Long-Awaited Factory Farm Pollution Work Plan a Good First Step Forward Despite Branstad’s Political Interference


Signed DNR/EPA agreement requires on-site inspections for all large factory farms, tougher enforcement standards, and new rules for Clean Water Act permits


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have signed a far-reaching Clean Water Act work plan agreement that will significantly change the way the state inspects, permits, and takes enforcement actions against factory farms.  You can read the final agreement and all related documents and materials on the EPA Region 7 website here:  http://www.epa.gov/region7/water/

Significant work plan requirements include:

  • On-site inspections for all “large” factory farms (more than 1,000 beef cattle or 2,500 hogs) – about 3,200 facilities meet the federal definition of a large factory farm in the state of Iowa, according to DNR records;
  • On-site inspections for some “medium” factory farms (300 – 999 beef cattle or 750-2,499 hogs), if they pose a high risk of water pollution due to recent discharges or exposed manure lagoons in close proximity to waterways;
  • Desktop evaluations for all other medium-sized factory farms  – about 4,800 facilities in Iowa meet the federal definition of a medium-sized factory farm, according to DNR records;
  • New factory farm permit regulations within one year – to bring Iowa’s permit rules into compliance with the Clean Water Act;
  • Strengthen manure application setback requirements within one year – by establishing new separation distances that meet federal law; and
  • Tougher enforcement protocols that broaden the universe of factory farm violations subject to fines and penalties.

The work plan process was initiated by the EPA in response to a 2007 de-delegation petition filed by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the Environmental Integrity Project, and the Iowa Sierra Club.  The petition called on EPA to strip the Iowa DNR of its regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act for its failure to enforce federal law against factory farm polluters.  The petition will remain outstanding during the five-year implementation period.

Iowa Governor Branstad and industry groups pushed for a much weaker agreement that would have only guaranteed on-site inspections for about 500 of the very largest factory farms – those with more than 2,000 beef cattle or 5,000 hogs – but the final agreement requires inspections at at least 3,200 facilities after the petitioners and 17 other organizations demanded on-site inspections for all medium-sized and large factory farms.

The thousands of inspections and assessments DNR must conduct under the new agreement are intended to identify discharging facilities that require Clean Water Act permits.  DNR must complete 20 percent of the total inspections each year.  The work plan agreement also requires DNR to submit a status report in 90 days, 210 days, and annually thereafter.  DNR will file annual reports on its work plan progress, and EPA will continue to assess whether the state is moving towards compliance with the Clean Water Act.  The status reports will be published on DNR’s website.

Representatives of the community-environmental coalition whose petition drove the process for the DNR/EPA agreement hailed the agreement as a significant step towards clean water, but cautioned that they will measure success in the number of Clean Water Act permits DNR actually issues to documented polluters, the strength of enforcement actions against violators going forward, and the change in quality of the Iowa’s rivers, lakes and streams.

Iowa CCI member Larry Ginter, an independent family farmer from Rhodes, Iowa, said:

“There’s no question this deal would have been stronger and more effective without the political interference of Governor Branstad and the Iowa Farm Bureau, but at the end of the day, this is a good step forward that lays the groundwork to win even more changes in the future.  This fight is far from over.  We will rigorously monitor the implementation of this agreement and continue to press our demands through rulemaking as well as during the 2014 legislative session.”

Iowa Sierra Club legal counsel Wally Taylor of Cedar Rapids said:

“The signed work plan creates a framework that could require corporate confinements to finally get discharge permits, and we hope it will be implemented in a way that effectively penalizes factory farms for polluting our water.”

Environmental Integrity Project legal counsel Tarah Heinzen said:

“This agreement is the critical first step we have been waiting for since EPA found over a year ago that Iowa’s factory farm program is failing.  Strong continued oversight by EPA will be essential to ensuring Iowa adequately inspects and permits polluting facilities that have been let off the hook for years.”

