The Air Resources Board has turned down a petition by environmental groups calling for the board to halt certifications for fuels derived from animal biomethane for the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) program.

Phoebe Seaton, who directs the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, which led the effort, called the LCFS credits for dairy digesters a “manure gold rush” that incentivizes factory farm expansion. The groups submitted in October the petition, which includes a request to amend the LCFS regulations to consider excluding digesters.

CARB’s argument was that petitions are not a legal mechanism for changing the regulations, which the board adopted through a public rulemaking process.

During a board hearing last week, several environmental advocates said the rejection makes CARB’s new environmental justice goals meaningless and hypocritical. They argued digesters have disproportionately impacted disadvantaged communities with air pollution.

“The issue is not new,” said CARB Executive Officer Richard Corey. “Honestly, I have not seen the evidence of the claims that are being made.”

Corey noted that CARB plans to open the regulations for amendments in 2023 and will be doing some "fact finding over the coming months" for any new data to inform potential changes.

Dairy Cares Executive Director Michael Boccadoro argued that California’s world-leading goal of reducing methane emissions by 40% “cannot and will not be achieved without digesters,” a refrain Boccadoro has often repeated in recent years as environmental groups have increasingly scrutinized the incentive grants program for digesters throughout regulatory and legislative hearings.

“We cannot deny the basic facts and we cannot allow parties to deny real solutions that are being put in place,” added Boccadoro.

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Several board members called for a technical review of the issue, along with a public workshop, and to put a decision before the board this year that would immediately pause permits for digesters as board staff further research the issue.

In a separate discussion, board members pushed for more research into pesticide drift and actions CARB could take within the next Climate Scoping Plan update to address potential health impacts. They plan to work with the Department of Pesticide Regulation and the Legislature on filling CalEPA’s research gaps on this issue.

“I've been upset about this for a long time," said board member Dr. John Balmes. "I don't think any of us really know how much of a problem pesticides are in terms of health, because we just don't have good enough data.”

CARB Chair Liane Randolph agreed, but took a more conciliatory approach.

“I really think it would be incumbent upon us to explore the potential for those opportunities,” said Randolph.