EPA to give Iowa DNR until end of 2018 to inspect 8,000 CAFOs

Catching up on some news from late December, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources have negotiated a draft work plan on inspecting and issuing permits to confined-animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Iowa by the end of calendar year 2018. Follow me after the jump for background and details.

In July, a preliminary report from the U.S. EPA’s Region 7 found that the Iowa DNR has not been adequately enforcing the Clean Water Act. In particular, DNR has not been issuing permits to CAFOs under the federally authorized, National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Program. The DNR’s initial response to the EPA report was inadequate, according to several environmental advocacy groups in Iowa.

Iowa DNR Director Chuck Gipp revealed in November that he will ask state legislators to appropriate $1.3 million in additional state funding to help his agency hire eleven new livestock facility inspectors for next year. Gipp wants the money so that the EPA will not take over Clean Water Act enforcement with respect to Iowa agricultural facilities.

Perry Beeman reported for the Des Moines Register on December 30 that EPA Region 7 and Iowa DNR officials had negotiated a draft “work plan” for addressing this problem. Although neither agency has issued a news release about the draft work plan, you can view the seven-page document here (pdf). Under the plan, the DNR agrees “to promulgate NPDES permitting regulations for confinement CAFOs that discharge” and to improve “compliance monitoring and enforcement” for CAFOs as well as medium-sized animal feeding operations in Iowa. In early 2013, the DNR is to start rulemaking in several areas, as well as develop a new standard operating procedure for evaluating compliance and a new training curriculum for livestock facility inspectors.

Here is a key excerpt from pages 5 and 6 of the work plan:

Objective 5: To perform appropriate CWA/NPDES inspections at all large CAFOs and assessments at all medium AFOs in Iowa by December 31, 2018.

1. By February 1, 2013, the DNR will provide a complete listing of all known large CAFOs and medium AFOs in Iowa and a written plan to systematically locate and/or identify any unknown operations. These two items, among other things, will be used by Region 7 to verify implementation progress of this Work Plan over the next five years.

2. Consistent with SOPs developed pursuant to Objective 4, the DNR agrees to perform CWA/NPDES inspections at all known large CAFOs and assessments at all medium AFOs in Iowa by December 31, 2018 and to complete a minimum of 20% of these inspections/assessments annually, in accordance with the prioritization established in Paragraph 7, below.

3. The DNR agrees to inspect or assess all newly identified (i.e., identified for the first time during implementation of this Work Plan) large CAFOs and medium AFOs, respectively, in accordance with timeframes established in EPA’s Compliance Monitoring Strategy and the prioritization established in Paragraph 7, below.

4. The DNR currently estimates that there are approximately 8,000 facilities that will need an CWA/NPDES evaluation. To evaluate all of these operations, the DNR has determined that additional full-time staff is required. The DNR agrees to pursue additional full-time staffing from the Iowa Legislature during the 2013 Iowa legislative session.

5. To immediately begin evaluating the facilities discussed in paragraph 4 above, the DNR will provide an interim Inspection Plan that will outline planned DNR inspection activities at CAFOs through December 31, 2013. This interim Inspection Plan will be submitted to EPA by March 1, 2013.

6. Following the 2013 legislative session, but no later than August 1, 2013, the DNR will assess available resources, determine their adequacy to meet the Objective 5 commitments, and provide EPA with a final Inspection Plan describing how the Department will meet the commitments pursuant to Objective 5. The final inspection plan will cover a period commencing January 1, 2014 through December 31, 2018.

7. The DNR and EPA agree that it is appropriate to prioritize inspections related to this objective. This prioritization will be based on threat to water quality and prioritized in the following order:

a. Inspection and evaluation of AFOs in response to spills or complaints. This is the highest priority because these are operations where DNR has timely information that a discharge may have occurred. The DNR agrees that for the duration of this Work Plan it will continue to timely inspect or assess as a highest priority any operations associated with a spill report or complaint;

b. Large open lot CAFOs and medium sized open lot AFOs. This sector is a high priority because open feedlots are exposed to precipitation and are most likely to discharge on a frequent basis;

c. AFOs, including confinement operations, which have previously discharged in the last 10 years. Past discharges may be indicative that discharge conditions persist;

d. Confinement operations that meet the definition of a large CAFO. While this sector is a large segment of Iowa’s AFO universe it is EPA and DNR’s opinion that, because animals are confined indoors and generally less exposed to precipitation, this sector is a lower priority for inspection from a water quality perspective; and

e. Medium sized confinement AFOs.

Indicia of Progress: The DNR establishes a baseline list of known large CAFOs and medium AFOs, to be shared with Region 7, by February 1, 2013. On an annual basis, the DNR inspects at least 20% of the known operations in accordance with the agreed upon prioritization scheme. All known facilities are inspected by December 31, 2018. The DNR inspects or assesses all newly identified facilities in accordance with the agreed upon prioritization scheme and timeframes established in EPA’s Compliance Monitoring Strategy.

Under the draft work plan, the DNR also agrees to post quarterly progress reports on its website regarding its livestock facility permitting and inspections.

Gipp will seek funding for at least eleven new livestock facility inspectors next year, perhaps as many as thirteen new inspectors. Iowa House and Senate leaders have indicated that lawmakers are inclined to approve the funding request to prevent the federal government from taking over responsibility to enforce water pollution rules. Assuming the DNR has to inspect 1,600 CAFOs each year for five years (beginning January 2014), that works out to more than 30 inspections per week, not including the permitting work that will need to be done. I wonder whether an extra 13 inspectors will be sufficient.

I also wonder how committed the DNR will be to this process. By the end of 2018, we’ll have a new president and new leadership at the EPA. Who knows whether federal officials will hold the DNR’s feet to the fire?

Still, this work plan is better than the status quo ante, under which the DNR certainly would not have improved its enforcement of the Clean Water Act. As Beeman noted in his latest report for the Des Moines Register,

In the past, the DNR has maintained that the facilities don’t need federal permits that control discharges because state law prohibits any releases into waterways. And the major livestock organizations here have agreed with that analysis.

None of the above would be happening if three non-profit organizations had not petitioned the EPA in 2007, so a lot of credit should go to Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the Environmental Integrity Project, and the Sierra Club Iowa Chapter. Those groups and others, such as the Iowa Environmental Council and the Iowa Policy Project, submitted detailed comments to the EPA this fall on problems with the DNR’s permitting and inspections process as well as Iowa’s history of underfunding its water quality programs.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

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