Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Political Environment

When I originally got involved in environmental protection, I had no idea that it would also involve politics. I mean, who would think that our health and environment would be a political issue? Everyone is interested in a clean environment, it's something we all agree on, right? Clean water, air and soil are basic human needs, and protecting these resources should be top priority. Wow, was I in for an education. My first bout with environmental protection being a political issue had to do with Wisconsin's tipping fees. These are the fees that garbage haulers pay to dump their trash in our state. Wisconsin's fees are, and have been for years, ridiculously low in comparison to our neighboring states - making it a no-brainer for those who don't live here, to deposit their trash here - on the cheap. There are so many screwy arguments in favor of this policy (most based on money), but on the common sense level, why on earth would we want to become the Midwest's dumping grounds? I was baffled to read that 99% of republican assemblyman in 2007 voted NOT to raise our tipping fees - which would have basically made it less attractive for other states to dump here. Against it? What? As a resident of Janesville, our landfill accepted hundreds of thousands of tons of other people's trash before I could finally convince our local officials and City Council that this issue is NOT just about the money. Local residents should get a choice in the matter - do we want to pay for our own landfill, or let others dump, potentially toxic materials, in our backyard so we wouldn't have to pay a buck a week for pick up? I emailed each and every Assemblyman, and received back 3 responses. Two said their decision was based on income for local economies that wanted to "sell" their landfill space, and the third stated that he didn't have to talk to me because I was not his constituent. NOT HIS CONSTITUENT? Decisions made by every single Assemblyman and Senator affect every single resident of the State of Wisconsin.
In the newest battle concerning garbage, Governor Scott Walker has de-funded Cities that offer curbside recycling programs. Where these communities used to receive subsidies to offset costs to recycle according to the State of Wisconsin's recycling law, they will now be forced to re-think their curbside programs. On top of that, the DNR Secretary that Walker appointed has a background in building and development, NOT in natural resources management. WHAT? A person put in charge of protecting our environment that has no knowledge or experience in natural resources management? "I wanted someone with a chamber of commerce mentality" Walker stated. The chamber of commerce specifically works with businesses, and the DNR works to protect the environment, most of the time, from businesses.
There is also an effort to defund the PACE program for farmland preservation, even with American farmers having to produce more and more food to feed the growing world - the efforts will be centered on bringing manufacturing to our lands, instead of preserving the soils for farming.
On a national level, the US House of Representatives has passed budget cuts for the EPA by one third. Among other things, the proposed cuts could prevent the protection of the public from the effects of mountaintop mining, prevent the public from reviewing offshore drilling permits, allow oil companies to get exemptions to the Clean Air Act when drilling in the Arctic, and prevent the protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. "This proposal nearly abolishes the EPA. It would jeopardize the safety and quality of our air, water and public lands for generations to come," said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group.
Further, cuts to the FDA will not assure the safety of meats and monitor foreign-produced food arriving at our ports. Programs for federal meat inspection, international food safety inspection and state food safety inspection will be hard hit. (remember my article about "country of origin"?)
There are many, like me, that didn't want to get involved in politics. But it turns out, that the government makes the minimum rules that companies have to follow to protect our health and environment. Sure, once in awhile you will run across a company that does the right thing, regardless of cost to shareholders or cuts into profits, but these incidents are few and far between. It's up to us to demand that our government create laws that protect this fragile planet. If we poison all the water, build on all of the soils, and contaminate the air, then where is it that people think we are going next?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

"Recycling mandate eliminated in budget" - JSOnline

Many years ago, when I first got involved with local environmental issues, my focus was on development - or overdevelopment of our City, and protection of our most fertile farmlands that surround Janesville. The other issue that caught my eye back in 2007, was allowing outside garbage haulers to bring trash into our City's landfill for a discounted price. Along those same lines, cutting down on trash by stepping up our recycling program became another mission.

Janesville was one of the first communities in Wisconsin to offer a curbside recycling program for residents. Recycling in Wisconsin has been mandatory for close to 25 years, and if you look at the materials economy, recycling is helping to save our planet by reusing natural resources instead of trashing and extracting. Apparently Scott Walker has not seen "The Story of Stuff". (at

I will be writing more on this subject in the next few days. Right now I am so sick to my stomach that I can barely finish this post.

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "Gov. Scott Walker's two-year budget would take the unprecedented step of eliminating a state requirement that communities operate recycling programs.
Walker's budget proposal would also eliminate all state subsidies paid to local units of government to pay for recycling, and instead use those proceeds to finance a state economic development fund.
The proposal is the biggest change to the state's recycling program since recycling of items like aluminum cans and newspapers were required starting in 1995.
Local communities could still operate recycling programs, under Walker's plan. But they would have to operate the programs without a state subsidy at a time when Walker is proposing sharp cuts in state aid to localities.
The City of West Bend receives a state payment of around $130,000 to offset its costs of providing a program to recycle cans, bottles, cardboard and other materials, City Administrator Dennis Melvin said. Collecting the material instead of putting it in trash cans also reduces the city's landfill costs each year, he said.
Total cost of the city's recycling effort is $629,070 for 2011 but that includes collecting leaves, brush and used motor oil. A contract for curbside recyclables pickup alone - excluding leaves and brush - will cost West Bend $388,217 in 2011, according to budget documents.
State figures show that in 2010, local units of government spent about $110 million on recycling. Grants from the state totaled $29.3 million, or about 27% of the cost.
In 2009, 99% of all Wisconsin communities with populations of 5,000 or more had curbside or drop-off recycling programs."

