Coalition files motion in support of livestock pollution protections

CAFO permit protects health of people, the water they use from manure

On Thursday, a coalition of eight Great Lakes region organizations filed a motion in support of the area’s people, water and wildlife. 

Michigan Environmental Council, Environmental Law & Policy Center and other partners seek to legally intervene in the 2020 Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation general permit contested by Michigan Farm Bureau and livestock commodity groups.

The CAFO permit, administered by the Michigan Department of Great Lakes, Environment, and Energy (or EGLE) is one of the few ways the state can curb excessive nutrient and bacterial pollution stemming from the state’s roughly 270 large livestock farms. The permit is renewed and updated on a five-year basis, with the most recent permit taking effect in April 2020.

Excess nutrients and bacteria annually foul Michigan inland waterways and, more prominently, Lake Erie and Saginaw Bay. Harmful algal blooms are the most visual consequence of contamination, which cause E. coli spikes, pollute drinking water and can kill aquatic plants, aquatic animals and pets. 

The opposing, Farm Bureau-led coalition asserts that the permit to protect the health of the Great Lakes area and its residents would cause economic harm to massive feeding operations. 

“At the end of the day, the responsibility of EGLE is to issue a permit that is rooted in science and protective of water,” said Tom Zimnicki, MEC program director for groundwater, surface water and agriculture. “We believe the permit takes necessary steps toward combating water quality concerns in Michigan. The environmental and conservation organizations involved in this intervention represent hundreds of thousands of Michiganders who depend on clean water to drink, clean with and enjoy.” 

Other coalition members filing the motion are Alliance for the Great Lakes, Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan, Michigan League of Conservation Voters, For Love of Water, Freshwater Future and Food & Water Watch.

“EGLE’s General CAFO Permit is a vital tool for ensuring that industrial-scale animal farms are not just dumping excessive amounts of hazardous waste into Michigan’s waters,” said Margrethe Kearney, senior attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center, who represents the coalition of intervenors.  “The permit conditions being challenged do not threaten our state’s agricultural heritage. Rather, they serve to protect our most precious natural resource: the water that we drink, the rivers and streams where we fish, and the aquatic environment where we play.” 

Many members of the coalition in support of the permit previously submitted CAFO permit policy suggestions to EGLE prior to the permit’s adoption. 

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