Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Milking It: Obama's Dairy Good SOTU Joke

No crying over spilled milk: President says change in EPA oil spill rule can save dairy farmers $10,000 per year...
During last year's State of the Union Address, President Obama joked about salmon to point out that federal regulations often make no sense. This year, he made a joke about milk to highlight his efforts at changing regulatory burdens, saying that the Environmental Protection Agency no longer classifies major milk spills on dairy farms as the equivalent of oil spills. In the White House's "enhanced" livestream of the speech, an illustration of a carton of milk appeared onscreen beside the President (above).

Noting that he's "approved fewer regulations in the first three years of my presidency than my Republican predecessor did in his," the President made his joke:

"We got rid of one rule from 40 years ago that could have forced some dairy farmers to spend $10,000 a year proving that they could contain a spill -- because milk was somehow classified as an oil. With a rule like that, I guess it was worth crying over spilled milk."

The audience of lawmakers, Cabinet Secretaries, top military brass, Supreme Court Justices and special guests laughed, though TV cameras in the Capitol Gallery captured First Lady Obama making the kind of face all wives seem to make when their husbands are attempting to be funny: A bit aggrieved.

"Now, I’m confident a farmer can contain a milk spill without a federal agency looking over his shoulder," the President added, to more laughter.

The joke got plenty of attention from viewers at home: According to Twitter analysts, the milk moment was the most tweeted part of the President's speech, getting 14,131 TPM at 9:51 PM EST.

The President, after joking, pledged to continue his work on food safety. This month marks the one-year anniversary of Mr. Obama signing the sweeping FDA Food Safety Modernization Act.

"I will not back down from making sure an oil company can contain the kind of oil spill we saw in the Gulf two years ago," President Obama said. "I will not back down from protecting our kids from mercury pollution, or making sure that our food is safe and our water is clean."

Is the milk joke "true?"
So what was the President referring to in his milk joke? And what's that $10,000 some farmers might have been "forced" to spend?

Since 1973, EPA has regulated milk spills in the same way it regulated petroleum spills, under the Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure program in the Clean Water Act. Other edible oils, including animal and vegetable oils, were also regulated this way, and milk got in thanks to its high fat content. But in February of 2009, EPA announced that it intended to change this regulation, so large milk storage containers would not have to meet the same piping and construction standards as large oil storage containers--provided the milk was pasteurized.

The new standard exempting milk and milk product containers from the Oil Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure rule went into effect in April of 2011, because EPA determined that "the current regulations – which were designed to prevent oil spill damage to inland waters and shorelines – placed unjustifiable burdens on dairy farmers," the agency said in a press release. It noted that the change was part of President Obama's "executive order on regulatory reform."

EPA said the change would "potentially" save "the milk and dairy industries more than $140 million per year." Somehow President Obama, in his speech, translated this into dairy farmers not being "forced" to spend $10,000 per year to prove their compliance. It's unclear where that figure comes from. Read more about milk spill prevention and control measures here.

When the rule was issued last April, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson hailed the exemption as an example of the Obama Administration's good faith efforts at not over-regulating agriculture, something the Republican-led House Agriculture Committee routinely complains about.

“Despite the myths that have arisen about EPA’s intentions, our efforts have been solely focused on exempting milk and milk products from this regulation -- and that exemption is now permanent,” Jackson said. “This step will relieve a potential burden from our nation’s dairy farms, potentially saving them money, and ensuring that EPA can focus on the pressing business of environmental and health protection.”

Click here for all posts about the President's SOTU address, including the full transcript of the President's remarks and his post-SOTU tour schedule.