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
"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
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
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.