LSP Applauds MN Court of Appeals Decision Requiring Further Environmental Review of Proposed Massive Winona County Dairy Expansion

LEWISTON, Minn. — The Land Stewardship Project (LSP) applauds this week’s decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals to require a reevaluation of a permit that could create one of the largest factory dairy farms in the state. On Oct. 14, the court ordered the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to put a permit on hold for an expansion proposed by Daley Farms of Lewiston LLP.

The court ruled that the agency did not consider the effects of greenhouse gas emissions when it failed in January to require an in-depth Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Daley expansion, which would increase the number of dairy cows it houses by 2,900, making for a total of over 4,600 cows, or 5,967 animal units. This would make Daley Farms one of the largest dairy operations in the state; over 96 percent of dairy farms in Minnesota are 500 cows or fewer.

Such an expansion requires a variance from Winona County in order to exceed its animal unit cap of 1,500. However, the county denied the request for a variance earlier this year because it did not meet the legal requirements for a variance. Without this variance, the project cannot proceed.

This proposal has been highly controversial since it was announced, with LSP members, other Winona County rural residents, and scientific experts expressing strong concerns about the impact it would have on water, soil, and air quality. The proposed factory dairy expansion’s use of 92 million gallons of the area’s groundwater per year would be three times the annual average water consumption of the nearby city of Lewiston. The proposed expansion’s generation of 46 million gallons of liquid manure annually threatens groundwater in Minnesota’s vulnerable karst area, which is composed of porous limestone that creates sinkholes and disappearing springs. This geology can allow surface pollution to enter the groundwater in a matter of hours. As a result, this part of the state has long had problems with groundwater pollution.

The Land Stewardship Project, represented by the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA) which also represented itself, appealed the MPCA’s decision to not require an EIS and to issue a permit on the grounds that there were numerous legal and procedural errors made by the MPCA through its environmental review process. When the Minnesota Court of Appeals overturned the MPCA’s negative declaration for an EIS, it was recognizing that a public agency must hold factory farms accountable to the land and rural communities. It is also recognizing the climate change implications of concentrating thousands of cows in one place, where the manure they produce would be stored in an earthen-sided lagoon. If Daley Farms was allowed to go ahead with its expansion, it would be the 43rd largest greenhouse-gas emitter in the state, according to court documents filed by the MCEA. The court was correct in noting that the MPCA was remiss in not considering greenhouse-gas emissions when it conducted its environmental review. As the court noted, the MPCA routinely considers greenhouse-gas emissions in its environmental reviews of other projects.

Finally, the court’s decision shines the spotlight on a critical issue: MPCA staff have never recommended an EIS on a large factory farm. One was ordered by the now disbanded MPCA Citizens' Board over staff objections, and two have been ordered through court orders. The testimony and documentation related to the review of Daley Farms’ proposal yet again proves that not only did the MPCA fail to fulfill its mission as an environmental agency when it did not consider greenhouse-gas emissions, but it also failed to serve the public good when it declined, yet again, to order an EIS on a major producer of liquid manure in an environmentally fragile area.