WASHINGTON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will exempt bulk milk tanks from oil spill regulations, agency officials told Rep. William L. Owens on Tuesday.
Mr. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said he was assured in a meeting with EPA Region 2 officials that the agency will exempt milk tanks on farms when final rules are issued this spring.
An exemption would put to rest dairy groups' complaints that even modest-sized farms could be forced to create spill response plans.
Mr. Owens, who had written to the agency and supported legislation to exempt farms, praised EPA and said he did so in the meeting with Region 2 Administrator Judith A. Enck.
"I said I thought it was an excellent decision," Mr. Owens said.
He said EPA officials intimated, but did not say directly, that they never intended the rules to apply widely to dairy farms, although proposed regulations clearly referred to bulk tanks that are used on farms.
The EPA, in a statement, said, "EPA has already proposed to exclude milk storage tanks from the spill prevention regulatory program. Moreover, EPA already has stayed any compliance requirements for milk storage tanks pending the agency's final action on the proposed permanent exclusion."
Farms' fuel oil storage does fall under the regulations, the EPA said.
The EPA had contended that the butterfat in milk could subject it to oil spill response regulations, which the agency has been revising in the wake of the spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But the issue is not new; lawmakers told the EPA recently that a 1995 law dictates that edible oils are not to be regulated in the same way as petroleum, for instance, throughout federal agencies.
Mr. Owens said EPA officials sought him out for the meeting to discuss the milk issue and generally to get acquainted with the relatively new congressman.
The EPA had delayed the regulations last June following complaints from lawmakers and organizations representing dairy farmers. Mr. Owens was among those who complained, as did Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.
But when an updated proposal made headlines in recent weeks, lawmakers stepped up their efforts to push the agency to exempt farms. Mr. Owens had said Congress might have to pass legislation requiring the agency to do so.
The prospect of regulating milk as oil became a rallying point for conservatives who complain about government overreach.