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Published October 08, 2009, 02:30 AM

OUR OPINION: Put dairy's permit on the line

The MPCA should reject Excel Dairy's application unless the dairy’s owners can show they’re making good-faith efforts to comply with state rules.

“The sustained high levels of hydrogen sulfide emissions at the dairy are not a normal event for Minnesota’s dairy operations and should be corrected immediately.”

That was not the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency talking. That was the Minnesota Milk Producers Association, the trade group for the dairy industry, speaking about one of its own: Excel Dairy near Thief River Falls.

Furthermore, the association “fully supports” the MPCA’s actions against the dairy, the association’s leadership said at the time.

When your own industry’s trade group sides with regulators and against your company, you’ve got a problem.

But the date of the association’s letter is just as telling: June 2008.

So, 16 months ago, Minnesota’s trade association for dairies was urging that Excel Dairy correct its hydrogen sulfide emissions problem “immediately.”

That puts this news item from the Sept. 30 Herald into perspective:

“Excel Dairy, the rural Thief River Falls mega dairy that closed in January after being cited as a public health hazard by the Minnesota Department of Health, continues to violate Minnesota air quality standards.”

And it shows what the dairy’s neighbors — as well as lawmakers and regulators — are up against.

The dairy may soon file for a new operating permit or an extension of the one-year permit it was granted in late April, Herald staff writer Kevin Bonham reported.

The MPCA should reject the application unless the dairy’s owners can show they’re making good-faith efforts to comply with state rules.

That’s not impossible. The company has removed all cattle from the dairy, so what’s happening now is clean up. The April permit told the company to clean and/or seal its manure basins.

“Excel, which is owned by Dairy Dozen, based in Veblen, S.D., began cleaning out the basins in July,” Bonham reported.

As a result, the levels of hydrogen sulfide had been “down significantly until Aug. 29,” said Gaylen Reetz, director of the MPCA’s regional division. Hydrogen sulfide is the source of the rotten-egg smell that, at times, has forced the dairy’s neighbors to evacuate their homes.

But September’s heavy rains interfered with the cleanup and brought about the air-quality violations, Reetz said in the Herald story.

If Dairy Dozen wants its new or renewed permit, it must move heaven and Earth to get back into compliance, if it hasn’t done so already. Then it should apologize to its neighbors and the MPCA for falling down — again — on the job.

Even then, the permit’s not a sure thing because the company’s conduct over the years has exhausted the community and state’s patience. “MPCA documents show the feedlot has exceeded state health standards hundreds of times,” the Web site Minnpost.com reported.

“Citizen monitors have registered violations thousands of times higher than allowable levels, and the state’s Department of Health and the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease said their tests of July 2008 show that Excel emissions are ‘a public health hazard.’”

That’s why back in May, the Minnesota attorney general, State Rep. Dave Olin, DFL-Thief River Falls, and State Sen. Leroy Stumpf, DFL-Crookston, all asked the MPCA to revoke the dairy’s permit.

The agency renewed the permit because staffers said that would be the best way accomplish the clean up. The company was given one last chance, in other words. The MPCA should make darn sure the company is making the most of it.

— Tom Dennis for the Herald

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