Want stronger CAFO regulations? Then stop Senate File 2370

Downstream of the Dunning’s Spring waterfall in Decorah; photo by Ralf Broskvar, available via Shutterstock.

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

Given Iowa’s 721 polluted waterways, it’s clear current factory farm rules and regulations don’t adequately safeguard water quality or public health. Stronger regulations on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are needed to protect water quality from worsening.

Yet a section of Senate File 2370—passed by the Senate along party lines and now pending in the Iowa House—would permanently prohibit the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) from strengthening CAFO regulations. The bill, which Governor Kim Reynolds’ office introduced, would codify the governor’s Executive Order Number 10, issued last year. That order required every state agency to conduct a comprehensive overhaul of the Iowa Administrative Code in order to promote private sector development.

The executive order mandated a retrospective evaluation of all rules and regulations, including a rigorous cost-benefit analysis in order to eliminate “burdensome” regulations and restrictive terms. Rules can be weakened, but not strengthened.

While Senate File 2370 would impact all state agencies, let’s look at how it would affect everyone in Iowa who cares about clean water.

The DNR would be permanently prohibited from strengthening CAFO regulations designed to protect water quality and public health. All rules must continue to be justified with a cost-benefit analysis that ultimately benefits the CAFO industry, not Iowans.

The most environmental advocates could do would be to work to maintain the inadequate status quo.

But the CAFO industry could recommend language that lessens the regulatory burden on CAFO owners and operators, as they did during this year’s revision of Chapter 65, the section of the Iowa Code that governs CAFOs. An overhaul would be required every five years, giving the industry opportunities to further degrade regulations.

The DNR would be unable to make changes needed to get a grip on manure application statewide and reduce the incidence of manure over-application, such as a digitized manure management plan/mapping system.

Under Senate File 2370, an agency could even forgo public comments for a rule or retrospective analysis if it finds good cause that the input would be “unnecessary, impracticable or contrary to the public interest.”

This year we saw how Executive Order 10 directly impacted the recent revision of Chapter 65. A draft sent to the governor’s office included a few new protections for CAFOs built in risky karst terrain.

Yet the governor’s office refused to approve the much-needed improvements because they didn’t comply with the executive order, as the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported in February. Rural residents with private wells remain at risk for high nitrate consumption, which studies link to several cancers and birth defects.  

Half of Iowa’s tested waterways are polluted, more than 12,000 wells are contaminated with high levels of nitrate, and the state ranks second in the nation for cancer. It’s the only state where the number of cancer cases is rising significantly.

Water quality is increasingly a concern of Iowans, even though the majority of state legislators ignore this issue.

Codifying last year’s executive order through Senate File 2370 would benefit no one but the CAFO industry, imposing a race to the bottom for regulations.

Contact your representative today and urge them to remove language on Executive Order Number 10 from Senate File 2370 and put the health and well-being of Iowans before the financial interests of the multibillion-dollar livestock industry.

Learn more here.

Find your legislator here.

About the Author(s)

Diane Rosenberg

  • I haven't come across any media information in the past few weeks...

    …that says whether this bill/concept is an Iowa original or whether this bill/concept is yet another ALEC special. I also haven’t found out whether any bill like this is currently law in any other state, and would really like to know.

    And unfortunately, my most politically-active friends and I have, among us, two kinds of state legislators. We have legislators who wouldn’t vote for this bill no matter what, and legislators who did/would/will absolutely vote for it no matter what. I suspect those two categories cover most legislators in Iowa.

  • This is the Governor's bill

    This bill is being pushed by the Governor to enshrine her Executive Order 10 into law. Her executive order was copied from a similar order former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker signed when he was in office. As I have written in previous Bleeding Heartland posts, Nate Ristow, who was Walker’s right-hand person, is now Reynolds’ Administrative Rules Coordinator. This bill should be voted down but will obviously be passed and Reynolds will sign it in the Capitol Rotunda with a crowd of well-wishers.

  • Thank you very much, Wally Taylor

    I apologize if I am asking for a repeat of more information that you provided earlier. Was the Wisconsin order turned into a state law, as Iowa is doing, and have any other states enacted similar orders and/or laws?

  • Prairie Fan

    I don’t know the answer to your questions about Wisconsin. The politics changed in Wisconsin, at least on a statewide basis – governor, AG, etc. But the legislature is still gerrymandered in favor of the Republicans.

    SF 2370 is in the House as unfinished business. No action has been taken on it. Hopefully, it is dead. It would be a good idea for everyone to contact your state representative and ask them to be opposed to the bill.

  • Breaking News!

    Right after posting my previous comment, I learned that the bill will be coming to the House floor this coming Monday. The rumors of its death were exaggerated.