Rural Residents: MPCA Ignores Environmental Science & Policy in Failing to Order an EIS for Mega-Dairy

LEWISTON, Minn. — The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has ignored sound environmental science and policy by failing to order an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for a major dairy expansion project near Lewiston, say rural residents. The MPCA announced today it would issue a feedlot permit for Daley Farms’ proposal to expand its operation by 3,000 cows. In October, the Minnesota Court of Appeals revoked the permit for Daley Farms to expand, saying the MPCA had failed to consider greenhouse gas emissions in its initial environmental review of the project. The MPCA has spent the past several months preparing a supplemental Environmental Assessment Worksheet on the proposal.

Tim Ahrens, who lives near Altura in Winona County, expressed frustration with a system that consistently prioritizes economic concerns over protection of the environment and health, especially in rural areas.

“Not only does the MPCA fail to refute the scientific, logical, and ethical necessity of ordering an EIS for this project, they dismiss an outcry from the neighborhood and across the state,” he said. “Minnesotans want, at the very least, factory farms to be evaluated using the process the law both requires and provides.”

If the mega-dairy, which is already one of the largest in the state, was to expand, it would exceed Winona County’s animal unit cap of 1,500 by nearly four times, increasing liquid waste production to 46 million gallons per year and water consumption to 92 million gallons annually. The industrial-scale feedlot doesn’t meet criteria for a Winona County permit, so at present, the state permit will not allow the project to move forward.

The Minnesota Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) gives the MPCA the power and responsibility through state statutes 4410 and 116D to order the most in-depth environmental study — an EIS — when the “potential for significant environmental effects” is apparent, especially in locations where the quality of land, water, and air are especially vulnerable to, or already compromised by, pollutants. Land Stewardship Project members throughout the state have asked MPCA Commissioner Laura Bishop to reform the agency regulatory system by directing staff to use that MEPA power and authority to fulfill its mission "to protect and improve the environment and human health" for the benefit of rural residents, as well as all Minnesotans.

Retired La Crescent, Minn., dairy farmer Ken Tschumper is concerned that the MPCA isn’t doing its job to prevent excessive nitrate pollution in the karst geology of southeastern Minnesota.

“There are so many unanswered questions, especially about the build-up of nitrates in the ground, and these issues are not just going to go away,” he said. “If this project doesn’t warrant an EIS, what does? I don’t think the MPCA did its job here.”

Nitrate levels of 10 milligrams per liter and above render well water unsafe for consumption, according to the federal health standard. Throughout southeastern Minnesota’s karst region, private well owners struggle with nitrates and pollutants such as atrazine appearing in their drinking water. Testing of private wells by state agencies in Winona County and throughout southeastern Minnesota’s karst region show levels of nitrates in drinking water high enough to pose health risks. The Minnesota Department of Health reports that 46% of the wells in Utica Township, where the expansion is proposed, test for nitrates over the 10mg/L maximum allowable for safe consumption. Testing of Karen and Richard Ahrens’ well near Lewiston last summer showed a nitrate level of 13.33 milligrams per liter.

“Our family farm in Dodge County is encircled by 11 swine factory farms in a three-mile radius,” said Sonja Trom Eayrs. “I have requested assistance from the MPCA due to dangerous air emissions and improper manure management by neighboring factory farms which place my family and others at risk. Regulatory oversight of factory farms by the MPCA is non-existent. Where are citizens supposed to turn for help if the regulators refuse to regulate and enforce the rules?”

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