Hidden in the thicket of the Obama administration’s elaborate scheme to transform the U.S. energy sector away from fossil fuels is a section that puts American farmers squarely in Washington’s bull’s eye.

The Clean Power Plan, the final version of which was unveiled on August 3, 2015, is generally understood to target emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from coal-fired power plants in the name of combatting climate change, formerly known as global warming. It aims to reduce CO2 emissions from power plants by 32 percent below 2005 levels within 25 years.

But the plan is about much more than destroying the coal industry before closing in on natural-gas producers as a means of clearing the path for otherwise uncompetitive wind and solar power. The White House wants to use its alleged concern for the climate as an excuse to subject farmers to “sustainability” standards cooked up by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In an eye-opening article in the Wall Street Journal (July 11), Bruce E. Dale, professor of chemical engineering and materials science at Michigan State University, points out that EPA “is counting biogenetic-carbon emissions as if they were the same as fossil-carbon emissions. They are not.” Dale explains that agricultural products such as grains and oilseeds contain biogenetic carbon, which comes from the atmosphere and returns to the atmosphere when these products are consumed, “such as when human beings eat bread and then breathe out the carbon dioxide resulting from the breakdown of bread in the body.” Biogenetic carbon, he says, “cannot contribute to climate change.”

“Unjustified Carbon Tax on American Farmers”

Lane notes that EPA’s Clean Power Plan “proposes to penalize biogenetic carbon emissions unless food processors (bakers, brewers, grain processors) or energy producers (like utilities using seed hulls to produce electricity) can prove that they used ‘sustainably-derived’ agricultural feedstocks.” This, he believes, will impose “an unjustified carbon tax on American farmers.”

By appointing itself the biogenetic overlord of American farmers, EPA, not for the first time, is engaging in “mission creep.” It is intruding on bureaucratic territory that has traditionally belonged to the Department of Agriculture. As Brian Seasholes, a former research fellow at the Reason Foundation, pointed out in a recent email, “The growing reach of land-use-control laws, coupled with increasingly aggressive pressure groups looking to find ‘regulatable’ things on people’s land, and the growing power of remote sensing devices (satellite and drone imagery) is a massive and growing threat to landowners.”

Regulating “Sustainability” in the Farm Field

Whatever the case may be for fossil fuels’ influence on the climate, EPA has willfully distorted the issue with its plan to regulate biogenetic-carbon emissions as if it were fossil-carbon emissions. In so doing, Lane says, EPA is now “trying to regulate ‘sustainability’ in the farm field.

The Clean Power Plan has something in common with another EPA scheme to assert regulatory authority over millions of acres of private land, the “Waters of the United States,” or WOTUS rule. Under the guise of “protecting” isolated bodies of water, WOTUS would impose federal zoning on farms and other rural properties throughout the country. Like WOTUS, the Clean Power Plan has been stayed nationwide by a federal court pending the outcome of numerous lawsuits against EPA.

Neither rule was enacted by Congress; both are products of Washington’s sprawling bureaucracy. Both show the threat the administrative regulatory state poses to liberty and prosperity.


  • Bonner Cohen, Ph. D.

    Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D., is a senior policy analyst with CFACT, where he focuses on natural resources, energy, property rights, and geopolitical developments. Articles by Dr. Cohen have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Investor’s Busines Daily, The New York Post, The Washington Examiner, The Washington Times, The Hill, The Epoch Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Miami Herald, and dozens of other newspapers around the country. He has been interviewed on Fox News, Fox Business Network, CNN, NBC News, NPR, BBC, BBC Worldwide Television, N24 (German-language news network), and scores of radio stations in the U.S. and Canada. He has testified before the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, and the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee. Dr. Cohen has addressed conferences in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and Bangladesh. He has a B.A. from the University of Georgia and a Ph. D. – summa cum laude – from the University of Munich.