Events coming up during the next two weeks

I’m late getting my calendar up this week. As always, please post a comment or send me an e-mail if you know of a public event worth mentioning here.

Various advocacy organizations continue to hold lobby days at the state capitol as the first “funnel” deadline for legislation approaches. The Department of Natural Resources is holding public meetings around the state this month to discuss air and water quality issues. Also, the sixth annual Iowa Governors Conference on LGBTQ Youth takes place on February 24. Details on those events and more are after the jump.

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Proposed CAFO expansion threatens Scott County water, air quality

The Scott County Board of Supervisors will vote August 19 on a proposed major expansion of a Grandview Farms Inc., a confined animal feeding operation owned by Thomas Dittmer. The supervisors' public hearing on the matter drew large numbers of supporters and opponents earlier this month. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has authority to issue permits, but the county's recommendation may influence the DNR's decision on the expansion. If approved, the CAFO could nearly double its annual production of hogs from 80,000 to 150,000.  

Scott County officials who reported to the supervisors gave the CAFO expansion proposal 480 on the "master matrix" evaluation system, where 880 is the maximum number of points and 440 is needed to pass. However, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement disputes that score on several grounds:  

Factory farm operator Tom Dittmer discharged manure into a tile line that runs into a tributary of Hickory Creek, a state waterway, according to preliminary test results obtained by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) during a site survey conducted last Friday [August 6].  

Iowa Legislative Code 459.311(1); 567 and Iowa Administrative Code 65.2(3) both state, "A confinement feeding operation shall not discharge manure directly into water of the state or into a tile line that discharges into a water of the state."  

"We have a documented discharge from the confinement to a tile line," Dennis Ostwinkle, Supervisor of the Iowa DNR's Field Office in Washington, said in an email correspondence with Iowa CCI Tuesday.  

The DNR field investigation was prompted in part by complaints filed by the Quad City Waterkeepers, Illinois Citizens for Clean Air and Water, and Iowa CCI.  According to Ostwinkle, the field tests were submitted to the University of Iowa Hygenics Lab for further testing. If the preliminary field tests are confirmed, the violation could force a deduction of an additional 25 points from Dittmer's Master Matrix score. Scott County Iowa CCI members have already identified 160 points that should be deducted from the Master Matrix score.

 

While water pollution is a primary concern of those who oppose CAFO expansions, large hog lots can also compromise air quality. As Paul Deaton discussed at Blog for Iowa, CAFOs near industrial areas pose a particular risk:  

According to the 2010 State of the Environment report from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, "In Iowa, most fine particle pollution forms in the atmosphere when ammonia (from animal feeding operations, fertilizer application and other natural sources) combines with sulfuric or nitric acid (from power plants, automobiles and other combustion sources) to create tiny particles."  

Expanding the amount of ammonia emitted in Scott County, which the additional capacity of Dittmer's hog lot would do, combined with the heavy industry already there would create additional fine particulate matter. It is a formula for trouble as it pertains to human health.  

It works like this: ammonia from livestock operations is emitted into the atmosphere where it combines with sulfuric or nitric acid emitted from burning coal and creates fine particulate matter which gets into the lungs of people and causes significant health problems in the form of increased incidence of asthma, cardio-respiratory problems and increase morbidity and mortality.

Let's not talk about the fact that Davenport and neighboring Muscatine and Rock Island Counties were identified by the United States Environmental Agency as being in non-attainment for fine particulate matter. During the phase in of testing for fine particulate matter, Scott and Muscatine Counties were identified as being in non-attainment according to newly promulgated standards.

 

Congressman Bruce Braley, who represents Scott County, is a friend of Dittmer and "submitted a letter in support of the expansion,&quot. State Senator Joe Seng of Davenport has not taken a position for or against the proposal.  

Seng said he was “sort of sitting on the fence” about the project. But as chairman of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Budget subcommittee, he believes funding needs to be restored for odor quality research.

 

Wrong answer, Senator Seng. The “odor-study bill” approved by Iowa legislators in 2008 was a waste of time and money, because Iowa taxpayers already paid to study this issue, and research conducted in other states has identified “cost effective ways to mitigate odor” from hog lots.

