Urging the California Air Resources Board to Stop Factory Farms from Profiting from Pollution

On October 27, 2021, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and coalition partners took action by submitting a petition for rulemaking to the California Air Resources Board, the agency within California’s Environmental Protection Agency charged with improving air quality.


November 3, 2021

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The factory farming industry not only harms animals and workers, but the environment and nearby communities as well. All too often, the government not only fails to prevent this harm, but actively enables it through industry-friendly policies and programs.

Currently, factory farms are benefiting from a California regulation intended to protect the environment — exploiting it to falsely position themselves as environmentally friendly, while profiting significantly in the process.

On October 27, 2021, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and coalition partners took action by submitting a petition for rulemaking to the California Air Resources Board, the agency within California’s Environmental Protection Agency charged with improving air quality.

A hallmark of the factory farming industry is its confinement of large numbers of animals — from hundreds up to more than a hundred thousand — in a small physical footprint. Together, these animals produce enormous amounts of waste, which is typically dealt with by pumping it into large pits often called “lagoons.” These lagoons cause significant environmental harm, seeping into groundwater, polluting nearby waterways, and emitting large amounts of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas.

But rather than meaningfully addressing factory farms’ methane emissions, California is using its Low Carbon Fuel Standard to reward factory farms and incentivize their expansion.

Through the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, factory farms are allowed to work with the natural gas industry to capture manure methane (often euphemistically described as “biogas”) for use as energy in California’s transportation sector. By doing so, industrial dairy and pig farms are able to simultaneously cause environmental damage and profit from it — a situation that’s been called “pay-to-pollute.”

Our coalition’s petition urges the California Air Resources Board to stop factory farms from exploiting California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard, which after all exists to mitigate climate harm — not prop up the industries that contribute to it.

If the agency refuses to prevent factory farms from profiting from the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, it must at minimum consider the full scope of their emissions, the coalition argues. The program assigns “credits” for captured methane, which factory farms then sell to other polluters (such as refiners of petroleum fuel). But in assigning factory farms credit for the methane they capture, the program currently fails to fully account for all emissions these facilities produce, including enteric emissions and emissions associated with transporting the animals and their feed.

California is the top dairy-producing state in the U.S., and animal agriculture is the state’s leading source of methane emissions. Methane “is more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

California’s factory farms are largely located in the San Joaquin Valley region, where residents are disproportionately likely to be economically disadvantaged and/or people of color. By helping to entrench the factory farming industry in this region and incentivizing facilities to add even more animals, the Low Carbon Fuel Standard is exacerbating the harm that factory farms inflict on local residents and environmental justice communities, such as pollution-linked health issues. That violates both California state law and the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Factory farm gas is being used as a smokescreen for the harms inflicted on environmental justice communities nearby factory farms under the guise of sustainability,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “This petition with our partners is a first step toward revamping how the California Air Resources Board addresses the inflated benefit of manure methane to tackle climate change.”

In addition to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the coalition includes the Association of Irritated Residents, the Leadership Counsel for Justice & Accountability, and Food & Water Watch, with legal assistance provided by Public Justice and the Vermont Law School Environmental Justice Clinic.

Who is being petitioned, and why? The California Air Resources Board, urging it to stop factory farms from exploiting and profiting from the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard.

Under what laws are they being petitioned? The California Administrative Procedure Act. Petitions for rulemaking are one aspect of the branch of law known as administrative law.

Why is this regulatory work important? Factory farms not only cause billions of animals to suffer in cruel conditions; they’re also major greenhouse gas contributors and drivers of air and water pollution. Members of historically disadvantaged communities, who are more likely to live near factory farms, are disproportionately affected by this pollution and its accompanying ill effects on their health and property. Currently, California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard is propping up the cruel, destructive factory farming system and even incentivizing it to expand. Instead, it should support policies that protect the environment, animals, and human residents.

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