Editorial: Got milk … and outrage

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 9, 2011

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has assured Congress and the nationís dairy farmers that her agency has no intention of regulating spilled milk.
Of course, that wonít fully contain the outrage that frothed up over accusations the Environmental Protection Agency is on the verge of forcing dairy farmers to implement ěemergency milk-spill plansî and costly mitigation strategies because the animal fat in milk technically qualifies as an oil under the Clean Water Act. For Republicans hell-bent on depicting the EPA as the epitome of monstrous government run amok, the spilled-milk controversy has been the political equivalent of a gift from heaven, providing fodder for tirades in Washington and a Wall Street Journal editorial that sarcastically noted other ědangerous pollution risks that somehow havenít made it onto the EPA docket include leaks from maple sugar taps and the vapors at Badger State breweries.î
Cue the cameras. Apoplectic EPA-bashers are about to have a cow.
Admittedly, the EPA brought this on itself by not being more proactive in clarifying its intentions and revisiting a regulatory definition that should have been rethought years ago, rather than simply being put on hold. But politicians wanting to slash the EPAís budget and weaken its regulatory authority have been all too ready to exploit the situation for their own purposes. Never let context get in the way of milking things in the media.
In reality, the EPA proposed a rule in January 2009 that would permanently exempt dairy facilities from the oil spill regulations. In a letter to the National Milk Producers Federation last June, EPA Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus reiterated that the agency favored such an exemption and hoped to finalize it by early this year.
In her recent comments before Congress, Jackson, the EPA chief, said the misunderstanding on the milk rule is an example of the misinformation surrounding many of the agencyís actions in todayís toxic political atmosphere. ěMany of the things that EPA is accused of are in my mind attempts to misinform people about what is actually happening,î she said. ěWhat is happening on the ground is that weíre not intending nor do I believe (we) will ever regulate milk.î
While thatís reassuring, the exemption needs to be implemented as soon as possible. Thatís the best way to clear the air, keep the focus on protecting Americaís air and water ó and give dairy operators some peace of mind. Between unpredictable commodity markets and uncooperative weather, farmers struggling to make a living already have enough worries on their hands, without raising the specter of a visit from the spilled-milk police.