Public records in private
In recent years, mega-dairies have
sprouted in Idaho like mushrooms after a warm rain. These are not
bucolic little family farms where Bossie grazes placidly in belly-high
They are industrial installations
where thousands of bovine inhabitants live out short confined lives in
concrete and steel facilities. They produce tons of manure and thousands
of gallons of wastewater each year, which are far from benign in these
Nonetheless, Idaho Gov. Dirk
Kempthorne just signed a new law that will make dairy and feedlot
nutrient management plans invisible to the public. The plans describe
how manure and other wastes generated by such operations are stored,
treated and disposed of.
The new law puts what should be
public records in a public place into private hiding at the dairies and
feedlots. It directs the state to keep no record of the plans after they
The reason? The governor and the
state Department of Agriculture say they have no room to store them.
Any Idahoan who believes that will
soon be investing in Arizona oasis properties or talking to a man about
buying a bridge in Brooklyn.
The Legislature amended the law
over the objections of just a handful of legislators, including District
25 Rep. Wendy Jaquet and Sen. Clint Stennet. Industrial dairies and
feedlots have been driven from other states by stricter and stricter
regulations. Every nose in southern Idaho knows where they went and why
they need regulation.
Dairy and feedlot wastes are not
benign. Handled poorly, they can contaminate groundwater or create
eye-watering odors. Odors can drive down the value of nearby homes or
aggravate allergies. Contamination can foul drinking water.
The public has a right to know
what’s in waste plans and be able to learn whether regulation is
working. But with the plans in hiding, it will hard to find out.
The public will be left with only
its nose for information and to date the nose knows one thing: This