If you live in Scott County and are concerned about the potential increase in air and water pollution, please consider contacting the five members of the Board of Supervisors before Thursday, August 19. Phone calls or old-fashioned letters are harder to ignore than e-mails.

LATE UPDATE: The Scott County board of supervisors approved the planned CAFO. Molly Regan, a former former Soil and Water Commissioner for the county, has more on this story at Blog for Iowa.

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Bad news for Iowans who breathe air and drink water

I wish I had better news to share on Earth Day, but the Iowa Department of Natural Resources issued its annual State of the Environment report this week, and it’s not encouraging for people who like to breathe air and drink water. From Perry Beeman’s report in the Des Moines Register:

Last year culminated a three-year run in which air pollution exceeded health thresholds 125 times – up 33 percent from the previous three-year reporting period.

[Iowa DNR Director Richard] Leopold said that’s disturbing as production was down at many factories because of the economy.

Most of the problem: fine particles from hog confinements, cars and power plants, whose emissions blend ammonia and sulfuric or nitric acid in the air.

Fine particulate matter, also known as PM 2.5, has been linked to many life-threatening illnesses and causes thousands of premature deaths every year. That’s another reason to be thankful that utility companies abandoned plans to build new coal-fired power plants in Waterloo and Marshalltown last year. (Side note: could someone please inform the three “pro-life” Republican gubernatorial candidates that coal combustion is hazardous to human health? Terry Branstad, Bob Vander Plaats and Rod Roberts all favor building more coal-fired power plants in Iowa.)

As for the other major contributors to poor air quality in our state, the Iowa legislature has done little about air pollution from confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) beyond passing a time- and money-wasting odor study bill in 2008. Nor have our state’s leaders done enough to fund alternate modes of transportation, which could reduce vehicle miles per capita traveled by car (and the associated fine particulate emissions).

The DNR’s report showed statistically insignificant improvements in Iowa water quality, but not enough to lift us out of the “poor” category. While new “antidegradation rules” on water quality may protect some Iowa waterways from getting worse in the future, we have a long way to go to make our lakes and rivers safe for recreation and other uses.

Public demand for usable waterways is increasing; the DNR’s report showed that more Iowans are using state parks, boating and buying fishing licenses. It’s therefore baffling that the DNR is proposing to reduce protection for 408 Iowa stream segments this year. The Iowa Environmental Council has much more background on this issue here. Public comments to the DNR are needed by April 30, and it only takes a few minutes to send a message to the relevant DNR official (click here for contact information and talking points).

For those who like to fish: please be aware of the DNR recommends eating fish from certain lakes and rivers no more often than once a week because of elevated mercury levels. Coal combustion from power plants is the main source of mercury pollution in our waterways.

Share any relevant thoughts or Earth Day plans in this thread. I see that the Sierra Club of Iowa, Moveon.Org and 1Sky are organizing a rally outside Representative Leonard Boswell’s office (300 Locust in Des Moines) at noon today to urge Boswell to oppose various “dirty air” bills proposed in Congress. They are asking people to “dress in rain gear, such as raincoats, rain hats, umbrellas, galoshes, etc., to make the point of increasing severe weather due to climate change.”

There’s also an Earth Day Trash Bash cleanup event in downtown Des Moines this afternoon, followed by a celebration in the Simon Estes ampitheater. Here’s a description of last year’s cleanup.

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Plug-in Electric Cars Lower Global Warming Emissions, Oil Consumption and Unhealthy Air Pollution

Contact: Julian Boggs | 859.358.2980 | jboggs@environmentiowa.org

Des Moines, IA—Increasing America’s use of plug-in electric and plug-in hybrid cars would dramatically reduce emissions that cause global warming and air pollution and would curb dependence on oil, according to a new white paper released today by Environment Iowa.

