Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared carbon dioxide, methane, and four other heat-trapping gases as pollutants. This action paves the way for the EPA to regulate anything and everything which emits carbon or other greenhouse gases - including livestock.
This "cow tax" could have a devastating impact on agriculture producers, which is why I have called for a House Agriculture Committee hearing on the burdens on rural America these overreaching proposals will create.
Our diverse communities need a common sense approach to agriculture, energy, and other rural industries. Over the past decade, improved agricultural practices such as no-till cropping, target chemical applications through global positioning satellite technology, and methane digesters have reduced emissions from the agricultural sector.
Federal policy should reward - not punish - our producers who are responsible stewards of the land or taxing Americans for flipping a light switch. If we want a real solution to climate change, then we should continue to focus on incentives, innovation, and research and not on mandates and legislation resulting in higher taxes saddling producers with even more regulations.