Violations, inspector reports would remain public information
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
Legislation passed by the Idaho House of Representatives and now before the Senate would exempt dairies' nutrient-management plans from public information requests.
The legislation mirrors the exemptions given to beef confined animal feeding operations by last year's Legislature. It passed the House 61-7 on March 21.
"There's no reason dairy CAFOs shouldn't have the same kind of protection," said Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, the sponsor of HB 269. "It protects their private information, their business information."
Although the management plans would remain confidential, any violations found by state inspectors, along with other reports and tests generated by the state, would remain public record under the measure.
"Anything an inspector observes and writes down is still open to the public," said Bob Naerebout, executive director of Idaho Dairymen's Association. "The only thing that's not is what (information) an individual operator generates for his nutrient management plan."
That might include information on field applications, third-party handlers who take manure for compost and soil tests.
"It's proprietary information. That's part of your business plan," said Andy Fitzgerald, a Shoshone dairyman.
But the bill "strikes a balance between the public's right to know and producers' individual rights," he said.
"I don't want our records public. It's like sharing your financials," said Ed DeGroot, a Mountain Home dairyman.
Idaho Conservation League opposes the bill.
"Nutrient-management plans are important for public health and environmental health and should be kept open to the public," said Courtney Washburn, ICA community conservation director and lobbyist.
Access to nutrient management plans is important for assessing the source of ground-water contamination, she said.
All dairymen should be good stewards, but state, federal and county regulators are the ones to make sure nutrient-management plans are followed, said Shoshone dairyman Don Taber.
"It's not anyone's business how we do that, especially someone who's not in the agricultural field," he said.
ICL is also concerned the bill would cause confusion because nutrient-management information is public if a dairy applies for EPA's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.
The bill was prompted by a public records request by Idaho Concerned Area Residents for the Environment, which also opposes the bill, Naerebout said. ICARE in August requested 400 files on dairy CAFOs.
Naerebout said ICARE's actions were meant to harass dairymen.
"ICARE not only copied the files but put them on their website," he said.
"Our intention is to make the public and regulatory agencies aware we have issues with water quality, phosphorus levels in fields and, in some cases, air quality," ICARE Executive Director Alma Hasse said.
CAFO owners are already operating with impunity under the Idaho One Plan, she said.
Nutrient management plan developed under the Idaho One Plan have been exempt from public records request by law since about 2000, Boyle said. Dairymen volunteered to do those plans with the agreement they would be kept confidential.
But inspection reports containing violations are open to the public no matter how the nutrient management plan was developed, she said.