CARB, CDFA Deny Petition to Regulate Dairies

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the California Department of Food & Agriculture (CDFA) have released a joint letter denying the March 1, 2024 environmental justice petition for the immediate regulation of methane and other criteria pollutant emissions from dairy operations. This is the third time CARB has denied such a request, remaining consistent in their support of the effectiveness and necessity of dairy digesters to help California achieve its SB 1383 (2016) methane emission reduction goals.  

The agencies did, however, agree to a portion of the petition by affirming that they would stay the course on their dairy methane emission strategies, conduct further review on whether SB 1383 goals are being met, and consider the merits of requiring more reporting from dairies on their methane abatement efforts.  CARB also announced that they will hold a workshop in August 2024 to engage stakeholders on these topics and assess their statutory obligations.

Our Take: CARB and CDFA emphatically declare that California’s dairy digester program and other methane emission reduction strategies are working and there is no evidence that additional action will result in greater attainment. That position is supported by their 23-page quantitative analysis that demonstrates their position is both data-driven and results-focused.

Following this announcement, a study by researchers from two of the nation’s leading academic institutions – University of California, Davis and Massachusetts Institute of Technology – was also released. It found that digesters provide a “practical option” for minimizing methane emissions in dairy operations and can be adopted with minimal impact on both air quality and public health.  This CARB-funded report stated the following findings:

  • Dairy digesters capture methane from farms to reduce GHG emissions.
  • Digesters configured to produce electricity increase local emissions of criteria pollutants.
  • Widespread digester adoption would have minor effects on local air quality.
  • Digesters do not harm public health or worsen air quality for disadvantaged communities.

Dairy digesters are a critical emissions reduction tool that has been successfully moving California closer to achieving its very ambitious climate goals. These projects make industry-wide methane abatement possible for the dairy sector. Limiting their use will likely make future industry reductions infeasible due to cost and scale; derail California’s SB 1383 strategy (sector wide 40 percent reduction in methane by 2030); and threaten the state timely achievement of its greenhouse gas emission reductions.

All documents related to the petition can be found here.