OPINION Recent developments in Madison have threatened livestock-siting-rule changes, leaving our water and rural communities at risk.
Wis. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald threatened that legislators would deny the appointment of Brad Pfaff, secretary-designee of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Fitzgerald asked Gov. Tony Evers to withdraw his nomination of Pfaff, who like many cabinet members has been awaiting Senate confirmation for almost a year.
Hours later Pfaff announced that the department board would not move forward with a Nov. 7 vote on updates to Wisconsin’s Livestock Siting Rules, aka ATCP 51. The decision comes after citizens turned out across the state for hearings and proposed revisions to the rules that safeguard Wisconsin’s land, water and communities.
The law that gave rise to the ATCP 51 rules was originally adopted as a bipartisan compromise to strike a fair and balanced agreement between growth in Wisconsin agriculture and local-government ability to mitigate risks associated with large livestock operations.
The mere hours between the two decisions hardly seems like a coincidence. Instead it appears to be the result of pressure exerted by industry groups. It appears to be another move in a gross political game that has left our government hamstrung and the interests of Wisconsin citizens ignored.
Hundreds of citizens participated in the ATCP 51 hearings; those who testified overwhelmingly supported updating the rules. Proposed revisions would hold large livestock operations accountable for damage to land, water, roads and neighboring-property values. The revisions would impact only 1 percent of Wisconsin’s largest farms.
To scrap the rules now is to ignore all the people who took the time to participate in the public process. Wisconsin citizens expect that when they take the time to participate in public hearings their views will be respected and not ignored. Our public servants fell short of both of those expectations.
The livestock-siting rules have not been updated in more than a decade. The updates are long overdue in the face of increasing odor, noise and traffic complaints as well as increasing permitting costs being shouldered by local governments. Legislator attempts to use political maneuvering to shutter those revisions is disappointing, as is Pfaff’s apparent willingness to capitulate in the face of opposition and a threat to his title.
The Senate is scheduled to vote today regarding Pfaff’s appointment. It remains unclear whether ATCP 51, the livestock-siting revisions, will move forward for a vote. The Wisconsin Farmers Union encourages those displeased with the gridlock to contact Tony Evers’ office at 608-266-1212 or the ag department at 608-224-5012 as well as senator offices – visit maps.legis.wisconsin.gov for contact information. Urge them to tell Pfaff to put the vote on ATCP 51 back on this Thursday’s ag-department board agenda. If the board doesn’t vote the rules forward, all the positive progress we have made on those rules will be lost.
It’s not right to put the political appointment of one person ahead of the voices of hundreds of citizens. First and foremost we need our public servants to serve the public interest. The gridlock of inactivity exhibited by both state and national representatives due to political squabbles is having a direct effect on the everyday lives of citizens. Enough of this game-playing – it’s time our legislators stop impeding the democratic process and let the people speak.