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Big beef over dairy cow gas

Manteca leaders side with ag industry

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Big beef over dairy cow gas

Cows feed on a dairy farm off Airport Way south of Manteca on Wednesday.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin


POSTED June 18, 2009 2:07 a.m.
Manteca’s elected leaders are having a cow over a Stockton City Council member nominated to serve on the San Joaquin Air Pollution Control District.

Believing that Stockton Councilmember Susan Talamantes Eggman is unsympathetic to the plight of the dairy industry, the City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to reject her nomination.

The council’s concern centers around a movement within the air pollution control district to force dairy farmers to reduce methane gas which is essentially cow flatulence.

Manteca Mayor Willie Weatherford started the ball rolling by saying the city shouldn’t be voting for a representative who is likely to deal a severe blow to dairies that top the San Joaquin County’s annual farm production of $2 billion at $446 million.

“If in fact dairies are required to reduce methane gas, (because they are the No. 1 source) what does that mean for humans who I suspect produce the second largest amount of methane gas?” Weatherford asked rhetorically as he kicked off a discussion defending agriculture against regulations many believe will be a death knell.

Dairy farms are being pummeled by the global recession that has triggered a massive drop in demand for milk and other dairy products. As a result, it now costs California dairy farmers $1.50 a gallon to produce milk while they are receiving right around $1 a gallon.

“We need to be sensitive to the needs of agriculture in California,” The mayor said, noting a possible methane reduction requirement on top of the drop- off in prices could result in the massive collapse of dairies.

Weatherford said if the air pollution control district succeeds by getting the votes on the governing board to impose the methane reduction requirement, it would be a matter of time before “all of our milk comes from Mexico.”

Dairies have been the leader in ag production in San Joaquin County since 2001. Farm-related jobs including processing and trucking are by far the largest segment of employment in San Joaquin County.

The district has focused on methane releases from the San Joaquin Valley’s two million dairy cows as being a major factor in poor air quality.

Studies have shown that an average dairy cow produces 12.8 pounds of volatile organic compounds (VOC) a year. That would mean 700 cows produce as much VOCs as 60,000 cars.

One solution would involve a million dollar investment per dairy of methane digesters that cover a dairy’s lagoon. Such a digester would trap pollutants and create electricity. There is a major debate whether they would be cost effective for the typical dairy.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Quality Control District - the people who made dairy cattle public enemy No. 1 for cutting a bit too much cheese and creating methane gas - are also going after steakhouses and fast food joints that charbroil meat. That dripping grease ends up sizzling and sparking a flame that spews smoke containing dangerous pollutants that escape into the atmosphere.

Throughout the San Joaquin Valley, the air quality folks estimate 2.6 tons of particles are released into the air each day from charbroiling. Altogether, 527 tons of pollutants that are considered lethal are released daily into the skies of the San Joaquin Valley.

The air quality people have a simple solution – technology. Of course, that means money. The proposed new rule – could cost between $2,000 and $100,000 a year per restaurant.

If enough other cities in the northern region of the air pollution control district agree, the Stockton City Council would have to select someone else besides Eggman to serve on the air pollution control district’s governing board. The nominee needs to come from Stockton this year under air pollution control district procedures.
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