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Representatives of the Wisconsin Dairy Alliance are meeting with GOP legislative leaders to push for a different approach to pollution regulation, which would take some pressure off the state’s largest farms.

The recently formed nonprofit group is lobbying on behalf of concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, in Wisconsin.

“This is the first time that I’m aware of, that there’s a group that’s standing up specifically to advocate and talk about what’s actually happening on these large farms,” said Laurie Fischer, a lobbyist for WDA.

She tells WisBusiness.com that WDA President Cindy Leitner and other members met March 4 with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.

According to Fischer, their message for Republican leaders was focused on the “scapegoating” of CAFOs. She says these large farms are unfairly blamed for many pollution-related woes, and WDA wants to ensure future law changes don’t add more regulations to the existing list of CAFO requirements.

This comes after Gov. Tony Evers has declared 2019 “the year of clean drinking water in Wisconsin.” 

Fischer highlighted the state’s “stringent” regulations for CAFOs, saying these farms are already hard-pressed to meet existing benchmarks for pollution and other metrics. After five years of depressed milk prices, she says farms are straining the limits of efficiency under current law.

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“We really believe that all of us have a role, all dischargers have a role in cleaning up natural resources, and water,” she said. “We are at zero discharge. We realize not overnight is everyone going to get to zero discharge, but we want everyone to work towards that.”

She notes that some of the largest CAFOs spend millions to comply with their “zero discharge” standard. She says WDA isn’t pushing for the exact same requirements for all, but says “we do want to make sure all size farms are continually improving to get there.”

And it’s not just farms, Fischer said, as golf courses, urban sewage systems and even homeowners using certain lawn care products are being blamed by WDA for contributing to pollution in the state.

According to an info sheet for legislators provided to WisBusiness.com, WDA is calling on lawmakers to require all dischargers be monitored like CAFOs are. They’re also calling for “truthful, accountable and legitimate conversations” on environmental concerns, emphasizing the importance of “peer-reviewed, scientifically-based research findings.” 

In their meetings yesterday with Fitzgerald and Vos, WDA leaders also submitted a budget request for the upcoming biennial budget.

Evers unveiled his budget proposal last week to strong pushback from Republicans, but he and lawmakers still have to hammer out a funding plan for the coming two years.

As part of that process, WDA is calling on GOP leaders to include a budget provision creating a new “Agricultural Groundwater Strategy Task Force,” which would be part of DATCP.

The eight-member task force would include six appointees of the guv, and two appointees of legislative leadership. The group would be tasked with: studying all possible sources of groundwater contamination; looking closely at state law surrounding private wells and septic systems; and proposing changes to state law to “more effectively address agricultural impacts on water quality.”

Ultimately, WDA wants the Legislature to “expedite a transparent compliance path” for all dischargers in the state to move toward a more stringent standard -- like the one to which CAFOs in the state already adhere. 

Aside from lobbying in the Capitol, WDA will be pushing back on “misleading coverage” of agricultural and environmental issues.

“There are some more, I would say activist-type reporting that goes on, and [CAFOs] just want to respond,” Fischer said. “They want to at least put in front of people another position, more information about what they’re doing, and then let individual readers make their own decisions.”

The group is also supporting legislation from GOP authors that would create a central clearinghouse from which facilities and farmers could buy and sell water pollution credits.

“Everyone needs to be at the table,” Fischer said. “Instead of singling some out and just putting more onerous regulations [on CAFOs] … this will help find avenues for everyone to participate.”

The water credits bill, from Sens. Rob Cowles and Jerry Petrowski and Rep. Joel Kitchens, received early support from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce as well as the state Dairy Business Association. It began circulating for cosponsors early last week.

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