Pro-con: Are bio-digesters key to climate change fight?

Michael Boccadoro, Special to CALmatters

The California Air Resources Board recently announced that the state achieved its 2020 goal for reducing greenhouse gases four years early. The next hurdle, reducing greenhouse gases to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, will be far more difficult.

The Legislature has recognized the urgency of reducing methane and other short-lived climate pollutants from fossil fuel, which can be tens to thousands of times more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide.

The state’s climate plan depends on methane and other short-lived climate pollutants reductions to provide more than one-third of all climate reductions needed to meet the state’s 2030 climate goals.

Sen. Ben Hueso, a San Diego Democrat, is carrying Senate Bill 1440 to help the state achieve these necessary reductions by supporting the development and use of in-state biomethane and biogas.

The state’s strategy for combating short-lived climate pollutants calls for removing barriers to pipeline injection of biogas made from organic waste and for additional policies to accelerate in-state biogas production and use.

Senate Bill 1440 furthers these plans by directing the California Public Utilities Commission to create a modest biomethane procurement program. The plan calls for long-term contracts to provide market certainty and spur development of biogas projects at landfills, dairies, wastewater treatment plants and other facilities where methane can be captured and used as renewable natural gas.

The progress being made in the dairy industry represents a tremendous success story. It hasn’t happened by accident.

In 2016, Sen. Ricardo Lara, a Democrat from Bell Gardens, carried legislation that established an incentive-based approach to dairy methane reduction. Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature invested $260 million into the effort. That investment is paying huge dividends for the state:

  • California’s Dairy Digester Research and Development Program is one of the top three most cost-effective climate investments in the state’s portfolio, providing one ton of greenhouse gas reduction for every $8 invested.
  • The digester program is expected to reduce greenhouse gas by tens of millions of metric tons over the next decade.
  • California will have gone from about a dozen methane digesters a few years ago to as many as 120 by 2024.

These projects create carbon-negative fuel that replaces diesel in heavy-duty trucks and reduces pollutants in disadvantaged communities.

California needs to deploy a mix of strategies that spur innovation in order to achieve its ambitious climate and air quality goals. Senate Bill 1440 would help by facilitating one key strategy in managing our waste.


Michael Boccadoro is executive director of the Agricultural Energy Consumers Association, [email protected]. He wrote this commentary for CALmatters.

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