The Washington Department of Ecology has asked an appeals board to dismiss claims by the dairy industry that the agency vastly underestimated the cost of complying with new manure-control rules.
A motion filed Aug. 3 with the Pollution Control Hearings Board argues that Ecology met its duty to compare costs for small and large dairies. The analysis led Ecology to exempt dairies with fewer than 200 cows from the rules, which are meant to keep manure out of water.
Even if the numbers were off or the study didn’t include all operating expenses and lost income, what’s important, according to Ecology’s motion, “is the proportional impact between small and larger businesses.”
The regulations, contained in permits that Ecology issues to concentrated animal feeding operations, went into effect March 3. Previously, only about a dozen Washington producers were required to have CAFO permits. Ecology broadened the permit to potentially apply to more than 225 dairies.
The revamped CAFO permit has come under attack from dairies as unreasonable and from environmental groups as too lenient. The Washington State Dairy Federation and the Washington Farm Bureau have appealed the permit, as have several environmental groups.
The appeals have been merged into one 19-complaint case. A hearing is set for December.
Ecology has moved to dismiss six complaints by environmental groups and three by the dairy industry, claiming the nine have no legal support.
All three dairy industry complaints are related to the federation’s contention that Ecology understated the cost to producers. State agencies are required in some cases to do an “economic impact analysis” before adopting new rules. The analysis didn’t pinpoint costs to producers, noting expenses could vary significantly from dairy to dairy.
The federation maintains that costs could total hundreds of thousands of dollars for some dairies.
Ecology low-balled the expense of testing soils and maintaining manure lagoons, according to the federation, and didn’t consider the affects of new limits on fertilizing with manure such as lower crop yields, loss of land, higher chemical costs, and either reducing herds or building larger lagoons to store manure.
As a result, according to the federation, Ecology has run afoul of a policy adopted by the Legislature that commits Washington to providing a stable business climate for dairies.
Ecology argues that policy statements by lawmakers do not eclipse federal and state pollution laws, and that the study wasn’t intended to capture all expenses related to protecting water or to weigh the costs with the environmental benefits.
Ecology also moved to dismiss a complaint by environmental groups that Ecology failed to require the monitoring of water in ditches, streams and rivers that border dairies.
Ecology contends that permit-holders aren’t allowed to discharge pollutants into waterways, except during exceptionally strong storms. Ecology also argues that one of the environmental groups, the Community Association for the Restoration of the Environment, made the same complaint in 2006 against Ecology and shouldn’t be allowed to raise the issue again.
Ecology also has moved to dismiss complaints by environmental groups related to climate change, identifying dairies that need a permit, the state Department of Agriculture Department’s role in enforcing the permit and outreach to communities of color when writing the permit.