First hearing held for lawsuit over DNR’s approval of Supreme Beef NMP

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By Audrey Posten, Times-Register


The Iowa Sierra Club’s lawsuit opposing the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) approval of a plan to allow an 11,600-head cattle feedlot near the headwaters of Bloody Run Creek had its first hearing in Polk County District Court on Jan. 6.


The Sierra Club alleges the DNR ignored state laws and departmental rules when approving a nutrient management plan (NMP) for the Supreme Beef, LLC facility near Monona. According to the Sierra Club, the permit allows nitrogen and phosphorus in the manure to be applied at four to six times the legal rate on fields in the watersheds of Bloody Run and other streams. 


The group also took issue with the DNR allowing construction of a 39-million-gallon manure storage basin in karst terrain (fractured limestone bedrock), which it said is illegal.


Iowa DNR attorney David S. Steward asked judge Michael Huppert to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming the Sierra Club lacked standing to bring the petition. He called the Sierra Club’s alleged injury—an increased risk of environmental harm—hypothetical.


Since the feedlot is considered proposed and not yet operational, Steward said any potential issues related to incorrect calculations are speculation and not concrete injuries.


“There’s no evidence harm has occurred or that it’s imminent,” he stated, arguing that basis should not be on “anticipation of harm that may never happen.”


“There may be a point in time where this standing may be appropriate, but not today and not in this petition,” Steward added.


Supreme Beef’s attorney, Steven Pace, provided no further argument. “The DNR acted appropriately, and we believe it should be dismissed,” he stated.


Wally Taylor, attorney for the Iowa Sierra Club, disagreed with Steward’s take, citing other cases where imminent harm provided standing. He said the petition sets out why the NMP was improperly approved and why it would result in runoff and pollution.


“We don’t have to prove manure is running off, just show valid concern that it could happen. That’s what we’ve done,” Taylor explained. “We don’t have to wait until the damage is done.”


Taylor said the NMP is the final regulatory hurdle or requirement Supreme Beef has to meet before populating the facility and applying manure. He added that 800 cattle are already housed nearby and part of the NMP.


“The NMP is the only vehicle we have to protect our interests...There’s no other vehicle we have to challenge the increased risk,” Taylor said.


He accused the DNR of throwing mud at the wall, hoping some of it would stick.


“When is the appropriate time?” he asked. “Are we supposed to wait until the cattle are in the building or they’re actually applying manure?


Judge Huppert said he would take the information into consideration, but provided no indication of when he might issue a ruling.

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