Iowa Supreme Court to Decide Hog Farm Pollution Case

12:55PM Nov 07, 2019
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The Iowa Supreme Court will weigh in on a case between the state and environmental groups.
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The Iowa Supreme Court will step into a case between the state and environmental groups questioning whether enough is being done to keep farm pollutants and hog manure out of the rivers that provide central Iowa residents with drinking water, according to an AP report.  

Justice Edward Mansfield signed an order on Nov. 4 halting all proceedings in the lawsuit that was originally filed in March by the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch, and orders the attorneys involved to file documents within 14 days to allow the court to begin its review.

In September, a district court judge ruled that the lawsuit could proceed to trial. The state asked the Supreme Court to review that decision, arguing that courts typically don’t intervene or attempt to put on trial legislative action that involves a political question, per AP. The state’s attorneys say that the farm runoff issue includes controversy involving the policy choices and value determinations of the legislative and executive branches that courts should avoid.

The Iowa attorney general’s office is representing the state and has asked the court to dismiss the case. They assert that if the case is allowed to go to trial, it will place decades of nutrient reduction research and policy decisions that were made by the legislature, secretary of agriculture and appointed commissioners, on trial.

They also argue that a court ruling will impose nitrogen and phosphorous restrictions on farms that “would be a first in the nation and a dramatic shift from present-day agricultural practices.”

“The continued litigation will produce substantial uncertainty and grave concerns for every member of Iowa’s agricultural economy, with unknown effects rippling throughout the country,” the state’s attorneys said.

The environmental groups that filed the lawsuit assert that citizens have rights to challenge in court what they believe is a violation of a fundamental constitutional right, according to the AP report.

“This lawsuit is a wake-up call to force the state to act. Every Iowan has a right to clean water under the Public Trust Doctrine, and the state has a duty to protect that right. So far, the state has failed to protect Iowans’ right to clean water,” the groups said in a statement. “We have faith that the Supreme Court will preserve the role of the courts in protecting the rights of Iowans.”

The suit claims that the state policy of expanding hog farms and voluntary farm pollution controls is violating the rights of citizens to clean water in the Raccoon River, which is a 31-mile-long tributary of the Des Moines River and serves as a primary source of drinking water for about 500,000 central Iowans. According to reports, the river has exceeded the federal safe drinking water nitrate limits on occasion for the last 10 years and the water utility must run an expensive treatment system to maintain acceptable levels.

The suit asks the court to order mandatory limits on nitrogen and phosphorous pollution and for a moratorium on new and expanding hog confinement facilities.