Noel at Cal Poly said the situation with the recycling program in Stanislaus, where an effort to protect regional water quality threatened county recycling goals, local agribusiness, and to a limited extent, even air quality, showed that there is sometimes insufficient evaluation of regulations’ unintended consequences.

“It demonstrates, when you put forth these regulations, I’m not sure there’s a tremendous amount of investigation into the additional costs or benefits measured,” he said.

Noel said there is also a need for environmental regulations to be considered in conjunction with other priorities, including the need for a healthy agricultural economy. But he said some parties pursue environmental objectives to the exclusion of all others.

“There’s a lot of pride on the part of various political groups and special interests that ‘California leads the way, and others follow,’” Noel said. But “Sustainability is a three-legged stool: environmental, social and economic sustainability.”

The laws behind regulations also create problems. Mitloehner at UC Davis said he believed the flaws with the San Joaquin air district’s initial approach to regulating dairies resulted from the 2003 law, SB 700, that required regulation of agricultural sources of air pollution in California. He said it hadn’t allowed the air board time to adequately study the issue.

“Senate Bill 700, authored by (former state senator Dean) Florez, mandated (air boards) to regulate agriculture like any other industry, and the problem is they’ve previously never regulated agriculture,” Mitloehner said. “They don’t have that background in what kinds of emissions are coming from what sources and how they can be mitigated.”

Paggi at CSU Fresno said he believed that California’s legislators and regulators are too quick to push the envelope before the science and impact of environmental policies are understood. Paggi cited AB 32 as an example – the law is supposed to exempt farmers, but the trickle-down costs will cut farmers’ profits significantly in the long run, he said.

“People I think sometimes make decisions on less than full information,” Paggi said.