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3 Reasons the EPA Won't Be Crying Over Spilled Milk

The EPA's decision to exempt milk from broader oil-spill prevention laws couldn't have come at a better time. The spilled milk and kitten puns have worn out their welcome and the anti-EPA crowd got plenty of traction by pushing the idea. So now that this matter has been settled, let's clear up a few inaccuracies that will be (and probably already have been) bandied about the blogosphere.

1. The Obama administration started this.
Nope. The Clean Water Act enacted back in the 1970s, includes the so-called Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure rule (SPCC), which requires oil and gas companies to guard against any release of their products into waterways or onto shorelines.

The milk issue came up during the Bush administration when the EPA started working on some amendments to the federal oil spill prevention law. Large farms were asked to submit plans because of the large oil tanks used in their operations. But milk producers realized that because milk is an animal fat and fits the legal definition of oil, it might be forced to create prevention plans for spilled milk.

The industry pushed for an exemption, and the EPA drafted a proposal to amend the rules. However, that proposed rule was issued right before Bush left office. Most incoming presidents freeze any pending rules to allow their own appointees to review and decide whether to proceed. The milk exemption, along with many other pending regulations, got caught up in this transition of power and was never implemented.

2. OK, so the Obama administration didn't start this, but it had every intention of unleashing EPA chief Lisa Jackson on an over-regulating power spree meant to destroy the dairy industry.
Try again. The EPA began the typically long review process that requires a public comment period. As the rule amendment process limped forward, President Obama talked about eliminating unnecessary regulations in his 2011 State of the Union speech. Apparently that riled up the WSJ's editorial board, which ran a piece two days later with an audacious claim: the EPA had just issued rules to force -- and not exempt -- the spill-plan rules on the dairy industry.

From there, every blogonaut weighed in on the subject. Few actually checked out to see if this was in fact, accurate. The WSJ edit page was just completely wrong. The EPA did have a rule that went into effect in Janaury 2011. It specifically delayed the need for milk producers to submit spill plans until the agency could finalize the exemption.

While anti-EPA zealots screamed about this abuse of power, the National Milk Producers Federation maintained a more cooperative relationship. Granted, the industry was clearly annoyed at the sluggishness of the EPA's final rule-making. But that's more of a criticism of bureaucracy, not harmful intent.

3. The EPA has other plans, you know. Like regulating cow burps.
You may remember the "cow tax" rumors that floated around in late 2008 and caused an uproar among farmers and ranchers worried the EPA planned to regulate methane gas emitted from livestock. The EPA has said -- repeatedly -- it has no plans to impose a cow tax. But the idea was still worrisome for ranchers and farmers. So, in October 2009 House and Senate conferees made it official and approved an amendment to block agency efforts to require Clean Air Act permits for greenhouse gases emitted by livestock.

The amendment was just a small part of a $32.2 billion conference package to fund the EPA, Interior Department and the Forest Service for fiscal 2010. Now that the fiscal year is over, those cow tax rumors have come up again. During a recent House Agriculture Committee hearing on EPA regulations, Jackson tackled the cow tax and other "myths" about the agency.

The truth is -- EPA is proposing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a responsible, careful manner and we have even exempted agricultural sources from regulation.
Photo from Flickr user Ryan Wick, CC 2.0
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