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Natural resources keep control over Iowa farms
Iowa Correspondent

BROOKLYN, Iowa — Despite widespread bi-partisan approval, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack late last month vetoed a bill that would have limited the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) director’s unprecedented regulatory control over all state livestock facilities.

“Livestock is a key driver of Iowa’s economic engine and is already one of the most regulated industries in the state, with 29 new rule packages added in the past five years alone, and five more pending,” said Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) President Craig Lang, a fifth-generation Brooklyn, Iowa dairy farmer.

Lang was among many state farmers that were stunned by Vilsack’s veto of Senate File 2377, which would have limited IDNR Director Jeffrey Vonk’s sole authority over the location and operation of all Iowa farms without needing legislative approval.

“Our livestock farmers need a fair playing field, not more roadblocks placed by arbitrary siting decisions of a single person,” said Lang of the May 28 veto, which the Iowa House approved 65-25 and the Iowa Senate passed by a margin of 38-11.

“The DNR doesn’t do this for any other industry,” he said. “This remains a key issue for us. We will be keenly interested in the position taken by gubernatorial candidates and other candidates up for election.”

The IDNR last Thursday declined to comment on the veto. Vilsack, however, said he vetoed the bill out of environmental concerns that he claimed posed a danger to the quality of life, adding that granting additional power to an unelected state official would have had little impact on producers.

“In the last four years, more than 2,000 new livestock confinement facilities have been constructed in Iowa,” Vilsack said. “Had (IDNR’s) proposed rules been in place during this growth in the industry, less than one percent of these operations would have been affected and only in areas where the potential environmental impact was obvious, as defined by rule.”

The IDNR’s proposed rule, Vilsack added, “is a step toward being able to control a handful of operations that could adversely impact Iowa’s natural resources.”

“The fact that SF 2377 would prevent reasonable additional protection of Iowa’s environment, and could also result in weakening existing rule authority, makes this bill unacceptable,” he said.

But Gretta Irwin, executive director of the Iowa Turkey Federation (ITF), said Iowa turkey farmers have always gone beyond the necessary requirements to protect the health of rural residents, while safeguarding the environment.

“As Iowa’s turkey farmers construct additional barns to meet the demands of consumers, they have worked with the IDNR and the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers (CSIF) to properly locate and set up the new barns,” she said.

The Iowa General Assembly has long discussed and passed specific parameters for livestock producers, contractors and lending institutions to follow to ensure that livestock facilities are properly constructed, she added.

“The planning and permitting process can already take over a year to complete,” she said.

“Allowing an unknown hurdle at the end of the processes is disrespectful and discouraging to the farm families raising turkeys.”

The Iowa Cattlemen’s Assoc. (ICA) has also followed this issue since the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission (IEPC) first began discussing it last fall.

Like the IFBF, the ICA said it has been opposed to allowing any single person to have enough control to personally stop the construction or permitting of a livestock facility.

“Obviously, the legislators and the ICA were in agreement on the issue,” said Mick Kreidler, ICA communications director. “Unfortunately, Governor Vilsack vetoed the legislation, and it appears that he is out of step with legislators and the people of Iowa that they represent.”

Kreidler said the ICA is also concerned about current legislation regarding permit standards, where applicants may possibly meet all standards set out by the IDNR and the state legislation, but could still be denied by Vonk for reasons that aren’t well defined.

“The legislation, which has been reached over a number of years by ongoing discussion between livestock producers, farm organizations, the IDNR, Iowa State University and others, may now be unreliable,” she said. “This makes current legislation unreliable and allows one person to have final authority on any future permit action.”

Conversely, the Iowa Farmers Union (IFU), which has held strong ties to the Democratic Party, is the only state farm group that applauded Vilsack’s veto of Senate File 2377.

“This is a horrible bill,” said IFU President Chris Petersen, a pork producer from Clear Lake, Iowa. “If our state is serious about clean air and water, we have to give our regulatory agency the power to protect our environment.

“Studies have clearly shown what people living in the country already know: confinements pollute our air and water and affect human health,” Petersen said.

But with a stroke of a pen, the IFBF, which has supported many of Vilsack’s farm policies in the past, said the governor closed the door on the opportunity to move Iowa forward.

“We’ve been talking about the value of livestock for those parts of the state that livestock are needed and can be balanced with the land. And quite honestly, what the governor did was say no,” Lang said. “I think he did it for the wrong reason.”

Eldon McAfee, an attorney for the Iowa Pork Producers Assoc. (IPPA), said the organization had urged Vilsack to sign Senate File 2377, but was unclear about what pressures convinced the governor to veto the bill.

“As a matter of law, this veto does not affect other laws in Iowa, or laws of other states,” he said. “However, IPPA is concerned (a concern shared by some Iowa lawmakers and probably in other states as well) that giving an administrative agency broad, subjective authority beyond specific standards in rules or legislation is questionable public policy.”

This farm news was published in the June 14, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.