Proposed Oregon legislation may create the nation’s toughest dairy law
By Jim Bradbury, attorney with James D. Bradbury, PLLC and Chandler Schmitz, student, Texas A&M University School of Law
Two bills have been proposed in Oregon as a response to Lost Valley Farm – a large dairy allowed to open prior to completing construction and later cited and fined for over 200 environmental violations. Critics have asserted this situation shows that Oregon’s permitting process, environmental oversight and enforcement powers are inadequate. This has created an initiative to strengthen state regulation of dairies.
The two bills would apply to large dairies, defined as having at least 2,500 cows or at least 700 mature cows with no seasonal pasture access. Lost Valley is permitted to have 30,000 cows, and it is close to Threemile Canyon Farms’ three dairies, which collectively have over 70,000 cows. These dairies supply Tillamook Cheese’s nearby factory.
This proposed legislation seeks to categorize large dairies as industrial operations, rather than as agricultural or farming operations. Accordingly, large dairies would no longer qualify for the regulatory exemptions currently available under Oregon’s right-to-farm statute and other laws. These bills would enable local communities to influence siting decisions and to enact health and safety ordinances that would restrict or prohibit air and water emissions. The bills also call for a moratorium on all permits for new or expanded large dairies.
Further, the legislation proposes to eliminate or cap large dairies’ ability to utilize an exemption in Oregon law that allows cattle owners to use unlimited water without acquiring the permits that are typically required for industrial water use. Lost Valley used this stock-watering exemption to tap into a protected aquifer after a planned water rights transfer fell through.
One of the bills has provisions that would require Oregon’s Environmental Quality Commission to regulate air emissions from large dairies. Currently, Oregon does not regulate air pollution from dairies, unlike other states such as California and Idaho. This bill seeks to prohibit Oregon from issuing permits for new, large dairies until the applicants have secured water rights.
The bill also would require new, large dairies to post bonds as security for environmental, health or animal welfare costs,which may be incurred in relation to manure spills, improperly disposing of animals, excessively applying manure, cleaning abandoned facilities or relocating animals after a facility closes. This bill seeks to require the Oregon Department of Agriculture to study and report on the economic impacts that large dairies have on small and medium size dairies, such as how large dairies impact milk prices. The bill also would require Oregon to create a task force to address animal welfare and to recommend minimum standards for animal welfare at large dairies.
A Senate committee voted to introduce these bills in Oregon’s Legislative session that begins Jan. 22. Tracking the response and traction this legislation is able to secure in Oregon will be important and informative for dairy operators across the nation, as this type of legislation threatens to negatively impact the dairy industry in Oregon and beyond.