Thursday, December 08, 2016

California Legislature’s Gaseous Impulses

by Steven Greenhut

The California Legislature last week received a load of bad publicity because of a new law that attempts to reduce the methane output of dairy cows dramatically — putting California on the cutting edge of worldwide efforts to regulate cow flatulence. It sounds like one of those overstated internet memes, but sadly, it’s a true story. And it’s not even the most ridiculous case of gaseous emissions coming from Sacramento. Building on past laws that force California businesses to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to 1990 levels, the measure (S.B. 1383) will force the state’s already struggling dairy farms to reduce cow emissions to 40 percent below 2013 levels by 2030. That’s an enormous burden for farms to digest. They will need to install costly new equipment — referred to as “methane digesters” — that generate electricity from piles of cow patties. The new law earmarks $50 million from the state’s first-in-the-nation cap-and-trade system, but is unlikely to offset the costs for most farms. Expect prices to go up for milk and other dairy products, and more dairies to close their operations. As a reminder of California’s other-worldliness, cap and trade attempts to force manufacturers to slash their greenhouse-gas emissions. Basically, the state caps the amount of emissions that industries can emit and then reduces the allowable amount each year. Companies can buy, sell, or trade their carbon “allowances” on a state-run auction. The state keeps the revenues, which is why industry groups filed suit arguing the process is a complex tax-hike scam. The cap-and-trade system is run by the ham-fisted California Air Resources Board — the same agency that is tasked with coming up with the specific regulations to apply to dairy farmers. As is often the case, the Legislature passes laws that are general, then leaves it to the regulators to figure out exactly how to torment California’s remaining businesses. (As an example of CARB’s thinking, the agency has proposed a plan to give poor people electric cars to help battle climate change.)
For a sense of the insanity here, the new dairy-related law includes the following edict: “To the extent possible, efforts to reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants should focus on areas of the state that are disproportionately affected by poor air quality.” “Short-lived climate pollutants” is a technical term for cow flatulence. Critics note that because the gases are so short-lived, they have no impact on anything — and certainly not the global climate. But even if one believes cow methane is a crisis, it’s hard not to see the problem with a law targeted at areas with poor air quality. That means California’s Central Valley, the vast agricultural valley that spans from Bakersfield to Redding. There aren’t many dairies in the Los Angeles basin or the Bay Area. They mostly are in these rural areas, which are poor economically and not just in terms of air quality. CARB’s cap-and-trade rules — and other regulations, too — have been crushing the food processing and oil industries, which are among the region’s main employers. The latest rules are yet another urban-concocted economic assault on an area that has not experienced the high-tech boom...more

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