Some livestock groups panic over rumors of a tax on cow's methane emissions

Hopefully this tax is not just a rumor-

Farmer’s Freak about Potential ‘Cow Tax’ on Cows’ Methane Emission. WWP blog.

Methane is 26 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide and cows belch and fart a tremendous amount of it. Feedlots could capture it, however, and turn it into much less polluting energy — natural gas is methane.

This is one of the good things about taxation. Properly placed taxes encourage good behavior. Because they work through the maketplace, heavy-handed government regulation is not needed. Any revenues raised from taxes set to encourge certain kinds of behavior can be used used to reduce traditional taxes like sales and income tax whose only purpose is to raise revenue.

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More on meat and methane . . .  As More Eat Meat, a Bid to Cut Emissions. New York Times. By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL.



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  1. vickif Avatar

    I say tax it. Maybe tax only what is not ‘recycled’. Although I think that we need cleaner air, no doubt….people will panic if they start hearing from the beef growers that they will have to raise prices, especially given this current economy.

    We need to make recycling manure, and gas easier. We should look at it like it’s a chance to create jobs in methane renewal.

    I watched a show on the Green or Discovery channel not too long ago about a huge feedlot in California that did convert their manure, through a process where they kind of wash it, and they began getting rather large check from the utility company.

    Why not convert the gas? Cost to convert is an initial investment. Perhpas we need a tax credit for it, or a (since they are so darn popular these days) government insured loan program to fund it.

  2. vickif Avatar

    The flip side of this is that to convert the gas, you have to contain the cattle. That would leave those who graze public lands on the short end of the stick. They’d either have to contain their cattle to privately owned land, or pay a tax (which their funds should be put toward buying out grazing permits to lessen damage and pollution on public lands).

  3. outsider Avatar

    So are you going to pay private land owners for their lands role in carbon cequesterization, sorry can’t spell ;), they do have trees, and plants on their land that takes carbon out of the air, are you going to charge people for the co2 that their cars put out, are you going to tax the chicken and pork producers as well, what about the horse owners, how will you handle the wild horses, or maybe we should just put a green tax on all food due to the amount of energy that it takes to grow. Organics and naturals would have to be taxed at a higher rate due to more resources used in production. After all we do have the cheepest and safest food in the world so why not make the consummer pay a little bit more for that. We could then use that money to buy carbon offests for all the livestock in India and Brazil, after all their numbers make the US numbers look like a drop in the bucket.

    Vikif, the digestures that your taking about cost millions to put in place and most farms, feedlots, and dairys would not be able to afford one, even with a tax credit

  4. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Outsider if I can reply,

    I would like to see a tax on a large variety of things that deplete and damage our environment, so long as the revenues raised go to reduce or even eliminate traditional taxes.

    For example, let’s suppose I pay $5000 a year in income, sales, property tax, etc. If they would disappear, and I would pay that $5000 in terms of higher prices for goods and services that harm our environment, that would be a great tradeoff in my mind.

    In addition, I could reduce that $5000 be consuming less of the polluting goods and more of the non or less-polluting goods.

    A tax system levied on pollution or depletion of resources is an alternative to cap and trade and more likely to be successful.

  5. vickif Avatar


    How long do you think it will be before people demand it anyhow? Not long in my opinion. It is already becoming a bigger deal.

    As far as private land owners, well they don’t own the air I breath. And we already tax cars for emissions, it is done all the time.

    organic, well, if we use fewer chemicals, it may be a trade off we have to live with. But organics go above and beyond just pollutants…they have health benefits for those who consume them.

    Maybe the changes will cost millions, but so does cleaning up the atmosphere, and you and I pay for that too. I do like the thought you had on carbon offsets, but would like more info. And you are right about the damage to the Brzil and Indian rain forests….but I don’t know that they would let us “fix” that.

    So what do we do then? Nothing? We can’t do nothing anymore. Maybe we start by making cattle ranches that raise x amount of cattle per year pay the tax or convert? Use some of the revenues to help aid smaller operations to convert.

