AP story showcases tension in Iowa over factory farming

Large animal feeding operations (via Creative Commons). 

Julia Poska | February 13, 2020

A news story published last week featured an Iowa farmer who illegally built to un-permitted barns containing about 2,400 hogs. State officials were unaware of the concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) for years. 

That farmer and others are fighting in what Associated Press correspondent John Flesher called a “battleground” in Iowa. Questions of pollution and regulation have inspired lawsuits, anti-CAFO alliances and neighborly tensions throughout the state, as animal feeding operations continue to proliferate.

Below are four key takeaways from Flesher’s in-depth report. Read the full-length story on apnews.com.

  1. The federal government relies state data for animal feeding operation data. In many cases, states keep tabs on only the largest operations (in Iowa, a true “CAFO” has a minimum of 1,000 species-variable “animal units” per confinement). The EPA counted about 20,300 CAFOs nationwide in 2018.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates there are about 450,000 animal feeding operations–places animals are raised in confinement (of any size)– nationwide.
  2. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources discovered thousands of previously undocumented animal feeding operations in 2017.  Some point to this case as proof of under-regulation, but state regulators said the discoveries indicated a well-functioning system.
  3. Under the 1972 Clean Water Act, especially large livestock operations need permits for discharging waste into waterways. Since such discharges are often unintended, however, state and federal environmental agencies can only mandate permits for operations caught discharging waste. In some cases, farmers have been able to make spill-proofing improvements instead of applying for permits.
  4. Studies show that livestock operations and anaerobically decomposing waste release massive amounts of ammonia and greenhouse gases. Because such emissions are difficult to measure, though, they are unregulated by the Clear Air Act. Studies have additionally correlated these emissions to human health issues such as childhood asthma. Cause/effect is impossible to prove, however.


On The Radio: Iowa utility to phase out old coal plants, make upgrades

Iowa's investment in wind energy has lessened the state's need to implement measures to be in compliance with the EPA's new Clean Air Act. (Michael Leland/Flickr)
Iowa’s investment in wind energy has lessened the state’s need to implement measures to be in compliance with the EPA’s new Clean Air Act. (Michael Leland/Flickr)
Setpember 14, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at an Iowa utility that is phasing out old coal plants and making energy-efficient upgrades to newer plants to be in compliance with the EPA’s Clean Air Act. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Iowa utility to phase out old coal plants, make upgrades

A Clean Air Act settlement with Iowa’s second largest power provider will help Iowans breathe easy in coming years.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Interstate Power and Light, a subsidiary of Alliant Energy, will install new pollution controls at two coal-fired plants and retire five other coal-fired plants by 2025 as part of a settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The power company began negotiations with the EPA in 2011 after modifications at their Lansing and Ottumwa plants were found to cause increases in sulfur dioxide and smog-causing nitrogen oxides.

These pollutants in addition to increased particulate matter in the atmosphere can cause significant health problems for Iowans.

In addition to the estimated $620 million in equipment costs, Interstate Power and Light will spend $6 million on environmental mitigation projects and pay a $1.1 million fine as part of the settlement.

For more information about Iowa air quality, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.




EPA faces lawsuits for animal confinement air pollution

A pig at St Werburghs City Farm in the United Kingdom. (Ed Mitchell/Flickr)
A pig at St Werburghs City Farm in the United Kingdom. (Ed Mitchell/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | January 29, 2015

Two lawsuits were brought against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday alleging that the group isn’t doing enough to prevent air pollution caused by large animal confinement facilities.

The lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. were brought about by a coalition of eight groups including the  Environmental Integrity Project, the Humane Society of the United States, Center for Food Safety, Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Clean Wisconsin, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, and the Association of Irritated Residents (represented by the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment). The coalition says that the lack of regulation by the EPA has allowed factory farms to pollute the air and threaten public health.

Specifically the lawsuits pertain to petitions filed in 2009 and 2011. The 2009 petition was filed by the Humane Society of the United States and called for concentrated animal feeding lots – or CAFOs – to be categorized as a source of pollution under the Clean Air Act and for new standards to be enforced on new and existing CAFOs. The Environmental Integrity Project filed the 2011 petition and sought health-based standards for ammonia emissions. The lawsuit asks for the EPA to respond to these petitions within 90 days.

A spokesman for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said that beef producers have made efforts to reduce pollution without government intervention and between 2005 and 2011 were able cut emissions in water by 10 percent and greenhouse gas production by 2 percent. However, Iowa Pork Producers and an Iowa State University professor say that the link connecting CAFOs to health hazards is inconclusive.

