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Energy

Newest Iowa Utilities Board member may have conflict on Bakken pipeline

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Mar 26, 2015 at 18:00:10 PM CDT

Geri Huser may need to recuse herself from the Iowa Utilities Board's upcoming decisions regarding the Bakken Pipeline proposal, according to a report by Ryan Foley for the Associated Press.
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Mike Glover editing new Iowa Democratic blog

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Mar 14, 2015 at 18:30:33 PM CDT

A veteran of Iowa political reporting is running the latest addition to this state's blogosphere.  
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Branstad names Geri Huser to Iowa Utilities Board, demotes Libby Jacobs (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Mar 12, 2015 at 15:52:26 PM CDT

I missed this story last week, but Ryan Foley didn't: Governor Terry Branstad is replacing Sheila Tipton with Geri Huser on the Iowa Utilities Board. Not only that, Branstad appointed Huser to chair that three-member board, demoting current Chair Libby Jacobs for the remainder of her term, which runs through April 2017. A recent board ruling that disappointed MidAmerican Energy, an investor-owned utility serving a large area in Iowa, precipitated the governor's decision.

Details from Foley's report are after the jump, along with background on Huser and first thoughts on her chances to be confirmed by the Iowa Senate.  

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Keystone XL bill dead for now but will be back

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Mar 05, 2015 at 15:58:52 PM CST

As expected, the U.S. Senate failed yesterday to override President Barack Obama's veto of a bill that would clear the way for building the Keystone XL pipeline. Supporters of the bill managed 62 votes, five short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto. Iowa's Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst both voted yes, along with all of their Republican colleagues and eight Democrats (roll call). Republicans will now try to attach the Keystone language to some bill the president won't want to veto. Laura Barron-Lopez reported for The Hill,

"If we don't win the battle today, we will win the war, because we will attach it to another piece of legislation," Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), who wrote the bill, said Wednesday.

Hoeven said Republicans are likely to try to attach the legislation to a long-term transportation funding bill. Congress faces a May 31 deadline to approve new transportation funding.

"This is coming back in the form an infrastructure bill, a road bill that we are all voting for," said Manchin.

Keystone supporters are optimistic that Obama won't veto a six-year highway bill if it includes Keystone, despite vows by the president to veto any attempt to circumvent the federal review process of the pipeline.

If attaching Keystone to a transpiration bill doesn't work, supporters say, they will try to link it to a broader energy package.

That sounds like a good strategy. I suspect Keystone XL is a price Obama would be willing to pay for a long-term transportation funding bill. Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

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Bakken pipeline links and discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Mar 02, 2015 at 09:51:19 AM CST

The proposed Bakken pipeline is one of the most urgent issues facing Iowa's environmental community. The Texas-based company Energy Transfer Partners wants to build the pipeline to transport crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to Illinois, crossing eighteen Iowa counties in the process. Governor Terry Branstad has made clear he won't support any legislative action to stop the pipeline. That will leave the initial decision up to the Iowa Utilities Board, though approval by other state and federal agencies would be needed later; more details on that are below.

Two dozen non-profit groups have formed a coalition to fight the pipeline. You can keep up with their work on Facebook or at the No Bakken website. I'm active with several of the coalition members and enclosed the full list after the jump. The Sierra Club's Iowa chapter outlined some of the key concerns concisely and explained how members of the public can submit comments.

Former state legislator Ed Fallon, who ran for governor in 2006 and for Congress in 2008, is kicking off a 400-mile walk along the proposed pipeline route today, starting from southeast Iowa and heading northwest over the next several weeks. I've enclosed below an excerpt from his first e-mail update about the walk, in which Fallon recounts a conversation with Lee County farmers whose land lies along the proposed pipeline route. Click here to view upcoming events, including a public meetings for residents of Lee County this evening, for Van Buren County residents in Birmingham on March 5, and for Jefferson County residents in Fairfield on March 6.

The latest Iowa poll conducted by Selzer & Co for the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics found that a majority of Iowans support the Bakken pipeline, but a larger majority oppose using eminent domain to seize land for the pipeline. Excerpts from the Iowa poll findings are at the end of this post.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

P.S. - The company that wants to build the pipeline has claimed "the project would have an Iowa economic impact of $1.1 billion during two years of construction, creating enough work to keep 7,600 workers employed for a year." Economist Dave Swenson explained here why such estimates are misleading.

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Obama vetoes Keystone XL pipeline bill, with Iowa reaction

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Feb 25, 2015 at 19:20:00 PM CST

As expected, President Barack Obama vetoed a bill that would have forced approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. In his message to Congress, Obama said the bill "conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest -- including our security, safety, and environment."  

Republican leaders will attempt to override the veto, but those efforts will almost certainly fail, since the bill didn't muster a two-thirds majority in either the House or the Senate. The next likely step is for Congressional Republicans to attach language on Keystone XL to some other "must-pass" bill. I am concerned that under those conditions, language on the pipeline would not be a deal-breaker for Obama.

All four Iowans in the U.S. House supported the Keystone XL bill, as did Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst. I haven't seen any official comment on the veto from Representatives Rod Blum (IA-01), Dave Loebsack (IA-02), David Young (IA-03), or Steve King (IA-04). After the jump I've posted the full text of the president's veto message, along with reaction from Grassley and Ernst. I will update as needed.

