Personal business and political agendas aren’t supposed to influence the work of the Iowa Board of Regents, so why did Bruce Rastetter ask University of Iowa President Sally Mason to arrange a meeting between ethanol industry representatives and Professor Jerald Schnoor?
This controversy began with Elizabeth Harball’s article for Scientific American on January 28, called “Rising Use of Corn Ethanol Stresses Midwestern Aquifers.”
At a biofuels energy symposium hosted by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies last week in Washington, D.C., professor Jerald Schnoor said corn ethanol production facilities require large quantities of high-purity water during the fermentation process.
This water is obtained from underground aquifers, and as ethanol production reaches a fever pitch in Iowa, the state’s water supply is threatened. Even in 2009, Iowa state geologists warned that the Jordan aquifer was being pumped at an unsustainable rate in several counties, exceeding the state’s 1975 base line within the next two decades.
“We’re near record devotion of acres to corn right now,” said Schnoor, who also headed the Iowa Climate Change Advisory Council in 2007. Up to 40 percent of corn production in the United States now goes to ethanol fuel. Schnoor estimated that up to three-quarters of corn crops in his home state are devoted to ethanol production, stressing Iowa’s groundwater sources.
He cited the Lincolnway Energy Plant in Nevada, Iowa, as an example. This plant, which Schnoor acknowledged was older and less efficient than newer plants, produces 50 million gallons of ethanol every year by processing 100,000 acres of corn. He said this process requires 200 million gallons of water per year.
Schnoor’s analysis didn’t sit well with Iowa Renewable Fuels Association Executive Director Monte Shaw. He e-mailed Board of Regents President Pro-Tem Rastetter, who has long had business interests in the ethanol industry.
In 2003, Mr. Rastetter co-founded Hawkeye Energy Holdings which grew to become a producer of over 450 million gallons of ethanol per year becoming, at the time, the third-largest pure play ethanol producer in the United States. He served as CEO of Hawkeye Energy until 2011.
Shaw’s message described Schnoor as an “embarrassment” to the University of Iowa. Rastetter forwarded the e-mail to university President Mason, adding this comment:
Sally, the industry would appreciate being able to provide factual information so this professor isn’t uninformed. Is there a way to accomplish that? Thanks Bruce.
Ethanol industry bigwigs might not appreciate Schnoor’s analysis, but it’s ludicrous to call this guy “uninformed” about his subject.
University of Iowa professor Jerry Schnoor co-founded the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER) in 1990.
As the organization’s co-director, Schnoor allocates seed grants, organizes symposiums, and conducts lectures nationwide about environmental change. Along co-director Greg Carmichael, he makes yearly budgeting, managerial, and promotional decisions for the Center.
Schnoor is a professor in the departments of civil & environmental engineering and occupational & environmental health. He joined the University’s College of Engineering in 1977, and now holds the esteemed Allen S. Henry Chair in Engineering. His research interests include carbon sequestration, water quality modeling, phytoremidiation, and the causes of global warming.
In 2007, Iowa Governor Chet Culver hired Schnoor to head the Iowa Climate Change Advisory Council (ICCAC). A 27-member panel of academics and professionals, the Council guides Culver’s effort to reduce Iowa’s greenhouse gas emissions. In 2008, the ICCAC issued its final report, a 470-page document to direct the governor’s environmental agenda.
Also in 2007, Schnoor became editor-in-chief of Environmental Science & Technology. Launched in 1967 by the American Chemical Society, ES&T is a bi-monthly magazine that publishes both peer-reviewed scholarly research and journalistic feature articles. The publication ranks among the leading international environmental journals, according to recent Impact Factor and citation figures.
Among his prior achievements, Schnoor testified before the United States Congress to support the Clean Air Act Amendment of 1990 at the request of the Environmental Protection Agency’s head administrator. He has also serve on several commissions for the EPA, including the Board of Scientific Counselors and the Scientific Advisory Board.
Schnoor earned a Ph.D. in civil engineering in 1975 and an M.S. in environmental health engineering in 1974 from The University of Texas. In 1972 he received a B.S. in chemical engineering from Iowa State University.
He represents The University of Iowa and CGRER at numerous speaking engagements every month. Schnoor has addressed politicians and elementary school students alike about green energy, climate change, and reducing atmospheric carbon emissions. Along with his scholarly pursuits, Schnoor and his CGRER graduate assistants have planted over 250,000 trees to help sequester carbon from the environment.
Iowa Senate Education Committee Chair Herman Quirmbach, who is a tenured professor at Iowa State University, asserted that Rastetter’s “interference” had “severe implications” for academic freedom. Rastetter told the Des Moines Register that he was just “sharing information” with Mason. He denied that he was trying to influence academic research at the University of Iowa.
A plain reading of Rastetter’s e-mail indicates that he was hoping biofuels advocates would influence Schnoor’s public comments about the industry.
Rastetter reportedly talks to Iowa State University President Steve Leath almost every day, which is at odds with longtime practice on the Board of Regents.
