Proposed CAFO expansion threatens Scott County water, air quality

The Scott County Board of Supervisors will vote August 19 on a proposed major expansion of a Grandview Farms Inc., a confined animal feeding operation owned by Thomas Dittmer. The supervisors' public hearing on the matter drew large numbers of supporters and opponents earlier this month. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has authority to issue permits, but the county's recommendation may influence the DNR's decision on the expansion. If approved, the CAFO could nearly double its annual production of hogs from 80,000 to 150,000.  

Scott County officials who reported to the supervisors gave the CAFO expansion proposal 480 on the "master matrix" evaluation system, where 880 is the maximum number of points and 440 is needed to pass. However, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement disputes that score on several grounds:  

Factory farm operator Tom Dittmer discharged manure into a tile line that runs into a tributary of Hickory Creek, a state waterway, according to preliminary test results obtained by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) during a site survey conducted last Friday [August 6].  

Iowa Legislative Code 459.311(1); 567 and Iowa Administrative Code 65.2(3) both state, "A confinement feeding operation shall not discharge manure directly into water of the state or into a tile line that discharges into a water of the state."  

"We have a documented discharge from the confinement to a tile line," Dennis Ostwinkle, Supervisor of the Iowa DNR's Field Office in Washington, said in an email correspondence with Iowa CCI Tuesday.  

The DNR field investigation was prompted in part by complaints filed by the Quad City Waterkeepers, Illinois Citizens for Clean Air and Water, and Iowa CCI.  According to Ostwinkle, the field tests were submitted to the University of Iowa Hygenics Lab for further testing. If the preliminary field tests are confirmed, the violation could force a deduction of an additional 25 points from Dittmer's Master Matrix score. Scott County Iowa CCI members have already identified 160 points that should be deducted from the Master Matrix score.

 

While water pollution is a primary concern of those who oppose CAFO expansions, large hog lots can also compromise air quality. As Paul Deaton discussed at Blog for Iowa, CAFOs near industrial areas pose a particular risk:  

According to the 2010 State of the Environment report from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, "In Iowa, most fine particle pollution forms in the atmosphere when ammonia (from animal feeding operations, fertilizer application and other natural sources) combines with sulfuric or nitric acid (from power plants, automobiles and other combustion sources) to create tiny particles."  

Expanding the amount of ammonia emitted in Scott County, which the additional capacity of Dittmer's hog lot would do, combined with the heavy industry already there would create additional fine particulate matter. It is a formula for trouble as it pertains to human health.  

It works like this: ammonia from livestock operations is emitted into the atmosphere where it combines with sulfuric or nitric acid emitted from burning coal and creates fine particulate matter which gets into the lungs of people and causes significant health problems in the form of increased incidence of asthma, cardio-respiratory problems and increase morbidity and mortality.

Let's not talk about the fact that Davenport and neighboring Muscatine and Rock Island Counties were identified by the United States Environmental Agency as being in non-attainment for fine particulate matter. During the phase in of testing for fine particulate matter, Scott and Muscatine Counties were identified as being in non-attainment according to newly promulgated standards.

 

Congressman Bruce Braley, who represents Scott County, is a friend of Dittmer and "submitted a letter in support of the expansion,&quot. State Senator Joe Seng of Davenport has not taken a position for or against the proposal.  

Seng said he was “sort of sitting on the fence” about the project. But as chairman of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Budget subcommittee, he believes funding needs to be restored for odor quality research.

 

Wrong answer, Senator Seng. The “odor-study bill” approved by Iowa legislators in 2008 was a waste of time and money, because Iowa taxpayers already paid to study this issue, and research conducted in other states has identified “cost effective ways to mitigate odor” from hog lots.

If you live in Scott County and are concerned about the potential increase in air and water pollution, please consider contacting the five members of the Board of Supervisors before Thursday, August 19. Phone calls or old-fashioned letters are harder to ignore than e-mails.

