Photo by Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

The Dairy Business Association and Department of Natural Resources have settled a lawsuit that claimed the agency is overstepping its regulatory authority.

The lawsuit, which DBA first filed in Brown County Circuit Court at the end of July, alleged the DNR is enforcing new standards without having first gone through the rulemaking process. That includes, DBA said in the suit, requirements over how farmers manage rainwater that comes into contact with feed storage or calf hutch areas.

The settlement agreement reached yesterday stated DNR would not enforce the feed storage standards that weren’t “explicitly permitted by Wisconsin law,” according to the settlement. It also said the draft program guidelines DNR was following relating to feed storage runoff weren’t legally enacted and therefore “cannot be enforced,” and the agency would instead work on a case-by-case basis moving forward.

Also as part of the agreement, DBA dropped its claim that the DNR doesn’t have the authority to require concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, to have an operating permit because it oversteps requirements at the federal level, as DBA claimed in its suit.

DBA President Mike North called the settlement “a victory for the rule of law,” adding it helped “secure a more certain future for Wisconsin dairy farmers.”

“The DNR or other state agencies can’t make up the rules as they go along,” he said. “There is a process that must be followed, and that process promotes public participation, legislative oversight and transparency. That is good for everyone.”

Clean Wisconsin and Midwest Environmental Advocates earlier this month jointly filed a motion to intervene in the suit. Representatives from those groups were not immediately available for comment Thursday.

Still, when they filed the motion, MEA staff attorney Sarah Geers said in a statement the groups were intervening to ensure DNR wouldn’t “bend to the wishes of big agriculture,” saying the state’s “environmental protections in state pollution permitting must be zealously defended.”

But North said in his statement “the lawsuit was never about rolling back regulations.” Instead, he said, “it was about creating regulations according to a legally prescribed process.”

Meanwhile, DNR spokesman Jim Dick said in a statement the agency “feels the settlement is an efficient and balanced resolution of complicated case,” and he added it doesn’t “change any current environmental protections.”

“Discharges from vegetative treatment areas to navigable waters are still regulated under state and federal law,” he said. “Any discharge to waters of the state, including navigable waters, must also comply with state water quality standards and groundwater standards.”

He also said the settlement “reaffirms that the DNR has the proper authority to regulate CAFOs and require them to apply for permits based on discharges to groundwater.”

See the settlement:

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