Despite differences over the details of a proposed streamlined pollution permit for the state's industrial-size livestock farms, a plan to increase the fee for the permit appears to be moving forward, according to officials with the state Department of Natural Resources.
The DNR is pushing for an increase in the fee, now at $345 for the five-year permit, to hire staff and improve inspection and oversight of the large farms, which produce millions of gallons of manure each year. Todd Ambs, who heads the agency's Division of Water, has indicated the streamlined permit, called a general permit, will not be put in place without an increase in the fee.
An increase in the fee, according to Ambs, would allow the agency to hire additional staff and improve inspection and oversight of the large operations. A recent investigation by the Wisconsin State Journal showed the agency's inspections of the big farms has not kept pace with their growth. Many of the farms are inspected only once during the life of the five-year pollution permit.
Because of their increasing number, the DNR is considering the streamlined permit for many of the large farms, including dairy farms with 700 to 4,000 animals. Environmental groups argue that the permit would reduce public input and make it too easy for the farms to receive permits. Agri-business groups such as the Dairy Business Association (DBA) are pushing for the agency to approve the general permit.
And now, according to a DBA official, the lobbying group is willing to work with the DNR to come up with a fee increase as part of the negotiations on the details of the general permit.
"We respect their position," said David Jelinski, government affairs director. "We understand they have these needs and goals. We're willing to work in that context."
Discussions would include environmental organizations, Ambs said: "It's now time to get all these folks in the same room."
Ambs said the agency can put the permit into place without approval by the Natural Resources Board or review by the state Legislature. But he said that will not happen until an agreement is reached on the fee, which would require legislative action - something that could happen during any special sessions scheduled for this summer, Ambs added.