With Oregon Mega-Dairy Reform Bills Dead, Tillamook Mega-Dairy Supplier Seeks Public Funding and DEQ Approval For Project To Pipe Methane Out Of State For Cash
SALEM, OR — A coalition of environmental, farming, and consumer groups is opposing a proposed permit from Threemile Canyon Farms mega-dairy. The permit would authorize a manure-to-energy project, greenwashing Threemile Canyon's air-polluting emissions as renewable energy. Threemile Canyon Farms, the industrial mega-dairy that supplies Tillamook, is seeking a permit and tax-exempt bonds to allow it to convert methane from their 70,000 cows into fuel and sell it at a premium as renewable energy.
"If this permit is approved, Threemile Canyon Farms will be able to build a facility to pipe its manure methane to California, greenwashing the gas produced from its vast quantities of cow manure as a renewable energy source, and selling it at a premium. And the public will pay for it through tax-exempt bonds. If Oregon approves this proposal, it will be a step backwards for our commitment to stop climate change and will further entrench the factory farm system of livestock production. This is not in the public's interest," said Tarah Heinzen, Senior Staff Attorney for Food & Water Watch, one of the organizations that commented in opposition to the permit.
The proposed permit comes just after the Oregon Legislature failed to pass three bills aimed at increasing regulation for industrial mega-dairies. The bills were in response to the environmental and economic disaster at Lost Valley Farms, another Tillamook supplier just miles from Threemile Canyon.
"Oregon's commitment to the environment and the viability of our family farms is increasingly in question. This year, the Legislature bowed to pressure from industrial mega-dairy lobbyists and left the door open for another environmental catastrophe like the failed 30,000-cow Lost Valley Farm," said Ivan Maluski, Policy Director for Friends of Family Farmers, a sustainable agriculture non-profit that also signed the letter. "We can't support the state agency in charge of protecting our land, air and water approving yet another dubious plan that will line the pockets of the big mega-dairy operators as they put Oregon's family-scale dairy farms out of business."
Mega-dairy methane digesters and manure-to-gas facilities do not address the many environmental and other problems these facilities cause, are a false solution to climate change, and are contrary to the public interest, the coalition of groups wrote in a public comment letter opposing the permit submitted to the Department of Environmental Quality on April 25.
"The need for bio-gas digesters wouldn't exist if we didn't confine farmed animals in concrete prisons with no access to pasture. It's naive and irresponsible to think that they are a real, long-term solution. We need true change if we're to address our climate crisis, not a band-aid," said Erin Eberle, Director of Engagement at Farm Forward.
Additionally, the farm's general manager indicated the project would pivot the business from a mega-dairy to a fuel producer. "The most valuable product we have out there is natural gas," Threemile Canyon Farms General Manager Marty Meyers told a panel from the State Department of the Treasury last year as he sought permission for tax-exempt state bonds to pay for the project.
"Allowing Threemile to go into the dirty gas business will only lead to more sacrifice of clean air and water in Morrow County and the Gorge. Instead of granting this permit, we demand that the state take action to prevent toxic and environmentally-damaging air emissions from mega-dairies like Threemile Canyon, and to stop the continued pollution of groundwater with dangerous levels of nitrates, a problem only exacerbated by methane digesters and the expansion of mega-dairies in Oregon," said Amy van Saun, Senior Attorney at Center for Food Safety.
Like other Oregon mega-dairies, Threemile Canyon Farms' air emissions are entirely unregulated, despite contributing to climate change, poor visibility in the Columbia Gorge, and risks to public health. The state's proposed permit would leave the vast majority of this pollution unregulated, paving the way for even greater pollution from the mega-dairy over time.