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MEA Files Motion to Intervene After WMC Launches Legal Attack on the Authority of Local Governments to Regulate CAFOs

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Madison, WI—Today, Midwest Environmental Advocates (MEA) filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit initiated by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce that takes aim at the ability of local units of government to regulate Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, also known as CAFOs. MEA filed the motion to intervene on behalf of the Town of Eureka, a community in Polk County. 

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) is currently suing Laketown—another small community in Polk County—on behalf of four individuals and the Wisconsin Farm Bureau. At issue in the lawsuit is Laketown’s livestock operations ordinance, which requires any new CAFO with more than 700 animal units or any existing CAFO that expands to more than 1,000 animal units to apply for a license from the township.

WMC wrongly claims that the ordinance is unlawful and that Wisconsin’s Livestock Facility Siting Law preempts all local regulation of CAFOs. Four other towns in Polk and Burnett Counties have adopted similar ordinances, including the Town of Eureka. 

Efforts to develop more protective regulations gained momentum in 2019 after local residents learned about Iowa-based Cumberland LLC’s plans to build a massive confinement facility that would house up to 26,000 hogs. Community members say the proposal is a threat to the St. Croix River Watershed, whose abundant streams, lakes, wetlands and fisheries make the area a popular recreational destination.

In 2019, Laketown, Eureka and four neighboring towns declared moratoria on new CAFOs in their jurisdictions to allow time for the towns to study the potential negative impacts of large livestock facilities on their communities. The six towns formed a joint committee to review the latest scientific literature related to groundwater, surface water, air quality, disease transmission and property values. Five of the towns subsequently adopted ordinances that incorporate the findings and recommendations of the committee.

MEA Senior Staff Attorney Dan Gustafson said, “Our request to intervene in this case is about upholding the authority of local governments to protect the health and safety of their constituents. The ordinances enacted by Laketown and Eureka are based on reasonable and scientifically defensible findings which demonstrate that CAFOs pose a significant risk to water resources, air quality, property values and human health.”

“WMC’s agenda prioritizes industry profits at the expense of public health and natural resources,” said Tony Wilkin Gibart, executive director of Midwest Environmental Advocates. “If the court rules in favor of WMC, the decision could limit, if not eliminate, local regulation of CAFO operations—not just in Polk County, but throughout Wisconsin.”

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