The State of Iowa and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have struck an agreement that will avoid immediate federal oversight of Iowa livestock operations, but the state has agreed to conduct in-person inspections of about 32-hundred confinement operations within the next five years.
Kevin Baskins is a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the state agency that will be in charge of the inspections.
“One of the main agreements we have with EPA is to first focus on the larger facilities and then as we get into more medium-sized type facilities, looking at the ones that are closer to the waters of the state,” says Baskins.
David Goodner is a spokesman for Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, one of the groups pushing for tougher regulation of livestock operations.
“There’s no question the deal could have been stronger and more effective if it wasn’t for Governor Branstad’s political interference on behalf of the Farm Bureau,” Goodner says. “That being said, we think this is an important first step. it’s a big win for clean water and it’s going to lay the foundation for more reforms in the future.”
The so-called “work plan” was signed today by representatives of the State of Iowa and by officials in the EPA’s regional office in Kansas City. “Large” operations with more than a thousand head of cattle, more than 2500 hogs or more than 82,000 laying hens soon will be inspected by someone from the Department of Natural Resources, then “medium-sized” confinements will be inspected. Baskins says officials in the DNR believe they have enough staff to do the job.
“But one of the other main points of discussion that we had was being able to prioritize and spend our time on those facilities that probably would need the most assistance,” Baskins says. “Those are the ones that are primarily sited next to water or close to water. They may still have open manure storage rather than contained or enclosed.”
Goodner says facilities found to be polluting the water will be forced to get federal operating permits, which has never happened in Iowa before.
“It broadens the universe of factory farm violations that are subject to fines and penalties,” Goodner says. “That’s going to create a deterrent effect on operators that want to cut corners.”
Goodner says his group, the Sierra Club and the Environmental Integrity Project will not drop the threat of their lawsuit, however.
“The DNR committed to doing a number of things over the next five years,” Goodner says. “Our petition’s going to remain outstanding until the end of that five-year process so we can say that DNR did what they said they were going to do…or they haven’t done their job and we need more changes.”
The DNR’s spokesman stresses that his agency does not intend to “play a gotcha game” with livestock operators and will work with owners to get their operations in compliance.
“I would imagine there’ll still be some people that would still rather see some different things done, but I think that what has been put forth is going to serve both the environment and I think it’s going to be, in the end, an assistance to producers,” Baskins says.
Under the agreement, the DNR is required to submit periodic status reports to the EPA, revealing how many inspections have been completed, and the first status report is due in 90 days.