seagallYou looking at me, punk? Okay, okay. I’ve got a good one for you. Ready?

Q: Why are CAFOs just like B-movie action “star” Steven Seagal?

A: Because despite being Under Siege, Marked for Death and On Deadly Ground, they remain Hard to Kill and, even worse, Above the Law.

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free.

The ultimate example of this has got to be the Excel Diary CAFO in Minnesota. El Dragón from Fair Food Fight has the details:

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Fair Food Fight reported on Excel Dairy back in 2008, when the dairy became the first CAFO in Minnesota to be declared a public health hazard — so noxious and obnxious is Excel, that even the Minnesota Milk Producers Association hung them out to dry.)

A year later, it’s only gotten worse. So far in 2009, the dairy has wracked up over 100 fines (the dairy was issued over 500 last year, so that’s an improvement), emissions of hydrogen sulfide have exceeded the state maximum, several evacuations have taken place, and, in June and July, Excel was ordered by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to empty two of its three manure lagoons. Luckily, there have been no cattle on the operation this year, giving the land and the neighbors a bit of a rest.

Bafflingly, Pollution Control officials could have put a stop to all this back in April but didn’t. At an emotional MPCA Board meeting April 2009 to discuss whether or not to issue a new permit to Excel, owner/operator Rick Milner told the board that he wouldn’t or couldn’t comply with any conditions requiring him to clean up his own mess.

…Despite Milner’s efforts to give MPCA every reason to deny him, the permit was issued anyway, and Milner has plans to move 1500 heads back onto the dairy in January and resume bolstering his manure lagoons in 2010. Furthermore, according to MinnPost’s Ron Way, the state could have evoked its “superfund” law to clean up the mess and bill the dairy. But didn’t.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

El Dragón wonders who in the state can act to shut this guy down. Even the Minnesota’s Department of Health can’t do much more than beg the state’s pollution control board to do its job. The Minnesota Post article linked above does a great job tracing the failings of the state’s system of environmental enforcement against the ag sector. But this isn’t just about Minnesota — this phenomenon is replicated in states across the country, from Iowa to North Carolina.

What fascinates me is the fact that public health risks are pushed so far down the list — the system can’t seem to take them into account. I guess it helps when you’ve depopulated rural counties through consolidation, stripped municipal governments of development authority over their own land and effectively captured state regulatory agencies so that when a CAFO does move in to a populated area, residents are all but powerless to stop them. And then, you leave it up to a single pollution control board as the only real choke point — creating a small target at which industry groups and captured ag departments can focus all their fire. In this case, it sounds like the state attorney general is getting involved and perhaps there will be a happy ending here.

Still, the system remains rigged to let these CAFO get built and operate with zero regard for the consequences. But you know how it is in this country, keep that retail price nice and low and you can get away with just about anything.