Friday, February 11, 2011

Powerful Messages for Unnatural Times - Webinars to Change the World

The Natural Step USA with Town and Country RC&D are offering a great distance learning opportunity this year. Register now for, 
Powerful Messages for Unnatural Times - Webinars to Change the World CM I 6
Begins February 17th 1:00-2:00pm central standard time
Register now! 
Behind every successful endeavor, there is a well-planned process. And like every other initiative your organization will undertake, from supply chain processes to marketing efforts, good sustainability practices require good planning, a powerful message and skills to create motivated teams and  effect change.
Sustainability champions, we've listened to you. Join us for our 2011 webinar series - interact with six amazing and motivational leaders in the industry. You will learn from their successes (and failures) on topics like powerful messaging tactics, community transformation catalysts and ways to build group commitment and energy.
Our speakers will be:
Bob Doppelt, Executive Director, The Resource Innovation Group
Sarah James, Co-Director, Institute for Ecomunicipality Education and Assistance
Anna Fahey, Communications Strategist, Sightline Institute
John Ikerd, Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics, University of Missouri
Bob Pavlik, Executive Director, High Wind Foundation and Director, Institute for the Transformation of Learning, Marquette University
Jeff Leinaweaver, Natural Step Associate and Founder of Global Zen
See full series description here
Series cost: $60 General admission, $48 TNS Members amd Town and County RC&D Members
This webinar series also sponsored by Town and Country RC&D

For more information, contact:
Beth Gehred
Town and Country RC&D
134B West Rockwell Street
Jefferson, WI 53549

Thursday, February 10, 2011


From Bob Wagner, American Farmland Trust

Those are stark words, but they’re true. A bill (LRB-1135/2) being circulated for co-sponsors by state Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, and state Rep. Andre Jacque, R-Bellevue, seeks to eliminate both the Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement program and the conversion fee for having land rezoned out of a farmland preservation zoning district.
Both are key sections of the Working Lands Initiative passed by the Legislature in 2009. They were championed by the late Rod Nilsestuen, who was secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
We are monitoring this bill and plan to mount robust opposition. What can you do right now?
  1. Contact your legislators and tell them NOT to sign on as sponsors to LRB-1135/2.
  2. Inform them that a broad coalition of rural interests plans to fight this effort to dismantle farmland protection in Wisconsin.
A few facts:
PACE is a voluntary program and a key tool in efforts to protect strategically targeted Wisconsin farmland. It is currently funded by state bonding.
Conversion fees are intended to help fund the program in the future. Most of the opposition to the conversion fee comes from developers and Realtors, not farmers or farm groups. Conversion fees are not new.  There has always been a fee associated with rezoning land out of exclusive ag zoning. 
Conversion to other uses has taken a huge toll on Wisconsin’s best farmland. The state ranks 10th in the nation in prime farmland converted to other uses between 1982-07 (288,000 acres) and 4th in the nation from the years 2002-07. In the years 1982-2007, Wisconsin lost 520,500 acres of agricultural land converted to other uses. (USDA NRCS Natural Resources Inventory)
PACE programs are effective tools to help protect prime farmland, and studies show that they in no way inhibit development in states where they are in place. (American Farmland Trust)
For more information:
Bill Berry, American Farmland Trust/Protecting Wisconsin’s Farm and Forest Lands
1973 Strongs Ave.
Stevens Point, WI 54481

Bob Wagner
Senior Policy and Program Advisor
American Farmland Trust
1 Short Street
Northampton, MA 01060
413-586-9330, Ext. 12

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Letter to the DNR concerning their decision to nix the Environmental Impact Statement for the Rock Prairie Mega Dairy...