Supreme Court: EPA warranted in most greenhouse gas regulations

Nick Fetty | June 23, 2014
The United States Supreme Court building in Washington D.C. Photo by Mike Renlund; Flickr
The United States Supreme Court building in Washington D.C.
Photo by Mike Renlund; Flickr

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that the Environmental Protection Agency is warranted in enforcing most, but not all, of its regulations for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

This decision does not pertain to the EPA’s recently proposed Clean Power Plan and instead focuses on aspects of the Clean Air Act.  Justice Scalia – who wrote the decision – noted that the EPA “is getting almost everything it wanted in this case.”

Read more about the ruling in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and hundreds of other sources.

On the Radio: Iowa’s role in the Clean Power Plan

Photo by André van Rooyen (Flickr)
Photo by André van Rooyen (Flickr)

This week’s On the Radio segment provides an overview of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recently announced Clean Power Plan and what it means for Iowa’s energy providers. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Clean Power Plan overview and state’s roles

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan strives to significantly reduce carbon emissions in the U.S. by 2030 – but what does it mean for Iowa?

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Clean Power Plan – which was unveiled June 2nd – aims to reduce pollution from existing fossil fuel-burning power plants. Each state is given a goal for carbon emission reduction which allows for flexibility. The proposal gives states a 10- to 15-year window to meet these goals.

Because of a proactive investment in wind energy, Iowa’s carbon reduction goal is significantly lower than surrounding states. Iowa is expected to cut power plant emissions by 16 percent – nearly half the national average.  Reductions for neighboring states range from 21 percent for Missouri to 41 percent in Minnesota.

For more information about the Clean Power Plan, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

On the Radio: Sierra Club complaint leads to cleaner air in Iowa

MidAmerican's Council Bluffs facility. Photo by nixter, Flickr.
MidAmerican’s Council Bluffs facility. Photo by nixter, Flickr.

Listen to this week’s radio segment here or read the transcript below. This week’s segment discusses a complaint filed against MidAmerican Energy by the Sierra Club.

An environmental group’s complaint will lead to cleaner air in Iowa.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Continue reading

MidAmerican Energy will reduce emissions at Iowa plants

MidAmerican's Council Bluffs facility. Photo by nixter, Flickr.
MidAmerican’s Council Bluffs facility. Photo by nixter, Flickr.

Following a complaint from the Sierra Club, MidAmerican Energy Co. has agreed to reduce emissions at three of their Iowa-based power plants.

The Sierra Club threatened to sue MidAmerican this past summer for releasing more pollutants than permitted at their plants in Sergeant Bluff, Bettendorf and Council Bluffs.

To avoid the lawsuit, MidAmerican agreed to stop burning coal in two boilers at both the Council Bluffs and Sergeant Bluff facilities by April 2016. They will also convert three coal-fired boilers in Bettendorf to natural gas.

Read more here.

Grain Processing Corp. on track to meet environmental regulations

Muscatine. Photo by Mike Willis, Flickr.
Muscatine. Photo by Mike Willis, Flickr.

The Grain Processing Corp. announced that it’s on track to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s limits on fine particulate matter (small particles that pollute the environment and can cause respiratory health problems).

The factory is constructing a new dryer house, which will be operation in 2015 and will reduce emission by 82 percent after five years. The project will cost $100 million.

Read more here.

Grassley looks to limit farm dust regulations

Photo by Gage Skidmore, Flickr

Senator Chuck Grassley is concerned that the Environmental Protection Agency is over-regulating dust production in rural areas. For the past five year Grassley has opposed the EPA’s dust regulations, and he just proposed a bill blocking some of these restrictions. The bill looks to both stop the EPA from changing the dust standard during the next year, and to increase the EPA’s leniency towards rural areas.

The Oskaloosa News reports: Continue reading

Iowa Environmental Council: Proposed bill could kill air quality program

Iowa lawmakers have introduced a bill that would block the Department of Natural Resources from raising fees for polluters to plug budget shortfalls and keep a federally mandated state air quality program operating.

House Study Bill 75 would cap the per-ton emissions fees charged to big emitters of air pollutants under Title V of the federal Clean Air Act. The bill would also prevent the DNR from finding other ways to offset that loss of income – like charging fees for new construction permits.

Lee Searles, air quality program director for the Iowa Environmental Council, says the impacts of HSB 75, if made into law, would probably make Iowa fall out of compliance with requirements of the federal Clean Air Act.

“That could lead to a loss of our state-friendly program and its replacement by federal agency authority,” he said.