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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Home » Issues & Actions » Fellowships » Equal Justice Works - Jacklyn Velasquez

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Frac sand mining

At Midwest Environmental Advocates, our law center works to protect healthy land through advocating for local control over livestock siting and municipal or rural planning for growth, as well as developing citizen guides for local, land-use decision-making processes. Emerging concerns include government permitting and construction of pipelines for transport of crude oil. 

We practice a community-based approach to the law, which reflects the diversity of the citizens of the state. Our practice is firmly rooted in Wisconsin's proud tradition of safeguarding the health, environment and economy of the state for future generations, and our actions reflect our commitment to empowering ordinary people to participate in decisions affecting their homes, their land and their special places. Midwesterners are a people rooted in their land. Here, people don't just leave their marks on a place; our places make their marks on us.

 


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August 25, 2016 Dakota Access Pipeline - letter from concerned environmental and Tribal groups to President Obama requesting to halt construction of and repeal Army Corps of Engineers permits for the Dakota Access pipeline project

From exhaust to habitat destruction to global warming, traffic is a major source of urban environmental pollution and poses challenges for municipalities of all sizes.  Midwest Environmental Advocates works to encourage municipalities to take all factors, including environmental and social justice concerns into account to create transportation plans that support the health and well-being of the community and the broader environment.

Numerous studies show that traffic-generated particulates and pollution have adverse affects on health, particularly among children.  Studies show that students attending schools within 500 meters of a freeway can suffer permanent lung damage.  Yet major highways are frequently located in the heart of poor and minority communities.

In addition to the immediate effects of air pollution, traffic and highways create issues with climate change; the loss of wetlands; the stormwater and related runoff and potential flooding and/or water pollution that paving more land for a bigger highway could cause; or the potential harm to many threatened and endangered species.

Only with an informed electorate can Wisconsin have a representative and accountable government. It is our State’s policy that everyone is entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government, and that providing such information is an essential function of our government. Based on a presumption of maximal public access, denial of records is generally considered to be contrary to public interest absent limited exceptions.

In this spirit, Wisconsin’s Open Records Law states that any person can request a record from an authority that has custody of that record. An authority is defined as any government entity, elected official, court, quasi-governmental corporation. That request does not need to take any particular form or even be in writing. Nor does the request need to disclose the identity of the requester or the reason for the request.

Records can take many forms, including written, drawn, printed, spoken, visual, audio, or electromagnetic information. Narrowly construed exceptions include drafts and notes that prepared for the originator's use; copyrighted, patented trade secrets; certain records with personal or employee information, records with confidential information subject to attorney-client privilege; and attorney work product.

An authority with custody of that record must respond to a request "as soon as practicable and without delay," a timeline that is defined in Department of Justice guidelines as approximately 10 days. If an authority denies all or part of that request, it must provide that denial in writing and include a specific reason for the denial. The authority that has custody of those records may impose a fee for supplying those records, but it may not charge more than "the actual, necessary, and direct cost" reproduction or transcription of the records. In the case where an authority withholds a record or delays access or charges unauthorized fees, the requester may seek relief by submitting a request to the district attorney or bringing a mandamus action in court.

Midwest Environmental Advocates, our partners and the general public rely constantly on records and other information from our government. The public has a right to know how government is spending taxpayer dollars and how elected officials are exercising power granted by the people. For all of these reasons, the Open Records Law was designed to protect every citizen's right to access and transparency.

For more Frequently Asked Questions about how Wisconsin's open records and open meetings laws work, please visit our Open Government FAQ page.

Air is one of our most forgotten resources. While we can see the effects of deforestation or polluted rivers, we cannot tell when our air is being degraded until it becomes a potential health risk. Most of us can smell polluted air in high levels, but some chemicals have no odor or are undetectable once they have dissipated into the air. We may not realize it, but the air we breathe everyday can be impaired. Sources of air pollution are numerous - car traffic, coal-fired power plants, incinerators, large factory farms, outdoor wood boilers, industry. Air quality advisories are common across Wisconsin and air quality violations occur in our state every year.

