Iowa: Tell Lawmakers You Want the Right to Know When Factory Farms Plan to Pollute Your Water

Last year, Iowa passed an Ag-Gag law making it a crime to conduct an undercover investigation of animal cruelty or environmental violations in the state’s factory farms. Now, the state is taking another swipe at citizens’ right to know with a bill that would eliminate the requirement that factory farms notify the public when they apply for Clean Water Permits.

Please sign the letter below to your state legislators asking them to oppose SSB 1005, a bill that would weaken even further the already lax regulation of Iowa factory farms under the Clean Water Act.

Senate Study Bill 1005 removes the current requirement that factory farms place a public notice in local newspapers when they apply for a Clean Water Act permit. It also requires the hopelessly under-staffed Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to respond to permit applications within 90 days, or the permit is automatically approved!

Who’s behind this latest attack on citizens’ right to know? None other than the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. It seems the DNR is hoping to skirt upcoming attempts by the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to enforce the Clean Water Act.

Specifically, SSB 1005:

  • Eliminates a requirement that a public notice be placed in local-area newspapers when factory farms apply for Clean Water Act permits.
  • Requires the DNR – which is severely understaffed – to respond to permit applications within 90 days or the permit is automatically approved.

Factory Farms Destroy the Environment and Human Health
Taken together with other forms of agriculture, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, comprise the single largest contributor to pollution entering the surface waters of the United States, according to the Arizona Journal of Law & Policy. Iowa operates more hog farms and more egg-laying operations than any other state in the U.S., and it's waterways are paying the price. According to the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club, Iowa has 446 impaired waters with 605 impairments, the majority of which can be directly 
attributed to CAFOs.

.As the 2010 documentary A River of Waste vividly depicts, factory farms are having a catastrophic impact on the environment and public health. People who work in or live near factory farms experience respiratory and diarrheal illnesses and neurological and mood problems as a consequence of being exposed to air and water contamination from vast amounts of waste.

Factory farms also directly impact infant mortality rates. A study published in 2009 using two decades of county-level national data found, "counties with increases in animal units between 1982 and 1997 experienced on average a 35% gain. This corresponds to a 2.8% increase in infant mortality in these counties, or an additional 3,500 infant deaths between 1982 and 1997."

People who live near factory farms in Iowa are exposed to a host of health risks. Yet they have no recourse through their local governments, which are unable to reject or regulate factory farms. 
In 2001, the Supreme Court of Iowa struck down a public health ordinance passed by Worth County that aimed to establish local regulation of air and water emissions as well as worker health protections for concentrated animal feeding operations (“CAFOs”) in the county. In 2004, in its Worth County Friends of Agriculture decision, the court ruled that livestock production in Iowa is "governed by statewide regulation, not local regulation.”  

Iowa residents can
sue agricultural operations under the theory of nuisance, but that means the burden is on individual property owners to bring costly and time consuming lawsuits against CAFOs in order to be compensated for the harms they cause.

With local governments shut out, regulation of factory farms rests with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA has threatened to take over enforcement of the Clean Water Act because the Iowa
DNR is not doing its job. Yet, instead of making the changes the EPA is demanding, the DNR is pushing Iowa even farther away from compliance with the Clean Water Act by asking the state legislature to pass SSB 1005.

Iowa needs stronger, not weaker, Factory Farm permitting standards. Please sign the letter below to your state legislators asking them to oppose SSB 1005!