Last year thousands of Riverkeeper members and others called on Governor Brown and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to protect the Columbia River and rural communities from factory farm pollution. They didn’t listen. In March of 2017, Oregon gave the green light for one of the largest mega dairies in the nation. Turns out you were right; Lost Valley cannot control its mountains of manure. In late February 2018, Oregon sued Lost Valley to end months of unauthorized pollution.
Oregon Settles Case Against Factory Farm Polluter
Coalition Urges Governor Brown and her Department of Agriculture to learn from their mistake in permitting Lost Valley Mega-Dairy
March 21, 2018, Salem, OR—Advocates reacted to the state's settlement in its lawsuit against Lost Valley Farm, a mega-dairy farming operation near Boardman, Oregon, that has been fraught with pollution violations since its spring 2017 opening. The facility's violations are so extreme that the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) had filed a lawsuit in February seeking an injunction on its ability to produce wastewater—which could have shut down the mega-dairy's operations. But prior to the scheduled hearing for the injunction, the parties entered a settlement that will instead impose restrictions on Lost Valley's volume of wastewater and require the facility to maintain adequate waste storage.
"We are extremely disappointed in the state for not using its authority to prevent this factory dairy from coming in, and now that disappointment continues with a weak settlement despite numerous, disturbing permit violations that endanger public health and the environment," said Amy van Saun, Staff Attorney at Center for Food Safety. "We warned ODA and the Governor that this would happen, especially with an operation of this enormous size, and business-as-usual is not an acceptable response."
"Governor Brown's weak settlement with Lost Valley is a missed opportunity," said Kendra Kimbirauskas, CEO of the Salem-based Socially Responsible Agricultural Project. "Shutting down this disastrous operation would have sent a clear message that Oregon will not compromise its environment or rural communities for corporate benefits. This settlement sends the opposite message."
Despite widespread opposition from family farm, environmental, animal welfare, and public health organizations and thousands of individual Oregonians, the state issued Lost Valley a water discharge permit to operate a staggering 30,000 cow mega-dairy in March, 2017. Public records indicate the Governor's office was heavily involved in the permitting process and routinely met with ODA about permitting the proposed facility.
"While we are disappointed in the settlement, we hope that Lost Valley's violations serve as a wakeup call to the Oregon Department of Agriculture and Governor Brown. It's time to stop welcoming these mega-dairies into our state. They not only pollute our water and derail the state's efforts to address climate change, but they are putting family dairies out of business. Oregon should be better," said Ivan Maluski, Policy Director of Friends of Family Farmers.
Soon after the facility began operating, ODA had to begin conducting frequent inspection and enforcement activities at the facility because Lost Valley almost immediately began violating its new permit. Violations included allowing giant manure cesspools and "mortalities management" areas holding dead dairy cows to overflow, spilling manure and blood onto the ground and threatening groundwater. Groundwater in the area, which serves as drinking water for many, is already contaminated by nitrates, which can cause blue baby syndrome and other dangerous health impacts. State research indicates that the area's livestock confinements contribute to the existing contamination.
"The state's settlement barely requires more than compliance with the permit already in place – it's a status quo deal that lets Lost Valley off the hook. The Governor and ODA should have continued seeking to close the operation, which they should never have approved in the first place," said Tarah Heinzen, Staff Attorney with Food & Water Watch.
Permit violations reported in the state's court filings included one for allowing the storage area for dead cows to overflow and leak, indicating the operation has high mortalities despite being in operation for only months. "This case confirms that industrial dairies like Lost Valley Farm are bad for farm animals as well as the environment," said Brian Posewitz, administrator for the animal welfare advocacy group Humane Oregon. "Unfortunately the settlement will not ensure better animal welfare at Lost Valley."
"If ODA refuses to use its authority to stop factory farms with repeated and serious violations, Oregon clearly needs stronger water and air pollution laws to bar such irresponsible proposals in the first place," said Scott Beckstead, Rural Affairs Director for the Humane Society of the United States. "For example, Oregon does not require air pollution permits or monitoring at factory farms, and legislation to establish air quality protections from the industry failed last year."
The state's initially aggressive enforcement action against Lost Valley Farm showed that it has become aware of the serious environmental threat posed by mega-dairies, but its settlement falls far short of what is required to clean up the facility. By allowing Lost Valley to continue operations after its disastrous first year, the state has unfortunately signaled to factory farm operators that Oregon is open for business.
Groups responding to the settlement include Center for Food Safety, Food & Water Watch, Friends of Family Farmers, Columbia Riverkeeper, Socially Responsible Agricultural Project, Humane Oregon, Water Watch of Oregon, The Humane Society of the United States, Center for Biological Diversity, and Animal Legal Defense Fund.