Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Ag committees choose manure over kids

Here's an amazing story that has gotten scant attention in the news media, a Capital Times story being the only exception I have been able to find.

It's from the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, the state’s largest conservation group, comprised of 144 hunting, fishing and trapping groups. The Federation is dedicated to conservation education and the adoption of sound conservation policies. This statement was issued by Corky Meyer, WWF president, and Jim Baldock, chair of the group's Environmental Committee. George Meyer, former DNR secretary, is executive director. I'll let them tell the story:

Agricultural Committees Intentionally
Decide Not to Protect Children’s Health

Poynette: The testimony of the young father before the Senate and Assembly Agriculture Committees was dramatic and heart-wrenching. Two years ago he got up from his dinner table and went to the kitchen faucet to pour a glass of water. Out of the tap came manure laced water. Panic set in as he thought about the fact that the meal that had just been eaten by his wife and their three young daughters had been prepared with water form that faucet.

Four days later Scott Treml picked his six and one-half month daughter Samantha out of her crib, seriously ill and covered in feces and vomit and rushed her to the emergency room. He and his wife Judy were told that there was a good chance that their daughter could die or suffer severe brain damage. Thankfully she recovered. The next day, daughters Kaitlyn (8) and Emily (6) become seriously ill, another day later his wife and three days later he becomes seriously ill. The whole family eventually recovered.

The neighboring large animal operation had spread manure on frozen ground across the road three days before the manure came out of their water faucet. It was only a month before that the Treml’s well had been tested and passed with flying colors. Eventually the Tremls successfully sued the large farm operation and recovered their costs including the amount necessary to dig a new well. But nothing can really compensate for the terror of possibly losing one of their children.

The Tremls simply do not want this tragedy to happen to another young family. They have testified before the Natural Resources Board in support of proposed DNR rules which would have required the 150 largest animal operations in the state to not spread liquid manure on frozen ground in the months of February and March which have resulted in many of the 52 runoff events in the last two years that have contaminated wells and wiped out fisheries in several Wisconsin streams.

Last Wednesday the Tremls took off of work again to share their experience before the Assembly and Senate Agriculture Committees. Most Wisconsin citizens hearing this compelling story would assume that the committees would strongly support the proposed regulations to protect other rural families and their children.

But it wasn’t so. The large farm industry turned out in mass against the rule led by the Wisconsin Farm Bureau and the Dairy Business Association. The farmers argued that they should not have to bear increased cost even if necessary to protect children’s health, ignoring the facts that most of the operations have the ability to comply with the rule now and in many cases federal financial help is available.

Several legislators such as Rep. Debbi Towns, (Edgerton), Rep. Scott Suder, (Abbotsford), Rep. John Ainsworth, (Shawano), Rep. Mary Williams, (Medford) and Rep. Barbara Gronemus, (Whitehall) led the effort in the Assembly Committee to prevent adoption of the rule. The Senate Committee, chaired by Sen. Dan Kapanke, (La Crosse) listened to the first three hours of testimony, left the hearing as a group and missed the next five hours of public testimony including the compelling Treml family testimony and then came back and voted against the public health regulation.

Common remarks after the hearing from the many of citizens from throughout Wisconsin that supported the rule was: “Why should we even bother taking off of work to testify to the Agricultural Committees when the only people that they ever listen to are the farm groups.”

The DNR rule, developed over four years in close consultation with the very same agricultural groups and with conservation and environmental groups, now goes back to the DNR where it may languish another year or two.

When will the Senate and the Assembly Agriculture Committees live up to their responsibility to protect the lives and health of Wisconsin citizens? The answer is only when Wisconsin citizens get outraged enough to demand that the rule be passed. Will it take the death of a child to cause the outrage?
Clean Wisconsin, the statewide environmental group,had this reaction:
Agriculture Committees teach a lesson
and choose to not protect our health

Wisconsin’s Senate and Assembly Agriculture Committees taught many people how politics works in this state last Thursday by choosing not to approve revised rules that would protect the health of Wisconsin families. The rules - NR 243 - that would protect drinking water and streams from contamination were sent back to the DNR for further revisions in a process that has already dragged on for too long.

Here’s what the Wisconsin’s Senate and Assembly Agriculture Committees taught us:

-- Some legislators put the interests of just a few bad apple farmers (less than ½ of 1% of Wisconsin farmers) before protecting the health of kids.

-- To some legislators, family values mean less than profit margins.

-- Some legislators don’t even show up for work, leaving people who do care about healthy families and clean water talking to empty chairs.

These lessons are hard to learn, particularly for those who took time off from work, drove hundreds of miles and spent an entire day in a Capitol hearing room waiting to testify.

While the rules were not approved last week, there is still hope. The DNR will be working to revise the rules – again. Wisconsin can still end up ensuring that the water that comes out of our taps is clean, our kids stay out of the hospital and our fish stay alive.

But we need your help. Contact your representative and let them know that you still want strong rules that would ban winter spreading of manure and you want them NOW.

Over 30 years after the Clean Water Act was passed it is shameful that children are being hospitalized and fish are being killed because our waters are contaminated due to pollution allowed by a few bad apple farmers and that is preventable.

-- Clean Wisconsin
Those "bad apple farmers" aren't growing apples. They are spreading manure, and perhaps poisoning Wisconsin children.


At 11:53 PM, Blogger Spotlight said...

If Jim Doyle had had a hand in it, it'd have been page one in Milwaukee.

At 5:24 PM, Blogger Capitol Eye said...

C'mon, environmentalists and public-health advocates, do you expect this Legislature as a group to be concerned about anything other than money?

The only recourse is to sue the S.O.B.'s responsible for the evens described.

The agri-business lobby managed to get factory farms exempted from public nuisance lawsuits, but they didn't have the nerve to get factory farms exempted from lawsuits for public health and safety problems.

Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan B. Heffernan once wrote a dissent in which he excoriated his colleages for endorsing a "colossus of excrement" in Door County.

That case involved human waste, and the volume of nasty stuff involved was nothing compared with what 750 or 1,500 dairy cows can produce.

The factory farmers got their "right to farm" law passed, but they didn't get get a right to harm their neighbors as well.


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