State auditor alleges Department of Natural Resources violates air and water laws

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The state auditor says the Iowa Department of Natural Resources is violating laws meant to protect the state’s air and water.

In a report released this week, the Office of the State Auditor noted three provisions of Iowa law that the DNR appears to violate.

For example, the auditor claims that the DNR failed to comply with a state law requiring it to create and appoint a compliance advisory committee mandated by federal amendments to the Clean Air Act of 1990.

This panel shall consist of two appointees from the governor, four appointees from the leadership of the Iowa Legislature, and the Director of DNR or his or her designate.

In response, the DNR admits that none of these appointments have been made and that the panel does not exist.

By way of explanation, the DNR only says that “the requirements were established in the 1990 Federal Amendments to the Federal Air Quality Act”, adding that it will convene the committee once the appointments are made – although that he did not provide any time frame to do so.

State Auditor Rob Sand appears on Iowa PBS’ “Iowa Press” April 2021. (Screenshot via Iowa PBS)

State Auditor Rob Sand said Friday that the DNR’s response appears to suggest that a long record of non-compliance with 1990 requirements may be seen by some in the DNR as reason enough to continue down the same path. “It’s certainly not something that means we’re going to change our conclusions,” he said.

The auditor’s report also notes that MNR is required by law to develop and implement a program for the acquisition of wetlands resulting from the closure of agricultural drainage wells. The DNR, the auditor says, has never implemented such a program.

In response, the DNR says it “is always interested in working with willing landowners to restore wetlands…However, acquiring highly productive agricultural land, either by easement or fee simple, is very expensive. Additional funding sources would be required for the successful implementation of this program.

In addition, the auditor’s report says the DNR failed to comply with a legal requirement to inventory each county’s wetlands and marshes and then designate which of those lands constitute a “protected” area.

In response, the DNR says this program was never established “because current federal regulations exceed the protection” offered by this specific requirement. MNR adds that this provision of the law only applies to “pothole-type wetlands,” rather than forested wetlands and sedge meadows.

The auditor’s report also notes that the DNR mistakenly understated “unearned revenue” – a phrase that generally refers to statutory appropriations, as opposed to fees and fines – while overstating, by 356 $000, revenue he had received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Additionally, the report points out that the Iowa Legislature allocates “a significant amount of money” each year to the DNR’s lake restoration program, but the Natural Resources Commission’s annual reports are inconsistent in reporting on the how that money is used.

To improve transparency and public accountability, the auditor says, MNR and the commission should develop a consistent method for reporting both the number of contracts awarded for lake restoration and the total amounts associated with each project. MNR accepted this recommendation.


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