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action Fund has criticized Rastetter’s actions as a Regent before. Today the group released this statement:
Rastetter Has To Go
New scandal at University of Iowa is the last straw, CCI members renew call for Rastetter termination
Des Moines, Iowa –
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action Fund (Iowa CCI Action Fund) members are renewing their call for Regent President Pro-Tem Bruce Rastetter to be removed from the board after news broke Tuesday that Rastetter attempted to silence a University of Iowa professor from speaking out against the environmental impacts of ethanol production.
An ethanol industry lobbyist complained to Rastetter about UI professor Jerald Schnoor’s public statements cautioning against ethanol expansion because of water quality concerns. Rastetter responded by asking UI president Sally Mason to take action against the professor.
“This is the last straw and these abuses of power have to stop. Enough is enough. Rastetter has to go. We cannot afford to have a person in a public position who has been caught – over and over again – using his public position to pursue his own private gain.” said Ross Grooters, a CCI Action Fund member from Pleasant Hill.
“This is a good government issue. Government officials are supposed to serve the public interest and the common good, but Rastetter’s actions are a black eye to the reputation of the state of Iowa.”
The Iowa Board of Regents has been rocked by scandals in the last 9 months, the largest after Senator Tom Harkin chose not to leave 40 years of congressional papers at his alma mater, Iowa State University because of repeated attempts by [Regents President Craig] Lang and Rastetter to limit the academic freedom of the Tom Harkin Institute of Public Policy.
Both Lang and Rastetter have close personal and financial connections to corporate agribusiness interests.
Last year, CCI members filed an ethics complaint against Rastetter after a batch of emails were disclosed by the Associated Press showing that Rastetter tried to use his regent connections to push Iowa State University into backing a land grab in Tanzania by Rastetter’s private multinational corporation, AgriSol.
Last summer, CCI members were thrown out of a Regents meeting in Cedar Falls and prevented from publicly addressing the board, even after repeated requests to the Regents director for public comment time. Around the same time, a coalition of students and faculty at the University of Northern Iowa were also prevented from giving public comment opposing the closing of UNI’s Price Laboratory, and graduate student unionists at the University of Iowa were also denied an opportunity to address the regents.
Last Fall, the Board of Regents also hired Rasetter’s personal lobbyist and public relations officer, Joe Murphy, to become ISU’s new university lobbyist – without publishing the job opening, conducting an open search, or following the university’s diversity-in-hiring guidelines.
Iowa CCI Action Fund members’ 2013 legislative agenda may be viewed here.
For more information, visit www.cciactionfund.org
Rastetter won’t be removed from the Board of Regents as long as Terry Branstad is governor. The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board dismissed Iowa CCI’s complaint against Rastetter last August, after he “filed an amended financial disclosure statement.” I think the board failed to recognize a clear conflict of interest on Rastetter’s part. He didn’t disclose his involvement with Agrisol Energy, which was trying to work with Iowa State University on a major land project in Tanzania. ISU later pulled out of that project after its potential impact on local residents drew more scrutiny.
Any relevant thoughts are welcome in this thread.
UPDATE: Governor Branstad’s communication director Tim Albrecht called the latest allegations against Rastetter “absurd and baseless.”
“Bruce Rastetter sought to share additional knowledge to ensure a professor had all the information available with regard to renewable fuels,” Albrecht said. “The governor stands behind Bruce Rastetter.”
Big surprise: the governor stands behind the guy who gave more than $150,000 to his 2010 campaign. Rastetter was Branstad’s top individual donor for that election cycle.
UPDATE: Your unintentional comedy for the week comes from Perry Beeman’s front-page article on this story for the Des Moines Register’s February 20 edition.
Rastetter said he was simply passing along an email, thinking Mason might want to set up a meeting between Schnoor and the ethanol backers. He said he had not seen Schnoor’s remarks and wasn’t endorsing them or the complaints from the ethanol lobby.
Sure, he wasn’t endorsing the ethanol lobby’s complaints. It’s totally neutral and non-interfering to call a professor “uninformed.”
Schnoor handled the situation with class, judging from Beeman’s report.
Schnoor had no problem with Mason’s office calling. “I didn’t think the request was unusual, and I’m happy to talk with the Renewable Fuels Association,” he said. […]
Mason was traveling and unavailable for comment, but her chief of staff, Mark Braun, said she asked him to handle the situation when Rastetter’s email arrived.
He contacted Schnoor and requested that the professor contact Shaw, the ethanol lobbyist. Schnoor tried twice, with no success.
Shaw said he was out of town when Schnoor called. He said he copied Rastetter on an email he sent to a policy aide in the governor’s office because “he’s the only one I know who has any connection to the University of Iowa.”
Schnoor’s office contact information is available online. Shaw could have simply picked up the phone to give Schnoor the ethanol industry’s side of the story. Instead, he complained to a member of the Board of Regents that a university professor was an “embarrassment.” He was angling for Rastetter to throw his weight around–with good reason.