With Hog-Waste Runoff Blamed for Fouling Drinking Water, EPA Urges State to Step Up Oversight of Livestock Facilities

This piece originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal on March 15th, 2013 and is being reprinted here under fair-use laws because the original article is only available to those with a paid subscription: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324392804578358553768567758.html

Federal regulators are pushing the nation’s largest pork-producing state to start inspecting thousands of livestock and poultry operations in response to concerns over water pollution caused by runoff and spills from ever-larger farms.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed that Iowa officials inspect about 8,000 livestock operations in the state to determine if they should be subject to stepped-up regulation after the agency found the state wasn’t meeting minimum federal requirements. The EPA says the two sides are nearing an agreement, but the state isn’t ready to sign off.

Livestock producers oppose the inspections, saying they would be an unnecessary intrusion and a waste of taxpayer money. But others in the state are pushing for Iowa to get stricter with facilities that raise thousands of animals. Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and environmental groups petitioned the EPA to take over oversight from the state, leading the agency to propose the new inspections.

“Very little is being done to prevent pollution,” said Barbara Kalbach, a member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, whose family has a corn and soybean farm in western Iowa. “It has been resisted at every turn.

The EPA’s plan for stepped-up regulation puts Iowa and its more than 20 million hogs at the center of a national debate over how to regulate livestock and poultry operations, which are blamed for water pollution in a series of farm states. Animal operations are subject to the federal Clean Water Act, but the EPA relies largely on states for oversight, and environmental groups have complained that enforcement in some states is insufficient.

Nitrogen and phosphorus from manure can seep into waterways. The pollution is blamed for fouling drinking water and is seen as contributing to a huge “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, affecting the fishing industry.

Tensions over livestock operations and their environmental impact stem in part from sweeping consolidation in recent decades that has resulted in fewer—but much larger—operations in which manure is concentrated in huge quantities. Federal data from last year show 87% of the nation’s hogs were raised at operations with 2,000 or more animals, while the last census by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2007 counted 8,330 hog operations in Iowa, a drop of 18% from 2002.

In recent years, the EPA has imposed restrictions to cap pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay region and ordered increased oversight of Illinois livestock operations. Meanwhile, lawmakers in North Carolina, the second-largest producer of hogs after Iowa, passed a law in 2007 banning the construction of new hog-waste “lagoons”—large ponds used to store manure that can overflow and pollute waters.

In an investigation last year, the EPA criticized Iowa regulators for not having a handle on which operations required permits and monitoring, and for an inconsistent record on enforcement and fines for violations.

“It’s plain as a pikestaff the state needs to do a better job,” said Karl Brooks, who heads the EPA’s regional office covering Iowa. Mr. Brooks said the state has cooperated with the federal agency, and he would like to see officials sign the proposed agreement as soon as possible.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which oversees livestock regulation in the state, is still analyzing which livestock and poultry operations should be subject to inspections before signing a final accord, a spokesman said this week.

The department is facing pushback from producer groups, including the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, which opposes the EPA’s proposal because it would require state officials to review many smaller operations, which the bureau says aren’t subject to federal rules. And if the inspections end up forcing more operators to get federal permits governing manure management, some would struggle to stay in business because of the additional costs, said Christina Gruenhagen, government-relations counsel for the farm bureau.

For 71-year-old Gene Ver Steeg, who raises about 20,000 pigs a year at four facilities in northwest Iowa, the idea seems like a waste of money. He and other farmers said they are better able today to keep manure out of the waterways because hogs are kept in enclosed buildings and manure is collected in special pits.

“It’s not needed,” Mr. Ver Steeg said. “But I don’t fear it, because we have nothing to hide.”

To comply with the EPA’s proposal, Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources told Republican Gov. Terry Branstad that it would need extra employees, noting it had 13 fewer field inspectors today than in 2007. The governor in his proposed budget requested funding for five new employees.

