Governor's order threatens factory farm regulations, water quality, communities

Diane Rosenberg is executive director of Jefferson County Farmers & Neighbors, where this commentary first appeared.

An Executive Order that directs state agencies to reduce rules and regulations threatens the ability of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’(DNR) to protect communities and waterways. Governor Kim Reynolds signed Executive Order Number Ten on January 11, putting a moratorium on administrative rulemaking and requires every agency, board, or commission to conduct a comprehensive overhaul of the Iowa Administrative Code.

The order’s purpose is to provide a more fertile ground for job growth and private sector development.


The Iowa Administrative Code is comprised of rules and regulations that interpret and implement all laws enacted by the state legislature.

Reynolds’ order states administrative rules that are “obsolete, ineffective, excessively burdensome or redundant” are to be repealed in order for Iowans to have “freedom to engage in individual, family and business pursuits.”

Now no rulemaking will take place until each agency, board or commission performs a retrospective analysis, including a comprehensive and rigorous cost-benefit analysis, of each administrative rule to determine if its cost justifies its benefits or if there is a less restrictive avenue to accomplishing the rule’s benefits.

Each new rule chapter must “reduce the overall regulatory burden or remain neutral, as compared to the previous rule chapter.” There is to be no strengthening of current rules and regulations, even if they are determined to be weak and ineffective.

Further, each agency, board or commission is to embark on the new rulemaking from a “zero base”—in essence, rewriting the rules from scratch. They are prohibited from reauthorizing the rules currently in place without that “critical and comprehensive review.”

All this is to be completed in only four years. The state is currently developing a staggered schedule with each agency completing their work within the year they are assigned. A minimum of just two public hearings are required for the rule changes for each chapter.


The governor’s order raises an important question: how will this process affect Iowa’s factory farms and the rules review already underway at DNR?

It doesn’t look good.

The DNR is in the middle of its Chapter 65 CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) rules review. Whether the proposed rule changes will be accepted is unknown. The draft rules are currently in the governor’s office for preclearance before public hearings are to be scheduled.

One of the DNR’s objectives was to reorganize Chapter 65 and eliminate duplication—the same as Executive Order Number Ten’s stated goal. Despite numerous attempts, we have not been able to reach the DNR or the Office of the Governor for comment.

Two bigger questions loom as well: how will the governor’s order impact the DNR’s functioning? How can the general public and environment be protected if factory farming rules and regulations are weakened or eliminated?

Reynolds is requiring a momentous task of each agency. The DNR will be especially impacted, as its administrative code has 349 chapters, regulating or managing a wide variety of areas in addition to CAFOs. Those include hunting and fishing; state parks, forests and reserves; threatened and endangered species; watershed improvement; storm water construction permits; brownfields, flood plain management; wastewater; drinking water compliance; household hazardous materials; waste planning and recycling—the list goes on.

The agency, particularly the Animal Feeding Operations division, has been chronically underfunded for years. Chapter 65 alone is 220 pages long. Add another 348 chapters and it’s a Herculean task to conduct a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of each and every rule—all within one year.

We question how this will affect the DNR’s ability to undertake its ongoing programs. The agency is already understaffed. How will staff properly enforce factory farm regulations while simultaneously conducting a massive rules review, analysis, and rewrite required by the governor?

The DNR already faces challenges addressing all the CAFO complaints they receive in a timely manner. Will their restricted time crack the door open for more violations taking place, worsening Iowa’s waterways, if oversight is compromised?


Our larger, long-term concern focuses on how communities and our waterways will lose some protections if rules and regulations are eliminated or weakened. Those rules were supposed to protect people and the environment. Environmental advocates rely on the rules when challenging problematic CAFOs (either already operating or proposed). Rolling back these protections favors the financial interests of businesses, not the well-being of the general public or environment.

Reynolds’ executive order seeks to protect Iowans’ “freedom to engage in individual, family and business pursuits.” But neighbors already lose the freedom to experience the quiet enjoyment of their property when a CAFO is built. Many have already lost the freedom to have access to consistent bacteria-free and nitrate-free drinking water, to safely swim at state beaches, or enjoy fishing because of water pollution from agricultural runoff. Weakening protections won’t provide Iowans with the freedom to enjoy their right to a safe and enjoyable quality of life. It won’t provide the freedom to have safer drinking or recreational waters.

But it might provide more freedom for the CAFO industry to further impact whatever quality of life, safe drinking water, or local recreational opportunities Iowans still have.

We question how a cost-benefit analysis can even be properly designed. We have limited confidence an agency run by political appointees favorable to the pork industry can come up with figures that don’t benefit the CAFO industry, to the detriment of the rest of Iowa residents. Particularly when so much must be accomplished in so little time.

Cost-benefit analyses attempt to measure everything in terms of dollars and cents. There is no way of putting a dollar and cent value on a diminished quality of life or a pollution-related illness. Diminished property values and hospital bills represent but a tiny fraction of the loss of enjoyment of homes and outdoor places and the human stress and suffering from chronic and debilitating ailments.

The executive order states, “each new rule chapter finalized by the agency must reduce the overall regulatory burden or remain neutral as compared to the previous rule chapter.” Therefore, rules can never be more protective than the existing rule.

During the current CAFO rules review, Jefferson County Farmers & Neighbors submitted a 29-page list of recommendations, urging the DNR to tighten many weak regulations to protect communities. The executive order would negate those solid proposals. We need stronger rules and regulations, not weaker ones.

Further, the executive order calls for rules to be eliminated “whenever possible, and without compromising the health and safety of Iowans.” That’s nothing more than meaningless political rhetoric, aimed at deflecting attention from the continued deterioration of environment and public health regulations.

Our weak rules and regulations already compromise the health and safety of Iowans. Executive Order Number Ten will worsen an already bad situation. This is simply unacceptable.

We are currently exploring whether Executive Order Number Ten can be challenged. Iowans deserve a government that puts the health and well-being of its residents first before the financial interests of the CAFO industry. Executive Order Number Ten will accomplish just the opposite.

Appendix: Full text of Governor Kim Reynolds’ Executive Order Number Ten

Top photo of a factory farm in Jefferson County, Iowa provided by Diane Rosenberg and published with permission.

About the Author(s)

Diane Rosenberg

  • Two buckets

    The current administrative rules for which Reynolds has ordered this review fall into two buckets.

    In Bucket One are all the rules the Reynolds-Branstad administrations inherited from their predecessors, Vilsack and Culver. If those rules were so awful, why didn’t the R-B folks change them long ago? They’ve had more than twelve years in power. Why have they been sitting on their backsides?

    In Bucket Two are all the rules Reynolds and Branstad have written themselves. If those rules are so awful, why did they write them in the first place?

    The Reynolds Executive Order amounts to either a tacit admission of incompetence and laziness or a colossally wasteful political stunt. Or both.

  • Short notice

    The order requires two public hearings and prior notice but doesn’t say how much lead time is required. The Open Meetings law requires only 24 hours notice. How can the public be expected to research and draft responses to a complicated new regulation if given only 24 hours notice?? The proposed rule should be published at least 2 weeks before the public hearing, probably longer to have a public comment period before the hearings. Maybe I’m naive, but could the governor legally ram through a regulatory rollback in just one day?