January 30, 2017

Will stricter environmental policies come from the state level?

Courtesy of ARS

By Dr. Casey L. Bradley, ASAS Public Policy Committee Member

One of the key campaign stances of President Donald J. Trump was to cut regulations, particularly those from the Environmental Protection Agency, in the hope of giving industries in America a competitive edge again and bringing jobs back to the USA. This could potentially be seen as a win for the animal agriculture sector, or is it?

Even though federal EPA regulations may change, individual states still have the right to create their own laws. One example is California’s Senate Bill No. 1383, which was signed into law by California Governor Jerry Brown in the fall of 2016. The bill requires a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from California livestock producers, mainly dairy producers, by 2024. Ryan McCarthy, a science advisor for the California Air Resources Board, was quoted by Terence Chea (in this AP article) as saying “We expect that this package … and everything we’re doing on climate, does show an effective model forward for others.”

However, to meet these dramatic reductions of methane emissions, the state’s dairy producers face a huge economic investment. Chea also interviewed Arlin Van Groningen, a third-generation farmer, who stated that it is going to have negative economic impacts on California farmers. Methane digesters for farms can cost millions of dollars and the state has only set aside $50 million to help set up digesters.

At the end of the article, McCarthy is quoted as saying, “There’s a real opportunity here to get very significant emissions reductions at fairly low cost, and actually in a way that can bring economic benefits to farmers.” However, a $4 million price tag for Van Groningen’s 1,500-cow dairy does not seem like a low cost. There are more than 1.7 million dairy cows in California that will be affected by this law. If current market conditions and droughts continue, will this number of milk cows still be residing in California after 2024?

Similar environmental regulations are being proposed elsewhere. In Ohio, Senate Bill 333 was proposed to dramatically shift the direction and authority of the Ohio Lake Erie Commission (OLEC) from state to federal government. Groups such as the Ohio Pork Council lobbied against this, but producers in the Great Lakes Region are still facing pressures to reduce phosphorus runoff.

If the EU is any indication of the next regulatory implications for livestock producers, pharmacological levels of zinc and copper may be the next item on the docket for legislation. At the same time, Canada Feed Industry Association (CFIA) is actually proposing changes to their recommendations and suggesting an increase in feeding levels of zinc to livestock.

Monitoring environmental legislation at both the federal and state levels is important to ensuring American livestock production remains globally competitive.

Photo by Scott Bauer, Courtesy of ARS