By MICHAEL GORMLEY
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- Dairy farmers are faced with a regulation that unintentionally holds them to the same standard for cleaning up spilled milk that a petroleum producer faces to clean up an oil spill, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said Wednesday.
The Democrat from New York, where agriculture is the state's No. 1 industry made up largely of dairy farmers, said Congress never meant for the Clean Water Act to put dairy farmers in the same class as global petroleum companies, such as BP, just because milk contains animal fat, which is an oil.
He said the EPA in 2005 made it clear that the current regulation applies to milk, setting off a continued push by milk producers to get an exemption. During talks between the EPA and dairy farmers, the federal agency has delayed enforcement of the regulation. Meanwhile, the Obama administration is reviewing all EPA rules under the previous Republican administration, which proposed an exemption for dairy farmers.
At issue is what Schumer calls an ambiguous 2002 revision to the landmark 1970s Clean Water Act.
Schumer said the provision could cost farmers thousands of dollars by requiring them to prepare extensive spill cleanup plans. He called on federal Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson to finalize the exemption proposed years ago to spare farmers from having to come up with the expensive and burdensome plans.
The EPA said it has "made clear over a month ago that we will extend the compliance deadline for milk storage tanks at least as long as it takes for EPA to take final action on the already-proposed exclusion of milk storage tanks from this regulatory program."
Schumer, however, said farmers already hit hard economically need peace of mind now after years of worrying.
"Everyone knows that when Congress enacted these laws it was targeting massive oil spills and toxic substances, not an accident involving milk at one of our state's small dairy farms," Schumer said. "Mothers tell their children not to cry over spilled milk -- farmers certainly shouldn't have to either."
Schumer and U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns, a Nebraska Republican and former U.S. agriculture secretary, said they would introduce a bill to put the exemption into law.