Crying over would-be spilled milk raises farmers’ concerns

June 1, 2010
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Milk, says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, contains animal fat, which is a type of oil, and oil spills are destructive, as we all know from reading and watching the news.

That line of reasoning is exasperating dairy farmers across the land, including West Michigan. In an election year, it also provides ammunition to candidates eager to demonstrate that they will fight “big government.”

Several state senators, including Wayne Kuipers of Holland and Jerry Van Woerkom of Norton Shores, have offered a formal resolution that would urge the EPA to rescind rules that would require dairy farms to have oil spill prevention plans for milk bulk tanks holding more than 1,320 gallons — which is the case at many dairy farms.

Senate Resolution 158, if approved as drafted, would state that “the EPA has stretched common sense in subjecting farmers to laws clearly never intended to apply to milk.” The EPA’s action is based on the federal Clean Water Act, which is intended to help prevent oil spills. The EPA ruling originally came out during the Bush administration, and early on there was talk of exempting dairy farmers from Clean Water Act regulations pertaining to stored oil, but the exemption now seems to be in limbo.

“EPA's actions represent a clear overreach and are an example of misplaced priorities that will apply more unnecessary government regulation to our nation's farmers, while more serious problems are not addressed,” states the draft of SR 158.

Van Woerkom is the chair of the Senate Agriculture and Bioeconomy Committee, which is probably going to pass SR 158 on to the full Senate in a week or two.

Jeff Cobb, a member of Van Woerkom’s staff, said the idea for the resolution actually came from Kuipers, who is running this fall for Congressman Pete Hoekstra’s seat.

Kuipers “was the one who brought it to our attention. We didn’t realize this was even going on, so we’re pretty happy that Kuipers was keeping an eye out,” said Cobb.

Kuipers said he was told about the EPA ruling by friends in agriculture. “I think this is just another example of the federal government gone amok,” said Kuipers.

If the EPA doesn’t change its mind, dairy farmers would “have to now create containment systems that will contain the volume of milk in the vat” awaiting pickup at their dairy barns, said Kuipers. He said if it actually does take effect, the Michigan Legislature might be presented with a proposed law that says Michigan won’t enforce that regulation.

Kuipers said he has not heard from the EPA about the proposed SR 158.

“We just may not be on their radar screen yet,” he said, adding he “guesses that when it gets in the Senate and gets some press, that may change.”

“I think if that’s a fight they want to pick, I say let’s go. I’m willing to have that fight,” said Kuipers.

For the record, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Milk Producers Federation also are on the case.

Dan Javor is one dairy farmer who is concerned about the EPA ruling, but perhaps not as much as the politicians.

“I don’t think milk is a hazardous material,” said Javor, who is a partner with his son in a 500-head dairy and a 1,200-acre farm near Hastings, producing corn and alfalfa for the herd. He also is a district officer in the Michigan Milk Producers Association.

“I believe that even though it’s not hazardous material, it still needs to be cleaned up, otherwise it’s a nuisance material. I believe what they would like to do is (require) an action plan on how we’re going to clean it up.”

Javor said he has no problem with an EPA regulation if he would be allowed to spread spilled milk on his fields, like manure. He said he does not want to have to haul away the dirt at a milk spill “to a licensed landfill that handles hazardous material.”

He said Kuipers’ SR 158 has merit in asking that milk producers be exempted from the Clean Water Act, but “I think we’re going to come under it anyway. That’s my view.”

Focus on the future

The theme for the Annual Growing Communities Conference this year is “Choosing Our Future: Innovations and Adaptations for Sustaining Community.”

The yearly event, which is put together and hosted by the Grand Valley Metro Council, will be held June 10 from 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m. at the Prince Conference Center on the Calvin College campus, and it will offer a wide variety of speakers and topics.

For instance, Business Leaders for Michigan President and CEO Doug Rothwell and Autocam President and CEO John Kennedy will examine partnerships between the public and private sectors and discuss how these cooperative efforts can lead to new innovations.

Then Steve Faber, executive director of Friends of Grand Rapids Parks, and the city’s Planning Director Suzanne Schulz will talk about how citizen involvement in community service is now more important due to the budget restrictions and employee layoffs that local governments are experiencing.

Also on tap is a debate about whether voters should have the state convene a constitutional convention. Former three-term Grand Rapids Mayor John Logie will argue for changing the rules we are governed by, while Michigan Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Richard Studley will take the opposite position. Kevin den Dulk, a political scientist at Grand Valley State University, will moderate the session.

Other discussions include combining municipal services across political boundaries, the response to home foreclosures in Kent County, developing Division Avenue from Gaines Township to downtown Grand Rapids, how local governments and business owners can adapt to change, and where the area currently stands economically in relation to the state’s recession.

The Metro Council’s Planning Department will also name this year’s winners of the Metropolitan Development Blueprint Awards during the luncheon break.

Cost is $85 per person. For more information and to register, call Gail McCrath at (616) 776-7613 or e-mail mccrathg@gvmc.org.

Slots in the fall

As representatives of the Gun Lake Casino continue to work with other opponents in fighting attempts by the Little River Band Ottawa Indians in Manistee to get an off-reservation casino in Fruitport Township on the former Great Lakes Downs property, the opening of the Wayland casino likely won’t happen until October.

James Nye, a spokesman for the Gun Lake Casino, is active with Protect MI Vote, a coalition of anti-gambling social conservatives, local chambers of commerce, the Michigan Deputy Sheriff’s Association, several state Indian tribes with casinos in operation and the MGM Casino in Detroit.

Nye told GRBJ sister publication Grand Rapids Magazine last week that reports that the Gun Lake Casino will be open and operational by August are false. The Gun Lake Tribe of Pottawatomi Indians expects to open the $157 million, 83,000-square-foot casino at U.S. 131 in Wayland Township in October, he said.

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