By CURTIS W. MARTIN
For the Capital Press
Representatives of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association met with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and members of the Environmental Quality Commission concerning the proposed revisions in water quality standards for toxic pollutants.
The OCA and livestock producers are committed to the protection and enhancement of Oregon's water quality, while ensuring the continued management of this vital resource results in the multiple beneficial uses our citizens enjoy.
While OCA understands the need for some revision of Oregon's Water Quality Standards due to federal Environmental Protection Agency directives, the current proposal goes far beyond what is reasonable and threatens our livelihoods, both rural and urban.
Among our concerns are the nonpoint source revisions. The assumption that the agricultural community has not contributed to improved water quality is totally in error. There is no statistical data for that assertion.
The Agricultural Water Quality Management Program, or AgWQMP, administered through the Oregon Department of Agricultural has significantly aided in maintaining and restoring healthy waters, while also having a positive economic benefit to producers.
The current proposal will require surrogate measures and best management practices that will cause economic hardship to ranchers while not assuring that the imposed land management practice will benefit water quality.
Although DEQ maintains that it does not want control of the AgWQMP, the language contained in this revision directly challenges the statutory and regulatory authority given to ODA by Senate Bill 1010, which was enacted by the 1993 Legislature, clarified in 1995 and signed by then-Gov. John Kitzhaber.
The Oregon Cattlemen's Association knows the area plans containing the regulatory rules administered by Oregon Department of Agriculture's authority have been and are an effective way to collaboratively enforce mandated regulations where all parties come together to achieve water quality.
However, the current format of the DEQ revision would harm the existing process that relies on best available science and that has become the principal strategy for agriculture's role in responding to the 319 Section of the federal Clean Water Act.
This proposed change would destroy the cooperation and trust that has taken years to establish between ODA and farmers and ranchers. The mindset that because there have been no fines or civil penalties assessed, there needs to be stricter regulation and enforcement by DEQ, will only lead to a litigated stalemate with environmental and economic loss resulting.
Another issue with current rulemaking is the lack of in-depth economic analysis and the financial harm that these standards would impose.
As has been reflected in previous testimony, urban businesses would suffer with resultant loss of jobs, as would the agricultural sector with increased input costs with no monetary compensation.
This proposed rule is ill-advised during a time when our state is trying to find a way out of the existing economic malaise.
In closing, Oregon Cattlemen's Association recommends that the Environmental Quality Commission instructs DEQ to reopen this process to more than the previous seven workshops, with inclusion of the diversified resource organizations, and tell the federal Environmental Protection Agency that Oregon is working toward a logical, common-sense standard that will adequately address human health concerns.
Curtis W. Martin is Water Resources Committee chairman of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association.