by Diane Rosenberg | Executive Director
An Executive Order that directs state agencies to reduce rules and regulations threatens the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) ability to protect communities and waterways. Governor Kim Reynolds’ Executive
Order Number Ten, signed on January 11, puts a moratorium on administrative rulemaking and requires every agency, board, or commission to conduct a comprehensive overhaul of the Iowa Administrative Code. Its purpose is to provide a more fertile ground for job growth and private sector development.
The Iowa Administrative Code is comprised of rules and regulations written to interpret and implement all statutory laws passed by the state legislature.
The order states administrative rules that are “obsolete, ineffective, excessively burdensome or redundant” are to be repealed in order for Iowans to have “freedom to engage in individual, family and business pursuits.”
Now no rulemaking will take place until each agency, board or commission performs a retrospective analysis, including a comprehensive and rigorous cost-benefit analysis, of each administrative rule to determine if its cost justifies its benefits or if there is a less restrictive avenue to accomplishing the rule’s benefits.
Each new rule chapter must “reduce the overall regulatory burden or remain neutral, as compared to the previous rule chapter.” There is to be no strengthening of current rules and regulations, even if they are determined to be weak and ineffective.
Further, each agency, board or commission is to embark on the new rule-making from a “zero base”, in essence, rewriting the rules from scratch. They are prohibited from reauthorizing the rules currently in place without that “critical and comprehensive review.”
All this is to be completed in only four years. The state is currently developing a staggered schedule with each agency completing their work within the year they are assigned. A minimum of just two public hearings are required for the rule changes for each chapter.
How Will This Affect Factory Farms and the Current DNR Rules Review?
That’s an important question, and it doesn’t look good.
The DNR is in the middle of its Chapter 65 CAFO rules review. It’s unknown if the proposed rules changes will be accepted. The draft rules are currently in the governor’s office for preclearance before public hearings are to be scheduled. One of the DNR’s objectives was to reorganize Chapter 65 and eliminate duplication, one of the goals of Executive Order Number Ten. We have not been able to reach the DNR or the Office of the Governor for comment despite numerous attempts.
But two bigger questions loom: how Executive Order Number Ten will impact the agency’s functioning, and how the general public and environment can be protected if factory farming rules and regulations are weakened or eliminated.
Governor Reynolds is requiring a momentous task of each agency, and the DNR will be especially impacted. The DNR has 349 chapters that regulate or manage a wide variety of areas in addition to CAFOs. These include hunting and fishing; state parks, forests and reserves; threatened and endangered species; watershed improvement; storm water construction permits; brownfields, flood plain management; wastewater; drinking water compliance; household hazardous materials; waste planning and recycling – the list goes on.
The agency, particularly the Animal Feeding Operations division, has been chronically underfunded for years. Chapter 65 alone is 220 pages. Add another 348 chapters and it’s a Herculean task to conduct a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of each and every rule – all within one year.
We question how this will affect the DNR’s ability to undertake its ongoing programs. The agency is already understaffed. How will the executive order impact its ability to properly enforce factory farm regulations while simultaneously conducting a massive rules review, analysis, and rewrite? The DNR already faces challenges addressing all the CAFO complaints they receive in a timely manner. Will their restricted time crack the door open for more violations taking place, worsening Iowa’s waterways, if oversight is compromised?
Our larger, long-term concern focuses on how communities and our waterways will lose some protections if rules and regulations are eliminated or weakened. The purpose of these rules and regulations is to protect people and the environment. Environmental advocates rely on the rules when challenging problematic CAFOs that are either established or proposed. Rolling back these protections favors the financial interests of businesses, not the wellbeing of the general public or environment.
Reynolds’ executive order seeks to protect Iowans’ “freedom to engage in individual, family and business pursuits.” But neighbors already lose the freedom to experience the quiet enjoyment of their property when a CAFO is built. Many have already lost the freedom to have access to consistent bacteria-free and nitrate-free drinking water, to safely swim at state beaches, or enjoy fishing because of water
pollution from agricultural runoff. Weakening protections won’t provide Iowans with the freedom to enjoy their right to a safe and enjoyable quality of life. It won’t provide the freedom to have safer drinking or recreational waters.
But it might provide more freedom for the CAFO industry to further impact whatever quality of life, safe drinking water, or local recreational opportunities Iowans might still have.
There are questions about how a cost-benefit analysis can even be properly determined. We have limited confidence an agency run by political appointees favorable to the pork industry can come up with figures that don’t benefit the CAFO industry to the detriment of the rest of the state’s residents. Particularly when so much must be accomplished in so little time.
Cost-benefit analyses attempt to measure everything in terms of dollars and cents. There is no way of putting a dollar and cent value on a diminished quality of life or an pollution related illness. Diminished property values and hospital bills represent but a tiny fraction of the loss of enjoyment of homes and outdoor places and the human stress and suffering from chronic and debilitating illness.
The executive order states “each new rule chapter finalized by the agency must reduce the overall regulatory burden or remain neutral as compared to the previous rule chapter.” Therefore, rules can never be more protective than the current rule. JFAN’s 29-page list of recommendations submitted during the current CAFO rules review urges the agency to tighten many weak regulations to protect communities. The executive order would negate these solid recommendations. We need stronger rules and regulations, not weaker ones.
Further, the executive order calls for rules to be eliminated “whenever possible, and without compromising the health and safety of Iowans.” This nothing more than meaningless political rhetoric designed to blunt public opposition to further weakening of environment and public health regulations. Our weak rules and regulations already compromise the health and safety of Iowans. Executive Order Number Ten will just worsen an already bad situation. This is simply unacceptable.
We are currently exploring if there are ways that Executive Order Number Ten can be challenged. Iowans deserve a government that puts the health and wellbeing of its residents first before the financial interests of the CAFO industry. Executive Order Number Ten will accomplish just the opposite.