URBANDALE, Iowa — State Environment Protection Commission members were bombarded Tuesday with jeers, catcalls and insults from angry environmentalists.
The environmentalists became upset when the seven-member panel let stand a rule allowing limited application of liquid manure on Iowa farmland rather than banning the practice next May, as the activists had hoped.
Outbursts of “you guys are cowards,” “tin soldiers,” and “corporate shills” were shouted by nearly 30 Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement members who appealed for the commission to prevent large-scale commercial livestock operations from applying liquid swine manure on land where the current crop has been harvested and will be planted to soybeans during the next crop season.
“This is one of the most dead-headed things that corporate farmers can do,” said CCI member Cherie Mortice. “This is a disgrace. I’m really disappointed that we can’t move the ball in the right direction.”
The CCI members refused to quiet down when commission chairman David Petty of Eldora called for order and the panel eventually adjourned its monthly meeting early after angry crowd members ignored requests for order and refused to leave the state building even after two Windsor Heights police officers were summoned by state Department of Natural Resources officials.
“You’re about to be unloaded on if you want to be,” Petty told the unruly crowd members who accused the panel of shirking its duty to protect the state’s environment by refusing to end standards that Iowa State University researchers said likely are increasing the amount of nitrates in water by 19 percent. EPC standards limit liquid manure application on soybean fields to 100 pounds per acre – rules that were to change to an outright ban on May 14, 2013, if the commission took affirmative action to implement the ban.
However, commissioners expressed concern that a statewide ban could affect areas of the state differently and would take away flexibility that confinement feeding operations might need to deal with emergency situations.
“The rule doesn’t fit all of the state, depending on soil, topography and other factors,” said commission member John Glenn of Centerville, who called the 100 pound per acre standard a “reasonable amount” and worried that a change could have detrimental consequences.
“I think to totally ban takes options away from farmers … that could be beneficial for them,” added commission member Brent Rastetter of Ames.
The commission decided to take no action Tuesday, which meant current limitations would stay in place — a result that drew loud protects from CCI members who accused the commission members of caring more about corporate profits than clean water.
“You are not the Increase Soybean Yield Commission, you are the Environmental Protection Commission,” said Jess Mazour of Des Moines.
“This common sense rule will help stop the pollution of our water,” said CCI member Lori Nelson of Bayard, who noted that 572 waterways in the state are impaired. “Iowa already has some of the dirtiest water in the nation. The industry does not care about the environment.”
Representatives of the Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and Iowa Corn Growers Association issued a joint statement to the commission urging them not to limit farmers’ abilities to make crop management and business decisions that are appropriate to their farms by imposing “an unqualified” ban on the application of liquid manure for a soybean crop in a manure management plan. They pointed to data indicating that about 7 percent of soybean acres receive some form of nitrogen, and that the number of acres covered by a manure management plan is even fewer – some put the total at about 1 percent of the soybean acres.
“This demonstrates that the issue of application for a soybean crop is generally self-regulated and is not the predominant practice necessitating regulation. Nor will the regulation change water quality,” the associations said in their joint statement. “The bottom line is that this isn’t a simple issue where this particular management practice should be looked at in isolation and taken out of the context of the complete picture.”
DNR Director Chuck Gipp called the way Tuesday’s commission meeting went “unfortunate” but he said it would not change how the panel conducts its public business in the future. He said it appeared the CCI members were “more about confrontation than about solutions.”