Over the past several years, Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature have prioritized reforming the state’s regulatory structure to retain and attract new businesses and industries.
We have done just that with Act 21 and the REINS Act, which foster certainty by giving more oversight of agency rule-making to lawmakers and the governor.
Building on this success, it’s critical that we continue to identify ways to improve regulatory programs so they are sensible and purposeful.
Based on the findings of a legislative audit and the concerns of dairy farmers, our state’s concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) permitting program has been deemed in need of reform. Over the past year, lawmakers have considered a proposal to transfer the authority of the CAFO program from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP).
This transfer would encourage the best use of technical expertise while creating efficiencies. Having the state’s most knowledgeable people in agriculture regulate large farms makes sense. DATCP staff understands today’s agricultural practices and is already in the business of regulating most farms around the state in various ways. DATCP also has in-house technical experts that regulate and monitor many aspects of farm operations, particularly on larger farms. Many of those aspects directly overlap with the permitting and regulation of CAFOs.
Some on the anti-agriculture side try to paint this initiative as a means to strip away regulation at the expense of our environment. This is not the case. The CAFO program is born out of the federal Clean Water Act administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A CAFO program housed at DATCP would still have to meet the federally required elements just like the current program. The rules would not change; the agency administering them would.
Gov. Scott Walker had proposed a study of the move from DNR to DATCP when proposing his current state budget, but lawmakers removed it. Last fall, Walker breathed new life into the idea when he reiterated his support for the program. The good news is that both agencies have been working through the many issues related to a transfer and have moved beyond the point where a study of the concept is necessary.
The legislative session ends early in an election year to give legislators time to campaign. This means time ran short for legislation to move the transfer process forward; lawmakers are now back home.
However, Walker, the DNR and DATCP remain dedicated to making the shift happen. This means we should expect this issue to be raised again next session. The goal is to have a reimagined and much improved program in which farmers and the rest of the community can have more confidence.
Moving forward, we will stay committed to making this important proposal become a reality.
Contact your legislator:
Find out who your legislators are and how to contact them by going to legis.wisconsin.gov and entering your address under “Who are my legislators”?