Republican’s Bill OKs Farmers Fouling Water Supplies … and You Can’t Take Them to Court Either
A Washington state congressman wants to put cow manure in its place—in drinking water. And if you don’t like it, well, tough luck.
Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) wants to make sure animal manure isn’t included in a 1976 federal law that regulates how solid waste and hazardous waste is disposed of.
Newhouse introduced the bill because of a 2015 ruling by a federal judge that the law, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, also can apply to manure from livestock facilities. The lawsuit involved the Cow Palace Dairy, whose 11,000 cattle produced about 100 million gallons of manure and urine, and two other dairies in the Lower Yakima Valley in Washington.
Outlook, Wash., resident Helen Reddout co-founded a nonprofit, the Community Association for the Restoration of the Environment, which sued because area wells were contaminated. The Center for Food Safety in Washington, D.C., also was a plaintiff.
“I have more pictures of cow manure and cows in insufferable conditions than my own grandchildren,” Reddout said in 2015.
The dairies settled, agreeing to install liners in ponds that hold the manure and provide bottled water to area residents. The dairies already were providing bottled water for some residents.
Attorneys on both sides said the case could set a national precedent. Industrial farms produce hundreds of millions of tons of manure. In 2012, this was about 13 times as much sewage as that produced by the entire U.S. population.
Newhouse’s office told the Yakima Herald that the decision by federal judge Thomas Rice “places our entire agricultural community in a gray area of legal uncertainty.” So he wants to change the law.
His bill, H.R. 848, the Farm Regulatory Certainty Act, says “continued judicial misinterpretation…could pose a very real threat to the vitality of the nation’s agricultural community, which would lead to serious disruptions in the food supply.”
It would amend the act to exempt manure from farms, agricultural and crop waste, and fertilizer. The bill also would prevent environmental groups from suing farmers.
During the court case, the dairies argued that manure wasn’t waste but a valuable byproduct used for bedding, fertilizer and compost.
Rice ruled that Cow Palace had polluted groundwater and was a possible “imminent and substantial endangerment” to the public.
Nitrates from manure can cause skin rashes, hair loss, birth defects and “blue baby syndrome,” a blood disorder in infants that can be fatal. An EPA study found high levels of nitrates in area wells.
As Newhouse tries to push his bill through Congress, Washington state residents are still being menaced by manure. In March, a small levee broke in a field owned by Deruyter Brothers Dairy, another of the dairies in the Cow Palace lawsuit. A mixture of water and manure damaged at least four homes.