Iowa governor's brother fined over EPA violation

Sep 27, 2013

Branstad Farms, a cattle feedlot in Hancock County, IA, has agreed to pay a $5,100 civil penalty and perform a $26,000 Supplemental Environmental Project to settle alleged violations of the facility’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, according to an U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) press release.

While EPA fines are handed out regularly, this one garnered a little more media attention, in part because of the name. Branstad’s Farms is owned and operated by Monroe Branstad, brother of Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad. According to a spokesperson for the governor, he no longer has any connection to the farm.

The fine comes on the heels of a long heated battle over confined animal feeding operations (CAFO) in the state.

Gov. Branstad’s administration has been under fire with environmental groups relating to the state’s environmental regulations in regards to farms.

Last July, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the Environmental Integrity Project, and the Iowa Sierra Club filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking documents about negotiations between the EPA and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, accusing Gov. Branstad of favoring agricultural practices over water quality and the environment. In addition, the groups want more regulation relating to the Clean Water Act.

Earlier this month, Iowa state and federal environmental protection officials reached an agreement to inspect at least 3,200 large livestock operations, according to the groups.

In addition, the say the plan also calls for increased permitting of livestock farms and tougher penalties.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources told the Iowa Farm Bureau (IFB) it worked with EPA, farmers, landowners and municipalities and others to develop the “common-sense” agreement. “This work plan agreement ... is a reflection of Iowans working together on a commonsense solution that will encourage best practices and promote open communication between affected Iowans and the DNR,” said Chuck Gipp, director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

IFB, criticized by the environmental groups for trying to weaken the agreement, said that inspections will document “what we already know to be true—that Iowa’s livestock farmers are complying with the Clean Water Act.”

“This new agreement will lead to increased documentation of Iowa’s already strong livestock regulatory program,” IFB told reporters.

And it appears that Gov. Branstad’s brother’s farm is one of the first in-line for more documentation.

According to the EPA press release, Branstad Farms, of Forest City, Iowa, did not maintain adequate records associated with the land application of liquid effluent and manure from its feedlot and did not perform sampling of the materials and soil, as required by the NP- DES permit.

“This settlement is the first of its kind in Region 7 concentrated animal feeding operation enforcement,” EPA Regional Administrator Karl Brooks said. “Branstad Farms’ willingness to undertake an environmental project like wetland restoration in lieu of a portion of their penalty will benefit Iowa’s water quality.”

Branstad Farms’ facility has the capacity for approximately 2,500 cattle in confinement barns and outdoor pens, according to an administrative consent agreement filed by EPA Region 7 in Lenexa, KS.

As part of the settlement agreement, Branstad Farms has certified that it is now in compliance with the Clean Water Act. The consent agreement is subject to a 40- day public comment period before it becomes final. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor