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CAFO cows

Gov. Scott Walker wants to transfer regulatory authority over factory farms — concentrated animal feeding operations — from the Department of Natural Resources, which has experience regulating the kind of pollution created by CAFOs, to the state's ag department. His proposal makes zero sense. FILE PHOTO

Scott Walker, who represented suburban Milwaukee in the Legislature and served as Milwaukee County executive before becoming governor, has never been accused of showing undue interest in rural Wisconsin.

Walker gets far more excited about jetting off to New York, or Florida, or Texas, or Arizona, or California to beg for campaign donations than he does about visiting New Holstein, or Florence, or Texas (the one in northern Marathon County), or Argyle, or Calumet. And his policies show it.

The governor focuses on running for president (unsuccessfully), currying favor with conservative elites (ardently) or promising taxpayer funds to Taiwanese corporations (extravagantly). He doesn’t bother with issues that matter to the small towns and rural stretches of Wisconsin, unless a campaign donor or a lobbyist for some out-of-state corporation encourages him to pay attention — and even then it is only to do the bidding of the interests that pay his way politically.

So it should come as no surprise that Walker’s big move as regards rural Wisconsin is a promise to keep working to transfer regulatory authority over factory farms — concentrated animal feeding operations — from the Department of Natural Resources to the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Anyone who knows anything about the environmental impact of factory farms, not to mention the stench, will tell you that the DNR needs to maintain its oversight responsibilities with regard to industrialized agriculture.

Factory farms have little to do with traditional farming as Wisconsinites understand it; they are moneymaking ventures that disregard historic models of caring for animals, create daunting threats to clean water, and replace the land stewardship of family farmers with the profiteering of corporate agribusiness.

As such, Walker’s proposal to shift oversight of factory farms away from the DNR, which has experience when it comes to regulating corporations and controlling against industrial threats to the environment, makes zero sense.

Walker’s thinking is so out of sync with Wisconsin values and Wisconsin needs that the state’s conservative Republican state legislators showed little interest in his scheme. Walker included funding for a study of whether DATCP could do the job in his budget proposal only to have it removed by the legislative Joint Finance Committee. And the chair of the state Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, Green Bay Republican Rob Cowles, recently told the WisPolitics website that “he wasn’t interested in bringing Walker’s provision back as standalone legislation — and that no one he’d talked to was either.”

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That’s good, because environmental advocates rightly note that giving regulatory authority to DATCP would make it more difficult to address pollution of groundwater, lakes, rivers and streams.

So why is Walker pushing a proposal that is supported only by factory-farm owners and their lobbyists? The answer to that question is easy. As Midwest Environmental Advocates staff attorney Tressie Kamp explained, Walker's focus on the issue provides a reminder of “the unimpeded access and control that (factory-farm advocates have) over the governor’s office and ultimately over large-scale policy decisions in our state.”

Kamp argues: “Our elected officials should prioritize citizen voices over industry interests.”

Unfortunately, Walker does not listen to citizen voices with anywhere near the attentiveness that he accords industry interests. And he is particularly neglectful of the voices of Wisconsinites who live in rural counties, where family farmers struggle to stay on the land and where small towns face increasing threats from the policies not just of Walker and his cronies in Madison but from Walker-ally Donald Trump and his cronies in Washington.

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