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'Devil is in the details'

Board turns down air quality proposal despite dairy support

"Limbo"

"Mystery"

This morning that's how some are describing a county agency's decision yesterday to reject a mandatory air quality program for dairies.

The Yakima Regional Clean Air Agency's board met Thursday to review a proposal that would have made a voluntary policy on dairy practices mandatory.

The optional policy - a pilot program - has been in place for two years. About two-thirds of the county's dairies already participate in the program, which includes best management practices such as treating recycled lagoon water, removing and spreading manure more frequently and feeding cows in phases.

If mandatory, these and other practices would be required of all dairies, plus each would pay an annual fee of more than $400 to cover the expenses of monitoring air quality at the dairies.

The board's 2-to-1 decision yesterday to reject the proposal came despite a sea change in dairy industry opinion that supported making the voluntary practices a requirement after Sept. 30.

During its meeting two months ago, the board opted to table action on the proposal so the dairy industry could have more opportunity to review the program. At that time, Steve George of the Washington State Dairy Federation told the

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he would like to see the dairy air policy remain voluntary.

Yesterday, though, he told the clean air agency board that the dairy industry is now behind making the policy a mandatory fixture.

"The dairy industry has taken a position to support a mandatory structured program similar to the pilot program," George confirmed this morning. "We were prepared to move forward with it."

The board's response in voting down the mandatory program caught George and the dairy industry off guard.

"Quite frankly, we were surprised. It left us in limbo," George says. "We were under the assumption that either the resolution would be adopted or modified to allow us as an industry to work with the (clean air) agency and address some of the unknowns and ultimately end up with a program."

Agency staff are equally perplexed.

"It's a little bit of a mystery," says Dave Caprile, the clean air agency's spokesman. He added that support of the mandatory measure seemed like a "slam dunk" once the dairy industry signed on.

Caprile says concerns over the mandatory proposal's fee structure and inspection frequency led board members Rand Elliott and Dick Lover to vote against the measure.

The mystery, Caprile noted this morning, is that fees and structures are handled administratively. "We establish fees based on what it's going to cost to oversee the program," he explains. "We don't use it (fees) as a vehicle to increase revenue, just to cover expenses."

As for inspections, Caprile says the clean air agency routinely works with staff at the sites it visits, usually calling ahead to schedule them.

Board member Dick Camp cast the lone vote approving the mandatory plan.

"I think he was extremely disappointed that the vote went the way it did," says Caprile.

Elliott is a Yakima County commissioner who represents an area that includes the Lower Valley - home to most of the county's dairies. He sat in on yesterday's vote as the back-up to Commissioner Kevin Bouchey, who was unable to attend the meeting.

Elliott says he simply wanted more information before making a voluntary policy mandatory for all dairies.

"Very simply let me first say that I and the other commissioners support the program," Elliott said this morning. "The reason I didn't want to vote for it yesterday is I didn't know the details of the program. My understanding is there were some unsettled elements in the plan. What will it cost a dairy? How many inspections will there be?"

Elliott added, "I want it (a mandatory dairy policy) to happen, but I want to know what I'm implementing before I vote for it."

Admitting he may have been a bit too cautious yesterday since he doesn't regularly sit on the clean air board, Elliott expressed support for continuing the voluntary program and making it mandatory in the future.

"There are no philosophical disagreements about it at all," he says. "It's just that the devil is in the details."

As for clean air agency staff, Caprile says it will have to go back to the drawing board a bit.

He says there's no timeline set for when the board might see the dairy air quality proposal.

"We have to discuss that here within the agency," he said. "We have to determine what the next most logical step is. At this point in time I don't have an answer when it will appear before the board."

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