September 12, 2013

Milking the System: Polluting Factory Farms Flourish in Gratiot and Midland Counties Courtesy of Taxpayers

Sep. 12, 2013                                                           Media Contact: Gail Philbin
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                              312-493-2384, gail.philbin@sierraclub.org

Milking the System: Polluting Factory Farms Flourish
in Gratiot and Midland Counties Courtesy of Taxpayers

Alma, Mich.—Factory farms in Michigan are “milking the system,” receiving taxpayer-funded subsidies even when violating environmental laws and unfairly competing against sustainable livestock operations, according to an updated report from the Less=More Coalition released in Alma today. 

Two of the nation’s most respected experts on factory farms or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) -- Joe Maxwell, a Missouri hog farmer and an official with the Humane Society of the United States, and 2010 Goldman Environmental Prize winner Lynn Henning, a Lenawee County farmer who works with Sierra Club -- also gave an overview of the environmental, health and economic problems these facilities pose. A driving tour of some of the factory farms which exemplify the concerns in Midland and Gratiot Counties immediately followed the press conference. 

Less=More, a coalition of farmers, food safety, environmental and animal welfare organizations, is calling on federal and state officials, in particular the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Michigan State Conservationist, to fix the unfair bias in farming subsidies toward factory farms. 

“We released our report seven months ago, and nothing has changed, especially in Gratiot and Midland Counties, home to 24 CAFOs,” said Henning. “Together, factory farms in these two counties raked in $11,243,026 in subsidies from 1995-2012.”

Since 1996, 14 of these Gratiot and Midland County facilities have been cited for environmental violations, with one of those receiving fines and penalties of $45,344. Yet from 1995 to 2011, owners and operators of these facilities in violation received $4,793,488 in taxpayer-funded subsidies.

Restoring the Balance to Michigan’s Farming Landscape, released by Less=More in February this year, was updated today with an in-depth case study examining the Mibelloon Dairy, LLC, and four affiliated businesses in Gratiot and Midland Counties. From 2001 to 2012, they received $744,941 in federal farm subsidies and tax-subsidized loans of $5,000,000.  During that same time period, Mibelloon Dairy, LLC, was cited by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for environmental violations in 2004, and in a 2008 administrative consent order with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), it was assessed fines and fees of $45,344 related to five separate incidents. 

“The Mibelloon operations are another example of the unfair advantage our tax dollars are giving to CAFOs,” said Anne Woiwode, director of the Michigan Sierra Club, a Less=More Coalition member. “Michigan’s sustainable livestock producers shouldn’t have to compete against massive animal factories like these that receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax payer subsidies and subsidized loans, even while Mibelloon Dairy was polluting the water in violation of the law.”

Incidents for which Mibelloon Dairy, LLC, was cited that resulted in fines and costs of $45,344 included discharge of wastes into county drains, improper storage of wastes and stockpiling of wastes near a road.

“A single factory farm generates millions of gallons of waste annually, the equivalent of 16,000 people, but unlike a city with as many residents, these facilities aren’t required to treat the waste,” said Tia Lebherz, Michigan organizer for Food & Water Watch, a Less=More Coalition member.

“This is not your garden-variety animal manure—factory farm waste contains antibiotics, chemicals, pathogens, and other contaminants. This waste inevitably runs off in to our local rivers and streams, polluting our water.Taxpayer dollars should not be used to prop-up these polluting factory farms.”

Restoring the Balance explores how federal tax dollars create an uneven playing field for sustainable livestock operations in Michigan by overwhelmingly favoring grants of subsidies to polluting CAFOs. In particular, it examines how one Farm Bill program, the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), encourages unsustainable agricultural practices that threaten public health and the environment, while putting Michigan’s independent and local producers at a severe competitive disadvantage.

The report highlights opportunities to reverse this inequity through NRCS Michigan State Conservationist Garry Lee’s authority to change priorities set for EQIP in Michigan. It also recommends measures of accountability in the application process to ensure funds are awarded to environmentally responsible farmers. The Less=More Coalition presented the report and its concerns and recommendations to Lee on Feb. 14, 2013.

“With the release of this update to Restoring the Balance, we call upon Mr. Lee once again to take action on our recommendations,” said Woiwode. “The time to act is now. Factory farms are a huge threat to the clean water, air and land every Michigander depends on for our food, our families and our future.”
More than 2,300 concerned Michigan consumers have signed petitions and postcards urging Mr. Lee to take action on inequitable subsidies. The online petition to Mr. Lee is found at http://tinyurl.com/CAFOpetition
The update to Restoring the Balance as well as the original report can be downloaded at: http://tinyurl.com/L-Mreport


For questions about the report, contact Anne Woiwode, Sierra Club, anne.woiwode@sierraclub.org or 517-484-2372, ext. 11, or Lynn Henning, lynn.henning@sierraclub.org or 517-605-7740.

