Last Friday, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller joined nine other states in filling a motion to intervene in a federal lawsuit in which several environmental advocacy groups are calling for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) EPA to establish and enforce numeric criteria standards for the entire Mississippi River watershed. The motion was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana by the attorney generals of Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.
“We appreciate this sincere undertaking by Iowa DNR, IDALS, the A.G.’s office and the governor to stress the importance of reasonable and rational approaches to water quality.” said AAI CEO, Jeff Schell, in response to the court filing.
Letters from Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, Bill Northey, Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director, Chuck Gipp and Iowa Governor Terry Branstad were included as exhibits in the filing. The letters highlight the efforts that the state has undertook to adopt their own standards and the economic repercussions Iowa would experience from implementing the numeric nutrient criteria outlined in the lawsuit. Northey and Branstad both stated the following findings from Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences 2012 report, Alternative Scenarios and Estimated Cost to Achieve Numeric Nutrient Criteria from Iowa’s Nonpoint Sources:
“The estimated cost to Iowa corn and soybean farmers to achieve the numeric nutrient criteria for Iowa of 55% less nitrogen and 53% less phosphorous is estimated to range from $900 million to $2.4 billion equal annualized cost with required initial investments [of] $1 to $4.7 billion. Achieving this goal, will require a very high adoption of a suite of in-field and edge of field practices and, under some scenarios, requires removing 42-48% of current corn and soybean acres from production and converting it to perennials such as pasture or CRP.”
The environmental advocacy groups have asked the Court to force the EPA to institute specific, numeric criteria for total nitrogen and total phosphorus discharges in Iowa and the entire Mississippi River watershed. The groups also want the EPA to impose total maximum daily load (TMDL) requirements for nitrogen and phosphorus within the watershed.
The EPA maintains that it has worked with states to address nutrient pollution issues, and that states should develop and adopt their own standards for nutrient runoff, consistent with the Clean Water Act.
The case mirrors a recent lawsuit filed in Florida in which the EPA agreed to settle with environmental groups and establish numeric criteria for that state’s waters. Those criteria have been estimated to have a price tag of between $298 million and $4.7 billion to implement. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has estimated that EPA’s new regulations in that state will result in a loss of over 14,500 Florida agricultural sector jobs.
As for Iowa, Branstad stated in his letter that “almost half of all Iowa farmers would be put out of business to comply with this regulation.”