A spokesman for the governor said the department has “found efficiencies and will be able to inspect every structure as required.” He added the state is working with the EPA “to ensure common-sense regulations that are not overly burdensome to Iowans.”

Des Moines Water Works, the water supplier in Iowa’s largest city, is watching the discussions between EPA and state officials closely. Chief Executive William Stowe said an algae problem last summer fueled by runoff from livestock operations and other sources forced it to temporarily stop using water from the Raccoon River, one of its main sources of drinking water.

Write to Mark Peters at mark.peters@dowjones.com and David Kesmodel at david.kesmodel@wsj.com

A version of this article appeared March 15, 2013, on page A3 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Livestock Waste Lands Iowa in Hot Water.

We’re pleased to share this great video and sound essay by independent producer and Iowa CCI member Helen Gunderson. She joined us at the Statehouse January 15 and captured the day including Governor Branstad’s Condition of the State address and a our “People First: rally at the Capitol.

She does a nice job comparing Branstad’s vision to our and lifts up the role of direct action in the history of social change.




Give it a watch, then click LIKE and TWEET to share it with others and ask them to join you as a member of Iowa CCI.

Great letter by CCI member Charlotte Shivvers that appeared in the Jan. 15, 2013 Knoxville Journal-Express:


I’ve been disturbed to learn that beautiful Iowa’s list of “impaired waterways” has grown to 628 so I decided to attend the recent day of action sponsored by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI).

It was great to chant “This is what democracy looks like!” as hundreds of us milled around the grand rotunda of our Iowa Capitol before Gov. Branstad delivered his speech. It was however quite painful to see more of how our democracy works.

My interest in clean water took me to the session on factory farming – runoff from confinement animal feeding operations (CAFO’s) is the main source of impairment to our waterways. (There’ve been at least 800 manure spills since 1995.)

Main update was – little has been done: one woman related how her home is now surrounded by CAFO’s; odor and excrement from thousands of hogs so poisons her landscape that their retirement nest egg – the value of their farm home – is gone. A man told about the asthmatic condition he’s developed form CAFO pollution and the home they bought for an escape to Iowa’s clean air. And, we’re still trying for small safeguards: local control; no CAFO closer than half a mile to a home; cut the construction permit threshold to 1,250 hogs…

So, of course, I went to the meeting where the 8-member, Governor-appointed, Iowa Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) was to vote on a proposed new rule for hte Department of Natural Resources (DNR). ICCI explained, “A big-moneyed corporate ag interest group called the Iowa Association of Business and Industry (ABI) has proposed a new rule to the DNR that, if passed, will weaken the DNR’s ability to crack down on factory farm polluters who violate our clean water laws…”

First, four people spoke for the new rule representing Farm Bureau and Hog Producers, for instance. Then came all who could speak against it in a half hour – compelling testimony against the rule. (In previous public hearings 86 percent of speakers had been against.)  The new rule was hard to understand – a rule against rules, one said. Why now when the DNR needs full staff restored and stronger rules to protect our water? But after the EPC unanimously approved, I found out why: most of the EPC are so intricately connected to factory farms and other polluting industries that in court hearing they would have been required to “recuse” or excuse themselves.

EPC includes for instance:

  • Max Smith, who runs the big CAFOS on Highway 5 between Knoxville and Attica.
  • Brent Rastetter, who owns a company that builds factory farms.
  • Joanne Stockdale, a past chair of the ABI, the group that pushed the new rule.
  • Cindy Greiman, with Monsanto Iowa.
  • Mary Boote, head of Truth about Trade & Technology, a group for big ag and free trade.

Get the picture? An agribusiness support group? Probably none – except Max Smith – live within breathing distance of a CAFO. No one known for their actions to clean our water. No one from any child safety or health initiatives groups. No, all the EPC members for whom I could find a quick bio would be dollars ahead if nothing were done by DNR to protect Iowa’s environment.

