From Claire Kelloway <[email protected]>
Subject Food & Power - Food and Environmental Justice Groups Petition EPA to Regulate Dairy and Hog Methane
Date April 15, 2021 7:37 PM
  Links have been removed from this email. Learn more in the FAQ.
  Links have been removed from this email. Learn more in the FAQ.
Did someone forward you this newsletter?

Get your own copy by subscribing here [[link removed]], and to share this story click here. [[link removed]]

Photo courtesy of iStock by Getty Images

Food and Environmental Justice Groups Petition EPA to Regulate Dairy and Hog Methane

Two dozen environmental and rural advocacy groups representing over 2.4 million members recently petitioned [[link removed]] the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate confined dairy and hog operations under the Clean Air Act.

Over the past 30 years, American dairy and hog production has dramatically consolidated onto fewer, large-scale industrial farms. These operations and their concentrated manure lagoons contribute to global climate change, among many environmental hazards, but face few meaningful environmental regulations. The petition asks the EPA to set new limits on hog and dairy methane pollution without preferencing controversial methane capture technologies in any future regulation.

“[To] avoid the harms of industrial dairy and hog operations, this petition urges the EPA to reject the false solution of burning factory farm gas and instead rely on proven, pasture-based farming with reduced, sustainable herd sizes that will restore rural communities, help stabilize the climate, and provide environmental justice,” the petition [[link removed]] says.

The number of large, industrial dairy and hog operations has grown dramatically since the 1990s as smaller farms go out of business. Between 1987 and 2017 [[link removed]], the sales midpoint for hog farms grew from 1,200 to 51,300 hogs, and the midpoint herd size for a dairy farm grew from 80 to 1,300 cows. During that same time period, more than 70% of hog farms and dairy farms went out of business even as pork and milk production continued to increase.

These industrial operations harm rural environments and surrounding communities by generating large, concentrated volumes of animal waste that can pollute ground and surface water and diminish air quality. For instance, a single 500-cow dairy farm produces as much daily waste [[link removed]] as all of South Milwaukee. Lynn Utesch, a farmer and water quality organizer in Kewaunee, Wisc., has seen how 17 large dairy farms in his community pollute local waterways: His three neighboring rivers are considered impaired by the EPA and 34% of county wells have tested positive for nitrates or E. coli. In some regions, such as southeastern North Carolina [[link removed]] or the San Joaquin Valley [[link removed]], these industrial dairy and hog operations are clustered in rural communities of color, correlating with higher levels of asthma [[link removed]] and lower life expectancies [[link removed]] in these Black, Latinx, and Indigenous [[link removed]] communities.

To the point of this recent petition, these farms also contribute to climate change by emitting methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that drives global warming in the short-term. The petition finds that large hog and dairy operations are responsible for 1.3% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and 13% of all U.S. methane emissions. “These emissions from industrial hog and dairy operations have been increasing dramatically in the past 20 or so years,” explains Kristina Sinclair, petition leader Public Justice’s food project fellow. “In order to reach our climate goals, we think it’s important for EPA to regulate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from these operations.”

Despite these environmental hazards, large-scale livestock operations have carved out loopholes [[link removed]] or altogether avoided most air and water pollution regulation. Under the Trump administration, the EPA denied [[link removed]] a more expansive petition [[link removed]] to list industrial animal farms as a source of air pollution under the Clean Air Act. In 2018, Congress further exempted industrial animal farms from reporting their air pollution [[link removed]].

This latest petition calls on the EPA to regulate methane emissions from fully confined livestock operations with more than 500 dairy cows or more than 1,000 hogs under section 111 of the Clean Air Act. To set these standards, EPA would need to determine the “best system for emission reduction” and set achievable methane limits.

The petition contends that EPA should not include anaerobic digesters or biogas capture when determining this system for emission reduction. A growing number of meat corporations [[link removed]] and oil and gas companies want to address livestock methane emissions by installing biogas digesters over manure lagoons, which emit a growing share livestock related methane [[link removed]]. These digesters can capture methane to use for on-site energy generation or sell to energy companies and utilities as a form of natural gas, and they’ve been promoted by some environmental groups [[link removed]] and government officials, including Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack [[link removed]].