LATE UPDATE: The Scott County board of supervisors approved the planned CAFO. Molly Regan, a former former Soil and Water Commissioner for the county, has more on this story at Blog for Iowa.

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Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 1)

I expected 2009 to be a relatively quiet year in Iowa politics, but was I ever wrong.

The governor’s race heated up, state revenues melted down, key bills lived and died during the legislative session, and the Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in Varnum v Brien became one of this state’s major events of the decade.

After the jump I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from January through June 2009. Any comments about the year that passed are welcome in this thread.

Although I wrote a lot of posts last year, there were many important stories I didn’t manage to cover. I recommend reading Iowa Independent’s compilation of “Iowa’s most overlooked and under reported stories of 2009,” as well as that blog’s review of “stories that will continue to impact Iowa in 2010.”

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Why don't Iowa leaders do more to protect the environment? (updated)

David Yepsen published his final column in the Des Moines Register before starting his new job as director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. It reprises some themes from many previous columns, such as the need to create a world-class education system and thriving economy in Iowa, with fewer layers of government.

As often happens when I read one of Yepsen’s columns, I wonder why he ignores some obvious paths to achieving his admirable goals. For instance, he wants Iowa to “set the goal of having one of the highest per-capita incomes in the country within 10 years.” Is this the same columnist who never met a labor union he liked? It reminded me of how Yepsen periodically slams the excessive influence of big money in politics, but won’t get behind a voluntary public financing system for clean elections.

In Yepsen’s final column, one passage in particular caught my eye:

Let’s set a goal to have the cleanest environment in the country within 10 years. The cleanest air. The cleanest water. The best soil- and energy-conservation practices.

We’ve had education governors. We’ve had sporadic focus on growing the economy. For some reason, we’ve lacked a similar focus on the environment. Creating a clean environment will create green jobs, but it will also make Iowa more attractive as a place to live and do business.

“For some reason”? I think most of us have a pretty good idea why improving air and water quality has never been a high priority for Iowa leaders. Follow me after the jump for more on this problem.

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The failure of leadership behind that pig odor earmark

President Barack Obama proposed reforms to the Congressional earmarking process on Wednesday:

• Members’ earmark requests should be posted on their Web sites.

• There should be public hearings on earmark requests “where members will have to justify their expense to the taxpayer.”

• Any earmark for a for-profit company would have to be competitively bid.

The reforms are intended to deflect criticism after Obama signed the $410 billion 2009 omnibus spending bill, which included about $7.7 billion in earmarks.

I have no time for the Republican Party’s blatant hypocrisy on what is really a “phantom problem”. Republican members of Congress secure plenty of earmarks for their own states even as they posture against “pork.” They don’t seem to care about sweetheart deals and no-bid contracts awarded by executive agencies, which cost taxpayers much more than all earmarks combined.

Beltway journalists have been following the Republican script, focusing way too much on earmarks, even though they are “inconsequential”:

Not only do they represent less than one percent of the federal budget, eliminating them wouldn’t even reduce federal spending by even that tiny amount, or any amount at all, since earmarks by definition simply tag the spending in an already established pot of money, such as the Community Development Block Grant. The only question is whether decisions about funding individual projects should be made by Congress — through earmarks — or by a supposedly apolitical administrative process.

Furthermore, Jonathan Singer points out, earmarks simply don’t register when Americans are asked an open-ended question about their concerns.

I’m all for the reforms Obama announced yesterday, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that they will make a dent in government spending.

Although I think concerns about earmarks are exaggerated, I do want to examine the origin of Senator Tom Harkin’s $1.8 million earmark for studying odors from large hog confinements (CAFOs) in Iowa. It has become the poster child for Republican taunts about useless earmarks, prompting Harkin to defend himself (see here and here).

Follow me after the jump for more on why the federal government is funding this study. The earmark has its roots in unfortunate decisions that Iowa Democratic leaders made last year–with the enthusiastic support of statehouse Republicans and corporate ag groups.

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