Corporate Ag Sneak Attack on Ag Budget Bill Seeks to Shield Aggregate Water Quality Practices From Public Oversight

Corporate Ag Sneak Attack on Ag Budget Bill Seeks to Shield Aggregate Water Quality Practices From Public Oversight

Policy language inserted into ag and natural resources appropriations bill could further undermine already-weak Nutrient Reduction Strategy by withholding critical watershed data from public scrutiny

 

Iowa House GOP leadership, including Agriculture and Natural Resources Budget subcommittee co-chair, Representative Jack Drake (R-Griswold), has snuck language into a budget bill that would prevent the public from accessing information about water quality and land-use practices collected by projects funded with taxpayer dollars, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action Fund (Iowa CCI Action Fund) members announced March 27.

The ag and natural resources funding bill, HF2458, is eligible for floor debate and raises questions about whether Governor Terry Branstad and Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) Secretary Bill Northey support the changes.

“This appears to be a brazen attempt to shield corporate ag from even the most basic forms of public oversight necessary to begin cleaning up Iowa’s polluted water, and we demand to know if Governor Branstad and Secretary of Agriculture Northey support keeping critical water quality and land use data from the public,” said Lori Nelson, a CCI Action Fund member from Bayard, Iowa, whose rural homestead is surrounded by 5,000 corporate hogs.

The budget bill HF2458 deals in part with the development of a multi-million dollar water quality initiative as part of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy to fund water quality evaluations and begin creating a database of aggregate water quality and land use practices across Iowa.  The data is critical to understanding the pollution risks in Iowa watersheds, how to prevent future problems, and clean up existing ones.

But the funding language in the House version of the bill, HF 2458, includes provisions that change state law to explicitly prohibit any of the data collected by IDALS from being made public:

e.  the division shall conduct water quality evaluations within supported subwatersheds.  Within a reasonable period after accumulating information from such evaluations, the division shall create an aggregated database of water quality practices.  Any information identifying a person holding a legal interest in agricultural land or specific agricultural land shall be a confidential record under section 22.7 received, collected, or held under this section is a confidential record and is exempted from public access pursuant to section 466B.49 as enacted by this 2014 Act.

Another section dealing with ISU’s side of the data collection reads:

RELATED STATUTORY CHANGES FOR CODIFICATION IN 2014

WATER QUALITY INITIATIVE——CONFIDENTIALITY

Any information received, collected, or held under this subchapter is a confidential record, and is exempted from public access as provided in section 22.7, if all of the following apply:

1.      The information is received, collected, or held by any of the following:

a.      The center.

b.      A nonprofit organization that conducts nutrient management research, assessments, or validations.

2.      The information identifies any of the following:

a.      A person who holds a legal interest in agricultural land or sho has previously held a legal interest in agricultural land.

b.      A person who is involved or who has previously been involved in managing the agricultural land or producing crops or livestock on the agricultural land.

c.       The identifiable location of the agricultural land.

“Iowans deserve to access information about what action is being taken to improve our state’s water quality. Clean water is a public good. Why would information in this database need to be kept from public access unless there is something to hide? There will be no way for the public to measure or share the progress of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy unless information from the water quality practices database is accessible to citizens,” said Angie Carter, a CCI Action Fund member and graduate student in sociology and sustainable agriculture at Iowa State University.

CCI Action Fund members and other allies have frequently criticized the Nutrient Reduction Strategy for relying on voluntary compliance without mandatory and enforceable standards to clean up Iowa’s water.

The water quality evaluations and aggregate land use data is one of the only useful things still in the Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

“This is critical information the public absolutely must have, and the only thing dirtier than Iowa’s water is these kinds of back-handed attempts to keep the public in the dark,” said Barb Lang, a CCI member from Des Moines.  “This is taxpayer money and we can’t even know the results?  It looks like the corporate ag lobby wants to keep this data hidden so they can go on ignoring there’s a problem.”

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