Sierra Club v. Walnutdale
Everybody has the right to clean water. Yet for the neighbors of industrial agriculture operations like Walnutdale Farms in Michigan, this right is unrealized. That is why the Public Justice Food Project represented the Sierra Club in an enforcement action alongside the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) against Walnutdale Farms for violating a 2004 consent decree to clean up their act.
The Great Lakes are known for their pristine waters enjoyed by people and animals alike. But factory farms routinely dump manure and fertilizer into Great Lakes water basins. Specifically, Walnutdale Farms diverted waste from its facility directly into a tributary to lake Michigan, letting manure drain from the barns into the stream through a pipe. It dumped massive quantities of manure above what the land could handle. Activities like this result in serious manure runoff into nearby waterways, endangering the ecosystem. Neighbors both locally and downstream have the right to clean water.
The Sierra Club sued the factory farm, which the EPA later joined, leading to a joint consent decree compelling Walnutdale to clean up its act in 2004. For a while, pollution abated and the nearby stream improved. But in recent years, evidence surfaced showing renewed pollution from the farm. This time, because Walnutdale was creating more waste than it could handle, raw sewage from the company’s dairy overflowed the storage pit and drained over 100,000 gallons of sewage into a tributary of the Rabbit River. Upon discovering Walnutdale’s violation of its consent decree and permit, the EPA brought forth an enforcement action to compel Walnutdale to honor its commitments. Public Justice joined the prosecution against Walnutdale as lead counsel for Sierra Cub, which was party to the action. The prosecution argued that the factory farm failed to manage animal waste and applied too much manure to fields. Our work with EPA held this company accountable and resulted in a new consent decree to stop future pollution.
When Big Ag pollutes shared waterways, we all suffer. The welfare of humans, animals, and the planet are interdependent. Public Justice will continue to prosecute actions towards a food production system that honors this fundamental interdependence.