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Source: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Environmental groups sue state over dairy farm rules

BY JON CAMPBELL

Posted: July 29, 2013
Originally Published: July 28, 2013

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.