April 2, 2009

Ag and the Climate Bill

I bet you're all on the edge of your seats wondering how the ag sector fared in the Waxman/Markey climate bill. Well, Meredith Niles of the Center for Food Safety waded through it and announces that it's a good news/bad news situation. First the good news:
The bill would require emissions standards for heavy duty nonroad equipment including tractors, combines and other heavy agricultural machinery. As well, nearly every food processing industry would be included under the cap if they produced above the threshold of 25,000 tons of CO2 equivalents a year. This would include everything from animal slaughter facilities to wet corn milling and snack food processing plants. In the Green Jobs section, the bill specifically notes the importance of establishing education and training programs for sustainable agriculture and farming and sustainable culinary practices. And, the bill includes fantastic initiatives to establish a National Climate Change Adaptation Council, which would examine the broad impacts of climate change on a variety of areas including agriculture.
I would also note that synthetic pesticide and fertilizer production (along with diesel fuel production) would fall under capped sectors. All of that addresses huge components of industrial ag's carbon footprint. But as for agricultural activities that directly cause emissions, especially of -- you know where I'm going -- methane? Well, you can guess:
Under the proposed legislation the agricultural sector is explicitly exempted under the definition of "capped sector"... Unfortunately, the bill goes one step farther and makes additional exemptions under the uncapped sector section as well, where sources of emissions will be listed and then, in several years, formed into standards and promulgated into regulation. The bill specifically designates that sources of methane emissions be a separate category of this uncapped sources list, but then explicitly exempts enteric fermentation (i.e. livestock burps and farts) from being included on this list. Enteric fermentation is literally the largest source of methane emissions in the entire country. This means that not only are livestock left out of this bill, but the largest source of methane emissions would be left out of all future regulations for methane emissions in the United States from the uncapped sector.
In fairness, this is similar to what the EPA did in its recently announced national carbon inventory i.e. it won't count enteric fermentation. The EPA, however, explicitly included manure management at factory farms -- itself a major source of methane. Waxman/Markey doesn't mention it. Niles assumes that leaves manure exempt but I'm not so sure. My reading would be that if you're not named as exempt, you're in. However, it's disconcerting that such a major source of methane doesn't get listed in some "including the following" type of clause. I imagine there was a fair bit of wrangling going on. Still, I don't think you'd say agriculture got a free pass -- there are several other ag-related methane sources (such as rice farming) that, while unmentioned in the bill, are also not specifically exempted from future regulation.

We're clearly not ready as a society to face explicit limitations on meat production and this bill acknowledges it. That said, I wonder what factory farms will look like under a capped system, i.e. when much of the external costs related to raising livestock are incorporated. Meat (especially beef) certainly won't seem quite so cheap anymore. Will that, I wonder, be enough?

Photo by JenWaller used under a CC license

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Blogger B R said...

Sorry, Tom, I'm still at Green.

All very interesting and worthwhile. May I suggest you post with more brevity and since you're parked at relate what you have to say to the coop?


Brian "It Is Good to Be Green" Rudnick

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