There are federal Clean Air Act and corresponding state regulations for the six most common pollutants: ground level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, and lead. Other chemicals are regulated through state permits. Short term exposure to these and other air-borne chemicals can cause mild headaches and irritation. Long term exposures, or exposure to high levels of the chemicals, can lead to an increased risk of cancer, aggravated asthma, and neurological problems.

Wisconsin’s air pollution control regulations begin with the minimum requirements established by the Clean Air Act. Some stricter regulations have been established, such as the Wisconsin Fugitive Dust law. Other laws include nondegredation regulations, where new facilities cannot lower existing air quality standards. To some extent, local governments are allowed to adopt their own ordinances to regulate pollution sources not covered by the state, like the regulation of outdoor wood boilers.

Air pollution is difficult to monitor, difficult to regulate and difficult to enforce. Midwest Environmental Advocates works to uphold state and federal air quality standards, but also uses the law in strategic ways to keep polluters from dirtying our air.


More Clean Air News from MEA

January 25, 2017 PM2.5 Clean Air Act Compliance Petition to EPA (Wisconsin Proppants, LLC) - On behalf of the Ho-Chunk Nation and the Sierra Club – John Muir Chapter, Midwest Environmental Advocates filed a petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requesting formal objection by the federal agency to an air pollution permit approved by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for Superior Silica Sands' expanding frac sand mining operations. Read more on our action page.

October 25, 2016 PM2.5 Clean Air Act Compliance Petition to EPA (Superior Silica Sands) - On behalf of the Ho-Chunk Nation and the Sierra Club – John Muir Chapter, Midwest Environmental Advocates filed a petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requesting formal objection by the federal agency to an air pollution permit approved by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for Superior Silica Sands' expanding frac sand mining operations. Read more on our action page.

Supporting sustainable agriculture

Wisconsin is famous for its seemingly endless miles of rolling farmland. Traditionally, small family-run farms, often on land passed down through generations, were the norm. However, as farms have become bigger and fewer in the past two decades, concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, are an increasing percentage of Wisconsin’s dairy and livestock industry.

CAFO impacts on the health of people and our environment

The growth of CAFOs spells trouble for Wisconsin’s water, air, and land resources. In addition to consuming large quantities of water for cattle, CAFOs produce manure in volumes that can contaminate drinking water wells and groundwater with bacteria and nitrates as well as pollute streams, lakes and wetlands with an oversupply of nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen. This adversely impacts the health of people and aquatic life. The methane, carbon dioxide, and other noxious gases emitted from the manure produced does not just bring a foul odor to the air—it can also lead to respiratory irritation and asthma and contribute to the atmospheric greenhouse effect. The massive clearing of land and the overapplication of nutrients practiced by industrial-scale operations can also lead to soil degradation and erosion.

Midwest Environmental Advocates has assisted concerned citizens across Wisconsin in protecting their homes and communities from these adverse impacts. At the start of the struggle to rein in CAFO-driven pollution in Kewaunee County, where local geology makes groundwater particularly vulnerable to contamination when high volumes of manure are spread on fields, MEA took up the case of the Treml's whose family’s century farmland was across the road from a CAFO where wintertime manure spreading led to such severe groundwater contamination as to make the whole family ill, including their baby daughter who was rushed to the emergency room with bacteria poisoning. Midwest Environmental Advocates succeeded in restricting the responsible CAFO’s destructive practices. MEA then became a part of the successful citizen movement to ban all wintertime manure spreading in Wisconsin. Since then, MEA has also succeeded in helping local residents hold the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources accountable for monitoring and limiting a Kewaunee County CAFO expansion. We are also currently involved in a petition effort under the Safe Drinking Water Act to get EPA to act on the county’s water quality crisis.

Across the rest of Wisconsin, MEA has shown similar commitment to protecting rural citizens from the prospect of industrialized agriculture in their communities through initiatives including advocating for local control over livestock siting licensing.

