Branstad Must Approve Draft Clean Water Act Rule So Critical New Factory Farm Enforcement Process Can Continue Moving Forward

The governor’s office is sitting on a draft clean water rule after a flawed economic analysis using figures obtained by the Iowa Farm Bureau claimed the proposal could have a negative job impact

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) members demand Governor Branstad stop sitting on a proposed Clean Water Act permitting rule for factory farm polluters and give the go-ahead signal to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to formally open up the rule for public comment at the March 18 Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) meeting.

The DNR sent a badly flawed and corporate ag influenced fiscal and jobs impact statement to Branstad’s office on February 19 and requested an up or down decision by the governor by February 26.  The jobs impact statement was compiled by the DNR with the help of the Iowa Farm Bureau and the governor could use the flawed report as an excuse to reject the proposal and ask the DNR to go back and water down or weaken the rule even more than it already is.

An approval by the governor’s office and a formal promulgation of the rule by the EPC on March 18 would then kick off a weeks long public comment process with in-person public hearings in at least six different locations across Iowa.

“Governor Branstad must stop interfering with Clean Water Act enforcement and approve the new factory farm permitting rule so this process can move forward to the public comment period,” said Lori Nelson, the CCI board president from Bayard who is surrounded by more than 5,000 corporate hogs within a half-mile of her rural homestead.

The new permitting rule is a critical piece of Clean Water Act enforcement that has been held up for years, ever since 2011 when a new EPC commission packed with industry insiders by Governor Branstad threw out a previous version of the rule.  But a workplan agreement signed between the DNR and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last September set out clear benchmarks for a new version of the rule to be completed.

There have been more than 600 documented manure spills since 2003 and Iowa currently has at least 630 polluted waterways.  Some researchers have found that manure from factory farm lagoons is leaking at more than twice the rate allowed by law, and it’s anyone’s guess how many times rainwater, floods, or melting snow have run freshly spread liquid manure off of farmland and into rivers, lakes, and streams.

Factory farm expansion is also up, with more than 900 of the state’s 8,500 factory farms being built since January 1, 2012.   A conservative estimate finds that Iowa’s 21 million hogs produce more than 5 billion gallons of toxic manure every year.

Iowa CCI is a statewide, grassroots people’s action group that uses community organizing to win public policy that puts communities before corporations and people before profits, politics, and polluters.   

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DNR Must Create Transparent, User-Friendly, Online Clean Water Act Database

Easily accessible reports on factory farm inspections and manure spills necessary to ensure DNR is complying with Clean Water Act mandate

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) members say they have been gathering evidence for months that shows the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is short-changing the implementation of the federal Clean Water Act, but that CCI’s efforts to audit the DNR and hold them accountable are being seriously hampered by a lack of transparent information on factory farm inspections and manure spills.

The DNR still maintains most of its records on paper, in six field offices scattered across the state, and their online databases are obsolete, opaque, full of incorrect and inconsistent information, and not easily accessible.

“DNR Director Chuck Gipp’s position, that Iowans should just drive out to a field office and start randomly digging through 8,500 files looking for this vital information, is not credible and does not serve the public interest,” said Vern Tigges, a CCI member from Adel who farmed most of his life outside of Carroll before moving to town last year to escape the smell of 30,000 corporate hogs surrounding his family farm.

The DNR’s 90-day status report last December to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that at least 117 inspections have been completed, without giving any information on which factory farms were inspected, when they were inspected, or where the investigation reports were and what they discovered.

In addition, manure spill records are widely inconsistent, with some databases showing 76 manure spills alone in 2013, and others showing an also high but different number of 51, and it is unclear if the information is inconsistent or tracked using different counting methodologies.

“This is basic information that the people of Iowa absolutely must have, and right now, we don’t.  That’s a real problem, and we demand the DNR modernize their record-keeping and information sharing systems immediately,” Tigges continued.  “We demand transparency.”

Tigges was one of three CCI members who delivered a demand letter to Director Gipp’s offices February 27.  The group spoke with DNR Deputy Director Bruce Trautmann and environmental chief Bill Ehm.

The letter, which may be read here, states “the DNR is a public agency charged with protecting our environment and working for the everyday Iowan.  The lack of accuracy, transparency, and consistency in the DNR databases do not align with those goals.”

The letter continues:  “Iowa CCI members request the DNR create a comprehensive database that combines all the information from field office files, current databases and records from the DNR records center…”

Governor Branstad’s office is sitting on a draft Clean Water Act rule waiting to be officially released for public comment by the DNR’s Environmental Protection Commission.  The governor has to give the go-ahead to the DNR first, but is holding up the proposal because of a flawed jobs impact statement that used Iowa Farm Bureau figures to claim the proposed rule may have a negative job impact.

