- Associated Press - Monday, January 27, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Iowa’s proposed Clean Water Act rules do not go far enough in requiring large-scale livestock operators to get permits necessary to enforce cleanup of the state’s rivers and lakes, a coalition of environmental groups said Monday.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the Iowa Sierra Club, and the Environmental Integrity Project released a draft copy of a new Clean Water Act permit rule proposed by the state’s Department of Natural Resources. They hope by releasing an early version of the rule and publicizing its flaws, they can get public support for pushing the DNR to require permits for livestock farms with a history of manure spills or leaks.

“Factory farms that have polluted in the past will pollute in the future and they have a clear duty to apply for a Clean Water Act permit, but the DNR’s draft rule attempts to bypass this very simple standard by creating a loophole large enough to drive a manure spreader through,” said Garry Klicker, an Iowa CCI member and farmer from Bloomfield.

The groups say the biggest flaw in the proposed rule is that it does not require farms that have spilled or leaked manure into rivers before to get a permit. The rule instead gives the DNR significant discretion to decide whether a permit should be required, the groups said. The DNR when given discretion historically has failed to crack down on livestock farms, they claimed.

DNR spokesman Kevin Baskins said the department is required to abide by state laws. One passed in 2010 requires the agency to adopt rules for livestock farms “including the requirement that the rules cannot be any more stringent than EPA’s regulations.”

The EPA said Iowa’s proposed regulations as presented ensure the state’s authority to issue permits is consistent with federal requirements and are as stringent as federal requirements.

“If a facility is unable to fully remedy the cause of a discharge then they need to apply for a (permit),” EPA spokesman Kris Lancaster said.

The EPA’s pressure on Iowa began in 2007, after the same coalition of environmental and citizen-action groups filed a petition calling on the federal agency to strip the state of its regulatory authority. The groups said the state was failing to enforce the Clean Water Act against livestock farms. The EPA did threaten in 2012 to step in an enforce Clean Water Act rules unless Iowa improved its livestock farm regulations. In September the DNR and the EPA reached an agreement that Iowa would come up with a new set of regulations including the permit rule.

Iowa - the nation’s leading pork producer with nearly 21 million pigs on farms - spreads millions of gallons of manure a year onto farm fields as fertilizer. But heavy rain has at times washed manure and other fertilizer into rivers. A wet spring last year caused some rivers in central Iowa to record the highest nitrate levels ever.

In addition, manure spills caused by faulty equipment or accidents can release thousands of gallons into rivers.

As proof that the state needs to work harder to prevent water pollution, environmental groups frequently point to 479 Iowa lakes, rivers and streams listed as impaired by the EPA.

The environmental groups believe that issuing permits to livestock farms would force the operators to conform to stricter rules by spelling out specific requirements that could include upgrading manure storage equipment and other measures. The permit process could also result in increased fines for repeated spills.

Pork and cattle industry groups say farmers care about the environment and work to keep equipment operating properly. They are concerned about increased regulatory burden and increased costs that could accompany permits.

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