Environmentalists Sue Over Farm Rules

07.29.13 | Bob Price

          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.
          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.