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Opinion: Dairy farmers should bear brunt of cleanup efforts

The story in the Addison Independent (April 10, 2014) under the headline “Uncertain future seen for shorelands, water quality bills” explains why the waters of Vermont are polluted and unlikely to improve.
Commissioner of Environmental Conservation David Mears and Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross make this plain statement in their recently released Draft Phase One Plan: Lake Champlain Total Daily Maximum Load: “Agriculture is the largest source of phosphorus loading into Lake Champlain, estimated to be approximately forty percent of the total load. Reducing polluted runoff from farms is by far the most cost effective investment we can make in reducing phosphorus” (emphasis added).
But they leave out that Vermont agriculture is 80 percent dairy and dairy is 80 percent conventional. Conventional dairy is the proximate cause of pollution in Lake Champlain. Yet, Bill Moore of the Vermont Farm Bureau, who speaks for 600 conventional dairy farmers, or 1/10 of 1 percent of the population, opposes the Draft Phase One Plan because, he says, it is an “agricultural regulation bill.” Moore says statutes already on the books are adequate to address the problem, in which opinion Representative Will Stevens of Shoreham concurs.
This is sophism; the Draft One Plan is written, as were the Accepted Agricultural Practices rules (1995), to give the appearance of regulations but their first purpose was to shield conventional dairy from regulation. The Accepted Agricultural Practices rules have been in effect near 20 years, during which time the state has spent $140 million, lost 80 percent of its dairy farms and water quality has only gotten worse.
Let’s have another look at the preamble to the plan: “Agriculture is the largest source of phosphorus loading into Lake Champlain, estimated to be approximately forty percent of the total load. Reducing polluted runoff from farms is by far the most cost effective investment we can make in reducing phosphorus.” Vermont has been out of compliance with the Clean Water Act (1972) for 42 years. Mr. Moore and Mr. Stevens both know that the EPA revoked Vermont’s TMDL in 2011 precisely because the laws on Vermont’s books are not adequate.
Vermont cannot, in other words, meet its federally mandated water quality standards by reasserting the laws on the books. It must write an agricultural regulation bill that actually has teeth in it. It is time to confront the conventional dairy industry, Vermont’s largest “regulated” polluter. Mr. Moore’s position is understandable but reprehensible. Mr. Stevens might want to reflect upon whether he is justified in subordinating a clean lake for 600,000 Vermonters to the interests of a few dozen large conventional dairy farmers in his district, who fail to acknowledge that their mid-20th-century business model was designed to cut costs by externalizing wastes into the environment and who fail to understand that no business, no matter how iconic, has society’s leave to pollute the water.
James H. Maroney Jr.
Leicester

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