Tag Archives: cafos

Concerns raised over massive hog facility

Residents in rural western Illinois are trying to stop a leading U.S. pork producer’s plan for a massive hog facility.

Bernadotte Township residents sent letters to state agriculture officials alleging errors and omissions in Professional Swine Management’s plan for its 20,000-hog confinement, Runway Ridge Farms LLC., the Chicago Tribune reported.

The concerns are similar to those expressed by Wisconsinites concerned with factory farm operations in their state — or across state borders.

The residents said it didn’t account for nearby structures, wells and creeks.

Fulton County commissioners passed a resolution Dec. 13 urging the state to halt action on all new large confinements in the county until the Illinois law governing such operations is reformed.

The resolution is only symbolic because state law doesn’t give local communities much, if any, power over the issue.

However, the resolution did catch the attention of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Her spokesman said the agencies involved in these issues should carefully consider residents’ concern.

“We think it is extremely important that residents are raising concerns about these operations,” said the spokesman to the newspaper.

Professional Swine is considering how or whether to respond to the opposition coming out of Bernadotte Township, and has put on hold construction of Runway Ridge.

Company officials declined to give details on their Fulton County plans or any aspects of their business.

“I think at this point we don’t have any comment on any of these items,” said Julie Totten, chief financial officer.

Professional Swine has installed 27 hog operations with a total of more than 120,000 sows in Illinois, Iowa and Missouri, despite periodic opposition from local residents and environmental and animal welfare groups.

Fulton County has at least five of the facilities.

On the Web

Neighbors Opposing a Polluted Environment.

Powerful dairy lobbyists are behind fouling of state’s water supply

The Dairy Business Association, which was created in 1999 and is based in Green Bay, is run by agri-business and large dairy interests that support looser agriculture and environmental regulations and enforcement. The group is backed by dozens of wealthy special interest sponsors that have contributed more than $2.1 million to statewide and legislative candidates, including more than $710,000 to Republican Gov. Scott Walker in recent years.

Those sponsors include big-name law firms, banking, energy, and large agri-business interests, like Foley and Lardner, Alliant Energy, American Foods Group, BMO Harris Bank, Cargill, Merck, and Monsanto.

The DBA’s backers give it considerable political clout that helps it move a lobbying agenda to deregulate agri-business. The DBA’s achievements include legislative bills and state rules to loosen land use, high-capacity well, wetland, groundwater protection, and factory farm regulations and enforcement. Factory farms are formally called concentrated animal feeding operations — informally known as CAFOs — and house several hundred or thousands of cows, hogs, chickens and turkeys.

In a February 2016 opinion piece about controversial legislation to ease state oversight of high-capacity wells, which did not pass, DBA lobbyist John Holevoet wrote: “Our ready access to fresh water gives Wisconsin a competitive advantage in attracting new farms and other businesses that rely on water. We should be promoting this advantage, not regulating it out of existence.”

The DBA, which spent $179,045 on lobbying in 2015, employs five lobbyists, including Bill McCoshen, a prominent State Capitol lobbyist who was chief of staff to former longtime GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson. In the last full 2013-14 legislative session, the DBA spent nearly $304,000 on lobbying state policymakers.

In addition to lobbying on proposed state policy and spending, media reports as far back as 2010 show the DBA has met directly with the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to change the way the agencies site, permit and regulate factory farms. Such ready access by a large corporate interest has raised questions about the DNR’s independence from both inside and outside the agency. “This particular lobbying group has been able to elbow its way into the higher levels of the regulatory agency. That kind of access is unprecedented,” Jamie Saul, a former Midwest Environmental Advocates attorney, said in a March 2010 media report.

Earlier this summer, the DBA met with the DNR after Walker’s office gave the DBA and other farm industry groups proposed rules drawn up by the agency to restrict manure spreading by factory farms. Shortly after its meeting with the DBA, the DNR reduced the scope of the proposed rules, which govern how and where manure could be spread. Walker then approved the looser rules, which are scheduled for consideration by the DNR Board at its Aug. 3 meeting.

