Adviser alleges conflict in state's CAFO oversight

Kimbirauskas

Ag department says it can regulate CAFOs and promote industry

By MITCH LIES

Capital Press

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. -- A member of Oregon's Confined Animal Feeding Operation advisory committee said she would like a state agency other than the Oregon Department of Agriculture to regulate CAFOs.

Kendra Kimbirauskas, president of Friends of Family Farmers and a member of the CAFO advisory committee, said ODA has a conflict of interest regulating CAFOs in addition to promoting agriculture.

At a State Board of Agriculture meeting in Klamath Falls this month, Kimbirauskas said, "To be honest, I would like to see the actual CAFO enforcement go to a different agency."

ODA regulates CAFOs under a memorandum of understanding from the state Environmental Quality Commission.

The department promotes Oregon agricultural products through its agricultural marketing and development division.

ODA officials believe the arrangement doesn't impair their ability to protect the state's waters from CAFO waste.

Under the CAFO agreement, the Environmental Quality Commission regularly reviews ODA's administration of the program.

As recently as this year, the commission gave the department high marks, ODA Director Katy Coba said. The Environmental Protection Agency has characterized Oregon's CAFO program as one of the best in the nation, she said.

Greg Geist, water quality permits manager for the Department of Environmental Quality northwest region, said he doesn't believe DEQ is interested in assuming regulatory authority of CAFOs.

"We have a good relationship with ODA," Geist said. "They have a robust program of regulating CAFOs. We've worked with them for a number of years, and I don't see any reason to change that."

Most believe DEQ would be the agency most suited to regulate CAFOs if another agency were to assume authority of the program.

Kimbirauskas, however, wouldn't say which agency she would like to see regulate the program.

Kimbirauskas said she is conducting a review of CAFO files and will have a recommendation in future months. In a phone interview last week, Kimbirauskas refused to elaborate on what those recommendations might be.

Kimbirauskas and three other members of Friends of Family Farmers in March spent four days at ODA combing CAFO records, according to ODA officials.

ODA staff in a later meeting with state Department of Justice officials learned of the existence of a list of CAFO violators that Kimbirauskas' group had compiled.

"A list showed up on a slide saying 'Friends of Family Farms Top 10 CAFO violators,'" Coba said.

Coba said ODA officials were upset to learn of the list through the DOJ, especially since Kimbirauskas serves on the CAFO advisory committee.

"That's the role of the advisory committee, to advise us," said Ray Jaindl, administrator of ODA's Natural Resources Division.

"Her input is valuable if she relays it to us," Jaindl said.

Kimbirauskas said in an e-mail to Coba that she didn't initiate contact with the Department of Justice.

"The DOJ called me out of the blue in late February," she wrote.

Further, Kimbirauskas wrote in the e-mail that she had never been told of any expectations of CAFO advisory committee members or protocol.

"I am not sure what the official role of the group is, as it has never been formally stated," she wrote.

A CAFO permit prohibits the discharge of waste into surface water or ground water from areas where animals are confined.

Dairies and other CAFOs in violation of permits are subject to enforcement action, including possible civil penalties, and required to cease the discharge.

ODA issued 37 notices of non-compliance in 2009 for discharge violations, said Wym Matthews, ODA's CAFO program manager.

Bernie Faber, a dairyman who serves on the Board of Agriculture, said he believes the state does an excellent job regulating CAFOs. Because of that, he said, the state finds infractions that would go unnoticed in other sates.

"We find things that nobody else is looking for," Faber said. "So consequently, we get more attention."

Kathryn Walker, of the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association, said Oregon's CAFO program is the only program in the nation that conducts an annual inspection of all dairies.

ODA has never requested a CAFO advisory committee member to resign, Jaindl said. Thirteen members serve on the committee.

The state has maintained a CAFO advisory committee for 22 years, Jaindl said.

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