DNR Dropping Ball on Clean Water Act, CCI  Members Told EPA Feb 11 In Des Moines

 

Iowa CCI members told top EPA Region 7 officials on Feb 11 that the Iowa DNR is failing to meet factory farm inspection, permitting, and fines and penalties requirementsA dozen members  met with top U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 7 officials in Des Moines on February 11 to discuss the Iowa DNR’s implementation of a Clean Water Act work plan agreement signed last September.

 


Members told EPA Region 7 attorneys David Cozad, Dan Breedlove, and EPA Region 7 Water Director Karen Flournoy that the DNR’s track record has been poor since September on key Clean Water Act work plan criteria like factory farm inspections, new permit rulemaking, and fines and penalties.


“We’re seeing a lot of serious problems out there,” Brenda Brink, a member from Huxley, told EPA staff.  “The DNR is dropping the ball and we want to know what the EPA is going to do about it.”


Members ended the meeting by giving EPA staff a letter addressed to Region 7 Administrator and President Obama-appointee Karl Brooks that spelled out some of the specific problems CCI members were finding as they audit the DNR’s records. A copy of the letter is here.


Brooks was also in Des Moines that day, but spent his time at the Agribusiness Association’s annual convention.


Members asked the EPA to push DNR to make their records more transparent, to strengthen proposed Clean Water Act rules to ensure factory farm polluters will obtain an operating permit, and to use the inspections to crack down on potential pollution problems before manure spills occur rather than waiting until after Iowa’s water quality is impacted before taking action.

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DNR’s Draft Factory Farm Clean Water Act Rule Needs Stronger Permit Requirements

Community-Environmental Coalition Says the Department of Natural Resources Proposal Falls Short of Ensuring Factory Farm Discharges will Result in Clean Water Act Permits

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the Iowa Sierra Club, and the Environmental Integrity Project have released a draft copy of new Clean Water Act permitting rules for factory farms, otherwise known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), being considered by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

A 2007 petition by CCI, Sierra Club, and EIP to the Environmental Protection Agency led to a Work Plan Agreement and this rulemaking, but the groups say the proposed rule does not go far enough to ensure that every factory farm polluter will apply for and obtain a Clean Water Act permit, and will leave too much discretion to the DNR to determine which facilities need permits.  The Clean Water Act permits, known as National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, restrict pollution discharges from sources like industrial animal factories to protect water quality, yet DNR has never issued such a permit to a hog or poultry operation.

A copy of the draft DNR Clean Water Act permitting rules is available at the Environmental Integrity Project website: http://environmentalintegrity.org/news_reports/01_27_2014.php.

At a minimum, the coalition partners say, the DNR must amend the draft rules to reflect EPA’s position that “CAFOs that have discharged in the past will discharge in the future, and are therefore expected to obtain a permit, unless the conditions that led to the discharge are fully remedied.” As proposed, DNR does not address what a factory farm must do to meet this high standard, posing the risk that the agency will let facilities off the hook by giving them the benefit of the doubt that every illegal discharge is a one-time event.

Instead, the groups assert, bare minimum compliance with federal law requires DNR to presume that a discharger will continue to pollute and needs a permit.  This is particularly important when circumstances unrelated to operator error, such as steep slopes, outdated waste storage systems, or close proximity to waterways, make it unlikely an operator can prevent additional pollution.

Garry Klicker, a CCI member and independent family farmer from Bloomfield, said:  “Factory farms that have polluted in the past will pollute in the future and they have a clear duty to apply for a Clean Water Act permit, but the DNR’s draft rule attempts to bypass this very simple standard by creating a loophole large enough to drive a manure spreader through.  It’s time to stop pretending that the industry can just fix a broken pipe and get back to business as usual, because our water quality can’t afford that kind of kowtowing anymore.”

Tarah Heinzen, an attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project representing CCI, said: “The DNR has the authority and duty to require every factory farm discharger to apply for a Clean Water Act permit, but its proposal is ambiguous. Without a clearer standard for when a facility requires a permit, Iowa factory farms will continue business as usual, to the detriment of the state’s hundreds of impaired waterways.”

Wally Taylor, an attorney with the Iowa Sierra Club, said: “CAFOs are not farms; they are factories. They should be required to have NPDES permits just like any other industry that discharges pollutants into the water. The DNR rule must protect our waters from CAFOs that discharge pollutants.”

In addition to clarifying that certain facilities require permits, the coalition will ask DNR to strengthen its standards for waste application so the agency’s permits adequately protect water quality.

The September 11 Work Plan requires the DNR’s Environmental Protection Commission to propose draft rules and open them up for public comment within 180 days.  Coalition members have requested DNR open up a 60 day public comment period and hold in-person hearings in Ames, Bloomfield, Carroll, Des Moines, Iowa City, and Keosauqua to ensure adequate opportunity for input from the citizens most impacted by factory farm water pollution.

