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Ag industry groups question validity of new water quality rule
The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation announced Tuesday that it has joined with two other industry groups in a lawsuit challenging a new state water quality rule.
The lawsuit, which was filed Monday by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Iowa Renewable Fuels Association and the Iowa Water Environment Association, questions the legality of an Environmental Protection Commission vote in December 2009 that resulted in the new water quality rule. Specifically the organizations are asking if an inappropriate vote was cast by an out-of-state resident commission member and if there was a conflict of interest by another commission member. The lawsuit also documents alleged procedural irregularities with the adoption of the rule.
“The livelihoods of farmers, rural businesses and all Iowans are adversely affected by the new antidegradation rules,” said Craig Lang, president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation. “The rule will stifle new economic development and job creation, especially in rural areas of Iowa.”
The EPC is a panel of nine citizens who provide policy oversight for the state’s environmental efforts. The members are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by a vote of the Iowa Senate for a four-year term of service.
According to Commission minutes from December 2009, the “purpose of the antidegradation policy is to set minimum requirements for the state to follow in order to conserve, maintain and protect existing uses and water quality.” It called on the Iowa DNR to set a new policy, as was required by federal law, and subsequently approved the four-tiered agency approach after a series of 13 public hearings on the subject. Legal and technical staff members at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had read the proposed policy and were in agreement with it, according to meeting minutes.
During the meeting, Commission member Gene VerSteeg questioned the cost of the new rule for businesses and communities. Chuck Corell, water quality bureau chief for the Iowa DNR, answered that in order to “get a construction permit for changing a wastewater facility, the department requires a facility plan that contains alternatives to what is being proposed.” Such an analysis, he estimated, would cost between $4,000 and $16,000, depending on its complexity — a small fraction of the $800,000 to $1 million estimate of building a new system in an unsewered community of 120 people. The DNR also published a fiscal impact statement in conjunction with the new rule.
Commission member Charlotte Hubbell noted that “after two years of public discussions, we are only talking about two lakes and 118 stream miles out of 70,000 to 72,000 stream miles” that exist across the state.
Following discussion, the measure passed with only two members, VerSteeg and David Petty, voting against. Lorna Puntillo abstained, and the six remaining members voted in favor. Even if the two favorable votes questioned in the lawsuit were tossed aside, it appears that the rule change would have still been approved.
The organizations contend that EPC member Carrie LaSeur, who is also the president of environmental advocacy group Plains Justice, was already living and voting in Montana at the time of the December 2009 EPC vote on the new rule. Another commission member, Susan Heathcote, had a conflict of interest, according to the lawsuit, because she was an employee of the Iowa Environmental Council, an environmental advocacy group that pushed for adoption of the antidegradation rule.
“We know that the antidegradation rule will likely increase sewer and storm water rates for many Iowans, whether they live in small, rural towns are large Iowa cities,” said Ted Payseur, government relations chairman for the Iowa Water Environment Association.
Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, argued that the rule could threaten the future of renewable fuels production in the state.
“Imposing excessive costs and limitation that go above and beyond the Clean Water Act will severely hamper the ability of current biofuels producers to expand and will discourage new producers from locating in Iowa,” Shaw said.