The California Legislature last week received a load of bad publicity because of a new law that attempts to reduce the methane output of dairy cows dramatically — putting California on the cutting edge of worldwide efforts to regulate cow flatulence. It sounds like one of those overstated internet memes, but sadly, it’s a true story.
And it’s not even the most ridiculous case of gaseous emissions coming from Sacramento. As the Legislature went back into session Monday, the state’s newly empowered Democratic majority (following the Nov. 8 election, it now has supermajorities in the Assembly and the state Senate) spent much of its first-day floor session passing meaningless resolutions condemning the incoming Trump administration.
As the Los Angeles Times reported: “Gaveling in a new two-year session, lawmakers announced bills that would provide attorneys to immigrants in the country illegally, refuse assistance to any proposed registry of Muslim immigrants and require any wall built along the Mexican border to first be approved by California voters.” Most memorably, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, stated: “Californians do not need healing. We need to fight.”
Even those of us who aren’t fans of these particular Trump proposals can’t help but mock the self-importance of an increasingly left-leaning state Legislature vowing to strike a states’ rights pose and disobey the incoming GOP administration. This is symbolic blather, at a time when California has plenty of real issues (business flight, pension debt, etc.) to address. Then again, the legislative speech-ifying will be far less harmful than the cow-fart law.
Building on past laws that force California businesses to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to 1990 levels, the measure (S.B. 1383) will force the state’s already struggling dairy farms to reduce cow emissions to 40 percent below 2013 levels by 2030. That’s an enormous burden for farms to digest. They will need to install costly new equipment — referred to as “methane digesters” — that generate electricity from piles of cow patties.
The new law earmarks $50 million from the state’s first-in-the-nation cap-and-trade system, but is unlikely to offset the costs for most farms. Expect prices to go up for milk and other dairy products, and more dairies to close their operations.
As a reminder of California’s other-worldliness, cap and trade attempts to force manufacturers to slash their greenhouse-gas emissions. Basically, the state caps the amount of emissions that industries can emit and then reduces the allowable amount each year. Companies can buy, sell, or trade their carbon “allowances” on a state-run auction. The state keeps the revenues, which is why industry groups filed suit arguing the process is a complex tax-hike scam.
The cap-and-trade system is run by the ham-fisted California Air Resources Board — the same agency that is tasked with coming up with the specific regulations to apply to dairy farmers. As is often the case, the Legislature passes laws that are general, then leaves it to the regulators to figure out exactly how to torment California’s remaining businesses. (As an example of CARB’s thinking, the agency has proposed a plan to give poor people electric cars to help battle climate change.)
For a sense of the insanity here, the new dairy-related law includes the following edict: “To the extent possible, efforts to reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants should focus on areas of the state that are disproportionately affected by poor air quality.”
“Short-lived climate pollutants” is a technical term for cow flatulence. Critics note that because the gases are so short-lived, they have no impact on anything — and certainly not the global climate. But even if one believes cow methane is a crisis, it’s hard not to see the problem with a law targeted at areas with poor air quality. That means California’s Central Valley, the vast agricultural valley that spans from Bakersfield to Redding.
There aren’t many dairies in the Los Angeles basin or the Bay Area. They mostly are in these rural areas, which are poor economically and not just in terms of air quality. CARB’s cap-and-trade rules — and other regulations, too — have been crushing the food processing and oil industries, which are among the region’s main employers. The latest rules are yet another urban-concocted economic assault on an area that has not experienced the high-tech boom.
In 2011, I reported on a Fresno meeting sponsored by the California Assembly Rural Caucus, which brought together farm-related companies and an official from CARB to discuss greenhouse-gas regulations. At the time, the state’s unemployment rate was around 12 percent, and much higher in the inland farm regions. The food-processing industry increasingly was heading to China and Mexico to flee California’s high-cost structure.
Discussions focused on jobs “leakage,” which was a fancy way of discussing jobs that flee to other states in the wake of new climate-based regulations. The food companies wanted to be put in the “high leakage” category in order to gain exemptions from some regulations. They had been placed instead in the “medium leakage” category.
The CARB official said California’s rules would help clean up the valley’s notoriously dirty air, but reductions in carbon dioxide won’t clean up smog. Backers of California’s law originally promoted it as a means to prod other states and nations to step up their efforts to address climate change. Yet the latest law shows California officials haven’t changed their approach at all, as they continue to put Earth-saving dreams above real-world jobs.
“Reducing short-lived pollutants is the right thing to do for public health and for environmental justice,” Speaker Rendon said in a statement released by the governor’s office. “By taking on harmful super pollutants like black carbon, methane and hydrofluorocarbons, S.B. 1383 is another critical tool in our efforts to prevent and mitigate the dangerous effects of climate change. With this bill, California is once again leading the way for the nation and the world.”
It’s hard to see any justice in this environmental policy. It’s also difficult to take seriously the words of top legislators, whose concern about cow farts is exceeded only by their own verbal flatulence.