California Air Resources Board Must Consider Impact of Agriculture

For Immediate Release: 
Thursday, December 11, 2008

OAKLAND, December 11, 2008 –The Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) West Coast office has written the California Air Resources Board pointing out deficiencies in its Climate Change Proposed Scoping Plan with respect to agriculture and its role in generating greenhouse gas emissions. (to see PDF letter: EWG Comments on the California Air Resources Board Climate Change Proposed Scoping Plan)

The plan understates both agriculture’s part in causing greenhouse gas emissions and its capacity to reduce these emissions. The plan ascribes just 6 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to agriculture. That number excludes several significant sources of energy consumed by agriculture, including the energy used to irrigate California farmland and to produce synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. In addition, recent modeling efforts funded by the California Energy Commission indicate that methane from the digestive systems of livestock may be double the levels estimated previously.

If true, then this data suggest that California agriculture may contribute far more toward global warming than previously suspected.

Similarly, the plan fails to consider how better practices by California agriculture could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It should insist that farmers deploy a variety of voluntary and mandatory measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions before 2012. As things stands now, the board is missing key opportunities to improve water, water pump and fertilizer efficiency in California’s fields.

It’s clear that much more needs to be understood about how California’s complex agricultural systems, especially its growing organic agricultural movement, can further reduce global warming gases. But the plan confines its research goal to a study of nitrous oxide, just one of many subjects crucial to meeting the larger objectives described in AB 32, California’s Global Warming Solutions Act. It entirely ignores organic agricultural techniques.

Finally, agricultural offsets may play an important role in an emerging cap and trade program – but only if these offsets are considered reliable and of high quality. As the economic sector most affected by our climate, agriculture will undoubtedly be hardest hit by global warming. Therefore, agricultural measures aimed at reducing emissions must be coordinated with efforts to promote adaptive, sustainable farming practices.

“The California Air Resources Board must consider the current science that clearly demonstrates the critical role California agriculture plays in the climate change crisis. The board should also accurately represent the capacity of the agriculture sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said EWG Senior Scientist Rebecca Sutton, Ph.D.

EWG is perhaps best known in agriculture policy circles for its Farm Subsidy Database which lists all the nation’s farm subsidy recipients and their share of the $165 billion taxpayers have spent on the programs since 1995. Recent EWG agriculture-related reports have focused on issues such as the impact adverse weather may have on a food supply already stretched thin by the federal ethanol production mandate, and the impact America’s ethanol gold rush has had on environmental disasters like the Gulf of Mexico ‘Dead Zone.’


# # #


EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. EWG’s farm subsidy database and related reports and analysis can be found at

Key Issues: