Environmental Groups File Motion in Dairy Business Association Lawsuit

On Oct. 2 a half-dozen environmental groups filed a motion to intervene in the July 31 Dairy Business Association (DBA) lawsuit against the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

“If this lawsuit is successful, it would be a very big deal,” said Scott Laeser, water quality specialist at Clean Wisconsin. “It should be concerning to anyone who cares about clean water in Wisconsin. Period. That is fundamentally why we decided to intervene.”

Joining Clean Wisconsin in the motion are the Clean Water Action Council, Friends of the Central Sands, Midwest Environmental Advocates, Milwaukee Riverkeeper and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.

“The bottom line is that the suit includes a suggestion to undermine and blow up the permitting program,” Laeser said of the DBA’s lawsuit. “That is what we are concerned about. It seems that there would be a clear, more straightforward way to resolve these other issues that pertain to guidance the DNR has issued besides this potential legal threat to undermine the entire permitting process.”

The DBA had no comment on the motion to intervene, but in an August Pulse interview, DBA President Mike North insisted the lawsuit is about process and not an attack on any of the environmental regulations set for the industry. He referred to the lawsuit as a last-ditch effort after what he termed was more than five years of “diplomacy” with the DNR regarding the rulemaking process.

“This isn’t about the specifics of guidance on one environmental issue. This is a violation of the process,” North said. “So I think it’s very important that it is aimed at the process not at the regulation.”

“We consider this a necessary intervention to defend Wisconsin’s water pollution rules,” Laeser said about the motion to intervene. “This permitting program is a necessary part of DNR’s activities to protect our surface water and groundwater. It’s been in place for quite a while. This lawsuit, as far as we can see, could upend it if successful.”

Laeser said the timing of the DBA’s lawsuit is particularly unfortunate, coming as it did after “a lot of productive dialogue and work over the last year and half with agencies, with environmental groups, with agriculture groups to try to come up with some sensible rules to address the groundwater crisis in northeast Wisconsin.”

“We’ve seen the DNR bend to the wishes of big agriculture in other cases,” said Midwest Environmental Advocates (MEA) staff attorney Sarah Geers in a press release on their involvement in the motion to intervene. “We’re intervening on behalf of these organizations and people across the state to ensure that it doesn’t happen here, especially when we’ve worked hard to hold the line on agricultural pollution. Wisconsin’s environmental protections in state pollution permitting must be zealously defended.”

“The DBA’s lawsuit contradicts their statements in DNR groundwater protection workgroups that their members are partners in protecting the waters of Wisconsin,” said President and Executive Director of the Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin, Dean Hoegger, in the same statement from MEA. “Their lawsuit is disappointing in light of their efforts to convince the public they are a good partner in protecting Wisconsin waters.”

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