Update: Iowa DNR Withdraws Plans for Enforcement Changes

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources wants to clamp down on pork producers. The department plans to file an emergency rule that would give DNR director Jeff Vonk the power to block or change plans for additions to confinements or for new buildings. The rule would go into effect by Dec. 30.

Vonk says state law already gives him this power, but the new rule is a way to specifically lay out plans and to give producers and the public a chance to comment. The department will consider changes to the rule early next year after a public comment period.

If the rule is approved the DNR wouldmake decisions based on a variety of environmental factors. Those would include the concentration of confinement developments in the area, how close the buildings would be to parks or other public areas, the risk of runoff pollution, the proximity to waters from which drinking supplies are pulled and other environmental factors.

Eldon McAfee, attorney that represents the Iowa Pork Producers Association, says the rule appears so vague that he doubts it is legal. Producers would find it difficult to figure out whether their project would be approved, he notes. In addition, the rule seems to throw out — with no advance public comment — a decade's worth of specific regulations that were designed to protect the environment, adds McAfee.

The governor-appointed Iowa Environmental Protection Commission and a panel of lawmakers each would have to approve the rule.

The DNR reports that 630 confinements and feedlots were built or expanded in 2005.

Iowa requires construction permits for larger confinements, such as those with more than 2,500 finisher pigs. Those large confinements also must file manure management plans. Smaller confinements must submit manure management plans but don't have to get a construction permit.

Two-thirds of the confinement and feedlot projects built this year were too small to need a permit, giving state regulators less of a say on how the operation was designed and run. McAfee says medium-sized operations still have to meet construction standards; they just don't have to have a permit.

Vonk says the new rule would give him the power to block or order changes to construction permits and manure plans, affecting operations of all sizes.

Des Moines Register