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E-M:/ Animal Factory Polluter Bills (HB 5711-5716) cause commotion at the Capitol



Folks,

Here’s an update on the status of the Animal Factory Polluter Bills (HB 5711-5716), which caused quite a commotion at the Capitol on May 23. A negotiated package of substitute bills were ultimately sent back to committee on May 24, despite their having had at least partial support of all the major stakeholder groups…

 

 

In March, the administration brought together the primary stakeholders on the issue of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs or animal factories) for negotiations, with hopes of finding middle ground on a controversial package of bills, HB 5711—5716.  This proposed legislation would have eliminated regulatory oversight of polluting CAFOs, making it impossible to hold polluters accountable for the public health threats caused by Michigan’s 200 massive animal factories. Background on the bills can be found below.

 

The Michigan Farm Bureau, the Sierra Club and the Michigan Environmental Council were brought to the table for more than two months of negotiating sessions, facilitated by the Administration. The Administration then began meeting independently with each of the stakeholder organizations to begin to assemble “points of agreement,” with which to move forward.

 

Much progress was made in this first-ever attempt to find common ground between the Sierra Club and the Farm Bureau.  In addition, the Michigan Departments of Agriculture and Environmental Quality spent considerable time together working to find ways to address the issues and problems of CAFOs and their regulation.

 

The outcome of these negotiations was a package of substitute bills that the Sierra Club had hoped would be bi-partisan in nature and gain the support of the legislature. While the Sierra Club still had concerns about two of the substitute bills, the substitutes would have done a number of things that the original package of bills failed to do:

 

  • Give farms (including non-CAFO farms) real incentives for participating in the MI Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP), including extra points for MAEAP farms when competing for grants or loans, extra time for MAEAP verified CAFOs to comply with federally required permits, pre-permitting consultations with the DEQ and faster permitting turnaround for expanding facilities
  • Define MAEAP in statute while bringing MAEAP standards in line with federal and state environmental laws, giving MAEAP verified farms more certainty that their verification could translate into permit requirements and regulatory compliance
  • Assurance for MAEAP farms that discharges of manure that don’t cause a violation of Water Quality Standards would be considered agricultural stormwater discharges.
  • Establishment of a work group on pathogens (bacteria and deadly pathogens are one of the biggest public health threats posed by CAFOs)
  • The substitute also included the development of a booklet summarizing environmental laws for farmers, part of the original package.

 

The Sierra Club still has serious concerns about language in the proposed substitute bills, including:

  • The complete elimination of permit fees for CAFOs, forcing industrial, commercial and municipal permit holders and taxpayers to further subsidize CAFOs
  • The inclusion of language that would have a chilling effect on the ability or willingness of citizens to report pollution discharges to the state
  • An exemption from the Freedom of Information Act for a CAFO’s Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan. The CNMP is the document that CAFO performance is measured against, and if not made available to the public (like all other pollution discharge permits), adequacy and compliance to the permit cannot be adequately assessed.

 

Despite these concerns, the Sierra Club was willing to let the bills move forward with hopes of addressing the remaining issues with floor amendments or amendments in the Senate.  However, republican leaders declined to serve as sponsors for negotiated substitute bills. As a result, the bills were brought forward with democratic sponsors. No action was ultimately taken on the House floor on May 23rd, and on the 24th, the bills were sent back to committee.

 

According to a conversation the Sierra Club had with Rep. Neal Nitz (R-Baroda), Chair of the House Agriculture Committee, he and Rep. John Proos (R-St. Joseph) have developed yet another package of substitute bills that reportedly contain pro-environmental language. The Sierra Club, however, despite offers of assistance and a willingness to review the language, has not been allowed to view these proposed alternative substitutes, nor to our knowledge, have  democrats who are leading on this issue.

 

These events prompt a variety of questions:

 

  • Why did House Republicans decline to move a package of substitute bills that, for the most part, had the support of all stakeholder groups, including the Sierra Club, the Farm Bureau and industry groups including the Michigan Milk Producers, Cattlemen’s Association, Allied Poultry Industry, Agribusiness Association and Pork Producers?
  • If yet another package of substitute bills exist, was the Michigan Farm Bureau negotiating in good faith with the Administration and Sierra Club, or are there efforts afoot to undermine the progress and outcome of this extensive series of negotiations?
  • Are Republican leaders willing to let the first ever negotiations between the major stakeholders on this issue come to nothing by letting the negotiated substitute bills die in committee?

 

The Sierra Club is appreciative of the considerable time devoted to the negotiations by the Administration and staff from the MDA and DEQ, along with Farm Bureau President Wayne Wood, the Farm Bureau Board and representatives from the various agricultural industry groups.

 

The Sierra Club is hopeful that compromise (agreed to by ALL stakeholders) is still possible. We’re disappointed, however that (at least for the moment) it appears that politics may have triumphed over good policy. It would be a shame to let all this progress go to waste.

 

 

 

Background

In February, a package of bills were introduced that would have virtually eliminated the ability of the state to regulate Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs or animal factories). Michigan currently has approximately 200 CAFOs, many of which are causing extreme air and water pollution, driving down nearby property values, causing small farmers to go out of business, and making neighbors sick. (Read the Sierra Club’s position statement on the bills.)

 

The package of bills is being sold by the Michigan Farm Bureau as something that would help all of Michigan’s farmers better protect the environment by encouraging participation in the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP), a voluntary environmental stewardship program. However, the bills have numerous problems.

 

As originally introduced, the bills would violate federal law by exempting CAFOs from federally required permits, make it virtually impossible for the state to hold CAFOs accountable for their pollution discharges, and intimidate and punish citizens who report pollution incidents to the state. In addition, the bills offered no real incentives and no rewards for traditional, non-CAFO farms to join the MAEAP program. The only incentive in the package was regulatory immunity for CAFOs.

 

Despite vigorous opposition by the Sierra Club, residents who live near CAFOs around the state, and the Michigan Farmers Union, the bills passed out of the House Agriculture Committee without change.

 

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Gayle Miller

Legislative Director

Sierra Club

109 E. Grand River Ave.

Lansing, MI 48906

ph - (517) 484-2372

fax - (517) 484-3108

gayle.miller@sierraclub.org

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