Which Would You Rather Have: Cheap Cow’s Milk or Clean Drinking Water?
New York’s Governor thinks it’s more important to scratch the dairy industry’s back. Late last year, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo revealed his plan to roll-back environmental protections for the state’s waterways from pollution from industrial-scale dairy operations.
Water pollution is already a growing problem in New York State because of Cuomo’s cozy relationship with the fracking industry, but apparently the Governor is willing risk yet another stream of waste flowing into New York’s lakes and rivers. The proposal would allow medium-sized Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) to operate without a permit, in clear violation of both federal and state law, with the likely result that untreated cow manure will leach into surrounding waters.
Governor Cuomo asserts that eliminating water protection standards will fuel economic expansion in the dairy industry by eliminating the cost of pollution controls, but some of the country’s leading environmental organization says this reasoning is weak at best.
“Our groups have a shared goal of protecting and promoting dairy farming in New York,” reads a statement from a coalition of environmental organizations that include the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, Riverkeeper, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Environmental Advocates of New York, and the Waterkeeper Alliance. ”Alternatives to the proposed roll-back that will provide both economic and environmental benefit to the state and its dairy industry must be considered before throwing away the standards New Yorkers fought for decades to put in place to protect the waters we use for fishing, swimming, and drinking. The state should support the dairy industry coming into compliance with the law rather than gutting the law to cut corners.”
According to the groups, water contaminated by cow manure can transmit disease-causing bacteria and parasites, as well as causing fish kills and toxic algae blooms. An independent team of experts in agricultural waste management reviewed the proposed rule changes and concluded that without clean water protections, “human health risks are substantial.” These experts also concluded that the proposed rule changes “would likely result in increased environmental degradation of water, soil and air quality.
The economy is sluggish, and yes, local farmers deserve our attention and support. But that doesn’t mean circumventing laws that were put in place to protect all of us, including family farmers. It certainly doesn’t mean greenlighting the potential spread of fatal diseases in the hopes that a few commercial dairies might be able to make a little more profit. In fact, as the organizations detail in their statement, it’s doubtful that eliminating clean water protections will result in significant expansion of the dairy industry.
One thing we can be sure of: if this proposal moves forward, it won’t be the last. “By attempting to roll-back clean water standards in New York, Governor Cuomo is giving this industry special treatment, a precedent that other polluting industries will seek to take advantage of.”
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