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Hog Confinement Permits Denied

by 5m Editor
20 August 2008, at 6:33am

US - A citizen panel overturned state regulators in what its members referred to as a "landmark" decision to deny permits for two large Dallas County hog confinements.

The surprise 6-2 vote by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources' Environmental Protection Commission blocks a pair of previously approved confinements planned for south of Dawson with room for 7,440 hogs each.

"There are battle lines being drawn on this," said Henry Marquard, chairman of the commission. "It creates a political situation that the Legislature cannot ignore."

Marquard said he believes the commission has broader authority than natural resources officials, who are obligated by state law to approve animal confinements that meet certain requirements established by a "master matrix" adopted in more than 80 counties.

According to DesMoinesRegister, The process awards points based on a confinement's estimated effects on air, water and neighbors. Granger farmer Robert Manning Jr.'s proposals near Dawson easily garnered the points needed for department approval.

Marquard said Tuesday that commissioners are convinced that the standards are too low. They voted based on their assumed authority to protect the environment, he said. The Raccoon River watershed, one of the most polluted in the state, cannot afford more pollution from manure, the commission said.

Large-scale livestock confinements have separated Iowa agriculture interests and environmentalists for the better part of three decades. The state Supreme Court in 2004 threw out a county ordinance that aimed to regulate hog lots as health hazards. Neighbors' complaints about odors and pollution, however, continue unabated.

Iowa raises about 25 percent of the nation's pork, and the industry is responsible for about 63,000 jobs in the state. Meanwhile, Iowa's hog producers have made money the past three years, which has increased the number of permit applications. Industry leaders have historically pushed for a statewide approval system for confinements rather than face 99 sets of county rules.

Dallas County officials had appealed the earlier approval based on complaints from residents. But Marquard had warned Monday that "our discretion is much more limited than what most of the appellants, and especially the public, understand it" to be, and that "there have been times where there have been people who have been very disappointed."

Marquard said only four permit approvals have been overturned in the past four years.

"Sometimes, there were very good policy reasons to deny a permit as far as environmental protection, but none of it fell within the authority we had," he said before the meeting.

Manning said he applied to build the confinements to get enough manure to fertilize 7,000 acres he farms in Dallas County with his father and brother. Minnesota food-production giant Cargill would own the hogs.

Eldon McAfee, an attorney for the Iowa Pork Producers Association, said his group was "not at all pleased" by Tuesday's commission ruling.

"The association believes that when the producer meets the extensive requirements of state law ... that a permit should be issued," he said.

State Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, the ranking member of the Agriculture Committee, said he expected the decision "to spur discussion on the broader issues."

"Here is a situation where the proponents of the hog confinements did everything according to the law, and according to the rules, and yet were rejected by an appointed, unelected citizens committee," he said. "The broader question there is: Do we have to review the charge that the commission has been given? Do we have to review the regulations and rules developed to address concerns of livestock production in our state?

"A number of legislators on both sides of the aisle have a concern when appointed boards and commissions exceed their authority," Johnson added.

5m Editor