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home : news : DAIRY Thursday, January 22, 2009

1/22/2009 9:25:00 AM  Email this article Print this article
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Brothers Kevin Maas, left, and Daryl Maas testify before the Senate Agriculture and Rural Economic Development Committee about using food waste in anaerobic manure digesters.
More online
To read HB 1135, go to apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo. Once there, type "1135" into the search box and then click on "search."
Dairymen fight for right to digest food waste
Legislation would allow manure digesters to include food waste in mix

Cookson Beecher
Capital Press

The owners of a company building a $3.5 million anaerobic manure digester in Skagit County, Wash., are banking on legislation that will cut through a ribbon of red tape.

In their testimony last week before the Senate Agriculture and Rural Economic Development Committee, brothers Kevin and Daryl Maas told committee members about the roadblock they've encountered in their attempts to include food waste - about 5 to 10 percent of the total - in the mix going into the digester.

To be able to do that, they need the state's Ecology Department to exempt the facility from existing solid-waste rules.

But after working with the department on this for more than a year, they've become increasingly frustrated and have turned their sights on legislation instead.

"We want farms to be able to recycle food waste into energy without being regulated like solid waste facilities," said Kevin Maas, during last week's committee work session on this issue.

Daryl Maas explained to the legislators that manure is currently regulated as a dairy nutrient under the state's Department of Agriculture.

"But the minute you add one pound of food waste from off the farm into the manure, it's all considered 100 percent solid waste and becomes subject to regulation by the Department of Ecology," he said.

Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, who is encouraging her colleagues to ease regulatory restrictions on the use of food byproducts in anaerobic digesters that run primarily on cow manure, found it difficult to contain her frustration with the situation.

"As incredibly efficient as they are at changing something like manure into energy, they're even more efficient when you toss some food waste in with the cow patties," she said. "Unfortunately, we have some silly rules on the books that need to be taken care of before that can happen."

Although Ecology Department officials say they're supportive of manure digesters, they also say they need to address issues such as making sure all digesters, not just those operating on farms, are given the same exemption.

Public health is also an issue because, as with any solid-waste facility, the department would expect manure digesters to protect groundwater and control vermin and odors.

During last week's Senate committee work session, Laurie Davies, the Ecology Department's solid-waste program manager, told committee members that she was optimistic that a new permit rule could be written by June.

Even so, the Maas brothers are hoping to see legislation that would create the exemption because negotiations with the department don't seem to be going anywhere.

"The department has not changed anything for a year," Darryl Maas said in an interview with Capital Press.

He also said that he and his brother were heartened by how much support they received from committee members during the work session.

The facility, which will process manure from several farms to produce electricity, is expected to be up and running in early August.

Also testifying before the committee were dairy producers Andy Werkhoven and Steven Vander Haak.

In November 2004, the Vander Haaks became the first dairy producers in the state to use an anaerobic digester. The Werkhovens are currently working on getting an anaerobic digester up and running in Snohomish County.

Vander Haak and Werkhoven told committee members that they also want to be able to use both manure and food waste in their digesters - a process known as co-digesting.

Over in the House, Rep. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, has already sponsored legislation, HB 1135, that would exempt agricultural anaerobic digesters from solid-waste permits.

After its first reading on Jan. 14, the bill was referred to the House Ecology and Parks Committee, where it was scheduled for a public hearing on Tuesday, Jan. 20.

Darryl Maas said expectations are that one of the members of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Economic Committee will craft a similar bill.

Staff writer Cookson Beecher is based in Sedro-Woolley, Wash. E-mail: cbeecher@capitalpress.com.




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