Landmark legislation that would have set air pollution limits for Iowa hog and cattle farms was dealt a severe setback on April 13 when Governor Tom Vilsack (D) vetoed a bill that had cleared the Iowa legislature.
House File 2523 was compromise legislation that would have enacted Iowa’s first state-level livestock air standards. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Sandy Greiner (R-Keota), would have reaffirmed federal environmental standards while mandating a comprehensive scientific study of emissions from hog farms and other livestock containment locations. The federal standards, based on the most current science, set hydrogen sulfide and ammonia caps based on levels recommended by the Agency for Toxic Substances of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Upon completion of a comprehensive examination of farm pollutants, the bill would have authorized whatever additional steps might be necessary to address evidence of human health or environmental concerns. Importantly, the bill would have authorized regulations more stringent than federal standards if scientific evidence suggested benefits to such an approach.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources lobbied against the bill, recommending the state enact stiff regulations now and study the evidence later. Last year, the DNR had proposed “shoot now, ask later” regulations that were widely criticized as giving too much credence to subjective reporting of health symptoms, and not enough to scientific health data. The Iowa legislature barred implementation of the DNR-recommended restrictions.
Greiner, whose family farm competes against larger operations that emit the most pollutants, expressed regret at the governor’s veto. “I thought that, OK, here’s somebody that doesn’t have any politics to play here and these numbers are going to be something that everybody can buy into.”
Pottawattamie farmer Chris Perdue warned oppressive environmental restrictions without a scientific basis would force many farmers out of business without justification.
“Livestock is important to Iowa’s economy,” said Perdue. “We can’t afford to lose this industry. When it comes to making regulations, they need to be fair for everyone involved.”
Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Lang called the veto a “missed opportunity” to make environmental progress without unnecessarily punishing Iowa’s most important business.
“Legislators worked hard this session to establish air quality standards consistent with numbers proposed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Yet, with a stroke of the pen, Governor Vilsack closed the door on an opportunity to move Iowa forward.”
Mike Triplett of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry pointed out during a March 8 public hearing that all Iowa farms would have been required to meet all applicable federal standards while the proposed study was underway, and that conflicting interim standards would do more harm than good.
“It is crucial that [farmers] do not face conflicting interpretations between EPA and DNR,” said Triplett. “Our state needs to be in a position where businesses and their employees can thrive.”
James M. Taylor is managing editor of Environment & Climate News. His email address is [email protected].