    Chicken and pork emissions and damage are less familiar to me, but as a whole I would say they are less detramental in the bigger picture….but we can tax them too, to the degree that it is reasonable in comparisson to the damage cows do.

    Wild horses are an entirely different subject, just as many other species are. Horses were native here at one point….not true of cows. But the number of wild horses and their part in the greater scheme of things has far less gravity, it’s apples and oranges, thousands and millions…not a good comparison.

    Like it or not, we have safer food because the food is more commercialized, that leaves little room for small ranches and farmers. Their days are fading anyhow, by no cause of the “greenies”. It is called capitalism, and little guys don’t have a prayer without public ‘welfare’ prgrams. Frankly, those programs are running out of time and money too.

  6. vickif Avatar


    Excellent! I would love to learn more. Could you recommend any readings?
    – – – – –
    It is a pretty common idea among academic economists, although they promote it at their peril in some states.

    I googled. Here is a quick link from the Sierra Club.

    Here is a more technical link from the Wikipedia on taxing externalities.

    I’m sure a search will show a lot of better links. Ralph Maughan

  7. Salle Avatar

    Everybody screams about paying taxes but without them the government would not have any money to do anything. The problem in the present day tax structure is that we, the little people~as Dennis Hastert, former speaker of the house called us~are the ones who actually pay the taxes. Megacorps pay little if anything, and those in agribusiness receive the greatest amounts in subsidies that are the tax dollars we pay.

    If we had no taxes, there would be no roads and other infrastructure that we depend on, even if we don’t have a clue about the various elements of it, we all use it (them). This includes the satellites that reflect signal for our cell phones, TVs, Internet, roads and bridges, electric grid and such.

    It’s how the taxes are assessed that is screwed up.

    The EU now imposes a carbon tax structure that includes auto/truck emissions and there is a far higher fuel tax. It charges rates based on engine size and emissions from them. That’s probably one major way to deal with our emissions issues here. Another thing about the EU is that they have less cattle. Much of what is raised here goes overseas, and we taxpayers pay for it while the cattle industry gets subsides, so we are probably paying double for their subsidization, and that doesn’t include degradation of our public commons ~ public lands that are damaged by grazing. And then there’s the emissions from megalivestock production. Ever driven past a feedlot? Or a large dairy production facility? Or a big chicken house? It’s nasty, putrid gas that makes some folks very ill. Imagine living within ten miles of one of those.

    If you don’t have a yard big enough for your animals, you either need fewer animals or a new way to make a living instead of constantly feeding at the public teat.

    It’s amazing that ranchers/agribusiness megacorps get bailed out and/or paid off every season but the rest of us suffer from job loss and poor performance ratings when we don’t produce at a positive profit level. These folks never have anything like performance reviews that force them to be productive or lose their jobs because Uncle Sam always bails them out so they can drive around in new pick up trucks and whine about how hard life is.

    Most of the farming done in the US anymore is large monocrop facilities that really only produce raw materials for fast foods that require incredible amounts of petroleum products to produce and ship raw materials and finished products from place to place. And just what nutritional value do most of them have in the first place? they create a situation where diabetes and obesity are rampant thus creating higher medical need that feeds the medical industrial complex that guarantees its longevity due to the perpetuation of sick people because we no longer either know how to feed ourselves properly or have the time to do so.

    They should recognize the privileges afforded them by living and operating in a free country that makes it possible for them to have the opportunity to succeed ~ by paying their fair share of taxes.

  8. outsider Avatar

    9.2 million horses is not something to just ignore, and thats an old number before the slaughter ban went into effect. The idea that they are more “native” than other livestock is absurd. I can use the same argument on pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, cows, and about any other domesticated livestock.

  9. Salle Avatar

    The modern horse came here from Europe with the early Spanish conquistadors, but there was a smaller specie here in this continent quite some time before that ~as evidenced by the Hagerman Horse fossil fields in southern Idaho. It’s not like there were never horses here ever.

    Part of the problem with the wild horses is that the BushCo administration has consistently reduced the lands available for them and giving it to cattle grazing and fossil fuel extraction interests thus greatly reducing the open space they once had available. This little told fact is one that should receive notice. They did this in order to give their buddies more of our resources while taking away the land for things they can’t make a buck from.