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TIME FOR SOME ACTION!  Bus-load of CCI Members To Stand Up For Clean Water During Tuesday’s EPC Meeting

Members have ordered a bus to accommodate the large number of people from across Iowa scheduled to drive into Des Moines February 17 for a Clean Water Day of Action starting at 10:30am at the monthly Environmental Protection Commission Meeting (EPC) held at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR’s) Air Quality Control building, 7900 Hickman Road.

Members say they will present case studies of factory farm pollution across Iowa that is not being addressed by the DNR and will demand:

  • Factory farm inspections that fix problems, prevent spills, and result in permits;
  • Clean Water Act permits for every factory farm so they are forced to play by stronger rules or get shut down with a “three strikes and you’re out” policy;
  • Stiff fines and penalties large enough to deter illegal pollution.

Members believe that Governor Branstad and his DNR Director Chuck Gipp are still not enforcing the Clean Water Act against factory farm polluters, even six months after a work plan agreement was signed between the state and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to bring Iowa into compliance with federal law.

“It’s time for some action, DNR,” said Larry Ginter, a member and independent family farmer from Rhodes, Iowa.  “We need inspections that find problems and prevent pollution and Clean Water Act permits for every factory farm that include a three-strikes-and-you’re-out rule so these factory farms are either forced to play by stronger rules or shut down.”

At least 76 manure spills were reported to the DNR in 2013, and that doesn’t include 11 emergency exemptions to apply liquid manure on snow and frozen-covered ground the DNR has approved this winter that will almost certainly result in runoff and water pollution once temperatures rise.

Members will also call out five of the eight EPC commissioners for their ties to the corporate factory farm industry.  According to public documents on file with the DNR, EPC Commissioner:

  • Gene Ver Steeg owns confinements housing 20,000 corporate hogs and had a manure spill last fall
  • Brent Rastetter owns two confinements housing 9,200 corporate hogs and is the CEO of Quality Ag Builders Inc, a company that builds factory farm confinements and manure pits
  • Max Smith owns a hog gestation factory farm that houses 4,117 corporate hogs
  • Nancy Couser owns feedlots and confinements housing 5,200 cattle
  • Cindy Greiman with her husband owns feedlots and confinements housing 3,794 cattle

EPC commissioners are appointed by the governor.

 

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Governor Branstad’s appointee to the Environmental Protection Commission Gene Ver Steeg was one of 76 factory farm operators to spill manure in 2013,  an audit of Department of Natural Resources (DNR) records by our members shows.

Ver Steeg owns four factory farms producing 20,000 corporate hogs a year in northwest Iowa.  He was the president of  the Iowa Pork Producers Association in 2006 and reappointed to the DNR’s Environmental Protection Commission  (EPC) in 2013 by Governor Branstad after serving a four-year term from 2008-2012.

Ver Steeg may reasonably be considered the face of the factory farm industry in Iowa.  According to DNR records,  which you can view here, Ver Steeg was hauling liquid manure before dawn the morning  of November 13, 2013 and spilled more than 1,500 gallons down 260th Street in Lyon County.  He called in the spill  about an hour after an anonymous caller reported it to the DNR.  The DNR’s investigation report reads:

 He started hauling while still dark and believed everything was closed and not leaking, but later discovered something had  leaked along one lane as he was going west for a mile and a half…They had the county clean and scrape most of it off and  Fire department will hose off the rest of it..He is contacting all of neighbors to offer them a car wash.

Gene Ver Steeg is an outspoken opponent of Clean Water Act regulations.  On March 15, 2013, Ver Steeg was featured  in a Wall Street Journal story “Livestock Waste Lands Iowa in Hot Water” and was reported saying Clean Water  Act enforcement was a waste of money.  “It’s not needed,” Mr. Ver Steeg said.  He has consistently used his influence as  an EPC commissioner to promote industry-friendly rules.

Ver Steeg’s 2013 manure spill was only one of 76 reported to the DNR in 2013, a frequency greater than one a week.  At least 10 of those spills reached a waterway and 60 spills originated from a hog operation.  The number of manure spills in 2013 nearly doubled the rate of 46 in 2012, 46 documented manure spills with 34 originated from a hog operation. [DNR’s 2013 manure release report can be viewed here]

Of the 23 spills since October 31st, 2013 four sites received inspections within a year of the spill and six sites had never received an inspection by the DNR.  At least three manure spills since October 31, 2013 have reached a waterway after pipes broke during the transport of liquid manure from manure pit to manure pit or pit to open-air lagoon – including a Maschhoff Pork facility in Van Buren County, Roanoke LLC in Audubon county, and an Iowa Select facility in Wright county.

Our members say this new information highlights the danger that factory farm pollution poses to Iowa’s water quality, particularly when the DNR continues to refuse to perform high-quality Clean Water Act inspections and issue tough operating permits that force the industry to play by stronger rules.

“Every factory farm in Iowa is a ticking time bomb that could have a spill at anytime, and the DNR needs to start holding them accountable for polluting our waterways by issuing them Clean Water Act permits so they have to follow stronger environmental standards,” member and Board President Lori Nelson explained.

