Iowa’s livestock producers will face an unprecedented new rule giving the state's top environmental official more power over the location of planned operations. The rule goes into effect on Aug. 23, but it may face a legal challenge thanks to a panel of state lawmakers.

On Tuesday, the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission voted to give Jeff Vonk, director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the power to consider local environmental conditions and the concentration of livestock operations when he considers whether to approve permits for new projects.         

The new rule applies to all livestock operations (any species and either a confinement or an open feedlot) that are required to obtain a construction permit or manure management plan.

The Iowa Administrative Rules Review Committee, a bipartisan panel of legislators, voted to formally object to the rule. The objection means the committee disputes whether the rule complies with state law, and it forces the DNR to prove that the rule does if there is a legal challenge. Gov. Tom Vilsack strongly disagreed with the committee’s vote.

A representative of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, lawyer Christina Gruenhagen, says her group would decide whether to sue after watching to see whether Vonk keeps his promise to block few confinement plans. Vonk has said the new rule probably would change plans at less than 1 percent of proposed hog confinements.

Opponents of the new rule say the DNR is going beyond its powers, or at least ignoring the wishes of lawmakers who voted overwhelmingly to block the rule last session. Vilsack, a Democrat, vetoed a bill designed to stop the rule.

Producers will have the right to appeal Vonk's rulings to the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission, an administrative law judge, and to the courts.

The vote sets up a potential clash in next year’s legislative session between Republicans, who favor state control of livestock facilities, and Democrats, who want more local control.

Des Moines Register