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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