In the past two weeks alone, we attended an Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) meeting, met with officials from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Attorney General’s office, and the Director of the DNR, Chuck Gipp.
All of these meetings focused on pushing the DNR to use the new Clean Water Act Rule by issuing Clean Water Act permits to factory farm polluters – our people power is paying off!
Meeting with the EPA
CCI leaders sat down with top staff from US Environmental Protection Agency Region 7 from Kansas City, after they reached out to us before their scheduled visit with the DNR. Iowa CCI leaders updated EPA on our work to push the DNR to implement the Clean Water Act in Iowa for factory farms. Members laid out the facts:
- The DNR has failed to issue a single Clean Water Act permit. Since the Clean Water Act work plan passed in September 2013, there have been 74 documented manure spills, 15 manure spills that reached water, and at least 12 emergency application exemptions. The DNR should start off 2015 on the right foot by permitting these polluters.
- The DNR has not changed the way it issues fines and penalties. Since the Clean Water Act work plan passed in September 2013 only 13 of the 74 manure spills have received a fine or penalty. The DNR needs to do more to deter future pollution by levying stiff fines and penalties to polluters.
- The DNR only completed inspections on 14% of the factory farms in Iowa. We’ve seen many manure spills happen shortly after an inspection was completed, or spills at a factory farm that hasn’t been inspected in many years. The DNR needs to ensure that inspections find problems, fix problems, and lead to permits.
- The DNR databases have inaccurate information, contradict each other and/or lack important details, and we’re concerned about the transparency of the Clean Water Act implementation process. The DNR needs to keep the public fully informed every step of the way.
After powerful personal testimonies about our members’ experiences fighting factory farms, living with the impacts of factory farms in both rural and urban areas, and our assessment of the DNR’s progress, we shared a great conversation with the folks from the EPA.
We heard the EPA voicing some of the same concerns regarding DNR’s training of inspectors across the state, about the determinations that DNR has come to (and also by the fact that no permits have been issued!) We agreed to follow up again on the DNR’s progress next year.
Meeting with the DNR
A team of 3 CCI leaders, assisted by 3 of our attorneys from the Environmental Integrity Project and Food & Water Watch, sat down with DNR Director Chuck Gipp and his key staff charged with implementing the Clean Water Act in Iowa for factory farms. We laid out the same information and concerns we presented to the EPA, and had a 90 minute discussion on what it will actually take for the DNR to start issuing permits and crack down on factory farm polluters to clean up our water.
In response to our concerns about inspections, the DNR acknowledged they need to continue training inspectors at the field offices around the state to ensure that inspections are consistent and comprehensive. Over the course of the meeting, the DNR acknowledged that they are open to issuing permits to factory farms that pollute waterways. They are more consistently issuing fines to polluters when manure spills reach waterways. And DNR staff agreed to get us the information we are looking for, and to work with us to make sure that this information is readily available to the public in a way that is easy to understand. They were open to supporting some of our legislative proposals for the 2015 session as well.
Could be better:
We have a lot more work to do. It is clear that even though DNR is more open to permitting factory farm polluters, they have set a very high bar for what kind of factory farm will need a permit. We will need to continue to push the DNR to permit all factory farms, and we must remain vigilant in monitoring their implementation to ensure that they:
- continue to deter polluters with stiff fines and penalties to all manure spills, not just those that reach a waterway
- are consistently performing inspections that find and fix problems at factory farms
- issue Clean Water Act permits to factory farms
We’ll continue to keep the pressure on Iowa’s DNR to implement the Clean Water Act and crack down on factory farms. We’ll kick off 2015 on all fronts:
- pushing our People & Planet First policies for Clean Water at the Iowa Statehouse;
- Staying in front of the DNR & EPC, demanding action on manure spills and permitting
- Working with the Iowa Attorney General’s office, reaching out to the US Attorney’s office, and working with our own attorneys to file precedent setting lawsuits against factory farm polluters that would result in stiff fines and penalties and Clean Water Act permits as part of a favorable judgment.
We’ll be busy in the new year, and we can’t do it alone. That’s why we’ll be calling on you to help us build the people power necessary to continue organizing, and to win.
Meeting with the AG
Nearly 40 CCI members and staff met at the Hoover Building meeting with the Iowa Attorney General’s office. We were joined by our legal partners from Food and Water Watch and The Environmental Integrity Project, Michele Merkle and Scott Edwards, and Tarah Heinzen respectively.
- CCI member Deborah Bunka provided a brief history of CCI’s work and resulting impact on clean water policy in Iowa. She provided key dates and their events going back a few years and leading up to now, over a year since implementing the Clean Water Act for factory farms and still not seeing a single permit issued to a factory farm polluter. Deborah also spoke about the DNR’s lack of quality inspections and transparency of information on manure spills that have already occurred.
CCI member Rosie Partridge laid out our demands, plain and simple: When the DNR won’t crack down on polluters, we want the AG’s office to step in and do it.
We laid out our legislative agenda for the 2015 session:
- An end to the “no more stringent than” law that declares that a state’s law cannot be harsher or “more stringent” than federal law. Federal law needs to be a floor – not a ceiling.
- An increased maximum fine amount that the DNR has the authority to issue to factory farm polluters. The current maximum of $10,000 is not enough to deter polluters, as they only consider it to be a cost of doing business as usual which is why our waterways are more polluted than ever.
- Iowa’s “habitual violator law” needs to be updated to include Administrative Orders, not just action taken by the Attorney General. Many confined animal feeding operations are habitual violators but are not currently classified as such due to the exclusion of AOs in their history.
- Our team of lawyers brought up the Smithfield Agreement and Packer Ban, as well as producer protection, which lead to some impassioned statements from CCI members Larry Ginter and Chris Petersen.
Our hope for this meeting was to educate the AG’s staff about the state of Iowa’s water and the DNR’s near-complete failure to enforce the Clean Water Act. We want to ignite them on this issue enough so that they exercise their independent filing authority against factory farm polluters.
Our take away was hopeful, with Eric Tabor sharing with us that with it being Attorney General Tom Miller’s last term in office he is looking to make some lasting impressions on the people of Iowa, which he mentioned includes action for Iowa’s water.
We will be following up with the AG office in the coming weeks to share with them information we have on the past year’s manure spills that the DNR has failed to provide to them.
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 and water and your quality of life.