“With more Americans focused on the environmental and economic consequences of our oil dependence, carmakers are scrambling to offer customers the cleanest, most fuel efficient cars”, said Environment Iowa Federal Field Associate Julian Boggs.  “Dramatically ramping up electric vehicles can bolster America’s efforts to wean ourselves off of oil and to reduce pollution that causes global warming.” 

Plug-in vehicles are being profiled in an unprecedented way at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week. A “plug-in” car is one that can be recharged from the electric grid. Some plug-in cars run on electricity alone, while others are paired with small gasoline engines to create  plug-in hybrids. Many plug-in hybrids can get over 100 miles per gallon, while plug-in electric vehicles consume no gasoline at all.   Plug-in vehicles produce no direct tailpipe pollution when operating on electricity and there is already a vast electric power infrastructure to fuel them.   As renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, meet a larger share of our electricity needs, electric cars could contribute to little or no air pollution. 

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ACTION: Help preserve public input on CAFOs

The state Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) is considering new rules that would limit public input during the permit approval process for confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Iowa. Up to now, members of the public have been able to speak before the EPC concerning proposed new CAFOs. Under the new rules, only representatives of the entity applying for the permit, the county board of supervisors, and the Department of Natural Resources would be able to speak at EPC hearings on CAFO permits. People and entities that might be affected by downstream or downwind pollution from the proposed CAFO would not be allowed to speak at such hearings.

The public can submit comments on the new rule through this Thursday, August 6.

After the jump I’ve posted action alerts sent out by 1000 Friends of Iowa and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. They contain some talking points for public comments and contact information for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Iowa CCI also mentions two points worth preserving in the new rule, which industrial agriculture interests are apparently trying to have removed.

Comments must be received by Thursday, so if you are using the regular mail, please send your letter as soon as possible. There are also three DNR public hearings this week in Spencer, Des Moines and Ainsworth (details below).

I’ve also posted two pieces containing further background information after the jump. These may help you prepare comments to submit to the DNR. Shearon Elderkin discusses a controversial EPC decision last summer, which prompted the rewriting of the rules on the CAFO permit application process. Elderkin served on the EPC from August 2008 through April 2009. She had to step down when Iowa Senate Republicans blocked her confirmation for the position.

The final document you can find below is by Cedar Rapids attorney David Elderkin, Shearon’s husband. He covers the legal issues at hand in more detail.

Please take a few minutes to submit a public comment on this issue by Thursday, August 6. Please forward to any friends or relatives in Iowa who might be willing to comment as well.

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Be thankful coal plants in Iowa were shelved

For those who are still upset that new coal-fired power plants will not be built near Marshalltown and Waterloo, I recommend reading Jason Hancock’s recent article at Iowa Independent:

People who live near near sites used to store ash or sludge from coal-fired power plants have a one in 50 chance of developing cancer, according to a just released government report kept from the public for seven years by the Bush Administration.

The data, compiled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2002 and released Thursday by the watchdog groups Earth Justice and the Environmental Integrity Project, suggests that environmental contamination from the storage sites could last for a century or longer. […]

Coal ash, also known as fly ash, is the waste produced by burning coal. The nation’s power plants produce enough ash to fill 1 million railroad cars a year, according to a 2006 report by the National Research Council. Coal-burning power plants in Iowa produce 20,000 to 30,000 tons of coal ash every year. The Hawkeye State also imports coal ash from Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.

As the new study shows, neighbors of coal ash storage sites have an elevated cancer risk even when those sites are functioning normally. Occasional catastrophes like last December’s huge spill in Tennessee add to the contamination problems, but even if all accidents could be prevented, heavy metals and other pollutants would still leach into groundwater at many sites.

I’ve written before about the respiratory problems and premature deaths caused by fine particulate matter, and coal-fired power plants are a leading source of that kind of air pollution.

Now we have proof that solid waste from coal-fired power plants endangers human health too.

Iowa is fortunate not to have two new coal-burning facilities under construction. Those would have been a 50-year investment in the wrong direction, adversely affecting air quality, water quality and of course greenhouse gas emissions.

There is still no such thing as clean coal.

Iowans will be better served by meeting our demand for electricity through clean renewable production as well as conservation and energy efficiency measures.

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