Not from the Onion: EPA Classifies Milk as Oil

by on June 25, 2010 at 7:07 am in Economics, Political Science | Permalink

New Environmental Protection Agency regulations treat spilled milk like oil, requiring farmers to build extra storage tanks and form emergency spill plans.

Local farming advocates says it’s ridiculous to regulate a liquid with a small percentage of butter fat the same way as the now-infamous BP oil spill.

“It’s just another, unnecessary over-regulation by the government just lacking any common sense,” said Bill Robb, dairy educator for Michigan State University Extension…

The EPA regulations state that “milk typically contains a percentage of animal fat, which is a non-petroleum oil. Thus, containers storing milk are subject to the Oil Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure Program rule when they meet the applicability criteria…"

Seriously, this is not from The Onion.

Do note that the issue is not even regulation of milk spills it's regulation of milk under the oil spill prevention law.  Given the power of farmers, my bet is that these laws will not go into effect; even so I do not expect a milk gusher.

Hat tip to Joshua Hedlund.

E. Barandiaran June 25, 2010 at 7:51 am

Alex, why are you surprised? where have you been living in the past 20 years? Today (yes, today) you can read many stories in U.S. newspapers that show how low federal and state governments have fallen (I don’t read local news). You can start with Charles K.’s column on the U.S. policy in Afghanistan (maybe Tyler thinks that his Harvard fellows in the Obama Administration are applying Tom Schilling’s game-theory insigihts about conflict, but I recommend them to read about Kydland&Prescott’s time inconsistency). At the same time you have many economists urging more government powers –as Jim Buchanan predicted 50 years ago– and many macroeconomists fighting for power –have you read the Simon Johnson’s pathetic request to replace Peter Orszag? Unfortunately none of these stories are from the Onion.

Roger Koppl June 25, 2010 at 8:22 am

Details matter. If the regulations are costly, but not too costly, then they protect large dairy farmers from competition. The news story indicates that the EPA very explicitly included milk, which seems to support the hypothesis that they were meant to help big dairy farmers.

Andrew June 25, 2010 at 8:39 am

“to regulate a liquid with a small percentage of butter fat the same way as the now-infamous BP oil spill.”

Well, on the bright side, the government has ensured that we will never again cry over spilt milk.

Sergey Kurdakov June 25, 2010 at 8:57 am

there is another way to worry about.

Peak milk!*

a coming age of nutritional deficit is coming!

*Peak milk is the point in time when the maximum rate of global milk extraction is reached, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline.

JSK June 25, 2010 at 9:04 am

Don’t be stupid Alex. In large quantities everything is harmful.

matt June 25, 2010 at 9:11 am

got regulation?

Andrew June 25, 2010 at 9:37 am

“simplistic ridicule is not appropriate, at least not in this instance.”

Yes, indeed. Sophisticated ridicule is called fore here.

jonm June 25, 2010 at 9:43 am

pwned by Dan Cole; nice material for Tyler’s next entry on confirmation bias though.

E. Barandiaran June 25, 2010 at 9:47 am

Alex, perhaps you may want to talk to Ilya Somin about this case –not from the Onion either– that was decided a few days ago:

http://volokh.com/2010/06/25/universities-and-eminent-domain/

And read the comments, one of which makes a fundamental point:

“Somin goes on at length musing on the relative virtues of the university vs. others in private property takings. Seems to me what matters is the property right of the original owner. Why is that issue any different if it’s a university? The Constitution gives a limited takings power to government, and otherwise protects property from seizure. Once you’re outside that framework, it ought to make no difference who the offending private beneficiary is.”

Gabe June 25, 2010 at 9:52 am

“Given the power of farmers, my bet is that these laws will not go into effect; even ”

so naive…the power is with big agriculture not “the farmers”. Big Ag supports horeshit like this because of barriers to _____. Nevermind, if you don’t know by now then this is a waste of time.

bap June 25, 2010 at 10:27 am

Does this make cows subject to regulation as transporters of hazardous material?

