What could go wrong? Less training for manure spreaders edition

More than 800 manure spills have occurred on Iowa farms during the past two decades. At least 262 manure spills reached Iowa waterways between 2001 and 2011 alone, affecting the vast majority of counties.

More than half of rivers and streams in the region including Iowa are in “poor condition for aquatic life.” Manure spills are a major contributing factor to this problem, and they are happening more often. The number of recorded manure spills in Iowa grew from 46 in 2012 to 76 in 2013.

How should state government respond to this set of facts? Various policies might address the explosion in waterways officially recognized as “impaired.”  

But this is Iowa, where it’s a minor miracle to get state lawmakers to take any steps against water pollution, and agricultural interests have repeatedly moved to undermine regulations related to the handling of manure on large-scale farms.

Last week, two-thirds of Iowa House members saw fit to reduce continuing education requirements for people certified to spread liquid manure on farm fields.  

House File 2367 is a short bill reducing the length of continuing education courses for commercial manure applicators from three hours to two hours. Its sponsor, two-term Iowa House Republican Jarad Klein, is himself a former commercial manure applicator, according to a statement from Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action, which I’ve enclosed at the end of this post.

Speaking for the bill during Iowa House debate on March 5, Klein said the goal was to make everybody “obey the same rules, regulations and laws.” Under current Iowa law, new online certification classes require only two hours of training, while continuing education courses are three hours a year. I see the case for a level playing field, but why not require more training for newly certified manure spreaders, rather than less training for everyone else?

Iowa House Democrat Curt Hanson made the obvious argument against Klein’s bill:

“In my opinion the reduction of spills that may contaminate our creeks and our streams should be our primary concern,” Hanson says.

Fewer than a third of Hanson’s colleagues agreed with him.

Lobbyists representing the Iowa Farmers Union, Citizens for a Healthy Iowa, the Izaak Walton League, the Raccoon River Watershed Association, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action Fund, the Iowa Environmental Council, and the Sierra Club Iowa Chapter all registered against HR 2367. In an artful understatement, the lobbyist for the Iowa Environmental Council commented that “more education may be needed” given the number of manure spills reported in Iowa during 2013.

I didn’t see any organization with lobbyists registered in favor of this bill, but the roll call (pdf) shows an overwhelming victory for Klein’s position. The 68 votes for HR 2367 included 52 House Republicans and the following sixteen Democrats: Bruce Bearinger, Deborah Berry, David Dawson, Nancy Dunkel, John Forbes, Mary Gaskill, Jim Lykam, Helen Miller, Dan Muhlbauer, Scott Ourth, Joe Riding, Patti Ruff, Sharon Steckman, Roger Thomas, Mary Wolfe, and House Minority Leader Mark Smith. Some of those Democrats represent largely rural or marginal districts, but others represent urban districts, so I am a bit baffled by this vote.

My hunch is that based on past experience, state lawmakers expect that any vote for less regulation of large-scale agriculture will score points with the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, or at least get you off the Farm Bureau’s enemies list.

To his credit, Republican State Representative David Maxwell joined the following 30 Iowa House Democrats to vote against reducing ongoing education for manure applicators: Ako Abdul-Samad, Marti Anderson, Dennis Cohoon, Ruth Ann Gaines, Chris Hall, Curt Hanson, Lisa Heddens, Bruce Hunter, Chuck Isenhart, Dave Jacoby, Anesa Kajtazovic, Jerry Kearns, Dan Kelley, Bob Kressig, Vicki Lensing, Dan Lundby, Mary Mascher, Brian Meyer, Pat Murphy, Jo Oldson, Rick Olson, Tyler Olson, Kirsten Running-Marquardt, Art Staed, Sally Stutsman, Todd Taylor, Phyllis Thede, Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, Cindy Winckler, Frank Wood. House Democrat Todd Prichard was absent for this vote.

Many Republican-backed bills die in the Democratic-controlled Iowa Senate, but the upper chamber’s Agriculture Committee Chair Joe Seng is a stalwart supporter of big ag. Rarely has he shown any concern about agricultural pollution of Iowa waterways. I would not be surprised to see him move HF 2367 through his committee.

Please share any relevant comments in this thread.

Statement from Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action Fund, March 5:

Senate Ag Committee Chair Joe Seng Must Throw HF2367 In the Garbage Where Waste Belongs

Iowa House Cuts Factory Farm Manure Applicator Training From 3 to 2 Hours Per Year, Despite More than 50 Manure Spills Last Year, Most of Which Were Caused During Pumping and Spreading

Des Moines, Iowa –

The Iowa House voted 66-31 today to cut manure application training for factory farm applicators from three to two hours per year, a move Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action Fund (Iowa CCI Action Fund) members say amounts to the de-regulation, however small, of one of Iowa’s most polluting industries, one that is clearly in need of stronger and more effective public oversight, not weaker and less stringent standards.

“This bill is a colossal waste of time and only erodes our environmental protections more, rather than doing what Iowa really needs, which is to strengthen effective public oversight against the very real threat of factory farm pollution,” said Vern Tigges, a CCI Action member from Adel who left his family farm in Carroll to escape the impact of being surrounded 30,000 hogs.

HF2367 was proposed by Rep. Jarad Klein (R-Keota), who owns, or has an interest in, factory farms housing more than 16,000 hogs.  Klein’s manure applicator certification expired in 2011.

A few Democrats, including factory farm operator Rep Dan Muhlbauer (D-Carroll), also voted for the proposal.

“We call on Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Joe Seng (D-Davenport) to throw this bill in the trash where it belongs,” Tigges concluded.

Iowa CCI Action Fund members in Scott County doorknocked Seng’s district on clean water after several years of bad votes by Seng that advanced the corporate ag lobby agenda.

Iowa has at least 630 polluted waterways and has more than 600 recorded manure spills on record, including at least 51 last year, most of which occurred during either the pumping or the spreading of manure.

Iowa CCI members are leading the fight to bring Clean Water Act enforcement against factory farm polluters here in Iowa.

For more information, visit www.cciaction.org

The Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action Fund is a 501c4 non-profit organization dedicated to building social, economic, and environmental justice through community organizing, education, and advocacy.

UPDATE: In an unsigned editorial, the Des Moines Register contrasted the Iowa House’s interest in reducing training for manure spreaders with its continuing failure to address excessive licensing requirements in some other occupations.

Of course, if the goal is to reduce government-required training hours, lawmakers have their work cut out for them. Klein might direct his energies to reducing the training requirement of 2,100 hours for people wanting to be cosmetologists. You see, someone who only wants to braid hair still must get 2,100 hours of training at a for-profit school, and nothing in Iowa’s laws or regulations requires that school to even teach hair braiding.

And the young woman who wants to braid hair doesn’t pose any risk to Iowans or our environment.

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