Aside from the intensely polarized debate about health care reform, perhaps no issue raises more hackles nowadays than climate change legislation.

Ironically, while there is widespread opposition to the measure in the agricultural community because of the high costs that have been projected, the secretary of agriculture has been going around the country beating the drums for it.

A study by Texas A&M University's Agriculture and Food Policy Center, based on 98 representative farms in their database, showed 71 of the operations would be worse off under Waxman-Markey, the 1,500-page, almost $850-billion measure that narrowly passed the House earlier this year and is now being debated in the Senate.

Of the 27 farming operations that would realize benefits under the bill, nearly all are in the Midwest Corn Belt, and their gains would come primarily from increased revenue due to higher prices that would result from fewer acres planted (it's projected that more than 7 million acres would come out of production in the first five years, nearly 50 million acres by 2050).

Virtually all cotton and dairy operations would be worse off, the study found, and there would be no benefit to rice or cattle operations.

Secretary Vilsack, putting the administration spin on things, has been saying in speeches around the country that the measure would bring a $20 billion yearly increase in farm profits. “That's a lot of money, and it's an awful lot of opportunity,” he said. “I think we need to find a way to make this work for rural America — and it can work for rural America.”

Senator Saxby Chamblis, R-Ga., ranking Republican on the Agriculture Committee, says Vilsack's wrong. “Despite what he says, the bill doesn't benefit U.S. agriculture, and in fact will make it harder for farmers and ranchers to make a living under cap-and-trade. We need to pursue legislation that reflects the realities of producing food, fiber, feed, and fuel … and not favor one geographic region.

“Clearly the data are troubling,” Chambliss says. “This bill, particularly the cap-and-trade provisions, will undoubtedly raise production costs for farmers and ranchers.”

Following a Vilsack pitch for the program at a forum in Oklahoma, State Representative Phil Richardson, a veterinarian/farmer, noted: “Although the secretary said Oklahoma farmers are ‘excited about the possibility that energy and climate change legislation will reward farmers,’ my neighbors see the legislation as a catastrophe for rural America.

“Agricultural production requires energy, and anything that dramatically increases the cost of energy, like cap-and-trade, will harm farm families and consumers who depend on us for food. Cap-and-trade is a job killer.”

R-CALF USA, which represents thousands of American cattle producers, says the legislation would be “economic suicide,” noting that the Treasury Department has estimated the program would bring $200 billion per year in new taxes and would be equal to all existing environmental regulation.