The following was a public testimony given at the DATCP ATCP 51 public hearing in Wausau, WI on Tuesday, August 20th, 2019. Posted with permission from the author.
I'm here today to urge members of this board to pass the recommended ACTP-51 revisions.
ACT 235 which passed in 2003 was a bipartisan compromise between Republicans, Democrats, and other key players to strike a FAIR and BALANCED agreement between Wisconsin agriculture’s push to maintain its position as the Dairy State and local governments concern that they had available the tools necessary to oversee Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) entering their communities. Local governing bodies wanted assurance CAFOs operated in an environmentally friendly and safe manner to protect the health, safety, and welfare of its residents. The first Livestock Siting Standards were implemented in 2006 with the knowledge and scientific information that was available to members and experts at the time. Fast forward over a decade, and even though we have had significant advances in science and even more significant advances in technology, livestock citing standards have remained unchanged. ACTP 51 no longer represents a FAIR or BALANCED compromise between the agricultural industry and the governing bodies attempting to protect their impacted communities from out-dated and inefficient standards.
I stand before you today with a glimmer of hope and sincere appreciation for members of the Department of Agriculture and Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) board for voting unanimously to send committee recommendations forward to public hearings. In previous years, specifically 2010 & 2014 DATCP did not have an acting board of directors with a backbone or the strength of character to resist the pressure and intimidation from both our own State Legislature and large agricultural interest, instead they bent to the will of those in opposition and refused to bring ACTP-51 recommendations to the public for a hearing. I commend the members of DATCP here today for your commitment to the citizens of the state of Wisconsin to hear our concerns and I encourage you to continue this process with a high level of integrity and fortitude. It is with great gratitude that I am able to stand and speak here today on testify on proposed recommendations.
I am fully aware that members of the DATCP board and the Secretary Pfaff have already received significant pressure from Assembly Speaker Vos and Senate Majority Leader Fitzgerald instructing them to NOT bring these recommended revisions to the public. I have read their statement and am fully aware they have indeed already instructed Agricultural Committee Chairman Howard Marklein and Gary Tauchen “to reject the current revisions and to send them back to DATCP” Once again crooked politics at its best playing out in our Wisconsin government. I believe now more than ever, it is extremely important that DATCP support and trust the credibility of the Technical Expert Committee who advised members on these suggested revisions. To act in any other manner would send a clear message to Wisconsin residents that not only your department, but ACT 235 in general, is inefficient and a complete waste of our taxpayer dollars and other state resources which are allocated for the sole purpose of convening this technical committee and keeping our standards current.
I have also read statements provided by the Dairy Business Association, Wisconsin Farm Bureau, Wisconsin Dairy Alliance, Wisconsin Cattleman, Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, and the list goes on and on. All have joined together to flex their collective might in the hopes of strongly persuade and intimidate members of DATCP to also ignore necessary recommendations and leave the current standards in place. I again applaud your strength of character and integrity and hope you and the DATCP board have the fortitude to do what is right for the state of WI and its residents which your predecessors in 2010 & 2014 did not have the courage to do.
I fully support the proposed revisions to ACTP 51. I am one of the few (and at times the only) citizen that attended the Livestock Siting Technical Expert Committee Meetings. I can say with complete confidence decisions for recommendations where not made lightly nor did they lack a thorough and in depth conversation and discussion by all parties involved. At times the experts openly stated recommendations being made did not go far enough but they were able to reach a FAIR and BALANCED compromise in most areas of discussion. It was also interesting to note that all members were in agreement the ACTP 51 standards originally designed in 2006 were NEVER intended for livestock facilities the size of current CAFOs dotting the WI landscape today. In 2006 standards were created with CAFO facilities expecting to ranging from 1000-2500 animal units, no one at that time envisioned CAFO facilities would be housing in excess of 8-10 thousand animals. The shift in our agricultural industry from small family run farms, which is what many envision when we think of our great WI farming heritage, to the modern day industrial sized mega facilities require a completely different approach to managing, regulating, and monitoring. Farming has changed in the state of Wisconsin and so must our standards and expectations of greater environmental protections.
As an individual who is not new to the rodeo of public hearings and testimony, I imagine testimony has already been presented by the Wisconsin Dairy Alliance, Dairy Business Association, perhaps the Wisconsin Farmers Bureau, all complaining that they did not have a seat at the table to discuss the suggested changes and recommendations. I would like to emphasise clearly, citizens did not have a seat at the table either even though tens of thousands of citizens across this state are impacted by the practices currently allowed under ACTP 51. As a citizen I chose to attend DATCPs Technical Expert Committee meetings, they were publicly noticed and ample time was given to alert anyone who wanted to attend. I was able to speak and chat with members of this committee both during break and during lunch, all individuals on this committee were open to conversation. Nobody denied access to any agricultural group or community organization that wanted to be a part of this process, they simply chose not to attend. I am hearing this common complaint and reading it in various testimonies. This is the same excuse industry parties used in 2010 and 2014 and open records request have this documented, it is the same game being played, same excuses being made.
I have also heard numerous times CAFO operators complaining about the sleepless nights trying to figure out existing regulations and Nutrient Management Planning. I have many farmer friends and I know this concern to be valid and true. But what about the flip side? What about the sleepless nights from of the local residents due to the noise and odor, worrying about if they should stay or if they should move, or if they could even sell their home. Is there water safe for their families to drink? How is this pollution and contamination impacting our children? Science and technology has improved significantly since 2006 with the documented cases of extreme water contamination and other issues associated with CAFO facilities it is undeniable that our current standards are unacceptable and unsafe for the citizens of Wisconsin.
I also hear often how agriculture is already over regulated by the WDNR and Clean Water Act and how the proposed changes to ACTP 51 are unfair. We all know CAFOs currently are self-monitoring and self-reporting entities, how is this fair? Is any facility actually going to volunteer information about breaking their contract or the law? No where in current nutrient management plans (NMPs) is there any reference, regulation, or standard to protect ground or surface waters. Current NMP are for the sole purpose of maximizing crop yield and nothing more, there are no safe included for guards of water protection. Nutrient management plans are not working and need to be improved. A one size fits all approach to agriculture no longer works and ACTP 51 in its current state does NOT reflect current agricultural livestock practices such as addressing the sheer size and scope of the facilities impacting our environment today. It is time our regulations, standards, and expectations change along with the impact from the industry.
In closing, as an individual who attended the Technical Expert Committee meetings, I support the recommendations made as a first step to improvement and know full well the amount of thought and consideration that went into each decision. I encourage the members of DATCP and its acting board to maintain its strength of character and accept these recommendations as solid and justified changes.
Wisconsin Rapids, WI