FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 10, 2016
Contact: Judith Nemes, (312) 795-3706, JNemes@elpc.org
Iowa Enviro Groups Alarmed by Vote to Change Clean Water Standards
Rushed rule-making process significantly weakens water quality protections
DES MOINES – Two of Iowa’s leading environmental groups warn today’s Iowa Environmental Protection Commission unanimous vote to adopt changes to – and weaken — the state’s clean water anti-degradation standards will likely lead to more pollution and undermine the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.
In an unusual move, Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources recommended emergency implementation of the rule change. The amended guidelines are slated to go into effect on Friday, August 12.
Representatives from the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) and Iowa Environmental Council (IEC) attended the Wednesday meeting to reiterate concerns that the proposed changes would represent a big step backward in the state’s clean water efforts. The groups previously spoke against the proposed changes at the Administrative Rules Review Committee meeting in July, the public hearing in June and the EPC meeting in May, and submitted written comments outlining concerns. The groups have suggested a stakeholder process to develop further guidance to address other stakeholder concerns without weakening existing clean water protections.
“DNR has made no effort to bring stakeholders together to address these changes, and as a result, the final rules have significant problems,” said Josh Mandelbaum, a staff attorney in ELPC’s Des Moines office.
“Iowa’s anti-degradation standards were developed over the course of nearly two years with input from environmental, business, industry and utility groups,” said IEC Executive Director Ralph Rosenberg. “As a result, the standards were strong, but reasonable, and balanced economic and environmental concerns. That balance has shifted.”
In March, a district court judge sided with the IEC and ELPC in a case that compels DNR to appropriately enforce Iowa’s anti-degradation standards – a pillar of the Clean Water Act designed to prevent unnecessary new pollution.
Per the ruling, DNR must ensure that projects seeking permits to add new pollution to a waterway have considered and appropriately accounted for the environmental benefits of less polluting alternatives, and that less polluting alternatives cannot be eliminated based on cost alone.
In response, the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities and Iowa League of Cities filed a petition for rulemaking, and DNR recommended changes based on the petition to the EPC in May. The amendment removes the provision requiring consideration of environmental benefits before eliminating less polluting alternatives, replacing the existing case-by-case approach with a one-size-fits-all approach based on cost alone. The change opens the door for Environmental Protection Agency intervention.
ELPC and IEC were instrumental in shaping Iowa’s strong but reasonable anti-degradation standards. Both groups have regularly filed public comments and met with DNR officials about the proper consideration of Iowa’s anti-degradation standards since 2013. DNR’s lack of action on these concerns led to the Council’s decision to have ELPC file a petition for judicial review on its behalf in the state District Court. That victory was the first legal case addressing the enforcement of Iowa’s anti-degradation standards since the Iowa Supreme Court upheld the standards in 2014.
The EPC’s vote in favor of the petition for rule change will head to the Administrative Rules Review Committee of the Iowa Legislature for approval. EPA will also need to approve these rule changes.