A new finding by the Environmental Protection Agency that greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide resulting from livestock production, could "potentially be very significant" for future regulation of the meat and livestock industry. According to Tamara Thies, chief environmental counsel for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the finding brings the issue into the regulatory purview of the Clean Air Act, which could mean a vast permitting system and more regulation of livestock production.

At the same time, she told MEATPOULTRY.com that the finding may be just one maneuver in a political strategy the Obama Administration is using to prod Congress to come up with better regulatory controls for greenhouse gas emissions before heavy tactics like the Clean Air Act are actually brought into play.

"Congress and the Administration recognize that we are minor emitters of carbon dioxide," she said. "Even the EPA recognizes that. The big ones are still the utilities and transportation." In 2006 the EPA estimated that total greenhouse-gas production from all of agriculture constituted just 6.4 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Still, if livestock production found itself under the blanket of the Clean Air Act, the result could be a complex permitting system for carbon dioxide emissions that would apply to virtually every livestock production unit, from the largest feedlots and hog barns to small family farms with a couple of cows and a few goats.

"Controlling carbon dioxide from livestock and other agricultural sources is very difficult," Thies told MEATPOULTRY.com. "So this is potentially a real problem for all of agriculture. What we’re doing, however, is working hard with land-grant universities to come up with ways to control emissions through research."

She said she didn’t see the finding as particularly indicative of the general approach the Administration may take with greenhouse gases or with regulation of livestock production. "I think we still need to wait and see for that," she commented.