AG Nessel, EGLE File Lawsuit Against Slater Farms Entities for Polluting Public Waterways with Animal Waste

Contact: Ryan Jarvi 517-599-2746
Agency: Attorney General

September 24, 2020

LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, on behalf of the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), filed a lawsuit today against a large Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) for failing to comply with permitting requirements and for polluting the environment. 

CAFOs are large-scale industrial animal feeding operations that raise hundreds if not thousands of livestock that generate significant amounts of waste, which can contaminate the state’s waterways if not properly managed. EGLE regulates CAFOs under the state’s water quality statute  and requires owners and operators of CAFOs to obtain and abide by permits to avoid polluting Michigan’s waters. 

“Water is one of Michigan’s most precious resources and I take my responsibility to protect it seriously,” Nessel said. “CAFOs pose a significant risk to this shared resource, and my office will go after any person or company that refuses to follow commonsense waste management requirements and jeopardizes the health of Michigan’s residents or our environment.”

In a video message about the complaint, Nessel said environmental laws will only be effective if there is strong and consistent enforcement of those regulations.

In the lawsuit, the State alleges Slater Farms’ mismanagement of its animal waste products is threatening the state with serious environmental and public health harms. In particular, its mismanagement of its waste is causing nitrogen, phosphorus and E. coli to pollute the White River watershed, which could potentially impact the Great Lakes. 

“Too many Michigan streams are currently impacted by mismanaged manure. Michiganders should not have to live with unhealthy levels of bacteria in their streams or tolerate toxic algal blooms in their lakes,” said EGLE Director Liesl Clark. “EGLE is committed to partnering with Michigan farmers to reduce these environmental impacts and ensure their operations are sustainable. Positive results are achievable and are happening when committed individuals acknowledge the challenge and work together to find solutions.” 

Slater Farms is permitted by the state as a CAFO and is comprised of several related corporate entities. Collectively, it owns and manages animal feeding operations of more than 1,500 mature dairy cows and 400 cattle. Every year, those operations produce about 8.9 million gallons of liquid waste and 1,500 tons of solid waste. Slater Farms manages a system to dispose of its operational waste, along with roughly 10.7 million more gallons of liquid waste from an unrelated commercial farm. That includes collecting and spreading the associated waste on hundreds of acres in both Newaygo and Muskegon counties. 

CAFO waste contains nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus and contaminants like E. coli.  When the waste is improperly managed, the nitrogen and phosphorous can harm soil quality and plants on land, while the pollution can kill fish and other aquatic life in water.  Humans can also become sick after recreating in water with E. coli or eating fish or shellfish from contaminated water. Pets have died after ingesting water contaminated with algae blooms caused by this contamination. 

This is not the first time Slater Farms has been accused of violating Michigan’s water pollution laws. In early 2012, after responding to a citizen complaint about manure discharging into Brayden Creek, EGLE discovered Slater Farms was operating a CAFO without a permit.  

At the time, Slater Farms was also not properly managing its waste by failing to maintain waste storage structures, improperly land-applying manure, and improperly storing manure, among other things. Slater Farms obtained a permit in 2013 following an administrative settlement with EGLE. 

However, Slater Farms has not yet fully complied with that administrative settlement and repeatedly and continuously violated its permit by improperly managing the vast amounts of animal waste produced by its feeding operations, leading the State to file this lawsuit. 

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