The Michigan Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld a judge's decision that keeps in place a state rule intended to prevent large factory farms from polluting waterways.
The Michigan Farm Bureau and other groups had brought a case challenging whether the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality could require all concentrated animal feeding operations -- known as CAFOs -- to obtain pollution discharge permits regulating the amount of manure and other pollutants such operations may discharge to nearby rivers and streams.
The agency in 2003 began requiring all CAFOs to obtain discharge permits. The rule was aimed at keeping manure that operations spread on farm fields from draining into surface waters. Farm groups argued the state could require discharge permits only after a CAFO actually had a manure discharge that caused water pollution.
In a January 2009 ruling, Newaygo County Circuit Judge Anthony Monton sided with the state agency. The farm groups appealed, leading to Wednesday's decision signed by appellate judges Kathleen Jansen, Joel Hoekstra and Jane Beckering.
Farm Bureau General Counsel Andrew Kok called the DEQ policy "unnecessary and illogical" and said federal courts have reached the same conclusion, limiting federal permits to farms that actually have discharged manure into U.S. waters.
"Bottom line, this is a case where Farm Bureau and DEQ share the same goal," he said in a release. "We both want to protect the health and well-being of Michigan families and the environment through safe and responsible farming practices. We just see differently when it comes to permitting large farms that have no history of polluting and do not intend to discharge."
Joining the farm bureau in the case were the Michigan Milk Producers Association, Michigan Allied Poultry Industries, Michigan Pork Producers Association, Crockery Creek Turkey Farm and Four D. Farms. The groups said they were evaluating their options.
The director of the Sierra Club's Michigan chapter told The Muskegon Chronicle she's happy with the ruling.
"This is an extremely important affirmation of what the state has been doing to prevent pollution from large-scale livestock operations," Anne Woiwode said. "Because Michigan has water everywhere, there is virtually no place where surface water would not be affected by CAFOs."