The Iowa DNR and U.S. EPA have been negotiating a work plan agreement to bring the state of Iowa into compliance with the Clean Water Act since EPA released a scathing report in July 2012 finding the DNR’s factory farm program does not meet federal Clean Water Act requirements.  The 2012 investigation report found that DNR:

  • Has failed to issue permits to factory farms when required,
  • Does not have an adequate factory farm inspection program,
  • Frequently fails to act in response to manure spills and other environmental violations,
  • Does not assess adequate fines and penalties when violations occur.

Iowa’s water quality has never been worse than now, with 628 polluted bodies of water, and manure and other fertilizer runoff so high that Des Moines Water Works ran the world’s most expensive nitrate removal system for nearly 90 days this spring and summer, costing 500,000 ratepayers in Central Iowa nearly $900,000.

Here at CCI, we’ve long known that the Department of Natural Resources is failing at its job of protecting Iowa’s lakes, rivers, and streams. We know that more and more factory farm manure is filling our waterways every year, in direct violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

Last summer, our decades-long fight for the DNR to enforce environmental protections got a huge boost when the federal Environmental Protection Agency concluded an investigation, prompted by a petition filed by CCI members, into the DNR’s factory farm inspection program.

The EPA report confirmed what CCI members have been saying all along: the DNR is not enforcing the Clean Water Act. Specifically, the EPA found that the DNR:

  • Has an inadequate factory farm inspection program
  • Frequently fails to respond to manure spills and other violations
  • Fails to assess adequate fines when it does respond to violations
  • Had setback and other requirements that did not meet federal minimums

And perhaps most importantly, they confirmed that the DNR fails to issue NPDES permits to factory farms. These permits are the way that the Clean Water Act is enforced — any potential polluter needs one, so state environmental authorities can ensure that the operation is not polluting above safe levels.

The EPA report was a huge victory — but unfortunately the follow-up hasn’t measured up. 

The EPA issued their report 1 year ago on July 12th. On September 11th, they released a workplan of steps the DNR needed to take to address the massive problems with their factory farm inspection and enforcement programs. The workplan was an agreement between the EPA and the DNR that the DNR would:

  • Initiate new rulemaking beginning November 1, 2012 to bring Iowa into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act
  • Ask the state legislature for more funding to hire 13 new full-time field staff
  • Develop a plan to inspect every factory farm in the state of Iowa
  • Change their protocols to respond to all violations and issue adequate fines

This workplan would have been a big step towards cracking down on factory farm pollution in Iowa. But in keeping with their history of kowtowing to corporate ag, the DNR refused to sign this agreement.

And so the EPA issued another draft workplan in March of this year. This workplan was watered down in many crucial ways, pushing back all of the deadlines and changing the strong wording of the first workplan to ambiguous terminology. For instance, this draft gave the DNR until the end of 2018 just to inspect all large and medium factory farms in Iowa — only the first step towards issuing NPDES permits to those operations. Further, unlike the first workplan, it does not specifically state that the DNR must perform on-site inspections of all factory farms in Iowa, only “comprehensive surveys.”

But the DNR has still refused to sign even this weak agreement. It has now been almost a full year since the EPA published its report, and no action has been taken. That’s twelve more months of degradation to Iowa’s waters while the DNR stonewalls implementation of the Clean Water Act. Thankfully, CCI members are keeping the pressure on both the DNR and the EPA with our Summer of Clean Water campaign. It took us six years to get to this point — we’re not going anywhere until Iowa finally comes into compliance with the Clean Water Act.

To read the summary report of the DNR’s obstruction of Clean Water Act implementation, click here.

To read a timeline of Iowa’s failure to comply with the Clean Water Act, click here.


Join the Fight!

