Attempt To Toughen Environmental Standards For CAFO Permits Fails

Sep 18, 2017

An attempt to toughen environmental standards for confined animal feeding operations has failed as the state’s Environmental Protection Commission says it lacks the jurisdiction to reform the current permitting process.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and the D.C.-based Food & Water Watch filed the request. They want the EPC to create stricter rules and complain the current permit process’s scoring system, known at the master matrix, offers no meaningful evaluation of environmental or community protections. 

Mark Kuhn, a farmer who serves on the Floyd County board of supervisors, was in the state legislature when the master matrix was first created. He's now in favor of reform, and told the EPC it’s too easy to score highly on certain sections of the matrix, which allows CAFOs to totally disregard other criteria.

"When it comes to questions regarding adding a groundwater protection well, or adding a filter to reduce odor from a confinement, or perhaps adding a workers’ safety and health plan, almost none of the applicants score in these matters," he said. 

Several members of the nine-person EPC agreed the criteria for CAFO permits needs to be reviewed. But ultimately the group voted unanimously to not initiate a new rulemaking process, many saying that's the job of the legislature and not the commission.

"Are there things in the master matrix that need to be looked at? Yes," said Commissioner Barbara Hovland of Cerro Gordo County. "But again, I don’t know if we have the authority to make changes. It has to go back to where it started."

After the vote several people from Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement erupted in protest, voicing concerns about water and air quality. However, several farmers in attendance took umbrage with accusations that they were poor environmental stewards. 

"Manure is good for the soil, it feeds the organisms in the soil," said northeast Iowa pig farmer Al Wulfekuhle, who is the past president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association. "I think our farm is a typical farm, we have waterways, we have cover crops, we have two wetlands, we have terraces, we're doing no till, we're trying to do the right thing and I think that's typical of Iowa farmers."

The 2018 Iowa Legislative Session begins on January 8.