MADISON, Wisc. — Wisconsin Farmers Union and Clean Wisconsin filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit that threatens to eliminate critical environmental oversight of Wisconsin’s largest livestock operations.
The lawsuit was originally filed against the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in May by Wisconsin Dairy Alliance and Venture Dairy Cooperative, lobbying groups that represent the interests of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). The CAFO groups allege the DNR lacks authority to require large livestock operations housing more than 1,000 animal units to apply for permits under Wisconsin’s water pollution permitting program.
Wisconsin Farmers Union and Clean Wisconsin have petitioned to intervene in the lawsuit to protect water resources and the health and wellbeing of rural communities.
“It’s no secret that animal waste is one of the biggest sources of water pollution in Wisconsin. Our state’s longstanding permitting program for very large animal operations helps limit the amount of manure contaminating our rivers, lakes, streams and drinking water. The idea that the DNR can’t require Wisconsin’s largest livestock facilities to meet permitting standards at all, or that somehow CAFOs don’t cause water pollution, has no legal or factual basis,” said Clean Wisconsin Attorney Evan Feinauer.
“Due to their size, these operations generate a substantial amount of manure and other pollutants. Permit requirements ensure that CAFOs adhere to standards that minimize manure runoff and water contamination. They also create transparency and ensure that CAFOs are accountable, not only to regulators, but also to their neighbors, who have a right to know that CAFOs are operating responsibly,” said Wisconsin Farmers Union President Darin Von Ruden.
Nonprofit law firm Midwest Environmental Advocates (MEA), which represents Wisconsin Farmers Union in the matter, warns that a victory for the CAFO groups could lead to increased contamination of drinking water and surface water.
“A single dairy CAFO can house thousands of cows and generate more waste than a small city. As CAFOs continue to proliferate and expand, the amount of manure they produce and discharge will only increase,” said MEA Staff Attorney Adam Voskuil.
In the past two decades, CAFOs have come to represent an increasing percentage of Wisconsin’s livestock industry. In 2005, there were 135 permitted CAFOs operating in the state. Today, there are more than 330.
–Wisconsin Farmers Union