Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has filed suit against a dairy farming operation she says has repeatedly “thumbed its nose” at environmental regulations.
Slater Farms is a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) in rural West Michigan. According to the Attorney General’s office, it collectively owns and manages CAFOs with more than 1,500 mature dairy cows and 400 cattle. Every year, those operations produce about 8.9 million gallons of liquid waste and 1,500 tons of solid waste.
Farms housing thousands of animals are one of several sources contaminating the Pine River and dividing a mid-Michigan community.
Murray Borrello, wearing khakis and a loose-fitting brown button-up, walked down a backroad during the summer of 2019 listening to the sounds of the woods. Water from the Pine River flowed slowly beneath him as he looked out over a bridge.
“Oh, I hear a frog,” the Alma College geology and environmental studies professor said. “That’s a good sign.”
Farm groups are using a two-pronged approach to stop the state from changing the rules for spreading manure. The Michigan Farm Bureau, large livestock farmers (Confined Animal Feeding Operations CAFOs), and several farm groups are suing the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE). The same groups in May appealed changes to pollution permits dealing with spreading livestock manure on farm fields.
I want to warn you that today, I’m going to be talking about poop. Specifically, more than 3.3 billion gallons of it a year, all of it produced in Michigan by what are euphemistically called “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations,” or CAFOs.
Many of us call them “Factory Farms” instead. They are places where animals are crowded in what are anything but humane conditions to be fattened as quickly as possible for slaughter, or if they are cows, drained of their milk.
But beyond animal cruelty, what I’m concerned about is our drinking water. Three years ago, toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie left the water unsafe to drink for a few days.
Large animal farms will no longer be allowed to give or sell excess manure to smaller farms between the months of January and March.
Brad Wurfel is with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. He says the larger farms know not to do this, but sometimes the smaller farms will spread the manure on frozen, snow-covered fields.
I drove around with her as we followed trucks laden with liquefied manure and watched as they spread the liquid on nearby farm fields.
It's a practice that can add nutrients back to the land if done right, but with the huge quantities of manure these CAFOs are dealing with year round - doing it right is something they've had trouble with.
And Henning, a "Sierra Club Water Sentinel," has been watching them - reporting them to state officials when they weren't complying with the law.
It's clear from visiting these communities that these large scale farms have caused rifts among neighbors; some like the income they make selling corn and renting land to CAFO operators, but others feel CAFOs threaten their health and the beauty of rural farming life.
Working as an environmental activist in rural Michigan (she formed the group Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan), Henning says she's felt those divisions first-hand - saying she's been harassed and threatened on numerous occasions.
Family farmer and activist Lynn Henning exposed the egregious polluting practices of livestock factory farms in rural Michigan, gaining the attention of the federal EPA and prompting state regulators to issue hundreds of citations for water quality violations.
She's also been to the White House to meet President Obama. And now, here she is on Bill Maher. To watch, we have to pull up a chair up to "imnewshound's" television - he has subscription to HBO, after all (and being HBO and Bill Maher, be warned - there is some foul language):
Large factory farms have lost a major court case in the Michigan Court of Appeals. The case involves farming operations with hundreds, sometimes thousands of animals. They are often called CAFOs, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.
The appellate court upheld a lower court ruling that the state could require large confined animal feeding operations to get pollution discharge permits before opening. Farm groups challenged the state rule insisting they should only need a permit after releasing manure causing water pollution. But today, the three judge panel disagreed:
We conclude that the DEQ was fully authorized to require CAFOs to either (1) seek and obtain an (federal) permit (irrespective of whether they actually discharge pollutants), or (2) satisfactorily demonstrate that they have no potential to discharge. The circuit court properly denied plaintiffs’ motion for summary disposition and granted summary disposition in favor of the DEQ.
Ann Wiowode is the director of the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club. She welcomes this week’s ruling.
“That is essential in insuring they’re not allowed to begin operation and potentially pollute the water without going through proper review.”
But while she welcomes the decision, Wiowode says more work is needed to protect Michigan from water pollution connected to agriculture.
“We think the regulations are still too weak. And based on our experience, the permits themselves have many things that could be improved.”