Monica Scott The Grand Rapids Press
Update: State Senate calls for EPA to change rule classifying cow’s milk as oil
GRAND RAPIDS — Having watched the oil gushing in the Gulf of Mexico, dairy farmer Frank Konkel has a hard time seeing how spilled milk can be labeled the same kind of environmental hazard.
But the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is classifying milk as oil because it contains a percentage of animal fat, which is a non-petroleum oil.
The Hesperia farmer and others would be required to develop and implement spill prevention plans for milk storage tanks. The rules are set to take effect in November, though that date might be pushed back.
“That could get expensive quickly,” Konkel said. “We have a serious problem in the Gulf. Milk is a wholesome product that does not equate to spilling oil.”
But last week environmentalists disagreed at a Senate committee hearing on a resolution from Sen. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland, calling for the EPA to rescind its ruling.
“The federal Clean Water Act requirements were meant to protect the environment from petroleum-based oils, not milk,” he said. “I think it is an example of federal government gone amuck.”
But Gayle Miller, legislative director of Sierra Club Michigan Chapter, said agricultural pollution probably is the nation’s most severe chronic problem when it comes to water pollution.
“Milk is wholesome in a child’s body. It is devastating in a waterway,” Miller said. “The fact that it’s biodegradable is irrelevant if people die as a result of cryptosporidium, beaches close for E. coli and fish are killed.”
Also, the International Dairy Foods Association said it has learned the EPA will exempt the industry from the rule. But state lawmakers say they won’t let up until that is official.
“This is an example of where we have overreach by the department that defies common sense,” said Matt Smego, legislative counsel for Michigan Farm Bureau.
Smego said its an unnecessary regulatory burden that creates additional costs. He said it could cost $2,500 for a certified engineer to safeguard milk, plus more to construct secondary containment structures.
“The federal government has gotten out touch what’s going on in rural America,” said Konkel. “This is our livelihood.”"