Success of Deal Will Ultimately Be Measured In The Number of New Operating Permits Actually Issued to Factory Farm Polluters

Iowa CCI members caution that Governor Branstad and the Iowa DNR cannot be trusted to implement work plan deal on their own

As all sides position themselves to claim credit for a far-reaching Clean Water Act work plan deal that, in reality, the state of Iowa had to be dragged kicking and screaming into signing, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) members caution that the best deal on paper won’t mean much if the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) doesn’t properly implement the factory farm pollution accord over the next five years.

The deal reached between the Iowa DNR and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency yesterday requires DNR field staff to perform comprehensive reviews of the 8,000 largest factory farms in Iowa – including on-site, boots-on-the-ground inspections for thousands of facilities.

“The deal is good on paper but if the DNR thinks they can just walk into these inspections with their blindfolds on, then we’re headed for a pretty bumpy ride,” said Barb Kalbach, a fourth-generation family farmer and CCI member from Dexter, Iowa.

“At the end of the day, the success of this deal will be judged solely by the number of Clean Water Act operating permits actually issued to factory farm polluters.”

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.

Iowa CCI members say one loophole the DNR worked into the final agreement is a provision governing inspections that states the DNR may not have to perform on-site reviews of some large factory farms if an equivalent inspection has been completed since November 1 of 2011.

CCI members say it isn’t possible that any inspections since 2011 could possibly be adequate because a July 2012 report by EPA specifically found the DNR’s inspection program wasn’t up to par, and because the new inspection procedures were just finalized yesterday so the DNR has never been trained to conduct an inspection using the new criteria before.

“Any DNR Director under Governor Branstad’s leadership will continue to try and get out of as many of their obligations as they can unless the public continues to hold them accountable to the strongest possible interpretation of the law,” Kalbach said.

A second questionable provision in the work plan is language stating that medium-sized factory farms that have “had a significant release within the last 5 years, and the release presented a substantial threat of discharging pollutants to a water of the U.S.” will be bumped up in priority from a desktop assessment to an on-site inspection.  The problem, according to CCI members, is that there is no clear definition about what a “significant release” presenting a “substantial threat” to a waterway actually is.

“We have numerous examples of manure spills and other violations that posed extremely dangerous threats to our water quality which the DNR refused to take seriously based on their lack of enforcement,” Kalbach said.

Iowa CCI members also say they will continue to fight for more inspections and stronger permits – including a “three strikes and you’re out” policy – during an upcoming rulemaking process mandated by the final work plan agreement as well as during the 2014 legislative session beginning in January.

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.

There have been more than 800 documented manure spill since 1995, according to DNR records.

Because of the work of you and thousands of Iowans, we’ve got a victory.

Environmental Protection Agency and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources have signed a far-reaching Clean Water Act work plan agreement that will significantly change the way the state of Iowa enforces, inspects, and permits 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/.

This is a huge victory for clean water in Iowa. The workplan mandates:

  • on-site inspections for all large factory farms
  • on-site inspections for medium-sized factory farms if they have had a sizeable spill in the last five years, or store manure in an open pit less than 1/4 mile from a water of the U.S.
  • desk surveys for all other medium-sized factory farms
  • increased separation distances
  • tougher enforcement, including more 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.

Iowa CCI member Larry Ginter says it best:

“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.”

Join the Fight!

  • Learn how we can win big legislative victories for clean water! Join us for a special workshop opportunity with Director of TakeAction Minnesota, Dan McGrath on Tuesday, September 17th.
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CCI member Jim Loonan is in the middle of a tense factory farm fight on the county line between Story and Jasper Counties (click here for more background on the fight). Jim would be one of the neighbors most affected by this proposed factory farm, so he wrote the following open letter to his legislators and Governor Branstad.

Check out Jim’s powerful letter below!

Dear Elected Official:

I am a rural resident living Southeast of Collins in central Iowa.  My wife and I have been residents of Central Iowa all of our lives (Me 61 years and my Wife 59 years).  We built a home 11 years ago in the country and considered this our retirement home.

Less than one year ago a young gentleman bought 3 acres of land 3200 feet northwest of our home.  He now has applied to build a 2480 head Factory hog confinement.  As you can imagine, this has stirred up quite a controversy in the area.

At a meeting Aug 5th in Collins, we had 115 residents attend, plus the Story County Supervisors.  What is appalling is that these supervisors have no power to control what takes place in their county.  This power has been taken away and is now in the hands of our state, and is delegated to the DNR (who claim they have no power either).  With 8,000 factory hog confinements in the state and only 7 inspectors, the DNR can’t possibly do even a mediocre job of inspection.  If they can’t do an adequate job, could that mean we are at a saturation point, and we really can’t afford any more factory hog confinements?

Speaking of not being able to afford more factory hog confinements; what is this costing all of us?  The City of Des Moines can’t keep up with treating their two main sources of water, the Des Moines River and the Raccoon.  The state is 49th in quality of water in our waterways, second only to Mississippi, who claims their problems are due to us.  That alone should be a major embarrassment to the people of Iowa.  How about air pollution and quality of life for those that have to live anywhere near these factory confinements?