In a January 23 letter, EPA informed DNR that the draft rule meets minimum federal requirements and gave its preliminary approval.  CCI, the Sierra Club, and EIP note, however, that the approval essentially sets a floor, not a ceiling, for the rules, and that the bare minimum simply cannot clean up Iowa’s polluted waters and hold factory farms accountable for the widespread pollution they cause.

ABOUT THE PETITIONERS

The Environmental Integrity Project (http://www.environmentalintegrity.org) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization established in March of 2002 by former EPA enforcement attorneys to advocate for effective enforcement of environmental laws.  EIP has three goals:  1) to provide objective analyses of how the failure to enforce or implement environmental laws increases pollution and affects public health; 2) to hold federal and state agencies, as well as individual corporations, accountable for failing to enforce or comply with environmental laws; and 3) to help local communities obtain the protection of environmental laws.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (http://www.iowacci.org) is a 39-year-old statewide non-profit grassroots organization.  Iowa CCI has led the fight against factory farms in Iowa for the past 20 years and has pushed for better environmental and permitting laws for factory farms on the state and national level.

Sierra Club is the nation’s oldest grassroots environmental organization.  Its 1.4 million members and supporters work together to protect our communities and the planet.  Through litigation and administrative and legislative advocacy, the Sierra Club has worked for the past decade to improve controls over factory farm water and air pollution.

Long-Awaited Factory Farm Pollution Work Plan a Good First Step Forward Despite Branstad’s Political Interference

 

Signed DNR/EPA agreement requires on-site inspections for all large factory farms, tougher enforcement standards, and new rules for Clean Water Act permits

 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have signed a far-reaching Clean Water Act work plan agreement that will significantly change the way the state inspects, permits, and takes enforcement actions against factory farms.  You can read the final agreement and all related documents and materials on the EPA Region 7 website here:  http://www.epa.gov/region7/water/

Significant work plan requirements include:

  • On-site inspections for all “large” factory farms (more than 1,000 beef cattle or 2,500 hogs) – about 3,200 facilities meet the federal definition of a large factory farm in the state of Iowa, according to DNR records;
  • On-site inspections for some “medium” factory farms (300 – 999 beef cattle or 750-2,499 hogs), if they pose a high risk of water pollution due to recent discharges or exposed manure lagoons in close proximity to waterways;
  • Desktop evaluations for all other medium-sized factory farms  – about 4,800 facilities in Iowa meet the federal definition of a medium-sized factory farm, according to DNR records;
  • New factory farm permit regulations within one year – to bring Iowa’s permit rules into compliance with the Clean Water Act;
  • Strengthen manure application setback requirements within one year – by establishing new separation distances that meet federal law; and
  • Tougher enforcement protocols that broaden the universe of factory farm violations subject to fines and penalties.

The work plan process was initiated by the EPA in response to a 2007 de-delegation petition filed by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the Environmental Integrity Project, and the Iowa Sierra Club.  The petition called on EPA to strip the Iowa DNR of its regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act for its failure to enforce federal law against factory farm polluters.  The petition will remain outstanding during the five-year implementation period.

Iowa Governor Branstad and industry groups pushed for a much weaker agreement that would have only guaranteed on-site inspections for about 500 of the very largest factory farms – those with more than 2,000 beef cattle or 5,000 hogs – but the final agreement requires inspections at at least 3,200 facilities after the petitioners and 17 other organizations demanded on-site inspections for all medium-sized and large factory farms.

The thousands of inspections and assessments DNR must conduct under the new agreement are intended to identify discharging facilities that require Clean Water Act permits.  DNR must complete 20 percent of the total inspections each year.  The work plan agreement also requires DNR to submit a status report in 90 days, 210 days, and annually thereafter.  DNR will file annual reports on its work plan progress, and EPA will continue to assess whether the state is moving towards compliance with the Clean Water Act.  The status reports will be published on DNR’s website.

Representatives of the community-environmental coalition whose petition drove the process for the DNR/EPA agreement hailed the agreement as a significant step towards clean water, but cautioned that they will measure success in the number of Clean Water Act permits DNR actually issues to documented polluters, the strength of enforcement actions against violators going forward, and the change in quality of the Iowa’s rivers, lakes and streams.

Iowa CCI member Larry Ginter, an independent family farmer from Rhodes, Iowa, said:

“There’s no question this deal would have been stronger and more effective without the political interference of Governor Branstad and the Iowa Farm Bureau, but at the end of the day, this is a good step forward that lays the groundwork to win even more changes in the future.  This fight is far from over.  We will rigorously monitor the implementation of this agreement and continue to press our demands through rulemaking as well as during the 2014 legislative session.”

