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Green New Deal Mythbusting – Defending cows

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Robyn Smith
Oregon Cattlemen Association

On February 7, freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced a Green New Deal resolution highlighting hopes and dreams for accomplishing net-zero greenhouse gas emissions within a 10-year time frame. A picturesque conception of creating millions of high-wage jobs, investing in infrastructure and industry, and promoting justice for “vulnerable communities,” all while meeting 100 percent power demand through zero-emission energy sources – sounds pretty good on paper. The Green New Deal fails to state how the government will realistically enact, enforce or accomplish those goals.

Agricultural communities are in alarm. Similar to Oregon’s proposed Cap & Trade bill, family owned farms and ranches would be negatively and disproportionately impacted by the Green New Deal. In regard to agriculture, the resolution outlines removing greenhouse gases completely from the sector, creating soil carbon reduction, furthering land preservation, and decreasing wildfires – the number one contributor to carbon emissions.

Proponents of this resolution, such as Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, both signing on in support, must recognize that the agricultural community is already tackling those issues and they are champions of environmental stewardship. Cattle in particular, should be seen as an answer and not the enemy when it comes to climate change.

Cattle are responsible for less than 2 percent of the nation’s total greenhouse gas emissions – the total of all agricultural emissions amounts to 9 percent. Colin Woodall, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Vice President, notes beef producers have made substantial progress in environmental concerns over the years, such as producing the same amount of beef with 33% fewer cattle, compared to 1970.

Yet, an official statement from Ocasio-Cortez’s office said, “We set a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions in 10 years because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast.” – though humorous, make no mistake, this is a glimpse of the attack on this nation’s cattle industry.

Cattle are natural stewards of the land. Grazing cattle sequester carbon by capturing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in the ground through the grazing of foliage. Environmental activists searching for soil carbon storage to reduce greenhouse gas emissions should look no further than a herd of cattle. Grazing cattle produce food and fiber for healthy soil, provide nutrient storage, erosion prevention, and improved water quality.

The resolution mentions the concern of wildfires. Ranchers own grazing allotments and obtain permits to graze their cattle on public lands, and in doing so, cattle reduce fire fuels. When rangelands are overgrown or mismanaged there is an increase in fires and the rate at which they spread; cattle grazing suppresses wildfire growth.

Last year, wildfires devastated over 800,000 acres of land in Oregon – the wildfire season in California alone this past year emitted 68 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. “One large Oregon wildfire produces more carbon in the air than Portland can produce in one year,” said Executive Director of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association Jerome Rosa, “meaningful change for carbon emissions should start with forest management and wildfire control.”

Last year, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) selected two Oregon ranches, among 11 total in the country, to test a new process for livestock grazing on public lands. Known as outcome based grazing authorizations – ranchers can operate with fewer restrictions while maintaining habitat and vegetation goals. “Farmers and ranchers know the wildlife and the land they work better than anyone; it only makes sense that we would enlist them in conservation efforts,” said Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke in an interview with KDRV.

“While a full analysis of the Green New Deal has not been completed, the sheer scale and cost to implement such a proposal could have potentially devastating consequences on our national debt and on our economy. One initial estimate calculated that if the U.S. were to transition to 100 percent renewable electricity production – it would require at least $5.7 trillion in expenditures. A bill ultimately picked up by the American taxpayers,” Oregon’s republican Senator Greg Walden released in a statement.

Think of how increased taxes and regulations on agriculture will impact the everyday citizen – grocery bills will skyrocket. Food scarcity and job loss may be an inevitable result if the cost of farming and ranching outweighs the benefit. In Oregon, 1 in 12 jobs are connected to the agriculture industry and each farmer in the state on average produces enough food in a year for 130 people, allowing 98% of the population to do something other than worry about food production.

The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association does not support the Green New Deal and encourages everyone to research and educate themselves on the economic and social impact this resolution would have on American citizens, farmers, ranchers and rural communities.

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