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E-M:/ DEQ CAFO Permit Working Group -- Environmental Petitioners likely to be Shut Out

Enviro-Mich message from "Anne Woiwode" <anne.woiwode@sierraclub.org>


As early as tomorrow the Michigan DEQ is expected to announce the make up of
the working group to craft NPDES permits for concentrated animal feeding
operations (CAFOs) in Michigan.  At this moment, however, it looks like a
virtual certainty that the appointees will:

a) exclude representation from the environmental petitioners whose work
pressed USEPA to  demand the state come into compliance with the Clean WAter
Act and require a permit system;

b)exclude representation from any other organization that supports the
position of the petitioners; and

c) exclude representation from any environmental or conservation
organization knowledgable enough about this issue to contribute in a
meaningful way to shaping the draft permit.*

The decision to shut out the petitioners (Michigan Environmental Council,
Michigan Land Use Institute and the Sierra Club), according to distinct,
reliable sources, came directly out of the DEQ Director's office.

One has to question the wisdom of such a strategy by the Executive Office of
the DEQ.  The Michigan Farm Bureau and livestock associations actually
forced the DEQ Director in January to agree to develop a general permit for
CAFOs, not because they like it but because they understand the drastic
consequences that could potentially arise from a failure to follow the law.
While the working group process is only the first stage of developing a
general permit for CAFOS in the state (a public comment period is required),
a decision to shut out those who actually know the law and would advocate
the environmental position virtually guarantees that this process will
deteriorate, instead of rising to the level that the MI Farm Bureau set in
its own internal deliberations.

Believe me it is not my normal practice to praise the Michigan Farm Bureau,
as will be evident to anyone who has followed this issue.  And I can
guarantee we will disagree, almost assuredly vehemently, with the Farm
Bureau over the particulars of what should go into this general permit.  But
we saw the MI Farm Bureau actually not only change its position on permits
to conform with the law, but also propose a permitting process that may go
beyond the bare minimum.

It is important to note, however, that the EPA has not provided a final
response to the petition to withdraw Michigan's authority to run the NPDES
program, and the state's failure to live up to its promises will throw open
again the possibility that the state's program will be at risk of being
withdrawn.  After three months, the state has not begun the "proactive
inspections" it committed to in its January 14th letter to EPA, and at this
moment the Director's personal agenda seems to be telegraphing a strategy
destined to destroy the progress made by MI Farm Bureau and others in the
agricultural community that are willing to follow the law.

One has the impression that an "apres moi, le deluge" stance by the Director
has been adopted, that perhaps reflects the true dangers of a genuine,
unrooted lame duck administrator in the waning months of his administration.
In January we saw Mr. Harding dig in his heels and refuse to meet the EPA's
deadline for coming into compliance with the mandatory permitting
requirements for CAFOs, bending only after the major agricultural interests
involved demanded that he come to his senses. Now, we again have a show of
stubborness that defies good sense.  A working group does not have authority
to force the Director to adopt a particular proposal, and in fact a well
designed, balanced and informed working group has the potential to actually
develop a consensus recommendation that will avoid the kinds of public
outcry, litigation, and other challenges that will keep the threat of
withdrawal posed by the still outstanding petition alive.

As always in this kind of situation, I hope I am wrong -- I would gladly
welcome an enlightened announcement tomorrow or shortly thereafter that
shows leadership instead of pettiness, but if experience is a predictor, we
are much more likely instead to see an announcement that gloats at the
ability to shut out the knowledgable environmentalists from the process.

* Note:  We have learned that MUCC will be asked to serve on the working
group.  MUCC has taken a position in opposition to requiring CAFOs to have
NPDES permits, which is, at this point, a less environmental position than
that of the Michigan Farm Bureau, which decided last fall to support a
general permit system under the Clean Water Act for CAFOs in Michigan.  A
phone request to the MDEQ last week asking for identification of other
groups being invited to join the working group was denied, despite an
announcement of at least a partial list made by the MDEQ official heading
the working group process at a lobby day for Michigan Townships Association
on March 12th.

Anne Woiwode
Anne Woiwode, Staff Director, Sierra Club Mackinac Chapter
109 East Grand River Avenue, Lansing, Michigan 48906
517-484-2372; fax 517-484-3108  anne.woiwode@sierraclub.org
visit the Mackinac Chapter on the web at http:\\michigan.sierraclub.org

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