The Less=More Coalition is a group of organizations engaged in various aspects of our food system who seek to level the playing field for sustainable farmers in Michigan. They include: Beery Farms of Michigan, LLC, the Center for Food Safety, Crane Dance Farm, LLC, ELFCO food cooperative, Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan, Food & Water Watch, Greater Grand Rapids Food Systems Council, Groundswell Farm, Zeeland, Humane Society of the United States, Michigan Farmers Union, Michigan Voices for Good Food Policy, Michigan Young Farmers Coalition, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter and Socially Responsible Agricultural Project. 

Less support for polluting factory farms means a more sustainable Michigan.  For more information, visit, http://MoreforMichigan.org.            

September 9, 2013

Groups Join DOJ to Halt Serious Air Pollution from DTE Coal-burning Power Plants

Plants lack modern pollution controls that protect human health

Contact:
Shannon Fisk, Earthjustice, (215) 717-4522
Tiffany Hartung, Sierra Club (248) 933-2451

Detroit-Conservation groups took legal action late last week to support the Department of Justice (DOJ) efforts to clean up several of Detroit Edison’s coal-burning power plants in Southern Michigan by requiring them to comply with the Clean Air Act.

Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice, amended its complaint in the case of US v. DTE Energy Company, to clean up Detroit Edison’s River Rouge, Trenton Channel, and Belle River coal-fired power plants. Earlier last week, DOJ amended its complaint to add the same claims on Trenton Channel, River Rouge and Belle River, and additional claims against the Monroe coal plant.

According to the Clean Air Task Force, these additional three coal-burning plants collectively contribute to 157 deaths, 254 heart attacks, and 2,480 asthma attacks each year.

“The River Rouge and Trenton Channel coal plants are aging dinosaurs that Detroit Edison continues to operate without readily available and legally required pollution control technology,” said Shannon Fisk, an Earthjustice attorney handling this case.  “It is far past time for Detroit Edison to protect public health and create jobs by cleaning those plants up or retiring and replacing them with affordable clean energy resources.”

The violations stem from Detroit Edison’s major, multi-million dollar modifications at those plants without installation of the legally-required modern pollution controls that would help protect public health.  As a result of these violations, Detroit Edison’s coal plants have emitted hundreds to thousands of tons of additional harmful air pollutants every year.

Emissions from coal-burning plants include dangerous pollutants like carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and mercury. High levels of exposure to these emissions can cause irritation of the throat and lungs, leading to difficulty breathing, increased asthma symptoms, more respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular disease, and premature death.

“When I think about clean and renewable sources of energy, I think about the infinite possibilities of creating jobs and powering Michigan through cleaner sources like wind and solar power,” said Douglas Myers, River Rouge resident and Sierra Club member. “If DTE were to focus on forward thinking in the problem areas we could remove a lot of the dirty and harmful elements being emitted through their current facilities.”

This case was initially filed in 2010 by the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. EPA as an enforcement action regarding an illegal modification at Unit 2 of Detroit Edison’s Monroe coal plant.  Sierra Club intervened in that proceeding.   While the federal district court initially ruled against DOJ and Sierra Club, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit earlier this year reversed the district court decision.  As a result, DOJ and Sierra Club’s case against Monroe Unit 2 continues, and both plaintiffs are seeking to expand their claims to address legal violations at other Detroit Edison coal units.

 When Congress enacted the Clean Air Act of 1970, thousands of power plants, refineries, and other facilities were emitting large volumes of various air pollutants. The act required new facilities to be equipped with the most modern and efficient pollution-control technologies available. Many existing plants were let off the hook on the theory that they would be taken out of service fairly rapidly and replaced with new, clean plants.   The coal industry lobbied congress and the EPA to be allowed to continue running these old plants without adding modern pollution controls.  As a result, many of these aging, polluting facilities are still operating today, over 40 years later.

The law did, however, include important provisions addressing the older plants: If and when they make changes that increase emissions, they are required to retrofit with up-to-date technologies.  This is a key part of what the law calls the New Source Review (NSR) program. 

“Big coal has fought against NSR with respect to existing plants ever since the program was created,” continued Fisk.  “It has filed many lawsuits to challenge the program and simply refused to abide by it.”