About half of the complaints to the state’s environmental field offices are made anonymously. (Photo courtesy of Iowa DNR)
A bill that received early support in the Iowa Senate on Thursday would require someone who reports a potential violation to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to provide their name, which the department would reveal to the potential violator if it investigates.
Sen. Tom Shipley, R-Nodaway, said Senate Study Bill 3103 is meant to stop frivolous, anonymous complaints to the DNR, along with those that target certain facilities such as livestock feedlots and confinements. The bill was advanced by a three-person subcommittee Shipley led Thursday morning for further consideration in the Senate.
“We know there are organizations out there who file complaints just because they don’t like that industry,” said Shipley, who has raised cattle. “Let’s just be honest, they don’t want that industry to exist in Iowa, and they’ll be happy to do anything to make it difficult for those people.”
Those complaints are often lodged with one of the DNR’s six environmental field offices, which regulate animal feeding operations and investigate waterway pollution and illegal waste disposal, among other duties.
Those offices receive between 1,300 and 1,500 complaints each year, and about half of them are from anonymous sources, said Tammie Krausman, a DNR spokesperson.
A “vast majority” of those anonymous complaints lead to some type of corrective action, ranging from recommendations to fines, she said.
The DNR has not publicly indicated whether it supports or opposes the new bill to restrict those complaints.
Threase Harms, who represents the Iowa Environmental Council and the Iowa Farmers Union, both of which oppose the bill, said anonymous complaints are important to ensure government agencies are aware of problems.
“People don’t want to have to report their neighbors,” Harms said. “It’s not something they want to do, but sometimes there are situations that call for that, and being able to do that anonymously is really important.”
Sen. Claire Celsi, a West Des Moines Democrat who was part of the subcommittee, agreed that the legislation would have a “chilling effect” for those complaints and opposed the bill.
“You can’t report a serious thing against your neighbor — let’s say, his manure lagoon is overflowing into a creek — without putting your name on it,” she said.
Shipley said he has talked with several people who have defended themselves against frivolous complaints to the DNR that were the result of unrelated squabbles between neighbors. He and Sen. Jesse Green, R-Harcourt, agreed to recommend the bill for further consideration.
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