Call it Cowgate.
A political beef over bovine belching is dominating a Senate race in Wisconsin, the heart of America's dairyland.
Rep. Mark Neumann wants to milk Sen. Russ Feingold's 1993 vote in favor of government-funded research on cow gas in hopes voters will re-moove the incumbent and elect him.
Researchers study cows because they produce methane gas during digestion and release it into the atmosphere by burping. Methane is a key factor in the earth-warming greenhouse effect.
Neumann, a Republican, began airing TV ads this week that maintain his Democratic rival is no budget hawk, but instead is soft on cutting government waste and fighting tax increases.
Neumann's campaign ad features cows making flatulent sounds and a white-coated scientist running toward Bossie with a glass bottle trying to get a sample of the emissions.
This smelled like government waste to me, so I wrote a bill that killed the funding of this ridiculous program, Neumann declared. Feingold doesn't get it.
But Feingold's campaign wasn't cowed by the allegation.
For Neumann to imply that Sen. Feingold supports this obscure cow-gas study is udderly ridiculous, Feingold's campaign manager, Mike Wittenwyler, retorted this week.
He said Feingold voted against the 1993 amendment that would have cut Environmental Protection Agency funding because that would have also eliminated funding for other methane-research programs such as preventing gas explosions in landfills and coal mines.
Neumann is grasping at straws in an effort to find a flaw in Senator Feingold's superb record on deficit reduction, Wittenwyler said.
Over at the EPA, Paul Stolpman, director of the Office of Atmospheric Programs, concedes its Ruminant Livestock Methane Program has been the butt of a lot of jokes.
But he says the issue of finding ways to reduce emissions that cause climate change is very, very serious.
Ruminant animals - cud-chewing animals with a divided stomach - are the second-leading source of methane in the United States, Stolpman said. Landfills are the major source," he added.
We're trying to find out what combinations of feed allow the cattle to more effectively produce milk and, in the process, find the feed that cuts down on the amount of methane they belch, he said.
Stolpman said the project, which began in 1994 and to date has cost $3 million to $4 million, is nearing the end of its research phase and farmers are pleased with the results.
You improve the efficiency of the animal, and it cuts down on pollution, he declared.
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