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Mickelson Marches Pro-CAFO, Anti-Citizen Bill through Committee

Don’t put citizens’ rights in a pigpen!

In another move to take away South Dakotans’ rights in favor of capitalists’ pigs, Senate State Affairs yesterday approved House Bill 1140, Rep. Mark Mickelson’s proposal to reduce citizens’ opportunity to appeal zoning decisions for confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

Rep. Mickelson (R-13/Sioux Falls) said that making it easier to get a CAFO permit is vital to allowing young farmers to diversify their revenue streams and reversing the population decline of rural South Dakota. lined up proponents to say that the zoning process for CAFOs is “brutal,” rife with “frivolous” appeals subjecting CAFO developers and county officials to “personal vendettas and stalling tactics.” Rep. Mickelson himself compared the current zoning appeals process to a strange Never-Never-Land situation in which one high school would protest the rescheduling of two other schools’ basketball game.

Opponents told Rep. Mickelson and the committee that, far from playing fantasy sports, citizens who oppose CAFOs are trying to protect their water, soil, air, property values, and rights to participate in local government. One rural couple said the feedlot across the road from their home has caused nitrate pollution in their dugout and two pastures and kicks up stink and dust. Opponents reminded Rep. Mickelson of the recently documented pollution of the Big Sioux River flowing through his district, but Rep. Mickelson responded that pollution in the Big Sioux is due to a lack of grassy strips along the river and that CAFOs are cleaner than other farm operations.

Sabrina King of Dakota Rural Action pointed out that her organization includes feedlot operators. DRA isn’t trying to ban CAFOs; they are just trying to preserve the zoning process that ensures CAFOs are built and operated responsibly. Matt Sibley of Farmers Union made a similar point: his organization is all for agricultural development, but not at the expense of neighboring landowners and the community.

King made perhaps the most important policy point of the hearing: all of the feedlot operators whom Rep. Mickelson recruited to testify in favor of HB 1140 survived the allegedly “brutal” zoning process and got their CAFOs approved. Senator Bernie Hunhoff (D-18/Yankton) picked up on that point, noting that none of the CAFO developers who have been denied permits have shown their faces in the HB 1140 debate, likely because their big factory farm plans likely didn’t deserve approval. King further pointed out that South Dakota law already bans and punishes frivolous appeals, but CAFO developers have not availed themselves of that process. No court has ruled any CAFO appeal frivolous.

In other words, Rep. Mickelson is pushing HB 1140 to address a problem that does not appear to exist. He is taking away citizens’ rights with no evidence of a compelling state interest in doing so. (See also Rep. Mickelson’s vote for House Bill 1008, the anti-transgender potty bill.)

Swayed more by Rep. Mickelson’s business-über-alles mindset than by Hunhoff’s conservative approach to policymaking (i.e., make policy only when necessary), Senate State Affairs voted 6–3 to send HB 1140 to the full Senate. (Republican Senator Ernie Otten did rediscover his true conservatism and vote with Democrats Hunhoff and Billie Sutton.)

In the only bright-side outcome, the committee did approve an amendment offered by Rep. Mickelson to remove the requirement that citizens appealing a CAFO zoning decision file a $250 bond and agree to penalties if they introduce any delay into the appeal process. Senator Hunhoff aptly compared that requirement to a poll tax. But as King pointed out, HB 1140 still places burden on CAFO zoning appellants, like consolidation of all appeals, that we don’t impose in any other area of South Dakota law. HB 1140 also gives county commissioners far too broad, ill-defined authority to make changes in CAFO zoning permits without public notice or opportunity for challenge.

House Bill 1140 takes away due process for citizens concerned that 5,000 pigs concentrated in one big barn could be bad for their watershed. Responsible capitalists can already get permits for their pigs, in a process that allows citizens a fair chance to air their views and ensure that developers and county governments can follow all the rules.

Update 08:56 CST: Republican businessman John Tsitrian agrees that HB 1140 is an attack on citizens’ ability to exercise real local control over zoning:

Even more abhorrent is the way the legislation renders fictional the built-in bias by our centralized government-hating Republicans.  The state legislature is telling counties and municipalities that it is the ultimate authority on how local decisions will be resolved, which is actually a lot bunk.  Locals know their territories better than outsiders and they should be able to work together to protect themselves from bad actors who, by virtue of holding sway over a limited handful of officials, can ramrod self-serving zoning decisions with little concern about the residents of the area themselves being able to step in and have a say [John Tsitrian, “Why Is the SD State Legislature Considering Making Individual Involvement in Local Zoning Decisions Harder?The Constant Commoner, 2016.02.29].

