For Immediate Release: March 27, 2019

Contact: Darcey Rakestraw, drakestraw@fwwatch.org, 202-683-2467

Adam Mason, adam@iowacci.org, 515-282-0484

Aidan O’Shea, aoshea@publicjustice.net, 202-861-5240

Suit alleges state of Iowa is failing to protect its waterways from factory farms

Follow along on our Facebook livestream as we announce the lawsuit

Des Moines, IA – Today, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch filed a lawsuit against the State of Iowa claiming that the state has violated its obligation to protect the Raccoon River for the use and benefit of all Iowans.

This obligation is called the Public Trust Doctrine, which requires the state to protect the public’s use and not abdicate control to private interests. With well documented water pollution and only voluntary agricultural pollution controls, the suit alleges that the state is failing to uphold its duty. The groups are represented by Public Justice, Food & Water Watch, Roxanne Conlin & Associates, and Channing Dutton, of Lawyer, Lawyer, Dutton & Drake LLP.

Members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch gathered at the Capitol building in Des Moines today to demand accountability for the failure of the state to uphold its duty to protect the Raccoon River, particularly from factory farm pollution.

“Iowans are tired of being told that our interests – our water, our health, our enjoyment of public waters, our drinking water, our pocketbooks – must be compromised or balanced with those of corporate ag and other industries willing to destroy our lives for profit,” said Adam Mason, State Policy Director at Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, “Our lawsuit is holding the state to a higher standard – for us, for our kids, and our grandkids.”

Emma Schmit of Food & Water Watch said, “There is a well-known, statewide water crisis in Iowa, and the Raccoon River in Polk County has been particularly harmed by pollution from factory farms. The Raccoon River runs through one of the most intensely farmed areas of the United States, where runoff from animal manure and fertilizer poses a threat to tap water and recreational use of the river. Once again, the legislature has failed to take any action on water quality, so the citizens of Iowa have stood up to say enough is enough.”

The Raccoon River is the source of drinking water for some 500,000 Iowans. Des Moines Water Works, the largest water utility in Iowa, has one of the most expensive nitrate removal systems in the world. The utility’s struggle to provide safe drinking water to Des Moines residents was documented in its 2015 lawsuit against upstream counties alleging that their failure to regulate tile drains led to excessive amounts of dangerous nitrates in the utility’s Raccoon River source water.

A bill to establish a moratorium on new and expanded factory farms was introduced in the Iowa Senate and House of Representatives during the 2019 session. Despite growing concern from citizens and an increasing number of legislative sponsors, leadership in the Iowa General Assembly refused to allow the bill to even be debated in subcommittee, and the bill died in the first funnel on March 8. No bills to address the factory farm or water quality crises remain alive in this legislative session.

Roxanne Conlin of Roxanne Conlin & Associates said, “Iowans have waited patiently for our elected officials to fix our state’s polluted public waters. As it is clear those elected do not have the willpower to take any substantive action, every day Iowans are now turning to the courts to make Iowa’s waters clean and to protect their ability to enjoy the many outdoor activities that so many Iowans hold dear.”

“The State of Iowa has an obligation to protect the public’s use of the Raccoon River,” said Brent Newell, Food Project Attorney at Public Justice. “Farmers know what practices work for their farms, communities, and the environment. But we are clearly seeing that voluntary compliance does not work in a system controlled by corporate agriculture. Iowans need a system that empowers Iowa’s farmers to be the solution and restores rural communities economically.”

This lawsuit is a response to Iowa’s failed leadership, which has allowed the agribusiness industry to degrade Iowa’s waterways, leaving citizens with the burden of pollution and the cost of cleanup efforts. The suit seeks actionable, mandatory solutions that will restore the Raccoon River and make it safe for people to recreate in and for those who rely on it for drinking water.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement works to empower and unite grassroots people of all ethnic backgrounds to take control of their communities; involve them in identifying problems and needs and in taking action to address them; and be a vehicle for social, economic, and environmental justice.

Food & Water Watch champions healthy food and clean water for all. We stand up to corporations that put profits before people, and advocate for a democracy that improves people’s lives and protects our environment.

Public Justice pursues high impact lawsuits to combat social and economic injustice, protect the Earth’s sustainability, and challenge predatory corporate conduct and government abuses.

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You can get involved by helping to support this case. Chip in $5, $10, $15 today!

As you know, legal action isn’t cheap. And, the Farm Bureau is going to come out swinging.

