Factory Farm Proposal By Branstad Donor & EPC Appointtee Would Sit Between Two Creeks That Feed Into The Des Moines River Two Miles Away

Woodward –

As most Iowans prepare to celebrate Independence Day, dozens of Boone county residents are preparing to defend their rights to clean air and clean water from corporate factory farm pollution.

Last Tuesday, over 20 Boone County CCI members met on a farm outside Woodward to plan how to stop a giant hog confinement that would house 2,480 corporate hogs and produce over 630,000 gallons of toxic liquid manure annually in the already impaired Des Moines River watershed that helps provide drinking water for 500,000 Central Iowans.

The factory farm would be operated by Dallas County resident Brodie Brelsford but the facility would actually be built by Brent Rastetter, a top political donor to Governor Terry Branstad and a Branstad-appointee to the Environmental Protection Commission (EPC).  The submitted Manure Management Plan does not state what corporation will actually own the hogs.

Mark Edwards, retired DNR Trails Coordinator said: “I’m very concerned about the impacts from this factory farm and other factory farms affecting the expanding recreational economy related to the High Trestle Bridge and the master plan to develop other trails along the Des Moines River in Boone County.”

Jan Danielson, another nearby neighbor and CCI member said:  “We live on a century farm that has been in my husband’s family for over 100 years.  It’s our legacy. I want it to be a beautiful pristine place, like it is now, in 20 years when I can give it to my children and grandchildren.

Danielle Wirth, PhD, a CCI member, neighbor, and Environmental Science Professor at Drake University, said:  “One of our biggest concerns if this factory farm builds are the environmental impacts.  This site sits in between Eversol Creek and Catum Branch Creek which meet up with the Des Moines River less than 2 miles away.  This site could have a direct impact on the Des Moines Water Works ability to keep Des Moines residents water safe to drink.”

Boone County CCI members plan to meet with Brodie Brelsford on Monday, July 7 at 6:30 pm in the Cass Township Community Building, 1403 315th Street, Woodward, IA.

Iowa CCI members are in the middle of a seven-year campaign to enforce the Clean Water Act against Iowa factory farms and has called on Environmental Protection Commission member Brent Rastetter to recuse himself from an upcoming vote on new Clean Water Act rules because of a conflict of interest.  Rastetter owns Quality Ag, Inc as well as factory farms housing more than 9,000 hogs.

Local CCI members in several Central Iowa counties have fought new factory farm construction by Rastetter in the last two years.

There have been more than 728 manure spills since 1996 and Iowa currently has at least 630 polluted waterways.  Iowa’s more than 20 million hogs produce nearly 10 billion gallons of toxic waste every year.

Iowa CCI 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.

 Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement is a group of everyday people who talk, act and get things done on issues that matter most. With thousands of members from all walks of life — urban and rural, black and white, immigrants and lifelong Iowans — CCI has been tackling tough issues and getting things done for more than 39 years. 

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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.” 

Branstad Must Approve Draft Clean Water Act Rule So Critical New Factory Farm Enforcement Process Can Continue Moving Forward

The governor’s office is sitting on a draft clean water rule after a flawed economic analysis using figures obtained by the Iowa Farm Bureau claimed the proposal could have a negative job impact

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) members demand Governor Branstad stop sitting on a proposed Clean Water Act permitting rule for factory farm polluters and give the go-ahead signal to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to formally open up the rule for public comment at the March 18 Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) meeting.

The DNR sent a badly flawed and corporate ag influenced fiscal and jobs impact statement to Branstad’s office on February 19 and requested an up or down decision by the governor by February 26.  The jobs impact statement was compiled by the DNR with the help of the Iowa Farm Bureau and the governor could use the flawed report as an excuse to reject the proposal and ask the DNR to go back and water down or weaken the rule even more than it already is.

An approval by the governor’s office and a formal promulgation of the rule by the EPC on March 18 would then kick off a weeks long public comment process with in-person public hearings in at least six different locations across Iowa.

“Governor Branstad must stop interfering with Clean Water Act enforcement and approve the new factory farm permitting rule so this process can move forward to the public comment period,” said Lori Nelson, the CCI board president from Bayard who is surrounded by more than 5,000 corporate hogs within a half-mile of her rural homestead.

The new permitting rule is a critical piece of Clean Water Act enforcement that has been held up for years, ever since 2011 when a new EPC commission packed with industry insiders by Governor Branstad threw out a previous version of the rule.  But a workplan agreement signed between the DNR and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last September set out clear benchmarks for a new version of the rule to be completed.

There have been more than 600 documented manure spills since 2003 and Iowa currently has at least 630 polluted waterways.  Some researchers have found that manure from factory farm lagoons is leaking at more than twice the rate allowed by law, and it’s anyone’s guess how many times rainwater, floods, or melting snow have run freshly spread liquid manure off of farmland and into rivers, lakes, and streams.

