This article written by Donnelle Eller originally appeared in the Des Moines Register on February 18th, 2014. You can read the original here: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20140219/NEWS09/302190046/-1/COMM03/CCI-activists-protest-Environmental-Protection-Commission-meeting
A group of activists said a state panel that oversees water quality in Iowa is too aligned with farm interests to aggressively enforce the Iowa’s environmental laws.
About 40 members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement called for tougher inspections and permitting of large livestock operations at a meeting Tuesday of the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission.
The environmentalists said the state isn’t adequately protecting the state’s waterways. The group said Iowa had 76 manure spills in 2013, a record amount. “It’s not only ridiculous, but it’s unacceptable,” said Larry Ginter, a farmer near Rhodes.
But state said the group was miscounting 25 online reports of air emission violations as manure spills. “Just because you say something at a meeting doesn’t make it true,” said Chuck Gipp, director at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
He said after the protesters left that modern agriculture practices are reducing the amount of manure that makes its way into Iowa waterways. “People conveniently forget how we farmed in the past,” Gipp said. “It’s not worse now. … But that doesn’t mean that we can’t do a better job in the future.”
Group members told the commission that “factory farms” — large hog, cattle and poultry confinements — are fouling the air and water and ruining their quality of lives and investments in their homes.
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the Iowa Sierra Club and the Environmental Integrity Project filed a petition in 2007 demanding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency require improved regulation of livestock operations, or to take over enforcement of the Clean Water Act in Iowa itself.
The state reached an agreement with EPA in September that outlines the state’s oversight of large livestock operations.
The groups want the state to require every large Iowa livestock operation to have a Clean Water Act permit — and assess stiffer fines and penalties against companies that have had manure spills.
“Isn’t it time that DNR starts doing real inspections?” said Garry Klicker, a family farmer near Bloomfield.
“We need boots on the ground, not just a drive by,” said Stephanie Simmons, a retired nurse and Methodist minister from Guthrie Center.
The state agency has said its fines are limited at $10,000 unless a case is referred to the Iowa attorney general’s office for prosecution. The state said it tries to work with large livestock operations to make changes and improvements to prevent future spills.
Gipp said the state has added seven inspectors, using an additional $700,000 that lawmakers provided last year.
CCI members criticized Gov. Terry Branstad for loading the Environmental Protection Commission with livestock and agriculture representatives.
The group recently criticized board member Gene Ver Steeg, who owns a hog confinement operation, for a manure spill last fall.
Earlier this month, the group said Ver Steeg is an outspoken opponent of the Clean Water Act and “has consistently used his influence … to promote industry-friendly rules.”
Ver Steeg of Inwood, who participated in the meeting by phone, told the commission he never said the Clean Water Act shouldn’t be enforced. Ver Steeg was featured in the Wall Street Journal last year, saying closer oversight of hog producers isn’t needed. “But I don’t fear it, because we have nothing to hide,” he told the paper.
The group’s members pointed out commission members with livestock operations: Brent Rastetter owns two hog confinements and is the CEO of Quality Ag Builders Inc., a company that builds livestock confinements and manure pits; Max Smith, who owns a hog gestation operation; Nancy Couser, who owns feedlots and a cattle operation; and Cindy Greiman, who owns cattle feedlots with her husband.
Branstad’s spokesman, Jimmy Centers, said the governor is pleased with the commission and feels it “is working hard to protect and preserve Iowa’s natural resources.”
We’ve got to keep up the pressure. The DNR is set to officially release their draft Clean Water Act rules for public comment soon, and it’s up to us to ensure they offer meaningful solutions to Iowa’s clean water crisis.
Send Chuck Gipp a message here, and tell him Iowa needs strong Clean Water Act rules.
Join the Fight!