Dairy regulations still up in air

Argen Duncan

The fate of new state dairy environmental regulations remains to be seen as involved parties wait for decisions from the Court of Appeals and the Water Quality Control Commission.

At the end of December, the commission issued regulations, which contained points of contention over linings for dairy wastewater lagoons and the use of monitoring wells to see if the lagoons leaked.

Soon after, the Dairy Industry Group for a Clean Environment filed an appeal of the rules with the Court of Appeals and a motion to stay the regulations with the Water Quality Control Commission.

Both issues remain undecided.

Alva Carter Jr., a Portales DIGCE member, said the group filed the appeal because the state Environment Department completed draft regulations without consulting other stakeholders as required under law.

“The gist is, they already had their minds made up, and all we went through didn’t matter,” he said.

Carter said the department made few changes to the draft after holding several input meetings on the rules.

After DIGCE filed the appeal, Gov. Susana Martinez issued an executive order to stop the publishing of a number of new regulations, including those for dairies, for 90 days to allow a task force to decide whether they would harm the New Mexico business climate. However, the state Supreme Court ruled that Martinez could stop the publishing of some regulations, but not those dealing with dairy environmental rules or greenhouse gas emissions because they were too far along in the process, Carter said.

Carter expects the dairy regulations to be published at the end of the month. They’ll go into effect then unless the Water Quality Control Commission grants the stay.

Walter Bradley, government and business affairs director for the Dairy Farmers of America in Clovis, said the commission usually grants stays during appeal processes because it would have to redo the rules if the appeal succeeded.

He didn’t know when the commission would make a decision on the stay, but expected the Court of Appeals to rule in 60 to 90 days.

“It’s all in the works,” he said.

If the appeal is successful, Bradley said, the dairy industry will be able to negotiate key issues. Members have evidence to show the effectiveness or lack thereof of monitoring wells and types of lagoon liners, he said.

Carter said if the Court of Appeals determines the regulation development process was incorrect, the Environment Department might have to redo all or part of the rules or start the development process over.

If the new regulations go into effect, Carter said, they’ll impact dairy owners when they apply for permit renewals.

“We are still trying to gather up our information to see how it’s going to affect the dairy industry for sure,” he said.

In the early stages of analysis, he said, consultants believe dairies milking 2,000 cows or more would pay an extra $30,000 to $40,000 per year for paperwork and reporting as well as $400,000 to $600,000 more for facility changes in the first five years a dairy operated under them. After the first five years, Carter said, the facility costs would be contained.

Seventy-five percent of New Mexico dairies and almost all Roosevelt and Curry County dairies milk 2,000 cows or more, Carter said.

If the regulations stay, he said, starting a new dairy in New Mexico would be too expensive and owners would go to neighboring states.

A call to the New Mexico Environment Department was not returned.