BLOOMING PRAIRIE, Minn. — Sonja Trom Eayrs walked down the gravel driveway of the family farm, surrounded by soybeans and corn almost ready for picking. She pointed in every direction. There are 12 large hog farms in a three-mile radius of their Dodge County home, she said, and the fall is when growers typically spread the manure.
The smell is bad enough, she said — it once made her father vomit — but all the manure from growing livestock operations is overloading the county, polluting groundwater and the water running to the start of the Cedar River, she said.
"We're supposed to just take it. Well, we're not going to take it anymore," Trom Eayrs said.
A divorce lawyer by day, Trom Eayrs is a member of Dodge County Concerned Citizens, one of three Minnesota nonprofits among the 13 groups that sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last Monday in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. They are pushing the EPA to reform national water pollution permits for the large livestock operations, saying the waste from the mega farms is contributing to a national clean-water crisis.
The other Minnesota-based petitioners are the Land Stewardship Project and Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.
The lawsuit dives into tensions ripe across farm country. Farmers running livestock operations say they face unrelenting economic pressures to scale up and already deal with burdensome overregulation as they produce lean, protein-rich meat for the dinner tables of Americans and consumers abroad.
"There are long-standing, well-designed regulatory systems currently in place that protect the environment while providing an opportunity to provide nutritious, affordable food to consumers," said Jill Resler, CEO of the Minnesota Pork Board. "For Minnesota's pig farmers, protecting the environment, including water quality, is critical to the success and vitality of generational family farms."
Hog farmers, many of whom are in D.C. this week for meetings with Congress, have recoiled at other high-profile litigation related to their custody of animals.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a California law requiring pork sold in restaurants and grocery stores to have been raised in pens where they can move more freely than they currently do in many barns.
"This situation in California is setting a standard that, as a producer, I'm in a position to de-populate a farm and remodel a farm," said Terry Wolters, a hog farmer from Pipestone, Minn., and past president of the National Pork Producers Council, during a press roundtable this week. "I don't think California should tell me how to raise pigs."
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