After months of crafting and a debate that ran until the wee hours of the morning, the Senate of the Iowa legislature passed a bill that could impose tougher regulations on livestock production. At week's end the House, where the measure is also expected to pass, was just beginning to debate. Key components of the measure include a lower threshold for regulation; a fee on livestock to pay for an increase in environmental inspectors; a scoring system to evaluate proposed confinement sites; and a switch from nitrogen to phosphorus as the regulating nutrient used to determine allowable manure spread rates.
Most parties agree the regulations are a step forward. The question is how far, and debate on that matter has been contentious.
The Iowa Farm Bureau calls the bill that passed a more workable solution than earlier versions. Environmental groups and community activists claim the measure still doesn't address their concerns over local control.
A scoring matrix in the bill is meant to alleviate local control concerns. Counties would score the building application for confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, and give recommendations to the Department of Natural Resources. The D-N-R would then use that same scoring matrix to determine whether to issue a permit. The D-N-R could unilaterally refuse a permit to any confinement that it believes is sited in an environmentally suspect area regardless of the county's wishes.
The legislation also requires the D-N-R to start monitoring air quality and provide standards by December of 2004. New D-N-R oversight will be funded with a fee levied on livestock farmers of about 15 cents per animal unit, the estimated equivalent of 6 cents per hog.
The siting of CAFOs and proximity of buildings is addressed in the bill. New restrictions increase confinement building distances from homes and environmentally vulnerable land and also require monitoring of earthen lagoons for seepage.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the measure is a switch to phosphorus-based nutrient management in fields. Phosphorus content of the soil will now determine how much manure can be spread. Because phosphorus is largely unmetabolized by livestock, the nutrient far exceeds the level of nitrogen in manure. Manure management plans, which must be submitted yearly, will require waste to be spread across a greater number of acres to meet the more stringent standard.