An association representing dairy farmers has filed suit against the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, charging that the agency has exceeded its authority by issuing and enforcing “blatantly illegal rules related to the permitting and operation of large Wisconsin livestock farms.”

The suit filed Monday in Brown County Circuit Court by the Dairy Business Association states, “For many years DNR has systematically and illegally required large farmers to apply for and follow a complex and costly regulatory process to obtain a Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit even if they do not discharge or intend to discharge any pollutants into the waters of the state.”

The complaint includes two specific examples of rules the DBA says were promulgated and implemented without going through the rulemaking process established by the state Legislature. The rules govern management of feed storage leachate runoff and calf hutch lots.

The DBA wants a judge to issue an injunction declaring that the rules are illegal and prohibiting the DNR from enforcing them.

“We’re not looking for a free pass on regulations. We’re asking the DNR to follow the rules,” Mike North, president of the association, said in a news release Thursday. “The agency clearly is overstepping its legal boundaries on this and other issues.”

According to the news release, “For years, the DNR encouraged farmers to build what are called vegetative treatment areas (VTAs) where the water is safely and naturally treated to prevent runoff and protect water quality. In 2016, the agency suddenly did an about-face and began requiring farmers to collect all the water and add it to manure pits for spreading on fields.

“The move circumvented Act 21, which requires agencies to follow a specific method of rulemaking based on public transparency and lawmaker oversight. The lawsuit seeks to stop DNR’s ongoing efforts to skirt the formal rulemaking process,” the DBA release says.

The Green Bay-based association describes itself in the complaint as a nonprofit organization “comprised of Wisconsin dairy farmers, milk processors, vendors and supportive businesses that came together in 1999 to help reinvigorate the state’s then-lagging dairy community. The Dairy Business Association follows an integrated approach, with farmers alongside industry partners, in a unique model that fosters collaboration and innovation for the collective good. The Dairy Business Association works to guarantee Wisconsin dairy farmers of all sizes have the support they need to thrive in the state’s economy, communities and food chain and to keep and expand Wisconsin’s $43.4 billion dairy industry.”