Greenhouse gases now part of pollution agency's feedlot permit process
ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced Friday, Dec. 13, that from now on, any animal feedlot operators with plans to expand must include a check of greenhouse gas emissions.
Katrina Kessler, assistant MPCA commissioner for water, said that as Minnesota focuses on ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the data on amounts of greenhouse gases produced in agricultural practices will help the MPCA better understand the sources of those emissions.
"Adding these inventories to our environmental review is a good first step in working with producers to understand emissions and broader efforts to mitigate climate change," Kessler said.
Kessler said the inventories on feedlot projects will help the MPCA as it works on the state's goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 from levels calculated in 2005. That does not mean reducing emissions by 80% in each industry, but as a composite from all emission sectors.
Responding to the court
In January, the MPCA approved a permit for an expansion of the Daleys' dairy farm near Lewiston. However, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and Land Stewardship Project appealed the decision, triggering a case in the Minnesota Court of Appeals. On Oct. 14, the court of appeals revoked the MPCA's permit to Daley Farms for expansion, ruling that the agency failed to consider greenhouse gas emissions in the environmental review process.
Kessler said the plan for the Daleys' permit is to add an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions to the environmental review already completed, post the new version of the review for a 30-day comment period and then re-approve the permit.
"We will supplement the previous environmental review with greenhouse gas emissions," Kessler said. "The emissions calculations will be specific to the operations."
The greenhouse gas inventory focusing on nitrous oxide and methane will be part the Daley review.
Going forward, it will be part of the environmental review of every feedlot project that triggers environmental review.
Counting, not denying
As part of the process, all greenhouse gases will be converted to carbon dioxide equivalents using EPA guidelines. For example, one ton of nitrous oxide is equal to 298 tons of CO2. And one ton of methane is equal to 25 tons of CO2.
What won't happen, Kessler said, is the denial of a feedlot project proposal based on greenhouse gas emissions. "There is no threshold where above that you won't get a permit," she said.
A project proposer also will not be required to perform any mitigation of greenhouse gases based on the findings of the inventory, she said. Although the MPCA might use the inventory as a point to discuss where a farmer might want to mitigate the impact of the greenhouse gas emissions.
Ben Daley, one of the owners of Daley Farms, said the inventory of greenhouse gases was needed because the court ordered it, and now the family farm will again need to go through an environmental review.
"Why do we have to go through that process if all you have to do is say 'These are the numbers?' " he asked.
The Daleys have also filed suit against Winona County for not approving a variance of the county's animal unit cap for their expansion project. Daley said that case has been put on hold because, due to the court of appeals ruling, the Daleys do not currently have a permit from the MPCA, so they cannot ask for a variance until the environmental review is completed again.
Credit for mitigation
Dave Preisler, CEO of the Minnesota Pork Board, said he can't think of a good reason for the inventory other than the court order.
"When you calculate the emissions, are you ignoring the credits that are happening by applying manure rather than commercial fertilizer?" he said. "There are reductions (in greenhouse gas emissions) of 30-40 percent using swine manure."
Preisler said any inventory needs to take into account the mitigation that naturally occurs as part of a project. For example, he pointed to the Daleys' plans to plant hundreds of acres of alfalfa as cattle feed. "Alfalfa is good for the environment, but if you don't have the cows, you don't need the alfalfa," he said.
Yon Kohlnhofer, who operates Circle K Family Farms, a hog operation in Goodhue County, along with his brothers, said that while he does not have an argument against adding an inventory of greenhouse gases to the environmental review process, he is concerned. By focusing on larger farms, he said, the state is "governing the big guys when a whole bunch of little guys put out the same amount."
Kohlnhofer said his operation already utilizes mitigation practices such as soil building, cover crops and putting manure into the soil instead of applying it just to the top of the soil where it can wash into nearby streams.
Preisler said regulation is a good thing, and "any of us would be foolish to deny we haven't had more extreme weather lately," but he worries that instituting new policies without looking at their consequences can cause more harm than good.
He pointed to a climate change task force being appointed by Gov. Tim Walz.
"Having policy changes without that group even meeting for the first time, that's concerning," Preisler said. "Ag can be part of the solution for climate change and not the problem. But if regulation gets ahead of that, it's really hard to operate in that environment without first talking about solutions."