In California, Dairy Cows May Hold the Key to Reducing Greenhouse Gases

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In California, Dairy Cows Hold the Key to Reducing Greenhouse Gases

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In an effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions in the nation’s leading agricultural state, California Governor Jerry Brown has signed legislation that will regulate livestock emissions.

While the exact numbers are highly debated—the United Nations position it at about 15 percent of emissions while other experts put the number closer to 50 percent—cattle and other farm animals are major contributors to climate change as result of methane emissions. Methane is the gas produced primarily through cow belching and manure. Methane is a more serious gas than carbon dioxide in terms of mitigating climate change (carbon dioxide is the main byproduct of transportation) because methane is known for trapping more heat.

“If we can reduce emissions of methane, we can really help to slow global warming,” said Ryan McCarthy, a science adviser for the California Air Resources Board, which is drawing up rules to implement the new law.

California, the nation’s largest dairy producing state, is aiming to reduce methane emissions to 40 percent below 2013 levels by 2030. The regulations would take effect in 2014.

“We expect that this package … and everything we’re doing on climate, does show an effective model forward for others,” McCarthy said.

California’s main target is manure—the state wants farmers to begin converting methane into electricity by trapping the gas in large storage tanks called methane digesters. While the state has earmarked $50 million toward transitioning the more than 1,500 dairy farms, farmers say it’s not enough to transition them all, reports the Seattle Times.

“We think it’s very foolish for the state of California to be taking this position,” said Rob Vandenheuvel, general manager for the Milk Producers Council. “A single state like California is not going to make a meaningful impact on the climate.”

The state may also eventually put restrictions on the types of cattle feed approved as the type of diet cows are fed has shown a significant impact on the level of methane produced by the animals.

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