What makes a difference for sustainable agriculture

Midwest Environmental Advocates believes that building truly sustainable agricultural systems goes beyond buying local and organic food, patronizing community supported agriculture initiatives or even the voluntary conservation practices of a few, good agricultural leaders. It requires a clean government and an independent DNR to effectively monitor agricultural (nonpoint sourced) pollution, enforce environmental laws that protect our water and air, respect local control of siting major industrial livestock operations, and implement state and local policies that put protecting the health of people and the environment first. Embracing meaningful policies and practices of sustainable agriculture leads not only to healthier land but to healthier communities, large and small.


More Sustainable Agriculture News from MEA

Comments on Pinnacle Dairy LLC WPDES permit – On September 26, 2017, Midwest Environmental Advocates asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to review and object to a proposed Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination permit for Pinnacle Dairy, LLC. Federal review is necessary because the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ draft pollution permit does not include recommendations by the Natural Resources Conservation Service for groundwater monitoring and other conditions that would help to protect area surface and groundwater resources. On September 22, 2017, MEA and Gordon Stevenson (MEA Board President and retired DNR Chief of Runoff Management) submitted comments to the DNR responding to the agency's conditional approval of the CAFO permit describing why Pinnacle’s plans for livestock manure storage would not protect area surface or groundwater and public health.

MEA signs onto Food & Water Watch petition to EPA - On March 8, 2017 Midwest Environmental Advocates along with Wisconsin group Kewaunee CARES joined Food & Water Watch and dozens of other clean water advocacy groups to challenge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on factory farm pollution and environmental law rollbacks by Congress and under the Trump administration. Groups filed a legal petition which asks EPA to overhaul its regulations for how CAFOs are regulated under the federal Clean Water Act and its permitting program, noting that current rules fail to prevent pollution and protect communities. Full petition (PDF).

The petition asks EPA to

  • remove loopholes that have enabled CAFOs to avoid permitting—especially the agency’s overbroad interpretation of the “agricultural stormwater” exemption from regulation, which has swallowed the rule that CAFOs are point sources that require permits to discharge pollution,
  • to require large corporate integrators that control CAFO practices to obtain permits, instead of just their contract producers, who currently bear the burden of following permits and managing waste,
  • to strengthen permits in several ways, including: requiring pollution monitoring and reporting, as is required of virtually all other industries; restricting waste disposal in order to better protect water quality; and regulating CAFO discharges of a wider range of pollutants than permits currently address, including the heavy metals and pharmaceuticals found in industrial livestock waste.

MEA to DNR: animal unit limit needed at Richfield Dairy, LLC - On January 17, 2017, Midwest Environmental Advocates submitted comments to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources explaining why an animal unit limit should be reinstated in a draft pollution permit renewal for the Richfield Dairy of Milk Source Holdings, Inc. in Adams County. An animal unit cap in a pollution permit is a practical way for the DNR to limit the source of pollution – in this case, manure waste – produced by an industrial livestock facility. In our comments, we explain how a September 2014 court order in a Friends of the Central Sands/Family Farm Defenders case and two other MEA-involved judicial decisions demonstrate the DNR’s authority to set these limits that may ultimately help to protect area water from pollution associated with spreading manure waste on land. (Attachments 1, 2, 3) You can find more documents related to the Richfield Dairy, LLC permit application on the DNR's website.

Comments on Da Ran Dairy LLC WPDES permit - On December 6, 2016, MEA submitted comments to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on behalf of the Sustain Rural Wisconsin Network detailing the coalition's concerns with the livestock operation's prior WPDES law noncompliance, an underestimation of annual manure generation, and whether the pollution permit would resolve conditions that led to an October 25, 2016 manure spill.

DNR ordered to pay environmental justice act fees - Dane County Circuit Court Judge Markson orders DNR to pay fees and costs to petitioners on September 30, 2016 after concluding that this was such an “extraordinary” case that it warranted an order directing DNR to pay the costs of this appeal. For more information, visit our Kinnard Farms, Inc. action page.

Cranberry Creek Dairy, LLC WPDES comments - September 27, 2016 comments from MEA to DNR on the impacts of increased animal units of the expanding CAFO on impaired local waters. Concerns included insufficient acres available for land spreading manure due to landowners listed on the nutrient management plan who did not give permission for the company's use, questions about incompleteness of the WPDES application, and how the public needs more information on a potential ownership change for the operation.

Challenge to DNR approval of CAFO permit victory – In an appeal to the courts on the DNR’s decision to approve a CAFO expansion water pollution permit in Kewaunee County, on July 14, 2016 Dane County Circuit Court Judge Markson affirmed Kewaunee County Petitioners and partner organization Clean Wisconsin's argument that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' improperly rejected Administrative Law Judge Boldt’s order to include an animal unit limit and off-site groundwater monitoring in Kinnard Farms, Inc.’s water discharge permit. This decision rejected DNR’s narrow interpretation of Act 21. Judge Markson concluded that the DNR does have explicit authority to impose these permit conditions. The Court determined that state statutes do empower the DNR to require limits and monitoring of pollution in order for permittees to comply with state and federal clean water laws. For more information, visit our Kinnard Farms, Inc. action page.

Mining – a historic threat to clean water and air

Mining in Wisconsin is a statewide issue, which is regulated by both state and local laws and regulations that control what is mined, where it is mined and how it is mined. But even with existing regulations, mining activity creates dust and mineral particles that impact our air quality, contaminated runoff that seeps into surface and ground waters, and harmful chemicals that leak into our land and into the plants and animals living on it. With the potential for such impacts, effective mining laws and regulations must be enforced and strengthened.

Metallic mining – including iron ore

The extraction of metallic minerals such as iron, zinc or copper has a long history in Wisconsin, but legal regulation of their environmental impact and safety are a relatively recent development. Metallic mining can be very dangerous, since metallic minerals like iron and copper are commonly found in or around sulfide minerals. Particularly with open-pit or strip mining, sulfuric acid is formed when sulfide minerals are exposed to air and water. As a result, when sulfide minerals are excavated in connection with mining of metals, the non-valuable sulfide minerals release acid that can contaminate groundwater and surface water.

Fear of pollution from the acidic waste rocks is what has led many towns and Native American tribes in Wisconsin to oppose nearby mines. Because of the potential harm from metallic mines, we must insist that regulations to protect the environment and public health are scientifically sound and systematically enforced. Read more about the threat the controversial open-pit iron ore mining posed to the Penokee Range in Iron and Ashland counties.

Non-metallic mining – including frac sand

Non-metallic mining is the extraction of stone, sand, rocks, and other similar minerals. The most common example of a non-metallic mine is a quarry. These mines extract minerals such as limestone, granite, gravel, or sand which are used for road building, landscaping, building supplies for homes, and other everyday uses. More recently, Wisconsin has seen a boom in frac sand mining, which targets a specific type of sand particle that is utilized in natural gas extraction.

While not as dangerous as the sulfuric acid produced by metallic mining, sand and silica from the mines, or from trucks transporting the minerals, is easily airborne and can be a serious public health hazard. Non-metallic mines require large quantities of water to control dust, or to wash sand before its sale. Diverting large amounts of surface or groundwater can impair the rights of nearby or downstream users as well as harm the environment. Finally, frac sand mining uses a mixture of chemical flocculants that can contaminate rivers and drinking water supplies when the diverted water is discharged. Unfortunately, non-metallic mines are much harder to monitor because there are currently no state regulations that specifically govern their conduct, and town and county regulations for these facilities have proven to be less than effective.

Midwest Environmental Advocates works to protect Wisconsin’s environmental heritage and economic opportunities by promoting sound, science-based mining regulations. We recognize the diverse populations and types of communities that mining impacts and believe that all Wisconsinites should be aware of what mining can mean for our land, water and air.


More Mining News from MEA

Comments on OmniTRAX wetland fill application – On March 16, 2018, MEA submitted comments to DNR on behalf of the Ho-Chunk Nation asking DNR to deny OmniTRAX’s application for a wetland fill permit. The OmniTRAX application does not meet legal standards because the proposed project will have significant environmental impacts, there are alternatives that don’t require wetland fill, and OmniTRAX did not provide sufficient information about its plans to compensate for wetland losses. (Attachments 1, 2)

Clean and abundant water is essential for all life. It is likewise a basic ingredient in our economic well-being. This is a truth that our state’s leaders acknowledged when they adopted the Public Trust Doctrine in to the Wisconsin Constitution. The Public Trust Doctrine states that the waters of the state are held in trust by the state for the use of its citizens. That means that Wisconsin’s many lakes, rivers, trout streams, creeks, streams and even the groundwater belong to us all. We all benefit from them and the water’s health is important to us all.

