MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin Supreme Court was set to hear oral arguments Monday in a pair of far-reaching environmental lawsuits that could define state officials’ ability to regulate factory farms and high-capacity wells and determine how far state agencies can go when interpreting state law.
Environmental advocacy group Clean Wisconsin filed a lawsuit in 2015 arguing the state Department of Natural Resources can require factory farms to monitor their impact on groundwater and limit the number of animals on the farms.
The group filed another lawsuit in 2016 contending the DNR must consider high-capacity wells’ cumulative impact on area groundwater when deciding to grant a well permit.
Then-Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel advised the DNR that it lacked authority to impose such requirements, contending that a law the GOP passed in 2011 known as Act 21 forbids state agencies from enforcing any standards or requirements that aren’t specifically laid out in statute or an administrative rule.
Current Attorney General Josh Kaul, a Democrat, changed the state Justice Department’s stance in May 2019 to side with Clean Wisconsin.
The 2nd District Court of Appeals asked the Supreme Court in January 2019 to take both lawsuits directly.