February 4, 2011 VIA EMAIL TO: Mr. Mark Cain
3911 Fish Hatchery Road
Fitchburg, WI
Agricultural Runoff Management Specialist
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Re: Environmental Analysis for Rock Prairie Dairy, LLC Dear Mr. Cain,
Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments on the Environmental Analysis and Decision on the Need for an Environmental Impact Statement ("EA") prepared by the Department of Natural Resources ("Department" or "DNR") to support the Department‟s various actions related to the issuance of a Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System ("WPDES") permit to Rock Prairie Dairy, LLC. Midwest Environmental Advocates submits these comments on behalf of Friends of Rock Prairie whose objective is to protect the natural environment in Rock County and to preserve their quality of life.
I. DNR’s Failure to Follow Proper WEPA Procedure The Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act, Wis. Stat. § 1.11(2)(c) (WEPA), requires that state agencies be informed of, and disclose to the public, environmental impacts of any major actions that significantly affect the human environment. WEPA is modeled after its federal counterpart, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the impact statement is to follow guidelines that have been developed by the United States Council on Environmental Quality under NEPA, which include consideration of the environmental impact of the facility as well as alternatives.1 In essence, WEPA requires that DNR take a „hard look‟ at the problem, as opposed to [making] bald conclusions, unaided by preliminary investigation, identify all relevant areas of environmental concern, and finally, make a convincing case that the impact is insignificant should it choose not to prepare an EIS.2 The threshold decision whether an EIS should be prepared is one that WEPA imposes upon agencies because the legislature has determined it to be necessary for the public welfare.3 It must take the initiative to consider environmental values, and in this case, DNR must prepare an EIS to comply with the spirit of WEPA. In the event that DNR does not decide to prepare an EIS, the test of reasonableness should be applied to review a negative threshold decision under WEPA.4 1 Wisconsin‟s Environmental Decade v. Public Service Commission, 256 N.W.2d 149, 154 (1977).
Id. at 156. 3 Id. at 155. 4 Id. at 156. 2 As DNR will see in the following discussion, a negative decision regarding the preparation of an EIS would be unreasonable because the Rock Prairie Dairy clearly has the potential to cause significant adverse effects on the environment. Neither the applicant nor DNR could reasonably take the position that the impacts of this proposal are insignificant or that the concerns raised about them are frivolous; therefore, DNR would not be fulfilling its duty under WEPA unless it prepares an EIS.
The following necessary considerations do not appear in the EA as released for Rock Prairie Dairy. We therefore urge the DNR to expand its environmental review and prepare a full Environmental Impact Statement ("EIS") due to the high degree of environmental risk posed by the Dairy.
There are historic groundwater contamination problems prevalent throughout Rock County. As the EA states, in 2009, 32% of private wells tested for nitrates exceeded the ten parts per million enforcement standard.5
5 Rock Prairie Dairy, LLC Draft EA at 7.
6 Wis. Admin. Code § NR 150.03(8)(i)(2).
Id. at § NR 150.20(1)(c)(3); Larsen v. Munz Corp., 167 Wis. 2d 583, 593 (1992). Nitrogen is currently reaching groundwater in the area of the Rock Prairie Dairy and there is no indication that this problem will not be exacerbated by the siting of the dairy. Testing of a well one mile east of the proposed facility, and immediately adjacent to a proposed pivot irrigation point, has already shown an increase in Nitrate concentrations during the last 36 years, which indicates that nitrogen from existing fertilizer applications is already reaching groundwater.
DNR has not considered a reasonable range of alternatives to the project as proposed, such as: (1) on-site wastewater treatment, (2) use of a manure digester (3) limitation of manure spreading on fields with high nitrate levels and fields where well testing has shown high nitrate concentrations; (4) reduction in the size of the operation; and (5) the use of sustainable dairy practices such as managed grazing.
DNR has not thoroughly considered cumulative impacts, including future growth of the Rock Prairie, LLC and future expected CAFO operations in the region, and an exploration of other projects that are taking place in the county;
DNR has not given a full and fair consideration of the CAFO‟s impacts to public health, nearby property values, and vehicle traffic.
The EA for Rock Prairie, LLC is associated with the issuance of a WPDES permit, listed as a "Type II" action under the Department‟s WEPA regulations.
6 Thus the DNR must prepare an EA, and must then prepare a full EIS if it finds, based on the EA, that the proposal is a "major action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment."7 The threshold determination of whether an EIS is required "occupies a 3 critical position within the context of WEPA's operation. A negative determination at the initial stage may eliminate to a significant degree environmental consideration by the agency and may curtail much of the input, which an EIS is designed to foster, of other governmental agencies and the public in the agency's decision process."8 8 Wisconsin's Environmental Decade, Inc. v. Public Service Com., 79 Wis. 2d 409, 419 (1977) ("WED III"). 10 Rock Prairie Dairy, LLC Draft EA at 2.
Munz Corp., 167 Wis. 2d at 603. 12 See Wis. Admin. Code § NR 150.03(8)(i)2.a.
13 Id. at § NR 150.03(2).
