The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reached an agreement with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to make changes in the way the state inspects, issues permits, and takes enforcement actions against concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. The agreement includes specific actions Iowa DNR intends to take to remedy the program, and a timeline for putting those regulations into place to ensure clean, healthy water. The agreement was announced September 11 by EPA.
"Working with states to safeguard Midwestern waters is among EPA's highest priorities," says Karl Brooks, EPA regional administrator. "This agreement, developed after extensive public and industry input, commits the Iowa DNR to making needed and achievable improvements to the system that keeps CAFOs in compliance with the federal Clean Water Act. Iowans who operate a world-class livestock sector will continue to thrive in a first-rate permitting and inspection program."
New agreement expands number of livestock farms to be inspected
The plan expands the number of livestock farms in Iowa that will be inspected and will need permits to operate, and tougher penalties for those who don't comply. Several environmental activist groups have been pressuring EPA to work out a plan with Iowa DNR officials, to get them to enforce Clean Water Act regulations on an expanded number of livestock operations in the state. The environmental groups are Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the Iowa Sierra Club and the Environmental Integrity Project.
Leaders on both sides of the agreement expect the pact will help improve Iowa's waterways. "This is a good step forward that lays the groundwork to win even more changes in the future," says Larry Ginter, a member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
Chuck Gipp, head of the Iowa DNR, says his agency worked with the EPA, farmers, landowners, municipalities and others to develop what he calls a "common sense" agreement. "This work plan agreement is a reflection of Iowans working together on a common sense solution that will encourage best practices and promote open communication between affected Iowans and the Iowa DNR," he says.
Environmental groups have been pushing EPA on this issue since 2007, when the groups filed a petition citing Iowa DNR
The Iowa Farm Bureau, criticized by the environmental groups for trying to weaken the agreement when it was being negotiated by EPA and the Iowa DNR, released a statement saying that the inspections will document "what we already know to be true -- that Iowa's livestock farmers are complying with the Clean Water Act. This new agreement will lead to increased documentation of Iowa's already strong livestock regulatory program. It will likely create difficult decisions and hardships for some smaller livestock operators."
The Iowa environmental groups petitioned EPA in 2007 to strip the state natural resources department of its regulatory authority under the federal Clean Water Act. They said the Iowa DNR failed to enforce the federal law against livestock farms that are polluting the water. The EPA agreed with the group last year, saying Iowa's permitting process and oversight of large-scale animal agricultural operations were deficient and required improvement.
This summer, the activist groups accused Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad along with Iowa Farm Bureau of trying to pressure the EPA for more lax enforcement of livestock regulations. Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht says the governor was instrumental in getting the recently announced agreement approved by EPA. Branstad "brought together the stakeholders in a collaborative manner, ensuring everyone's input was heard prior to moving forward."
EPA was asked to take away IDNR power to regulate water quality in the state
Ron Birkenholz, a spokesman for the Iowa Pork Producers, says his organization is confident that hog producers will be able to meet the standards set by the new agreement. "The increased inspections will show the positive strides that have been made in managing manure and nutrients and helping maintain water quality in Iowa," he says.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
Matt Deppe, chief executive of the Iowa Cattlemen's Association, says members are always concerned about the cost of added regulations. "That's why we focused on this agreement and were involved along with the other stakeholders in giving input and ideas when the agreement was being negotiated," he says. "We worked with regulators to make sure their approach was a little more common-sense, a little more consistent."
For example, ICA and other farm groups talked with EPA and Iowa DNR officials about doing a "desk top assessment" of some medium-size livestock operations instead of going out to the farms and physically inspecting every one. EPA and Iowa DNR decided that they will look at satellite imagery and manure management plans to decide if an on-site inspection is needed.
The Iowa Legislature gave Iowa DNR $700,000 this fiscal year to hire seven additional environmental specialists, as well as $22.4 million for state soil and water conservation cost-sharing and related programs to carry out water quality initiatives.
Details of the work plan; EPA and Iowa DNR sign an agreement on how to enforce Clean Water Act in Iowa
The new agreement between EPA and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources requires stricter enforcement of regulations set by the federal Clean Water Act. For example, more on-site inspections are set for large- and medium-size livestock operations. A copy of the final work plan agreement can be found at the EPA website. Briefly, the agreement requires:
* On-site inspections for all large confinement feeding operations, defined as having 1,000 beef cattle or 2,500 hogs. This will include about 3,200 facilities.
* On-site inspections for some medium-sized operations, if they pose a high risk of water pollution due to recent discharges or exposed manure lagoons near waterways. Medium-sized operations are defined as 300 to 999 beef cattle or 750 to 2,499 hogs.
* Desktop evaluations for all other medium-sized confinement operations. About 4,800 facilities in Iowa meet EPA's definition of a medium-sized livestock operation.
* New confinement operation regulations within one year, a move that brings Iowa's permit rules into compliance with the Clean Water Act.
* Strengthening manure application setback requirements within one year by establishing new separation distances that meet federal law.
* Tougher enforcement protocols, taking timely and appropriate enforcement action when needed, including assessing penalties that ensure violators don't gain a competitive advantage from noncompliance.