In a significant shift in its position, the Yakima Valley dairy industry now supports a mandatory program that requires producers to implement practices that reduce pollutants from their operations.

Even with that endorsement, however, the Yakima Regional Clean Air Authority declined to adopt the policy Thursday.

The 2-1 vote delays yet again final action on an air-quality management plan that has been in place on a voluntary basis over the past two years to test its effectiveness. Dairies that comprise more than half the dairy cows in the county have participated.

The board tabled the policy two months ago at the dairy industry’s request to allow producers more time to review its provisions.

Steve George of Moxee, a consultant representing the Washington State Dairy Federation, told the board Thursday the additional time convinced the industry the program has value and can be used to show regulators and the public that the practices work.

“You can implement the program. We are ready to move forward,” George said, asking that an industry committee work with agency staff to finalize details on fees producers will pay and how often dairies will be inspected for compliance with a list of best management practices. Those practices involve handling manure, feed management, bedding materials, aeration of dairy lagoons, cover crops and windbreaks.

That request raised concern from Authority directors Bill Lover, a Yakima City Council representative, and Rand Elliott, a Yakima County commissioner who said he wanted to see all the details before acting on the policy.

“I want to see the changes figured out, then we can vote on a policy that exists,” he said.

Chairman Tom Gasseling, a Lower Valley hops grower, expressed frustration with the opposition, describing the resolution adopting the policy as a “no-brainer.”

The resolution called for the policy to go into effect today on a voluntary basis until Sept. 30 when all dairies would be required to register and follow the policy. The document was silent on the issues that George wanted additional discussion on.

“We have been on this for two years and now the dairy people are saying they are for it and we say we won’t vote for it?” Gasseling asked.

While Lover and Elliott voted against the resolution, Director Dick Camp cast the lone affirmative vote. Gasseling would vote only in case of a tie.

The agency, led by Executive Director Gary Pruitt, devised the air-quality monitoring program more than two years ago in response to complaints by dairy neighbors about odors, dust and a variety of compounds such as ammonia, methane, hydrogen sulfide, nitrous oxide and oxides of nitrogen.

Valley residents who criticize dairy pollution have challenged the policy because the agency established no baseline data against which to measure its success. They repeated their complaints Thursday, saying air pollution and odors at times are worse than ever.

Larry Fendell of Zillah said the problem is too many cows and not enough land on which to spread manure at proper rates.

• David Lester can be reached at 509-577-7674 or dlester@yakimaherald.com.