Iowa DNR director: Please help us stave off the EPA (updated)

Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Chuck Gipp is asking for $1.3 million in additional state funding to help his agency hire eleven new livestock facility inspectors for next year. Gipp has been affiliated with agricultural interest groups throughout his career. He just endorsed a strategy on keeping nutrients of out waterways that was "fiercely criticized" by Iowa DNR staffers with the most expertise on farm runoff.

Why would Gipp suddenly ask for more DNR inspectors? According to his own testimony, he’s trying to keep the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing Clean Water Act provisions against Iowa livestock farms.

The DNR certainly deserves more money for inspections. As the Iowa Policy Project has shown in detail, Iowa’s water quality enforcement programs have been underfunded for years. Although hundreds of manure spills have contaminated waterways during the past decade, and more animal confinements are built every year, DNR field staffing for animal feeding operations dropped from 23 positions in fiscal year 2004 to just 8.75 full time equivalents in 2011.

Iowa has never been fully compliant with the 40-year-old federal Clean Water Act. The EPA noticed Iowa’s poor record in a preliminary report this summer, which found:

·         Iowa DNR does not issue permits to factory farms when required by the Clean Water Act.

·         Iowa DNR does not have an acceptable system to figure out which factory farms need Clean Water Act permits in the first place, and has an inadequate inspection program.

·         Iowa DNR failed to act in response to CAFO Clean Water Act violations or failed to follow its own response policy in nearly half of cases reviewed by EPA.

·         Iowa DNR does not assess adequate penalties following CAFO violations of the Clean Water Act.

In its official response to the EPA, the DNR promised to:

·         Initiate new rulemaking beginning November 1, 2012 to bring Iowa into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act,

·         Ask the state legislature for more funding to hire 13 new full-time field staff,

·         Develop a plan to inspect every factory farm in the state of Iowa, and

·         Change other protocols and procedures to bring Iowa’s program up to par with federal standards.

Gipp apparently feels that eleven new inspectors would be enough to keep the EPA off our backs. Radio Iowa’s Pat Curtis reported on the DNR director’s remarks at a November 29 budget hearing:

The Environmental Protection Agency has given the state 60 days to respond. EPA officials claim the DNR doesn’t act fast enough when there’s pollution from livestock operations and they allow manure applications too close to waterways. The EPA is threatening to take over enforcement.

“EPA has said if we don’t have the staff, they could develop SWAT-like teams to do (inspections) for us,” Gipp said. “We’d prefer, and our people we regulate prefer, to have DNR staff there to get people into attainment.” Gipp submitted a status quo budget, but is asking the governor to find $1.3 million in discretionary funds to hire 11 new inspectors.

Note Gipp’s choice of words. The DNR’s mission is “To conserve and enhance our natural resources,” but he sounds more concerned about protecting polluters from EPA “SWAT-like teams.” Of course the “people we regulate prefer” to have DNR staff do the inspections. The DNR has demonstrated over time that it will not get Iowa livestock facilities into attainment.

My hunch is that Governor Terry Branstad will include the extra DNR funding in his budget request. He has a lot of confidence in Gipp, and President Barack Obama’s re-election increased the odds that the EPA will do its job during the next four years.

UPDATE: During a joint appearance on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program, Republican House Speaker Kraig Paulsen and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal indicated that state legislators are inclined to approve more funding for DNR inspectors, in order to prevent a federal takeover of water quality enforcement.

  • Gipp needs to stop misrepresenting what the EPA investigation and recommendations are

    "EPA has said if we don’t have the staff, they could develop SWAT-like teams to do (inspections) for us," Gipp said.

    Wow. Thanks for picking up on Gipp’s over-the-top tone.

    To put this into context – this is happening after 40 years of non-compliance with Clean Water Act, and that 1 million to hire inspectors (a drop in the bucket of the state budget) is long overdue and is really only replacing staff lost to cuts over the last 4-6 years. And, the fact is that the DNR has been unwilling (if not unable) to enforce state and federal law to crack down on factory farms that pollute.

    Gipp should recognize that, accept blame for the department’s direction and stop misrepresenting what the EPA investigation and recommendations are.

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