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Cow Burps OK: House, Senate Block EPA From Regulating Livestock Emissions

Farmers can breath a little easier now -- cows can burp and fart without fear of the Environmental Protection Agency regulating their methane emissions.

You may remember the "cow tax" rumors that floated around late last year and caused an uproar among farmers and ranchers worried the EPA planned to regulate methane gas emitted from livestock.

The EPA has said -- repeatedly -- it has no plans to impose a cow tax. But the idea was still worrisome for ranchers and farmers.

House and Senate conferees made it official Tuesday and approved an amendment to block agency efforts to require Clean Air Act permits for greenhouse gases emitted by livestock, according to reports from Greenwire and Scientific American.

Under the amendment, the EPA can not use funds to implement rules requiring livestock producers to obtain Clean Air Act operating permits for the biological emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases, according to the Scientific American report.

The amendment was just a small part of a $32.2 billion conference package to fund the EPA, Interior Department and the Forest Service for fiscal 2010. Both chambers had already adopted similar amendments to their versions of the bill.

The EPA's spending plan for fiscal 2010 -- approved by the conferees -- provides $10.3 billion in funding, a 36 percent increase from last year.

Talk of taxes on flatulence was late night fodder for weeks. But jokes aside, it does boil down to a deeper issue of who should be regulating emissions: Congress or the EPA?

A U.S. Supreme Court decision two years ago in Massachusetts v. EPA requires the government agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.

The agency is now in the process of tweaking some of its permitting rules in response to the Supreme court ruling. Under its proposed rules, the EPA raises the permitting threshold established by the Clean Air Act from 250 per tons year to at least 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year.

The country's largest emitters of six greenhouse gas gases -- those above that 25,000 ton-level -- will be required to report their annual emissions.

The rule would impact about 14,000 coal-burning power plants, factories and refineries. About 107 large-scale U.S. farms produce enough greenhouse gas emissions to fall under the proposed rules, the EPA has said.

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