A coalition of environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) for its deregulation of industrial dairy farms with 200–299 cows. DEC’s rulemaking has rolled back clean water protection standards to allow medium size dairy CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) to operate without a permit, in clear violation of both federal and state law, with the likely result that untreated cow manure will run off into and contaminate nearby waters. The groups are co-represented in the lawsuit by Pace Law School's Environmental Litigation Clinic and Earthjustice.
An independent team of experts in agricultural waste management concluded that without clean water protections, "human health risks are substantial." (iStockphoto)
Less than a year ago, in a filing with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the DEC asserted that a non-regulatory approach to medium-sized CAFOs, the same approach it is now taking, would be ‘neither credible nor effective’ to protect the health and environment of New Yorkers. Just six weeks later, Governor Cuomo announced that New York State would weaken state environmental protections put in place to protect public health, safety and the environment by exempting some medium size industrial dairy operations from its CAFO permit program.
The groups filed formal comments in response to Governor Cuomo’s proposed rule-making in January 2013, stating that DEC had not adequately reviewed the human health, environmental, and economic impacts such an action would have on state and local communities, which it must do prior to taking such an action. An independent team of experts in agricultural waste management also reviewed the proposed rule changes at the request of the groups and concluded that without clean water protections, ‘human health risks are substantial.’ In addition, these experts concluded that the proposed rule changes ‘would likely result in increased environmental degradation of water, soil and air quality.’
The groups’ lawsuit raises a number of claims against the state’s action, including that:
- DEC exceeded its regulatory authority by creating a loophole for industrial dairies in the Water Pollution Control Law enacted by the New York State legislature, undermining the legislature’s intent to prevent discharges of pollutants into state waters.
- DEC did not adequately examine all adverse environmental impacts the deregulation will have, nor fully consider alternative strategies that could provide both an economic and environmental benefit to the state and its dairy farmers.
- DEC failed to obtain EPA approval as required prior to revising Clean Water Act permitting standards.
- DEC violated the Clean Water Act and state law by making its CAFO Permit Program less stringent than the minimum Federal requirements.