Recent Kinnard Farms decision brings agency’s authority into question

Contact: Elizabeth Wheeler, Senior Staff Attorney, 608-251-7020 x21 or ewheeler@cleanwisconsin.org

 

MADISON — To ensure that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) uses its authority to protect  clean, safe drinking water in Wisconsin,  Clean Wisconsin filed a petition for review today of the recent decision on the Kinnard Farms wastewater permit. A recent position by the Department of Justice reversed an October 2014 administrative law order that required Kinnard Farms, a large animal feeding operation in Kewaunee County, to enact sensible protections to reduce groundwater pollution from animal waste.

“This reversal sets a dangerous precedent for how Wisconsin protects and manages its groundwater,” says Elizabeth Wheeler, senior staff attorney for Clean Wisconsin. “DNR’s ability to set reasonable conditions on wastewater permits is an issue that affects drinking water for the whole state.”

Clean Wisconsin’s concern in this petition is how Act 21 was applied to the case. Enacted in 2011, Act 21 attempts to limit a state agency’s authority and discretion to apply protective permit conditions. Until last month, the state maintained the position that DNR had the authority to apply and enforce permit conditions to protect groundwater quality.

In the case of Kinnard Farms, Administrative Law Judge Jeffrey Boldt invoked this DNR authority in October 2014, requiring groundwater monitoring, a limit on the number of animals at the facility and other conditions on the facility’s wastewater permit. Last month’s reversal stripped these sensible and necessary groundwater protection conditions from the permit.

“The conditions imposed by Judge Boldt are enforceable water permit conditions and within the scope of the DNR’s authority,” says Wheeler. Judge Boldt issued a letter in support of this position in mid-September, and Midwest Environmental Advocates, a nonprofit environmental law center, also filed a petition on behalf of local citizens for review of this permit today.

“This narrow interpretation of Act 21 limits DNR’s duty and authority to protect groundwater and drinking water,” adds Wheeler. “If allowed to stand, this decision could endanger the health of residents who live near large animal operations by failing to monitor their drinking water for bacteria and other pollutants.”

Just one year ago, Clean Wisconsin petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency under the Safe Drinking Water Act to protect drinking water in Kewaunee County, where nearly one in three wells are contaminated with nitrates or bacteria.

“It’s a dangerous move to take authority away from those who are most knowledgeable about natural resource regulation in the state,” says Wheeler. “Today’s filing is a necessary step to solidify the DNR’s authority to administer its own programs to protect our drinking water.”

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NOTE: For more information on Midwest Environmental Advocate’s petition in this matter, contact Stacy Harbaugh, MEA Communications and Outreach Coordinator, at 608-251-5047 x1 or sharbaugh@midwestadvocates.org