Petitioners argue that these digesters are an imperfect and expensive workaround to accommodate a dirty industry. For one, biodigesters have a higher average methane leakage rate [[link removed]] than other natural gas infrastructure. These systems are also expensive and short-lived, running anywhere from $2 million to $6 million in upfront costs alone and lasting just 10 years. Livestock operations often rely on federal and state subsidies [[link removed]] to fund these projects. California alone has spent $200 million [[link removed]] on dairy digesters.

More principally, biodigesters do not address the broader environmental ills of industrial hog and dairy production. Because only the largest farms tend to turn any biogas profits, biodigesters actually incentivize large livestock manure lagoons. “They’re selling [digesters] to the general population as if they’re fixing something, yet the reality here in rural communities is that our taxpayer dollars are subsidizing the poisoning of local people,” said Utesch, who lives near seven large dairies with digesters.

Instead, the petitioners urge the EPA to set their methane standards based on the pollution reductions that pasture-based farming can achieve. By rotationally grazing hogs and cows outdoors, these systems require smaller herd sizes and deposit manure onto the ground, instead of into manure pits, where it can naturally decompose releasing virtually no methane [[link removed]].

That said, dairy cows, in particular, would still release methane through their digestion. Current studies [[link removed]] disagree [[link removed]] about [[link removed](17)31069-X/fulltext] whether pasture-based dairy farms can substantially reduce methane emissions per-pound of milk compared to industrial systems, especially since pasture-based cows tend to live longer. Producing current volumes of dairy and pork on pasture would also require more grazing land [[link removed]], which the petition does not directly address.

The petitioners urge the EPA to also consider the environmental and social co-benefits of pasture-based livestock production. “The petition emphasizes the importance of methane, which is defensible given its high warming potential relative to carbon dioxide, but if one seeks to compare feedlots to pasture-based systems on a pound-for-pound basis it would be important to consider the net contributions of methane, nitrous oxide, and carbon dioxide together as a whole,” said Brent Kim in an email, research program manager at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, a petitioner.

Under the right conditions [[link removed]], pasture-based systems can have a lower overall carbon footprint than industrial systems by sequestering soil carbon through well-managed grazing and decreasing demand for resource-intensive animal feed, according to numerous studies cited by the petitioners. Phasing out large manure lagoons would also benefit broader water and air quality.

“If EPA grants our petition, EPA must consider a range of social, economic, and environmental factors when establishing regulations,” Sinclair said in an email. “Many climate analyses ignore the significant environmental and public health impacts of industrial animal operations on Black, Indigenous, Latino, and rural communities, including odor and air pollution from animal confinement, and drinking water pollution from liquefied manure disposal.”

Find and share this story originally published on [[link removed]] Food & Power [[link removed]] . [[link removed]]

What We're Reading

Five large fishing companies in the Bering Sea are catching and throwing back large volumes of halibut as bycatch in their sea trawl for lower value fish, diminishing halibut stocks that independent and Indigenous fishers rely on. ( Food & Environment Reporting Network [[link removed]])

A new study estimates that meatpacking plants caused 334,000 COVID-19 infections among workers and surrounding communities. ( Food Policy [[link removed]])

The same private equity group funding a quarter of the chicken houses [[link removed]] supplying Costco in Nebraska is also funding new chicken farms in West Virginia that are many times larger than most chicken farms in the state. ( Civil Eats [[link removed]])

About the Open Markets Institute

The Open Markets Institute promotes political, industrial, economic, and environmental resilience. We do so by documenting and clarifying the dangers of extreme consolidation, and by fostering discussions of ways to reestablish America’s political economy on a more stable and fair foundation.

Follow F&P on Twitter [[link removed]] | Subscribe [[link removed]] to this Newsletter | F&P Website [[link removed]] | Contact Us [[link removed]]

Written by Claire Kelloway

Edited by Phil Longman and LaRonda Peterson.

Open Markets Institute

1440 G Street NW

Washington D.C., xxxxxx Tweet [link removed] Share [[link removed]] Forward [link removed] Unsubscribe [link removed]
Screenshot of the email generated on import

Message Analysis