See id. at § NR 150.20(c) A. DNR must consider all environmental impacts of the proposal, not just those impacts that relate directly to its WPDES permitting authority. Although the necessity for environmental review under WEPA derives primarily from the DNR‟s WPDES permitting obligations, the DNR must consider all environmental impacts associated with the Rock Prairie Dairy, and cannot limit its analysis to impacts related only to its WPDES permitting decision. As explained in further detail below, the EA fails to fully consider these critical impacts, including those stemming from visual impairments, noise and dust, truck traffic, groundwater depletion, and odor.
First, as the EA acknowledges, there are at least fourteen DNR authorities relating to the construction and operation of Rock Prairie Dairy, including high capacity well approval; construction site stormwater permitting; abatement of objectionable odors; and emissions of hazardous air pollutants.
10 These various agency approvals and authorities, when combined with the primary DNR role of issuing the CAFO WPDES permit under Wis. Stat. § 283.31, indicate that a full EIS is required. The action types identified in DNR regulations are merely a guide; they do not "purport to result in an exhaustive, all-inclusive list applicable to every possible agency action" or combination of actions.11 Issuance of the WPDES Permit alone is a Tier 2 action under WEPA,
Second, nothing in WEPA or its regulations permit the agency to limit its review to those environmental impacts over which the DNR has some regulatory power or administrative responsibility. More appropriately, the DNR should carefully analyze
12 meaning that it has "the potential to cause significant environmental effects and may involve unresolved conflicts in the use of available resources."13 Thus in some cases, where DNR determines that it would significantly affect the quality of the human environment, merely issuing a WPDES permit could require the DNR to prepare an EIS.14 Where, as in this case, the issuance of a new WPDES permit is coupled with and compounded by a myriad of significant DNR reviews and approvals, the combined agency involvement pushes the DNR actions into Type I territory. all of the possible environmental impacts stemming from the agency action – which, in this 4 case, means reviewing all of the possible environmental impacts of the construction and operation of Rock Prairie Dairy. "The environmental analysis shall include information which is important to evaluating reasonably foreseeable significant adverse impacts on the human environment[.]"15 Although the primary impacts of the agency decision will stem from the issuance of the WPDES permit, there will be broad impacts in a number of areas both within and without the Department’s authority that must be addressed. 15 Wis. Admin. Code § NR 150.22(1)(e).
Save Our Sonoran, Inc. v. Flowers, 381 F.3d 905, 913 (9th Cir. 2004). 17 Rock Prairie Dairy, LLC EA at 7.
Id. 19 Id. at 5. 20 Id. at 13. Finally, WEPA compels the DNR to review all of the possible impacts resulting from or related to the WPDES permitting decision, because
In several instances, the EA explicitly states that the DNR did not include the totality of the environmental impacts as part of its review process. For instance:
"No specific information has been provided on the existing concentrations of Nitrate in groundwater in the area of the proposed facility."17
"Additional information on the concentration of nitrogen in the liquid manure and the anticipated uptake potential of the crops would be needed to fully evaluate the potential for the continued increase in nitrate concentration in drinking water in the area."
without the permit the operation of Rock Prairie Dairy could not proceed as planned. Thus the DNR‟s permit action is a central component of the project‟s implementation. With the Department‟s issuance of various permits and approvals to Rock Prairie Dairy, LLC this is a situation "where the environmental consequences of the larger project are essentially the products of the [DNR‟s] permit action."16 Thus the environmental review under WEPA must address all impacts, not merely those that fall under the Department‟s regulatory authority. 18 "It is unclear how much ammonia (and other air pollutants) will be volatized with the center pivot irrigation system proposed, but it is expected that significantly larger ammonia losses may be associated with this practice when compared to direct injection techniques."19 "It is difficult to assess the extent or existence of [livestock operation] impacts on property values and these impacts are beyond the regulatory authority of the Department."20 The DNR has an obligation to consider all of the environmental impacts which may flow from its permitting and approval decisions. Once the Department widens its review to include all impacts, it will become apparent that those impacts will be significant, justifying a full EIS. 5  
B. DNR must evaluate a reasonable range of alternatives as part of its environmental analysis under WEPA. DNR must include in its review "[a]n evaluation of alternatives to the proposal, including a rigorous exploration and objective evaluation of the environmental impacts of all reasonable alternatives, particularly those that might avoid all or some of the adverse environmental effects of the proposed action."21 We identified numerous alternatives the DNR could consider for Rock Prairie Dairy, including: 21 Wis. Admin. Code NR § 150.22.
22 Rock Prairie Dairy, LLC EA at 17-18.
23 Wis. Admin.
Code § NR 150.22(2)(e). On-site wastewater treatment that drastically reduces the amount and concentration of bacteria, nutrients, antibiotics, and other pollutants in the manure and process wastewater;
Use of an anaerobic digester to control odor and gaseous emissions and make the waste more manageable, coupled with additional necessary treatment of the remaining nutrients and other pollutants;
Reduction in the size of the operation in order to reduce the quantity of wastewater left untreated on-site and/or spread on the vulnerable farmlands around Rock Prairie Dairy;
