Mega-dairies and the natural gas industry have lobbied hard to convince Oregon’s lawmakers that manure digesters lessen factory farms’ environmental impacts, but as environmental violations pile up that argument disintegrates.
Last year, Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality fined two of the state’s mega-dairies (including its largest) for air quality violations that resulted from digesters, which capture mega-dairy methane to produce so-called biogas that can be sold to utilities for a profit. Both digester projects received millions of dollars in public funding despite posing myriad threats to Oregon’s communities and threatening Gov. Kate Brown’s ambitious climate goals.
Chemically, factory farm biogas is identical to fracked gas. Its main component is methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that must be drastically reduced to slow the worst effects of climate change. Brown’s plans for Oregon’s emissions reductions are among the most ambitious in the U.S., setting a goal of an 80 percent reduction by 2030 that far eclipses Biden’s goals for the country. But, instead of reducing the ag sector’s methane emissions, a raft of tax credits and incentives is making it easier than ever for Oregon mega-dairies to produce more methane and sell it for a profit.
Threemile Canyon Farms and Farm Power Misty Meadow both face fines upwards of $18,000 for air quality violations at their dairy manure digesters, but the fines are a pittance compared with the millions of dollars in public funding allocated to these projects from Oregon’s taxpayers.
In fact, Threemile Canyon Farms’ former general manager called factory farm gas “the most valuable product that we have out there” — more valuable even than the milk it produces for dairy giant Tillamook. Threemile and Farm Power received more than $5 million and nearly $1.5 million to subsidize their factory farm gas, respectively.
Oregon’s Clean Fuels Program alongside its Renewable Natural Gas Portfolio allowances incentivize the purchase of factory farm biogas by natural gas utilities, allowing them to greenwash their pollution of our climate and communities. Northwest Natural, a household name to many in Oregon, has scored three lucrative factory farm gas contracts as a result. And just recently, Shell Oil announced the creation of its first biomethane facility in Junction City, just outside of Eugene.
Unless our leaders act fast, factory farm biogas will sit alongside fossil fuels as an essential ingredient in our current market-based, climate-wrecking cocktail.
If Brown hopes to meet her ambitious emissions reductions targets, she and our legislators cannot allow factory farm gas or mega-dairies to grow. In her last term, Brown must cement her legacy as a climate champion. She can start by enacting a moratorium on mega-dairies, cutting off the raw materials necessary for factory farm biogas. She can slash the incentives and tax credits that have made methane profitable and redirect those funds to real climate solutions, including electrification and community-sourced energy plans. Oregon can meet its climate goals, but not with factory farm gas and polluting digesters.