CCI Responds to Claims DNR Director Made During Des Moines Register Interview On February 12
Iowa CCI members also release more information about disturbing manure spill patterns at three corporate factory farms in the last three months
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) members are responding publicly to statements made by Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director (DNR) Chuck Gipp and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks during a long sit-down discussion with the Des Moines Register Editorial Board on Wednesday, February 12.
Video of the hour and 12 minute conversation may be viewed here: Iowa CCI calls for meeting with EPA regional administrator to discuss Clean Water Act, http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20140212/BUSINESS01/302120160/Iowa-CCI-calls-meeting-EPA-regional-administrator-discuss-Clean-Water-Act
EPA Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks told the Des Moines Register Editorial Board he had not read the letter CCI members wrote him dated February 11 and signed by 10 CCI members from 8 different counties.
Iowa CCI members had a meeting February 11 from noon-1:15pm with EPA Region 7 legal counsel David Cozad, Dan Breedlove and EPA Region 7 water director Karen Flournoy. We gave the letter to Brooks’ staff at this meeting and did not publicly release a copy of the letter until 9am February 12, nearly 19 hours after our meeting with EPA ended.
DNR Director Chuck Gipp said CCI members always made clean water a partisan issue, and pointed out that few of our legislative demands were met by former Iowa Governor Chet Culver when Democrats controlled all three branches of state government.
Iowa CCI members agree with Director Gipp that Democrats are nearly as bad on this issue as Republicans and that neither political party is doing enough to stand up for clean water and crack down on factory farm pollution. This is a nonpartisan problem, and CCI members come from all walks of life and include rural and urban Democrats, Republicans, and independents.
DNR Director Gipp said “there is no such thing as a factory farm”.
Iowa CCI members say a factory farm can be loosely defined as any confinement or open feedlot holding more than 500 animal units, large enough to require a Manure Management Plan by the state of Iowa, where animals are typically owned by out-of-state corporations, where the operation is highly mechanized and automated, giant quantities of toxic manure are stored, where the operator must sign a contract with the integrator detailing how the operation will be run, and local folks have little to no say about the zoning or siting of the facility.
CCI members remind Director Gipp that the term “factory farm” also includes all medium and large-scale Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, as defined by federal law.
When asked if he agreed with CCI’s claim there have been 600 manure spills in the last ten years, DNR Director Gipp responded by replying “it depends on what you call a spill.”
Iowa CCI members compiled our documented list of 600 manure spills by filing a Freedom of Information Act Request with the Iowa DNR, where we eventually obtained copies of DNR “manure release reports”. All “manure releases” as defined by the DNR, are illegal discharges of manure under Iowa law.
DNR Director Gipp claimed that CCI members labeled him one of the “Dirty 4” nearly 20 years ago.
In 2001, CCI members labeled Gipp one of the “Factory Farm Four” because of his long voting record to reduce and rollback citizen input and public oversight over the corporate factory farm industry. Gipp served in the Iowa House of Representatives from 1990 to 2009 and was the majority leader in the Iowa House from 2003–2007.
- In 1995, Gipp voted for H.F. 519 – a bill signed into law by then-governor Branstad that essentially rolled out the welcome mat for factory farm expansion in Iowa.
- In 1997 and 1998, Gipp voted to outlaw local control ordinances and centralize decision-making authority with the state, expand the ability of corporations to purchase farmland and raise livestock, and grant immunity from fines and penalties to documented polluters.
- In 2003, Gipp voted to rollback clean air rules, strip the DNR of its power to write ambient air quality standards, strengthen nuisance lawsuit protections for corporations, and expand the industry’s ability to build factory farms in environmentally-sensitive areas like flood plains and on karst soil.
- In 2004, Gipp voted to legalize factory farm air pollution by creating a weak regulatory framework for air quality standards.
- In 2005, Gipp voted to undermine law enforcement and corporate accountability by making it harder to refer habitual factory farm polluters to the Attorney General, and obstruct DNR rulemaking by making it easier for big-moneyed corporations to stop or stall rulemaking.
- In 2006, Gipp voted to gut DNR’s authority to deny or modify a factory farm construction permit or manure management plan, empower the state legislature to stop or stall executive branch rulemaking, weaken manure management laws, and discourage and penalize citizen input by silencing everyday people who speak out against factory farm pollution.
- In 2008, Gipp voted for a $23 million taxpayer-funded odor study that would stall action on mandatory and enforceable clean air standards and force Iowa citizens to foot the bill.
Other members of the “Factory Farm 4” – who were immortalized on a giant poster still hanging inside the CCI statewide headquarters in Des Moines – are former Senate Majority Leader Stewart Iverson (R-Clarion), former Senate President Mary Kramer (R-West Des Moines), and former Iowa Representative Christopher Rants (R-Sioux City).
When responding to CCI members claims that the DNR is not being transparent with the results of its new inspection protocols, Director Gipp stated that new inspection records are publicly accessible at Iowa DNR’s six field offices and that the DNR was working on creating a new electronic database for the information.
