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Circuit Court Rejects Industry Attempt to Eliminate Environmental Oversight of Large Livestock Operations

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Madison, WI—Today, a Calumet County Circuit Court rejected a reckless attempt to eliminate environmental oversight of the state’s largest livestock facilities. Summons-and-Complaint-WDA-VDA-2023-05-26 in May 2023 against the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce on behalf of Wisconsin Dairy Alliance and Venture Dairy Cooperative, lobbying groups that represent the interests of large livestock facilities known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

The lobbying groups alleged the DNR lacked authority to require large livestock operations to apply for permits under Wisconsin’s water pollution permitting program.

In an oral ruling issued during a hearing today, Judge Carey J. Reed rejected that argument, citing Wisconsin Statute section 283.001(1).

According to the statute, “It is the policy of this state to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of its waters to protect public health, safeguard fish and aquatic life and scenic and ecological values, and to enhance the domestic, municipal, recreational, industrial, agricultural, and other uses of water.”

Wisconsin Farmers Union—represented by nonprofit law firm Midwest Environmental Advocates—joined Clean Wisconsin in Motion-to-Intervene-in-WDA-VDC-Lawsuit in order to protect water resources and the health and wellbeing of rural communities.

MEA Staff Attorney Adam Voskuil said, “We are pleased that the circuit court upheld longstanding clean water protections and rejected this reckless lawsuit. The court correctly found that the state has the explicit legal authority to protect Wisconsin’s water resources. The claims advanced by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and their clients would have exposed rural Wisconsinites and small family farmers to illegal manure discharges, polluting their drinking water and Wisconsin’s rivers and lakes.”

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. A single dairy CAFO can house thousands of cows and generate more waste than a small city.

“This ruling not only upholds critical clean water protections, but also reinforces the imperative of responsible practices in agriculture,” said Wisconsin Farmers Union President Darin Von Ruden. “The current rules 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.”

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