Joe Mahoney | The Daily Star
While the Chobani yogurt plant in Chenango County continues to allow its whey to be used as fertilizer and cattle feed, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Wednesday he wants to create new tax incentives for the upstate dairy industry to convert the waste product into energy.
Schumer said many Greek yogurt and dairy product producers could turn the whey — which is potentially environmentally damaging — into biogas, a renewable energy source, through the use of bio-digesters.
Incentives for constructing such facilities, he said, could be put in place by adding biogas to the list of renewable energy sources that receive a 30 percent tax credit for investment in the technology.
Schumer is planning to push for the tax credit after the House and Senate return to Washington after the November elections.
“Pairing bio-gas with our upstate yogurt and dairy industry is a no-brainer,” Schumer said. “It is environmentally friendly and economically friendly.”
He contended the promotion of bio-gas would benefit both the dairy industry and the renewable energy industry.
In 2012, The Daily Star documented how some local farmers in Chenango County were getting paid by Chobani to accept shipments of thousands of gallons of whey from the yogurt company’s Columbus plant. The farmers said they were spreading the acidic yogurt byproduct on their fields as fertilizer.
The spreading of whey on farms near the Unadilla River led State University College of Oneonta biology professor Paul Lord to question whether the applications were linked to a massive mussel kill in the river, near a point where he said he detected an odor resembling “regurgitated milk.”
State officials said later their research could find no linkage between the whey spreading and the mussel kill.
On Wednesday, Chobani said in a statement that the company still allows its whey to be used as both fertilizer and cattle feed, but welcomed Schumer’s interest in promoting the tax credit for bio-gas.
“As an industry and community leader, responsible whey disposal is something we take very seriously,” Chobani said. “We understand that how we manage our whey is fundamental to our commitment to being a responsible neighbor, which requires constant assessment and an openness to all new approaches.”
The company added: “We are actively working with all appropriate government agencies to share knowledge and expertise, and look forward to learning more about the proposed legislation.”