That’s why we’re asking you to dig deep. DONATE TODAY. Whatever you can give will fund the legal work, and help us the counter corporate ag’s misinformation at every turn.  

We’ll keep you updated as this case develops.

They dump it, you drink it, we won’t stop till they clean it up! 

Members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement support closing tax loophole through H.F. 186, and demand public money be used for the public good

Des Moines, IA – According to fiscal services at the Iowa State Capitol, counties are losing at least $4.5 million dollars in revenue through property tax exemptions to the factory farm industry. Factory farms are benefiting from a tax law loophole that makes their manure pits exempt from property taxation. This preferential property tax treatment shifts the property tax burden onto neighboring small farmers and rural residents.

Representative Sharon Steckman (D-Cerro Gordo) has introduced a bill, H.F. 186, that would close the manure pit tax exemption loophole. If this bill passed at least to $4.5 million public dollars would be available to counties across the state.

Members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement support closing this tax loophole. According to members of Iowa CCI public dollars should be used for the public good, for fixing up roads torn up by factory farms or funding public institutions like hospitals. In Hardin County where there are over 250 factory farms, hospitals can no longer afford to deliver babies. If this property tax loophole was closed, more existing money could go to things such as infrastructure, and hospitals.

 “Instead of subsidizing large corporate factory farms, we should be using this money to support public education,” said Shannon Walker an Iowa CCI member from Wright County, “Our kids, especially in rural communities, are in schools that are underfunded. Let’s use public dollars to help them and not a 22-billion-dollar industry.”

H.F. 186 has been assigned to the Environmental Protection committee but has not been assigned to a sub-committee. Chair of the Environmental Protection committee Rep. Dean Fisher (R-Tama) is single-handedly responsible for stopping this bill.

“Iowa has over 750 impaired waterways. Factory farm manure spills are responsible for fish kills, and industrial agriculture is responsible for pollution of our water,” said Larry Ginter an Iowa CCI member, retired family farmer, and constituent of Rep. Fisher, “It’s already costing us millions of dollars to clean up our water, why are we subsidizing an industry that is causing the pollution? Rep. Fisher is clearly pandering to some of the worst polluters in the livestock industry.”

Research & policy analysis group, Food & Water Watch found that over the past three decades, the Iowa counties that sold the most hogs and had the largest farms had:

  • declining county wide incomes,
  • slower growth in median household income, and
  • declining numbers of local businesses compared to the statewide average

Members of Iowa Citizens believe in a better system of agriculture that works for farmers, workers, eaters and the environment. This system would put more farmers on the land and focus on creating vibrant rural communities by keeping the profits in rural communities not extracting them like corporate Ag.

According to Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement members, the first step toward a better system of agriculture is a moratorium on new or expanding factory farms. Thousands of Iowans are calling for a moratorium and 1 in 4 counties have passed a resolution calling for a moratorium, local control, and/or stronger permitting standards for factory farms.

A moratorium bill, H.F. 203, has also been introduced by Rep. Steckman. H.F. 203, is also assigned to the Environmental Protection committee, and is being stonewalled by Rep. Fisher.

Get involved in the Clean Water and factory farm 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.

Do you want a food and agriculture system that puts farmers, workers, eaters, and our environment before corporate profits? 

Join us Saturday morning, August 5, to lift up that vision for key decision makers like Gov. Reynolds, Senators Grassley and Ernst, new U.S. Secretary of Ag Sonny Purdue, and national press.

Why this Saturday?

That’s when Iowa’s self-appointed political kingmaker and corporate ag tycoon Bruce Rastetter will host his second “Corporate Ag” Summit in Des Moines. He’ll tout his vision of industrial agriculture and trade policy that puts profits before people and the land.

We need to be there to counter corporate ag’s narrative with our own vision!

JOIN US:

Saturday, August 5 @ 7 AM—12 PM
RSVP here!

WHERE:

Meet at the Iowa CCI Headquarters

(2001 Forest Ave, Des Moines, 50311)

DETAILS:

7:00 am  –  Meet at CCI headquarters

7:30 am  –  Load buses to Summit

7:45 am  –  Rally & Press event
(when we need the most people!)

9:30 am  –  Return to CCI for teach-ins
on our clean energy and clean water campaigns

RSVP today! A big turnout helps inject our vision and values into an event that is sure to get a lot of press coverage. Then share and like using the buttons below to enhance our online presence and spread the word.