How A California Climate Program Rewards Mega-Polluting Factory Farms Nationwide

California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) creates a mass market for biogas, paying US farms to expand, produce more waste, and jumpstart emissions.

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Food System

by Jessica Gable

As California Governor Gavin Newsom gets ready to join world leaders for the United Nations’ climate summit in Glasgow and trumpet his state’s bold climate action, transition to a just economy, and protection of frontline communities, one stark omission from the governor’s climate platform is troubling. California’s air pollution regulator is pinning many of its climate ambitions on a program it claims reduces emissions in the transportation sector. But what it actually does is facilitate the growth of an industry whose significant climate-wrecking emissions are on the rise in the U.S. — factory farms.

California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) incentivizes the production of biogas derived from animal manure and slaughterhouse waste.

Here’s how it works:

Waste is put into a digester either on or off the facility, where anaerobic bacteria break down the waste, producing methane and digestate that then must be disposed of. Once the biogas is treated to produce pipeline-quality methane chemically identical to fracked natural gas, factory farms sell and transport it via fossil fuel pipelines, ready for use in the transportation industry. Companies with fuels that are deemed higher “carbon intensity” can offset their emissions by buying the factory farm biogas credits, allowing them to continue polluting while Big Ag operations profit.

Promoting factory farm biogas means rewarding and entrenching the factory farm industry — hardly a solution for the climate crisis, and a disaster for environmental justice communities in California and across the country. That’s why Food & Water Watch has joined a coalition of organizations in petitioning the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to exclude factory farm-sourced biogas from its LCFS credit program. 

Factory Farms Accelerate Climate Change And Incentivizing Biogas Only Makes it Worse

Our petition makes it clear that the current LCFS credit system not only overstates the emission reduction benefits of factory farm-sourced biogas, it also allows for “double dipping” by factory farms as they use public dollars to subsidize digester construction while receiving millions for the credits they’ve sold. While gas industry reps sell this process to the public as a market-driven emission mitigation measure, it’s better described as a false climate solution that perpetuates air and groundwater pollution, and a financial shell game that enriches corporate shareholders at taxpayers’ expense. 

After the methane has been extracted from manure, factory farm operators are left with huge quantities of waste that must be disposed of. The usual method is to spread the manure over fields as fertilizer, where runoff and leaching frequently contaminate waterways and groundwater.  Land disposal of so-called digestate poses an even higher risk of groundwater contamination than undigested manure, as nitrates and phosphorus in digestate are more water-soluble and susceptible to contaminating water resources. In California, most communities living near these facilities are communities of color. They are the ones hit first and hardest by the pollution of factory farms. Our petition asserts that CARB’s current program violates state law and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibit the agency from adopting policies that cause disparate harms on the basis of race. 

We Need to Get Rid of Biogas in The LCFS And Stop Funding Climate-Wrecking Emissions

Communities in California and across the U.S. will continue to bear the public health burden of factory farms as long as factory farm biogas is included in the Low Carbon Fuel Standard. 

LCFS biogas credits spell disaster for our climate, water and communities — and everyone needs to know.

Spread the word to protect your community.