More DNR funding meaningless without corresponding reforms

More DNR funding without stronger and more effective public oversight is not enough


More field inspectors is meaningless if DNR continues its refusal to crack down on factory farm pollution


Although Governor Branstad continues to remain silent on the subject of more funding for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), a consensus is beginning to emerge among Iowa’s policymakers and administrators that a $1.3 million increase to hire more field staff will be necessary to stave off federal action by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

But funding the DNR to 2004 levels in 2013 is only a half step towards correcting the glaring problems in DNR’s factory farm enforcement program, and additional reforms to strongly implement – and then vigorously enforce – the Clean Water Act are also needed, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action Fund (Iowa CCI Action Fund) members said Monday.

Last Wednesday, DNR Director Chuck Gipp testified at a budget hearing that a funding increase is necessary to keep EPA “SWAT teams” out of Iowa – language that CCI Action Fund members say shows Gipp’s bias against strong and effective public oversight that actually crack down on factory farm polluters.  On Friday’s “Meet the Press” House Majority Leader Kraig Paulsen and Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal both indicated they supported the increased funding.

“More DNR funding is only the first step to bring Iowa into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act because all the new staff in the world doesn’t mean squat if DNR doesn’t start actually doing their job to protect the environment and crack down on factory farm pollution,” said CCI Action Fund member Lori Nelson from Bayard, Iowa.

“At a minimum, we also need tough new rules that will ensure every factory farm in Iowa receives a Clean Water Act operating permit, and we need DNR regulators to grow a backbone and start throwing the book at violators with fines and penalties that actually serve as an effective deterrent against more water pollution.”

The July EPA report criticized DNR for:

  • Failing to issue permits to factory farms when required,
  • Not having an adequate factory farm inspection program,
  • Frequently failing to act in response to manure spills and other environmental violations,
  • Not assessing adequate fines and penalties when violations occur, and
  • State setback distances for manure application not meeting federal requirements.

In their response, the DNR promised to:

  • Initiate new rulemaking to bring Iowa into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act,
  • Ask the state legislature for more funding to hire 13 new full-time field staff,
  • Develop a plan to inspect every factory farm in the state of Iowa, and
  • Change other protocols and procedures to bring Iowa’s program up to par with federal standards.

“After Director Gipp endorsed a Nutrient Management Plan that was handwritten by the Iowa Farm Bureau and heavily reliant on so-called ‘voluntary compliance’ which has been proven not to work, we have real concerns about how DNR intends to go about its rulemaking process to bring Iowa into compliance with the Clean Water Act and start issuing operating permits for all factory farms,” said Nelson.

“The DNR is also disputing EPA’s allegations that it isn’t assessing adequate fines and penalties, which is absurd on its face.  Everyone knows factory farm operators operate practically with impunity and get away with nothing more than a slap on the wrist.”

Iowa has more than 606 polluted waterways, and there have been more than 800 manure spills in the last 15 years, according to DNR records.

A 2007 study by the Iowa Policy Project stated that factory farm manure “may be the largest agricultural polluter of Iowa’s streams and lakes”.

Sixty percent of Iowans believe “we need stronger laws to stop factory farms from polluting our air and water,” according to a September 27-29 telephone poll of 572 active Iowa voters conducted by Public Policy Polling.

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