Midwest Environmental Advocates is a nonprofit environmental law center that works for healthy water, air, land and government for this generation and the next. We believe that every citizen has the potential to make a difference.

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Dairy Business Association - DNR Settlement

— Clean Water Action Council, Milwaukee Riverkeeper, Friends of the Central Sands and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation successfully intervened in a lawsuit over DNR authority in CAFO pollution permitting.

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A January 11th decision by Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge William Pocan is a win for our clients and a win for clean water! The Judge ruled that an agreement between the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Dairy Business Association violated state law.

The November 2017 settlement agreement, which resulted from a lawsuit brought by the Dairy Business Association against the DNR, limited the DNR's authority to protect water quality through the science-based application of state law intended to prevent pollution from the State's largest concentrated livestock feeding operations. Four environmental advocacy groups--Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin, Friends of the Central Sands, Milwaukee Riverkeeper and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation--challenged the settlement on the basis that the agreement, negotiated behind closed doors, changed DNR pollution permitting policies and rules without going through the official rulemaking process.

Case Summary

On Monday, October 2, 2017, on behalf of the Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin, Milwaukee Riverkeeper and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, Midwest Environmental Advocates filed a joint motion to intervene in a Dairy Business Association lawsuit against the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources) in Brown County Circuit Court. Clean Wisconsin and the Friends of the Central Sands joined the motion to intervene.

Midwest Environmental Advocates brings this action on behalf of these organizations and people across the state who have invested years of effort to hold the line on agricultural pollution and work with people all over the state who depend on clean water for drinking, fishing and recreation. People across Wisconsin – from Milwaukee to Kewaunee County – already face threats to their health, their lakes and streams, and cannot drink from private water wells. The DNR is in danger of taking a major step backward in environmental law enforcement in order to give in to dairy business lobbyists.

In the DBA v. DNR case, the state’s largest dairy business lobby attempted to abolish the heart of DNR’s water pollution permitting program for Wisconsin’s largest concentrated livestock feeding operations. These pollution permits include environmental protections that limit runoff from industrial-scale agricultural operations to streams and lakes, and the drinking water of families who depend on private wells.

The DBA’s lawsuit also targeted two DNR guidance documents that were created to prevent pollution to state waters from feed storage and calf hutch areas. Despite legal actions by DBA and some of its members, the DNR has clear authority under existing state law to use objective, science-based standards to protect the health of people and our environment from agricultural pollution.

On October 19, 2017, the Dairy Business Association and the Department of Natural Resources agreed on a settlement. By settling this lawsuit before citizens had the opportunity to intervene and be heard, the court didn’t have a chance to fully consider the DNR’s duty to protect our water and our health.

On November 17, 2017, we filed a petition for judicial review and declaratory judgement in Milwaukee County Circuit Court challenging the settlement. We filed this action on behalf of Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin, Friends of the Centra Sands, Milwaukee Riverkeeper and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.