Appeal of Iowa water ruling is likely

Environmentalists are applauding last week’s ruling by a Polk County (Iowa) District Court judge that upholds water quality regulations approved by the state’s Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) in December of 2009.

Business and farm groups say the regulations are costly and burdensome. Those regulations require anyone with new or expanded wastewater discharges into waterways to go through a review process and seek permits and certification from the state.

But Chris Gruenhagen, government relations counsel for Iowa Farm Bureau, says the lawsuit wasn’t really about tougher water quality regulations.  She says it was more about the way the EPC enacted the rules.

“This case was really about good government, and who gets to sit on state boards and vote on regulations,” Gruenhagen says. “Because the anti-degradation water quality rule imposes new burdens on all Iowans, the procedure that was used to adopt this rule was really important—because you really want to make sure that all viewpoints get fair consideration and get looked at when a decision is made.”

Iowa Farm Bureau and others felt the EPC’s vote on the new regulations was invalid because one commissioner had a conflict of interest and another wasn’t qualified to vote because she had moved to Montana before the vote was taken. 

But Judge Mary Pat Gunderson ruled otherwise.

In the meantime, Gruenhagen says, the two EPC members in question have been replaced, which has alleviated some of Farm Bureau’s concerns with the commission.

“The current members of the commission do look at both sides of the issue—and are making decisions for the state of Iowa,” she says.

However, Gruenhagen says an appeal of last week’s ruling to the Iowa Supreme Court is likely.  And she adds, “even though this case wasn’t about water quality, we think that on-the-ground efforts in water quality—going watershed by watershed in local communities—is really what is going to work to help address our challenges. 

“Adding new legal burdens doesn’t really advance the effort in improving our water quality.”

The rules in question were adopted after the U.S. EPA  notified Iowa that the state’s water quality policies did not comply with the federal requirements.

AUDIO: Chris Gruenhagen (4:38 MP3)


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