Two bills to help protect and preserve farmlands prime sponsored by Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, were signed into law today by Gov. Christine Gregoire.
The first bill, Senate Bill 5343, gives operators of anaerobic digesters — energy plants that take dairy farms’ animal waste and transform it into energy — more time to find ways to reduce sulfur emissions.
“This bill gives us five years to learn how to keep our sulfur emissions under control. A manure digester is a living system, and this buys us time to fine-tune how the digesters operate and better control emissions,” said Kevin Maas, president of Farm Power Northwest. “We do want low sulfur emissions — there’s no good that comes of that — but we also want to provide renewable energy sources.”
Maas’ company operates one digester west of Mount Vernon and another west of Lynden and is in the process of building a third digester west of Enumclaw. Haugen’s bill exempts single generators that are fueled solely by biogas produced by an anaerobic digester — provided the biogas contains less than 0.1 percent sulfur, the aggregate heat input to the generator does not exceed 10 million Btu per hour, and the generator is not located in a federally designated nonattainment area for hazardous air pollutants. The exemption is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2004.
“Sen. Haugen has been a friend of digesters in the state from the very beginning, for five years now,” Maas said. “Her support has been absolutely key. She and her fellow senators on the Senate Agriculture Committee have been great friends to agriculture and we really appreciate her help in helping pass this bill.”
Without Haugen’s support, Mass said, his company might have been forced to close down its digesters, which would have meant the loss of a renewable energy source and leave area farms with fewer options for handling manure. Anaerobic digesters serve the dual purpose of removing animal waste from the environment and using it to generate alternative energy in the form of biogas.
“This exemption was dearly needed for the anaerobic digesters, which are crucial to our dairy farmers on this side of the mountains,” Haugen said. “The digesters help manage the vast amounts of animal waste produced by our farms in a way that protects our water supplies and creates energy.”
Haugen’s other farm bill, Senate Bill 6082, addresses how rigorously the state Department of Ecology assesses the potential impacts of projects that could affect, or are located on land designated by local governments for long-term commercial agricultural use.
Under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), lead governmental agencies must follow a checklist to evaluate the likely impacts of proposed projects on air, water, earth, plants, animals, glare, and numerous other factors. Currently the state guidance regarding these farmlands is optional; Haugen’s legislation would make it mandatory.
Haugen’s bill directs the state Department of Ecology to assess projects for their potential impacts on farmland and to avoid or mitigate those impacts. The bill also directs Ecology to consider expanding its SEPA checklist to include questions specific to farmlands.
“We’ve been working to bring parity between the protection of our farmlands and the protection of our critical areas as mandated by the Growth Management Act,” said Allen Rozema, executive director of Skagitonians to Preserve Farmland. “This legislation is one of the first major steps to help us achieve that parity.”
“I grew up on a farm on Camano Island and I’ve watched farming all but vanish from Camano. Farmers are truly an endangered species out here in western Washington,” Haugen said. “The purpose of this legislation is to recognize that as industry and development come in, we need to know what kind of impact it will have on agriculture. This bill gives agriculture the stature it deserves when the state is evaluating projects that might affect our farmlands.”