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Defending the Authority of Local Governments to Regulate Large Livestock Operations

A growing number of local governments in Wisconsin have enacted ordinances that regulate how large livestock operations (CAFOs) operate. Midwest Environmental Advocates partners with community members and local jurisdictions to provide legal support and to defend the authority of local governments from industry pushback. 

Issue Summary

Efforts to develop more protective local regulations have been gaining momentum, particularly in northwest Wisconsin.

In 2019, several towns in northwest Wisconsin became concerned about Iowa-based Cumberland LLC’s plans to build a massive hog confinement facility in the area. Community members saw the proposal as a threat to the St. Croix River Watershed, whose abundant streams, lakes, wetlands and fisheries make the area a popular recreational destination. 

In 2019, several towns in northwest Wisconsin became concerned about Iowa-based Cumberland LLC’s plans to build a massive hog confinement facility in the area. Community members saw the proposal as a threat to the St. Croix River Watershed, whose abundant streams, lakes, wetlands and fisheries make the area a popular recreational destination.

Local residents reached out to MEA for support and guidance in the development of ordinances to protect air quality and water resources from the impacts of industrial agriculture. 

Protecting Local Health & Safety

Four townships in Polk and Burnett Counties now have protective ordinances in place that regulate the operation of confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). The ordinances 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. 

Industry Pushback

Perhaps unsurprisingly, these grassroots efforts have attracted the attention of lobbyists for industrial agriculture groups. In October 2022, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) sued the Town of Laketown, a small community in Polk County, over its livestock operations ordinance. The lawsuit was dismissed for procedural reasons after MEA filed a motion to intervene. WMC is now threatening to sue the Town of Eureka over its operations ordinance. 

Standing up for Local Democracy

Attempting to bully and intimidate local officials is nothing new for WMC. Fortunately, we know their playbook well. MEA has worked closely with local officials in the past to respond to these kinds of attacks, and we’ll continue to stand with them to defend their rights to clean air and water.  

Lisa Doerr

Laketown, WI

News Related to this Case

Press Release

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

MEA filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit initiated by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. The motion to intervene was filed on behalf of the Town of Eureka, a community in Polk County. At issue in the case is the authority of local governments to regulate CAFOs. Five towns enacted similar ordinances after an Iowa company announced plans to build a massive confinement facility in the area.

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