Central Valley residents applaud effort to address perverse incentives of one of California’s marquee climate programs

On the heels of a February visit with local residents, Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), chair of the Senate Environmental Quality committee and co-chair of the legislative environmental caucus, introduced legislation this week aimed at addressing wrongheaded incentives created by California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 31, 2023

MEDIA CONTACT
Jill Hindenach, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, 202-494-6309, jhindenach@leadershipcounsel.org

MERCED, CA—On the heels of a February visit with local residents, Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), chair of the Senate Environmental Quality committee and co-chair of the legislative environmental caucus, introduced legislation this week aimed at addressing wrongheaded incentives created by California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). Senate Bill 709 seeks to tighten the LCFS to stop it from encouraging large industrial dairy operations to maintain and even increase already large herd sizes and methane production in pursuit of profits from the program.

Specifically, SB 709 was amended this week in response to residents’ and others’ concerns that the LCFS is exacerbating ongoing disproportionate harm to those who live and work in close proximity to some of the Central Valley’s largest dairies—which have as many as tens of thousands of cows at any one time. The bill is sponsored by Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, an environmental justice group based in the San Joaquin Valley working with impacted communities.  

“We thank Senator Allen for meeting with our communities, listening to our experiences, and, most importantly, taking action to address our concerns. For years, we’ve endured pollution from a dairy that keeps expanding, and we’re not alone,” said David Rodriguez, Planada community resident and Central Valley Defenders of Clean Air and Water representative. “If the dairy’s latest expansion is granted by local officials, it will have 9,750 cows—twice the number of people in our small town. More cows and more manure mean more air and water pollution, as well as water usage in a region that is already severely overdrafted.”

Throughout the Central Valley, and particularly in the San Joaquin Valley, factory dairy farms have long produced Volatile Organic Compounds, ammonia, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and dust “which all contribute to extremely dangerous and unhealthy levels of ozone,” putting nearby residents’ health at risk, a recent Leadership Counsel white paper found. Add to that widespread nitrate pollution from manure that contaminates groundwater and renders drinking water dangerous.  

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) includes methane captured from massive dairy manure cesspools into the LCFS, yielding highly valuable credits for industrial dairies in California and factory farms around the country. Incentivized by the profit prospects, large-scale dairies are encouraged to grow and further exacerbate vast air and water pollution.

“The state’s LCFS policies encourage dairies to create methane and promote the most environmentally harmful industry practices that disproportionately harm low-income communities of color,” said Phoebe Seaton, co-executive director of Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability. “We are grateful that Senator Allen wants to prevent the LCFS from facilitating and even worsening the harms of large dairy operations and returning integrity to the program.”

“As chair of the State Senate’s Environmental Quality Committee, it is my responsibility to ensure that California does not incentivize pollution. Unfortunately, it appears that a program intended to reward an industry for addressing its climate emissions is being exploited to do just the opposite and is threatening public health,” said Senator Allen. “I’m authoring SB 709 not just because it is critical that we get the math right if we are going to reach our climate goals, but because I visited some of the most harmed communities and heard directly from the residents who are suffering and who are crying out for this common-sense change to be made.”

SB 709 narrowly focuses on four aspects of the LCFS program: (1) requires regulators to conduct an accurate life-cycle analysis of dairy and livestock greenhouse gas emissions, (2) eliminates the current ten-year guarantee for dairy and livestock methane credits so that credits are not granted to operations that no longer merit credit generation, (3) prevents dairy and livestock operations from growing for the purpose of capturing more profits from the LCFS credit program, and (4) increases transparency of the program.

“We are surrounded by 27 dairies and less than a mile away there is a digester that operates 24/7. We smell the odors of ammonia and burnt gas, and during the summer it is unfathomable,” said Maria Arevalo, Pixley community resident and Central Valley Defenders of Clean Air and Water representative. “Thank you, Senator Allen, for introducing this bill, and we ask the legislature to support it in the name of community members who are suffering the consequences. Factory farm gas cannot be good for communities when it is severely impacting our health and environment.”

SB 709 will be heard in the Senate Environmental Quality Committee on April 19.

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Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability (LCJA) works alongside the most impacted communities in the San Joaquin Valley and Eastern Coachella Valley to advocate for sound policy and eradicate injustice to secure equal access to opportunity regardless of wealth, race, income, and place. LCJA focuses on issues like housing, land use, transportation, safe and affordable drinking water and climate change impacts on communities.

Central Valley Defenders of Clean Air and Water is a coalition of community residents throughout the San Joaquin Valley living near and facing impacts from concentrated animal feeding operations. The Defenders promote and enforce policies and practices that decrease pollution, degradation of the environment, and other negative impacts from dairies on vulnerable communities and the region.

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