Environmental groups challenge new dairy discharge permit

2/22/2017
Mai Hoang

YAKIMA, Wash. -- Neither environmentalists nor the dairy industry are satisfied with the final version of a proposed discharge permit for dairies and other concentrated animal feeding operations known as CAFOs.

As expected, several environmental groups have filed an appeal to challenge the permit. But the Washington State Dairy Federation and the Washington Farm Bureau also have issued an appeal.

The appeals were filed Friday to the state Pollution Control Hearings Board.

Neither appeal, however, will prevent the Department of Ecology from implementing the permit early next month. In late January, Ecology issued a revised version of the permit, which would be required for a majority of CAFOs. The update to the proposed regulations aims to reduce the risk of mismanaged or over-applied manure running into streams or soaking into groundwater and causing environmental damage or public-health problems.

In their appeal, environmental groups say the permit does not include sufficient requirements to protect water quality in nearby communities, including those in the Lower Yakima Valley, according to a coalition news release.

“Ecology has spent six years drafting a new waste discharge permit for CAFOs and unfortunately the agency has still not written something that protects the waters of Washington,” said Andrea Rodgers, attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center, in an email announcing the appeal. “Fortunately, citizens can turn to the courts when agencies don’t comply with their statutory obligations to protect public health and the environment.”

Meanwhile, the dairy industry has long expressed concerns that the cost of new requirements outlined in the permit would threaten the livelihoods of many dairies.

“The CAFO permits are unlawful, unjust, unreasonable, impracticable and economically infeasible, and they impose burdensome requirements,” attorneys Connie Sue Martin, Elizabeth E. Howard and Virginia Nicholson wrote in the Washington State Dairy Federation and the Washington Farm Bureau’s appeal.

The opposition coalition has long advocated for measures, such as blanket groundwater monitoring and requiring the use of synthetic manure lagoon liners, it says would better prevent leakage that could affect water quality.

Ecology has said while it did not include a blanket groundwater monitoring provision, it did add scenarios — such as a consistent showing of high levels of nitrate and other nutrients in the soil — that could prompt groundwater monitoring.

The groups also took issue with a state-only permit option that would regulate discharge only into groundwater, not surface water. Most CAFOs are required to get this permit rather than a combined state-federal one that regulates discharge in both areas.

Those who oppose the permit say that Ecology policies are in contrast to the findings of the departments’ scientists.

But the dairy industry notes that the sampling to be required under the permits, such as a spring soil sampling, are an unnecessary expense that also is counter to research. They also take issue with Ecology’s economic impact analysis, which outlines the effects on dairies, stating that it underestimates the impact of abiding by the requirements outlined in the permit.

“They didn’t get close enough to make it workable for us,” said Jay Gordon, Washington State Dairy Federation policy director.

However the federation has continued an effort to inform dairies about the permits as well as help those dairies that want to go ahead and secure the permit.

In general, some dairy producers want to have the permit on hand to indicate cooperation should a discharge unintentionally occur.

“The permit has some areas that provide some assurances for those producers,” Gordon said.

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