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Environmentalists sue NY over dairy rules

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ALBANY, N.Y. -- A coalition of environmental groups is suing the Cuomo administration over dairy farm regulations intended to bolster the state's growing yogurt industry, the groups announced Monday.

Riverkeeper, Earthjustice, Sierra Club and other groups said the Department of Environmental Conservation overstepped its authority and violated the federal Clean Water Act when it eased waste-handling rules for farms with 200 to 299 cows. The groups said waste from the expected increase in dairy cows will cause more runoff that pollutes streams.

“Factory farms are one of the greatest sources of water pollution in the country,” Robert F. Kennedy Jr., president of Waterkeeper Alliance, said in a statement Monday.

The Farm Bureau hailed the rule, which took effect this year, and said the state's dairy regulations are still stricter than what the federal government requires. The farm group estimated that about 800 farms across the state would be in a position to add 100 cows with the rule change, but not all would have the resources or desire to do so.

At an industry summit last August in Albany, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called Greek yogurt one of the state's best entrepreneurial opportunities in a generation but said New York farmers didn't have enough cows to meet the growing demand for milk. He proposed easing waste-handling regulations to help farms expand without incurring high costs.

Instead of easing regulations for medium-sized dairy farms to advance economic interests, the state should have assisted farmers in meeting the higher standards, said Paul Gallay, president of Riverkeeper.

The environmental groups filed the lawsuit Friday in state Supreme Court. A DEC spokesman did not have an immediate comment on the lawsuit Monday.

In formal comments on the proposed rulemaking in January, the environmental groups said the DEC hadn't adequately reviewed the human health, environmental and economic impacts the action would have. A team of experts in farm waste management hired by the environmental groups concluded that the rule changes would likely cause more degradation of water, soil and air quality.

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