The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) denied a CAFO a Clean Water Act (CWA) discharge permit for the first time in its history on June 30, explaining that the permit would have allowed for a lowering of water quality without the necessary demonstration of economic and social need that the CWA requires. According to an article published July 1 in the Kalamazoo Gazette:

DEQ officials, he said, had insufficient assurances that the proposed Longnecker Road CAFO would not contribute negatively to water quality or be responsible for lowering the values of neighboring properties. McCann said the state also had insufficient assurances that the operation would not damage local roads from heavy and excessive truck traffic, or harm surrounding open space and wildlife habitat.

According to a story on WoodTV.com, the well-organized efforts of local environmental advocates played a key role in the DEQ’s decision:

They provided evidence that jobs provided by the dairy would lower the township’s median wage level and drive away smaller farms that pay better, he said. Also, they argued persuasively that the facility would drive down property values, harm tourism and damage roads and the rural character with repeated shipments of manure, he said.

Kudos to the Michigan DEQ for having the guts to stand up to a powerful industry in the name of clean water. This serves a useful model for Wisconsin, where the Department of Natural Resources has never denied a CAFO permit.

Toxic air emissions and disrupting odors from factory farms often go unchecked, and in Wisconsin the DNR just this year gave agriculture sources of air pollution yet another pass from the state’s hazardous air pollution requirements.

This report from Grist tells of air pollution from a dairy in Minnesota so bad that nearby residents were asked to evacuate:

A giant dairy farm in Thief River Falls, Minn., is producing such noxious fumes that the state health department has advised nearby residents to evacuate. Excel Dairy’s emissions of hydrogen sulfide have been calculated at 200 times the standard allowed by Minnesota law; neighbors’ complaints include headaches, nausea, blurred vision, shortness of breath, and fatigue. “It’s so strong and so sour and so potent that it takes your breath right away,” says Jeff Brouse, who evacuated last week. “It’s so nauseous we’ve had neighbors throw up in their driveways.” Excel, which wants to add another 500 cows to its 1,500-cow dairy, says the extra fumes are coming from repairs to a damaged manure pit and are not illegal. Unappeased, some residents are planning a class-action suit against the dairy, and Marshall County has filed a public nuisance charge. Meanwhile, the U.S. EPA is considering a regulation change that would exempt factory farms from reporting toxic air pollution from animal waste.

More complete coverage is available from the Star-Tribune. A follow-up story from Northern Watch (affiliated with the Three River Falls Times) reports that the County will prosecute the dairy for causing a public nuisance. The possible $1,000 fine will be a slap on the risk for Excel Dairy, but its a start.

This week, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production issued its Final Report, entitled Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America. At 124 pages, it may well stand as the most thorough, comprehensive, and scientifically-sound critique of the modern livestock industry to date.

The report addresses the many “unintended consequences” of the modern era of factory farming, and includes a variety of recommendations in the areas of public health, environmental protection, animal welfare, and rural life.

MEA issued a press release on the Pew Commission’s report, which includes a brief comparison between some of the Commission’s key recommendations and current state and federal law. What this comparison reveals is that, in some important areas, Wisconsin is heading in the wrong direction when it comes to controlling the pollution from CAFOs.

The Pew report has seen national coverage in the New York Times, Washington Post, and USA Today, among others.

The Animal Agriculture Alliance Coalition (is that repetitive or what?) is the agribusiness front group created solely in an attempt to minimize the Pew Commission’s findings. Their website features some industry responses to the report.

Big ag has fallen in love… Big ag loves studies. For big ag, studies are a great excuse to delay regulation. The the bounty of this love is a disaster for those of us who care about clean air and water.

Here in Wisconsin the most recent study and delay example is the “Ag Waste Rule”. Ammonia and hydrogen sulfide from factory farms have the potential to negatively impact human health. Many of us have experienced the stench arising from these concentrations of thousands of animals. I maintain that “Mother Nature” gave us a sense of smell to aid our survival. Wisconsin citizens were well served in 2004 when the DNR and legislature agreed to implement air emission rules that would include factory farms by 2008. Wisconsin industries emitting ammonia and other pollutants are already regulated, but agriculture has an unexplained exemption. Succumbing to pressure from the agriculture lobby, our DNR delayed these new rules until 2011 citing the need for more study (of Wisconsin’s 14,000 dairy farms, only 150 or so of the very largest would have been affected). Based on what we already know and from the approaches taken in Iowa and Minnesota, our DNR was in a good position to implement in 2008. Shame!

Delay resulting from additional study of manure spreading in karst geographic areas is another desire of big ag. The Northeast Wisconsin Regional Karst Task Force made recommendations more than a year ago in a peer reviewed report that included sever spreading restrictions. Scientists with groundwater, geology, and karst knowledge were part of the task force membership. Agriculture was also represented. Big ag’s lobbying groups didn’t like the results and have asked the State for more study by organizations like Discovery Farms. Shame!

It isn’t just Wisconsin where big ag is in love with studies. Iowa’s Ag Secretary consulted with corporate farming groups and then proposed an odor study having the effect of delaying any real action to control odor by the state. A month ago Iowa environmentalists were celebrating the apparent rejection by legislators of this proposed study on CAFO stench. The apparent win was short-lived… big ag lobby groups have now succeeded in pushing the 23 million dollar study through the Iowa House. They also made sure the study wasn’t funded so it will simply stop regulation.  Shame!

From the website of the Union of Concerned Scientists:

“Misguided federal farm policies have encouraged the growth of massive confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, by shifting billions of dollars in environmental, health and economic costs to taxpayers and communities, according to a report released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). As a result, CAFOs now produce most of the nation’s beef, pork, chicken, dairy and eggs, even though there are more sophisticated and efficient farms in operation.”

The UCS has released a report entitled CAFOs Uncovered: The Untold Costs of Confined Animal Feeding Operations which “enumerates the policies that have allowed CAFOs to dominate U.S. meat and dairy production.”

On Friday, April 18, Wisconsin’s Livestock Facilities Siting Review Board (LFSRB) voted unanimously to reverse Crawford County’s decision to issue a license to Roth Feeder Pigs, Inc., for the expansion of a hog operation near the lower Wisconsin River in Wauzeka, WI. Midwest Environmental Advocates had appealed the County’s decision on behalf of 28 neighbors of the facility who had concerns about the threats posed by the expansion to drinking water and public health.

This decision marks the first time the LFSRB sided with environmental interests in a challenge to a local decision under the Livestock Siting Law (and only the third such challenge the LFSRB has heard to date). In its deliberations, the LFSRB expressed confusion over the “internal inconsistencies” found throughout Roth’s application for expansion, and the LFSRB shared the neighbors’ concerns that the land available for spreading animal waste was not nearly enough to protect drinking water.

A press release from Midwest Environmental Advocates is available here.

The LFSRB should issue its final written decision at its meeting on May 16.

The two-year study into the impacts of modern industrial livestock agriculture conducted by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production is drawing to a close. The Commission will release its Final Report next week. Here’s a press release about the report issued today: (more…)