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Republicans warn of a federal tax on cow flatulence

Senate Republicans warn that President Obama’s new focus on agricultural methane emissions could mean a tax on livestock emissions — including cow flatulence.

South Dakota Sen. John Thune and fellow GOP senators sent a letter to Obama administration officials urging them not to regulate livestock emissions as part of the president’s crusade against global warming.

Obama’s “Climate Action Plan” would require the dairy industry to reduce methane emissions by 25 percent by 2020. The Agriculture Department, Energy Department and Environmental Protection Agency are set to put together a “Biogas” roadmap to reduce methane emissions.

Republicans argue that Obama’s methane reduction plan could lead to “heavy-handed” regulations that would “have detrimental implications on livestock operations across the country.”

The EPA is currently barred from regulating methane emissions from livestock production through an “annual appropriations rider” that expires every year. But this does not mean the EPA will not try again, warn Republicans.

“In 2008, as part of its Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to regulate GHGs under the Clean Air Act, the EPA deliberated regulating agriculture-related emissions, which would have required farmers to purchase expensive permits,” Republicans wrote to the heads of the USDA, DOE and EPA.

“It was estimated that these top-down regulations would have cost medium-sized dairy farms with 75 to 125 cows between $13,000 and $22,000 a year, and medium-sized cattle farms with 200 to 300 cows between $17,000 and $27,000,” Republicans added. “We reject the notion that the EPA should, absent express authorization from Congress, seek to regulate the agriculture sector in this manner.”

Though EPA chief Gina McCarthy said there are no plans to regulate cattle emissions, there are still worries the agency could crack down on methane emissions from cow flatulence. The EPA says the digestive systems of cows produce methane through a process called “enteric fermentation”.

Cattle emissions alone make up 20 percent of U.S. methane emissions, according to the EPA, so lawmakers fear this would be a place for federal regulators to start looking to make cuts through rules targeting livestock feed or management methods.

“The agriculture community is committed to environmental stewardship, which is evidenced by the 11 percent reduction in agriculture-related methane emissions since 1990,” Republicans wrote. “It is our hope that the EPA, USDA, and DOE will work with Congress and the agriculture industry to outline voluntary measures that can be taken to reduce emissions without imposing heavy-handed regulations on farms across America.”

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