Environmental advocates were relieved when the Iowa legislature adjourned without passing any bill to move Iowa’s water quality and monitoring programs from the Department of Natural Resources to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. However, Plan B to accomplish the same goal without legislative action took another step forward yesterday, when Chuck Gipp was named deputy director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
Governor Terry Branstad’s administration advocated moving water programs to IDALS earlier this year, around the same time he stacked the Environmental Protection Commission with friends of agribusiness. Critics pointed out that the DNR had been praised for its efficient use of federal water quality funding. Moreover, it is illogical to move Clean Water Act compliance from a department that exists to “conserve and enhance our natural resources” to a department that exists “to encourage, promote, market, and advance the interests of agriculture.” Iowa House Republicans (assisted by some Democrats) approved a bill transferring some water programs to the agriculture department, but the proposal never cleared the Iowa Senate.
In May, Branstad’s DNR director Roger Lande announced major staff cuts, including three full-time and three contract positions solely focused on water monitoring. (Lande didn’t cut full-time employees from any DNR division besides the Geological and Water Survey Bureau.) At that time, DNR stream monitoring coordinator Mary Skopec warned, “This is definitely going to impact our ability to do data management and lake monitoring.” The cuts serve the interests of industrial agriculture, because collecting fewer samples from lakes and streams makes it less likely that any polluted waterway will be labeled “impaired.”
Gipp’s appointment looks like part of the same strategy to give agribusiness more control over how, when and where the DNR monitors Iowa waters. The deputy director handles a lot of day-to-day management for the large department. Gipp is a longtime dairy farmer and member of the Iowa Farm Bureau. He served in the Iowa House for 18 years, rising to the position of majority leader under Republican Speaker Chris Rants. He chose not to seek re-election in 2008, and Republican Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey named him to head the IDALS Division of Soil Conservation. The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported,
Gipp, a lifelong dairy farmer who is respected in both production agriculture and environmental circles, said he hopes to foster understanding and cooperation between the two often-opposed groups.
“Both are important to Iowans, and we need to bring both sides together and strike a sustainable balance,” Gipp, 63, of Decorah, said.
It’s news to me that Gipp is respected in environmental circles. I can’t recall any instance of him using his authority as Iowa House majority leader to promote environmental protection. By all accounts Gipp did an adequate job overseeing soil conservation programs used by some farmers, but relying solely on voluntary measures (the Iowa Farm Bureau-approved method) hasn’t solved our water quality problems.
I recognize that Iowa state government will balance the DNR’s needs with those of the agriculture department, but that’s not what appears to be happening here. Having failed to move water programs to IDALS, the Branstad administration is giving IDALS substantial influence over DNR internal policies and practices. In a July 26 press release, Lande praised Gipp as “someone who is not only very dedicated and knowledgeable about conservation of our natural resources but also a very talented individual in working with our stakeholders and Legislature.” I hope Gipp proves me wrong, but I’m not encouraged to see him hired less than a week after the DNR’s top environmental regulator was pushed out the door.
UPDATE: Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement highlighted Gipp’s legislative votes against any meaningful regulation of factory farm pollution. Details are after the jump.
From an Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement press release of July 27, 2011:
Gipp appointed to agency he spent his career trying to destroy
Branstad has packed DNR and EPC with factory farm industry insiders who will carry polluted water for his corporate agenda
Des Moines, Iowa –
Governor Terry Branstad’s appointment of former House Majority Leader Chuck Gipp (R-Decorah) as deputy director of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is only the latest step in Branstad’s corporate agenda to stack the decks of state government with factory farm industry insiders hostile to strong and effective public oversight of the environment, members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) said Wednesday.
“Chuck Gipp’s never met a factory farm bill he didn’t like,” said Larry Ginter, an independent family farmer and CCI member from Rhodes, Iowa. “Now he’s going to be the #2 guy at an agency he spent his entire legislative career trying to deregulate and dismantle.”
In 2001, CCI members labeled Gipp one of the “Factory Farm Four” because of his long voting record to reduce and rollback citizen input and public oversight over the corporate factory farm industry.
· In 1995, Gipp voted for H.F. 519 – a bill signed into law by then-governor Branstad that essentially rolled out the welcome mat for factory farm expansion in Iowa.
· In 1997 and 1998, Gipp voted to outlaw local control ordinances and centralize decision-making authority with the state, expand the ability of corporations to purchase farmland and raise livestock, and grant immunity from fines and penalties to documented polluters.
· In 2003, Gipp voted to rollback clean air rules, strip the DNR of its power to write ambient air quality standards, strengthen nuisance lawsuit protections for corporations, and expand the industry’s ability to build factory farms in environmentally-sensitive areas like flood plains and on karst soil.
· In 2004, Gipp voted to legalize factory farm air pollution by creating a weak regulatory framework for air quality standards.
· In 2005, Gipp voted to undermine law enforcement and corporate accountability by making it harder to refer habitual factory farm polluters to the Attorney General, and obstruct DNR rulemaking by making it easier for big-moneyed corporations to stop or stall rulemaking.
· In 2006, Gipp voted to gut DNR’s authority to deny or modify a factory farm construction permit or manure management plan, empower the state legislature to stop or stall executive branch rulemaking, weaken manure management laws, and discourage and penalize citizen input by silencing everyday people who speak out against factory farm pollution.
· In 2008, Gipp voted for a $23 million taxpayer-funded odor study that would stall action on mandatory and enforceable clean air standards and force Iowa citizens to foot the bill.
“Gipp’s record speaks for itself,” Ginter said. “Branstad appointed him to carry polluted water for the corporate ag agenda.”
Iowa CCI members say Branstad’s political appointments to the DNR, Environmental Protection Commission (EPC), and Board of Regents – including Chuck Gipp, but also Roger Lande, Bill Ehm, and Bruce and Brent Rastetter – clearly demonstrate just how beholden Branstad is to the corporate ag interests that bankrolled his campaign for governor.
“Branstad has packed the Board of Regents, the DNR, and the EPC with people who have made careers out of dismantling government of, by, and for the people and creating government of, by, and for the corporations,” Ginter said. “These kind of appointments clearly expose the corporate control of our democracy and highlights the need for the kind of systemic changes that Iowa CCI members continue to fight for.”