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Saturday, January 31, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 30.0° F  Overcast
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Emily's Post: Tammy Baldwin runs for Senate, local control over big dairy
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Run, Tammy, run!

I'd been hearing scuttlebutt about U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin's intention to run for Sen. Herb Kohl's soon-to-be-vacated seat for months now, so that she finally made the official announcement (video)of her candidacy this morning didn't come as much of a surprise.

It's no secret that I've been a Tammy supporter since I moved to Madison lo these many (11) years ago. I first met the Congresswoman at a fundraiser for her that was being held at the Orpheum Theatre. I, a fresh-faced college student, wandered up to her while wearing purple vinyl pants and with blue streaks in my hair, and shook her hand. That the woman didn't flinch at the sight of me -- let alone that we spoke for some time about things like the importance of LGBT equality and access to health care for everyone -- was kind of a revelation for me. I'd never really met a politician quite like her before that.

Baldwin is likely to face a serious challenge in gaining support on a statewide level after well-representing Wisconsin's very liberal 2nd District for so many years. Honestly I believe making her political case to the state at large -- that she can represent the interests of a much larger and very diverse demographic -- will be more of an issue than her sexuality. Yes, there are still people with bigoted ideas, but I think most folks are more concerned with the nitty gritty of jobs, health care, and basic rights than they are with a tried-and-true politician like Tammy's sexual orientation.

I will be most curious to see how her candidacy plays out, especially since, so far, she's the only Democrat to have announced in a race that's already somewhat lousy with Republican challengers -- perpetual candidate Mark Neumann is definitely in, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald is all-but-legally-in, and former Gov. Tommy Thompson seems to be seriously considering a bid, too.

Baldwin definitely has the tenacity and chops to make a serious go of it, and I would absolutely like to see her win -- I think she'd be an excellent senator and do a lot of good for the state and country -- but a victory is not yet at all a sure thing in such a divided state.

Lactose tolerance

It was only a matter of time before a Wisconsin law limiting the rights of local governments to regulate big dairy operations in their regions saw its first big test in the courts. Honestly, I'm sort of surprised it took this long -- the law was passed in 2004 by then Gov. Jim Doyle and a Republican-controlled Legislature.

As reported by The Capital Times, the law "for the first time outlined state standards for location, odor and air emissions, manure spreading and storage, and runoff management for new farms of all sizes or those that are looking to expand. The law gave local governments the option of using the new state standards or adopting their own siting ordinances as long as they weren't more restrictive than the state's."

What's at issue now, and about to go before the state Supreme Court, is whether or not the Livestock Facility Siting Review Board overstepped its bounds when it rejected groundwater and manure-spreading stipulations voted on by the town of Magnolia.

The folks in Magnolia want to ensure that the size and scale Rock County's largest dairy farm, Larson Acres, doesn"t pollute the air and water in the area. Farms with more than 750 cows have to obtain a pollutant discharge elimination system permit with the DNR because such large-scale operations produce vast amounts of animal waste. Larson Acres has 2,800 cows.

That waste, when not properly treated, can contaminate groundwater and soil with excessively high levels of nitrates: "The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency imposes a 10-parts-per-million maximum amount of nitrates allowed in drinking water. Water quality tests conducted on Norwegian Creek, which runs through the Larson Acres property, tested positive for nitrates at more than 200 parts per million."

There are certainly ethical issues that arise when talking about these mega-farms, too -- how the cows are housed, what they're fed, how they live. But regardless of how you feel (or don't) about those aspects of industrial scale dairy farms, certainly the question of local control should be an important one.

The issue is cropping up across the state: Hundreds of local residents packed a hearing to voice their opposition to a factory farm's efforts to bring 5,000 cows to a small piece of land in Richfield, Wisconsin. As reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "A group called Family Farm Defenders and a homeowner filed suit in Dane County against the Department of Natural Resources. They want an administrative review of the DNR's decision to approve the developer's building plans. The plaintiffs say large farms are a threat to air, water and food quality. And, they lower prices for smaller farms by flooding the market with products."

It's a delicate balance, to be sure. The dairy business is both culturally and economically important in Wisconsin. But in order to see that our smaller dairy operations and the state's other vital resources -- it's land, water, people -- are not given short shrift as a result of our focus on that big business, we have to set some reasonable standards. Requiring that big farming operations have some effective method of minimizing their impact on the natural environment, and that the communities most directly affected by their operations have a say in it all, seems like a no-brainer.

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