Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

January 24, 2013

Another View

"The Fox Guards the Chickens"

Charlotte Shivvers

Knoxville —  

I’ve been disturbed to learn that beautiful Iowa’s list of “impaired waterways” has grown to 628 so I decided to attend the recent day of action sponsored by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (ICCI).  

It was a great to chant, “This is what democracy looks like!” as hundreds of us milled around the grand rotunda of our Iowa Capitol before Gov. Branstad delivered his speech.  It was however quite painful to see more of how our democracy works.  

My interest in clean water took me to the session on factory farming – runoff from confinement animal feeding operations (CAFO’s) is the main source of impairment to our waterways.  (There’ve been at least 800 manure spills since 1995.)

Main update was – little has been done:  one woman related how her home is now surrounded by CAFO’s; odor and excrement from thousands of hogs so poisons her landscape that their retirement nest egg  – the value of their farm home – is gone.  A man told about the asthmatic condition he’s developed from CAFO pollution around the home they bought for an escape to Iowa’s clean air.  And we’re still trying for small safeguards:  local control; no CAFO closer than half a mile to a home; cut the construction permit threshold to 1,250 hogs …

So, of course, I went to the meeting where the 8-member, Governor-appointed, Iowa Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) was to vote on a proposed new rule for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).  ICCI explained, “A big-moneyed corporate ag interest group called the Iowa Association of Business and Industry (ABI) has proposed a new rule to the DNR that, if passed, will weaken the DNR’s ability to crack down on factory farm polluters who violate our clean water laws … “

First, four people spoke for the new rule, representing Farm Bureau and Hog Producers, for instance.  Then came all who could speak against it in a half hour – compelling testimony against the rule.  (In previous public hearings 86 percent of speakers had been against.)   The new rule was hard to understand – a rule against rules, one said.  Why now when the DNR needs full staff restored and stronger rules to protect our water?   But after the EPC unanimously approved, I found out why:  most of the EPC are so intricately connected to factory farms and other polluting industries that in a court hearing they would have been required to “recuse” or excuse themselves.

EPC includes for instance:

• Max Smith, who runs the big CAFO on Highway 5 between Knoxville and Attica.

• Brent Rastetter, who owns a company that builds factory farms.  

• Joanne Stockdale, a past chair of ABI, the group that pushed the new rule.  

• Cindy Greiman with Monsanto Iowa.

• Mary Boote, head of Truth about Trade & Technology, a group for big ag and free trade.

Get the picture?  An agribusiness support group? Probably none – except Max Smith – live within breathing distance of a CAFO.  No one known for their actions to clean our water.  No one from any child safety or health initiatives group.  No, all the EPC members for whom I could find a quick bio would be dollars ahead if nothing were done by DNR to protect Iowa’s environment. 

Conclusion:  we have well-trained, highly motivated foxes who are empowered to watch over all us chickens.  Chickens who are too poorly organized to bring change for the great majority of Iowa citizens who would like clean water and clean air.  “Cheep, cheep” – let’s get together and make change!