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Legislature takes up prickly question of regulating air emissios associated with industrial-sized dairy opertions

SALEM — Proponents of legislation requiring new air regulations for Oregon dairies, Senate Bill 197, claim it merely implements recommendations from the 2008 Dairy Air Task Force, which was composed of agricultural and environmental representatives, among others.

Critics of the proposal argue the 2008 report didn't actually require any action and that emissions from dairies still aren't significant enough to justify new rule-making.

Lawmakers created the task force in 2007 as part of broader legislation aimed at clearing up inconsistencies in state and federal law regarding Clean Air Act requirements for agriculture.

The task force issued a report the following year recommending that Oregon's Environmental Quality Commission develop rules for a dairy air emissions program, which would initially be voluntary but become mandatory in 2015.

"Senate Bill 197 does not stray from those recommendations," said Ivan Maluski, policy director for Friends of Family Farmers, a group that supports the bill.

Members of the task force who now oppose SB 197 initially endorsed the 2008 report's findings when it was issued, said Kendra Kimbirauskas, CEO of the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project and a task force member.

"Nothing has been done to move forward with rules we all agreed to," she said at a March 9 hearing before the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scapoose, a member of the task force, said it's part of the "mythology" of the 2008 report that it required EQC to develop dairy emission rules.

In reality, the report only recommended the dairy air program become mandatory if resources became available, she said.

Opponents of SB 197, including the Oregon Farm Bureau and Oregon Dairy Farmers Association, argue that dairy producers have made great strides voluntarily reducing dairy emissions over the past decade.

Troy Downing, a dairy specialist at Oregon State University, testified that dairies have been pursuing odor reduction measures that also effectively curtail greenhouse gases.

Dairy producers have decreased protein rations in feed, which cuts nitrogen emissions "from the back of a cow," and many have installed biodigesters that capture methane for energy production, he said.

"The technology keeps changing, our options keep changing," Downing said.

He said it's also worth remembering that Oregon's air quality rarely falls below a "good" rating by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, with air quality problems associated not with agriculture but with wood-burning stoves.

"I really don't think we have a pressing air concern, particularly when it comes to public health," Downing said.

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