In summary

Since 2011, 80% of the credits issued by a California program aiming to reduce pollution have gone to biogas and biofuel projects that have their own environmental drawbacks. Meanwhile, communities near oil refineries and dairies suffer the brunt of the impact from ongoing emissions.

Guest Commentary written by

María Arévalo

María Arévalo

María Arévalo is a member of the Central Valley Defenders for Clean Air and Water. She has lived in Pixley for 47 years.

Katherine Lee

Katherine Lee

Katherine Lee is the Richmond youth organizer at the Asian Pacific Environmental Network.

Last fall, Gov. Gavin Newsom made some ambitious remarks after signing dozens of climate, energy and environmental policies, saying, “We’re cleaning the air we breathe, holding the big polluters accountable, and ushering in a new era for clean energy.”

For so many of us across the state, we need bold action to make our air breathable. 

Instead what we’ve seen is polluted air, state funding for big polluters and incentives for dirty energy supported by taxpayer dollars. Big promises mean nothing when one of the state’s major climate policies acts against its own stated goals. 

The low carbon fuel standard, or LCFS, undermines the needs of frontline communities and the state’s own agenda: air quality improvement, environmental justice and climate solutions. As one of California’s biggest climate programs, the LCFS generates thousands of credits that some major polluters have used – and likely will continue to use – to enable continued investments in combustion fuels.

The LCFS program heavily incentivizes this growth, specifically capturing methane from massive dairies that are heavily polluting the air. Since the program started in 2011, 80% of the billions of dollars in LCFS annual revenues goes to biogas and biofuels that end up being burned in engines – worsening our air quality, extending our reliance on polluting transportation and harming the health and wellbeing of disadvantaged communities. 

These sources of pollution need to go away. In Richmond, Chevron continues to release emissions into the air while residents suffer from rates of asthma that are twice the state average. The LCFS program incentivizes these emissions by subsidizing fossil hydrogen, giving them an opportunity to expand their operations at a time when we need to be building a future beyond oil. 

On top of rising rents and limited access to high-paying jobs and healthy food, pollution from the refinery is making people sick. Chevron continues to put their profits over people and health through dangerous flaring, oil spills and pollution.  

In Pixley, a town in Tulare County, residents have seen firsthand how biogas incentives encourage dairies to grow, further polluting the air and diminishing quality of life.

Pixley is surrounded by nearly 30 dairies with about 140,000 cows, outnumbering residents 32 to 1. Under the LCFS program, the dairies are paid to produce “biomethane” – in other words, they receive government funds to capture methane, a combustion fuel that still produces greenhouse gases, while also adding more cows to factory farms that further pollute nearby areas. 

Seven dairies in Pixley participate in the LCFS program, and the majority of those have expanded significantly in the last 10 years. In that time, families, friends and neighbors’ breathing complications, nose bleeds, headaches and the smell of manure and swarms of flies have gotten worse and worse. 

Technology promoted by corporations as a “solution” to these problems has only added to our concerns. The state’s heralded fuel standards policy may make dollars for big dairies, but it does not make sense for California communities.

The California Air Resources Board needs to commit to resolving these issues, but so far their actions show no signs of listening to community concerns. 

So, disadvantaged areas are counting on the governor’s leadership to ensure the LCFS meets the needs of all Californians, to ultimately resolve the glaring discrepancies between political promises and state actions.

The LCFS must prioritize solutions that are pollution-free from end-to-end and leave biogas and biofuels behind. We all deserve clean air and a healthy environment. The future of so many communities depend on it.

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