When Washington-based Easterday Ranches announced it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on the heels of allegations that it had cheated Tyson Foods out of millions of dollars, it had a bizarre yet familiar ring to it here in Oregon. It doesn’t take long to figure out why.
Only a few years before, the Lost Valley Farm mega-dairy filed for bankruptcy after more than 200 environmental violations and photographs surfaced showing its manure storage areas (called “lagoons”) overflowing and threatening local groundwater. The cleanup took 11 months. Soon after Lost Valley was shut down by the state of Oregon, another company swooped in, purchased the property and submitted a permit for a new 28,000-cow mega-dairy on the same site. That company is Easterday Dairy, owned by the same Easterday family currently embroiled in the Tyson #cattlegate scandal.
Despite a scandal colored by increasingly outlandish allegations over bills for phantom cows and their phantom food, Oregon’s Department of Agriculture has yet to deny or even halt the permit review for the proposed Easterday Farms mega-dairy. The Easterday family has since given up control of the Washington farm in question and its 54,000 cows, now fed with a court-ordered payment from Tyson.
Despite significant public backlash over the initial permitting of Lost Valley, Oregon officials insisted Lost Valley’s proprietor was simply a “bad actor” and his misdeeds unfortunate, but not indicative of a greater trend in the mega-dairy industry. The scandals surrounding Easterday and our records of other large-scale factory farm pollution clearly disprove that theory.
The only solution is to first deny the Easterday permit on the site of the former Lost Valley, then enact a moratorium on all new industrial dairy facilities housing more than 2,500 cows. A pause in new permitting would give Oregon time to assess the damage already done by these mega-dairies and prevent more “bad actors” from adding to the problem. Mega-dairies are notorious for the squalid quarters of their resident cows but they also disproportionately contribute to the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. Because of their intensive water requirements, these facilities drain scarce water resources and frequently leave remaining groundwater polluted.
Aside from the sordid details of Easterday’s present fiscal situation, ODA simply can’t afford to ignore the catastrophic consequences of letting these mega-dairies run amok in a climate crisis and a global pandemic.
Oregon law gives ODA grounds to deny a permit if the party fails “to disclose fully all relevant facts” or misrepresents “any relevant facts” during the permit process. Between allegedly billing a vendor to feed thousands of fictitious cows and apparently masking a dire financial situation, it seems Easterday Farms left out a few key “relevant facts” in its permit application to the ODA.