When a dairy in Winona County proposed a massive expansion, MCEA was very concerned. The Daley Farms expansion would create 46 million gallons of manure per year, from over 4,600 cows. Located in the karst country of southeastern Minnesota, the millions of gallons of manure that would be created and then spread on cropland risked contaminating local drinking water.
We partnered with the Land Stewardship Project to oppose this expansion. Land Stewardship Project has long been working to prevent mega-dairies from polluting local groundwater, and Winona County has an ordinance in place that caps the size of feedlots to protect local drinking water. The Daley proposal would be four times the size of what local ordinance allows.
Extreme weather, floods and hail driven by climate change are already harming Minnesota farmers. Unless we take action to prevent more greenhouse gas pollution, agriculture will take the brunt of the impacts from climate change. The greenhouse gas pollution from this proposed mega-dairy would be significant. It’s the equivalent of 22,500 additional cars on the road each year. But the environmental study of the proposal by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) failed to look at greenhouse gas pollution at all.
Since agriculture is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas pollution in Minnesota, we argued that the failure to document and mitigate emissions from the Daley expansion violated Minnesota law. The Minnesota Court of Appeals agreed, and required the MPCA to redo its environmental study to include an analysis of Daley Farms’ greenhouse gas pollution.
We know how to mitigate the greenhouse gas pollution from this proposal and other feedlots. The MPCA has studied 21 different management practices that could be used to offset the emissions from this proposal. And even better, we can protect our drinking water and prevent greenhouse gas pollution with the same practices.
Alongside our legal work in the Daley Farms case, MCEA has been pushing the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board (EQB) to add greenhouse gas pollution to environmental review studies across Minnesota. Many project proposers were omitting climate pollution from their environmental studies because it was not on the form provided by the state and there was no clear guidance on how to do it. In December 2022, after conducting a pilot study, the EQB adopted these changes. Now all projects required to complete an environmental study in Minnesota will have to report on their greenhouse gas emissions, and whether they considered ways to reduce those emissions, before they can receive a state or local government permit. MCEA will continue to monitor this process to make sure projects accurately report their greenhouse gas emissions and look at opportunities to reduce those emissions.
We need to make every new proposal in Minnesota climate-neutral, and we can do it. Every industry and all sectors of our economy need to take responsibility for their climate change impact and implement measures to mitigate it. The precedent set in the Daley Farms case is one step toward a carbon-neutral future. MCEA is now using this precedent to ensure that environmental studies include greenhouse gas mitigation and climate change analysis for feedlots, commercial developments, and more.
Key Timeline Events
Climate analysis adopted for all state projects
The EQB votes to use the piloted form with climate analysis questions for all projects. This means all projects required to complete an environmental study in Minnesota will have to answer questions about the project’s climate impact, including the project’s total greenhouse gas emissions, whether the project looked at ways to reduce those emissions, and how the project supports (or does not support) Minnesota achieving its state climate goals.
EQB implements a pilot for the new environmental study form that requires projects to report on their climate impact. The pilot has participation from state agencies and local governments from all corners of the state. Pilot results show adding climate reporting to this study did not significantly increase the cost or time required to do the study, and assessing a project’s climate impacts was easier than anticipated.
Environmental Quality Board adds greenhouse gas pollution to environmental studies, begins pilot
After years of public engagement and discussion, the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board (EQB) adopts changes to the environmental assessment worksheet form that add greenhouse gas analysis to environmental studies on a 12-1 vote. Initially, all state agencies and other local units of government who register for a pilot project will use the new greenhouse gas guidance. The cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul also indicated their intent to participate. The EQB will review the results in December 2022 and vote on whether to extend it to all Minnesota governments that do environmental review studies.
MCEA files comments on a number of environmental studies across Minnesota
Comments inform local units of government of the Daley Farms precedent and recommend ways to mitigate greenhouse gas pollution.
MPCA finds environmental assessment adequate, issues permits for Daley expansion
While Daley Farms now has state permits needed for expansion, local ordinance capping the size of feedlots remains in place, preventing the expansion from being built.
MCEA files comments on the second environmental study
MCEA's comments argue that more detailed analysis of the proposed feedlot’s greenhouse gas pollution is possible and needed.
MPCA releases second environmental study and draft permits, including greenhouse gas analysis, for public comment
Minnesota Court of Appeals rules for MCEA, reverses permits and requires new environmental study of greenhouse gas pollution
The decision finds that the MPCA’s rationale for not studying greenhouse gas pollution was inadequate and that it is required under the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act. The Court returns the permits and environmental review to the MPCA and orders that they include greenhouse gas pollution in a revised study.
MCEA attorney Amelia Vohs argues the appeal in front of the Minnesota Court of Appeals
Winona County Board of Adjustments rejects variance request
Daley Farms sought a variance from the cap on the size of feedlots in the county, and MCEA filed comments documenting why the request did not meet legal requirements.
MCEA, representing itself and Land Stewardship Project, file appeal of MPCA permits with Minnesota Court of Appeals
MCEA goes to court to allow local farmers to participate in comment period
Local residents requested and received a 15 day extension of the comment period because their harvesting schedule did not permit them to participate. A consortium of Minnesota commodities groups led by Minnesota Milk challenged the extension. MCEA quickly intervened and the court denied the challenge and allowed the extension.
MPCA publishes Environmental Assessment Worksheet and opens 30 day comment period
MCEA files comments, arguing that the manure would contaminate local groundwater and that no greenhouse gas pollution analysis was done in the environmental study.