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California dairy industry launches defense of flatulent cows

A curious mother cow stays near her calf and along Sky Trail at Crockett Hills Regional Park on Wednesday March 6, 2013.
A curious mother cow stays near her calf and along Sky Trail at Crockett Hills Regional Park on Wednesday March 6, 2013. mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

Cow dung and cow stomach gas: not just smelly, but also politically loaded.

Hence a new California dairy industry campaign pushing back on California’s recommendation to regulate a naturally occurring source of methane. Part of the state’s plan to curb climate-altering methane involves getting food waste out of landfills, where it releases gas as it decomposes. The California Air Resources Board has also suggested slashing methane from cow manure and from a source of about half of the emissions from California’s 5.5 million beef and dairy cows: something called “enteric fermentation.”

Or, as it’s also known, gasiness ( “mostly belching,” an ARB document clarifies). “FLATULENCE,” blared the subject line of an email sent out Tuesday as part of an effort by groups like the Western United Dairymen and the Milk Producers Council to beat back climate mandates. Featuring an image of a cow with a red target on its body, the email urges readers to “say NO to unbridled ARB authority.”

“The focus here is to highlight ARB’s efforts at over-regulating the dairy industry,” said Anja Raudabaugh, CEO of Western United Dairymen. “By nature’s design, (cows) pass lots of gas,” she added. “Quite frankly, we want them to expel gas so they don’t explode.”

According to the ARB, options to clean up manure include moving away from storing manure in lagoons and investing in anaerobic digesters that can trap methane. Changes to breeding and feeding practices could limit flatulence.

Emails and fliers to staff, digital ads and a social media blitz – a Twitter account is already up and tweeting – will accompany an augmented effort to lobby lawmakers down the legislative session’s final stretch. The dairy industry supplies California’s single-most lucrative agricultural commodity, and the Western United Dairymen has spent about $116,000 on lobbying from the start of 2015 through June of this year.

The proposed methane reduction figures into the ARB’s plan to limit so-called “short-lived climate pollutants,” fast-dissipating but extra-potent gases that Gov. Jerry Brown has included in his overarching strategy to combat climate change. The air regulator’s April proposal, which is a recommendation rather than a formal regulation, features images of cows munching grass.

A bill pushing the ARB to complete and implement its short-lived pollutants plan is currently moving through the Legislature, as is a bill setting more ambitious emissions reductions targets for 2030. The dairy industry is opposing both, allying them with powerful business and oil interests who have fought the legislation expanding California’s climate targets.

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert

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