January 22, 2015

Sierra Club Comments on DEQ Draft CAFO Permit, 1/21/15

Comments at MDEQ Water Resources Division Hearing
Regarding Changes to MDEQ General Permit for CAFOs
(NPDES Permit No. MIGO10000)
By Gail Philbin, Director, Michigan Sierra Club, Jan. 21, 2015

The Michigan Sierra Club appreciates the opportunity to speak at this hearing on the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ)’s draft national Pollution Discharge Elimination System Wastewater Discharge General Permit for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

Sierra Club has been working on the issue of CAFO pollution in Michigan since 1999 when we first petitioned the US EPA to take away Michigan's delegated authority to run Clean Water Act programs. We did this because at that time the state was refusing to require permitting for CAFOs.  The fact that we have a permit to even debate today shows some progress on the issue over the last 15 years, but what we’re commenting on today (both the process for drafting it without a stakeholder group, and the content) appears to be a step backward, not forward. Enforcement by the DEQ has fallen off and we have substantial concerns that this administration is not taking seriously the need for both a strong permit that has clearly enforceable standards and staff on the ground to investigate and enforce the law.

The proposed CAFO permit falls far short of protecting the health and well-being of Michigan citizens. It both weakens existing provisions in the current permit and fails to add needed improvements based on the growing body of scientific documentation of sources and effects of CAFO pollution. The crisis in Toledo last summer that left hundreds of thousands of people without drinking water for two days was caused in part by waste runoff from Michigan CAFOs in the Maumee River watershed.  It spotlighted the urgent need for Michigan, along with neighboring states, to enact strong, scientifically based and enforceable requirements for the proposed new Michigan CAFO General Permit. And it highlighted in sharp relief the danger to public health of not taking action.

Fortunately, the DEQ has the opportunity right now to take positive steps to protect public health and ensure that something like the Lake Erie water crisis doesn’t happen again. We support the comments and recommendations made by our colleagues today and have submitted joint comments with several groups.