Put people over pigs and profit—vote no on HB 1140!


  1. Bob Newland 2016-03-01 07:37

    Listening to Mickelson on SDPB this morning, I was rooting for him to be able to string a subject, a verb and an object together in a coherent sentence, but to no avail.

  2. Paul Seamans 2016-03-01 08:47

    Passage of this bill may gain a few votes for Mark Mickelson for governor from CAFO operators (if they live in this state) but I doubt that it will gain him votes from those living along the Big Sioux. Maybe it’s campaign contributions that concern Mark more.

    Thanks to Sabrina King and Bernie Hunoff for protecting our drinking water.

  3. Steve Sibson 2016-03-01 09:09

    A similar anti-citizen/anti-landowner bill has alerady been signed by the governor:

    In case you don’t know, this pro-big business agenda was part of the progressive movement at the turn of the 20th century. See Martin Sklar’s work. He coined the term “liberal corporate capitalism”.

  4. 90 Schilling 2016-03-01 09:14

    The vote allows us to see and judge our senate in action. The nitwit is sold out to hog manure and is all about abolishing his party next fall.

  5. larry kurtz 2016-03-01 09:19

    Sibby makes a good point: East River has already been destroyed. Why worry now?

  6. Frank James 2016-03-01 10:56

    Mickelson also blamed the pollution in the Big Sioux River on unregulated animal operations including cow/calf producers. Seems the next Governor wants to blame the long-term citizens of our rural communities and swap them out for better, newer rural citizens who can be trusted.

  7. Dave 2016-03-01 11:16

    the funny part is that all this re-population of our rural areas is being done by guest workers who do not have a vote…our young farmer/corporate board member lives in town away from the stink.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-01 11:50

    Workers who can’t vote, rich owners who owe their existence to Republican favors—Dave, you may have figured out the Mickelson/Daugaard/Rounds model of economic development.

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-01 11:56

    Sibby is correct: HB 1108 reduces citizen power similarly to HB 1140. Rep. Lance Russell (R-30/Hot Springs) cast the only vote against HB 1108; he also voted against HB 1140. What’s it going to take to forge a pro-democracy coalition between the Lance Russell/Sibby wing of the Legislature and the Dakota Free Press wing?

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-01 12:42

    Frank, do we have data on sources of water pollution in the Big Sioux and other South Dakota watersheds? I heard at a Lake County Water Quality meeting once that ag constituted 85% of pollution in the Lake Herman/Lake Madison complex, but I don’t recall a breakdown between CAFOs and other ag operations.

  11. Paul Seamans 2016-03-01 12:55

    Mickelson seems to think that grassy strips along a water way will solve the pollution of the Big Sioux. If the solution is that simple then why isn’t he working on the solution? Having farmers voluntarily plant grass strips has been tried in Iowa. Unless there is a huge incentive paid to farmers it just isn’t happening. It will need to be mandated if it is going to happen and no politician is going to touch that. The city of Des Moines is currently suing three water districts because of the nitrates in their drinking water. Farmers are not planting enough of the filter strips. mike from Iowa, fill us in.

  12. larry kurtz 2016-03-01 13:02

    This is the internet, guys. DENR has data posted, EPA has data posted, USGS has data posted. USFWS has data posted.

    Nobody cares.

  13. larry kurtz 2016-03-01 13:07

    Cory, your name came up on 100 Eyes yesterday where Jon Ellis sang your praises. If anybody has power in the SDDP it’s you and Bernie Hunhoff. Other than that the party is as flaccid as a wrapped condom.

  14. larry kurtz 2016-03-01 13:17

    Btw: $20 says Kristi Noem will stay in Congress rather than move her entire clan to a sewer like Pierre.

  15. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-01 13:31

    Larry, you know I can’t brook nihilism any more than I can brook sitting through dreary, buggy video from that Sioux Falls paper. If Ellis is going to praise me, why can’t he put it in writing where people might actually see it? :-D

  16. larry kurtz 2016-03-01 14:39

    Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced they won’t hear the Chesapeake Bay Watershed case involving the EPA and the American Farm Bureau. The decision means the lower court ruling will stand which allows the EPA to continue requiring the seven states in the Chesapeake Bay to clamp down on nitrogen and phosphorous runoff into the watershed.