    Maybe they should stop “chaining” half of central Nevada for the sake of unprofitable grazing interests too.

  10. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    I answered your query inside of your comment above

  11. ed Avatar

    I agree with the tax on what you consume as Ralph sums it up. No one anywhere is going to starve because of decreased beef consumption. It’s just not a suitable staple for diets in the future no matter how much you like to eat beef.

    On another note, why is it the production of gas/waste from the 6 billion humans gets little press or attention. At some point there will have to be thought given as to how many people fit on our planet.

  12. ed Avatar

    That last comment is directed to the waste coming directly out of humans 🙂

  13. Brian Ertz Avatar


    the gas/waste that comes out of humans is very insignificant relative to that out of cattle. the reason is cattle have rumen, an extra stomach, and rely on rumen bacteria in that first chamber to break down grasses. Cattle are vastly less efficient at digesting that grass than other ruminants – especially natives like deer – and pretty much exist in a perpetual state of belching lots of methane gas.

    Ralph identified the ability for intensified production (i.e. closed feedlots) to capture methane – (as well as the nitrous oxide, which warms at 296-310 times the rate of CO2, emitted from cattle manure) and burn it as fuel. Communities in underdeveloped countries have been doing this in anaerobic digesters (basically a closed basin inoculated with bacteria) as a heat source for a long, long time though our media likes the flare of calling it recent innovation. You may even remember this concept being applied with hogs in the Mel Gibson flick Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. Incentivizing hog-shit as a source of fuel even has the potential to remedy a lot of water-quality issues in the south.

    In any event, intensified production of livestock also has the net benefit of being able to control the feed that livestock ingest. Supplementing feed can increase efficiency of digestion and reduce emission. You can’t do that with livestock on the open range.

  14. outsider Avatar

    But Brian E I thought that we were trying to get away from the supplementing feed process, ie grain feed beef, due to the amount of resouces that it take to produce one pound of beef in a feedlot, and try to get back to grass feed beef that takes less resouces. I guess I’m a little confused, are we for grass fed beef that casues extra methane, or are we for feedlot beef that uses extra resources?

  15. JB Avatar

    I can’t speak for Brian, but I’d just assume we get rid of ALL beef.

  16. outsider Avatar

    jb you know what they say about assumeing 😉

  17. vicki Avatar

    as soon, I beleiev, he would just as soon get rid of all beef.

  18. Brian Ertz Avatar

    The cost of beef ought reflect the actual costs associated with its production. if it did, we wouldn’t eat so much of it.

    in my personal little utopia – beef would be considered much more a luxury than a staple as it is today. we cannot sustain 3 servings of beef per meal 3 times a day. Rather, beef might be consumed similar to how we treat shrimp, crab, or other meats. i don’t eat shrimp 3 times a day every day.

    that’s the way i believe we ought think about beef.

  19. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I certainly agree with Brian,

    There is a growing belief that red meat (I mean beef) isn’t good for you.

    This isn’t true as long as it’s in moderation. The amount of beef many people eat is far beyond moderation, so the unhealthy excess takes a big toll.

    The actual cost of beef at the level consumed by Americans, as opposed to its nominal price, is very high. This is just a guess, but perhaps $30 a pound.

  20. Rccarufel Avatar

    I dont think quantity of beef that is consumed is the issue, its the quality. Ground beef off the farm that is proccesed myself is far more lean than the grocerie store burger you can buy with all the pork grissle thats in it.
    As far as this (fart) tax that is being talked about, I think its the biggest bunch of crap ive ever herd. If you tax livestock, exspecialy when you cant hardy break even on a beef cow from birth to slauter. These farmers will consider not raising as many, or not at all. Also the price will just shift its way to the store shelves anyway so now your raising the price of food again. And that good for everyone isnt it.

  21. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Rccarufel’s comments don’t surprise me, and he’s probably correct that his burger is of better quality.

    A couple points,

    I don’t think a tax is really being considered, so we are talking about this as an idea.

