The Dirty Energy Preventing Oregon From Reaching Its Climate Goals

Published Feb 10, 2022


Climate and Energy

The biogas operation of Oregon’s largest megadairy violated their air quality permit by spewing illegal amounts of dangerous pollution into the air we breathe.

The biogas operation of Oregon’s largest megadairy violated their air quality permit by spewing illegal amounts of dangerous pollution into the air we breathe.

Mega-dairies, a type of factory farm, produce enormous amounts of manure. Instead of dealing with this problem head-on, mega-dairies are now rebranding their waste as sustainable by creating factory farm gas. When a factory farm gas operation sets up shop in Oregon, it is required to become permitted as a way to track and enforce air quality standards. 

Threemile Canyon’s “biogas” operation repeatedly violated its Oregon air pollution control permit throughout 2019 and 2020 by spewing illegal amounts of dangerous fine particulate pollution into the environment. 

Recently, Food & Water Watch filed a letter with the California Air Resources Board (CARB). In it, we demanded CARB take enforcement action against Oregon’s largest mega-dairy, Threemile Canyon, over illegal air pollution from its factory farm “biogas” operations. Threemile profits off of CARB’s “Low Carbon Fuel Standard” program, receiving lucrative credits for its supposedly renewable factory farm gas.

CARB should never have approved Threemile’s participation in the program to begin with — now it must act to hold Threemile accountable.

Tell regulators to rescind the credits given to Threemile Canyon, and take strong actions to enforce their rules!

These documented violations are actually just the tip of the iceberg. The larger issue we face is the public funding of factory farm gas. It relies on keeping both massive factory farms and oil and gas infrastructure around for decades.

Factory Farm Gas Won’t Help Us Solve The Climate Crisis 

Factory farm gas is created when mega-dairies dump their massive amounts of manure into digesters. Bacteria then break down waste to produce gas that is primarily composed of methane. This gas can then be mixed with fracked gas and transported through dangerous pipelines. Because of this, factory farm gas ensures our continued reliance on pipelines and fossil fuels, distracting from real climate solutions in Oregon and nationwide. 

Oregon’s Governor Brown has ambitious climate goals, working to reach an 80 percent reduction in emissions by 2050. But her administration has failed to take meaningful action against factory farms. Instead, she allowed them to profit off their enormous greenhouse gas emissions by creating so-called “renewable” natural gas. Factory farm gas is expensive, inefficient, and limited. At the highest projections, it could only replace 1% of US natural gas use. Our leaders are investing massive amounts of public dollars into this false climate solution when they should be supporting proven and scalable solutions like wind and solar power. 

Currently, manure digesters in Oregon can double dip, receiving multiple forms of government subsidies from here in Oregon as well as  California. Take the Threemile Canyon digester as an example. It benefited from a raft of subsidies: $10 million in tax-exempt financing from Oregon Private Activity Bonds, over $5 million from Oregon’s previous Bovine Manure Tax Credit and potentially millions from California’s Low Carbon Fuels Standard Credits.  

These subsidies are so important that Threemile Canyon’s previous general manager said factory farm gas was “the most valuable product that we have out there.” When we say factory farm gas threatens to incentivize mega-dairy expansion, this is what we mean. Threemile is already one of the country’s biggest mega-dairies. If factory farm gas is their most profitable product, why not expand the number of cows in their confinement so they have more manure from which to create gas?

Factory Farm Gas Serves The Interests Of Fossil Fuel Companies And Big Ag

Factory farm gas gives a green light to the “get big or get out” model of agriculture that propelled mega-dairies forward and has helped fuel the climate crisis. It makes a perfect bedfellow for fossil fuels. As activists are pushing for 100% clean energy, factory farm gas provides a surefire way to keep fossil fuel pipelines in use for decades to come.

So how can we make real, long-lasting change? Our elected officials must face this issue head on by stopping the expansion of mega-dairies and by pursuing real climate solutions. While the industry is working to market their way out of their problems, our leaders have the opportunity to stop the pollution at its source. 

Mega-dairies in Oregon pose innumerable problems already:

  • They pollute our air with fine particulate matter and nitrous oxide, ranking as one of the largest emitters of ammonia statewide. 
  • They warm our climate, releasing massive amounts of methane into the atmosphere. 
  • They use up and pollute our water – the state has pointed to Threemile Canyon mega-dairy itself as a contributor to nitrate contamination in Eastern Oregon’s groundwater. 
  • And they harm our communities, driving out family farms, extracting resources and threatening public health. 

If we continue to fund factory farm gas, these issues will only intensify.

We Need Your Help To Get A Mega-Dairy Moratorium 

Governor Brown must establish a moratorium on mega-dairies here in Oregon. A moratorium would cut off the supply chain for factory farm gas by preventing more waste from new mega-dairies. But, it could also be a game-changer for the health of our communities. We can only work to clean up the harm mega-dairies have already caused if we stop digging ourselves into a bigger hole. That starts with halting the expansion of mega-dairies in Oregon and calling on our elected leaders to abandon the false solution of factory farm gas. 

Help us take the first step today.

Send a message urging regulators to take strong action, including the reversal of Threemile Canyon’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard credits!

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