September 14, 2016

California Legislature on 'War Path'

 |  By: Anna-Lisa Laca

Last week the California state legislature passed a bill to reduce methane emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. Not only does the deal regulate emissions from vehicles and manufacturing, but it also targets dairy farms. According to Rob Vandenheuvel, general manager of the California Milk Producers Federation, dairies will be targeted in two ways: enteric emissions which include burps and farts from dairy cows, and manure emissions. “The goal [of the proposed bill] was to achieve 70% reduction from manure,” he told AgriTalk host Mike Adams earlier this week. The remainder would come from enteric emissions, but fortunately in the passed bill cows are off the hook—methane reductions from burps and farts aren’t included.

One proposed method of reducing methane emissions from manure is to install methane digesters. In order the reach the reduction goal outlined in the bill, industry experts say there will need to be 500 more digesters installed on farm. Today there are roughly one dozen digesters installed on California dairies. The California Department of ag estimates there would need to be $500 million in state assistance just to get the digesters installed. Vandenheuvel says digesters aren’t a sustainable answer. “Digesters are not the end all be all some thought they would be,” he says. “There are regulatory challenges to getting a digester permitted.”

Frank Mitloehner, Ph.D., professor and air quality Extension specialist at University of California Davis says this proposed law will be very negative for the U.S. dairy market. “If you have individual states with laws like that you have market issues,” he says. “California dairy producers think they are burned with expenses other producers are not.”

He says all eyes are watching how the manure management will be achieved.

Mitloehner doesn’t know if anything good will come from the bill but says California won’t be the only place laws like this pass. Vandenheuvel says the legislature was on a “war path” against businesses, specifically agriculture this session. “This legislature sent a clear message that they don’t support agriculture long term,” he says.  “The environmentalists see blood and if they had their way the dairy industry would not exist.”

Vandenheuvel says this type of law is exactly what it will take to drive even more dairy farmers out of the state. “To regulate these types of activities with no way for the dairymen to pay for it, it’s just too easy to move to another state,” he says. “If a California producer wants to move to another state, there is no environmental benefit, you’ve just moved money out of the state.”

While the passed bill was less restricting than the proposed bill, industry leaders aren’t considering it a win.  

“Even the bill that was ultimately passed is not something we will be able to achieve,” Vandenheuvel says.