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Great Lakes Article:

Environmental Review Process: Groups say bills weaken feedlot oversight
By Dennis Lien
St. Paul Pioneer Press


A broad collection of environmental and farm groups charged Tuesday that a legislative effort to weaken environmental review laws for medium-to-large feedlots would remove an important protection for the state's air, water and land.

"This environmental review process is working,'' said Paul Sobocinski, a Wabasso hog farmer and staff member of the Land Stewardship Project. "It's working for farmers, citizens and the environment.''

At a Capitol press conference, the groups said companion bills moving through the House and Senate would eliminate a key level of oversight for people living near many proposed hog, dairy, cattle and poultry operations and asked lawmakers to vote against them. Those residents, they said, no longer would be able to raise questions about feedlot proposals that affect them or the environment.

The bills would raise the threshold for when citizen-initiated environmental reviews can be sought for proposed animal feedlots from 300 animal units to 1,000 animal units, a weight-based classification that provides guidelines for manure production. A slaughter steer, for example, is one animal unit and a lamb is one-tenth of an animal unit.

The bills provide exceptions when a feedlot of fewer than 1,000 animal units is in an "environmentally sensitive location.'' The bills, sponsored by Sen. Dallas Sams, DFL-Staples, and Rep. Dennis Ozment, R-Rosemount, have since been attached to other legislation.

If the measure is approved, the groups said 97 percent of the state's feedlots would be exempted from the review process.

Ozment defended the legislation, saying it streamlines government, eliminates unnecessary obstacles for prospective developers and does nothing to harm the environment. New feedlot rules that went into effect a few years ago already provide oversight and protection, he said.

"The whole goal here is to absolutely not cause any negative impact to the environment,'' Ozment said. "That is the primary goal. We do want to make government work more efficiently and operate in a common-sense fashion.''

The study, requested by the Land Stewardship Project, is based on an analysis of Environmental Quality Board records and citizen petitions as well as interviews.

Done by a graduate student at the University of Minnesota's Hubert H. Humphrey Institute, it looked at 41 citizen petitions for environmental review of feedlots filed between 1998 and 2002. It challenged allegations that the environmental review process has been abused, saying its analysis found that petitions all listed authentic localized environmental concerns and that the overwhelming majority of signers were local residents.

Groups opposing the legislation include the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, which has 84 member organizations, and such farm groups as the Minnesota Farmers Union. The study, "The Benefits to Minnesota of Citizen-Initiated Environmental Review of Feedlots & the Consequences of Removing that Right,'' is available at www.land stewardshipproject.org.

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