Iowa CCI and Food & Water Watch File Petition for Rehearing with Iowa Supreme Court

Plaintiffs in Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch v. State of Iowa request rehearing to protect Iowans’ right to clean water

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Food System

For Immediate Release

DES MOINES, IA — Two weeks ago, the Iowa Supreme Court issued a split 4-3 ruling against the plaintiffs in Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch v. State of Iowa. Today, the plaintiffs filed a petition for rehearing asking the Court to reconsider its decision. Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch believe that Iowans have a right to clean water, that it is the duty of the legislature to protect that right, and that it is the courts’ role to always protect the constitutional rights of Iowans.

The lawsuit and petition were filed by Food & Water Watch and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, who are represented in the action by Food & Water Watch, Public Justice, Roxanne Conlin & Associates, and Channing Dutton, of Lawyer, Lawyer, Dutton & Drake LLP.

The case responds to decades of state inaction as thousands of factory farms and fertilizer runoff pollute Iowa waterways, particularly impacting the Raccoon River, which is essential for drinking water and recreation. For years, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch have built a grassroots movement in Iowa around legislative reform to pass a statewide factory farm moratorium. Given legislative inaction, the groups sued the State of Iowa in 2019, seeking a legal remedy for the water pollution in the Raccoon River caused by unabated factory farm expansion and industrial agricultural pollution in the watershed.

After the District Court denied the State’s motion to dismiss the case, the State appealed and two weeks ago the Iowa Supreme Court reversed, with a four-justice majority concluding that the groups lack legal standing and the case presents a “political question” best left to the legislature. The groups are committed to exhausting all possible remedies to Iowa’s compounding water and agricultural pollution crises, and are filing the petition to ask the Court to reconsider its decision not only because of the urgency of the water quality crises, but also to ask the Court to revisit the factual and legal analysis in the decision, as the three dissenting justices argued. 

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch v. State of Iowa will set  precedent that will affect the constitutional rights of Iowans, access to the courts to protect those rights, and the courts’ role to hold the legislature accountable to Iowans, including to ensure the public’s right to use and enjoy navigable waters. In their petition for rehearing, the plaintiffs argue the need for a closer review of the narrowly divided court’s opinion, warning that the new legal barriers the Supreme Court relied on are inconsistent with Iowa law and the courts’ constitutional role to protect Iowans’ constitutional rights. Specifically, because the State never contested the constitutional basis for the right to clean water, the Court should have allowed the case to proceed. The Supreme Court applied a federal limit on access to judicial relief never before applied in Iowa courts. Applying that new limit, the Court concluded that a court could not provide a remedy for water pollution, leaving Iowans a right to clean water without a remedy. 

“As our state flag says, ‘our liberties we prize, and our rights we will maintain,’” said Emma Schmit, Food & Water Watch Iowa Organizer. “On behalf of our 18,400 members and supporters in the state of Iowa, we are committed to the fight for safe, clean drinking water. We respectfully invite our Supreme Court to reconsider the precedent this case sets and the effects their decision will have on the health, safety and recreational enjoyment of Iowans across the Raccoon River watershed. But whatever the Court decides, we will not rest until we have gained relief from the factory farms and agricultural pollution endangering our drinking water.”

“We maintain that all Iowans have a right to clean water — and that the state has a duty to protect that right. The legislature, Governor, and Iowa’s state agencies have failed to protect Iowans’ right to clean water as provided by the Iowa Constitution. These facts are clear,” said Adam Mason, State Policy Director at Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. “With this action today, we pledge that the fight for clean water in Iowa is far from over.”

“The Court has effectively decided that the right to clean water is a right without a remedy,” said Brent Newell, Public Justice Food Project Senior Attorney. “We are all too familiar with the ways in which Big Ag contributes to Iowa’s water pollution and makes Iowans pay for it. As we continue our fight in defending Iowans’ right to clean water, we believe the Court has the opportunity to honor its duty to protect Iowans’ constitutional and property rights. The Court can affirm these constitutional protections by granting this petition and allowing this case to proceed to trial.”

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]