Industry Attempts to Hide Iowa Water Quality & Land Use Data from Public Is Only Latest Example of Corporate Ag’s Lobbying for Secrecy 

In Iowa and across the country, battle lines are drawn between strong and effective public oversight and corporate ag secrecy as industry ramps up use of privacy laws in an attempt to shield the absentee landgrabbers and corporate hogs responsible for polluting our water from public view

An attempt to sneak language into an Iowa House ag budget bill that would prevent the public from accessing information about water quality and land use practices collected in projects funded with taxpayer dollars is only one example of how corporate ag lobbyists try to  use their political power to attempt to shield one of the country’s most polluting industries from even the most basic forms of public transparency and citizen oversight, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action Fund (Iowa CCI Action Fund) members said Monday.

“We’re talking about giant, out of state corporations and absentee landgrabbers who use machines and low-wage migrant labor to work tens of thousands of acres,” said Lori Nelson, a CCI Action Fund member from Bayard whose rural homestead is surrounded by 5,000 corporate hogs.

“Giant, absentee landgrabbers and out-of-state, corporate hog factories are not subject to personal privacy laws and should not be shielded from basic transparency initiatives,” Nelson continued.

Iowa CCI Action Fund members say the secrecy provisions in the Iowa House ag budget bill, HF2458, scheduled to be debated this week, are only one example of how corporate ag attempts to keep vital information from the public:

  • Basic Clean Water Act inspection and manure spill records at some 8,500 factory farms across Iowa are not easily accessible to the public and almost impossible to track down because no centralized, online database of the information exists at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR);
  • Secret “stakeholder” meetings codified through executive order by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad that allows big money corporate interest groups to write draft rules with state regulators before the public has an opportunity to weigh-in;
  • Provisions in many state laws passed by the Iowa legislature that handcuff the DNR and prevent them from writing rules stronger than federal law, essentially imposing a “ceiling” on enforcing stronger environmental standards when the federal guidelines should actually be the “floor”.
  • The American Farm Bureau Federation sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after federal regulators released the most basic, sensible kinds information to national environmental groups about factory farm polluters across the country such as the location, size, manure produced, and ownership data for thousands of industrial animal factories;
  • Proposed amendments to the Farm Bill by Representative Steve King (R-IA) that would have banned state governments from passing laws dictating how food and livestock are raised and produced within that state for sale in other parts of the country;
  • Controversial “Right to Farm” bills introduced in state legislatures across the country to prevent adjacent property owners from filing “nuisance” lawsuits against nearby factory farm polluters;
  • So-called “Ag Gag” laws that make it more difficult for factory farm whistleblowers to expose animal abuse inside factory farms – the first of which was passed here in Iowa in 2012 and signed into law by Governor Branstad.

Iowa CCI Action Fund members say Governor Branstad has supported virtually all of these secrecy attempts by corporate ag, which further undermine his administration’s proclaimed commitment to transparency.

“There’s no question about it:  Governor Branstad is part of the problem and he regularly puts the interests of corporate ag before the interests of everyday people and the environment,” Nelson continued.  “Branstad has never met a factory farm he doesn’t like and the corporate agribusiness lobby is one of the most fundamental parts of his political base of support.” 

Whose Side is EPA Director Gina McCarthy On?  Corporate Ag or Everyday Iowans?

 

EPA chief’s public appearance at the Iowa Farm Bureau’s state fair picnic shelter tomorrow promoting failed policy of voluntary compliance comes less than three months after Governor Branstad demands McCarthy come to Iowa and capitulate to the factory farm lobby on Clean Water Act enforcement

 

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) members on Wednesday blasted Gina McCarthy, newly confirmed Director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for her planned visit to the Iowa State Fair tomorrow to participate in an event promoting the failed policy of voluntary compliance organized by Governor Branstad, Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, and Department of Natural Resources Director Chuck Gipp.

“It’s pretty telling that Gina McCarthy is going to the Iowa State Fair to participate in Governor Branstad’s ‘environmental award’ ceremony at the Farm Bureau Picnic shelter – at the same time that Branstad and the Farm Bureau are working overtime to block Clean Water Act enforcement in Iowa,” said Barb Kalbach, a fourth-generation family farmer and CCI member from Dexter.  “Whose side is McCarthy on? Corporate ag polluters or everyday people and the environment?”

“Voluntary individual conservation efforts may be exemplary,” said Kalbach, “but Iowa’s 628 polluted waterways and rising tell the true tale. McCarthy needs to stand up to this bad policy – voluntary compliance doesn’t work.  We need strong and effective public oversight, exactly what Governor Branstad and the Farm Bureau are fighting so hard to prevent.”

McCarthy is scheduled to speak with Farm Bureau representatives at the Iowa Farm Environmental Leaders Awards ceremony at noon Thursday at the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation’s fair picnic shelter.  According to the press release her office circulated:  “During her visit, McCarthy will also meet with farmers and other members of the agricultural community,” code for more closed door, backroom meetings with the big-moneyed corporate agribusiness lobby.

On May 20, Governor Branstad sent a letter to McCarthy demanding she come to Iowa, meet with factory farm industry representatives, and cave to their corporate profits agenda to block meaningful Clean Water Act enforcement of factory farm pollution.

Another top Obama appointee from Washington DC named Nancy Stoner, EPA’s Acting Administrator of Water, will meet with Iowa CCI members at their statewide headquarters in Des Moines at 2pm Thursday, but CCI members say the otherwise high-profile meeting with Stoner is just EPA’s way of providing cover for McCarthy’s likely meetings with Governor Branstad, the Farm Bureau, and other livestock commodity groups around the same time.

The DNR, EPA, and corporate ag lobby representatives will also meet in Des Moines on Friday to negotiate draft new Standard Operating Procedure manuals governing how factory farm inspections will be conducted.  Iowa CCI members say all signs point to EPA making big concessions to the corporate ag roundtable that could exempt hundreds, if not thousands, of factory farms from inspections.

A coalition of community and environmental groups weeks ago outed Branstad’s lobbying efforts opposing Clean Water Act enforcement, and exposed his efforts to bring the corporate ag lobby and other livestock commodity groups directly into the negotiations between the EPA and DNR.

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 after EPA released a scathing report on July 12, 2012 finding the DNR’s factory farm enforcement program does not meet federal requirements.  The July 12, 2012 EPA Report said 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.

The EPA intervention was a response to a 2007 de-delegation petition filed by Iowa CCI members, 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.

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 as much as $7,000 per day – for a grand cost near $700,000.

Iowa CCI is a statewide people’s action group that uses community organizing to build grassroots power and win public policy that puts communities before corporations and people before profits, politics, and polluters.

 

Take Action

Will you call Gina McCarthy’s office in Washington DC at 202.564.4700 right now and demand she meet with CCI members when she’s in Iowa tomorrow?  Here’s a sample script:

  • Say your name, where you’re from, that you’re a proud Iowa CCI member, and then ask to speak to Gina McCarthy.
  • When the secretary asks to take a message, tell her you are angry that McCarthy is coming to Iowa to meet with corporate ag lobbyists and factory farm polluters, but she won’t meet with real citizens.
  • Demand Gina McCarthy meet with Iowa CCI members tomorrow.
  • The secretary will try to pass you off to McCarthy’s scheduler.  Refuse to be transferred and demand the secretary make a note of your call and pass it up the chain of command.
  • Contact us to let us know how your call went. It’s important to track how many calls. go in.

Join the Fight!

 

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