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

Published Oct 28, 2021


Food System

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

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

California Governor Newsom is currently preparing to join world leaders in Glasgow for the United Nations climate summit and trumpet his state’s bold climate action. But we spy one stark omission from the governor’s climate platform: the threat of California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS).

The state’s air pollution regulator is pinning many of its climate ambitions on a program that claims to reduce emissions in the transportation sector. But what it actually does is help grow an industry whose 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.

How the Low Carbon Fuel Standard Drives Factory Farm Gas Production

Creating factory farm biogas starts with putting waste into a digester. There, anaerobic bacteria break down the waste, producing methane and leftovers called digestate.

The biogas is then treated to produce pipeline-quality methane, chemically identical to fracked gas. Factory farms sell and transport this methane through fossil fuel pipelines, ready for use in the transportation industry.

Companies with fuels deemed higher “carbon intensity” can offset their emissions by buying factory farm biogas credits. This allows them to continue polluting, while Big Ag operations profit from the sale.

Promoting factory farm biogas means rewarding and entrenching the factory farm industry. This is 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 to petition the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to exclude factory farm gas from its LCFS credit program. 

Factory Farms Accelerate Climate Change. Incentivizing Their Waste Only Makes It Worse.

Our petition makes clear that the current LCFS credit system not only overstates the emissions reduction benefits of factory farm gas, it also allows for “double dipping” by factory farms. These farms are using public dollars to subsidize digester construction while receiving millions for the credits they’ve sold.

While gas industry reps sell this process as a market-driven climate solution, it’s better described as a climate scam. What’s more, it perpetuates air and groundwater pollution and enriches corporate shareholders at taxpayers’ expense. 

After extracting methane from manure, factory farm operators are left with huge quantities of waste that they must get rid of. To that end, farmers usually spread it on 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. Nitrates and phosphorus in digestate are more water-soluble and more likely to contaminate 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 the current LCFS program violates state law and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These laws 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

As long as the Low Carbon Fuel Standard includes factory farm biogas, communities in California and across the U.S. will continue to bear the public health burdens of factory farms. LCFS biogas credits spell disaster for our climate, our water, and our communities.

Spread the word to protect your community.


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