    Beef growers of all kinds would be taxed. So would many other activities such as power plants. The dirtier they are, the more tax they would pay. There are thousands of more examples.

    In the pollution tax concept I was arguing for, all activities that degrade the environment would be taxed. This would encourage the producers of these goods to modify their operations to produce fewer externalities (pollution) so that they would have to pay less tax.

    The price of the product they produce would go up. That would be one of the intents of the tax, to reduce the quantity of the product demanded. The cleaner their process or operation, the less tax they would owe per unit. Many economic activities would no tax. Some might merit a subsidy if they produced positive externalities.

    Familiar taxes (income, corporate, sales, property taxes) would go down (maybe disappear) as they are offset by the revenue from the tax on activities that produce negative externalities.

    It’s hard to say how the gentleman (Rccarurfel and those similarly situated) would end up except they would be worse off if they made no changes in how they produce their product.

    Overall the economy would be more efficient, wealthier and the environment cleaner.

    Although this make sound surprising if you haven’t heard it before, it is standard knowledge in the study of environmental economics. In truth, it probably isn’t politically feasible.

  22. JB Avatar

    Thanks, Vicki. I need to be more careful posting before the caffeine has kicked in!

    Rccarurlfel said: “As far as this (fart) tax that is being talked about, I think its the biggest bunch of crap ive ever herd.”

    Sorry, I just found this comment funny. 🙂

  23. Buck Avatar

    I’m just and old retired military man, who has just watched, read and listened over the years. And from what I’ve read so far is that most of you have missed the overall point of this so called Fart Tax. If what the agriculture folks are telling us around here is true, we are going to see not only large increases in beef prices, but chicken, pork, sheep, and all other live stock commodities. Oh yea don’t forget milk cheese, butter and eggs. With a $185 a head (per year) tax on dairy cows milk could be well over $6.00 a gal. Cheese as high as $5.00 a pound. That’s good for all the younger families trying to raise children. Guess maybe we should stop having families as well. Less mouths to feed,that’s also less methane.

  24. Angel Avatar

    Buck, there is another point I have also read on this. It the tax is passed then we will be bring in more meat from beyond our borders. We are outsourcing this country into ruin. I also agree that this tax will reach far more then just the beef in the meat case. Like you said, dairy products will become a luxury item. If this tax passes what’s to stop the next tax on other domestic animals?

    I do not want to trust what I eat to other countries that have a far less health codes on stuff I put into my body. Remember Mad Cow epidemic in Europe?

  25. Buck Avatar

    Concur with you 100% in both cases. One thing is that when a tax is started it almost is never stopped. One good thing about this tax is it will bring the small farmer with less than 50 head, unless they figure that one out too.

  26. Brian Ertz Avatar

    Angel & Buck,

    the tax would mostly affect large-scale cattle production. This is because it’s a tax on the green-houses gases that are emitted by livestock.

    Cattle have “rumen” – extra stomachs – that have anaerobic bacteria living in them that break down grasses and other high carbon forages. This process, especially unique to cattle belching (95% of the gas comes out of the front end, not the back end), produces far more methane gas than other livestock like chickens or pork.

    There is no indication that taxing cattle in this way would not likewise apply to foreign produced livestock. And there is no indication that producers would not be able to avoid or lessen the impact of the tax by initiating strategies to “capture” the gases – perhaps even burn it as fuel as is done in a lot of places around the world – and to enhance the quality of feed to minimize emission.

    Also, why should beef and dairy products not be considered “luxury” items ? the cost of producing these items is far more than we see at the supermarket — that’s because we all already pay huge amounts (in taxes) for the cleanup and environmental costs of beef & dairy, when we subsidize the industry with tax-dollars or reduced ag taxes, and when we pay for predator abatement, weed abatement, water allocation that the public owns but livestock producers have exclusive use of, etc.

    that’s what this tax is about — cattle production is responsible for a vastly disproportionate amount of greenhouse gases — that’s a problem — should we all pay for the problem ?

    Why should my tax dollars go to producers of beef when i don’t eat beef ? In a free market, why not let those that choose to eat beef pay for the real costs of beef production at the market instead of socializing those costs to everyone ?


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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