- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 10, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - An Iowa agency on Wednesday approved changes to administrative rules regarding water pollution that two groups say will weaken environmental protections, but supporters argue will add clarity to a system thrown into limbo by a lawsuit.

The Environmental Protection Commission, which provides oversight to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, voted to implement changes to the state’s anti-degradation standards that help regulate when new pollution is added to Iowa waters. The standards guide businesses that propose adding or expanding operations.

The changes, which go into effect Friday, focus on a component that balances the potential costs of a proposed project with its environmental impact. The Environmental Law & Policy Center and the Iowa Environmental Council argue it will now eliminate consideration of the environment.

The groups also contend the rule-making process, which began months ago, has been rushed. A legislative committee is expected to review the changes one more time in September.

Josh Mandelbaum is a staff attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center, a national organization with an office in Des Moines.

“DNR has made no effort to bring stakeholders together to address these changes, and as a result, the final rules have significant problems,” he said in a statement.

The Iowa Association of Business and Industry, the Iowa League of Cities and the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities petitioned for the changes following a lawsuit involving the environmental groups and the city of Clarion regarding a wastewater treatment plant.

The environmental groups challenged how the anti-degradation process was followed regarding costs. A district judge cited with the groups in March and determined that standards should be reviewed differently.

The petitioning groups say the lawsuit left their members in limbo on how to handle future permit requests and opened them up to legal challenges. They disagree with the environmental groups’ interpretation of the rule changes.

“For us, it’s all about clarity,” said Jessica Harder with ABI.

The DNR didn’t comment on the criticism. A spokesman reiterated points made by the petitioning groups.

“These rule revisions will maintain the strength of that program while ensuring that expectations are clearly stated and fairly enforced,” according to a DNR statement.

Katy Heggen, communications director for the Iowa Environmental Council, said that the groups will continue to push for DNR “to bring diverse stakeholders to the table” to discuss the issue. She also pointed out that the changes will require approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“In short, today’s vote is not the end of this issue,” she said.


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