Founded in 2014, the Snake River Waterkeeper group has been busy in Idaho. The group’s website touts a variety of activities, from dam removal demonstrations, joining numerous lawsuits over the definition of “Waters of the United States,” to suing the EPA and filing a lawsuit to appeal Idaho’s newly promulgated General CAFO Permit Rule to the 9th Circuit.
Most Recent Target – Simplot
In May of this year, Snake River Waterkeeper filed a Clean Water Act lawsuit against Simplot Livestock, alleging that Simplot was discharging manure illegally. According to an article in Progressive Farmer, in response, Simplot Livestock filed a motion for dismissal on the grounds that the lawsuit could not provide any specifics for which they are making their claims.
On September 6th, the court ordered to stay discovery until it issues a decision on the pending motion to dismiss. The court took this action for various reasons, but most importantly, because proper notice to Simplot was not given. Snake River Waterkeeper could not and did not provide specific facts regarding their allegations. As a part of the decision, the court provided this information:
“Under Section 505(b) of the CWA and 40 C.F.R. § 135.3(a), a plaintiff must give a defendant detailed notice of an alleged violation 60-days prior to commencing a civil enforcement action. Specifically, the 60-day notice must identify “the specific standard, limitation, or order alleged to have been violated, the activity alleged to constitute a violation, the person or persons responsible for the alleged violation, the location of the alleged violation, the date or dates of such violation…”
“The notice requirement strikes a balance between encouraging citizen enforcement of environmental regulations and avoiding burdening the federal courts with excessive numbers of citizen suits. A “strictly construed” notice requirement preserves this balance in two ways: by giving government entities the first opportunity to enforce environmental regulations and by giving the alleged violator a chance to comply with the CWA, thereby making a citizen suit unnecessary. Failure to include sufficient information in a notice frustrates these purposes and divests a federal court of jurisdiction to consider the citizen suit.”
Local Name – Anti-Animal Agriculture Connections
Like many environmental groups these days, Snake River Waterkeeper is an organization made up primarily of lawyers, which gives them an advantage when pursuing their targets. It is important to note that Snake River Waterkeeper is not simply a local group. They are partnered with other deep-pocket Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). For example, they partnered with Food and Water Watch to sue the EPA. Food and Water Watch is a group staunchly against animal agriculture and has produced articles with titles like “Nothing Safe in Industrial Agriculture,” “Factory Farms Make Us Sick,” “GMOs Plant Seeds for Corporate Control,” and “Farms vs. Factory Farms.”
The Farm vs. Factory link on the Food and Water Watch website is especially egregious as it has an inaccurate interactive slide show that displays side-by-side comparisons full of disinformation and false claims. The slide show makes false claims about the environmental impact of large modern farms and the health and welfare of the animals. The slide show even goes so far as to make false claims about antibiotic use and disparages farm families that operate under contracts by claiming that they contribute to rural decline.
Local Name – Washington DC Connections
Snake River Waterkeeper is a Waterkeeper Alliance member. Waterkeeper Alliance is known for its attacks against family farms in Maryland and for going after other farmers with failed Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) suits. On their website, they claim to be “the world's fastest growing environmental movement.” They attack farmers by working to gain access to farmers’ nutrient management plans (NMPs). Waterkeepers has also received funds from the Sierra Club, which has a long record of partnering with radical environmental groups that target animal agriculture.
Waterkeeper Alliance Has a Long History of Targeting Animal Agriculture
According to the watchdog website Activist Facts, which keeps an eye on animal and environmental groups, the Waterkeeper Alliance has declared war on America’s farms:
“Today, the Alliance operates its litigation with assistance from publicly-funded law clinics, drawing criticism from members of both political parties.”
“The central front in the Alliance’s push against modern agricultural practices that make affordable food possible is its “Pure Farms, Pure Waters” campaign, which the Alliance says, “combines hard-nosed litigation with education and outreach on sustainable agriculture.” In practice, farmers see more “litigation” than “outreach,” exemplified by the Waterkeepers’ liberal use of the epithet “factory farm” in reference to the thousands of family farms engaged in contemporary animal agriculture.”
Consider the Source and Be Proactive
We are sharing this information about the groups behind the lawsuit against Simplot to warn producers in Idaho and nationwide. When lawsuits like this crop up, it is essential to consider the source, ideology, and agenda of the groups behind them. Waterkeeper Alliance and its partners are just one of many such environmental and animal rights NGOs operating to target agriculture. Typically, they have two different strategies: going for the big payout or the low-hanging fruit. In its September 6th article, Progressive Farmer reports that the fines requested in this lawsuit could add up to as much as $121.8 million. Thankfully, Simplot has the resources to defend itself in this situation. In many cases, however, anti-animal agriculture groups will opt for the second strategy of low-hanging fruit, which is to target smaller producers because they know they can outspend them when it comes to legal fees.
We also want to make sure that producers know there are steps they can take to be proactive. Being proactive is essential, as Snake River Waterkeepers attempted to use the fact that Simplot conducted water and soil tests after being notified of the lawsuit against them. Judge Nye recorded in his Memorandum Decision and Order that Snake River Waterkeeper contended, “if, after receiving the Notice, Simplot arranged for water or soil testing at various conveyances on its property that it knew or suspected carried water to the public access points where SRW obtained samples, that would very strongly refute any assertion by Simplot of the [60-day notice’s] inadequacy.”
Some steps we recommend are:
- On-point contract compliance services
- Nutrient Management Plans
- Risk index evaluation
- Soil, water, and manure sampling and testing
- Lagoon and liner evaluations/testing
We will continue to watch this lawsuit and provide our perspectives. The result will impact the future strategies NGOs will take to continue targeting animal agriculture to push their ideological agenda.
Court Listener article HERE
Progressive Farmer article HERE
Information about Waterkeeper Alliance HERE
Information about the Sierra Club HERE
Interactive comparison HERE
Information about Food and Water Watch HERE