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Washington is now going after methane hard.

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Dems Separated By Cow Emissions

Washington is now going after methane hard.

As leading Democrats scratch their heads wondering how their once promising negotiations over the nation’s climate change strategy could have headed south so quickly, science may have doomed such efforts to failure from the start.

On Friday, House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., announced that climate change bill negotiators are heading back to the drawing board after Democrats representing largely agricultural districts helped kill the bill’s proposals that could have had devastating impacts on American’s farmers.

The legislation’s main component, known as “cap-and-trade” would require that industries producing greenhouse gases purchase or trade government-rationed credits tied to pollution levels. The larger goal: to cut from 2005 levels greenhouse gas emissions initiated by American industries by 17 percent  by 2020 and by 83 percent by 2050.

Part of the squabble results from bureaucratic infighting between agencies, including the USDA and the EPA, with farmers fearful that the EPA could utilize a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision to leverage greater authority to combat greenhouse gas.  The rest of the battle stems from a valid debate between activist desires and the scientific truth.  As David Harsanyi, author of Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and Other Boneheaded Bureacrats Are Turning America into a National of Children, concludes, Europe saw a 3.5 percent increase in emissions under cap-and-trade between 2000 and 2006.

Lawmakers should turn to the guidance provided by green havens, including Boulder, Colo., where on Monday, The Denver Post reported that recent carbon cutting efforts by local officials have fallen short. Earlier this month, the Boulder City Council voted to raise the city’s “carbon tax,” a fee imposed based on commercial and residential electricity.  The plan: to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 7 percent.  Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter has pegged much of his political viability on his “new energy economy,” hoping he can bring green jobs to Colorado while also supporting a statewide goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent.  But the plan is faltering as other local governments, including Aspen, have been forced to admit they won’t meet their reduction goals.

In Aspen, where private jets transport single families to their 10,000 square-foot vacation homes for a week or two out of the year, the Post reports that city leaders boast that three-fourths of municipal electric energy now comes from renewable sources.

While Boulder plans to send workers door-to-door to encourage residents to install energy-efficient light bulbs and weather stripping, leaders fails to admit that Boulder’s strict no-growth regulations have driven up real estate costs to such an extent that the people who make the city run on a daily basis can’t afford to live there.  The result: more cars on the streets. Historic designations prohibit many conscientious residents from replacing older windows with newer, more affordable, energy efficient versions.  And as recent studies have shown, one of the city’s greatest challenges may ironically come from the fact that people who live there may be emitting too much gas of their own.  This gas being of the methane variety.

The net result: Washington is now going after methane hard.  As Congressman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., told the Heartland Institute this month, agribusinesses should be ready for a fight against a possible federal plan to tax farm animals on their propensity to emit the gas.

Initially pushed by vegan Europeans, the "cow fart tax" (as described by Sensenbrenner) is premised on the idea that reduced consumption of dairy and beef will reduce the number of cows required to meet such demand.  The desired two-fold result: methane emitted by both populations would be reduced. While the EPA has claimed that it does not have the authority to implement such a proposal, Sensenbrenner and the American Farm Bureau aren’t persuaded it isn’t coming.  According to the AFB, such a plan could cost the average farmer $175 on every dairy cow, $80 for beef cattle, and $21 per hog.

A study commissioned by the British Parliament concludes that if such a tax were imposed in the United Kingdom, dairy and beef products could disappear from grocery stores entirely. Farmers would be forced to raise the price of milk, and consumers would seek out alternatives—including soy.  The result could be smelly. Dozens of websites are devoted to exploring soy’s “flatulence factor.” To be blunt, soy makes people gassy—meaning some consumers could actually emit more methane than if they would have stuck with the good old original.

Think organic milk has promise? Think again. Organic cattle emit more methane and produce less milk than their hormone-injected peers.  And don’t assuming less driving will help. According to another British study, people opting to walk to the grocery store instead of driving may ultimately cause more environmental damage.

The analysis, conducted by Chris Goodall, author of How to Live a Low-Carbon Life, assumed the average person lives three miles from their local store. While the drive would add 0.9 kg of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, “if you walked instead, it would use about 180 calories.  You need about 100g of beef to replace these calories, resulting in 3.6kg of emissions, or four times as driving,” Goodall concluded.  The real solution, he suggests, is not a desirable one: exercise less, eat less, and become a couch potato.

Ryan Air Executive Michael O’Leary, known as a jokester, was ravaged by critics after proclaiming that global warming could be solved by massacring the world’s cattle. But he may be right.  According to Goodall, food production has a far more detrimental impact on greenhouse admissions than airplanes.

Perhaps it’s time to go sit under a tree to ponder.  But while trees are highly heralded as shields against global warming, they are also major methane producers. And those wonderful green light bulbs Boulder is so heavily promoting? Studies suggest their positive impact on the environment can be offset simply by the consumption of two imported bags of vegetables.

Fortunately, innovative researchers are now seeking ways to produce livestock feed that results in lower methane emissions.  But would environmentalists ever be able to handle the forced consumption of a non-organic food?

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Written By

Jessica Peck Corry (Jessica@i2i.org) is a policy analyst with the Independence Institute in Golden, Colo., where she specializes in land use, higher education, and civil rights policy."

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