We have heard from supporters of factory hog confinements, that living near one of these abominations has no effect on property values.  We found out tonight (8/6/13) my neighbors that own a house closest of any of us to this purposed site just had an offer withdrawn to buy their house. They have been trying to sell this house for over a year.  They finally found a buyer; they have rented a house elsewhere, and have bought a fixer/upper to remodel.  They were scheduled to move August 15th.  The buyer called today and said they were withdrawing their offer because of the factory hog confinement.

Eleven years ago, my wife and I were looking for property to build our retirement home.  We started looking in Hardin County because we both worked there.  The number one reason we didn’t buy in Hardin County was because of the factory hog confinements.

I sincerely hope this doesn’t fall on deaf ears or someone who just doesn’t care!

Jim Loonan

Join the Fight!

Stories like Jim’s are all too common across the state, but fortunately CCI members are standing up to the powerful factory farm industry. We need your help in fighting back, and here are five easy ways you can join the fight:

Iowa CCI members demand to know which “stakeholders” and “regulated parties” were also present at secret Clean Water Act meeting between Governor Branstad’s office, the Iowa DNR, and U.S. EPA

 

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) members have released a list of the top three questions Iowa Governor Terry Branstad should answer about a secret meeting that took place between the governor’s office, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on July 23 in Des Moines.

Branstad’s office, EPA Region 7, and the DNR have all independently confirmed their own involvement, but refuse to answer additional questions about who specifically was in the meeting from those offices and agencies, and if agribusiness interests also sat in on the meeting.

EPA Region 7 spokesman Kris Lancaster told the Associated Press that other “stakeholders” and “state agencies” were also present during the July 23 meeting, but declined to comment further.  Lancaster responded to a request by Iowa CCI members for clarification by writing, “Please contact the hosts.”  Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht and chief of staff Jeff Boeyink have not returned phone calls and emails by Iowa CCI members asking for comment.

  • Question #1 –  Governor Branstad’s office, the DNR, and the EPA have all independently confirmed their presence at a July 23 meeting in Des Moines.  Who specifically from each of those offices or agencies was present?  Did Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds attend the meeting?

  • Question #2 – EPA spokesman Kris Lancaster told the AP that other “stakeholders” and “state agencies” were also in the July 23 Clean Water Act meeting.  Who was he referring to?  Was the Iowa Department of Agriculture (IDALS) present and, if so, who from that agency sat in on the meeting?

  • Question #3 – In his May 20 letter to the EPA headquarters in Washington D.C., Governor Branstad requested a meeting in Iowa between his office, the DNR, the EPA, and “Iowa farmers, business owners, municipalities, and other stakeholders”. On May 31, EPA Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks responded to Branstad’s request by writing, “I respectfully suggest that those regulated parties with the most interest in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation Clean Water Act permitting and evaluation should be invited to this conversation.” Who were the “other stakeholders” and “regulated parties” present in the July 23 meeting?  Was the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation present and, if so, who from that organization sat in on the meeting?

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 crisis has never appeared worse than now, with 628 polluted bodies of water, and manure and other fertilizer runoff so high that Des Moines Water Works has kept the world’s most expensive nitrate removal system running non-stop for months, costing 500,000 ratepayers $7,000 per day.

RELATED:

Top EPA officials traveled to Iowa July 23 for secret meeting with Branstad Administration, Iowa DNR, and other unidentified “stakeholders”

Time to clean up Branstad Administration of Farm Bureau “pollution”

Breaking:  letter from Branstad’s office proves he’s intervening to stop Clean Water Act enforcement

May 20 letter from Governor Branstad to Gina McCarthy, President Obama’s pick to head the U.S. EPA, is a startling use of executive power on behalf of one of Iowa’s most polluting industries

Governor Terry Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds have intervened directly in high-stakes Clean Water Act negotiations between the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), according to recently released documents obtained by a coalition of community and environmental groups – the Environmental Integrity Project, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI), and the Iowa Sierra Club.

The groups say that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documents clearly show that one of the Branstad Administration’s top priorities is to shield a polluting industry from strong and effective public oversight by undermining what could be one of the most significant reforms in years to begin cracking down on factory farm pollution and cleaning up Iowa’s 628 polluted rivers, lakes, and streams.

The most revealing document in the FOIA cache is a May 20th letter from the Office of the Iowa Governor to Acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe and to Gina McCarthy, President Obama’s nominee to be EPA Administrator.  It was signed by both Branstad and Reynolds, and demands EPA officials come to Iowa for a tour with the Governor’s office and the DNR, alongside corporate ag industry leaders.

“Governor Branstad’s direct involvement in negotiations between EPA and Iowa DNR may be responsible for the delay finalizing a much-needed work plan agreement to fix Iowa’s failing factory farm pollution program,” said Tarah Heinzen, Attorney at Environmental Integrity Project and the writer of the coalition’s FOIA request.  “This letter demonstrates a troubling degree of political interference with Clean Water Act enforcement in Iowa.”

