The Iowa Supreme Court has struck down a Worth County ordinance that limited air and water pollution from hog lots. The court ruled Iowa counties cannot adopt stricter standards than state law. Chris Gruenhagen, an attorney for the Iowa Farm Bureau, says the ruling’s good news for livestock producers.
“We are very pleased with the ruling,” she says. “It restores certainty to Iowa’s livestock farmers that they will now only have to comply with state and federal regulations that are quite extensive, rather than county regulations.” She says it’s important to have continuity in regulations.
The state’s highest court upheld a lower court ruling from February of 2003 which tossed out Worth County’s “health” ordinance which placed limits on ammonia and hydrogen sulfide emissions and required water monitoring at large-scale livestock confinements. Gruenhagen says allowing counties to set those kind of individual standards would have put some farmers at a competitive disadvantage.
But Worth county resident James Berge says counties need to be able to set some standards because the state law isn’t protecting the public’s health.
“They way they let people live next to these buildings without any thought of regulations to help their children, the elderly, the people with asthma. It’s sickening,” Berge says. “What is our state coming to? Why are we treating our citizens like second-class citizens? We’re almost to (a) third-world country in some of the pollution that we have to put up with.” Berge says the only recourse rural residents have now is to vote out the legislators who passed the livestock laws prohibiting “local control” at the county level. “They don’t seem to be concerned that the people want protection from large-scale confinement systems, only that ‘corporate ags’ fund their campaigns,” Berge says.
Berge says he’s sometimes unable to go outside because of the smell from a nearby confinement, and he says the hydrogen sulfide coming out of the unit “could kill you.” Aaron Putze of the Iowa Farm Bureau is a spokesman for a group called the “Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers” — organized to tell a different story about Iowa agriculture. Putze says livestock production accounts for a little over five percent of the state’s entire economic activity, and livestock-related operations employ 137-thousand Iowans. The Iowa Farmers Union is not part of Putze’s coalition, and Farmers Union president Chris Peterson says changes must be made to ensure rural residents aren’t over-run by corporate agriculture.
“We need to strike a balance between livestock and the people of Iowa,” Peterson says. He says legislators need to protect the health of the citizens of Iowa, including rural residents.