EPA finds Iowa DNR not enforcing Clean Water Act for CAFOs

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency informed the Iowa Department of Natural Resources yesterday that a preliminary report finds the state of Iowa does not adequately enforce the Clean Water Act with respect to confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

Excerpt from EPA Regional Administrator Karl Brooks' letter to Iowa DNR Director Chuck Gipp (pdf):

Based on EPA Region 7's initial assessment, it appears that there are portions of the IDNR's CAFO program that do not comply with some aspects of Section 402 of the Clean Water Act. Section V of the enclosed report describes the findings in detail. Section VI of the report identifies those findings that require action by IDNR to address.

Actions are necessary to ensure that Iowa's NPDES [National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System] permitting, compliance and enforcement program for CAFOs complies with the Clean Water Act. Within 60 calendar days of receipt of this letter, please submit to us a work plan describing the actions IDNR has taken or will take to address the initial findings contained in the enclosed report. Your submittal should also include a schedule for the actions that IDNR intends to take. After your written response is received, EPA Region 7 will provide an opportunity for the public to comment on the document you submit. The EPA intends to consider any relevant public comments and those comments may require some modification of the work plan.

The EPA's "Preliminary Results of an Informal Investigation of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Program For Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations in the State of Iowa" can be found on the EPA's website (pdf).

The investigation stemmed from a petition to withdraw the Iowa DNR's authority to manage the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, submitted in September 2007 by three non-profit organizations: Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the Environmental Integrity Project, and the Sierra Club Iowa Chapter. I enclose below a joint press release from the petitioning groups, which contains more background and details on the problems EPA found.

I wonder whether the Iowa DNR will comply with the EPA's request to apply existing law to CAFOs. Governor Terry Branstad considers the Iowa DNR to be too aggressive already in enforcing pollution regulations against agricultural operations. U.S. Representatives Leonard Boswell (D, IA-03), Tom Latham (R, IA-04), and Steve King (R, IA-05) voted last year to reduce the EPA's ability to enforce the Clean Water Act.

Press release from Iowa CCI, Sierra Club Iowa Chapter, and Environmental Integrity Project, July 13 (emphasis in original):

EPA Report:  Iowa Factory Farm Program Violating Clean Water Act

Report Validates Complaint That Iowa DNR Has Failed To Adequately Regulate Factory Farm Water Pollution

Des Moines, Iowa --

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a long-awaited report Thursday, finding that critical elements of Iowa's program to regulate water pollution from factory farms, or "Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations" (CAFOs) fail to meet minimum federal requirements.

The report is a response to a nearly five-year-old petition by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI), Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), and the Sierra Club, which alleged widespread failures to regulate illegal factory farm discharges and asked EPA to withdraw Iowa's authority to run the state's Clean Water Act permitting program.

EPA's findings include:

·         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.

"We need stronger laws, tougher enforcement, and a fully-funded DNR," said Larry Ginter, a CCI member and family farmer from Rhodes, Iowa.  "It's time for Governor Branstad to embrace our agenda and move away from the failed corporate policies of deregulation and privatization he has set us on."

EPA's investigation report sets out several deficiencies that will require state action to comply with the Clean Water Act and begin properly regulating CAFO pollution, and requires Iowa DNR to respond with a proposed work plan within 60 days.

"EPA's investigation affirms that when factory farms pollute Iowa rivers and streams, the state looks the other way instead of enforcing the Clean Water Act," said Tarah Heinzen, attorney with Environmental Integrity Project.

"EPA's findings are a critical first step, but the real work of fixing Iowa's broken factory farm program and restoring water quality is just beginning," Heinzen continued.

"EPA correctly concluded that an effective program will include the need for more significant penalties for CAFOs that discharge pollutants without a permit.  Penalties must be more than just a cost of doing business," said Wally Taylor, Legal Chair of the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Although the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has documented more than 800 illegal discharges from CAFOs over the past 15 years, and has identified more than 500 polluted waters throughout the state, it has yet to issue a single Clean Water Act discharge permit to a confinement operation, or even to update its regulations to comply with federal rules for CAFOs that discharge pollution. A 2007 study by the Iowa Policy Project stated that factory farm manure "may be the largest agricultural polluter of Iowa's streams and lakes".

The EPA investigation report and citizen petition are available at http://epa.gov/region7/water/.


The Environmental Integrity Project (http://www.environmentalintegrity.org) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization established in March of 2002 by former EPA enforcement attorneys to advocate for effective enforcement of environmental laws.  EIP has three goals:  1) to provide objective analyses of how the failure to enforce or implement environmental laws increases pollution and affects public health; 2) to hold federal and state agencies, as well as individual corporations, accountable for failing to enforce or comply with environmental laws; and 3) to help local communities obtain the protection of environmental laws.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (http://www.iowacci.org) is a 37-year-old statewide non-profit grassroots organization.  Iowa CCI has led the fight against factory farms in Iowa for the past 15 years and has pushed for better environmental and permitting laws for factory farms on the state and national level.

Sierra Club is the nation's oldest grassroots environmental organization.  Its 1.4 million members and supporters work together to protect our communities and the planet.  Through litigation and administrative and legislative advocacy, the Sierra Club has worked for the past decade to improve controls over factory farm water and air pollution.

  • It is short-sighted to ruin Iowa rivers

    for the benefit of big ag interests.  The state is rich in beautiful waterways that can bring recreational users from Iowa and other states to spend money in small communities, and that make those communities more attractive to residents.

    The new kayak course in Charles City is an example of using the river as an asset to improve the economic picture in a community.  The Cedar River bisects the city and there are landscaped public areas along the waterfront in downtown. If the river becomes unsafe for swimming or tubing, it will be a liability not an asset.  The Clean Water Act enabled Iowans to clean up some really terrible pollutant discharges, such as the plant in Albert Lea that used the Shell Rock for a sewer for meatpacking waste.  The river was dead from Albert Lea to Nora Springs. We have made a lot of progress, but CAFOs are taking us backward.

    CAFOs are a blight on the landscape in Iowa, and in the long run we will regret not protecting our natural resources from indifferent or inadequate regulation, greed, and bought-and-paid-for politicians.  Last night on MSNBC, Dave "Mudcat" Saunders remarked that we have a coin-operated democracy. That applies in Iowa, too.

    • poll after poll

      in IA show majority support for increased regulation of CAFOs.

      CAFOs are a blight on the landscape in Iowa, and in the long run we will regret not protecting our natural resources from indifferent or inadequate regulation, greed, and bought-and-paid-for politicians.

      So what is to be done when politicians willfully ignore majority opinion?  

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