The Senate Agriculture Committee today continued hearings on SB 501-504 and SB 447 & 448, with an even more packed house than last week. After leaving many who asked to speak uncalled, the Committee adjourned without taking action. Below are limited notes on the testimony given today - others present should supplement and correct these comments! (NOTE: I have taken the liberty of putting some comments in parentheses where a statement made is clearly incorrect -- please don’t mistake those as comments by the person whose comments I am characterizing):
The hearing started with a presentation by Steve Davis of the Natural Resources Conservation
Service (NRCS) who was asked to come answer specific questions
regarding how NRCS standards are set, how NRCS standards fit into the voluntary
Michigan Agricultural Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) and how they fit
into NPDES requirements.
Called next was Dr. Murray
Borrello, Director of the Geology and Environmental Sciences Program at
The next called from Kent Karnemaat of Newaygo County who runs a swine operation which is MAEAP verified and not under permit. Mr. Karnemaat suggested that MAEAP allows an operator to gain the trust of neighbors by showing adherence to environmental standards. He said if he falls out of compliance, MAEAP verification would be removed, and said that MAEAP allows him to improve his operations. Both he and others who testified appear to misunderstand the NPDES permit, and expressed concern that it would set an unchangeable set of requirements as compared to the voluntary standards (note: CAFO NPDES permits require CAFOS to submit annual updates to the comprehensive nutrient management plan or CNMP, if warranted). Mr. Karnemaat was asked about how much he spent to become MAEAP verified and said $15,000.
Marguerite Zachel, 88, of Morenci was called next and started off explaining that she and her husband have farmed their land for the past 54 years. Four years ago a hog CAFO put 4000 hogs directly across the street just 600 feet from their home, between two neighbors as well who were just a couple hundred feet away. She talked about the lack of response from MDA to overwhelming stench, that MDA said this operation was in compliance with the standards. DEQ on the other hand has been working for two years to try to get this operation to stop polluting the air. Mrs. Zachel spoke of trying to process the turkeys they grow for the Thanksgiving holiday and having the workers develop severe headaches from exposure to the air pollution. She discussed the contamination of Bean Creek from the CAFO. As an aside after mention of the Farm Bureau, Mrs. Zachel said her family had been Farm Bureau members and had insurance through Farm Bureau, but five days after her 86 year old husband complained to Farm Bureau about their position in favor of CAFOs the Zachels received a letter revoking their insurance.
Next, Russell Walcott, owner of Valley View Farms of Allendale, discussed his MAEAP verified hog operation. He spoke of the emergency action plan for addressing discharges that may occur. In response to questions from Senator Birkholz regarding what the emergency plan is in the event there is an overflow from a waste lagoon, Mr. Walcott explained the “freeboard” at the top of the lagoon but said he couldn’t imagine a rain situation that would cause an overflow. Senator Gilbert asked if the freeboard was just required for MAEAP or for NPDES permits (the answer is that the freeboard is required for permitted facilities). Mr. Walcott said MAEAP would allow him to add and change the landbase used for his operation and suggested that permits would not allow that (an incorrect assumption).
Testimony on behalf of the Michigan Farmers Union Legislative Director Dr. Sandra Nordmark was read next. The Farmers Union vehemently opposes the passage of the bills, though finds some merit in SB 503’s efforts to regulate manure handlers. In addition the testimony raised the concern that MAEAP verified facilities which had violations would nonetheless continue to be considered verified under MAEAP. Senator Van Woerkom suggested that wasn’t correct (although currently there are MAEAP verified operations that have had in some cases very severe violations of environmental laws).
David Cheney spoke next, a farmer who does not raise livestock but has MAEAP verification for crops.
The remainder of the testifiers
today spoke against the proposed bills. Dorothy
Nordness and Lydia Fischer, both of Ann Arbor, raised concerns about
health impacts, water quality and the intimidation of complainants. Gail Philbin of Grand Rapids spoke of her
involvement with sustainable farming organizations and raised concerns about
removing regulation from the massive amounts of manure produced by CAFOs.
Rita Mitchell of Ann Arbor
The last to speak was former State Representative Ed LaForge from the
The hearing from adjourned with no specific time for the next steps on these bills.
Anne M. Woiwode, State Director, Sierra Club
517-484-2372 fax 517-484-3108 -- firstname.lastname@example.org
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