required manure management the facility’s waste pit into the surrounding that drain directly into the des moines river but by “animal units”—one such unit being the standard weight of a cow ready for slaughter. A hog is considered 0.4 animal unit; thus, the operation was proposed to hold 960 units, just below the 1,000-unit size that requires a construction permit under DNR rules. And, just as Lausen suspected, the required manure management plan called for injecting the contents of the facility’s waste pit into the surrounding fields—including the 50 acres that drain directly into the Des Moines River. So he started digging through USDA data, DNR reports, state department of health records, researching all of the regulations governing the permitting of CAFOs. What he found about DNR enforcement of those regulations was even more troubling. After more than a decade out of office, Terry Branstad was again elected governor in 2010. In the next few months, he eliminated 100 positions at the DNR, including 14 vacant jobs in CAFO inspection and enforcement. Wayne Gieselman, the agency’s head of environmental compliance, told the Associated Press that these cuts would hurt enforcement: “If we could be on site on a more regular basis, producers would know we’re watching.” Branstad told Roger Lande, the attorney for the powerful Iowa Farm Bureau whom he had just appointed as director of the DNR, that he wanted Gieselman gone.
And he was, within a week. The governor certainly “wanted his own people in there,” Gieselman told me when I reached him by phone in Kansas, where he now works for Region 7 of the EPA. Branstad also announced four appointments to the nine-member Iowa Environmental Protection Commission: a past president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association, the CEO of a hog-confinement construction company, the CEO of an agricultural lobbying firm, and a former Iowa House member known for her efforts to loosen laws governing the application of manure from confinements. In August 2011, just before the sale of the land near Estherville, the Washington, D.C.–based Environmental Integrity Project, joined by the Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, filed notice of intent to sue the EPA for failing to answer an earlier petition to take over enforcement of the Clean Water Act from the state of Iowa. The DNR responded by issuing plans to improve water quality but cautioned that the downsized department was overmatched by the problem. Last fall the department allowed me to accompany environmental specialist Don Cunningham on an inspection of another New Fashion Pork facility, near Estherville. He told me that inspectors circle a facility—checking for cracks in the foundation that could leak manure or problems with venting fans—but do not enter the confinement as part of normal procedure. At the end of the walk-around, Cunningham told Jay Moore, New Fashion Pork’s environmental construction manager, that the company was past deadline for new soil samples and that a well on the property seemed to be closer to the confinement than claimed on the permit. (Moore later conceded this.) Cunningham informed Moore that there would be a formal notice of violation—the site’s second in 18 months. New paperwork would need to be submitted. After that, everything would proceed as before. Within days, the confinement’s pit was pumped as low as possible and the fields were injected with hundreds of thousands of gallons of manure. I asked Cunningham how such perfunctory inspection squared with the DNR’s own estimate that the Raccoon River watershed, which feeds directly into the Des Moines River, needed a 50 percent reduction in nitrate levels and a staggering 99 percent reduction in E. coli just to come into compliance with federal standards. He responded cautiously: he sticks to his job description, inspecting manure management plans, ensuring compliance with existing regulations, and reporting problems when he observes them. Cunningham doesn’t make the laws; he just enforces the laws the politicians give him. Jay Lausen realized that the DNR, under the thumb of an ag-friendly governor, would never intercede against New Fashion Pork—or any other hog producer. The only hope was to block construction at the local level. In advance of the April 2012 meeting of the Emmet County supervisors, at which New Fashion’s proposal would come to a vote, Lausen asked to address the board. He distributed copies of his research along with USDA data, showing that 60 percent of the property lay on the Des Moines River watershed, classified by the DNR as endangered. But Jay Moore came armed with statistics of his own, showing that the company supported 17 full-time employees in the county and tallying the tax dollars and other economic benefits to the local economy. Moore assured the board that his company understood small agricultural communities. “It’s still run as a family operation,” he said. “How many family-run operations have 320 employees?” Lausen retorted. “This is corporate farming.” spring 2014
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