Opponents of new air quality rules urged Iowa’s state environmental regulators not to hurt agriculture, while proponents of new rules claim their health is at stake.

In the end, the Environmental Protection Commission voted 5-3 in favor of the new air quality standards for all confined livestock, not just pork operations. It's unclear, however, whether the rules will withstand the scrutiny of state lawmakers.

The vote came after commissioners heard opposing viewpoints from livestock producers and other rural residents across the state about whether the proposed hydrogen sulfide standards are too lenient or too strict.

"All that the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) has done is to monitor the air," contends an Iowa livestock and grain producer. "They haven’t studied or proven what levels of hydrogen sulfide cause health problems, as the legislature asked them to do."

The EEPC, after taking comments for more than two hours, approved a human health limit of 30 parts per billion for hydrogen sulfide. A previous attempt by the commission to set air quality rules for livestock confinements, using a stricter standard of 15 parts per billion for hydrogen sulfide, was rebuffed by the legislature last year.

Lawmakers this year passed a bill with a proposed hydrogen sulfide limit of 70 parts per billion, but Gov. Tom Vilsack vetoed that because he thought it offered very little protection. Jeff Vonk, director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, urged commission members Monday to get behind the department's compromise proposal, even though the Legislature could again nullify the rules.

A House-Senate committee that reviews state agency rules is likely to discuss the air quality limits at its meeting in September.

House Majority Leader Chuck Gipp, a Decorah Republican, said it's too soon to say how lawmakers will react. "You've got to allow the livestock industry to flourish in this state . . . We all know we need to fix this odor issue," says Gipp. "It's a balancing act that we have to maintain."

The Iowa Farm Bureau criticized the commission for adopting "flawed" air quality standards. "The rule remains arbitrary and is not proven to protect public health and circumvents directives established by the Iowa Legislature in 2002 and 2004," said a statement from the group.

Des Moines Register, Pork Alert