Josh June 25, 2010 at 10:44 am

“More generally, the notion that animal fats should not be characterized as oil is dubious, as they can be quite harmful to humans and the environment if released in large quantities and high concentrations into the environment”

Dan,

But what are the risks of large quantities and high concentrations of milk being released into the environment? Do we need to come up with spill containment plans for everything? I guess the issue is not that the farmers want their milk exempted from a larger rule; it’s that we’re wondering why it was ever included in that rule in the first place.

Andrew June 25, 2010 at 10:55 am

Bill,

I don’t think you fully appreciate how the government does things.

All the time they run things like this up the flagpole. If noone says anything, they go ahead. If people resist they respond with “oh, we never intended to REALLY do anything of the sort.”

Sometimes people do over-react, but you can’t tell if they are or are not over-reacting by their reaction.

Bill June 25, 2010 at 10:58 am

Also, I might add, if you have not been to a California, Texas, New Mexico, Idaho dairy feedlot operation, I suggest you visit one of these two the three thousand dairy operations which store HUGE amounts of milk in large storage tanks on the premises.

Also, if you have never seen a whey spill from a butter/cheese plant into a sewage system or stream–which is why these plants have to have such backup systems–then you have never been a fish.

Bill June 25, 2010 at 11:27 am

One of the things that is happening in agriculture is on farm food processing. For example, a two to five thousand herd “dairy farm” does fluid milk processing or cheese manufacturing.

I just did a little googling on “whey spill” and here is a recent example:

“Dairy plant to pay fine in river whey spill that killed fish
By Lee Bergquist of the Journal Sentinel

Posted: Oct. 31, 2008

. Bob Veierstahler Close

An estimated 30,000 gallons of whey from a dairy processing plant was the source of a rare fish kill on the Milwaukee River and one of its tributaries in Sheboygan County in the summer of 2007, officials reported this week.

MSC, formerly known as Milk Specialty Co., has agreed to pay $75,000 in penalties and donate an additional $50,000 to a land conservancy after the release of concentrated whey killed about 300 fish and forced sickened crawfish to crawl out of the water to safety.

“It wasn’t pretty,” Judith Gottlieb, a wastewater engineer with the Department of Natural Resources, said Friday.

Whey – a byproduct of milk processing – is processed by the company into animal feed products.

The whey killed forage fish such as white suckers and creek chubs and sport fish such as green sunfish, bluegill, pumpkinseed, yellow perch, smallmouth and largemouth bass and northern pike, according to DNR documents.

“It killed everything,” Gottlieb said. “Crawfish were crawling out of the water. They are pretty tolerant (to pollution), but even they were having trouble.”

Andrew June 25, 2010 at 11:35 am

Thank god. Now there will be no more milk spills into the environment.

And thankfully, all the small operations will be shut down since they are the problem, not the large operations that deal with huge volumes.

Bill June 25, 2010 at 11:38 am

The Marginal Revolutions is becomming Fox News (cont’d)

Upon further search, I found that

The original regulations covered: “The regulations apply to farms that store more than 1,320 gallons in above-ground containers or more than 42,000 gallons in buried containers.”

And, elsewhere: “This month the International Dairy Foods Association said it has learned the EPA will exempt the industry from the rule.”

The sky is falling.

Joe June 25, 2010 at 11:44 am

Josh,

Milk fat was included because the Clean Water Act tells the EPA to include any and all oils, not limited to petroleum oil.

On a policy level, milk fat is less toxic than petroleum and usually stored in far smaller amounts, so it is regulated far more lightly, but it has some of the same environmental effects as other oils: its sticky, it separates out from the water and coats the surface, its difficult to clean out, etc.

Even what rules there are don’t apply if (1) the place isn’t on or near navigable waters, (2) the place has underground storage of less than 42,000 gallons and above ground storage of under 1350 gallons, counting only containers of 55 gallons or more.

Ed June 25, 2010 at 12:01 pm

There really should be a group of officials in each agency whose sole job is to review every regulation and best practice to see if they can make sense. Maybe the existing Inspector General’s Office can be expanded and given this role. They would just make recommendations and point out absurdities like this, and leave it up to the legislature and senior officials if they want to do anything about them.

RJ June 25, 2010 at 12:49 pm

I’m sure this will have a disproportionate effect on small family dairy operations, if enforced.

