Democratic New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s newly-released “Green New Deal” resolution has gotten a lot of attention for its 100 percent renewable energy goal, but the bill also vaguely references another source of emissions.
The resolution calls for a World War II-style mobilization effort to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural operations. If that’s the case, that means any subsequent “Green New Deal” legislation would have to deal with a major source of methane emissions — cow flatulence and burps.
“We set a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast,” reads the initial version of the resolution’s fact-sheet. However, Ocasio-Cortez staffers have since removed “farting” from fact-sheet.
The resolution’s fact-sheet reads:
Methane makes up 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions that scientists blame for global warming. Enteric fermentation, the digestive process in cows and other ruminant animals, is the largest source of U.S. methane emissions, according to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data.
EPA says “cattle account for the majority of [methane] emissions in the United States for this source category,” referring to emissions from enteric fermentation. Most methane from cows comes from their burps, not farts. (RELATED: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: ‘Green New Deal Is About Social Justice’)
Being a non-binding resolution, the “Green New Deal” doesn’t offer any specifics on how livestock emissions would be phased down or eliminated. The question then becomes: How do you eliminate emissions from cows, sheep and other animals?
Democratic Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York talks with reporters as she arrives for a class photo with incoming newly elected members of the U.S. House of Representatives on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Certainly, environmental groups have increasingly called for getting beef out of people’s diets in the name of the climate, but there are legitimate worries doing so would be a net negative on overall public health.
Some scientists have looked into reducing flatulence from ruminant animals. The U.S. government funded a 2014 study to find out why some types of sheep burped and farted more than others.
The Obama administration released a plan to clamp down on methane emissions in 2014, which included programs to cut emissions from dairy operations. Republican lawmakers worried the Obama-era effort could have resulted in new regulations or taxes on farmers.
Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but makes up a much smaller slice of America’s emissions profile. Natural gas systems and landfills also emit methane, which Democrats and environmentalists want to regulate more.
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