Factory farm expansion is also up, with more than 900 of the state’s 8,500 factory farms being built since January 1, 2012.   A conservative estimate finds that Iowa’s 21 million hogs produce more than 5 billion gallons of toxic manure every year.

Iowa CCI 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.   

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Members dispute DNR’s claim that the Clean Water Act permitting rule may have a negative impact on jobs and say the Governor’s office and corporate ag lobby groups have had too much influence over the process

The Iowa DNR completed job and fiscal impact statements for a draft Clean Water Act rule on February 19 and have asked Governor Branstad’s office to sign off on the proposed rule by February 26 in order for the Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) to formally promulgate the rule for public comment on March 18 at the next monthly EPC meeting.

A copy of the jobs and fiscal impact statements as well as the proposed rule may be read here.

Jobs and fiscal impact statements on proposed rules are required by Executive Order 71, as is “stakeholder input” under Executive Order 80, both signed by Governor Branstad in 2011, but members say the process has rarely received public scrutiny and that the Clean Water Act rule case study gives some rare insight into how the Branstad Administration works with corporate lobby groups to influence draft rules before they are released for public comment.

“Both the stakeholder input process and the jobs and fiscal impact statements appear to have been heavily influenced by the same corporate ag lobby groups who are responsible for our deteriorating water quality and who are adamantly opposed to stronger and more effective public oversight,” said Lori Nelson, board president from Bayard, who is surrounded by more than 5,000 corporate hogs within a half-mile of her rural homestead.

Stakeholder Input

The new DNR documents show that the DNR consulted with corporate ag lobby groups nearly two months before meeting with community and environmental organizations and that the DNR made changes to the proposed rule based on industry feedback but did not make any changes to the proposed rule based on community and environmental input.

“Iowa is only coming into compliance with the Clean Water Act because of more than seven years of organizing by CCI members and our allies the Environmental Integrity Project and the Iowa Sierra Club,” Nelson said. “The DNR should be prioritizing the voices of impacted communities during the input process, not the factory farm industry that is responsible for causing hundreds of illegal manure spills that have negatively impacted 630 polluted waterways.”

Jobs Impact Statement

Members dispute the DNR’s claim that the proposed Clean Water Act rule may have a “negative job impact on private sector jobs and employment opportunities in the state,” and say that tough Clean Water Act permits that require factory farm polluters to play by stronger rules will have a positive impact on jobs because clean water and quality of life are important factors in economic development.

“Factory farm pollution has a negative impact on job creation in Iowa’s economy and strong new Clean Water Act permitting rules will only help to improve that situation, not make it worse,” Nelson said.

Members also take exception to the DNR’s claim that “the Department anticipates relatively few confinement feeding operations will be required to obtain an NPDES permit,” and say that conclusion is premature before thousands of new inspections are completed.

“It is outrageous that the DNR is promising the governor’s office that they will not permit very many factory farms under the Clean Water Act and this claim strongly suggests that DNR Director Chuck Gipp continues to do everything in his power to protect factory farm polluters from stronger and more effective public oversight,” Nelson said.

Fiscal Impact Statement

The DNR estimates that there will be no fiscal impact to the state of Iowa.

Industry Influence

Both the jobs and fiscal impact statements take their monetary figures from the Iowa Farm Bureau and an unnamed “professional engineer” – raising questions about both their accuracy and the due diligence of the DNR to fact-check these claims against other sources and estimates.

“Out-of-state corporations need to suck it up and eat the costs of bringing their factory farms into compliance with the Clean Water Act,” Nelson said.  “There’s no question they can afford it, and right now those costs are externalized and paid for by everyday Iowans and our environment, which isn’t right,” Nelson said.

Public Hearings

The DNR has proposed six public hearings in Ainsworth, Calmar, Carroll, Des Moines, Mason City, and Spencer, but the dates of the proposed public hearings will not be finalized until the draft rule is officially promulgated at the March 18 EPC meeting.

Proposed Rule

The draft Clean Water Act rule itself has not been changed since Iowa CCI, the Environmental Integrity Project, and the Iowa Sierra Club leaked a draft copy of the proposal weeks ago, and CCI members reiterate their concerns that the proposed rule is weak and gives too much discretion to the DNR to determine which factory farms need permits.

“Every factory farm in Iowa is a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off, and every one of them needs a Clean Water Act permit so they are forced to play by stronger rules,” Nelson said.

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Governor Branstad’s appointee to the Environmental Protection Commission Gene Ver Steeg was one of 76 factory farm operators to spill manure in 2013,  an audit of Department of Natural Resources (DNR) records by our members shows.

Ver Steeg owns four factory farms producing 20,000 corporate hogs a year in northwest Iowa.  He was the president of  the Iowa Pork Producers Association in 2006 and reappointed to the DNR’s Environmental Protection Commission  (EPC) in 2013 by Governor Branstad after serving a four-year term from 2008-2012.