Iowa Sierra Club legal counsel Wally Taylor of Cedar Rapids said:

“The signed work plan creates a framework that could require corporate confinements to finally get discharge permits, and we hope it will be implemented in a way that effectively penalizes factory farms for polluting our water.”

Environmental Integrity Project legal counsel Tarah Heinzen said:

“This agreement is the critical first step we have been waiting for since EPA found over a year ago that Iowa’s factory farm program is failing.  Strong continued oversight by EPA will be essential to ensuring Iowa adequately inspects and permits polluting facilities that have been let off the hook for years.”

The Iowa DNR and U.S. EPA have been negotiating a work plan agreement to bring the state of Iowa into compliance with the Clean Water Act since EPA released a scathing report in July 2012 finding the DNR’s factory farm program does not meet federal Clean Water Act requirements.  The 2012 investigation report found that DNR:

  • Has failed to issue permits to factory farms when required,
  • Does not have an adequate factory farm inspection program,
  • Frequently fails to act in response to manure spills and other environmental violations,
  • Does not assess adequate fines and penalties when violations occur.

Iowa’s water quality has never been worse than now, with 628 polluted bodies of water, and manure and other fertilizer runoff so high that Des Moines Water Works ran the world’s most expensive nitrate removal system for nearly 90 days this spring and summer, costing 500,000 ratepayers in Central Iowa nearly $900,000.

A version of this update was attributed to Iowa CCI Executive Director Hugh Espey and published online at the Des Moines Register’s “A Better Iowa” blog.

For months, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has stalled on signing a work plan agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to begin cracking down on factory farm pollution.

We’ve always suspected Governor Branstad and the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation were behind the delay, and now we have proof.

News broke this week about a letter Branstad sent to EPA headquarters in Washington D.C. on May 20,  proudly proclaiming his opposition to Clean Water Act enforcement and demanding a meeting between the governor’s staff, state and federal regulators, and agribusiness leaders here in Iowa.

Branstad doesn’t say which business leaders he’s thinking of, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario that doesn’t include the Farm Bureau – the largest big-money corporate ag lobby group in the state.

We know they are also involved because the same cache of FOIA documents includes correspondence between DNR Director Gipp and Christina Gruenhagen, one of the Farm Bureau’s chief lobbyists.  The email dated February 22 Gruenhagen sends to the DNR includes a copy of the draft work plan agreement “marked up” by the Farm Bureau.  For example, under “Objective 4” of the work plan, the Farm Bureau copy proposes using the word “assessments” instead of, or in addition to, “inspections” for factory farms, a significant weakening of the original proposal.

The Farm Bureau’s February 22 mark-up of the draft work plan also deletes language requiring EPA to approve new Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) manuals under Objective 7.  Branstad makes a similar demand in his May 20 letter when he writes EPA, “we understand that EPA Region 7 is also insisting on final approval, oversight and the ability to change DNR’s standard operating procedures and training for DNR livestock farm program staff, and these are additional areas where we have disagreement.”

Farm Bureau lobbyist Christina Gruenhagen was also quoted in a March 15 Wall Street Journal story titled “Livestock waste lands Iowa in hot water,” and her stated objections are nearly identical to the same arguments Branstad makes in his May 20 letter to the EPA, specifically opposing inspections for factory farms large enough to require a Manure Management Plan. The Farm Bureau’s February 22 mark-ups also attempt to exempt some factory farms from oversight because of their size.

The DNR forwarded the Farm Bureau’s comments to the EPA on February 27.

In addition, the governor’s language in his May 20 letter about “burdensome regulations” and a “gotcha” approach to enforcement are both standard Farm Bureau talking points.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to connect the dots here.  But it will take a mass movement of everyday people and hardworking families to force Branstad to clean up it up – clean up our water of factory farm pollution, and clean up our state government of corporate corruption.

That’s just what Iowa CCI members plan to do.

Click here to read a press release detailing Governor Branstad’s letter.

You can view Governor Branstad’s letters herehereherehere, and here.

Click here to send a pen to “encourage” Branstad and Gipp to sign the workplan. We’ll make sure it gets delivered!

Join the Fight!

Help make the message clear – Governor Branstad and Iowa DNR Director Gipp must sign a workplan to bring Iowa into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act.

To send your message right to the source, click here. We’ll send Director Gipp and Governor Branstad a pen and ask them to sign the workplan in your honor.

