Industry weighs EPA settlement
Confidentiality of information a key concern for dairy operators
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
The dairy industry is divided over the impact on producers of a settlement between the Environmental Protection Agency and environmental groups.
The EPA has agreed to gather information from confined animal feeding operations that don't have a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit and determine which ones should be regulated. EPA will propose a rule to require all CAFO owners to release that information to the public unless it is protected by confidentiality provisions.
The EPA reached the settlement May 25 with the National Resources Defense Council, the Waterkeeper Alliance and the Sierra Club in a lawsuit the groups filed in 2009 regarding wastewater discharge permits on confined animal feeding operations.
Bob Naerebout, executive director of Idaho Dairymen's Association, said analysis of the agreement is needed to see if it would change current requirements. Under an earlier court ruling, only dairy CAFOs larger than 699 head that had a discharge or wanted protection if they discharged would need the NPDES permit.
"It is uncertain at this time how the EPA settlement will impact those producers who did not intend to apply for an NPDES permit," he said.
In Oregon, Jim Krahn, executive director of Oregon Dairy Farmers, said the settlement will have no impact on the state's dairy producers.
"Everyone is on an NPDES permit. So there's not a question if you milk 25 cows or 20,000; they're essentially under the same permit," he said.
Oregon's dairy producers moved toward the permits nearly a decade ago after determining, as an industry, the permit provided them the best protection.
"We looked in our crystal ball and saw what might be coming down the road," Krahn said.
While the agreement will have no immediate impact, as it calls for EPA to take a year to write the rule, it raises concerns, said Paul Martin, director of environmental services for Western United Dairymen.
The first issue of concern is that the settlement took the livestock industry completely by surprise.
"We were not aware that a settlement was being considered. The livestock industry was not consulted, and it should have been," he said. "It just emphasizes the importance of staying engaged."
While California has its own comprehensive regulatory system that is more stringent than EPA's, the settlement could eventually require every operation with any potential to discharge to get an NPDES permit.
He said he views the agreement as an end run around a 2005 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals decision that only operations with an actual discharge or intended discharge needed a permit.
The agreement also has a provision for citizen enforcement of the permits that could be used by environmentalists, he said.
Martin said the agreement is a waste of time and taxpayers' money. The information EPA is requiring is already collected by California's permitting authorities.
"My perspective is if they want it, come and get it," he said.
Making producers' information -- who they are, where they are, how many cows they milk, how much they produce and more -- public is a threat to national security.
"Are you sure you want everyone in the world knowing where your milk supply is?" he asked.
Jay Gordon, executive director of Washington State Dairy Federation, said he is "very cautiously optimistic we're in good shape," because Washington dairymen must comply with state waste requirements and the court's ruling that EPA can't regulate based on potential discharge.