“How many manure spills is it going to take before the DNR issues a Clean Water Act Permit?  We’re swimming in, fishing in, and drinking manure.  Governor Branstad and DNR Director Chuck Gipp need to quit working for the factory farm industry and do what’s best for our water and environment,” said Larry Ginter, an independent family farmer and long-time Iowa CCI member.

CCI members will attend the Environmental Protection Commission meeting in February to demand the DNR do its job, perform good inspections, issue stiff fines and penalties to documented polluters, and start handing out tough new Clean Water Act permits that crack down on water pollution.

This new information about factory farm manure spills is part of an ongoing investigation by CCI members of manure spills and DNR inspections.

 

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The Summer of Clean Water has paved the way for the next chapter of our Clean Water Act Campaign.  Our hard work collecting petition signatures, holding DNR and EPA accountable and monitoring factory farm manure spills has paid off.

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Iowans are at a crossroads; we can continue down the path we’re currently on or we can rise up and demand a new path – a path where the environment comes before money, where Iowans can swim, fish and drink our water without worrying about what’s in it and where independent farmers, urban dwellers and rural communities flourish.

 

We know the DNR won’t lead the way down this new path – it’s up to us and we’re already a block ahead!

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More than fifty members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) delivered 5,344 petition signatures from everyday Iowans demanding stronger state action to crack down on factory farm pollution to the Environmental Protection Commission (EPC

After the public testimony, CCI members unrolled hundreds of pages of petition signatures and wrapped them around the EPC commissioners table.  EPC chair Mary Boote temporarily adjourned the meeting.) meeting today in Ankeny.  Eighteen members also gave public testimony demanding the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issue a Clean Water Act operating permit to a giant factory farm polluter in Van Buren county owned by Maschhoff Pork, an out-of-state corporation based in Illinois.

A Maschhoff Pork factory farm in Van Buren County was given a ‘no permit needed’ designation during a botched DNR inspection August 20.  Weeks later the factory farm had its fifth manure spill since 2007, dumping thousands of gallons of manure into a creek that directly feeds the Des Moines River.  New inspections and permits are a required part of the workplan to implement the Clean Water Act for factory farms in Iowa that was signed by DNR and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in September 2013.

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 “The DNR could have prevented this spill if they had been doing their job during their August inspection,” said CCI member Gary Klicker, an independent  family farmer from Bloomfield. “Iowa CCI members demand the state of Iowa issue a Clean Water Act operating permit to Maschhoff’s Keosauqua sow unit immediately to force it to start playing by stronger rules or get shut down.”

Iowa CCI members say they will continue to audit DNR inspections to ensure they are held accountable to federal law and the work plan agreement they recently signed with EPA.

If you’re ready to join us on the new path to environmental justice in Iowa join as an Iowa CCI member or make and extra gift today!

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  • Join as an Iowa CCI member today or chip in $10 to support our organizing on this issue.
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Payday lending fees cost everyday Americans $3.4 billion every year, including $37 million in Iowa

 

Iowa CCI members call on Iowa legislators to take action by passing interest rates caps

 

The Center for Responsible Lending just released a scathing report about payday lenders and the predatory nature of their high fees and interest rates in the United States, and found that payday lending fees – above and beyond the original loan amount – cost everyday, hardworking Americans $3.4 billion every year. http://www.responsiblelending.org/state-of-lending/reports/10-Payday-Loans.pdf

In Iowa alone, individuals paid over $37 million in fees in 2012. According to the report, there are 218 payday loan operations in Iowa. Each one averages 3, 904 transactions every year.

Iowa is one of 29 states without meaningful regulation, despite popular public support of regulation of payday lenders. Payday lenders trap people in a cycle of debt, near impossible to escape. 90 percent of payday borrowers go to individuals with 5+ loans per year. Fees and penalties add up to an annual interest rate near 400 percent.

Lacking legislation at the Iowa Statehouse, cities have taken action under the leadership of local Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) members. Seven cities – Des Moines, West Des Moines, Clive, Ames, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and Windsor Heights – have already passed local ordinances that restrict where payday lenders can locate. Since the first ordinance was enacted, we have seen an almost 20% drop in payday loan shops in Iowa.

The Center for Responsible Lending states the strongest approach to regulating payday lenders is setting maximum APRs to eliminate the debt trap, generally 36 percent. For years, Iowa CCI members have pushed Iowa legislators for legislation to cap interest rates at 36 percent but legislators in both parties have failed to act.

“I have young family members who have taken out these loans and have gotten trapped in a cycle of debt,” said Robin Ghormley, an Iowa CCI member from Des Moines.  “It is outrageous that all of this money is going to out of state corporations and I think it’s past time that Governor Branstad and the Iowa legislature crack down on predatory payday lending by passing strong interest rate cap legislation during the 2014 session.”

Join the fight!

  • Join as an Iowa CCI member today or chip in $10 to support our organizing on this issue.
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