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Environmental Groups Sue NYS DEC Over Dairy Farm Rule

Dairy cow (file)
WAMC/Pat Bradley

A coalition of environmental groups is suing the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation over dairy farm regulations intended to boost milk production. The New York Farm Bureau says the groups are going too far.

The lawsuit filed Friday challenges the New York State DEC for allegedly overstepping its authority by creating a loophole in the Water Pollution Control Law; inadequately looking into all adverse environmental impacts the deregulation could have; failure to obtain Environmental Protection Agency approval with regard to revising Clean Water Act permitting standards; and violating the federal Clean Water Act. Pace University Law School’s Environmental Litigation Clinic and Earthjustice are co-representing the groups. Eve Gartner is the Earthjustice attorney handling the case.

She says the concern is manure runoff into streams and rivers and other waterways.

Governor Andrew Cuomo in April announced that he would deliver on a request by farmers at a 2012 Yogurt Summit to eliminate burdensome regulations on small dairy farms to help increase milk production. And so came the DEC rule that lifts the current cap under the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFO, regulations from 199 dairy cows to 299 dairy cows. Cuomo’s office said eliminating this costly regulatory burden on relatively small farms would allow farmers to reinvest their resources to expand operations, allowing the state to grow its milk production for the yogurt industry. CAFO farms that discharge remain subject to the Clean Water Act. The DEC regulations became effective in May.

Cathy Mural is senior associate director for public policy for the New York Farm Bureau.

She stresses that the rule is not just a policy change, but part of a strategic initiative to help family farms grow responsibly.

She says the DEC estimates that about 800 dairy farms would be able to take advantage of the rule change. Yet it’s a rule change that Earthjustice’s Eve Gartner would like to see overruled.

Bert Darrow is president of Theodore Gordon Flyfishers, a conservation organization that is also part of the suit. Darrow, a Kingston resident, says he fishes in the Town of Ulster’s Robert Post Park, along the Hudson River.

Yet for the Farm Bureau’s Cathy Mural, it’s a step forward.

Riverkeeper, Waterkeeper Alliance, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, and Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper are also part of the environmental coalition. A DEC spokesman says the revised CAFO regulations will continue to ensure that water quality is protected while reducing a regulatory burden on relatively small dairy farms. He declined to comment on the lawsuit.

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