Methane comprises six percent of the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions generated in California. It is a very potent GHG with a global warming potential about 25 times that of carbon dioxide over a 100-year period. Agriculture is responsible for about 60 percent of California’s methane emissions, and the state’s dairies are the primary source of those emissions. Approximately equal levels of emissions come from dairy manure management systems and from the digestive process of enteric fermentation in dairy cattle rumens that generate methane exhaled by the animals.
California has taken significant steps to reduce GHGs, including methane. The following is a summary of progress to date:
- In 2014, the state enacted Senate Bill 605 (Lara), which requires the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to develop a strategy by the end of 2015 to further reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutant (SLCP) emissions, including methane.
- In September 2015, CARB released its draft Short-Lived Climate Pollutant Reduction Strategy (‘Draft Strategy’). The Draft Strategy proposes measures to drastically reduce dairy-related methane emissions by 2030, through a combination of voluntary and regulatory actions. The proposed reductions in agricultural methane emissions are an integral piece of CARB’s 2030 SLCP goals. The ambitious nature of these targets makes it clear that significant investment of public dollars in agricultural solutions will be needed to achieve the desired result.
- In August 2016, the legislature committed a total of $50 million dollars during FY 2016-17 for dairy methane reduction activities. Thanks to CalCAN’s advocacy, SB 859 was passed and includes language stating that a diversity of dairy methane management practices can effectively reduce GHG emissions, including anaerobic digesters and non-digester strategies (e.g., pasture-based management, open solar drying and composting of manure, and solid separation technologies). A new program called the Alternative Manure Management Program (AMMP) was established in 2016, and a portion of the $50 million will be earmarked for it.
Unfortunately, another last-minute bill passed in August 2016 – SB 1383 – differs from SB 859’s support for a diversity of methane reduction practices and instead suggests a preference for digester and biogas technologies, which primarily benefit the largest confined animal operations. This “preferential” language in SB 1383 could have the effect of leaving behind the many dairies that utilize manure management strategies such as pasture-based grazing, solid separation, and composting.
SB 1383 also had the effect of delaying ARB’s authority to regulate dairy methane emissions until 2024. As a result, the state will now need to focus exclusively on incentives-based approaches to dairy methane reductions until ARB’s authority to regulate begins in 2024.
More remains to be done to ensure that some of the $50 million allocated through SB 859 for FY 2016-17 incentivizes manure management strategies other than anaerobic digesters, and that regulations that must be developed by 2024 are considerate of the diversity of dairy operations in the state.
In April 2017, CalCAN and partners submitted a comment letter to CDFA with recommendations on the new AMMP.
CalCAN also produced a series of profiles of dairy farms using alternative manure management practices, available here.
And in October 2015, we produced a policy brief entitled Diversified Strategies for Reducing Methane Emissions from Dairy Operations. In it, we recommend ways that CARB and the lead department, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), can incentivize agricultural methane reduction strategies that make the wisest use of public dollars while maximizing environmental, economic, and public health benefits. Through both their current and planned investments in agricultural methane solutions, CARB and CDFA should promote actions that produce lasting methane reductions while supporting a diverse dairy industry that provides multiple benefits to the state.