Iowa lawmakers last week unveiled their long-awaited plan to limit water and air pollution from livestock confinements, setting the framework for one of the most significant environmental initiatives in state history.

Senate File 2293 is full of firsts. The first air-pollution limits on livestock confinements. The first ban on building livestock operations in floodplains. The first fees charged to producers to help pay for state environmental inspectors' work. The first limits on manure applications based on how much algae-feeding phosphorus the material contains.The bill also includes a new checklist to rate the social and environmental risks of a proposed confinement and a fresh set of stiffer fines for spill-related environmental damage, to be set by state environmental commissions.

"The new legislation attempts to balance concerns about the condition of Iowa's water and air, and its quality of life, with the economic necessity of delivering high-quality and low-cost lean pork,” says Richard Kelley of the University of Iowa Hygienic Laboratory.

The bill was drafted by a bipartisan group of a dozen lawmakers. They started work after legislative leaders announced before the session's start in January that they were ready to address the odors and contaminants from livestock confinements.

While the proposal affects many powerful constituencies in Iowa politics, legislative leaders seem confident about its chances."It will pass and it will get signed," said House Speaker Brent Siegrist, a Council Bluffs Republican, during a Friday taping of Iowa Public Television's "Iowa Press." "The bill does take significant steps toward improving air and water quality. It may not go as far as people want, but it's a good bill."

Eldon McAfee, a lawyer representing the Iowa Pork Producers Association, said last week his group was just beginning to review the bill and would comment this week. The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation wants to make sure that the new fees to be charged for manure-management plans are set low enough so smaller farmers' livelihoods aren't threatened.

The organization also has questioned the wisdom of setting limits on manure disposal based on phosphorus. Environmental groups see the bill, if passed, as a monumental turn of events in Iowa's fight against agricultural pollution.

Gov. Tom Vilsack, who supports more local control of livestock confinements, also says the livestock industry is crucial to the state. It's a balance that farmers also recognize.

"Livestock producers know that the land, air and water are their livelihoods," said Aaron Heley-Lehman with the Iowa Farmer's Union. "Many producers are on the forefront of environmental protections. This bill could actually help those producers."

Des Moines Register