Good news for Iowa water quality (for once)

State legislators have allowed clean water “anti-degradation” rules to stand, a step toward filling a significant hole in Iowa’s water quality regulations. A last-ditch effort by Republicans failed to win enough votes on the Iowa legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee (ARRC) to set aside rules adopted by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

I’ve joked that the ARRC’s unofficial motto is “Where good rules go to die,” because on several occasions the committee has rejected rules oriented toward environmental protection. Today Republican Senator Merlin Bartz tried to keep that tradition going with a motion to object to the new water quality rules. However, only Bartz’s three fellow Republicans on the committee (Senator James Seymour and State Representatives Dave Heaton and Linda Upmeyer) voted for rejecting the DNR’s rules. The six Democrats on the ARRC (Senators Wally Horn, Jack Kibbie and Tom Courtney, and State Representatives Marcella Frevert, Tyler Olson and Nathan Reichert) all voted against Bartz’s resolution.

Governor Chet Culver’s chief legal counsel, Jim Larew, spoke in favor of the rules at today’s ARRC hearing, saying they would help Iowa reverse the trend of declining water quality. Unfortunately, we’ve got a long way to go on this front. Further regulation of pollution is warranted, but the political will to accomplish that is currently absent in the state legislature.

Several non-profit organizations deserve special recognition today. Without their efforts, the DNR might not have moved forward to adopt the anti-degradation rules, as required by the Clean Water Act. The Iowa Environmental Council issued a release today with more background and details about the anti-degradation rules. Excerpt:

With the passage of the federal Clean Water Act in 1972 states were required to enact Antidegradation rules to prevent the further pollution of lakes, rivers and streams in the nation by 1985.  Iowa adopted rules but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency informed Iowa that its rules violated federal law as early as 1997.  

Repeated delays in rewriting the rules led a coalition of environmental organizations – Iowa Environmental Council, Hawkeye Fly Fishing Association, the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Environmental Law & Policy Center – to file a Petition for Rulemaking with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources in 2007 requesting that the State act immediately to adopt antidegradation implementation rules.  This action initiated a rule-making process that included several opportunities for public comment and a hearing before the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission, which approved the revised rules in December of last year. Monday’s meeting of the legislative Administrative Rules and Review Committee marked the final step in the decades-long process.

The full text of the press release is after the jump.

Thanks again to the Iowa Environmental Council, the Hawkeye Fly Fishing Association, the Sierra Club Iowa chapter, and the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

UPDATE: I’ve added the press release from the Sierra Club’s Iowa chapter after the jump.

From the Iowa Environmental Council, February 8:

Governor Culver and some Iowa legislators say “yes” to new clean water rules

Monday’s Decision Caps Years of Work to Protect Iowa Waters

Iowa-After decades of meetings, letters, delays, and public hearings, clean water advocates gathered at the statehouse in Des Moines this morning to witness the final step in adopting clean water “anti-degradation” rules for Iowa. This morning, the Administrative Rules Review Committee (ARRC) of the Iowa Legislature heard testimony from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the public. Senator Merlin Bartz (District 6) moved to object to the rules, but could not garner the six votes needed to stop them.

“It’s time we heard some good news about water pollution in Iowa,” said Brad Klein of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, in a press conference prior to the ARRC decision.

Advocates at the press conference said the rules will provide additional protections for Iowa’s few remaining high-quality waters, for example West Lake Okoboji and several trout streams in Northeast Iowa.

“Protecting lakes and streams from further degradation is important to our state’s natural heritage as well as our tourism and recreation industries.  An estimated 11,479 jobs, $242.9 million of income and $424.9 million of gross state product are associated with the spending by visitors to Iowa lakes alone,” said Wally Taylor, legal counsel for the Sierra Club Iowa Chapter.

Taylor and others said the Iowa rules are long overdue and that they have worked for years to get Antidegradation Rules written and passed in Iowa.  

With the passage of the federal Clean Water Act in 1972 states were required to enact Antidegradation rules to prevent the further pollution of lakes, rivers and streams in the nation by 1985.  Iowa adopted rules but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency informed Iowa that its rules violated federal law as early as 1997.  Repeated delays in rewriting the rules led a coalition of environmental organizations – Iowa Environmental Council, Hawkeye Fly Fishing Association, the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Environmental Law & Policy Center – to file a Petition for Rulemaking with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources in 2007 requesting that the State act immediately to adopt antidegradation implementation rules.  This action initiated a rule-making process that included several opportunities for public comment and a hearing before the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission, which approved the revised rules in December of last year. Monday’s meeting of the legislative Administrative Rules and Review Committee marked the final step in the decades-long process.

Advocates who testified at the hearing stressed that the rules will allow Iowa to grow sensibly and sustainably.

“These rules will stem the tide of declining water quality in Iowa, protect the outstanding jewels that remain, and serve as an economic engine for those communities with the foresight to protect and leverage the potential of these remarkable waters,” said Shannan Garretson, water program legal analyst for the non-profit Iowa Environmental Council.

Jim Larew, with Governor Culver’s office was at the hearing to express the Governor’s support of the rules.

“Iowans care about water quality… Maybe now with these new rules Iowa can start reversing that trend [of declining water quality],” said Larew.

From the Sierra Club Iowa chapter on February 8:

LEGISLATIVE REVIEW COMMITTEE PASSES WATER PROTECTION RULE

Des Moines, IA – Members of the Administrative Rules Review Committee (ARRC), a legislative oversight committee, took steps toward cleaner water for Iowa today when it allowed water pollution regulations to pass without legislative intervention.

An antidegradation rule, passed by the Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) in December, will require cities and industries requesting higher pollution limits to review carefully how much additional pollution is actually necessary and always to choose the least polluting alternative that is affordable to the community.  The rule also puts some of Iowa’s best waters into a special category that will grant those waters extra protection from cities, industries and urban sprawl.

“Passing the rule and the implementation policy brings Iowa closer to complying with the 1972 Clean Water Act,” said Neila Seaman, Director of the Sierra Club Iowa Chapter.

Legislators approved the rule in spite of a motion by Sen. Merlin Bartz (R-Grafton) to object to the rule.  Ultimately, legislators passed the rule because otherwise they would have to prove that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was being capricious or unreasonable or the rule was beyond the jurisdiction of the agency.

Wally Taylor, legal chair of the Sierra Club Iowa Chapter, told legislators that “The DNR has done everything it possibly could to accommodate the regulated community.  Iowa is required to comply with the Clean Water Act.”  He added that the DNR had ignored the recommendations of the federal law until three organizations – Sierra Club Iowa Chapter, Hawkeye Fly Fishing Association and Iowa Environmental Council – filed a petition for rulemaking in October 2007.

The rule will now be reviewed by the Iowa Attorney General’s Office for its legality and then forwarded to the Environmental Protection Agency for approval.

For more information, contact Neila Seaman at 515-778-5573 or Wally Taylor at 319-350-5807.

You need to signin or signup to post a comment.