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DNR Enforcement Discretion and Regulatory Variances Available to Animal Feeding Operations Facing Challenges - April 30, 2020

Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has assembled resources for animal feeding operations that may face challenges related to the reduced capacity of meatpacking plants. Producers of poultry, swine, and cattle should be aware of Iowa DNR’s position on enforcement discretion related to animal feeding operations, as well as DNR’s Mass Animal Mortality Plan and resources for seeking regulatory waivers and variances. More information on each measure is available below, including those that require DNR approval.

Enforcement Discretion

On March 20, 2020, DNR issued a COVID-19 Enforcement and Compliance Protocol, addressing and easing certain solid waste, air quality, stormwater, and operator certification requirements, as well as animal stocking limitations at animal feeding operations. DNR revised this policy on April 9 and has committed to exercising its enforcement discretion through May 31, 2020.

DNR commits to not seeking administrative penalties for cited violations of law and renewing, or not seeking to revoke, licenses, certifications, or permits if persons and regulated entities meet the criteria in the protocol. DNR reserves the right to take enforcement action if the terms of the protocol are not followed.

DNR is granting enforcement discretion for producers in the following ways:

  • Allowing double stocking of confinement buildings if producers are required to keep animals on-site longer than scheduled. The protocol also addresses how this discretion interacts with Manure Management Plans (MMP) and whether notices are required.
  • Extensions of manure applicator certifications.
  • Extensions to obtain county signatures on certain submissions to DNR.

In the protocol, DNR also highlights the availability of the eMMP program and encourages producers to submit MMP updates through that program.

Mass Animal Mortality Plan

DNR has regulatory oversight for carcass disposal during a non-disease mass animal mortality event, and disposal methods must meet DNR requirements. DNR has added the Mass Animal Mortality Plan (2019) to its COVID-19 Disaster Response and Recovery webpage.

The plan focuses primarily on disease-based mortality issues and does not specifically contemplate euthanizing animals due to processing and packaging plant capacity issues. The plan cites fires/natural disasters and infrastructure failures as the “two main causes of non-disease mass animal mortalities,” but is also applicable to other non-disease events (Appendix B). 

The plan focuses on carcass disposal options appropriate for disease and non-disease mortality scenarios: composting, burial, incineration, landfill, rendering, and alkaline hydrolysis (not discussed further due to limited capacity and availability).

  • Composting: recommends materials required for effective composting and management of factors affecting composting.
  • Burial: highlights issues with burial, including managing utility locations, field drainage tiles, protection of wells and well source water, surface water control, trench specifications, groundwater management, and cover. DNR has an online Burial Zone Siting Atlas, with certain zones requiring DNR field staff approval prior to burying. Burial is also the primary focus of DNR’s recent waiver and variance publications, discussed above.
  • Incineration: consultation with DNR air quality staff required prior to incineration to obtain any required permits, waivers, or variances.
  • Landfill: landfill must approve the acceptance of carcasses.
  • Rendering: rendering facility must be willing to accept the carcasses; DNR expresses a preference for rendering in non-disease mortality events.

Waivers & Variances

DNR’s COVID-19 Disaster Response and Recovery webpage includes a Rule Waiver/Variance Form that includes submission information customized for animal feeding operations.

In a separate document, Appendix 1, Example Rules and Justifications, DNR cites examples of waivers and/or variances that may be relevant for producers, including regulatory:

  • limitations on off-site burial. Variance would allow for a non-landfill off-site option.
  • limitation on the number of carcasses per acre per year. Variance would allow producers to exceed the maximum.
  • specifications on the lowest elevation of a burial pit. Variance would allow deeper pits.
  • requirements for the depth of soil cover for shallow burial. Variance would allow less soil to be used.

DNR requests that each facility seeking a variance submit a disposal/burial plan with the information listed in the Recommended Individual Facility Disposal Plans Contents

We encourage you to contact your attorney with questions, assistance applying for a variance, or further background to understand how DNR’s enforcement discretion may impact your facility.

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