Top court asked to decide far-reaching cases on farming impact on state waters

January 16, 2019

Wisconsin appeals court judges on Wednesday asked the state Supreme Court to decide several key lawsuits that will determine the power of state regulators to protect public waters from pollution and overuse by farming operations.

The long-fought lawsuits ask the courts to determine the extent to which a 2011 state law limiting the authority of state agencies prevents the Department of Natural Resources from placing certain constraints on agricultural and other businesses.

One issue to be decided is whether the Legislature and governor have enacted laws empowering the DNR to order monitoring of water quality or limits on the number of animals in large feedlots.

Also to be decided whether elected officials have put in place laws empowering the DNR to limit large-scale pumping of groundwater by farms and other businesses that would harm surrounding lakes, streams or residential drinking water.

The 2011 state law known as Act 21 states that state agencies can’t take actions that haven’t been specifically authorized in law. The law was designed to constrain the agencies’ ability to interpret laws and place more power in the hands of elected officials.

A three-judge panel of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals district in Waukesha asked the Supreme Court to handle the cases.

“As only the Wisconsin Supreme Court may amend, modify, or overrule a decision and as the questions presented have statewide concern and implication, we request that the Wisconsin Supreme Court accept certification in these cases,” the appeals court said.

This article will be updated.

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