Sunday, September 17, 2006

Another thought about local control and "good neighbors"

As the debate continues about what the concept of local control for livestock feeding operations, the merits and the detriments of such regulations, and the spin/hyperbola on both sides, I thought I'd take another view at this issue, and maybe come up with another solution.

Basically, as Iowa law stands, there are certian regulations, such as setbacks, distance from other property owners, manure containment facilities, etc that must be abided by to site a large livestock operation. These rules are part of the "master matrix", where county officials get to express their opinion, but do not actually control the siting of the operation. The final authority lies with the DNR and the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission, and recently, DNR czar Jeff Vonk. The EPC granted the power to Vonk until the next legislative session to permit/deny operations even though the Legislature denied this ability during the last session.

Now, a positive thing that is going on is called the Good Neighbor Award, sponsored by the Iowa Department of Ag and Land Stewardship (IDALS) and WHO radio. Neighbors are encouraged to send in letters to IDALS explaining why their livestock producing neighbors are good for the community, environment, and their livestock. A 2nd cousin of mine and her husband won the award in 2003, and I personally know at least one more winner, both of which reside in The South of Iowa.

And, they are good neighbors, to be sure. My cousin's operation is a modest sized cattle feeding operation, run by members of the family. They participate in the community, their lots are not mud pits that drain into creeks, and the cattle look content. You can't smell anything when you drive by their place.

Why can't we hold up these livestock operations and say, "These are the standards to which the rest of you should follow?" Shouldn't we see what these operations are doing and establish their standards for the rest of the state, or at least use them as guidelines?

If we did this, I think the concept of local control (at least how it's being thrown around now) would go away. It would no longer be needed, because livestock operations acting like good neighbors would not require any regulation by board of supervisors in each county. People dealing directly with each other is a better way to solve problems than holding activist meetings, destroying personal property, calling in Robert Kennedy, and saying hog farmers are worse than Osama bin Laden.

As I've written before, if you are going to be a good neighbor to me, it means you won't attempt to take away my property rights, value, and enjoyment. If you're going to be a bad neighbor, at least compensate me for taking these values away from my property, or insure against it happening. Maybe we say that facilities at or above the current thresholds (requiring DNR approval and waste permits) are required to meet the specifications of a "good neighbor". If they cannot, then they might be assessed annual payments to neighbors or an insurance plan, depending upon their distance from the operation, and/or payments for environmental remediation/insurance. It would provide an incentive for operations to do things right the first time around, rather than be dragged kicking and screaming to the table.

Giving control to each board of supervisors where livestock facilities should be cited is not going to solve the problem. While I do like local decision making, I think it blurs the main issue. Supervisors can choose to do nothing, or they can restrict all livestock down to your pet goat. Giving them power does not necessarily fix the issue.

And while we're at it, let's drop the rhetoric against those who want to be successful. I think this is one problem ICCI has; they don't want anyone to be successful, but rather equally miserable. Sort of like socialism. ICCI might say they are doing their crusading for the family farmer, the community, and the environment, but really, they are envious and jealous that other people are doing better than them. It's human nature to do so. Stop trying to institutionalize this "social justice" crap; the more time you spend whining the more you're wasting the precious resources God has given you.

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