Framing the Dialogue

Crying Over Crying Over Spilled Milk

One of my favorite authors, Thomas Sowell, penned an article critical of the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Ordinarily I would concur with his perspective, but cannot bring myself to “park at his ranch” on this issue (I apologize in advance if I lapse into more farm/country colloquialisms). A local syndicated radio host, Jim Quinn, has taken up the mantle and has been talking about the issue. As is often the case when the lame-stream media take up an issue they only scratch the surface thereby missing the bigger picture. In this case these are two conservatives who I respect. This is an excerpt from Sowell’s Townhall article;

“Everyone understands that any power given to any bureaucracy for any purpose can be stretched far beyond that purpose. In a classic example of this process, the EPA has decided that, since milk contains oil, it has the authority to force farmers to comply with new regulations to file “emergency management” plans to show how they will cope with spilled milk, how farmers will train “first responders” and build “containment facilities” if there is a flood of spilled milk.

Since there is no free lunch, all of this is going to cost the farmers both money and time that could be going into farming– and is likely to end up costing consumers higher prices for farm products. It is going to cost the taxpayers money as well, since the EPA is going to have to hire people to inspect farms, inspect farmers’ reports and prosecute farmers who don’t jump through all the right hoops in the right order. All of this will be “creating jobs,” even if the tax money removed from the private sector correspondingly reduces the jobs that can be created there.”  [emphasis added]

Perhaps I am doing what I accused others when I scratch this surface and disagree with how these “new regulations” are being portrayed. Unlike Dr. Sowell and Mr. Quinn I’ll admit to my lack of knowledge and specifics about the particular “new regulations” in which they reference. Neither the article nor Mr. Quinn’s radio piece stated where the new regulations could be found so I am assuming that the regulation is related to the Spill Prevention and Countermeasures Control Plan required by EPA for facilities that store oil which were last amended in 2009 and recently went into effect.

I briefly scanned the summary and the regulations, but could find no reference to milk in the 50 page document. The Spill Prevention and Countermeasures Control Plan (“SPCC”) is, however, familiar to me. Essentially if you use and or store oil products you are required to assess and develop a plan to properly store, maintain, and plan for spills. Many small operations and all typical residences are exempt from the requirement. However, the more complex your facility the more complex your SPCC Plan.

I have developed SPCC Plans for facilities in which I have worked. We always made sure that first responders had a copy of our SPCC Plan as they were the ones who would arrive first in case of an emergency. They would need to know what was stored and where. That’s basic safety 101. I don’t recall there being a first responder safety training requirement in the regulations. That might not be a bad idea for a facility storing large quantities of oils/fuels. Essentially SPCC Plans are an ounce of prevention to prevent a pound of pollution and perhaps save the life of a firefighter.

SPCC Plans are not that big of a deal to develop, but they do cost money to prepare. They also, however, force people to be aware of how and where they store materials. Unfortunately this is not always done even with strict regulations. It doesn’t take much oil leaking into a waterway to kill fish or worse get into a drinking water supply.

That’s my general overview. so what about farms? When most people think of farms they have a general picture in their minds; perhaps like the classic television show Green Acres, quaint and wholesome. I have been to many farms; most of them on the smaller size and it is not unusual for them to be shitholes, literally if they have animals. Pardon my French, but many owners seem to care little for what runs off their property and into streams. I should amend that statement as many care, but claim to be so poor that they cannot afford to fix their problem. You might be surprised at how many laws exempt farmers from their clutches.

The next time you are having your relaxing drive in the country and pass a serene pasture covered with cows take a look to see if there is a stream flowing through it. If there is a stream there are likely to be cows in the stream. My experience is that farmers have not been able to train cows to relieve themselves in the proper place so the water is fair game. Consider that in addition to being their toilets the streams are probably also their drinking water source. That fact usually gets a groan when I describe it to school students. Consider further downstream where perhaps the cows and their activities are not known to the fisherman who wades in to fish or to the child who just wants to take a dip in the “fresh” water. We all live downstream from somebody.

I am not too concerned if we nudge farmers to be somewhat careful with how they store fuel. I have never been to a large dairy farm, but I imagine the amount of oil and poop would be scaleable. More animals require more food requiring more equipment to bring the food and more fuel/oil and more waste after the cows digest the food. It makes even more sense to have these larger operations have an SPCC Plan.

So what about the milk? As I stated above I found nothing in the new regulations that addresses milk or oil in milk. I am going to suggest that was somehow made up or someone’s stretch to link fat with oil. If we dismiss the oil/milk link should we still worry about milk? I can tell you that “milkhouse waste” (liquids from milk operations) can be nasty stuff when they find their ways into surface waters.  Try an experiment and leave a tablespoonful of milk in the jug on your counter for a week and take a good whiff.  I would also ask you to consider where and how much milk is stored. What do you think would happen to a stream if a thousand gallons of milk spilled into it? How about ten thousand?

There was a commercial that had the tag line, “pay me now or pay me later.” I don’t remember the product, but perhaps if we applied it to farms the more appropriate line would be “pay me now or we all pay later.” When we have oil (or even milk) spills there is a cost. I find it hard to argue against requiring a little prevention or a lot of prevention if warranted. I also don’t doubt that, as Dr. Sowell put it, “that any power given to any bureaucracy for any purpose can be stretched far beyond that purpose.” We do need to scrutinize government intrusion. Ultimately, however, we need to chose our battles and make sure our ammunition is dry. When some conservatives jump into the fire on these issues the rest of us can get burned. As conservatives we need to remain intellectually honest during our dialogues so that we have some credibility when the truly big fights are brought to us. I don’t think this spilled milk is where we should take a stand and that we are actually crying over crying over spilled milk.

I might suggest that they keep the heat on man-made global warming alarmism.

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