Saturday, June 20, 2009


WASHINGTON – One contributor to global warming — bigger than coal mines, landfills and sewage treatment plants — is being left out of efforts by the Obama administration and House Democrats to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
Cow burps.
Belching from the nation's 170 million cattle, sheep and pigs produces about one-quarter of the methane released in the U.S. each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That makes the hoofed critters the largest source of the heat-trapping gas.
In part because of an adept farm lobby campaign that equates government regulation with a cow tax, the gas that farm animals pass is exempt from legislation being considered by Congress to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
The EPA under President Barack Obama has said it has no plans to regulate the gas, even though the agency recently included methane among six greenhouse gases it believes are endangering human health and welfare.
The message circulating in Internet chat rooms, the halls of Congress and farm co-ops had America's farms facing financial ruin if the EPA required them to purchase air-pollution permits like power plants and factories do. The cost of those permits amounted to a cow tax, farm groups argued.
"It really has taken on a life of its own," said Rick Krause, a lobbyist with the American Farm Bureau Federation, which coined the term cow tax and spread it to farmers across the country. "This is something that people understand. All that we have to say is that (cows) are the next step with these proposed permit fees. And people are still talking about it."
Administration officials and House Democratic leaders have tried to assure farm groups that they have no intention of regulating cows. That effort, however, has done little to ease the concern of farmers and their advocates in Congress about the toll that regulating greenhouse gases will have on agriculture.
Lawmakers and farm groups are now pressing for the climate legislation to guarantee that farmers will be compensated for taking steps to reduce greenhouse gases. That could lead to farmers getting paid if their cows pass less gas.
Research has shown that changing cattle diet and boosting efficiency — such as producing the same amount of milk and beef from a smaller herd — can result in less gas, according Frank M. Mitloehner, an associate professor at the University of California at Davis, who has studied livestock gas for 15 years.
"I don't think livestock should be ignored. Every industry has to play their role," Mitloehner said. But laws designed to reduce emissions from smokestacks and tailpipes won't work with cattle, which can't be fitted with pollution control devices, Mitloehner said.
"The belching is very hard to collect," he said. "You cannot capture these gases."
The climate bill specifically excludes enteric fermentation — the fancy term for the gas created by digestion and expelled largely by burping — from the limit it would place on greenhouse gas emissions. The legislation directs the EPA not to include it among the various sources that could be subject to new performance standards.
EPA administrator Lisa Jackson has called rumors of the cow tax "ridiculous notions" and a "distraction."
On Thursday, Rep. Todd Tihart, R-Kan., successfully added an amendment to the spending bill that covers the EPA to block the agency from including biological processes of livestock — including the release of methane — as part of regulating greenhouse gases.
House aides and EPA officials say that controlling such emissions is unworkable. Cow burps make up about 2 percent of all the climate-altering pollution in the U.S.
But allies of farmers in Congress say the reluctance to step in the cow tax debate has a lot to do with the outcry from the agriculture industry and moderate Democrats from rural states whose votes are needed to pass the bill.
"I think they realized that if you are a Democrat in an agricultural state, a red state, that this is radioactive and I think that is why they have tried scrupulously to reaffirm that they don't have any intention of doing this," said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. He is sponsoring a bill that would bar the EPA from requiring farmers to get permits for cattle burps.
Thune, whose state is home to a half-million cattle, first heard about the cow tax at a South Dakota Cattlemen Association's conference in early December. Within weeks he introduced his bill and recruited support from New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, whose state boasts three times more cows.
The origins of the cow tax can be traced to last July, when President George W. Bush's EPA released documents outlining how the Clean Air Act could regulate greenhouse gases.
Even though the Bush administration had no intention of using the law, farm groups seized on a single paragraph deep in the comments from various federal agencies. The Agriculture Department warned that if EPA decided to regulate agricultural sources of greenhouse gases, numerous farms would face costly and time-consuming process to acquire permits for barnyard burping.
The Farm Bureau quickly did the math and figured farms would have to pay about $175 for each dairy cow, $87.50 per head of beef cattle and $20 for each hog to purchase permits for emissions.
The cow tax was born.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Over 60% of U.S. bankruptcies caused by medical bills

Ok, can we get some comprehensive healthcare reform now ??

This horror story is about those who have health insurance & also had good jobs & were mostly educated. They still had to file for bankruptcy protection at alarming rates. This does not even include the 15% or 45 million people (like myself) who cannot afford insurance.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Medical bills are involved in more than 60 percent of U.S. personal bankruptcies, an increase of 50 percent in just six years, U.S. researchers reported on Thursday.
More than 75 percent of these bankrupt families had health insurance but still were overwhelmed by their medical debts, the team at Harvard Law School, Harvard Medical School and Ohio University reported in the American Journal of Medicine.
"Using a conservative definition, 62.1 percent of all bankruptcies in 2007 were medical; 92 percent of these medical debtors had medical debts over $5,000, or 10 percent of pretax family income," the researchers wrote.
"Most medical debtors were well-educated, owned homes and had middle-class occupations."
The researchers, whose work was paid for by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said the share of bankruptcies that could be blamed on medical problems rose by 50 percent from 2001 to 2007.
"Unless you're Warren Buffett, your family is just one serious illness away from bankruptcy," Harvard's Dr. David Himmelstein, an advocate for a single-payer health insurance program for the United States, said in a statement.
"For middle-class Americans, health insurance offers little protection," he added.
The United States is embarking on an overhaul of its healthcare system, which is now a patchwork of public programs such as Medicare and employer-sponsored health insurance that leaves 15 percent of the population -- 46 million people -- with no coverage.
About 170 million people get health insurance through an employer but President Barack Obama says soaring healthcare costs are hurting the economy and forcing businesses to drop medical insurance for their workers.


"Nationally, a quarter of firms cancel coverage immediately when an employee suffers a disabling illness; another quarter do so within a year," the report reads.
Obama told Congress on Wednesday he was open to making mandatory health insurance part of the overhaul but only with exemptions for the poor and for small businesses.
Neither Congress nor Obama are considering the kind of single-payer plan advocated by Himmelstein and his colleague Dr. Steffie Woolhandler.
"We need to rethink health reform," Woolhandler said. "Covering the uninsured isn't enough.
"Only single-payer national health insurance can make universal, comprehensive coverage affordable by saving the hundreds of billions we now waste on insurance overhead and bureaucracy."
"Among common diagnoses, nonstroke neurologic illnesses such as multiple sclerosis were associated with the highest out-of-pocket expenditures (mean $34,167), followed by diabetes ($26,971), injuries ($25,096), stroke ($23,380), mental illnesses ($23,178), and heart disease ($21,955)," the researchers wrote