Ver Steeg may reasonably be considered the face of the factory farm industry in Iowa.  According to DNR records,  which you can view here, Ver Steeg was hauling liquid manure before dawn the morning  of November 13, 2013 and spilled more than 1,500 gallons down 260th Street in Lyon County.  He called in the spill  about an hour after an anonymous caller reported it to the DNR.  The DNR’s investigation report reads:

 He started hauling while still dark and believed everything was closed and not leaking, but later discovered something had  leaked along one lane as he was going west for a mile and a half…They had the county clean and scrape most of it off and  Fire department will hose off the rest of it..He is contacting all of neighbors to offer them a car wash.

Gene Ver Steeg is an outspoken opponent of Clean Water Act regulations.  On March 15, 2013, Ver Steeg was featured  in a Wall Street Journal story “Livestock Waste Lands Iowa in Hot Water” and was reported saying Clean Water  Act enforcement was a waste of money.  “It’s not needed,” Mr. Ver Steeg said.  He has consistently used his influence as  an EPC commissioner to promote industry-friendly rules.

Ver Steeg’s 2013 manure spill was only one of 76 reported to the DNR in 2013, a frequency greater than one a week.  At least 10 of those spills reached a waterway and 60 spills originated from a hog operation.  The number of manure spills in 2013 nearly doubled the rate of 46 in 2012, 46 documented manure spills with 34 originated from a hog operation. [DNR’s 2013 manure release report can be viewed here]

Of the 23 spills since October 31st, 2013 four sites received inspections within a year of the spill and six sites had never received an inspection by the DNR.  At least three manure spills since October 31, 2013 have reached a waterway after pipes broke during the transport of liquid manure from manure pit to manure pit or pit to open-air lagoon – including a Maschhoff Pork facility in Van Buren County, Roanoke LLC in Audubon county, and an Iowa Select facility in Wright county.

Our members say this new information highlights the danger that factory farm pollution poses to Iowa’s water quality, particularly when the DNR continues to refuse to perform high-quality Clean Water Act inspections and issue tough operating permits that force the industry to play by stronger rules.

“Every factory farm in Iowa is a ticking time bomb that could have a spill at anytime, and the DNR needs to start holding them accountable for polluting our waterways by issuing them Clean Water Act permits so they have to follow stronger environmental standards,” member and Board President Lori Nelson explained.

“How many manure spills is it going to take before the DNR issues a Clean Water Act Permit?  We’re swimming in, fishing in, and drinking manure.  Governor Branstad and DNR Director Chuck Gipp need to quit working for the factory farm industry and do what’s best for our water and environment,” said Larry Ginter, an independent family farmer and long-time Iowa CCI member.

CCI members will attend the Environmental Protection Commission meeting in February to demand the DNR do its job, perform good inspections, issue stiff fines and penalties to documented polluters, and start handing out tough new Clean Water Act permits that crack down on water pollution.

This new information about factory farm manure spills is part of an ongoing investigation by CCI members of manure spills and DNR inspections.


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The Summer of Clean Water has paved the way for the next chapter of our Clean Water Act Campaign.  Our hard work collecting petition signatures, holding DNR and EPA accountable and monitoring factory farm manure spills has paid off.


Iowans are at a crossroads; we can continue down the path we’re currently on or we can rise up and demand a new path – a path where the environment comes before money, where Iowans can swim, fish and drink our water without worrying about what’s in it and where independent farmers, urban dwellers and rural communities flourish.


We know the DNR won’t lead the way down this new path – it’s up to us and we’re already a block ahead!


More than fifty members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) delivered 5,344 petition signatures from everyday Iowans demanding stronger state action to crack down on factory farm pollution to the Environmental Protection Commission (EPC

After the public testimony, CCI members unrolled hundreds of pages of petition signatures and wrapped them around the EPC commissioners table.  EPC chair Mary Boote temporarily adjourned the meeting.) meeting today in Ankeny.  Eighteen members also gave public testimony demanding the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issue a Clean Water Act operating permit to a giant factory farm polluter in Van Buren county owned by Maschhoff Pork, an out-of-state corporation based in Illinois.

A Maschhoff Pork factory farm in Van Buren County was given a ‘no permit needed’ designation during a botched DNR inspection August 20.  Weeks later the factory farm had its fifth manure spill since 2007, dumping thousands of gallons of manure into a creek that directly feeds the Des Moines River.  New inspections and permits are a required part of the workplan to implement the Clean Water Act for factory farms in Iowa that was signed by DNR and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in September 2013.


 “The DNR could have prevented this spill if they had been doing their job during their August inspection,” said CCI member Gary Klicker, an independent  family farmer from Bloomfield. “Iowa CCI members demand the state of Iowa issue a Clean Water Act operating permit to Maschhoff’s Keosauqua sow unit immediately to force it to start playing by stronger rules or get shut down.”

Iowa CCI members say they will continue to audit DNR inspections to ensure they are held accountable to federal law and the work plan agreement they recently signed with EPA.

If you’re ready to join us on the new path to environmental justice in Iowa join as an Iowa CCI member or make and extra gift today!

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