Environmental groups sue state over dairy farm rules

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A coalition of environmental organizations sued the state Department of Environmental Conservation late last week, claiming the state’s effort to roll back dairy farm regulations violates both New York and federal law.

The groups, including the Sierra Club, Riverkeeper and Citizens Campaign for the Environment, say the state violated the federal Clean Water Act when it moved earlier this year to increase the number of cows that farms can maintain without having to comply with a more-restrictive set of waste-management regulations.

The lawsuit also claims the Department of Environmental Conservation didn’t follow procedure as it made the change and actually needed legislative approval, something it did not obtain.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration first announced its intent to change the dairy farm rules last year, when it held a “Yogurt Summit” near the Capitol in part to brainstorm ways to increase milk production for the state’s burgeoning Greek yogurt industry. The plan was immediately panned by environmentalists, who said the increased waste from the expected increase in cows would cause additional runoff and degrade water supplies.

“We’re talking about all across the state, there are facilities that are going to be deregulated,” said Kate Hudson, Riverkeeper’s watershed program director. “It will ultimately impact streams and lakes that people recreate in and that people depend on for clean water, for drinking water, for irrigation. It impacts farmers and non-farmers equally.”

The regulation change, which took effect earlier this year, changed the limit in New York for what qualifies as a medium Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, or CAFO. Previously, if a farm had 200 or more cows, it had to obtain a CAFO permit and follow more-stringent rules for managing manure, which has high levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and other materials that can be harmful to water.

Now, farms can have up to 300 cows before qualifying as a CAFO.

The New York Farm Bureau and dairy farms across the state hailed the change, saying it eliminated a barrier for producing more in-state milk.

Peter Constantakes, a spokesman for the DEC, said the agency had not yet reviewed the lawsuit, which was filed late Friday in state Supreme Court in Albany County.

Some of the environmental organizations, including Citizens Campaign for the Environment and the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, are being represented by Earthjustice, a non-profit law organization. The White Plains-based Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic is representing the remaining groups, including several members of the Waterkeeper Alliance and Theodore Gordon Flyfishers.

(File photo by Haley Viccaro/Gannett)

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3 Comments

  1. Here! is a Famous Quote of HABIBHASAN-An American Storyteller: “. . . Ask not What The Environmental Groups Can Do For The Farmers;Ask What have The Environmental Groups ( actually ever) done For The Farmers?”.

    LOL!

    (Laughter)

    NOW HERE IS THE ANALYSIS of the News Headline:
    What’s this PRESS 2 for “English”. . .back in the days?

    Comon! Now. . . Be Honest! What exact good did ” these types of Environmental Groups” did to Our Nations Armed Forces Training Exercises ( not overseas ) rather on Our Own Soil. . .?

    Let me not open My Mouth! And, don’t give me a Topic on a Platter! This is The United States not McDonalds Eya Eya Yoo!

    HABIBHASAN-An American Storyteller

  2. The New York DEC should’ve held public hearings before they changed the old limit of 200 dairy cows per farm. At the very least, doing so would have prevented this lawsuit from ever taken place and possibly even prevented changing the limit of cows-per-farm if the environmental groups were allowed to present evidence that larger dairy farms would increase polluted runoff into New York waterways.