Barring a mail-delivery disaster, 92 pig and cow farmers in Michigan should have received a letter from the Sierra Club’s Mackinac Chapter last week warning them that they could be in deep you-know-what. The Sierra Club and other eco-police have made it a mission to prevent large livestock farmers from discharging animal feces and polluting the state’s waterways.
The letter informs farmers that they are required by federal law to have a water-quality permit to operate. If they don’t, they could be fined up to $27,500 a day.
The problem is that even if dairy and hog farmers tried to follow the Sierra Club’s advice, they wouldn’t have much luck getting a permit. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which processes the permits, won’t issue them to animal farms. Dave Hamilton, DEQ surface water-quality chief, says that state policy prohibits waste discharge in public waters and a permit would legally allow farmers to do this.
But Anne Woiwode, Sierra Club Mackinac Chapter president, says permits would outline how waste must be stored and disposed, preventing illegal discharges. Permits also would require the DEQ to monitor farms and ensure that they comply with preventative measures, she says.
In 1999, frustrated by the state’s lack of oversight, environmental groups asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to revoke the DEQ’s authority over the federally mandated water-quality permit process.
Steve Jann, EPA Region Five environmental scientist, says his agency is still investigating. Given what the EPA has already found, however, there seems to be good reason to be concerned. Jann says a majority of the 10 farms inspected so far dump manure into public waters.
“We found that many of these farms have been designed to discharge into a stream,” he says.
News Hits suggests that the DEQ implement the federal program before farmers find themselves up shit creek without a permit.Ann Mullen contributed to News Hits, which is edited by Curt Guyette. He can be reached at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]