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The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) welcomes the opportunity to comment on the California Air Resources Board (CARB) proposed amendments to its Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). IATP is a 38-year-old, non-profit organization with headquarters in Minnesota that works nationally and internationally for fair and sustainable food and trade systems.

Throughout IATP’s history, we have seen firsthand the economic and environmental harm the transition to large-scale confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) has caused to rural communities in Midwest states. California’s LCFS, unfortunately, has contributed to the further expansion of the CAFO system in Midwest states, such as Minnesota and Wisconsin, through its skewed emissions intensity scoring and associated credits for CAFO-derived biogas. An analysis by CoBank concluded that incentives and credits generated through California’s LCFS “are the main source of revenue for dairy digester projects.”1 We do not believe biogas projects that subsidize Midwest CAFOs are consistent with California’s LCFS intention and purpose: to reduce California’s GHGs through its transportation sector by requiring cleaner fuels.

IATP offers the following comments on the LCFS’s proposed amendments:

CARB’s LCA for biogas excludes significant emissions

Biogas derived through methane digesters on large-scale CAFOs requires enormous quantities of animal manure. The largest source of direct methane emissions from dairy and beef CAFOs is the animals themselves (at least two-thirds), the remaining emissions (methane and nitrous oxide) come from giant, often liquified, waste lagoons. Hog CAFO emissions come entirely from liquified manure storage. Other greenhouse gas emissions associated with the CAFO system include feed production and the spreading of manure on neighboring fields. Despite the significant emissions coming from the CAFO system, CARB’s current emissions intensity analysis gives biogas a negative carbon intensity score, lower than any other transportation fuel, including electricity produced by solar and wind energy which produce no discernable waste, emissions or water pollution.2

We urge CARB to reconsider how it calculates its biogas emissions intensity score in the following five areas:

  1. The “avoided methane” crediting policy assumes that open air flaring is the only option for dairy, beef or hog producers and that captured methane is an “avoided emission.” This ignores alternative approaches to raising animals (such as on appropriately scaled, pasture-based systems that avoid giant liquid manure lagoons all together) and better manure management (such as lower-emitting dried manure systems). In other words, the CAFO system itself and its management of manure is demonstrably avoidable. 
  2. CARB’s low score for biogas and ensuing credits incentivizes more manure production from large CAFOs. As farmers struggle through volatile and often below-cost markets, payments for waste production create a new income stream that can subsidize larger herd sizes to produce more manure and access more LCFS credits.3 The growth of CAFOs mean additional direct cow-related emissions. Currently, CARB does not have an effective system to track operations seeking biogas credits that are expanding their herd size (with associated additional methane emissions), or whether the LCFS is helping to finance new CAFOs with additional emissions. 
  3. The state does not account for several major sources of CAFO emissions within its biogas scoring system. CAFO systems are entirely dependent on low cost (sometimes below cost) feed often from off the farm, just as ethanol or biodiesel are entirely dependent on corn and soy production. The LCA for biogas from beef, dairy and hog CAFOs does not include the significant emissions associated with feed, including nitrous oxide emissions associated with fertilizer use (particularly for corn) and emissions associated with the harvest, processing and transport of feed to the CAFO. The LCA also doesn’t include emissions from cows themselves in the case of dairy and beef. Finally, the LCFS does not count the emissions associated with the application of biogas digestate on the land, which can emit more methane and nitrous oxide than undigested manure.4
  4. There is growing evidence that CAFOs with biogas digesters are still significant sources of methane emissions. Recent Food & Water Watch research found that 15 California dairies, with biogas digesters receiving credits through the LCFS, emitted enough methane to be tracked by satellite and imaging aircraft.5 Other researchers have found that digester systems often leak, leading to an underestimation of their emissions.6 Methane leaks from digesters could contribute to as much as a 15% loss rate — cutting into its emissions intensity score and making it impossible to be a net loss emitter.7

    CARB doesn’t adequately consider new models of methane digesters, where manure or gas are trucked from several surrounding CAFOs to a centralized digester. For example, a Wisconsin digester project is accessing LCFS credits sources from three local dairies.8 A proposed Minnesota digester would collect manure from four dairies in three counties.9 Each project includes an enormous amount of additional truck traffic and fuel use to be workable, not to mention the emissions associated with each individual CAFO. 

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