So I imagine the big factory farms will be in favor of it.

Environmental Researcher June 25, 2010 at 12:51 pm

From the article: “But milk actually has a lot of nutrients. If it spills, all the animals and the critters would have an extra dose of nutrients.†

This true. It’s also the problem.

Milk spills into a water system. The nutrients in the milk cause the algae and the bacteria to multiply very rapidly. The algae and bacteria also need oxygen to metabolize this new bonanza of nutrients which they take from the dissolved oxygen in the water. The oxygen-content of the water falls precipitously. This kills fish and higher-order (leafy) plants.

These hypoxic conditions are known as eutrophication and can persist quite a while: eutrophication can flip the ecosystem to a long-lived low-oxygen state which can persist until recolonized by the aerobic ecosystems. This is particularly true in already low-oxygen areas like marshlands and reed beds.

Does the warrant the EPA action? I don’t know. Does spilled milk cause real problems? Yes, any fats spilled in large volumes can be a problem. Some problems are less obvious than others.

M.R. Dutton June 25, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Winner of best comment: Andrew at Jun 25, 2010 9:02:10 AM

I drink it up!

Andrew June 25, 2010 at 3:29 pm

And for my inspiration I have to say that I think D.D. Lewis as Bill the Butcher may be the best performance by any actor ever. And by ‘ever’ I mean it in the sense that Buffett is the best investor ever- there will never be another like it.

I think the aficionados will appreciate this. It’s quite special.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jhk2fcj4FEM&feature=related

Duracomm June 25, 2010 at 8:53 pm

The regulatory fanboys can always be counted on to swarm threads like this supporting each and every regulation no questions asked.

They can be counted on at all times to studiously ignore the vast amount of environmental destruction caused by government regulations and subsidies.

Biofuel mandates are a good example of this. Ag subsidies in general are a second example.

Dairy subsidies are probably one of the big drivers of the increasing number of large dairies. Large dairies can harvest more government money which helps drive the development of more large dairies.

Tenerife holidays June 26, 2010 at 2:04 am

I can consider it as EPA’s specialty, throwing out common sense.Really there are so stupid people in gov’t..

Bob Smith June 26, 2010 at 4:47 am

Don’t plant fats like olive or peanut oil better qualify for this ridiculous regulation than milk does?

Duracomm June 27, 2010 at 12:08 am

Well maybe the government is concentrating on milk because they are disastrously incompetent when it comes to handling the oil spill in the gulf.

Avertible catastrophe

Why does neither the U.S. government nor U.S. energy companies have on hand the cleanup technology available in Europe?

Ironically, the superior European technology runs afoul of U.S. environmental rules.

The voracious Dutch vessels, for example, continuously suck up vast quantities of oily water, extract most of the oil and then spit overboard vast quantities of nearly oil-free water.

Nearly oil-free isn’t good enough for the U.S. regulators, who have a standard of 15 parts per million — if water isn’t at least 99.9985% pure, it may not be returned to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Americans, overwhelmed by the catastrophic consequences of the BP spill, finally relented and took the Dutch up on their offer — but only partly.

Because the U.S. didn’t want Dutch ships working the Gulf, the U.S. airlifted the Dutch equipment to the Gulf and then retrofitted it to U.S. vessels.

And rather than have experienced Dutch crews immediately operate the oil-skimming equipment, to appease labour unions the U.S. postponed the clean-up operation to allow U.S. crews to be trained.

I suspect that lawsuits will force bp pay plenty for its damage to the gulf. I predict that the federal government will claim sovereign immunity to avoid paying for the damage they caused.

Worked for the corps of engineers after katrina.

Will June 27, 2010 at 8:54 am

Why does everyone blame EPA and not the Congress who wrote the very broad Oil Pollution Act which contains the definition of “oil” as “oil of any kind or of any form?” I believe Congress does this intentionally, so they can campaign against bureaucrats after giving those bureaucrats bad laws to implement.

tenerife holidays July 5, 2010 at 9:26 am

Typical overreaction to the BP crisis by the government. Oil industry needs regulating not farmers

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