Use of sustainable, non-confined styles of livestock agriculture that are proven to reduce environmental impacts, improve public health and add value to the local community.
Unfortunately, the Department failed to fully consider reasonable alternatives as part of the Rock Prairie EA. In its revised analysis, we urge the DNR to expand the alternatives analysis so that it is meaningful and reflective of WEPA‟s requirements.
The EA provides a scant six paragraphs of alternatives analysis.
22 While the analysis recognizes Rock Prairie‟s consideration of the no-build alternative and the expansion of existing facilities alternative, there is no analysis of the environmental impacts or benefits associated with each. The no-build alternative, for instance, speaks only of the asserted (but unsubstantiated) lack of "economic development, employment opportunities, or tax revenue" should that alternative be pursued. This plainly falls short of the requirement of WEPA to include an "evaluation of the alternatives to the proposal, including a rigorous exploration and objective evaluation of the environmental impacts of all reasonable alternatives, particularly those that might avoid all or some of the adverse environmental effects of the proposed action."23 6  
C. The EA does not contain sufficient analysis of the cumulative effects of similar or related actions that are reasonably foreseeable. DNR regulations require the WEPA analysis to include consideration of "[t]he extent of cumulative effects of repeated actions of the same type . . . that can be reasonably anticipated and that would compound impacts."24 The two paragraph discussion found in the EA dismisses this important step and is insufficient to provide the public with adequate environmental review. 24 NR § 150.22(2)(a)(2). 25 Rock Prairie Dairy, LLC Draft EA at 14. There is little information under this section of the EA. Stating "the department is not aware of any additional projects of this type in the same geographic area such that the availability of land for manure application would be inadequate,"
The cumulative effects of two new high-capacity wells at the Dairy, when considered in conjunction with existing and reasonably foreseeable demands on the underlying aquifer;
The cumulative effects of the 9,500 truck loads anticipated to travel to and from Rock Prairie Dairy each year, when combined with present and future vehicle traffic.
The cumulative effects of planned or anticipated new livestock operations on water quality, air quality, groundwater supplies, etc.
25 is not enough to insure there will be no cumulative impacts from this CAFO. The Department must also consider the impacts of other major projects in the area that could also impact the environment and the following cumulative impacts. We urge the Department to produce an adequate cumulative effects analysis as part of an EIS for Rock Prairie Dairy that analyzes, among other things: II. Specific Environmental Impacts Discussed in the EA In several instances, the specific environmental impacts addressed by the EA fall short of the "hard look" required by WEPA. In these substantive areas the DNR should deepen its analysis of the known and reasonably foreseeable cumulative impacts of the Rock Prairie Dairy, LLC. A. DNR has failed to adequately assess the water quality impacts from Rock Prairie Dairy’s proposed manure handling and disposal practices. The Draft Rock River Basin TMDL has been made available for public comment. This Draft TMDL outlines the allocations of phosphorus loading reductions necessary for the water bodies of the Rock River Basin to attain and maintain Wisconsin water quality standards as required by the Clean Water Act and Federal Regulations. In outlining the characteristics of the Rock River Basin, the Draft TMDL states, "The primary sources of phosphorus in Wisconsin soils are livestock manures and synthetic fertilizers. In many 7 parts of the Rock River Basin, decades of manure spreading associated with dairy farming has added phosphorus to the soil faster than it can be used by crops. Even where current inputs and outputs are balanced through nutrient management, this accumulated store of phosphorus can cause high concentrations of run-off."26 This factor, among others, has prompted the DNR to propose phosphorus load reductions in the three Rock River Basin reaches in which the Rock Prairie Dairy will be spreading manure. In Reach 81, the DNR is proposing a 33% reduction in phosphorus loading from the baseline load. In Reach 72, the DNR is proposing a 29% reduction in phosphorus from the baseline load, and in Reach 80, a 49% reduction in phosphorus from the baseline load. 27 26 Draft TMDL, p.23, emphasis added.
Draft TMDL, p. 94 – Appendix H. 28 Rock Prairie Dairy LLC Draft EA, p. 10.
Id. at 10-11 The Rock Prairie Dairy will be one of the largest manure storage systems in Wisconsin and is proposing to spread 73,753,578 gallons of manure per year in areas contained in the Rock River Basin. The EA fails to address the two aspects of the Draft TMDL noted above. While the EA does note that the use of chemical fertilizer will be reduced, it posits this will occur because it will be replaced with manure fertilizer. The EA states, "In many instances, the net nutrient application will not change, only the type of fertilizer used.
