February 10, 2011
The reality of Pure Michigan was put at risk today by a package of bills that were rushed through the Senate Agriculture Committee. According to their supporters, Senate Bills 122 and 123 will encourage Michigan farmers to participate in a voluntary pollution prevent program. Ironically, the bills provide a ‘Get Out Of Jail FREE’ card for livestock facilities that pollute Michigan’s waters with animal sewage. The bills were just introduced yesterday, leaving no time for clean water and public health advocates to respond with their comments and expertise.
For years the Farm Bureau and agriculture advocates have tried to put their Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) into law, to gain recognition and funding. Yet once again they’ve tarnished an otherwise valuable program with provisions that significantly lower environmental and public health protections, leading to more animal waste in Michigan’s lakes and streams.
There are 53,000 farms in Michigan; 2,200 of those facilities are livestock operations and 200-250 of those are massive and polluting Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) or animal factories. CAFOs are the only segment of Michigan’s agricultural industry which requires any environmental permitting. As such, the “permission to pollute” provision only benefits livestock operations subject to CAFO permitting requirements because of water quality violations, less than ½ of 1% of Michigan’s farming community.
The MAEAP program does have value and may help farmers better manage their environmental risks. However, the cost to become “verified” in the program runs between $25,000 and $100,000. Small farmers simply can’t afford the price tag. If the primary incentive in the legislation is a “free pass to pollute” for CAFOs, it’s hard to see how the Farm Bureau will reach its goal of increasing MAEAP participation by 500% with this package of bills.
Unlike in previous years, the bills don’t attempt to remove the obligation for CAFOs to obtain a permit as required by state and federal law. However, by severely weakening pollution standards, the MAEAP program would increase pollution from CAFOs and reduce penalties and fines for polluters. The bills also potentially put Michigan’s delegated authority to implement the Clean Water Act at risk, which would harm Michigan’s economic recovery. The House Agriculture Committee plans to take up the bills next week.
This package of bills may be the first to test Governor Snyder’s promise not to weaken pollution standards for CAFOs and his campaign promise of a “Pure Michigan.” Signing these bills into law would certainly violate that pledge.