Oregon lawmakers may finally be ready to follow through on air quality controls for dairy farms originally put forth by a state task force nearly a decade ago.

Senate Bill 197 would direct the Environmental Quality Commission to adopt a program for regulating air emissions from dairies — something the Oregon Dairy Air Quality Task Force recommended to the Department of Agriculture and Department of Environmental Quality back in 2008.

ODA and DEQ are the two agencies in charge of issuing permits for confined animal feeding operations, which include dairies. The program requires what’s known as a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit, which outlines how a dairy will handle manure and protect against groundwater contamination.

There is no oversight, however, for air quality. In its findings, the Dairy Air Quality Task Force found that dairies do have the potential to release several kinds of harmful emissions, including ammonia, methane and hydrogen sulfide.

The report called for establishing the Oregon Dairy Air Emissions Program by 2015, though the legislature never came up with funding. SB 197 would revive that effort, with rules adopted by the Environmental Quality Commission to take effect in 2019.

The bill was filed at the request of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee. It comes at a time when the state is considering whether to allow a proposed 30,000-cow mega-dairy in Morrow County, dubbed Lost Valley Ranch, which would be built just 25 miles away from the even larger Threemile Canyon Farms.

A coalition of environmental groups has fought against Lost Valley Ranch, citing both air and water quality concerns. Lauren Goldberg, staff attorney for Columbia Riverkeeper, previously said she was “taken aback” by the lack of air and other public health measures in the state’s permitting.

Ivan Maluski, policy director for Friends of Family Farmers, said they are solidly in support of this latest legislation.

“It should be something everyone who was involved in that task force back in 2008 can get behind,” Maluski said.

In adopting new rules, the Environmental Quality Commission would consult with agencies and appoint an advisory committee to provide input. The committee would be made up of dairy industry representatives, environmental advocates and university scientists.

Coming up with a set of management practices for dairies will hinge on continuing research and air quality monitoring, Maluski said.

“It’s hard to know what practices or changes in management would be best if you’re not even monitoring what’s going on,” Maluski said.

The original 2008 proposal also called for tax incentives to help dairies meet their new air quality targets. Agencies would then work with the industry to provide technical assistance and education, while ODA would be in charge of enforcement.

Marty Myers, general manager of Threemile Canyon Farms, served on the 2008 task force and said he stands by those recommendations. He said the bill is “pretty vague,” and is unsure about its intentions.

“I think this is a reaction to the Lost Valley Ranch permit, and continuing to find a way to oppose that,” Myers said.

For its part, Threemile Canyon claims it removes 60,000 tons of carbon every year from the atmosphere by running a methane digester on site, which it installed in 2012.

When it comes to management practices, Myers said he considers Threemile Canyon at the top of the curve.

There are 126,000 milking cows in Oregon, according to a 2016 ODA report. Milk was the state’s fourth-most valuable commodity in 2015, raking in $474 million at the farm gate.

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Contact George Plaven at gplaven@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0825.

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