Written by The Business Journal Staff
California dairy officials have launched a new public relations blitz aimed at pending legislation sponsored by the California Air Resources Board (ARB) that would mandate a 40 percent overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions — including a 75 percent reduction in dairy methane emissions — by 2030.
“That’s right, they (ARB) want to regulate cow burps and farts, even though their own Short-lived Climate Pollutant Reduction Strategy acknowledges there is no way to achieve this reduction,” proclaims one ad in the new campaign, which is being orchestrated by Western United Dairymen, Milk Producers Council and the California Dairy Campaign.
In going on the offensive, dairy officials hope to convince state legislators to oppose two current bills that would essentially ratify ARB’s Short-lived Climate Pollutant (SLCP) Reduction Strategy and give the agency the power to enforce the new stricter greenhouse gas regulations.
“These draconian requirements are not achievable and ARB is setting up the state and our dairy families for failure,” said Anja Raudabaugh, CEO of Western United. “Clearly ARB has lost its sense of perspective.”
Rumors were circulating earlier this week that one of the bills — SB 32 — had died. But those reports appear to be premature as Governor Jerry Brown is now involved and offering the bill’s author amendments to keep the legislation alive.
Meanwhile, lobbying of state lawmakers has reached a fever pitch in Sacramento, with Aug. 31 looming as the final day for legislators in both the Assembly and Senate to pass bills before the current session ends.
SB 32, authored by Senate Democrat Fran Pavley of Agoura Hills and SB 1383, written by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Los Angeles), seek to extend the state’s targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“By providing a clear market signal to businesses and investors, SB 32 will help the state continue to lead the world in creation of good-paying jobs building the technologies and resources necessary to prevent the worst consequences of climate change,” Pavley said. “It gives businesses and industry a realistic goal that we’re already on track to meet.”
But dairy officials feel their industry is being unfairly targeted. One of the new advocacy pieces they are bombarding lawmakers with this week is titled “perspective” and features a picture of a cow with a bulls eye superimposed over it.
“California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32) secured the state’s role as a global leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and serves as an example of how other regions can take similar action in reducing GHG.” While noting dairy’s “shrinking carbon footprint” nationally — smaller by 63 percent since 1944 — the PR piece proclaims: “California’s dairies already produce milk with the lowest carbon ‘hoofprint’ compared to anywhere else in the world…Rather than applaud the achievement of California dairy farms, ARB wants to mandate even further reductions in dairy emissions.”
Some environmentalists have suggested pricey methane digesters as the ultimate answer to reducing emissions created by the state’s 5.5 million dairy and beef cows. California currently has 14 operating digesters, which cost about $1.2 million for a 700-cow dairy. Dairy officials argue “in order to achieve ARB’s mandated reduction in dairy methane emissions, another 500-600 digesters would need to be built and operating by 2030.”
Last week, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin joined seven other California big-city mayors in endorsing SB 32. Swearengin was the only Republican among the mayors to back the bill, a move that has angered many of the Valley’s struggling dairy owners.
“I’m extremely disappointed that the mayor decided to support these two bills,” said Frank Mendonsa, a Tulare County dairyman and current board president at Western United.
Raudabaugh said it was “inappropriate” for Swearengin to support the two bills. “If she’s really pro-business, that was a very poor move on her part,” Raudabaugh added.
Tumbling milk prices and heightened government regulation have already forced the closure of hundreds of California dairies in recent years and the state’s dairymen argue that the economic consequences of mandating further significant cuts in methane emissions will drive many of the state’s remaining dairies out of state — or out of business.
Another push back piece from dairymen, this one titled “flatulence,” states: “While certainly not a popular or sexy topic of discussion, flatulence is a very natural activity for ruminant animals like cows. Who among us hasn’t occasionally burped, belched or otherwise passed a little gas. Even supermodels might let a little gas slip from time to time. None of us like to admit it, but we all know it happens. If humans had four stomachs like cows do, we would all likely generate a little more gas. Apparently ARB has a low tolerance for what happens naturally… Clearly the flatulence police need to be reined in!”
While waiting for the latest report from the Assembly, Raudabaugh said she was cautiously optimistic the controversial bills would die or be voted down.
“We can’t continue to eat into the tiny margins we have,” Raudabaugh said. “You can’t expect a business to operate under one standard and then overnight change the standard.”
In her weekly update to WUD members, Raudabaugh said dairy industry lobbyists would be barraging legislators with additional arguments for voting down SB 32 and SB 1383 this week.
“We will be dropping more [PR] pieces,” Raudabaugh said, encouraging WUD members to follow the organization’s website and Facebook pages “to see what’s going on every day in the Capitol.”
“Stay with the fight California dairy families,” Raudabaugh urged. “The gloves are off.”