Will Obama Regulate Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Your Food?

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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The Obama administration is beginning its next step in its crusade against global warming: analyzing greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. food sources, including emissions raising livestock and crops.

Federal regulators have released a 606-page document detailing methods of analyzing greenhouse gas emissions from farming and forestry practices. This document is designed to “develop user-friendly tools for farmers, ranchers, forest landowners and other United States Department of Agriculture] stakeholders to help them evaluate the GHG benefits of a wide variety of management practices.”

“Conservation practices and other management changes can reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and increase carbon storage while improving soil health, crop or livestock productivity, and resilience to drought and other extreme weather,” according to the USDA. “This report lays out methods for estimating changes in GHG emissions and carbon storage at a local scale.”

The USDA says the massive report will serve as a “tool” for farmers and other involved in agriculture, but critics argue that this “tool” could be used by regulators to increase their over the economy and into people’s personal lives.

“Global warming has become the Obama Nanny State’s Swiss Knife,” said Dan Kish, senior vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research. “They want to beat plowshares into swords to use them against farmers across the country, just as they’re pursuing farmers for their watering holes.”

“The ‘tool’ they promise to farmers will become the weapon that tells them what to do and how to do it,” Kish added. “Tyranny always starts with a smiling face and an offer to help.”

Republican lawmakers have already expressed concern over past Obama administration efforts to quantify and reduce methane emissions from agriculture. Earlier this year, the White House proposed cutting dairy industry methane emissions by 25 percent by 2020.

The White House said such efforts would help stave off global warming, but Republicans argued such actions could amount to a tax on cow flatulence.

“The agriculture community is committed to environmental stewardship, which is evidenced by the 11 percent reduction in agriculture-related methane emissions since 1990,” Republicans, led by South Dakota Sen. John Thune, wrote to the Obama administration. “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.”

The EPA says U.S. agriculture creates about nine percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Some of which comes from cow flatulence — which releases methane.

“Of all domestic animal types, beef and dairy cattle were by far the largest emitters of [methane],” according to an EPA analysis charting greenhouse gas emissions in 2012. Livestock, like cows and sheep, produce methane through their digestive systems.

The federal government has already funded research into lowering methane emissions from livestock. Scientists with the Energy Department’s Joint Genome Institute (JGI) released study looking into reasons behind why animals of the same species emit different methane levels when they pass gas.

“We wanted to understand why some sheep produce a lot and some produce little methane,” said JGI Director Eddy Rubin. “The study shows that it is purely the microbiota responsible for the difference.”

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