Press Release

Press Release: Enviro Groups Warn Changing Anti-degradation Standards Will Weaken Water Quality Protections


May 17, 2016

Contact: Judith Nemes

Enviro groups warn changing anti-deg standards will weaken water quality protections
Petition for rule-making would undermine recent clean water advances in Iowa

Des Moines — Two of Iowa’s leading environmental groups spoke before the Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) today against proposed changes to the state’s clean water anti-degradation standards, stating that they would be a step backward in preventing unnecessary new or increased water pollution.

A petition for rule-making was filed by the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities and Iowa League of Cities, and recommended to the EPC by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) at the commission’s meeting today. If approved, the amendment would weaken Iowa’s anti-degradation standards by removing a provision recently reaffirmed by an Iowa court. The change would also open the door for Environmental Protection Agency intervention.

In March, a district court judge sided with the Iowa Environmental Council (IEC) and the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) in its ruling that DNR failed to enforce the state’s anti-degradation standards when it approved a wastewater treatment project that did not adequately account for environmental benefits of a less polluting wastewater treatment expansion plan for the City of Clarion that was deemed affordable, but more expensive.

Per the ruling, DNR must ensure that projects seeking to add new pollution to a waterway have considered the environmental benefits of alternative treatments that reduce pollution, and that a less polluting alternative cannot be eliminated based on cost without first weighing the environmental benefit.

“Changing the rule to remove consideration of environmental benefits is inconsistent with the state’s goal of reducing nutrient pollution in Iowa’s waterways,” says Josh Mandelbaum, a staff attorney in ELPC’s Des Moines office. “Eliminating this standard will allow point sources (like wastewater treatment facilities) to avoid measures called for in the state’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy. This change will undermine the Nutrient Reduction Strategy and call into question the state’s commitment to the strategy.”

“Individual Iowans, agricultural, business, industry, municipal and environmental groups have a shared responsibility – and interest – in preserving water quality in the state,” said IEC Executive Director Ralph Rosenberg.” Iowans continue to call for increased action and collaboration to address the state’s many water quality woes. Weakening Iowa’s anti-degradation standards would be a significant step in the wrong direction.”

ELPC and IEC were instrumental in shaping Iowa’s strong but reasonable anti-degradation standards, which are specifically designed to prevent unnecessary new or increased water pollution. IEC and ELPC 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.

A public hearing will be held in Des Moines on June 29. Public comments will be accepted through June 29. The Council and ELPC plan to file joint comments opposing the proposed rule change.