Water is protected by state and federal laws that protect both water quality and its quantity. The central most important law is the Clean Water Act, enacted by Congress in 1972. Wisconsin, like all other states, has its own set of laws to protect water quality, based upon what the Clean Water Act requires. These laws, at their most simplistic, seek to set rules and regulations that set scientific standards for what is considered “clean” water, eliminate pollution, clean up polluted water and keep clean water clean.

Midwest Environmental Advocates works for strong water policies and provides legal representation to groups that are working to reduce water pollution, conserve water supplies, uphold the public trust, and protect water – their water. Our work covers the whole state, Great Lakes and the Mississippi River Basin, and takes in to consideration all downstream waters. We put our years of experience and expertise in the law to work for the citizens of the state and their rights to clean, healthy water.


More Clean Water News from MEA

February 26, 2018Midwest Environmental Advocates joins groups in the Mississippi River Collaborative to ask the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reject proposed alternatives to establish federal nutrient criteria for the State of Missouri’s lakes and reservoirs. The Mississippi River groups support stronger, more proactive nutrient criteria that protects drinking water, recreation and aquatic life uses, and protects downstream waters.

Opposing Clean Water Rule weakening and delays:  Midwest Environmental Advocates joins nearly 200 groups to sign on to a December 13, 2017 letter urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency not to delay the implementation of the 2015 Clean Water Rule by two years. The groups also asked the EPA not to weaken the rules through revisions and rollbacks on clean water protections.

Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Great Lakes groups oppose repealing the 2015 Clean Water Rule defining the "Waters of the United States." Midwest Environmental Advocates was one of 69 environmental leaders who signed on to a letter to the U.S. EPA on why the Waters of the United States rule impacts our ability to protect the Great Lakes and their tributaries.

Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Protecting our Great Lakes depends on the positive impacts of robust federal laws. Midwest Environmental Advocates' Kim Wright was among the 31 midwest conservation leaders who signed on to this May 14, 2017 letter to the EPA when the newly appointed EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, asked for public input on environmental regulation.

Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition to U.S. Congress: Don't cut funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and other valuable investments in our freshwater resources. Midwest Environmental Advocates is proud to be among the over 150 conseration organizations and leaders who signed on to this letter.

MEA to DNR: animal unit limit needed at Richfield Dairy, LLC - On January 17, 2017, Midwest Environmental Advocates submitted comments to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources explaining why an animal unit limit should be reinstated in a draft pollution permit renewal for the Richfield Dairy of Milk Source Holdings, Inc. in Adams County. An animal unit cap in a pollution permit is a practical way for the DNR to limit the source of pollution – in this case, manure waste – produced by an industrial livestock facility. In our comments, we explain how a September 2014 court order in a Friends of the Central Sands/Family Farm Defenders case and two other MEA-involved judicial decisions demonstrate the DNR’s authority to set these limits that may ultimately help to protect area water from pollution associated with spreading manure waste on land. (Attachments 1, 2, 3)

December 6, 2016 Comments on Da Ran Dairy LLC WPDES permit - MEA submitted comments to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on behalf of the Sustain Rural Wisconsin Network detailing the coalition's concerns with the livestock operation's prior WPDES law noncompliance, an underestimation of annual manure generation, and whether the pollution permit would resolve conditions that led to an October 25, 2016 manure spill.

September 2016 Flint aid via the federal Water Resources Development Act - MEA joined dozens of clean water and clean government organizations to sign on to a September 2016 letter to the U.S. Senate in support of the Senate’s bipartisan version of the Water Resources Development Act that includes which features $100 million to help Flint and other communities improve or replace their aging water infrastructure. A separate letter was sent to the House as the body has yet to take up a water resources bill or enact any measure providing funding for Flint. Groups once again urged Congress at the end of October to act during the lame duck session to fund aid for Flint.