Photo by USDA.

Gov. Scott Walker says he’s committed to working with lawmakers and the EPA to give the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection regulatory authority over concentrated animal feeding operations.

Walker made the pledge as part of the Rural Agenda he unveiled Thursday at the Governor’s Northern Economic & Community Development Summit in Trego. Right now, those CAFOs are regulated by the Department of Natural Resources.

But a release from the guv’s office detailing the agenda said the provision would “encourage the best use of technical expertise and create program efficiencies.”

Walker’s budget originally contained a provision calling for a study on whether DATCP could take over regulation of CAFOs, although the Joint Finance Committee removed it in April during its review of non-fiscal policy items.

At the time, Sen. Rob Cowles, who chairs the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, told he wasn’t interested in bringing Walker’s provision back as standalone legislation — and that no one he’d talked to was either.

Cowles, R-Green Bay, did not return a call requesting comment.

John Holevoet, director of government affairs at the Dairy Business Association, said he’s not aware of lawmakers who are drafting any specific language to transfer CAFO oversight.

Still, Holevoet said there were likely multiple avenues the state could take to make the change, although he didn’t go into specifics.

The organization had previously spoken with the governor about giving DATCP more authority over large farms and continued those discussions after the provision was removed from the budget.

Holevoet said the authority transfer would be a “good move” from both an environmental and farmer perspective, and would mean the state’s taking a “fresh look” at the program that will “probably make it more functional and better.”

Environmental advocates previously raised concerns about shifting regulatory authority to DATCP last spring, following the release of the budget. They largely worried that splitting the responsibilities of regulating the discharge of pollutants to water across two agencies would make oversight more difficult and that it goes against the state’s public trust doctrine, among other things.

Midwest Environmental Advocates staff attorney Tressie Kamp said those issues still exist, but she’s also concerned there wouldn’t be any opportunity for the public to weigh in on the topic.

Still, she said she didn’t know what the process would be going forward, although she added it could include amending the MOU between the EPA and DNR to administer water pollution permitting for CAFOs, among other things.

“Today’s announcement raised additional concerns by skirting any potential public input, demonstrating the unimpeded access and control that Dairy Business Association has over the Governor’s office and ultimately over large-scale policy decisions in our state,” Kamp said in a separate email. “Our elected officials should prioritize citizen voices over industry interests.”

Holevoet, though, pushed back on Kamp’s criticism that there would be less public commenting opportunities, saying it was “really hard to make a judgment based on one sentence.”

Walker spokesman Tom Evenson didn’t respond to questions over what the process could be going forward. But he and DATCP spokesman Bill Cosh said they weren’t aware of any legislation that would transfer CAFO oversight authority from DNR to DATCP, although Cosh noted there were conversations between DATCP staff and the guv’s office on the issue.

DNR spokesman Jim Dick said while the move wasn’t something the agency had been working on since it was removed from the budget, DNR would work with Walker, EPA and DATCP “on an orderly transition of CAFO authority and enforcement.”

See the release: 

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