Having to travel to field offices scattered across Iowa and dig through thousands of files to find inspection reports is not acceptable. A new, online database must be finished immediately and must be easily accessible by the public. Existing Iowa DNR databases, particularly the DNR’s “Animal Feeding Operation” database, “Hazardous Spill” database, and “Fish Kill” database, are not user-friendly, information is very difficult to find and compile, and records are often incomplete and missing.
A new inspections database must list very clearly and plainly, which factory farms were inspected, including the full facility ID number, integrator-owner, and address, what month the inspections were conducted, and provide clickable links to the DNR’s written investigation reports and conclusions. This database must be updated at least once a month. A list of upcoming and scheduled inspections should also be included.
DNR Director Gipp claimed a November 4 manure spill at Maschhoff Pork’s Keosauqua Sow Unit did not reach a waterway.
This is not correct. The Iowa DNR investigation report clearly states that the manure impacted a water of the state of Iowa and reached a tributary of the Des Moines river.
Furthermore, the Maschhoff spill was only one of three in a three month span from October 31, 2013 to January 20, 2014 that involved an underground pipe breaking when liquid manure was being pumped from an underground, shallow pit, to a deeper lagoon or other concrete manure storage structure. These types of incidents are extremely common in Iowa going back years, particularly at older factory farms using outdated technology like open pit lagoons, yet nothing in the DNR’s inspections protocols or in their draft permitting rules addresses these danger factors.
A full detailing of these three case studies over just three short months is included below, in order of most recent to least recent.
On January 20, an Iowa Select factory farm near Dows on the Wright/Franklin County line that confines 16,000 nursery pigs, spilled up to 1000 gallons of liquid manure into a tile line that leads directly into the Iowa River. The spill occurred when a pipe broke during the pumping of liquid manure from the shallow pits beneath the buildings into an open-air lagoon located nearby. The DNR was unable to take water samples because of ice but still gave Iowa Select the okay to spread manure water on snow and frozen-covered ground, which will likely runoff as soon as temperatures rise. The Iowa Select factory farm was built in 1994 and was last inspected by the DNR on April 29, 2013 and given a clean bill of health to continue operating. Many of the issues documented in the 2013 inspection were problems that were also reported in a 2010 inspection, but never fixed. The operation was previously owned by DeCoster Farms.
On November 4, 2013, a Maschhoff Pork factory farm near Keosauqua in Van Buren County that confines 7,500 sows spilled thousands of gallons of manure into a tributary of the Des Moines River, the fourth manure spill at that location in six years. The spill occurred when a pipe broke during the pumping of liquid manure from the shallow pits beneath the buildings into an open-air lagoon located nearby. Maschhoff’s Keosauqua Sow Unit was first built in 1997 and had a DNR inspection in August of 2013.
At least one other Maschhoff factory farm in Iowa had a manure spill in 2013 and CCI members in Center Point in Linn County have been fighting new Maschhoff construction for the last two years.
On October 31, 2013, a Roanoke factory farm near Coon Rapids in Audubon County spilled five thousand gallons of manure into an unnamed tributary of the Middle Raccoon River. The spill occurred when a pipe broke during the pumping of liquid manure from an underground pit into a second underground pit located nearby.
Roanoke LLC is owned by the Audubon County Veterinarians, who also had another manure spill at one of their factory farms in Audubon county on October 26.
The Roanoke spill was never publicly acknowledged by the DNR and CCI staff only became aware of the spill and were able to investigate it because a CCI member lives across the road from the confinement. Many CCI members active in our Clean Water Act campaign live within a few miles of all three of these factory farms.
In response to criticism about the DNR not issuing adequate fines and penalties, DNR Director Gipp pointed to a recent consent agreement with Maschhoff Pork that included a $10,000 fine.
The DNR rarely issues a fine this stiff and CCI members believe it was done in this case only because of the intense amount of public pressure surrounding a threat of a citizen lawsuit by CCI members and allies like the Environmental Integrity Project. Furthermore, the DNR to date has failed to issue a Clean Water Act permit to this facility.
As another example, a CCI member in Northeast Iowa had their farm pond polluted by runoff from a 10,000-head mixed cattle confinement and feedlot last April and the facility has not been issued a single penny in fines or penalties, nor have they been required to obtain a Clean Water Act permit.
EPA Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks said the Iowa DNR is making progress on meeting their new Clean Water Act work plan obligations but that challenges remain.
Iowa CCI members reiterate our position that the DNR’s implementation of the Clean Water Act work plan has been poor and marked by botched inspections, weak draft permitting rules, and a lack of stiff fines and penalties. Furthermore, the DNR has failed to provide all relevant details about their progress in a timely and transparent manner.
Iowa CCI members will continue to audit DNR records, monitor manure spills, and take appropriate action in every corner of the state to clean up our water and hold factory farm polluters and the government regulators who enable them accountable.