Big Dairy Opposes Increased Factory Farm Fees for Clean Water Programs

May 30, 2019

GOP legislative leaders have delayed action on a proposal by Gov. Tony Evers to increase fees on factory farms to help cover some clean water programs.

The proposal, part of Evers’s budget, would increase annual fees paid by the state’s 300-plus factory farms from $345 to $660. The budget would also create a new permit issuance fee that costs $3,270 and requires factory farm owners to pay it every five years. The money additional money would help pay for five new Department of Natural Resources positions to monitor factory farms and enforce water pollution laws.

The current fees paid by factory farms don’t cover the costs of writing and enforcing pollution permits designed to keep millions of tons of manure from polluting drinking water, lakes and streams. A state audit in 2016 found the DNR has failed to keep up with the increasing number of factory farms. Meanwhile, residents around the state have had to put up with drinking water tainted by bacteria and nitrates from farms for years.

The move by the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, which is considering Evers’s 2019-21 budget, came amid opposition to the higher fees by the Wisconsin Dairy Alliance, a lobby group that represents the state’s largest dairy operations.

The agriculture industry contributed $1.6 million in individual, political action committee, and corporate contributions between January 2010 and July 2018 to fundraising committees and members of the current legislature. Republicans, who control both the Assembly and Senate, collected more than $1.4 million of those contributions.

Several of the top individual contributors to current legislators were employees and owners of large produce and livestock farms, including:

Jeremie and Alicia Pavelski, of Wisconsin Rapids, owners of Heartland Farms, $30,575

James Mortenson, of Wisconsin Rapids, owner of Mortenson Brothers Farms, $20,950

James and Annette Ostrom, of De Pere, co-owners of Milksource, $18,550;

The top legislative recipients of agriculture industry contributions during that period were:

Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, $237,715

GOP Sen. Howard Marklein, of Spring Green, about $199,725

Republican Assembly Campaign Committee, about $190,000

GOP Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, of Juneau, about $59,915

Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee, $50,425

In contrast, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers received about $8,800 in individual and PAC contributions from the agriculture industry between January 2010 and July 2018.