State panel denies petition to strengthen environmental protections
The Environmental Protection Commission denies petition to strengthen the factory farm permitting process
Videography courtesy Rodger Routh
Des Moines, IA – Today at its monthly meeting, the Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) voted before a packed crowd to deny a rulemaking petition filed by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch to strengthen the master matrix – a tool in the factory farm permitting process. At the meeting, the commission received over 1,500 comments in support of the petition and nearly 100 Iowans showed up to tell the nine commissioners to strengthen the fifteen-year-old scoring system.
“I feel betrayed by the Environmental Protection Commission for voting against the people of Iowa today and deciding to do nothing to improve the factory farm permitting process,” said Rosie Partridge, CCI member from Sac County. “It is clear that the DNR and the EPC lack the political will to stand up to the factory farm industry and make these much-needed improvements for thousands of Iowans. Shame on them!”
Despite 17% of Iowa counties sending Letters of Support for the petition and/or passing resolutions that call for more protections from the factory farm industry, none of the eight commissioners present today voted to move forward with the rulemaking petition.
The denial was based on a recommendation by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the agency overseen by the EPC. Rather than responding comprehensively to the detailed petition, the DNR cherry-picked just a few proposals to justify denying the entire petition outright – even though the department could have given its own revisions and recommendations on the proposal.
“This vote against strengthening the master matrix is a vote for increasing Big Ag’s profits at the expense of Iowans’ health and environment. The DNR clearly lacks the political will to fix its broken regulations, but we will continue to fight for commonsense regulations to hold factory farms accountable and protect rural communities,” said Tarah Heinzen, Staff Attorney at Food & Water Watch.
The master matrix is supposed to provide a comprehensive review of environmental and community risks, allowing counties to recommend denial of facilities that will have harmful impacts. But the matrix developed by the DNR has proven so easy to pass that it has amounted to little more than a rubber stamp: Applicants only need to satisfy enough of the listed criteria to obtain 50 percent of the available points – an “F” by most standards. DNR records show that only 2.2 percent of applications have been denied since the master matrix was created in 2002.
The petition asked for:
- A higher minimum passing score, requiring applicants to earn more points to obtain a permit;
- A one-time enrollment for counties, rather than the current burdensome requirement for counties to readopt the master matrix every single year;
- Revisions to the point structure to incentivize practices that prevent or mitigate pollution;
- New criteria that consider more environmental factors, such as unique topography and existing water pollution impairments;
- Elimination of criteria that do not provide meaningful environmental or community benefits; and
- Increased separation distances from things like schools, homes, public use areas, wells, etc.
“My private well is a perfect example of why we need to strengthen the master matrix. In just three years, my well’s nitrate level has risen from 8 parts per million to 12, and this summer it tested at 19, almost double the federal safe drinking water standard,” said Janis Elliott, CCI member from Warren County. “Over 300,000 Iowans rely on private wells. How many of us are drinking poison?”
Meeting attendees vowed to continue pressuring the EPC, DNR, Governor Reynolds, and the Iowa Legislature to crack down on the factory farm industry and finally address Iowa’s growing water crisis. Following the EPC meeting, CCI members delivered letters to Speaker of the House Linda Upmeyer, Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, and Governor Reynolds putting them on notice to take action during the 2018 legislative session.
“We won’t stop fighting the corporate cronyism that pollutes Iowa’s water. Today was only the beginning,” said Nick Schutt, farmer and CCI member from Hardin County. “To fix the problem, we need to hold our elected officials accountable and make sure they stand with the people of Iowa. Governor Reynolds and Iowa legislators, we are putting you on notice. We will see you in January!”
The citizen letters demanded:
- a moratorium on new and expanding factory farm construction;
- local control over the siting of factory farms;
- mandatory – not voluntary – regulations to clean up our water;
- tough enforcement of existing regulations; and
- a plan to make industrial ag pay to clean up the $5 billion pollution problem it has created.
“It’s clear – the master matrix is broken. In the face of more inaction by Iowa DNR, it is the duty of Iowa’s elected officials to stand with everyday people,” the letters read. “We need a farm and food system that works for farmers, workers, eaters and our environment – not just industrial ag’s bottom line.”
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement is a statewide, grassroots people’s action group that uses community organizing to win public policy that puts communities before corporations and people before profits, politics and polluters. CCI has been fighting to put people first for over 40 years. Follow us on Twitter at @iowacci
Food & Water Watch champions healthy food and clean water for all. We stand up to corporations that put profits before people, and advocate for a democracy that improves people’s lives and protects our environment.
- Op-ed: DNR scoring system fails to protect Iowans’ water, air, health
- Op-ed: Livestock law changes needed to balance the scale of justice.
- We filed for stronger factory farm rules.
- We’re going on offense to crack down on factory farms
- CCI report: Too much manure, no political will