New Oregon dairies would need to pass muster with regulators before starting operations under a bill that will be reconsidered during the 2020 legislative session.
Facilities with more than 2,500 mature dairy cows and other “large concentrated animal feeding operations” would be subject to a new inspection system under a “legislative concept” the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee unanimously voted to introduce on Jan. 13.
Under the proposal, officials from either the state’s Department of Environmental Quality or the Department of Agriculture would have to authorize the construction of CAFOs and then ensure they’re functioning properly before operations begin.
The Water Resources Department would also have to determine the facility has a reliable, legally authorized water supply under Legislative Concept 65, which will be assigned a bill number when Oregon’s legislative session begins in February.
A similar bill got a rough reception when introduced in 2019, encountering opposition from the dairy industry as well as environmental groups, which claimed it didn’t go far enough in protecting against air and water pollution.
The idea was sparked by the demise of Lost Valley Farm in Boardman, Ore., a major dairy that shut down last year after the bankruptcy of its owner and repeated violations of Oregon’s wastewater regulations.
Environmental groups favored more restrictive measures to prevent similar problems in the future, such as imposing a moratorium on large new dairies and classifying them as “industrial” facilities that aren’t protected by “right to farm” laws that disallow certain lawsuits and local regulations.
The Oregon Dairy Farmers Association, meanwhile, argued that new restrictions weren’t necessary because the existing regulatory system was effective at stopping pollution at Lost Valley Farm, which experienced problems due to mismanagement.
At this point, though, the ODFA is willing to accept the most recent legislative concept of a “two-phase inspection” for new dairies with more than 2,500 cows, said Tami Kerr, the organization’s executive director.
“I think it’s in everyone’s best interest that the facilities are in working order before animals are moved onto farms,” Kerr said.
The dairy industry also didn’t initially object to last year’s similar proposal, until “there were other additions we were not supportive of,” she said, declining to provide specifics.
Sen. Mike Dembrow, D-Portland, said the new bill has “several tweaks” but winning the dairy industry’s backing of the idea was largely a matter of communication.
“We’ve been having meetings with the industry and they’re now supportive of it,” said Dembrow, who chairs the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
Aside from the dairy proposal, the committee also voted unanimously to reintroduce a proposal that simplifies the construction of artificial beaver dams, which are intended to improve stream channels and riparian habitat.
The legislative concept would exempt such “environmental restoration weirs” from costly and time-consuming fill-removal permits administered by the Department of State Lands. Such structures are intended to slow stream flow and reconnect the waterways with flood plains.
Dembrow said he expects “smooth sailing” for Legislative Concept 21, since last year’s proposal was making progress before it was ultimately derailed by a lack of time due to controversies over a climate bill late in the session.
Finally, the committee reintroduced another proposal — Legislative Concept 64 — that would ease land transfers or management changes to properties owned by the Oregon Department of Forestry that are of limited revenue-generating potential or of high value from the recreational or conservation perspective.
“More conversations need to happen about that,” Dembrow said.