Iowa environmentalists threaten EPA

Aug 26, 2011

The Environmental Protection Agencys (EPA) announcement last week issuing six compliance orders followed on the heels of a recent Notice of Intent to Sue (NOI) filed by three environmental groups in Iowa. The Environmental Integrity Project, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, and the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club are demanding a response to a Sept. 20, 2007, petition for withdrawal of the Clean Water Act (CWA) pollution permitting authority from the state of Iowa.

While these EPA cases were in fact started before the NOI, producers are left wondering if the groups will successfully pressure EPA and government officials into finding more red tape to add to the mountain of regulations already placed on them through such policies as the Clean Water Act. The regulations not only negatively affect their operations, but they also affect jobs and rural economies.

While there are many government regulations that are seemingly good for the country, those regulations must be developed in a manner that is mindful of science and the economic consequences, chairman Frank D.

Lucas, U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, said in a Senate hearing. President Obama issued an executive order early in 2011 stating that all regulations should have public participation, be based on science, and not prohibit growth, competitiveness and job creation. The unanswered question is whether or not EPA is meeting these criteria.

The 2007 petition the NOI refers to argues that EPA should revoke Iowas authority to issue CWA permits because they believe the states program does not meet federal minimum standards and they claim Iowa has failed to implement critical regulations. The groups argue that EPAs lack of response, or signs of what they would see as significant improvements in the states permit program, has led them to file the NOI.

Being in the hot seat with environmentalists is not new to Iowas governor, Terry Branstad. His support of agriculture in the state has been well documented over his years in various government and educational rolls. In a recent interview with the Iowa Soybean Association, he was asked what kept Iowa’s economy running.

His answer: “Agriculture. It’s the strongest part. Obviously, we’re home to very successful banking and finance industries. But they also depend on the success of farmers. Agriculture is what sustains us both physically and economically. It will also play a big role in helping Iowa add 200,000 jobs.”

While he is a strong supporter of agriculture, the changes he has made seem to be drawing attention.

“Environmentalist groups are not happy with recent government appointments in Iowa, so we are not sure how far they will go with it,” Dal Broom with the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association said, referring to the NOI.

With the attention on these new appointments and a review of a recent legal battle in Florida between EPA and environmentalist groups, it’s apparent that producers may have reason to be concerned. Under the CWA, each state must develop water quality standards that relate to the designated uses the state chooses for its waters. In a review of its water quality standards, Florida officials determined on their own a numeric criteria that would be appropriate for their state. On Sept. 28, 2007, EPA approved Florida’s plan.

However, environmentalists sued EPA for failure to develop new water quality standards for Florida. EPA initially contested their argument. But in a December 2008 memo, EPA staff caved to the environmentalists, laying the foundation for EPA to establish numeric nutrient criteria in Florida, according to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

Despite the fact that Florida was working to implement its approved plan and was seeing successes, EPA reversed its determinations in 2009 and informed the state that new federal rules and criteria would be developed and implemented by EPA, preempting the approved state plan. At the time of its announcement, EPA said that “making such a determination could give the EPA a basis to propose a settlement to the plaintiffs or to request that the court dismiss the case.”

EPA’s new Florida plan sparked 11 additional lawsuits, including one from Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, but to no avail.

On Aug. 3, 2011, the federal appeals court dismissed the final challenge filed by the Florida Department of Agriculture and upheld the clean water settlement between the U.S. EPA and the conservation groups. Lucas has brought up three valuable questions he posed to the EPA in a Senate hearing:.

Is the EPA following the law?

Are they making regulatory decisions based on sound science and data?

And are they conducting adequate cost-benefit analyses?

EPA’s regulatory approach has continued to increase the cost of doing business for America's farmers and ranchers, Lucas said. And while the Iowa environmentalists’ complaint is a simple notice for now, there is past evidence that shows reason for concern.

In February 2010, Iowa legislators approved the Iowa Department of Natural Resources statewide rules to protect Iowa’s waters. These rules also received EPA approval and attorney general certification. The recent compliance orders issued included one feeding operation in Iowa. There was also one in Kansas and four in Nebraska. According to Chris Whitley, with EPA’s Region 7, “The EPA has been and continues to be involved in CAFO enforcements throughout the states.”

But the involvement from EPA doesn’t seem to be enough to appease the environmentalists. Although the groups claim to want to avoid legal actions, the three together have the means to turn this into a similar situation as Florida.