Additionally, Federal regulations require an assessment of a new pollutant discharger before a PDES permit may be issued. Under 40 C.F.R. § 122.4(i), new NPDES permits may not be issued to new pollutant dischargers if the discharge from the operation will contribute to the violation of water quality standards. The regulation does not look to whether or not the discharge will enter 303(d) impaired waters, as the EA does, but instead asks if water quality standards will be met or not. With the addition of the Rock Prairie Dairy, the best case scenario, as it outlined by the DNR in the EA, is that phosphorus loading will occur at the same levels it is occurring presently. Common sense would indicate that if the Draft TMDL is calling for reductions in phosphorus loading in the vicinity of the proposed Dairy, and the EA indicates that loading will be set to the status quo, that water quality standards will not be met in the area of the Rock River Basin that will be affected by the Rock Prairie Dairy. However, if the DNR believes that the assertions in the EA can occur while still meeting the reductions outlined in the TMDL, the DNR should explain in the EA how it is accounting for the TMDL in its assessment of the proposed Dairy. If the DNR wants to assert that compliance with the TMDL is possible, Federal regulations require DNR, or the operators of the proposed 8
28" The EA then goes on to assert that phosphorus loading into the water bodies in the vicinity will be minimized.29 However, as the Draft TMDL indicates, many of the areas in the Basin are so saturated with phosphorus that a reduction in phosphorus loading needs to occur in order for Wisconsin water quality standards to be met. The Rock Prairie Dairy EA fails to account for how the load reductions recommended by the Draft TMDL will occur in light of either maintaining the status quo or, more realistically, an increase in phosphorus loading in the vicinity of the Rock Prairie Dairy due to the spreading of vast quantities of manure and the addition of over 5,000 dairy cows into the area. dairy, to show how they have accounted for Rock Prairie Dairy‟s future discharge in the Rock River TMDL load allocations. They must also show that the existing dischargers into the impaired waters are subject to compliance schedules designed to bring the segment into compliance with applicable water quality standards.30 To do otherwise would be a violation of Federal Regulations and Wisconsin State Law. The EA fails to recognize the increased nutrient loading likely to occur to waters within Rock County from the application of manure from the CAFO. In the EA, the DNR states that there will be a benefit from having additional acreage covered under an NMP, thanks to the Best Management Practices contained in NR 243 (and thus in the WPDES permit).31 But the reality is that the County will see an increase in the total quantity of manure-derived nutrients applied to croplands, and therefore a resulting increase in the risk of excess nutrient delivery to surface waters. DNR does not even mention or acknowledge the risk that necessarily accompanies this additional manure application. In fact, there is no comparison whatsoever of the amount of cropland currently receiving animal waste and the amount to receive animal waste as a result of the new Rock Prairie Dairy. While a decrease in petroleum-based commercial fertilizer may be beneficial, further exploration is needed to determine if overall nutrient loads will increase or decrease as a result of the dairy. Farmers may have less of an incentive to over-spread expensive commercial fertilizers, than to overspread free or low-cost animal waste from the Dairy. 30 40 C.F.R. § 122.4(i)(1)-(2).
31 Rosendale EA at 8.
32 Rock Prairie Dairy, LLC Draft EA at 7.
Additionally, despite DNR‟s well-intentioned NMP requirements found in NR 243, we are unaware of any conclusive studies showing that coverage under an NMP in Wisconsin results in any meaningful reduction in nutrient delivery, or that there is likely to be even a negligible, much less "significant" reduction in nutrient or sediment impairments to waters downstream from the fields where the manure is applied. We are also concerned that in making this conclusory finding the DNR has not identified any specific waters that are impaired for nutrients or sediment, nor made any effort to quantify the anticipated impacts from nutrient delivery. The final analysis must make such efforts to fully examine actual water quality impacts. B. DNR has failed to adequately discuss the potential for groundwater contamination. Rock County has historic ground contamination concerns. According to the EA, a 2009 Rock County Health Department Annual Report found that 32% of private wells tested for nitrates exceeded the ten parts per million enforcement standard. One transient-non-community water system well that is immediately adjacent to a proposed pivot irrigation point has already show an increase in Nitrate concentrations during the last 36 years, which indicates that nitrogen from existing fertilizer applications is reaching groundwater. The most recent nitrate concentration in the well was 12.9 mg/l in April 2010.32 Despite the known existence of this problem, the EA states "No specific information has been provided on the existing concentrations of Nitrate in groundwater in 9 the area of the proposed facility," and "[a]dditional information on the concentration of nitrogen in the liquid manure and the anticipated uptake potential of the crops would be needed to fully evaluate the potential for the continued increase in nitrate concentrations in drinking water in the area."
No further explanation is given as to when these studies might take place. Given the known existence of this problem and the need for further study, it seems premature for DNR to find no significant impact of the Dairy without this very important data.
Additionally, DNR mentions the center pivot irrigation system approximately 30 times in the report. The purpose of the center pivot application method is to "significantly reduce the runoff potential because nutrients will be applied throughout the growing season in smaller doses instead of twice per year, and nutrients will be applied during the hot, dry months when soil and crop needs are greatest."
33 The EA is no longer accurate in this regard, as the number of center pivots was first reduced to 10 and now may be reduced even further because of Johnstown‟s new ordinance prohibiting the application of manure through center pivots. The NMP should be reexamined given these recent changes. 33 Rock Prairie Dairy, LLC Draft EA at 11.
