by CHRIS ROGERS
A new review of the proposed Daley Farm expansion is all about greenhouse gases and how much methane thousands of cows would generate at the Lewiston dairy farm. For many citizens, though, water pollution remains the number-one issue.
“It still is a big concern, and it’s not going away unless we do something,” Homer Township resident Amy Cordry said of nitrate pollution in private wells at a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) meeting last week.
Cordry and others believe that the 46 million gallons of manure per year the expanded feedlot would produce poses a risk to local aquifers. Many of those aquifers are already contaminated by unhealthy levels of nitrate — the result of nitrogen from fertilizer, manure, and human waste. MPCA experts analyzed this concern in 2018 and responded to hundreds of comments like Cordry’s before ultimately ruling that the feedlot expansion would not pose a significant risk to local water quality because of the Daley family’s plans to safely manage that manure.
The MPCA gave its blessing to the Daley Farm expansion last winter, but following a lawsuit by environmental groups, a state appeals court ruled that the MPCA needed to redo its environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) for the Daley Farm expansion because that environmental study did not include any information on greenhouse gases.
So, MPCA officials developed a new report estimating the amount of greenhouse gases the feedlot expansion would produce: an added 20,300 tons of carbon dioxide equivalents per year, more than doubling the farm’s current emissions. The MPCA released its new report — called an EAW supplement — for public comment last month. The agency will review those comments before making a fresh decision on whether to permit the Daley Farm expansion or require an even more in-depth study called an environmental impact statement (EIS). An EIS would be so onerous it would effectively kill the proposal, Ben Daley of the Daley Farm has said.
So for citizens frustrated by the MPCA’s original decision, does the new EIS decision mean the agency might reconsider water-quality impacts? When deciding whether to require an EIS, will the MPCA only consider information regarding greenhouse gases or will it consider water pollution, too? MPCA officials have given mixed messages about that.
“Our determination going forward will be limited to the information that is new,” Assistant MPCA Commissioner Katrina Kessler stated, responding to that question in a press conference late last month. In that press conference, MPCA Certification, Environmental Review and Rules Section Manager Melissa Kuskie noted, “If we receive new information during the public comment process, certainly that’s something we would consider.” Kessler confirmed that includes new information on water quality.
However, in a public notice seeking comments on the EAW supplement, MPCA officials seemed to draw the line at greenhouse-gas-related information only. They wrote, “Comments will be accepted only on new information contained in this supplement.”
At last week’s public meeting, MPCA staff stressed that — although environmental groups challenged the MPCA’s handling of water pollution concerns — the only aspect of the MPCA’s environmental review that the court found problems with was its lack of greenhouse gas information. “The court found no fault with the permit, just that the greenhouse gas information wasn’t there,” MPCA Director of Resource Management and Assistance David Benke stated.
There is some new information about water quality, Winona resident and physician Charles Shephard told the MPCA last week. “There have been some scientific studies that have come out in the last year since the permit was issued that you might want to consider,” he stated, citing new reports about the hundreds of thousands of wells in Minnesota contaminated by nitrates. “I don’t think we appreciated how widespread nitrate contamination was until this year,” he argued.
Conversely, Daley Farm neighbor Ellsworth Simon argued that the well water he has been drinking for years next to the Daley Farm is fine. “I have to live by it, and I plan on staying right where I am,” he declared.
Whether they want them or not, the MPCA is sure to get lots of comments regarding nitrate pollution.
Raising a different water-related issue, one Wabasha County angler cited the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ conclusion that the 92 million gallons of water the feedlot expansion would extract from local aquifers every year “may interfere with other water uses or have negative impacts on nearby lakes, streams, or wetlands.” “That’s a big concern for me,” he stated.
Some citizens who spoke last week did focus on greenhouse gases. The Minnesota Legislature’s 2007 Next Generation Energy Act set a goal of reducing statewide emissions by 80 percent by 2050, a goal Minnesota is not on track to meet. If Minnesota is serious about meeting those goals, it needs to tighten emission rules, Winonan Mike Kennedy told the MPCA.
When MPCA staff noted that, currently, there are no limits on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions new developments may emit, Wabasha County farmer Tom Hunter asked, “If there aren’t any regulations, what are we going to compare this to? And what’s the purpose of this?”
Lewiston area farmer Carey Tweten asked, “Does the agency have any information that this dairy farm has any measurable impact on climate change?” At the meeting, Kuskie responded, “Even a small amount of greenhouse gases of course contributes to global levels of greenhouse gases.” In the EAW supplement MPCA officials wrote that, “The project’s incremental contribution to global [greenhouse gases] cannot be translated into effects on climate change globally or regionally … In other words, while agriculture contributes to climate change generally, existing scientific tools do not allow MPCA to quantify the specific effects of a particular feedlot or project on global or regional climate change impacts.”
Some environmentalists have opposed this project for a long time, but they haven’t complained about greenhouse gases until now, Phil DePestel of the Daley Farm said. “Does the MPCA believe the environmental group is grasping at straws at this point?” he asked.
The MPCA has extended the public comment for the EAW supplement until 4:30 p.m. on Friday, March 6. Agency staff said the MPCA will issue its new EIS decision in late April.
More information, including the EAW supplement, is available at www.pca.state.mn.us/regulations/projects-under-mpca-review. Comments regarding the EAW supplement may be directed to MPCA Project Manager Kim Grosenheider at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 520 Lafayette Road North, St. Paul, Minn., 55155-4194. Comments regarding the Daley Farm’s feedlot permit may be directed to MPCA Feedlot Officer Mark Gernes MPCA, 12 Civic Center Plaza, Suite 2165, Mankato, Minn., 56001, or at email@example.com.