It’s greens vs. NY jobs—again
- Last Updated: 3:43 AM, August 20, 2012
- Posted: 11:47 PM, August 19, 2012
They called it the “yogurt summit,” but it’s really about jobs and cow poop.
Gov. Cuomo wants New York to “seize the moment” of “one of the best privatesector market opportunities upstate New York has had in 30, 40 years” and let the state dairy industry grow, thanks to the Greek-yogurt boom. But he’ll have to face down the greens to do it.
Sales are skyrocketing for New York-made yogurt brands like Chobani, FAGE and Alpina—but they can’t expand operations here unless the state relaxes environmental rules that limit milk production. The shortage already has Chobani planning to expand its operations to Idaho.
This is a great chance for Cuomo to finally make good on his promises to boost the dying upstate economy — and he convened the “summit” in Albany to do just that.
It should be simple: Add more cows, get moremilk. But state regulations prevent farmers from expanding above 200 cows without jumping through costlyhoops.
Cuomo wants to change the rules — but New York has never rolled back any environmental regulation. Will the green lobby kill these jobs, as it has so manyothers?
In 2000, Cuomo notes, New York hosted 14 yogurt plants; today it’s 29. The industry directly employs 8,070 New Yorkers. (Overall, dairy is an $8.9 billionayear NewYork industry.)
But regulations block further growth. The Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) rules force any dairy farm that wants to expand above 200 cows to get a special permit; the process includes hiring a certified cow-poop planner to come up with a strategy to deal with waste runoff. (Nitrogen from the poop can wind up in water resources, where it can be harmful to fish and plants.)
The feds also regulate cow poop, so New York farmers have to comply with those rules, too. Dean Norton, president of the state Farm Bureau, says total CAFO compliance runs $50,000 to $150,000 per farm.
Crossing the 200-cow line isn’t cheap. Kerry Adams, who owns Black Brook Farms in Shortsville, said at the summit that exceeding the 200-head limit would cost her $2,400 per cow to fund more than $400,000 in structural upgrades.
“It’s very hard on a small farm to meet those regulations,” she said.
Cuomo’s solution is to raise the limit to 300 cows per farm — which is where the federal rules already kick in. “Changing those CAFO regs, I think, is going to send a different signal that we are serious about this and we get it, and we get the role of the state,” he said at the summit.
But environmentalists will fight. “We’re not going to help them pollute,” William Cooke of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment said of raising the 200-cow limit.
And five green groups, including the Sierra Club and Environment New York, issued a joint statement worrying that “New York state will weaken state environmental protections put in place to protect public health, safety and the environment.”
Other environmentalists have hyperventilated that raising the cap amounts to “throwing away” water standards.
But the Farm Bureau says only 800 farms, max, could take advantage of the relaxed regulations. That means, at most, 80,000 more cows—when New York already has 611,000.
Cuomo can’t implement his changes at once — a public comment period and some further analysis is required. Expect the enviro lobby to flood the state with hysterical input.
That, after all, is what greens have done with fracking (hydraulic fracturing).
Indeed, the environmental lobby has stymied fracking here for five years — including nearly two under Cuomo—while nextdoor Pennsylvania has seen a boom and no major safety issue.
Will it take Cuomo as long to lift the cowcap? Upstate can’t afford delay.
Maybe this will serve as a tipping point. After decades of environmental rule upon environmental rule, perhaps our political leaders will realize that people’s needs deserve protection, too.
At the summit, Cuomo noted that opportunities like the yogurt boom don’t often repeat. “I don’t knowwhen we get another one. I really, really don’t. And . . . when you see an opportunity, grab it and make it happen,” he said. Good luck, gov.
Abby W. Schachter writes The Post’s politics blog, Capitol Punishment.Follow @NYPostOpinion