Id. at 5 C. DNR has failed to adequately discuss air quality impacts The EA presents over two pages of information on Air Quality and Air Quality Regulations, but fails to draw any conclusions from the information. At one point, the EA discusses the NR 445 advisory group‟s December 2010 report of BMPs, but does not discuss if any of the BMPs could or will be used. It then states that the facility is proposing a geomembrane cover on the manure storage facilities which will mitigate about 90% of the odors from the waste storage facility. While a geomembrane cover does seem to be an important part of odor management, it is not clear if this will be a requirement or merely a suggestion. The EIS for Rosendale Dairy also similarly indicated the odor would be mitigated by installing a geomembrane cover. Over two years later, no cover has been installed and there are no definite plans for a cover in the future. No other odor mitigation measures have been installed.
Additionally, some of the worst odor and air pollution will surely come from the fields where manure is spread. There is very little mention of this impact, except one paragraph stating "[t]he least amount of emissions would be created with a system that includes both a cover over the lagoon and direct injection techniques. Some of the areas will receive this BMP. However, the proposed center pivot irrigation system does not allow for direct injection of nutrients. It is unclear how much ammonia (and other air pollutants) will be volatized with the center pivot irrigation system proposed, but it is expected that significantly larger ammonia losses may be associated with this practice when compared to direct injection techniques.
34" Given the uncertain benefits of center pivot irrigation, and the expected increase in emissions, it makes little sense for DNR to endorse this technique. 10 In the Air Quality Regulations Overview section, DNR gives a table of Rock Prairie Farm Specific Impacts. It then states "Note that direct human health impacts cannot be inferred from these estimates.35" If this is true, then DNR is admitting in the EA that they have not fully explored the impacts of this farm. This should lead DNR to perform an EIS and fully illuminate what these human health impacts might be. 35 Id. at 6 36Id. at 14. D. The DNR’s anticipated economic impacts are unfounded and inaccurate. We strongly dispute both the veracity and the relevance of this statement: Large scale operations have rapidly become an economic necessity due to changing pricing structures and the need to reduce capital inputs while maximizing production. Economies of scale associated with CAFOs have allowed producers to increase production without increasing costs."36 This statement is unsupported by the evidence. Of the 12,770 dairy farms in Wisconsin, only 167 of them are CAFO's. The average dairy herd size in Wisconsin is 99 cows. Large scale operations are the exception rather than the rule. In addition, the CAFO model does not decrease capital inputs, but rather increases them: according to the UW Extension Dairy Farm Survey, 2007-2009, the average debt-to-asset ratio on a 743-cow dairy was 0.698, whereas the debt-to-asset ratio on a 56-cow dairy was 0.421. This means that the larger the farm, the higher the debt-to-asset ratio.
If anything, the EA should consider the costs of this operation to the community as a whole, not to the Dairy itself. Many studies have indicated that modern industrial livestock confinements have greatly increased the costs to society, in terms of air and water pollution, lost property values, public health costs, etc. In addition, the many thriving small-scale dairies around the State indicate that no such "economic necessity" exists. In sum, large CAFOs are able to maximize production (and thus profitability) only by externalizing the true costs of their operations such that neighboring communities bear the brunt of the environmental, social, and economic harm.
A full EIS prepared for Rock Prairie Dairy, LLC should consider the true environmental and economic costs of the industrialized style of agriculture preferred by Rock Prairie Dairy, LLC, along with a comparison with other more sustainable models of livestock agriculture.
E. DNR has failed to present adequate mitigation measures. The EA has identified some significant potential impacts of the project, but has discounted them in determining that an EIS need not be prepared, either because DNR has failed to conduct the investigation needed to determine how significant those impacts may be, or because DNR believes they can be mitigated. 11 WEPA does allow an agency to determine in some cases that an EIS need not be prepared, even though a proposed action would have a significant impact on the environment, because the agency determines that conditions can be imposed to mitigate such significant impacts. However, the mitigation measures must be imposed as conditions precedent to approval in order for a finding of no significant impact to be sustained.37 In addition, the needed mitigation measures must be explicitly identified and must be sufficient to completely compensate for any adverse environmental impacts of the proposed action.38 37 State ex rel. Boehm, 174 Wis. 2d 657, 675-76.
38 Id.
39 Wis. Stat. § 1.11(2)(c).
Alternatively, if the agency does not prepare an EA with specific conditions that completely compensate for all adverse environmental impacts associated with a proposed action, and that must be imposed as a condition precedent, the agency can prepare a full EIS, without imposing conditions precedent.39
Thank you again for the opportunity to review and comment upon the Environmental Analysis performed for Rock Prairie Dairy, LLC. We look forward to your response.
Miriam Ostrov
Staff Attorney

