CAFO bills

A worker at a dairy milks cows on a rotating carousel system. A bill to overhaul Oregon permitting requirements for large confined animal feeding operations has died in committee.

New permitting requirements for Oregon’s confined animal feeding operations have failed to gain enough support on a key legislative committee to move forward this year.

Large CAFOs would have needed preliminary approval from state regulators prior to construction and final approval to begin operating under Senate Bill 876, which was killed off by a recent legislative deadline.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture worked hard to contain environmental problems at Lost Valley Farm — a large dairy that went bankrupt after repeated wastewater violations — but the incident exposed regulatory weaknesses that could be easily fixed, said Sen. Mike Dembrow, D-Portland.

“We cannot rely on luck forever, we cannot rely on dodging a bullet,” Dembrow said. “That’s why I believe we needed this change in processes.”

While the mismanagement of Lost Valley Farms was “ugly,” the operation was ultimately shut down before groundwater was contaminated, said Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay.

“Even though we had a problem, we had an agency that took care of the problem,” Roblan said, adding that the additional regulation required under SB 876 wasn’t necessary.

The Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources voted 3-2 against adopting final amendments to the bill.

Dembrow, the committee’s chair, decided against seeking a vote on an earlier version of the bill, effectively allowing it to succumb to the April 9 deadline for committee action.

The Oregon Dairy Farmers Association initially supported the two-step permitting requirement for new dairies but opposed SB 876 because it also applied to expansions and targeted facilities with more than 2,500 cows, said Tami Kerr, the group’s executive director.

“Nobody wants another Lost Valley, that’s a given,” she said.

Proposed restrictions on the dairy industry may be revived in the future but hopefully the issue will have less currency as Lost Valley’s failure fades from public view, Kerr said.

“That’s not how the average Oregon dairy farmer operates,” she said.

Senate Bill 876 was the most modest legislative proposal to arise from the high-profile collapse of Lost Valley Farm, which had led CAFO critics to demand a moratorium on new large dairies and an elimination of their “right to farm” rights.

These provisions were included in two more far-reaching bills that would have reclassified large dairies as “industrial” facilities, neither of which survived an earlier legislative deadline.

Friends of Family Farmers, a nonprofit that supported the stricter measures, believes it’s “absurd” to characterize the Lost Valley Farm incident as the fault of just one bad actor, said Ivan Maluski, the group’s policy director.

Even without the passage of the dairy bills in 2019, the downfall of Lost Valley Farm will lead to more scrutiny of “mega dairies” proposed in the future, he said.

The facility’s owner, Greg te Velde, was able to take advantage of loopholes and the willingness of regulators to clear the dairy for a CAFO permit even before its manure lagoons and wastewater plans were done, Maluski said.

“They never would have let a small operator bend the rules like that,” he said. “He was able to abuse special treatment, he was able to abuse loopholes.”

Several pieces of legislation related to pesticides under consideration by the committee also died because of the April 9 deadline, including proposals to prohibit aerial pesticide spraying of state lands and to require more extensive notification of planned aerial pesticide applications on forestland.

Proponents of Senate Bill 926 and Senate Bill 931 argued these steps would improve water health and allow rural residents to protect themselves from sprays, while opponents claimed that existing regulatory safeguards were sufficient.

Senate Bill 853, which would have banned the pesticide chlorpyrifos, died in the committee as well, but other proposals that would ban the pesticide or require ODA to study its effects remain alive in the House.

I've been working at Capital Press since 2006 and I primarily cover legislative, regulatory and legal issues.

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