Another Iowa legislative victory for Big Ag

Factory farm advocates failed in 2009 to circumvent the Iowa DNR’s rulemaking on applying manure over frozen and snow-covered ground. Then they failed in 2010 to win passage of a bill designed to weaken Iowa’s newly-adopted regulations on manure storage and application.

But this year, the Iowa Pork Producers Association succeeded in convincing state lawmakers to relax requirements for CAFO operators to be able to store their own manure properly. All they had to do was dress up their effort as an attempt to help families with aspiring young farmers.

Last month Bleeding Heartland covered House File 512, the so-called “mothball” bill for farm structures. Proponents say it would help farm families who need to downsize temporarily, until a child has grown up, finished college, and decided to come home to farm.

The big “tell” during the House debate was that proponents rejected State Representative Chuck Isenhart’s amendment, which stated:

During the period of election [to be a small animal feeding operation], a manure storage structure that is part of the confinement feeding operation is not used to store manure originating from a location outside the confinement feeding operation.

If the intent of the bill were to keep vacant buildings available for family use someday, the Iowa House should have approved that amendment. But they rejected it, because CAFO operators want to have the option to dump excess manure in the vacant buildings of neighbors. Transporting and offloading manure to another farm increases the risks of spills and water pollution.

Several environmental organizations and the Iowa Farmers Union had lobbyists registered against House File 512. Only the Iowa Pork Producers Association had lobbyists registered in favor.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action was mobilizing opposition to this bill. In early April, that group claimed victory when the legislation was placed on the Iowa Senate’s “unfinished business” calendar.

But unfinished business doesn’t always stay unfinished at the statehouse. Last week, Senate leaders revived their version of the same bill, called Senate File 418. As described in the Senate Journal for May 1 (pdf), Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Joe Seng received unanimous consent to replace Senate File 418 with House File 512. The Senate then approved by voice vote Seng’s amendment to the legislation, and passed the bill by 43 votes to 6 (Jack Hatch was absent). The six no votes came from the following Democrats:

Joe Bolkcom

Dick Dearden

Pam Jochum

Matt McCoy

Janet Petersen

Herman Quirmbach

I am surprised Rob Hogg was a yes here.

Excerpt from a May 1 press release by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action:

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement member Lori Nelson of Bayard, Iowa released the following statement Wednesday morning before the Iowa Senate debates an environmentally hazardous bill that would de-regulate basic and common-sense manure management regulations:

“Senate File 418 – the so-called “mothball” bill – is a shameful attempt by one of Iowa’s largest corporate ag lobby groups and Democrats like Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and Ag Chair Joe Seng to de-regulate basic environmental protections that were designed to keep factory farm manure out of our water.”

“Today we will hear false statements on the Senate floor, by Democrats and Republicans alike, that this bill is somehow meant to protect the environment because dumping overflowing toxic manure into an abandoned factory farm during bad weather is safer than spreading it on frozen or snow-covered ground.  But this is a false comparison and is simply not true.  There is a third option that was contemplated by legislators and regulators over five years ago that put the responsibility on the industry to solve this problem, and that is the correct approach we must continue to demand now.”

“After the 2009 law banning liquid manure application on frozen and snow-covered ground, the Environmental Protection Commission and the Administrative Rules and Review Committee carved out a five year window for the factory farm industry to come into compliance with the new law, either by building extra storage capacity, reducing their herd sizes, or taking other steps to properly manage their manure over the winter months.”

“The industry has had five years to fulfill their obligations, but they have refused, because they don’t want to spend the money to do what’s right.  Now the Iowa Senate, under the leadership of Democrat Mike Gronstal, is set to give one of Iowa’s most polluting industries a free pass for bad management rather than stand up for everyday people and the environment.”

“We have 628 polluted waterways in this state.  The amendment that will be proposed on the floor of the Senate today by Senator Seng is lipstick on a factory farm pig.  There is no such thing as an emergency that would require dumping overflowing manure into an abandoned factory farm.  That’s not an emergency, that’s bad management.  Winter comes every year, and extreme weather is the new normal.  The industry has had years to figure this out.”

“Senators of both parties who claim that this measure is the lesser of two evils compared to spreading manure on snow are giving the factory farm industry a free pass for bad management.  This is a horrible bill, it’s bad policy, and legislative support for it demonstrates to every Iowan all that is wrong with state politics.”

Yesterday the Iowa House took up the amended House File 512. According to the House Journal (pdf), floor manager Lee Hein moved that the representatives concur in the Senate amendment. Immediately afterwards, the House approved the bill by 85 votes to 14. Only these Democrats voted no:

Ako Abdul-Samad

Bruce Hunter

Marti Anderson

John Forbes

Lisa Heddens

Chuck Isenhart

Anesa Kajtazovic

Vicki Lensing

Mary Mascher

Kevin McCarthy

Jo Oldson

Cindy Winckler

Beth Wessel-Kroeschell

Art Staed

All House Republicans voted yes, joined by all of the other Democrats present. Dan Muhlbauer was absent but would surely have been a supporter; he supported House File 512 last month.

UPDATE: Cody McKinley, a lobbyist for the Iowa Pork Producers, told the Des Moines Register that

an amendment added to the bill by the Senate addresses CCI’s concerns by allowing animal or manure storage in a mothballed facility only “on an emergency basis” and requiring farmers to inform the Department of Natural Resources of such circumstances.

“At any time, the DNR still has jurisdiction over that facility to go in and inspect and make sure they’re fulfilling the full extent of the law,” McKinley said.

That’s not nearly as useful as Isenhart’s amendment, which would have barred the use of mothballed facilities to store manure from other farms. So what if a CAFO informs the DNR that they are transporting manure to a vacant building? The DNR doesn’t have enough CAFO inspectors even now, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency thoroughly documented. DNR staff won’t closely scrutinize these “emergency” storage situations and won’t be able to prevent spills during transport and offloading.

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