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.