2013 is shaping up to be another record-breaking year in the fightback against factory farming. Already, we’ve seen the corporate ag industry push bad bills at the statehouse, setting our state up for another influx of corporate hog manure. We need your help in fighting back, and here are four easy ways you can join the fight:

Governor Branstad appointed Bob Sinclair and Gene Ver Steeg, both with deep roots in corporate ag,  to the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission (EPC). There is still one open spot on the EPC that has not been filled.

The EPC is the citizen oversight board of the Iowa Department of National Resources (DNR) and is charged with overseeing DNR decisions, rulemaking and factory farm applications, permits and violations.

Gene Ver Steeg raises about 20,000 corporate hogs per year on 4 factory farms in Northwest Iowa, is the former president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA) and former EPC member from 2008-2011.  He is quoted by the Wall Street Journal saying that implementing the Clean Water Act in Iowa is a waste of money. 

Bob Sinclair is a former employee of Cargill and currently owns a tractor dealership outside of Sigourney, Iowa. 

The EPC now consists of 8 members with the following ties to the factory farm industry:

  •  Bob Sinclair – Former president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association and factory farmer
  • Gene Ver Steeg – Former Cargill employee
  • Brent Rastetter – Owner of Quality Ag, factory farm construction
  • Mary Boote – Former agriculture advisor to Governor Branstad
  • Nancy Couser – Owner of Couser Cattle Company
  • Cindy Greiman – Factory farm owner, sales associate for Monsanto & member of the Iowa Beef Board
  • Max Smith – Board Member and President of Agribusiness Association of Iowa & General Manager of Smith Fertilizer and Grain
  • Joanne Stockdale – Owner and President of Northern Iowa Die Casting
CCI members regularly attend EPC meetings for clean water issues like the ABI rule and the ban on manure application on soybeans.  This summer we will be engaging the EPC again when the DNR begins the rulemaking stage of the Federal Clean Water Act.
This is why we know that elections are important.


We need elected and appointed officials that work for the people, not corporations.  As we gear up for the summer of clean water we will continue to hold Govorner Branstad and the Iowa EPC accountable to work for The People, not their personal business interests. 

At the annual CCI convention there will be an in depth workshop on our work with the Environmental Protection Agency, the DNR and the Clean Water Act.  Join us on Saturday, July 13th to learn more about how we hold polluters, elected and appointed officials accountable.

Print these talking points off and take them with you:


  • Say your name, where you are from, and that you are a proud member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement.
  • Governor Branstad, Regent President Craig Lang, and Regent Pro-Tem Bruce Rastetter have twisted the role of Iowa’s public universities to serve private interests rather than the public good.
  • Corporate corruption inside our public institutions by our public officials is not acceptable.
  • Pick one scandal that you care about the most and particularly makes you angry.  Maybe it’s the closure of UNI’s Price Lab, or the ISU/AgriSol landgrab in Tanzania, or the infringement of academic freedom at the Tom Harkin Institute of Public Policy, or the hiring of private corporate lobbyists to serve as university representatives, or regents working with industry lobby groups to silence outspoken professors.  Pick one and briefly explain why you care and why it’s wrong.
  • Say you demand the Regents Transparency Talksforce to:
  1. Develop a clear ethics complaint process to enforce Regents ethics policy;
  2. Mandate public comment at all Regents meetings;
  3. Require additional public hearings four times a year in all four congressional districts;
  4. End the revolving door between public institutions and private corporations;
  5. Strengthen financial disclosure reporting requirements.

CCI members say Governor Branstad and Iowa DNR Director Chuck Gipp have failed everyday Iowans and must now reverse course on failed de-regulation and “voluntary compliance” strategies

The list of polluted waters in the state of Iowa has grown from 606 in 2010 to 628 in 2012, according to new data released by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and analyzed by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) members.

“The total number of impaired waters in Iowa’s 2012 Integrated Report is 628, with 482 Section 303(d) waters [Category 5:  impaired and TMDL needed] and 146 waters in Category 4 [impaired but TMDL not required],” reads a new Clean Water Act draft report prepared by John Olson, a DNR Senior Environmental Specialist.

