Judge rules a Yakima Valley dairy’s “discarded” manure violates federal law as solid waste
Dairy leaders warn a January ruling by a federal judge in Washington State could open a Pandora’s box of nutrient management litigation.
U.S. District Judge Thomas O. Rice ruled manure from Cow Palace LLC qualifies as “solid waste” under the 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The decision, which is detailed in 111 pages, is the first to consider manure, when improperly managed, a solid waste under federal law.
The decision is a “potential fiasco,” says Bob Gray, senior policy adviser, Northeast Dairy Farmers Cooperatives. “It will have legal implications for manure applications on cropland and storage across the country.”
RCRA regulates solid and hazardous wastes through the Environmental Protection Agency. Defenders say RCRA’s provisions don’t apply to agricultural wastes that are “returned to the soil as fertilizers or soil conditioners.” Cow Palace has operated with a state-approved nutrient management plan since 1998.
“This case isn’t about manure but about nitrogen,” says Jay Gordon, Washington State Dairy Federation. “The judge is saying National Resource Conservation Service standards are not good enough. He heavy-handedly disregarded the standards U.S. farmers have relied on for 70 years.”
The case stems from a 2013 lawsuit by Community Association for the Restoration of the Environment (CARE), alleging the 11,000-cow, 800-acre operation let lagoons leak millions of gallons of manure each year, which allowed nitrates to leach into groundwater. CARE also alleges Cow Palace exceeded agronomic rates and overapplied manure to fields.
A March 23 trial will determine remedies and fines against Cow Palace and whether RCRA law applies to manure produced by cows on unlined soils. The dairy is expected to appeal the rulings.