Gov. Brown signs new state law curbing methane from dairy cows, landfills

Methane emissions from cow manure came under state regulation for the first time Monday as Gov. Jerry Brown signed the state’s latest effort to combat climate change by targeting so-called “super pollutants” that contribute to global warming.

The legislation requires reductions of three pollutants - methane from manure and landfills; soot, known as black carbon; and hydrofluorocarbon gases used in refrigeration, air conditioning and aerosol products - from 2013 levels by 2030.

“This bill curbs these dangerous pollutants and thereby protects public health and slows climate change,” Brown said in a statement.

Experts say the super pollutants, also known as short-lived climate pollutants, have more potent heat-trapping effects than carbon dioxide but remain in the atmosphere for a shorter period of time.

Removing one ton of diesel black carbon from the atmosphere is the equivalent of removing 1,000 to 2,000 tons of carbon dioxide, Brown’s statement said.

Methane emissions worldwide are responsible for about 20 percent of current global warming, it said.

All six local legislators - Sens. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, Mark Leno, D-San Francisco and Lois Wolk, D-Davis; and Assemblymen Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg, Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, and Bill Dodd, D-Napa - voted for the bill, SB 1383, when it was approved Aug. 31, the last day of the legislative session.

Republicans said the strict regulations will hurt agricultural businesses, despite concessions made to dairy farmers.

To help meet their methane reduction mandate, dairy operators will be eligible for $50 million from the state’s fee charged to polluters, known as cap-and-trade.

Sonoma County had 28,772 cows at ?63 dairies last year, producing $119 million worth of milk, the county’s second-leading agricultural product behind wine grapes, according to state and county reports.

The California Farm Bureau Federation and other agricultural organizations initially opposed SB 1383, but dropped that position after negotiations involving Brown and the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Richard Lara, D-Bell Gardens, resulted in several amendments.

The Farm Bureau said it was satisfied with changes that did not give the state regulators “unfettered ability to regulate methane,” but instead require extensive research and cost analysis involving the California Department of Food and Agriculture and postpone regulations until 2024.

Kim Vail, executive director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, said the amendments made the law “a little less onerous on dairy farmers in the county.”

The law also mandates stiff reductions in statewide disposal of organic waste in landfills as a means of curbing methane emissions.

Ann Hancock, executive director of the Santa Rosa-based Center for Climate Protection, said she was “very happy” to hear about the new law.

“The global warming impact from these powerful greenhouse gases is quite serious,” she said.

The Eliso Canyon gas leak, which Hancock cited, released 107,000 tons of methane and had a larger carbon footprint than the Deepwater Horizon leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

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