Wally Taylor, attorney for the Iowa Sierra Club, said, “Branstad’s letter to the EPA appears to be a brazen intervention directly on behalf of big agribusiness interests like the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation to the exclusion of everyday Iowans, consumers, and other community stakeholders.”

Iowa CCI members were even more blunt.

“I’m so mad I could spit,” said Lori Nelson, CCI board president from Bayard, Iowa.  “Governor Branstad, the Farm Bureau does not run this state.  It’s time to clean it up.  Clean up our water, and clean up our government.”

Branstad’s May 20 letter specifically disputes EPA demands that Iowa factory farms large enough to require a manure management plan be inspected by DNR officials to ensure they are in compliance with the Clean Water Act.  The letter also states that the Branstad Administration is opposed to EPA guidance over DNR procedures and training.

Branstad’s letter rehashes standard corporate ag industry talking points while not once mentioning the water quality crisis in Iowa or the burden unregulated water pollution imposes on everyday Iowans across the state.  Ratepayers in Central Iowa are currently spending $7,000 a day since Des Moines Water Works turned on a $3.6 million nitrate-removal system months ago after the public utility had run out of other options to deal with the pollution load coming down the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers.

Branstad apparently went over the head of EPA Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks by sending his May 20 letter directly to top decision-makers at the EPA’s national headquarters in Washington D.C.  The governor also carbon-copied his May 20 letter to Iowa’s entire congressional delegation.  The DNR was not carbon-copied in the letter, and it is not clear what extent DNR Director Chuck Gipp knows about the governor’s involvement.

EPA Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks was quick to respond to Iowa’s governor.  Brooks sent a reply dated May 31 to Branstad agreeing to meet with his office and industry leaders here in Iowa.  However, another letter obtained by petitioners, sent from Brooks to DNR Director Gipp on March 20th, indicates that EPA’s patience with Iowa decision-makers is running out and that further efforts to undermine the draft work plan agreement could jeopardize Iowa’s authority to administer the Clean Water Act.

Another document in the FOIA cache is a redlined version of the EPA-DNR Work Plan Agreement, revised by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation after a February meeting between industry groups and DNR staff.  DNR sent the industry’s revisions to the plan directly to EPA, but EPA’s March draft rejected most of the Farm Bureau’s attempts to water down the work plan.

The DNR and EPA have been negotiating this 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 report and subsequent federal action was forced by a 2007 de-delegation petition filed by the Environmental Integrity Project, Iowa CCI members, and Iowa Sierra Club and a 2011 Notice of Intent to sue the EPA for a failure to respond to the petitioners in a timely manner.

Iowa has more than 8,000 factory farms, 628 polluted waterways, and 800 documented manure spills, according to DNR records.

You can view Governor Branstad’s letters here, here, here, here, and here.

Click here to view a summary of Branstad’s letters, and what it means for Iowa.

Join the Fight!

2013 is shaping up to be another record-breaking year in the fightback against factory farming and for clean water. 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:

One year ago this week, U.S. EPA released a powerful investigative report proving DNR’s factory farm program doesn’t meet the requirements of the federal Clean Water Act, yet nothing has changed

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement members are calling out Governor Terry Branstad and Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director (DNR) Chuck Gipp for refusing to enforce the federal Clean Water Act against factory farm polluters in Iowa one year after a blistering investigative report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proved the DNR wasn’t doing its job.
The July 13, 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 has drafted a work plan agreement that would bring DNR into compliance, but DNR Director Chuck Gipp is refusing to sign it, presumably under pressure from the Branstad Administration and big ag lobby groups like the Iowa Farm Bureau.

 

“It’s been a year since this report documented exactly what the problem is and how to solve it, and nothing has changed,” said Lori Nelson, the Iowa CCI Board President from Bayard, Iowa.  Nelson is surrounded by 5,000 corporate hogs less than a mile from her rural homestead.  “We need action and we need action now.  It’s time to stop stalling, stop obstructing, and start putting people first.  That means inspections and permits for every factory farm in Iowa.”

 

Water quality has been in the news frequently this summer after Des Moines Water Works turned on a multi-million dollar nitrate removal system, at a cost to ratepayers of $7,000/day, to handle the unprecedented amount of hog manure and other fertilizers running off of farm fields upstream from Iowa’s capitol city.

 

The Iowa legislature appropriated an additional $700,000 to the DNR this year to hire more factory farm field staff, but Iowa CCI members say the DNR is still woefully understaffed and that new field inspectors won’t mean much if there’s not a strong work plan agreement between EPA and DNR to guide their work.

 

Iowa has more than 8,000 factory farms, 628 polluted waterways, and 800 documented manure spills, according to DNR records.

 

For a detailed analysis of the one-year anniversary of the EPA’s report, click here.
For a visual timeline of Iowa’s failure to enforce 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: