By Steve George, Washington State Dairy Federation
The Friends of Toppenish Creek and its predatory environmental lawyers and legal interns are hard at work, making false claims that waste government agencies’ time and money. This year three examples show how these baseless activist claims should be carefully examined to ensure they do not become policy or regulations. And thanks to the Department of Ecology, Yakima Regional Clean Air Agency and the Environmental Protection Agency for not taking activist claims at face value.
In March, 2016, FOTC and its Oregon-based environmental attorneys challenged the Yakima Regional Clean Air Agency’s extensive air quality and ambient air monitoring in the Lower Valley.
Activist charges that agency was underfunding air quality monitoring, questioning the accuracy of air quality monitoring, measurement methods and comparisons between Sunnyside and Toppenish — all four charges were soundly rebutted in an eight-page technical response from the Department of Ecology.
Again in late August, 2016, FOTC and its legal hit squad requested a ‘formal review’ of the clean air agency by the Department of Ecology. Three Ecology staff, including the director, invested three months to provide a five-page technical response that began with ‘respect for the seriousness of your (FOTC) request for an evaluation of the YRCAA.’
“We have determined that it would not be appropriate to initiate a formal review of the YRCAA at this time.”
The director’s letter rebutted the FOTC request “for a formal YRCAA review” by outlining actions taken by the clean air agency to address emissions from Yakima Valley dairies; described in detail how air monitoring efforts and scientific studies are underway, and their “questions concerning possible conflict of interest with the YRCAA Board of Directors” speak to a perceived conflict by having a large animal nutritionist with 35 years of experience on the board.
The latter charge that Dr. Steven Jones somehow was in conflict has no basis whatsoever. Yet more staff time and money will be invested by the Attorney General’s Office to clear the name of a noted nutrition expert, and allow him to continue providing expert advice as a member of the Yakima Regional Clean Air Agency Board of Directors.
But there’s more.
In addition to the state attorney general, FOTC’s legal predators now have Yakima County’s legal department involved and the clean air agency’s own legal counsel — all preparing an opinion of Jones’ potential conflict vs. his providing expert input on how nutrition formulas reduce dairy emissions.
Finally, in a five-page ‘opinion’ letter the clean air agency’s legal counsel dated 9/6/16, responding to the FOTC letter of 5/23/16, the FOTC and legal predators charge that conflicts exist with the clean air agency’s board of directors — specifically charges that Jones should not be on the YRCAA board.
To summarize the YRCAA lawyer’s opinion, “Even in quasi-judicial matters where the appearance of fairness doctrine does apply, a remote, tenuous, contingent possibility of conflicting interests will not constitute a potential conflict of interest… .”
The detailed correspondence I have cited here waste taxpayer dollars and valuable agency staff time. While these claims rarely see the light of day beyond lawyers and professionals charged with improving Yakima air quality, they unfairly question the integrity of the agency and those they are regulating.
Valley dairy producers are making investments of time and money to improve their operations — although dairies are only part of the Valley’s historic air quality challenges. As the Ecology director stated, dairies are the only ones regulated on air quality in the state.