Congress Mulls Bovine Flatulence as EPA Readies Greenhouse Gas DecisionBy John O'Dell March 31, 2009
As the federal Environmental Protection Agency moves closer to an expected ruling that greenhouse gases are harmful to the environment, there's more than tailpipe emissions from autos at stake, it appears.
It is true that cars, trucks, buses, trains, planes, boats and other forms of motorized transport that burn carbon-based fuels do pump carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
That's led most sentient observers to believe that once the EPA issues its expected "endangerment" ruling and says greenhouse gases pose a public health threat, national regulation of automotive GHG emissions will follow.
But there are other emissions, from both ends of our cows, pigs, goats, sheep and other members of the ruminating livestock population, that also contribute to the greenhouse gas overload most scientists believe contributes to global warming.
And in anticipation of regulation and, perhaps even annual fines for violating GHG emissions regulations that haven't been written yet, farm-state lawmakers in Washington have written what we like to call the cow fart bills.
Seems that livestock emit lots of methane - produced by the vegetation digesting in all those stomachs - and methane is 20 times better at trapping atmospheric heat than is the carbon dioxide that our cars get such a bad rap for spewing.
(This isn't new. Such reports have been around for years, as you can see by checking out this 2005 news report on cow versus automotive emissions in California's San Joaquin Valley.)
An Ill Wind
Cows and other ruminants burp up methane and emit it from their "tailpipes" and some lawmakers and farm groups fear that if the EPA says greenhouse gases are harmful, then all GHG emitters will be regulated and subjected to fines or other penalties for violating the permitted emissions limits.
Although Lisa Jackson, EPA administrator for the Obama administration, has said her agency has no intention of regulating livestock GHG emissions, the American Farm Bureau apparently isn't so sure that there will be clear sailing ahead.
Energy & Environment News is reporting that the farm bureau has endorsed a bill, being carried by several members of congress, that would bar the government from requiring livestock operations to obtain federal clean air permits.
The bureau has done some calculating and figures that 90 percent of dairy, beef and hog operations could face GHG fines of as much as $175 per dairy cow and $20 per hog. Beef cattle, which apparently aren't as gassy as the dairy models, could cost up to $87.50 each in fines, according to the E&E News report.
Cows and Cars
"If they do regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, then they will have to do all sources, all emitters," Sen. John Thune, a South Dakota Republican and co-sponsor of the Senate cow tax bill, S.B. 527, told the news service. "That will include livestock because of the methane created and the greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere."
Sen.Charles Schumer, a New york Democrat, is SB 527's other sponsor.
There also are a pair of bovine flatulence measures moving through the House, one sponsored by Rep. Frank Lucas or Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the agriculture committee, and one by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, a Nebraska Republican.
Like the Thune-Schumer measure in the Senate, each would exempt biological processes from livestock production from GHG permit fees that might otherwise be required under the Clean Air Act
The cow tax measure underscores the concern various interest groups - including automakers - have that EPA regulation of greenhouse gas emissions could result in all sorts of new restrictions, and costs.
Fumes From Fuel
Cars and trucks emit greenhouse gases as a byproduct of burning carbon-based fuel in their engines (same as cows, come to think of it) and the quickest way to cut down of those emissions is to decrease the amount of fuel burned by increasing fuel economy.
What the auto industry fears is a national system based on the California GHG tailpipe rules the industry's been fighting for several years.
To meet California's goal of a 30 percent reduction in automotive greenhouse gases by 2020, the average new car sold then would have to get about 42 miles per gallon, a level of fuel economy carmakers say would be ruinously expensive to achieve.
The EPA is expected to propose its endangerment finding next month, spelling out in it the threats global warming poses to public health and welfare.
A 2007 Supreme Court opinion required the EPA to determine whether there is a public health issue with greenhouse gases.
The ruling came in an automotive case, though, and didn't specifically address cow farts.
John O'Dell, Senior Editor