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Wisconsin DOJ, DNR fine factory farm $200k for operating with no license

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Wisconsin DOJ, DNR fine factory farm $200k for operating with no license

Jun 11, 2024 | 3:54 pm ET
By Henry Redman
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Wisconsin DOJ, DNR fine factory farm $200k for operating with no license
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The Wisconsin Departments of Justice and Natural Resources issued a $209,641.47 fine against a Monroe County factory farm for operating for eight years without a permit. 

Phil Mlsna and Mlsna Dairy Supply, Inc., operate a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) in Sparta. Factory farms in the state are required to obtain a Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permit from the DNR in order to regulate the effect large farms have on local waterways. 

Mlsna’s permit expired in 2015, yet the farm continued to operate. The farm also constructed a sand separation system — which is used to treat cow manure — without getting approval from the DNR. 

In 2023, the DOJ sued the farm on behalf of the DNR, and the farm submitted an application for a new WPDES permit, which was approved Sept. 1, 2023. The farm operated without a permit for 2,501 days, according to a news release. 

According to the DOJ complaint against the dairy, a number of manure spills occurred while the dairy was operating without a permit. In 2016 and 2018, according to the complaint, the manure storage facility overtopped and in 2021 a manure spill occurred while it was being spread on a field and discharged into the Little Lacrosse River. The dairy also spread manure containing illegally high amounts of phosphorus multiple times. 

“The WPDES permitting system is in place for a very good reason: to protect clean water,” Attorney General Josh Kaul said in a statement. “As this case highlights, violations of our wastewater laws can result in significant penalties.”

Last month, Monroe County Judge Mark Goodman ordered the farm to pay the fine covering forfeitures, surcharges, court costs, and attorney fees.

“Wisconsin’s wastewater laws are in place to protect our environment and ensure safe, clean water for Wisconsinites. Violations of those laws are serious offenses, as they can contaminate our waters, harm wildlife and jeopardize public health,” DNR Assistant Deputy Secretary Mark Aquino said. “We appreciate the efforts of the Wisconsin DOJ to hold violators accountable and protect our natural resources.”

A group of dairy industry groups and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business lobby, are currently fighting a lawsuit to prevent the DNR from requiring CAFOs to obtain pollution discharge system permits. A Calumet County judge ruled against the dairy groups in January, and an appeal of that decision is pending.