The Matrix: What if we told you it doesn’t work?

Proposed large hog operations have to show little to get what they want. “Right now it’s almost not possible to not pass,” says IPP’s David Osterberg.

Several Iowa counties are dissatisfied with the so-called “Master Matrix” designed to put standards for locations where large hog operations may be built. The Matrix keeps state requirements ahead of local concerns on this one type of industry.

A state panel soon will hear arguments for a stronger system to protect environmental quality and public health.

IPP’s David Osterberg and Fort Dodge radio host Michael Devine discussed the issues on the “Devine Intervention” program on KVFD 1400-AM.

Osterberg noted the low bar for approval under the Matrix means proposed large hog operations have to show little to get what they want.

“Right now it’s almost not possible to not pass,” says Osterberg, who asks for a “little bit of reasonableness” that will not harm the industry but will satisfy neighbors.

Devine noted the political landscape poses challenges to change on the Matrix or efforts to achieve local control.

“There is a blind defense of pork production in the state of Iowa,” said Devine.

Hear the conversation. Click here.

Free-range concerns with hog confinements

Even though some cheered the outcome for the moment, Iowans need a change in state law to permit real local control of hog operations.

A funny thing happened at the public meeting to consider the expansion of a hog operation in eastern Johnson County near West Branch. The operator withdrew his request for a permit.

Residents had been expressing their concerns because of quality-of-life conflicts they see coming if an existing large farm operation is permitted to create a second 2,500-head hog confinement, expanding the operation to nearly 4,900 hogs at that location.

Iowa law has always been most friendly to those who want to locate and operate Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), rather than to the people who live near them. The state has largely limited county authority over the siting of these operations to just comments, and then only if a proposed confinement is large enough and does not meet enough specific standards for protecting soil, water and air cited in what is termed the Master Matrix.

As a 2008 IPP report showed, the current CAFO permitting process allows scant protection from spreading manure near drinking water sources — in a Dallas County case, near an already impaired river. Even worse as pointed out by Johnson County Supervisor Janelle Rettig at the hearing, if this operator chooses to move his second planned building by a thousand feet, he would not be required to even ask for a permit.

The Master Matrix process is in its second decade and its deficiencies have not been corrected. Even operating normally, CAFOs can create significant water-quality and air quality problems — and when there are spills, as is historically the case, fish kills are one of the impacts.

As our 2008 report recommended, Iowa law should include:

  • Stronger minimum requirements for approval of new construction permits and manure management plans;
  • Real local decision-making authority by allowing counties to set rules to protect air and water quality, public health and community well-being; and
  • Requiring construction permits for smaller facilities — for hogs, half of the current requirement of permits for operations with 2,500 hogs or more.

Most in attendance cheered when, at the beginning of the meeting, it was announced that the request for a permit was withdrawn. However, it might still be built if moved less than a quarter mile. The state needs to change the law to allow for real local control over hog operations.

IPP-osterberg-75  Posted by David Osterberg, Founding Director of IPP

Too few inspectors to assure clean water

Rules need adequate enforcement. DNR does not appear to have enough staff.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is currently seeking public comments on proposed rule changes required by the Iowa Legislature that would bring Iowa’s requirements for concentrated animal feeding operations into agreement with federal regulations.

The changes would also satisfy the terms of a work plan signed by the DNR and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Rules need enforcement and the agency — by its own admission — has not maintained enough inspectors. Even the recent changes since the agency was reprimanded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2012 have not replaced enough employees to get the number of inspectors back to the level that existed in 2004.

Originally in answer to U.S. EPA complaints, the department envisioned a 13 staff-person increase that would only bring numbers back to approximately the 2004 staffing levels — before the addition of many more confinement operations. However, the Governor and General Assembly did not even authorize this number.

Let me repeat, rules need adequate enforcement. DNR does not appear to have enough staff.

See this passage from a DNR 2011 report on manure on frozen and snow-covered ground:

“The scope and complexity of confinement program work increased disproportionately beginning with legislation in the late ’90s. With this, public awareness of environmental issues also grew, resulting in a significant increase in local demand for education, compliance assistance and compliance assurance. To address these needs, animal feeding operations field staffing gradually increased to a high of 23 by SFY 2004.* In SFY 2008, four staff people were shifted into a newly established open feedlots program. Then in the fall of 2009, as General Fund expenditures declined, confinement staffing was reduced again. This reduced staff numbers from 19 to 11.5. Further reductions leave the total of field staff for confinement work at 8.75 full time equivalents. This reduction means that the DNR will not be able to maintain an adequate level of compliance and enforcement activity in confinements.”**

*State Fiscal Year 2004
**http://www.iowadnr.gov/Portals/idnr/uploads/afo/2011%202011%20DNR%20Manure%20on%20Frozen%20Ground%20Report%20FINAL.pdf

IPP-osterberg-75  Posted by David Osterberg, IPP Founding Director