The families of seven of the DBA’s 10-member board of directors own factory farms, including the group’s president, Gordon Speirs, owner of Shiloh Dairy in Brillion. Early last month, heavy rains washed thousands of gallons of manure from Shiloh Dairy into Plum Creek. The creek runs into the Fox River in northern Calumet County. The DNR said Shiloh Dairy may face enforcement action from the manure runoff. Both Calumet and Kewaunee counties have a large number of factory farms. Nearly a third of wells tested in Kewaunee County last year were so contaminated that the water isn’t safe to drink.

The DBA’s lobbying activities for agri-business are just one part of its political arsenal. The group operates a conduit, which delivered $63,340 in large individual contributions to legislative and statewide candidates between January 2005 and December 2015. Some of the campaign cash came from the group’s sponsors as well as other factory farm owners, and agri-business and construction interests. Conduits are legal check-bundling operations often run by lobbyists and special interest groups that collect contributions from individuals, bundle them together and deliver one large check to a candidate.

The DBA’s conduit contributions supported Democratic and GOP legislative and statewide candidates, but substantially more went to Republicans – about $48,300 versus about $15,000. The top recipients of DBA conduit contributions were Republican Gov. Scott Walker, $8,740; former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, $3,450; and former GOP state representative and lieutenant governor candidate Brett Davis, $3,300.

The top individual contributors through the DBA conduit were Dean Doornink, of Baldwin, owner of Jon-De-Farm, $4,000; John Vrieze, of the Town of Emerald, owner of Emerald Dairy, $3,800; and Mark Mashlan, of Kaukauna, an executive with Fox Structures, $2,875.

The group’s annual conventions have drawn heavy hitters from both parties. Walker and GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos addressed the DBA’s most recent 2016 annual convention, and Doyle spoke at its 2008 state meeting.

In addition to the individual contributions through the group’s conduit, the DBA also contributed $35,900 in three contributions in 2014 to the Republican Governors Association’s (RGA) 527 group. The RGA spends several millions of dollars each year to support GOP candidates for governor across the country. In 2014, the RGA’s state political action committee spent nearly $4 million on mostly negative broadcast ads to support Walker’s successful reelection. 527 groups are tax-exempt political nonprofit groups that are named after the U.S. Internal Revenue Service code that governs them. These organizations, which are run by powerful business and other special interests, can accept and spend unlimited amounts of unregulated contributions on electioneering activities.

Audit: Wisconsin failing to monitor wastewater

A state audit found Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources lax in monitoring large livestock farms, as well as municipal and industrial wastewater treatment plants.

The DNR permits about 1,250 municipal wastewater treatment plants, industrial wastewater treatment facilities and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). It’s required to make sure those entities comply with permit terms, but the audit found the DNR didn’t consistently follow its own rules and at times violated statutory requirements.

The Legislative Audit Bureau report released June 3 found the DNR only issued notices of violation for 33 out of the 558 instances they should have over the past decade.

“This really basic and fundamental function of the DNR, it’s not working right now,” said Elizabeth Wheeler, a senior staff attorney at the environmental group Clean Wisconsin.

The audit also found staff hasn’t been electronically recording submissions of annual reports required of CAFOs.

Staff indicated they also don’t have time to thoroughly review each annual report, meaning instances of noncompliance could be slipping through the cracks.

“I’m troubled and I’m concerned,” said Legislative Audit Committee Co-Chair Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay. “As somebody that’s a strong advocate of clean water, I want to see a comprehensive program and not have a bunch of holes in it.”

DNR spokesman James Dick said the agency often uses methods other than violation notices to obtain compliance, such as discussing violations, even though DNR policy called for violation notices in all 558 cases in the audit.

Wheeler said if permit holders see there are no real teeth to enforcement, they have little incentive to comply, leading to further water pollution across the state.

DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp wrote in her response to the audit that the department has recognized many of the issues identified and has already established systems to address them — or is in the process of doing so.

Stepp, a former Republican state senator and close ally of Gov. Scott Walker, was an outspoken critic of the DNR before he put her in charge of it.

Cowles said the audit verifies there’s a staffing problem for permits and inspections, but he said it’s unclear whether that stems from cuts to the DNR that Walker included in the 2015–17 budget. A spokesman for Walker declined to comment.

Cowles said he’s asking the audit bureau to determine what funding would be necessary to supplement the DNR’s wastewater permitting staff and program operations. The committee is also asking the DNR for follow-up reports on many of the issues by Nov. 1.

“This is going to be one of those things that’s going to take a while,” Cowles said.

MISSING VIOLATIONS?

Of the 260 CAFOs for which permits were reissued from 2006 to 2014, 17 were inspected after the permit was reissued instead of before, violating statutory requirements.

Another 51 were inspected more than 12 months before their permit expired, which is too far ahead because conditions on the farm can change. Dick said of the 17 permitted before inspection, the DNR has found records documenting substantial compliance before the reissuance for 15 of the 17 and believes the remaining two were in substantial compliance as well.

The audit also found staff only electronically recorded 36 of 1,900 annual reports required of CAFOs from 2005 through 2014. Staff said they didn’t record submissions because of a lack of time. They also said they don’t have time to thoroughly review each annual report, meaning instances of noncompliance could be overlooked.

Wisconsin Dairy Business Association government affairs director John Holevoet said just because staffing is an issue doesn’t mean DNR is missing violations. He pointed to the audit’s finding that the percentage of CAFOs being inspected twice every five years has increased from 20 percent in 2005 to 2009 to 48 percent in 2010 to 2014.

“I think there are some signs again that they’re doing a better job than in the past,” Holevoet said.

The recent audit is not the only documentation of the DNR’s problems.

In July 2011, the department received a letter from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identifying 75 issues with state law and administrative rules. Stepp wrote the department has resolved 38 issues and efforts are underway to address 31 others.

Paul Zimmerman, executive director of governmental relations for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, said the organization wants the DNR to be successful with its program because it would much rather have the state agency issue permits than have the EPA step in.

 

Environmental group files open-records complaint against Wisconsin DNR

Midwest Environmental Advocates this week filed a complaint in Dane County Circuit Court against the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for allegedly violating state open records laws by delaying DNR responses to MEA open records requests.

The group based its complaint on three outstanding open records requests: one related to air, the second to a group of wetlands permits and the third regarding concentrated animal feeding operations, also known as CAFOs.

Wisconsin’s open records laws — MEA referred to Wis. Stat. § 19.31 et seq. — give the public the right to obtain records from government authorities, with limited exceptions. The laws make employees at state agencies such as the DNR custodians of the agencies’ records for public access. The law, MEA said in a news release, implies a relationship of trust between Wisconsinites and the DNR, and a responsibility to serve the public by providing documentation of our government’s activities. 

“We’ve experienced too many instances where records requests have been unreasonably delayed,” said Tressie Kamp of MEA. “Now we and many of our partners in communities across Wisconsin feel that the trust that is inherent in the open records laws is misplaced. Without this trust, the law does not function as intended and citizens lose access to a transparent, responsive government. It was time to ask the courts for help.”

Open records laws require agencies like the DNR to provide records within a reasonable amount of time or to promptly and clearly explain a decision not to release requested records.

MEA said the DNR has delayed for more than six months in providing records in response to certain requests at issue in the complaint.

“Midwest Environmental Advocates decided that legal action was necessary to resolve not only this case but to bring to light an emerging pattern of delayed open records response to interested citizens, non-profit groups, and the media,” said Kamp. “To be clear, it is illegal and inefficient for all parties involved to withhold records from the public when the law entitles the public to requested information.”