Conclusion: We have well-trained, highly motivated foxes who are empowered to watch over all us chickens. Chickens who are too poorly organized to bring change for the great majority of Iowa citizens who would like clean water and clean air. “Cheep, cheep” – let’s get together and make change!


Join the Fight

Factory farm proposing to build near you? Have concerns about an existing facility?
We can work with you and your community to fight back and stand up for clean air, clean water, and your quality of life.

 Click LIKE or TWEET to share Charlotte’s great letter with your friends.

If you breathe the air, drink the water, or eat the food – the decisions the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) makes affect you.

That’s why we’re excited to announce that top EPA Administrator Karl Brooks has agreed to come to Iowa on February 4 at 6:45 pm to meet with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) members and our allies – the Iowa Sierra Club and the Environmental Integrity Project.

As you may know, our environmental-community coalition brought EPA and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to the table to finally begin enforcing the Clean Water Act against factory farm polluters after 40 years of delays.

But Governor Branstad, Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds, and DNR Director Chuck Gipp are pushing back against our clean water demands, and there’s growing concern that the final EPA/DNR deal could be weaker than we want it to be.

That’s why we need you at this big EPA clean water meeting, Monday February 4th, at 6:45 pm at the Historical Society of Iowa, 600 East Locust Street, Des Moines, one block west of the State Capitol.  We’re going to cover these important issues:

  • The proper role of good government to stand up and protect the environment;
  • Governor Branstad and the corporate ag assault on Iowa’s air and water quality;
  • Cracking down on factory farm pollution;
  • Bringing factory farms into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act;
  • Holding the DNR accountable to everyday people;
  • Iowa’s flawed Nutrient Management Strategy; and
  • Other related issues.

Can you make it?  Click here to register today.

We hope to see you there,


David, Jess, Adam & the rest of the Iowa CCI crew


Join the Fight

Factory farm proposing to build near you? Have concerns about an existing facility?
We can work with you and your community to fight back and stand up for clean air, clean water, and your quality of life.

 Click LIKE or TWEET to invite your friends.


Meeting will focus on community, legal objections to proposed Maschhoff Pork factory farm


Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) members from Linn County will meet with top officials with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in Center Point Tuesday night to press their demands that a construction permit for a giant factory farm near Center Point be denied.

The meeting will be held at the Center Point Public Library at 7pm Tuesday night.

“Matt Ditch and Maschhoff Pork’s proposal does not meet the legal requirements for a construction permit and the DNR must stand up, do their job to protect the environment from factory farm polluters, and deny the construction permit for this bad proposal,” said Regina Behmlander, a CCI member from Center Point who has helped galvanize community opposition to the proposal.

See also:

Linn County CCI Wins First Step Victory

Linn County Factory Farm Fight Heats Up

Calling Linn County Factory Farm Fighters

Join the fight

Click LIKE and TWEET to share with friends and family in Linn Co.

On Monday, October 29 more than 30 people who live near Center Point, Iowa held a planning meeting organized by local Iowa CCI members to plot strategy to continue the community fightback against a factory farm that has been proposed in the area by Maschhoff Pork and a local hog janitor named Matt Ditch.

On Friday, October 26, the Linn County Supervisors voted 4-1 to recommend that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) deny a construction permit for the site.  As part of their recommendation, county government challenged 175 points on the applicant’s submitted Master Matrix score, giving them a failing grade.

The fight now moves to the Iowa DNR, who must decide if they will stand with everyday people and the environment over an out of state factory farm corporation like Maschhoff Pork.

Residents at the October 29 planning meeting were fired up and ready to continue mobilizing community opposition against the plan by putting pressure on the DNR, the applicant Matt Ditch, and local legislators like Speaker of the House Kraig Paulsen and Iowa Senator Liz Mathis.

See also:

Linn County Factory Farm Fight Heats Up

Calling Linn County Factory Farm Fighters

Join the fight

Click LIKE and TWEET to share with friends and family in Linn Co.