WSDF seeks help in environmental legal battle

By Dave Natzke

 

A Washington state dairy organization is using a long-established foundation called the Washington Agricultural Legal Foundation to help raise funding for a legal battle involving environmental lawsuits filed against five Yakima Valley dairies – a local fight with national implications if the case is lost.

In February, environmental advocacy organizations Center for Food Safety (CSF) and the Community Association for Restoration of the Environment (CARE) jointly filed lawsuits against R &M Haak Dairy, Sunnyside, Wash, and a “cluster” of four other dairies in the lower Yakima Valley – George DeRuyter & Sons Dairy LLC, D & A Dairy LLC, Cow Palace Dairy and Liberty Dairy LLC.

The lawsuits, filed in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, allege the dairies violated the federal the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).

According to background information provided in the Washington State Dairy Federation’s (WSDF) newsletter, if the lawsuits are successful, they could set legal precedent applicable to farms throughout the United States, jeopardizing the ability of farmers to use manure and jeopardize their ability to operate under established federal, state and local law.

Previously, WSDF and some water quality specialists from around the country criticized a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study – which served as the basis for the lawsuits – for questionable science. WSDF executive Jay Gordon said dairies in the region had worked with government officials for decades to meet standards on water quality, and followed terms of nutrient management plans.

Earlier this March, EPA announced it had reached legal agreements with the Yakima Valley dairies to evaluate how they might do more to help reduce nitrates in area groundwater and nearby drinking water wells. Under the terms of the agreements, the dairies will provide alternate drinking water sources for neighbors within a one-mile radius whose wells have levels of nitrate above EPA’s drinking water standard of 10 parts per million; take steps to control nitrogen sources, such as manure and commercial fertilizer, at their facilities; and conduct soil and groundwater testing at each dairy, to evaluate if nitrogen sources are being controlled.

 

Manure management: Solid waste dumps?

WSDF said the lawsuits seek to have routine manure management activities at dairies classified as solid waste dumps under RCRA.

“CARE seeks to have the Yakima dairies designated as dumps which operate in a manner to cause an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and environment,” according to WSDF. “In addition, CARE argues that the dairies are violating various ammonia emission notice requirements in CERCLA and EPCRA.”

In addition to asking the court to declare that the day-to-day operations of the dairies imminently and substantially endanger the public health and environment, the plaintiffs are asking for temporary and permanent injunctive relief against the operation of the dairies, plus substantial civil penalties of $37,500/day per violation of RCRA, fines and attorneys’ fees for themselves.

In addition, the plaintiffs ask the court to order each of the dairies to 1) cease all activities that constitute imminent and substantial endangerment; 2) design and implement a manure management program; 3) engage in soil sampling; 4) implement ground water monitoring; and 5) to fund a “independent, comprehensive, scientific study” to determine the extent of the endangerment and harm caused by their operation of their family farms. 

“The litigation is a direct assault on farming and farm practices because, if successful, beef, dairy, poultry and common farming practices will be subject to new federal regulations and citizen suits,” WSDF said. “It is also an assault on any other industry that might face inadequate science.”

“The effects of this litigation are not confined to the Yakima Valley,” WSDF said. “If the plaintiffs succeed in this litigation, all farming activities utilizing common manure management systems throughout the United States, which are managed by their state agricultural departments and state environmental agencies, will be subject to a new and sweeping federal regulation that will result in endless ‘citizen’ suit litigation. This is a national issue brought by national environmental groups and will have an impact on every farm in the United States.”

For more information on WSDF and the Washington Agriculture Legal Foundation, contact Jay Gordon, WSDF executive director at WSDF@msn.com or 360-951-8419.