A local farm organization leader and local representatives chided Gov. Tom Wolf as “insensitive” for his veto last week of a bill that would have allowed milk haulers to operate during state-declared weather emergencies.
The bill would have exempted milk haulers from a travel ban ordered by the state during severe weather.
Wolf vetoed the bill, stating that the veto was necessary “due to very serious public safety concerns.”
Robert Detwiler of Salemville, former milk hauler himself and president of the Bedford County Farm Bureau, said Friday milk truck drivers are “used to going in any kind of weather.
“And they’re skilled drivers. They have to manipulate (trucks) into the buildings and milkhouses and farms,” Detwiler said. He said from the perspective of both the already-struggling dairy industry and consumers, banning the hauling of milk doesn’t make much sense.
Detwiler said dairy operators have to milk cows and though they can store the milk, it goes into tanks with limited capacities.
“The tanks are only so big,” Detwiler said.
He also added that snow removal equipment is “much more capable now.”
House Bill 915, sponsored by Rep. Martin Causer (R-Mckean/Cameron/Potter), would have provided a specific and limited exemption that applied only to milk being transported from farms to processing facilities.
“Milk produced on the farm is highly perishable and needs to get to a processing plant within a reasonable time,” Pennsylvania Farm Bureau president Rick Ebert said. “Dairy farmers have limited on-farm storage, and when their bulk tanks are full, they need to be emptied by a milk hauler. If the hauler is not available, all excess milk must be dumped. Farmers lose thousands of dollars in revenue every time they are forced to dump their milk.”
State Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar, R-Berlin, said he supported the bill as a way for government to get “out of the way” of a dairy farmer’s ability to do his or her job.
“I had constituents reaching out to me about what a big problem it was,” for milk haulers, Metzgar said Friday in a phone call. “That’s why the bill was in place.”
Metzgar said the bill wasn’t necessary until, in his view, the state began to overuse the emergency weather travel restrictions.
“This wasn’t necessary until the governor’s office started declaring a state of emergency anytime they saw a snowflake,” Metzgar said. “If it was used in the manner it was originally intended, this wouldn’t be an issue.”
He said the veto “is insensitive to the needs of farmers and the needs of milk haulers.”
State Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Bedford, called the veto “absurd” and said it was another obstacle in a farmer’s way.
“It shows how out of touch the Governor is with the reality of what our farmers are facing,” Topper said in a text.
Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, who proposed a similar bill in the Senate, expressed disappointment over Gov. Wolf’s decision.
“At a time when our dairy industry is already facing serious challenges, it is disappointing that Gov. Wolf has made a choice that makes it even harder on the industry to get their products to market,” Ward said in a press release.
Metzgar said he plans to return the bill to the legislature as an amendment to another bill the governor may want.
“I’m going to look for any opportunity I can to include this language so the governor has to sign it. It’s not a dead issue in the least from my standpoint.”