Spilled milk battle reaches White House

“We appreciate the Administration's efforts to develop a rule to exempt milk and milk product containers but unfortunately believe that the rule, as proposed in January 2009, will not apply consistently across the dairy industry and will result in some dairy facilities being included in the exemption and others excluded,” states the letter from Connie Tipton, the group’s CEO.

Republicans have for months called application of the Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure rule to milk containers an outrageous case of overreach by an agency bent on saddling business with burdensome requirements.

For instance, early this month Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said he wondered if “sippy cups in the House cafeteria” are in EPA’s crosshairs too.

But EPA has been working to dispel the idea that it wants to regulate milk containers under the decades-old SPCC rule, which requires a host of industries that store oil and petroleum products to take measures to prevent and contain spills that threaten inland waterways and shorelines.

EPA's Jackson, appearing before a House panel March 10, said the notion that EPA intends to treat spilled milk the same way as spilled oil is “simply incorrect.” The agency has noted that Congress decades ago crafted the spill requirements broadly enough to capture milk, so EPA is trying to carve out an exemption and has stayed compliance requirements while the rule works its way toward completion.

“This exemption needed to be finalized because the law passed by Congress was written broadly enough to cover milk containers. It was our work with the dairy industry that prompted EPA to develop an exemption and make sure the standards of the law are met in a commonsense way,” Jackson said in March 10 testimony submitted to the House Agriculture Committee.

“All of EPA’s actions have been to exempt these containers. And we expect this to become final very shortly,” she said. The final rule has been pending before OMB since Feb. 25.

The industry letter last week offers suggestions for how the rule should be crafted — and says a lot is at stake.

“This is an important issue for the dairy industry. As the leader of an association that represents the nation's dairy manufacturing and marketing industries and their suppliers, a $110-billion a year industry, I urge that the final rule be drafted to uniformly and fairly remove all dairy equipment from the spill prevention rule,” the letter states.

The rule applies to above-ground storage of various types of oils — including animal fats — in quantities greater than 1,320 gallons.