Thursday, February 3, 2011

DeIcing products - Safe alternatives to Rock Salt

This week's record snowfall and cold temps present an interesting problem if you, like me, did not get all of the snow completely cleared from your sidewalks. My husband purchased a bag of an ice melt product, but before he sprinkled it on the walks, I wanted to be sure it was safe and non-toxic for both the environment and my dog. Typical ice melt products are harmful to our pets both from ingestion, and to their paws. There are a lot of products on the market, so what should we be looking for when choosing a product?
Keep in mind that salt is extremely corrosive and destroys everything it comes into contact with including roadways, sidewalks, landscaping, and waterways. The end result may be causing more problems than it is preventing. Since our house doesn't have a mudroom, boots and shoes come directly into my kitchen, and onto our wood floors and area rugs.
One product on the market, Geomelt is used by Janesville's City Public Works department. It contains less chlorides and corrosive compounds, and reduces salt use up to 30 percent. "The liquid is an organic based product, derived from processing beets, and then mixed with a salt brine." -City Operations Director, John Whitcomb. "Salt is the most cost effective deicer, but other products can melt at lower temperatures. These products are more expensive, but have to be used in certain situations, for example, around public facilities when a less corrosive product is required."
The City has three salt sheds, and in a typical winter season, uses 3000-4000 tons of salt. Sand is used when temperatures are extremely cold when salt will not be effective, or if salt supplies are limited and need to be stretched.
For personal use, you can try using Scotwood Industries Eco-friendly Clean Melt or Keep it Green KIG8 Snow & Ice Melter . These products also contain less corrosive elements and won't be as harmful on your driveway, walkways, and the surrounding environment.
"Safe Paw" Ice Melter ( is a product advertized as 100% safe for pets, children and the environment. "Safe Paw's patented dual-effect compound, made up of a modified crystalline amide core infused with special glycol admixture, provides a non-corrosive composition with a two-way timed-release action. The liquid component starts melting ice instantly while breaking its surface tension. This allows the crystal-core to quickly penetrate and destabilize the ice which speeds up melting. Safe Paw also attracts solar heat to provide extra melting-power during daylight hours."
While deicing roadways is necessary to maintain safe travel conditions, the effects of road deicing on the environment are well recorded. Check to be sure the product that you are using at home is safe for surrounding plants and animals. The best solution, however, is to clear snow from driveways and sidewalks before it becomes compacted.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Country of Origin Labels - COOL.

"COOL" Information - Country of Origin Labels
by Julie Backenkeller for Rock Environmental Network, Inc.
Janesville Gazette, Sunday, January 23, 2011
I admit it. I am an environmental information junkie. It takes me hours to get through the grocery store because I have become a professional label reader. Besides unnatural additives, unfamiliar ingredients and artificial sweeteners, I started looking for the "Country of Origin" label (COOL), which is listed on many packages.
In September of 2008, the US Dept of Agriculture (USDA) updated their requirement for retailers to display the Country-of Origin on labels for a wide variety of foods. Included in the list are beef, veal, lamb, chicken, pork, goat, wild and farm raised fish and shellfish, fresh & frozen fruits and vegetables, nuts, and ginseng. Items not included in the Country-of-Origin labeling are processed foods like spaghetti sauce or meatballs, or products that mix several items or ingredients into one package. The rule also does not apply to restaurants.
Several months ago, I read an article about Whole Foods brand frozen vegetables. Listed on the label of their "365 Organic vegetables", was a USDA Organic stamp, and right under that "Product of China". This is where I could go into the logic of buying your organic vegetables locally, from the farmer's market or even your own back yard, but frozen has always been the better option over cans. The last news we read about canned food, was that 98% of can's are lined with Bisphenol A, a chemical that causes a whole bunch of health issues, and is banned in both Europe and Canada. The concern with purchasing foods that are grown or processed in other countries, is the safety standards that may or may not be in place, and pesticides and other chemical additives that may be used. Need I mention the sheer distance that the food has to travel to get to your dinner table.... There is something seriously wrong with our system when we live in the midwest - with some of the finest soils on earth, and our vegetables are imported from China.
One out of four Americans is stricken with a food-borne illness each year, and of those, 325,000 are hospitalized, and 5,000 die. Seafood products, according to the Centers for Disease Control, cause 18-20 percent of the known food-borne illnesses each year. With Americans consuming almost 30% more seafood than they ate 25 years ago, industrial fish and seafood farms have popped up to fill the demand. ( Let's look at shrimp as an example. I picked up a package of shrimp at a local grocery store last week. Country of Origin? China. Shrimp farms are replacing mangroves (tropical coastal forests) in warm coastal areas. Mangroves not only provide habitat for marine life, they also protect the coastline. Shrimp farms (and other industrial fish farms) rely on antibiotics, fungicides, pesticides and algaecides to keep shrimp alive, however, use of these chemicals is also polluting the water, and affecting other marine life.  Antibiotics are used to prevent the spread of viruses. The White Spot virus in shrimp can survive freezing, and may still exist when the shrimp is served for dinner.
According to Food and Water Watch (, the United States is importing shrimp from countries that use the antibiotic Chloramphenicol, which is linked to human aplastic anemia (a lethal blood disorder) intestinal problems, neurological reactions and other health concerns. Thailand, China, Vietnam and Ecuador all use this antibiotic in their shrimp farms and export thousands of pounds of shrimp annually to the US, even though Chloramphenicol is banned in the US, it is still finding its' way into our homes and threatening our health.
A trip to our up-north Wal-Mart proved to be a great learning opportunity for my kids when it came to label reading. Vegetables sold under the Wal-Mart brand "Great Value" listed the Country-of-Origin as "Product of China". In October, Wal-Mart recalled specific types of vegetables because customers reported finding pieces of glass in the package. (I doubt that the glass was listed in the ingredients section)
While the government's food pyramid ( suggests eating less meats & beans than when I was a kid, there are no special warnings on the page about possible health threats from imported foods.
Eating local doesn't mean simply buying foods from your local grocer, it means knowing where your food came from, how it was produced,  and what has been added to it. If the USDA is not going to regulate imported foods the same way they regulate food produced within the United States, we as consumers need to voice our concerns, and stop buying imported foods. Be COOL, be an informed consumer and read the label.