Sparks fly in recent debate over state funding for methane digesters. The increased production of digesters was in response to California’s recent cap-and- trade program which calls on farmers to slash greenhouse emissions. Some environmental organizations are arguing that methane digesters gives dairy farmers incentive to increase their herds. Dairy farmers argue that blocking funding will cause farmers to move out of California in search of better conditions. Can business interests and environmental stewardship work together to reduce greenhouse emissions? This SacBee article highlights this debate.
Joey Airoso last year hooked his dairy into a huge California renewable energy project, a network of farms that turns the gas leaking off manure from 35,000 cows into a biofuel.
It wasn’t cheap. The total project cost more than $30 million, but a grant from the state’s cap-and-trade program that’s meant to help dairies slash greenhouse gas emissions and comply with a global warming law made Airoso’s decision an easier call.
So far, California has steered at least $260 million in those grants to methane digester projects like the one Airoso joined. The California Air Resources Board projects they’ll remove millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere, and Gov. Gavin Newsom is asking lawmakers to put another $35 million into the dairy grants.
California’s cap-and-trade program sets targets for industries to slash their greenhouse gas emissions over time or buy pollution credits at state-run auctions if they can’t scale down their carbon footprint. The state uses revenue from the auctions to seed other greenhouse gas-reducing projects, like mass transit and rebates for electric cars.
Dairies account for more than half of the state’s methane emissions through manure and from cow burps and farts, according to the California Air Resources Board. By 2030 dairies must cut methane emissions by 40 percent to comply with a 2016 state law.
Dairymen argue they’ll struggle to hit the target with methane digesters, and that the projects are so successful they deserve even more money from the state.
California dairies have about 1.7 million milking cows with the number declining slightly every year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They produce about 18.5 percent of the nation’s milk.
Sumner from UC Davis said many dairy families are hedging their bets on California, with relatives opening farms in other states with fewer regulations. He described dairymen as wealthy, but over time, they might decide they can earn more money in another location.
Boccadoro, the industry lobbyist, said dairies leaving the state would undermine California’s global warming goals, too. The cows and their methane would simply move across state lines, and Californians would still buy cheese and milk, he said.
“We live in a state where people tend to want to promote being green and living a green lifestyle, but then it’s also important for people to support the products that are produced here,” Said Joey Airoso