The smell of manure hangs over
These days it's more than just a potent reminder of the region's agricultural roots and the hundreds of thousands of cattle raised on the city's outskirts.
The stench smells like an opportunity.
Investors are lining up to support a planned clean energy park that eventually will convert some of the methane gas released from the manure piles into power for a cheese factory and other businesses. JBS, which runs two of the largest feed yards and the local slaughterhouse, is testing a new technology that heats the cattle excrement and turns it into energy.
"What once used to be a waste stream that was just a byproduct ... they are now recognizing has value," said Bruce Biggi, the economic development coordinator for the city of
The idea is to lure new business to the area with what Biggi likes to call its renewable natural gas — the endless supply of methane from cheap manure.
By reducing the amount of the potent greenhouse gas released into the air, the projects also potentially could turn cow dung into dollars, if a climate bill before Congress becomes law.
"Agriculture and agribusiness is what
Waste may be the new energy crop in these parts. But elsewhere, communities are looking anew at power sources such as the sun and wind that may exist in their own backyards.
The shift is being driven partly by legislation in Congress that would reduce the gases linked to global warming.
The legislation, experts acknowledge, would do little to stem the heating up of the planet if other countries don't take similar action.
Should President Barack Obama sign the bill, it would put a price on each ton of carbon dioxide released. That would drive up the cost of polluting fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas and lead to investment in cleaner sources of energy.
Getting into the game now — like JBS and the investors eyeing
That market could prove lucrative for projects that reduce methane, which is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to trapping heat in the earth's atmosphere.
The fear in
In the city and surrounding
For the oil and gas industry, which produces more oil in
"I can't think of another place in the country like
The confluence of different interests has made
"Our rural communities aren't sold on this yet, there is a lot of uncertainty. But I think in the long run it will stabilize energy prices," Markey said in an interview.
Markey voted for the climate bill when it passed the House in June. Her vote could play a role in her re-election race next year in the largely Republican district.
On an August afternoon, Markey and three other members of the state's congressional delegation were singled out for their climate bill vote. A billboard covered with signatures and topped with the words "Shame on you!" stood at the entrance of the lunchtime event, organized by the American Petroleum Institute. The event drew about 600 people to a cavernous exhibit hall outside of
"Why would we do anything to drive up their cost of doing business? It makes no sense," local radio host Amy Oliver Cooke told the crowd. Many wore shirts that said, "Congress, Don't Take Away my Job."
"I can't afford the legislation and neither can you," she said.
David Eckhardt, a fourth-generation
"I know my fuel will go up, I know my chemicals will go up. And the question that was asked at the meeting we had with them was how much? And their answer was not as much as you think it will," said Eckhardt. "That's not an answer."
For Eckhardt, a climate law could change what crops he plants.
For JBS, which operates a feedlot down the road from his farm, changes are already afoot.
Fattening the tens of thousands of cattle the company slaughters annually at its
In 2006, with gas prices peaking, Tom McDonald, the environmental affairs manager for JBS Swift's cattle-feeding operation Five Rivers, started looking for ways not to waste the cows' waste any longer.
At one of the company's largest feedlots in
Eventually, McDonald says it could supply all the power the facility needs to make its corn flakes.
It would also help with global warming because the process converts methane into the less efficient heat-trapper carbon dioxide.
"These ideas had been kicked around for years and been dismissed because they weren't economical," said McDonald. "Well now the economics are coming in line and these systems actually have a payback are looking very promising."
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.