2014: A good legislative session for Iowa environmental funding

During the legislative session that just ended, the Iowa House and Senate approved substantial increases in funding for some key environmental programs.

Lawmakers committed to providing $25 million to mark the 25th anniversary of the Department of Natural Resources’ Resource Enhancement and Protection program (REAP) achieved their goal. REAP had only been funded at the $20 million level once before during the past two and a half decades. The REAP money came from three separate bills appropriating funds for the 2015 fiscal year; I’ve posted details after the jump. Many REAP-funded projects have a lasting positive impact on local communities for decades. Click here for more background on the kind of projects REAP has supported around Iowa.

Last month, Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson posted a guest diary warning about legislative proposals that would indirectly undermine REAP by changing the program’s funding formula. Fortunately, the conference committee agreement negotiated by Iowa House and Senate members did not include that language in the final bill.

Senate File 2349 allocates Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund money, which mostly comes from gambling revenues. That bill included $9.6 million for lake restoration funding during the 2015 fiscal year, a big improvement on the recent past when lawmakers approved just $5.5 million for lake restoration projects. The Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund bill also included $2 million “for the administration of a water trails and lowhead dam public hazard statewide plan.” Just a few years ago, environmental groups including Iowa Rivers Revival were fighting for even $1 million in state funding for rivers. The only downside to the river funding was that the conference committee went with House-approved language allocating the whole $2 million to low-head dam removal and water trails. Iowa Rivers Revival preferred the Senate-passed bill, which contained $1 million for that purpose and $1 million to launch a new Iowa River Restoration Program. You can find the Senate-passed version of Senate File 2349 here and the conference committee report describing agreed changes in detail here (the river funding is discussed on pages 4-5 of the Senate bill).

Governor Terry Branstad hasn’t signed any of these appropriations bills yet, so funding for REAP and Iowa lakes are rivers is not a sure thing. I would be surprised if he item-vetoed any of these appropriations, although in 2011, Branstad vetoed river restoration funds that lawmakers had allocated for fiscal year 2012.

Excerpt from the Iowa Environmental Council’s May 1 blog post on a “historic victory for REAP”:

This is the first time in 25 years REAP has been “fully funded” by the Iowa legislature, meaning approved funds meet or exceed the authorized level, currently $20 million.  In all, funding approved will come from three sources:

$16 million through HF2458, the appropriations bill for the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Department of Natural Resources.  This money comes from Iowa’s Environment First Fund.  It is noteworthy that controversial proposals in this bill to violate the spirit of the REAP funding formula and divert funds from the open spaces account were removed from the final bill.

$4 million through SF2349, appropriations from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund.

$5 million through SF2363, a bill making various one-time appropriations to a variety of programs, including REAP and several other conservation programs.

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