There’s a wind of change blowing from Washington, D.C., these days, said Richard Luscombe in the London Guardian, and many farmers don’t like how it smells. They’re in an uproar over a recent Environmental Protection Agency report that included the suggestion that the government should consider taxes on businesses that emit globe-warming greenhouse gases—including farms with “belching and flatulent cattle and pigs.” It’s less crazy than it sounds, said the Chattanooga, Tenn., Times Free Press in an editorial. Counting both its ends, the average cow pumps some 500 liters of methane into the atmosphere every day. So any such “gas tax” could be significant, up to $175 per dairy cow annually. “Everyone’s against air pollution,” of course. The problem is that fees like that would have a silent but deadly effect on U.S. agriculture.
Don’t have a cow, said Mark Grossi in the Fresno, Calif., Bee. The notion of a livestock-emissions tax was mentioned only briefly in the EPA report, and agency officials last week denied that there was any imminent proposal to impose a “critter tax on methane.” The current outrage is being stoked by agriculture lobbyists looking to shut down any reasonable discussion of this topic before it even gets started. It seems to be working, said Rob Juteau in the Little Falls, N.Y., Evening Times. Even as the EPA was issuing its denials, U.S. senators were tripping over themselves to denounce the “new” tax and pledging to block it. As New York Sen. Charles Schumer explained, the ultimate purpose of taxing greenhouse-gas emissions is to force the emitters to change their behavior, and cows, for better or worse, “can’t change the way they are.”
“The idea of a so-called cow tax might seem far-fetched” at the moment, said Stephen Power in The Wall Street Journal. But next year the picture may look very different. The incoming Obama administration is already being pressured by environmental groups to force American businesses to curb their emissions. And while the EPA has discretion to exempt small businesses—such as dairy farmers—there are no guarantees. Particularly when it’s methane being emitted, said Kate Galbraith in TheNewYorkTimes.com. “Methane has more than 20 times the heat-trapping potential of carbon dioxide,” the most common greenhouse gas. But the “good news for farmers” is that methane can be easily turned into electricity. So with or without an emissions tax, farmers may one day come to appreciate all the untapped “cow power” wafting around their fields and barns.