Aug 8, 2017

Wisconsin Big Ag Group Lawsuit Could Gut Factory Farm Regulation and Oversight

Update -  For more information, see coverage in Wisconsin State Journal and Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Madison, Wisconsin — In a legal-political attack on clean and safe water protections from agricultural pollution in Wisconsin, the major dairy industry group has filed a lawsuit in Brown County unprecedented in state history.

The case is Dairy Business Association, Inc. v. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, (Brown County Case Number 2017CV001014); (Wisconsin Circuit Court Access), (Dairy Business Association), (Wisconsin Public Radio).

The legal attack on the legitimacy of existing regulation and protection is viewed as part of an ambitious Republican effort seeking the destruction of clean water protection in Wisconsin, and incited abandonment of rural Wisconsin by pro-clean water citizens.

A leading citizens group fighting for clean water, the Friends of the Central Sands (FOCS), (FOCS Facebook) and pollution from an existing factory farm, released a response to the legal news, reproduced below:
Friends of the Central Sands (FOCS) has reviewed the recent lawsuit filed by the Dairy Business Association against the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Alarmingly, at a time when water pollution from large farms is an increasing public health and environmental concern, the lawsuit seeks to significantly weaken oversight of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

Currently, all CAFOs must receive a Wisconsin Pollution Discharge Elimination System, which limits and controls discharge to ground and surface waters. There are currently 296 permitted CAFOs in Wisconsin, according to the DNR’s website.

The lawsuit, if successful, would entirely eliminate the requirement to get a permit for CAFOs that say they are not or do not intend to discharge pollution. The lawsuit does not indicate how CAFOs would demonstrate that they are not discharging or would not discharge.

"Permits are the best tool we have to ensure CAFOs are properly designed and are accountable for discharge violations," said FOCS President Bob Clarke.  "These facilities generate millions of gallons of waste each year.  It’s astonishing that the industry wants to forego having to get permits at all."

In addition to limiting pollution that CAFOs generate, permits also provide an opportunity for the public to receive notice of CAFO siting and amounts of manure that are stored on site and land applied. Public notice and participation requirements would be eliminated if permits are not required.

The lawsuit also challenges the DNR’s recent guidance on using "vegetated treatment areas" to store waste and new design requirements for calf hutches.

"As FOCS learned in its challenge to the Richfield Dairy WPDES permit, vegetated treatment areas are designed to infiltrate, meaning waste often ends up in groundwater," added Bill Vance, Vice President of FOCS.  "It’s appropriate for DNR to require a better strategy for handling contaminated runoff."

The DBA contends the DNR cannot regulate CAFO discharges to groundwater in its calf hutch challenge. State statutes have for years stated that permitted facilities cannot exceed groundwater pollution standards.

Recent data has shown groundwater pollution associated with CAFOs, particularly in areas of the state with karst topography and sandy soils.

"The DBA’s lawsuit would make it significantly harder to prevent groundwater contamination at a time when wells are already being affected by landspread waste, said Clarke. "It’s really unbelievable."

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