  17. Paul Seamans 2016-03-01 15:08

    Thanks for the news Larry. Evidently Farm Bureau members are more concerned about a place to dump their manure than they are about clean drinking water. This free pass to pollute is coming to an end for farmers.

  18. larry kurtz 2016-03-01 16:00

    Paul, the Republican Party is rotting from the head but since South Dakota lives twenty years in the past few in my home state even know it’s happening.

  19. Kris 2016-03-01 16:47

    dude why slamin these? i werk at a terky farm and pays good $$$$$$

  20. Sam@ 2016-03-01 18:25

    Hopefully this bill gets signed by the governor. Grant county is a prime example of where oppents have filed numerous frivolous law suites in a attempt to delay a project. Their largest employer needs the raw materials (MIlk)these companies under attackt supply. I do not see how this bill would hinder anyone from being heard in court. This will speed the process up.

    It is apparent with the decisions that the courts have made these law suits and arguments are with it merit and where nothing more than a delay tactic.

    CAFOS are under extreme regulation and operate in a safe manner. The small farms are the one who slide under regulation.

    This is a pro business pro job bill.

  21. Sam@ 2016-03-01 18:27


    Thank you Nice to see some one wh under stands the importance of feeding the world.

  22. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-01 21:11

    Sam, are CAFOs necessary to feeding the world? Are all pro-business bills automatically good? Should businesses that generate significant amounts of pollution be subject to regulation to protect the environment?

  23. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-01 21:12

    (And cut the comedy, Kris. Get real or get out.)

  24. Paul Seamans 2016-03-01 21:33

    About all SB136 does is to say that something needs to be done by taking a first step by lowering taxes a little. In my county non-cropland is taxed at 70% of cropland.

    There are some successes along the Big Sioux with filter strips. To achieve success you need landowners who realize the importance of protecting our water. First off the filter strips need to be planted to the proper grass and then fenced off to keep cattle out of the river during the hot summer months. Cattle will cool off in the river where they will pee and poop and this is where a lot of the problems arise. This is not as bad a problem during the winter months. If cattle are kept out of the river then they need an alternative water source. All of this takes a lot of money and committed landowners.

    Where this is being instituted along the Big Sioux in trials I think that they are having some good results. To really make this work I think it will take the commitment of federal money. Sort of a CRP to protect water.

  25. Paul Seamans 2016-03-01 21:42

    The more Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations there are the more manure that there is in a small area. Will there be adequate cropland to spread this manure on without runoff into streams.

    I have heard this old saw about how CAFO’s are cleaner and safer than a small family farm that raises livestock. I don’t believe it one damn bit. Mark Mickelson is one person who repeats this claim. What does Mark Mickelson know about farming and CAFO’s.

  26. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-01 21:55

    …and CAFOs sure can’t contain their pollution with mere grassy strips.

  27. Bobby Kolbe 2016-03-01 23:25

    I find it interesting that a Legislator from Minnehaha County would push this bill. When serving on the Minnehaha County Commission then Gov.
    Walter Dal Miller said that Minnehaha County was the most Ag friendly County in S D. Yet we had strict But FAIR zoning ordinances.
    We controlled Bull S*** we didn’t listen to Bull S***!

  28. C Carter 2016-03-02 08:34

    This DENR report shows that 58% of the bacterial load in the Big Sioux River arises from crop fields. From page 53 of the pdf: “Figure 6-8 shows that cropland is the greatest overall bacteria load contributor..” (Figure 6-8 is on page 55 of the pdf). How do E. coli and other pathogenic enteric bacteria get onto crop fields? Manure applications. CAFOs and AFOs generate vast quantities of manure, which is stored temporarily in huge lagoons then applied to crop fields.

  29. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-02 17:38

    Ding ding ding! And my friend Don Carr notes that the polluting dairy to whose story Larry links, the Meadowvale Dairy, received $242K in federal ag subsidies from 1995 to 2012. These CAFOs don’t need our Legislature’s help.

  30. larry kurtz 2016-03-02 17:46

    Like wipin’ your assets with a hula hoop: it’s endless.

  31. mike from iowa 2016-03-03 08:05

    According to official records, this dairy operation has had problems as far back as 2003. The guy that owns the dairy also owns the company that is supposed to handle waste disposal.

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