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Petition: Close farms' loophole on pollution
followed by: Groups ask controls on farm pollutants

Industrial size Environmental groups say the farm exemption in Oregon air quality law became outdated as huge operations arrived
November 02, 2005 MICHAEL MILSTEIN
 

Faulty state laws allow industrial-scale Oregon farms to emit invisible but harmful air pollution without regard to rules that govern other polluters, a coalition of environmental groups contends.

On Tuesday, the groups asked the federal government to step in and force the state to apply its air quality laws to major agricultural operations. They said Oregon is violating the federal Clean Air Act because state air laws exempt farms.

That puts the state in the position of ignoring potential sources of pollution, they said.

A petition the groups filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cites as an example a huge dairy complex near Boardman suspected of contributing to the pollution and acid rain plaguing the Columbia River Gorge.

The complex, called Threemile Canyon Farms, has filed reports showing it releases large quantities of ammonia, a byproduct of decomposing manure. It includes dairies and feedlots and houses some 52,300 cattle.

Dairy officials could not be immediately reached Tuesday, but have said they have gone to great lengths to minimize air pollution and stay ahead of all regulations. They say they plan to construct equipment to capture gases from manure at the dairy.

But the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality does not regulate emissions from the complex, as it does other pollution sources, because state law exempts farms of any size from oversight.

California used to offer farms a similar exemption, but was forced to eliminate it when the federal government stepped in. Large dairies and feedlots in California were found to be contributing to severe smog problems in the state's Central Valley.

Oregon does not have the same sort of severe air problems, but high levels of ammonia have been found in rain and fog at the east end of the gorge. Threemile Canyon has been identified in studies as a possible source of ammonia.

The state's air laws were drafted some 10 years ago or more, before the state was home to farming operations on the scale of Threemile Canyon, said Andrew Ginsburg, administrator of the DEQ's air quality division.

He said officials are still unsure whether such farms release enough air pollution to warrant regulation. That's because of the widely varying estimates of the emissions they produce, he said. The EPA is studying that question.

The federal Clean Air Act requires that large sources of pollution obtain permits. Large-scale farms with many thousands of animals have come under increasing scrutiny by environmental groups and government agencies as sources of ammonia and other compounds.

Permits provide the public with information and oversight, although they may not necessarily force limits on the pollution itself, Ginsburg said.

It would take action by the Legislature to change the law and eliminate the exemption for farms.

The groups petitioning for the change were the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Columbia Riverkeeper, the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club, United Farm Workers of America, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Oregon Center for Environmental Health and the Learning Disabilities Association of Oregon.

United Farm Workers has been in a running dispute with Threemile Canyon Farms over conditions for workers.

Major modern feedlots and dairies "are not ma and pop farms," said Kendra Kimbirauskas, a volunteer with the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Michael Milstein: 503-294-7689; michaelmilstein@news.oregonian.com

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http://www.kgw.com/sharedcontent/APStories/stories/D8DKFA0G7.html

 
Groups ask controls on farm pollutants

11/02/2005 Associated Press

A coalition of environmental groups is asking the federal government to force Oregon to apply the state's air quality laws to large farms.

They said Oregon violates the federal Clean Air Act because state air laws exempt farms, putting the state in the position of ignoring potential sources of pollution.

The petition filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cites as an example a huge dairy complex near Boardman suspected of contributing to the pollution and acid rain in the Columbia River Gorge.

The complex, Threemile Canyon Farms, has filed reports showing it releases large quantities of ammonia, a byproduct of decomposing manure. The operation includes dairies and feedlots and houses some 52,300 cattle.

Dairy officials have said they go to great lengths to minimize air pollution and stay ahead of all regulations.

But the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality does not regulate their emissions because farms in Oregon of any size are exempt.

California had a similar exemption until the federal government stepped in. Large dairies and feedlots in California were found to be contributing to smog in the state's Central Valley.

High levels of ammonia have been found in rain and fog at the east end of the gorge. Threemile Canyon has been identified as a possible source.

The state's air laws were drafted before the state was home to major farming operations, said Andrew Ginsburg, administrator of the DEQ's air quality division.

He said officials are still unsure whether such farms release enough air pollution to warrant regulation, he said.

The EPA is studying that question.

The federal Clean Air Act requires that large sources of pollution obtain permits. Large-scale livestock farms have come under increasing scrutiny by environmental groups and government agencies as sources of pollution.

Eliminating Oregon farms from exemption would require an act by the Legislature.

The groups petitioning for the change were the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Columbia Riverkeeper, the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club, United Farm Workers of America, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Oregon Center for Environmental Health and the Learning Disabilities Association of Oregon.

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Information from: The Oregonian,

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