Putting a lid on methane from cattle

The $1.1-trillion omnibus spending bill signed by President Obama contains many giveaways to Wall Street, casinos and the coal industry. But the ones that might do the most severe damage long-term have to do with, of all things, the digestive systems of cattle.

Through their manure and, yes, their flatulence, cattle are major producers of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that the public hears much less about than carbon. Methane breaks down much more quickly than carbon — after about 50 years — but during that time, it is 20 to 30 times more potent at trapping heat and is considered the source of a quarter of all global warming.

Yet the spending bill specifically barred the federal government from requiring cattle operations to report greenhouse gas emissions from manure or to obtain permits for methane produced by bovine belching and flatulence. Both sources of methane are controllable; there is machinery that can convert manure into biofuel, and changes in the diet of cattle can make a major difference in flatulence levels.

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