I Owe An Apology to My Fellow Skeptics -- Apparently I Underestimated How Stupid the California Legislature Can Be

There was a period of time -- now a decade ago at least -- when folks were actually willing to have debates on climate and I was invited to participate in a number of them.  In several of these, fellow skeptics would try to mock alarmists by saying that cow farts are a big source of methane (a much stronger greenhouse gas than CO2) and thus alarmists were going to be regulating cow farts soon.  On several time, I criticized my fellow skeptics, calling this both a conspiracy theory and a distraction from the real debate -- once someone says "cow farts" in a discussion, it is almost a lock that you will have a hard time getting back to serious science.

Well, I was wrong.  I am sorry to all those skeptics I derided for pushing the cow fart meme.  Because the California legislature did passed a law to regulate cow farts.

Well, sort of.  In fact, even the California legislature is not really stupid enough to require that long vent hoses be hooked up to the rear ends of all the cows in the state.  While you will hear this law derided as the cow fart legislation, it actually about cow poop -- specifically the collection of all the cow poop so it can be put into devices that contain and harvest the methane emissions from the poop.

What this is far more likely to be is not the cow fart or cow poop legislation, but the "send California's dairy business to other states" legislation.


  1. joe:

    This cow fart law will bring jobs to CA just like the $15 minimum wage law.

    What it will actually do is make milk and milk products very expensive in CA. Numerous products have tight margins and transportation costs can be the largest variable expense. Soda drinks are a prime example, once the production source exceeds approx 300 miles, the transporation costs will exceed the gross margin. Except for oregan to the north, there is no geographically suitable terrain for dairy production till you get to Colorado. Lots of luck

  2. David Zetland:

    Clearly, you have no idea of how bad cow-shit-related groundwater pollution is -- and how farmers have lobbied to avoid the costs thereto.

    Maybe pick on a real issue? Like how a ban on all pollution regulation (a trumpian goal) is a going to screw up your life?

  3. DirtyJobsGuy:

    California leads in their serious attacks on the terrors of CO2/Methane and nonsense alternate energy stuff. Currently the California electricity system has created a monster now called the "Duck Curve". Every day the large amount of heavily subsidized solar power peaks around noon and dies off to nothing around 5-6 PM. But the power demand keeps rising till about 8-10PM. The deficit in power is made up by nasty gas and coal plants outside of California at high prices. While methane from manure plants will be tiny the whole idea drives a thrill up green legs. It would all be silly except that lots of clever insiders know how to profit from every silly idea to the detriment of ordinary people and businesses.

  4. Nehemiah:

    Come on over to Wisconsin. We know how to milk them cows. No problem with cow farts here. Probably won't even notice against the pungent odor already present from folks drinking huge quantities of beer and eating brats with kraut. Whoa, I feel one coming on now. Excuse Me.

  5. Thomas Reid:

    Water pollution is a valid concern. But that's not what they're regulating in this case.

  6. SamWah:

    I've read the biggest source of methane is termites. California: An example of numerous things to avoid.

  7. McThag:

    Let's queue up the "Milk industry deprives children of wholesome dairy products by moving production out of state and increasing prices" now so we have it ready when dairy producers "unexpectedly" sell their herds and retire.

  8. morganovich:

    satire is dead. reality keeps trumping it.

  9. Bistro:

    Ya know Dave?
    I can't recall a single solitary example of cow poo contaminating urban water supplies. No doubt you have a rich background history of this state of affairs. Why not trot it out for all of us to examine?
    I know about the California State Government mandated MBTA pollution and destruction of urban water supplies because California legislators are so easily bought but you trot out your evidence and I'll produce my own.

    We know who poisens the world and it ain't us, it's those like you and you.

  10. Artemis:

    I used to argue that licensing the 2nd Amendment would be like saying you needed to be a licensed journalist because I foolishly thought that the left wouldn't go there... never give statists ideas.

  11. STW:

    California was a pretty nice place (still can be) when I first moved there almost 50 years ago. Since then the population has doubled. Eleven years ago I was sitting at work a quarter mile from the Pacific Ocean and realized that the place was going insane and given the proclivities of the "leaders" in Sacramento there was no turning back. They'd wired down the safety valve and stoking the fire. Now, 1200 miles away I sit back in wonder.

    California milk is already more expensive because they mandate a higher proportion of milk solids. Areas that were once dairies are now housing tracts, raising costs still further since someone has to pay the freight. Now they have to capture poo gas. I read yesterday where one farmer shelled out $1.5 million for his system. At $3.35 per million BTUs (1000+ cubic feet of methane) he's not paying that back with gas sales anytime soon. I bet he won't even cover interest on the loan.

  12. sean2829:

    That's why a lot of milk is converted to cheese.

  13. Matthew Slyfield:

    "At $3.35 per million BTUs (1000+ cubic feet of methane) he's not paying
    that back with gas sales anytime soon. I bet he won't even cover
    interest on the loan."

    More than a few facts necessary to say how much he will recoup in gas sales are missing.

    How large is his herd?

    How much excrement does one cow produce per day?

    Is the system only capturing methane already in the excrement, or is it using some kind of composting process to maximize methane production?

    How many head of cattle can the system handle? perhaps he can defray costs by sharing the system with his neighbors if he has excess capacity?

    How much methane does a given amount of excrement yield?

    What did it cost him to dispose of the waste before the law?

    What will disposal of the processed material from the methane capture system cost?

    Is the system passive? Or does it have operating costs?

  14. Richard Arrett:

    It sure is a good thing we killed off all the buffalo. Can you imagine the methane and therefore global warming if we had all those buffalo plus all the cattle?