2013 is shaping up to be another record-breaking year in the fightback against factory farming and for clean water. Already, we’ve seen the corporate ag industry push bad bills at the statehouse, setting our state up for another influx of corporate hog manure. We need your help in fighting back, and here are five easy ways you can join the fight:

  • Hit “like” to share with your friends on Facebook and “tweet” to share with your followers on Twitter below
  • Contact us for more information
  • Join as an Iowa CCI member today or chip in $10 to support our organizing on this issue.
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One year ago this week, U.S. EPA released a powerful investigative report proving DNR’s factory farm program doesn’t meet the requirements of the federal Clean Water Act, yet nothing has changed

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement members are calling out Governor Terry Branstad and Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director (DNR) Chuck Gipp for refusing to enforce the federal Clean Water Act against factory farm polluters in Iowa one year after a blistering investigative report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proved the DNR wasn’t doing its job.
The July 13, 2012 EPA Report said DNR:
  • Has failed to issue permits to factory farms when required,
  • Does not have an adequate factory farm inspection program,
  • Frequently fails to act in response to manure spills and other environmental violations,
  • Does not assess adequate fines and penalties when violations occur.
The EPA has drafted a work plan agreement that would bring DNR into compliance, but DNR Director Chuck Gipp is refusing to sign it, presumably under pressure from the Branstad Administration and big ag lobby groups like the Iowa Farm Bureau.

 

“It’s been a year since this report documented exactly what the problem is and how to solve it, and nothing has changed,” said Lori Nelson, the Iowa CCI Board President from Bayard, Iowa.  Nelson is surrounded by 5,000 corporate hogs less than a mile from her rural homestead.  “We need action and we need action now.  It’s time to stop stalling, stop obstructing, and start putting people first.  That means inspections and permits for every factory farm in Iowa.”

 

Water quality has been in the news frequently this summer after Des Moines Water Works turned on a multi-million dollar nitrate removal system, at a cost to ratepayers of $7,000/day, to handle the unprecedented amount of hog manure and other fertilizers running off of farm fields upstream from Iowa’s capitol city.

 

The Iowa legislature appropriated an additional $700,000 to the DNR this year to hire more factory farm field staff, but Iowa CCI members say the DNR is still woefully understaffed and that new field inspectors won’t mean much if there’s not a strong work plan agreement between EPA and DNR to guide their work.

 

Iowa has more than 8,000 factory farms, 628 polluted waterways, and 800 documented manure spills, according to DNR records.

 

For a detailed analysis of the one-year anniversary of the EPA’s report, click here.
For a visual timeline of Iowa’s failure to enforce the Clean Water Act, click here.

Join the Fight!

2013 is shaping up to be another record-breaking year in the fightback against factory farming. Already, we’ve seen the corporate ag industry push bad bills at the statehouse, setting our state up for another influx of corporate hog manure. We need your help in fighting back, and here are four easy ways you can join the fight:

At Public Hearing, Center Point Residents Will Demand Local, State Government Action To Stop New Factory Farm Construction

On Monday, June 17, dozens of Center Point and other Linn county residents will stand up for clean air, clean water, and a rural economy that puts people first and testify against new factory farm construction in their community proposed by Matt Ditch and an out-of-state corporation, Maschoff Pork.

Last Fall, the Linn County Board of Supervisors recommended that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (Iowa DNR)  deny a construction permit for the Ditch/Maschoff factory farm based on community comment, air, water, property, and quality of life concerns, and because Ditch and Maschoff did not score enough points on the Master Matrix.

Ditch and Maschoff resubmitted their permit application last month, with one major change: they are now claiming they don’t have to score a Master Matrix at all because they are expanding an existing confinement.  The new proposal will house up to 4,180 hogs, nearly double the normal threshold requiring a matrix score.

State law allows an existing confinement to expand beyond normal thresholds without a Master Matrix if the original facility was built before 2003.   But, the 300-head operation Ditch claims he is expanding has been run as an open feedlot, with access to the outdoors to finish hogs, since 1996.  In addition, the original site is not owned by Matt Ditch, but by his father, Ken.

“We believe Matt Ditch and Maschoff Pork are deliberately putting forth a bogus interpretation of state law in an attempt to avoid common-sense and very basic public oversight,” said Regina Behmlander, an Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) member who lives outside Center Point and could be directly impacted by the proposed factory farm.

Some Linn county supervisors have indicated they also do not believe Ditch and Maschoff quality for the loophole for these two reasons.

“What they are doing is wrong, it’s wrong, “said Deb Theisen, another local CCI member directly impacted by the proposal.  “We are going to send Linn County and the Iowa DNR a strong message today.  They have the power to stop this and we won’t take no for an answer.”

Guthrie and Tama counties both recommended the DNR deny similar factory farm construction last week after local Iowa CCI members mobilized community opposition to the proposals.

Iowa has more than 628 polluted waterways and 800 documented manure spills, according to DNR records.  The DNR has refused to sign a workplan with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to begin inspecting and permitting Iowa’s 8,000 factory farms.