The DNR will present the findings to the Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) at their monthly meeting on January 15 in the Henry A. Wallace Building west of the state capitol.  That same day, the EPC will also consider a “hands-off” rule proposed by the Iowa Association of Business and Industry to weaken enforcement options and “ensure compliance within the least restrictive means possible”.

The new numbers mark the largest number of polluted waterways in Iowa since the state began keeping records sixteen years ago.  In 2008, there were 542 polluted rivers, lakes, and streams, according to the DNR.

I want to live in a state with clean water, but the DNR is now scheduled to weaken factory farm enforcement on behalf of a corporate interest group, on the same day they hear new data that our water quality continues to get worse,”

said Lori Nelson of Bayard, the Iowa CCI Board president, who is surrounded by 5,000 corporate hogs within a half mile of her home.

“This kind of irony isn’t funny.  Shame on DNR Director Chuck Gipp for letting this happen.”

Iowa CCI members say that the recent water quality findings also puts renewed pressure on Governor Terry Branstad to end his opposition to strong and effective public oversight just days before his 2013 “Condition of the State” address next Tuesday.

“Governor Branstad has spent the last two years trying to de-regulate and defund environmental protections while promoting a failed voluntary compliance approach that benefits the corporate ag industry at the expense of everyday Iowans and the environment,” Nelson continued.

“In the short-term, we need a fully-funded DNR and strong new Clean Water Act rules that ensure operating permits for all of Iowa’s 8,000 factory farms, with a three strikes and you’re out policy for habitual violators.  In the long-term, we need local control, stronger permitting standards, and increased separation distances.”

There have been more than 800 documented manure spills since 1995.  In 2010, former DNR Director Rich Leopold told a crowd of Scott County CCI members that the real number could be 10 times that high.

Join the fight

Join us on January 15th for our Kickoff at the Capitol to fight for clean water and public policy that protects Iowa!

Information from the Sec. of State’s Amended Notice of Intended Action: http://sos.iowa.gov/elections/pdf/ARC0528C.pdf

The Secretary of State also gives Notice that a public hearing will be held on Thursday, January 3, 2013, from 2 p.m. – 4 p.m. in order to receive oral or written comments on rule 721–28.5(47,48A) published herein. The hearing will originate from the Iowa Communications Network (ICN) and will be accessible over the ICN at the following locations.

At the hearing, persons will be asked to give their names and addresses for the record and to confine their remarks to the subject of the proposed rule
Iowa Department of Public Health (origination site)
Lucas State Office Building
321 E. 12th St., 6th Floor
Des Moines, Iowa
North Iowa Area Community College – 1
Activity Center, Room 106
500 College Drive
Mason City, Iowa
Iowa Lakes Community College
Spencer Attendance Center, Fiber Optic Room 118
1900 North Grand Avenue
Spencer, Iowa
Kirkwood Community College
Room 117
1816 Lower Muscatine Road
Iowa City, Iowa
Scott Community College
Room 210
500 Belmont Road
Bettendorf, Iowa
Iowa Western Community College – 1
Looft Hall, Room 024
2700 College Road
Council Bluffs, Iowa
Western Iowa Tech Community College
Room D201
4647 Stone Avenue
Sioux City, Iowa
Iowa Central Community College
Room Lib. 204
One Triton Circle, Liberal Arts Building
Fort Dodge, Iowa
Ottumwa National Guard Armory
2858 N. Court Road
Ottumwa, IA 52501
Department of Human Services
Pinecrest Office Building
1407 Independence Avenue
Waterloo, Iowa
Keystone Area Education Agency
Room #2
2310 Chaney Road
Dubuque, Iowa
Kirkwood Community College
Room 123, Jones Hall
6301 Kirkwood Boulevard SW
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Matilda J. Gibson Memorial Library
200 W. Howard Street
Creston, Iowa


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