    Cow farts are dangerous.


  15. Peabody:

    Could you please explain how a ban on all pollution regulation is a "trumpian goal"?

  16. Scott:

    Do you remember the TV show SeaQuest? Produced in the 90s, it was set in 2018. In their vision of our future, beef is illegal because of the methane from cow farts. In one episode, a character gets a hold of enough illegal beef to make a single cheeseburger (hijinks ensue).

  17. SamWah:

    I am reminded of a New Yorker cartoon (late'60s-early '70s) of a family in a car on a highway, approaching a sign which reads, "You are now leaving California. Resume Normal Behavior." Still valid these many years later.

  18. John O.:

    I remember when it was just the Libertarians that got accused of being heartless bastards for policy issues, but seeing how Trump is against everything the left stands for they're going to insinuate that Trump will bring all the wrong policy choices for the next 4 years. I simply lost all respect for people who immediate jump the discussion to the assumption that the sky will fall on January 20 under anybody but their favorite corrupt leftist in power. I just smile and nod and not give a single damn to what they say.

  19. sch:

    This will be a slow process, with the bureacracy cranking up regulations first and the trial lawyers a few years behind, but it is supposed to take effect between 2024 and 2030.

  20. marque2:

    Is cheese like concentrated OJ?

  21. Seekingfactsforsanity:

    How bad is cow-shit related pollution David Zetland? Is it really, really bad? Of is it kinda bad? Or is it another kind of bad?

  22. sean2829:

    OJ is 4:1 concentration while 10lbs of milk make 1 lb of cheese. Milk doesn't reconstitute to the original as OJ does but it's how most of us get dairy products when we get older. More importantly, it travels well.

  23. jdgalt:

    It might be cheaper to spray the grass with Beano. ;-D

  24. fjord:

    Methane only seems to be a problem when it's in an industry that can be regulated to death- like dairy or beef cattle, and let's conveniently ignore that methane is released in much larger amounts from - ocean vents and fracking accidents like the 2014 incident that spewed many millions of tons of contaminants into the air in CA that was hush-hushed because the governor's sister was directly involved - as is Brown with oil and natural gas investments. Also the anthracite coal seams that have been burning for millenia because they are not able to extinguish them...

    So, there are two ways to decrease methane production in bovines in feedlots - the feeding of a ionophore labeled as Bovatec or Rumensin (and in other trade names) that increases feed conversion to higher yields of meat or milk increasing the input costs to the farmer. The organic lobby likes to scream ANTIBIOTIC! because it increases a certain bacteria in the rumen and decreases another which leads to less methane production. This would basically kill any "organic" dairy or beef farms, if there are any in operation, as organic usually can't compete with the mega-dairies, without large subsidy.

    I had a neighbor that was shipping organic milk and he was continuously lobbing dead bovines into my fence rows as treatment of usual diseases that run through cows kept in close confinement can't be treated with antibiotics and tend to be fatal if treated by prayer and citric acid. He switched to goats by the way, because cows are basically "pigs", they love to lay in their own manure.

    The other way would be the investment in a methane digester, which I think someone else here mentioned. Which involves grants and loans, and the EPA oversees the installation and project. Anyone care to guess how many farmers want to invite the EPA to their place for an extended stay? I heard these things take months if not years to implement. So, I'm thinking that Brown likely has relatives or campaign donaters who need the work and kickbacks. Much easier to just move to another state that is friendlier to farming.

  25. fjord:

    How much excrement does one cow produce per day?
    A typical dairy cow produces 125 lbs of manure and waste a day.

    What did it cost him to dispose of the waste before the law?
    The cost of fuel to spread it on the crop land. Unless he paid someone to do it for him (who owns a liquid spreader). The cost to run an agitator in his slurrystore which he probably paid for with county funds to store it. methane is used to make commercial fertilizers. Or you could just spread it.

    I don't know how much these systems cost to operate but i do know that two local landfills use them to generate electricity to heat greenhouses to grow hydroponic crops.

    How many head of cattle can the system handle? perhaps he can defray costs by sharing the system with his neighbors if he has excess capacity?
    a quick research of cost found that of the 27 methane digesters in operation they are in the $3-4Million range.
    Likely this guy referenced in STW's comment had funds matched by either county or state DEP or FSA.

  26. Gil G:

    They're trying to educe GHGs? Shock and horror!

  27. TruthisaPeskyThing:

    Interesting, the Dairy business is large in California because the formula for government subsidies for dairy highly favors California.

  28. Corky Boyd:

    Several years ago I wrote an email to the makers of Beano. I pointed out the problem of bovine flatulence could provide a breakthrough solution by using Beano. It would mean Beano could be sold by the ton around the world rather than in little bottles, and that they (GlaxoSmithKline) might make a gazillion dollars. It never happened.

    I think the cattle/methane issue is more about the vegan crowd wanting to keep us from eating delicious steaks than about environmental issues.

  29. SamWah:

    Your December 4 post only adds to this one.

  30. Ann_In_Illinois:

    But what they didn't anticipate in the 1990s was 3D printers that can print meat. Sounds weird, doesn't it? They already know how to do it for the most part - ground 'beef' is easier, and they're working on getting the right texture for steak. I'd happily pay more for meat that doesn't involve killing animals, and the environmental gains will be large.

    They've also used 3D printers to create yeast that can brew milk proteins, similar to making beer except we'll get something similar to cow's milk without the cow. I think it's called Perfect Day. The great thing is we can also have 'animal free' cheese!