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Iowa Congressional voting roundup: Keystone XL and TSA "investigators"

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Feb 11, 2015 at 19:05:00 PM CST

This afternoon the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Senate-passed version of a bill that would authorize construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. As was the case last month, all four Iowans were part of the House majority that passed the bill by 270 votes to 152 (roll call). Dave Loebsack (IA-02) was one of 29 Democrats who voted yes today; his record on previous bills related to the pipeline is mixed. President Barack Obama has said he will veto the Keystone XL bill. The big question is what he will do if Congress includes similar language in other "must-pass" legislation.

Yesterday the House passed two bills related to the Transportation Security Agency. Members unanimously approved a bill "aimed at stopping the Transportation Security Agency from overpaying some of its workers to act as investigators, when they aren't really investigating anything," Pete Kasperowicz reported for The Blaze. The other bill, approved with only one dissenting vote, is intended to improve security at U.S. airports, in particular contingency plans for terrorist incidents.

Also today, House members including all four Iowans unanimously approved a bill to award "a Congressional Gold Medal to the Foot Soldiers who participated in Bloody Sunday, Turnaround Tuesday, or the final Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March in March of 1965, which served as a catalyst for the Voting Rights Act of 1965." However, House Republicans rejected calls from Democratic leaders to quickly pass legislation that would reanimate the Voting Rights Act after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of that law in 2013.  

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Grassley, Ernst vote for Keystone XL pipeline bill

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jan 29, 2015 at 20:51:02 PM CST

After hours of floor debate and votes on dozens of amendments over more than two weeks, today the U.S. Senate approved a bill to force construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Nine Democrats joined all the Republicans present to pass the final bill by 62 votes to 36 (roll call). Iowa's Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst have long supported Keystone XL, and Ernst possibly owes as much as any member of the Senate to campaign spending by the Koch brothers, who stand to profit from more tar sands oil extraction in Canada.

The Keystone XL bill now goes back to the U.S. House, which will surely send it to President Barack Obama. (All four Iowans supported the pipeline bill that cleared the House earlier this month.) A White House spokesman repeated today that the president intends to veto the current bill.

Before today's vote on final passage, senators rejected more than a dozen amendments to the Keystone XL bill. You can find all the roll calls here. Democrats offered most of the defeated amendments, which went down primarily along party lines. For instance, Grassley and Ernst helped their GOP colleagues reject Sheldon Whitehouse's amendment, which was designed to "require campaign finance disclosures from companies benefitting from the Alberta oil sands." Other defeated Democratic amendments would have further studied potential safety problems and threats to public health associated with the Keystone XL pipeline, allowed permitting agencies "to consider new circumstances and new information," or delayed the effective date of the bill until the President could rule out "certain negative impacts" from its construction.

In what may be the first Senate vote where Grassley and Ernst landed on opposite sides, Grassley was one of just three GOP senators to support Heidi Heitkamp's amendment that would have extended renewable energy tax credits. Ernst was among the 51 Republicans who voted against that amendment, which would benefit Iowa's wind power industry. Both Grassley and Ernst voted against Bernie Sanders' effort to expand incentives for installing solar power and Tom Udall's amendment on establishing a federal renewable electricity standard.

A few Republican amendments also fell short of the 60 votes needed for passage during the Keystone XL debate. Without Democratic votes, support from Grassley, Ernst, and most of the GOP caucus wasn't enough to win approval of Ted Cruz's amendment promoting crude oil exports, Jerry Moran's effort to "delist the lesser prairie-chicken as a threatened species," or Lisa Murkowski's amendment, which would "free up areas like ANWR [Alaska National Wildlife Refuge] and others that have been designated by the federal government as wilderness regions to potential drilling." Yesterday and today, Grassley and Ernst helped the Republican majority either to reject or to table a series of amendments related to climate change. Puneet Kollipara and David Malakoff described those amendments and votes in this Science magazine article.

During Senate sessions last week, Grassley and Ernst voted for language stating that climate change is "real" and "not a hoax" but against various statements indicating that human activity contributes to climate change.  

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Iowans split as House approves bill on gas exports

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jan 28, 2015 at 13:22:31 PM CST

The new Republican-controlled Congress continues to prioritize legislation desired by the oil and gas sector. Today the U.S. House approved by 277 votes to 133 a bill to "expedite the federal approval process for liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports," Timothy Cama and Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill.

Under the bill, the Energy Department would have 30 days to review an application, starting from when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission completes its environmental review for a project. [...]

"There is no backlog or delay at the [Department of Energy] to speak of," said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "So legislation to impose an arbitrary 30-day deadline on DOE as suggested by the underlying bill is simply unnecessary."

The issue has taken on a new urgency in recent years as Republicans and some Democrats have started to see natural gas exports as a way to help eastern European countries avoid having to buy gas from Russia, thus weakening the power that Russia holds through its near monopoly on gas in the region. [...]

The Obama administration said Johnson's bill isn't necessary after a series of steps the Energy Department took last year in an attempt to streamline the review process.

Iowa Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04) all supported today's legislation. Although 41 Democrats joined the GOP caucus in voting yes, Dave Loebsack (IA-02) opposed the bill. He also voted against a similar bill House members approved last year. Loebsack recently was assigned a seat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

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House approves gas pipeline bill: How the Iowans voted

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jan 22, 2015 at 08:05:00 AM CST

Continuing the Republican push to make fossil fuels projects a priority for this Congress, yesterday the U.S. House approved the "Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act" by by 253 votes to 169 (roll call). Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill,

Under the measure, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) would be ordered to approve or deny a [natural gas] pipeline application within 12 months.  Agencies responsible for issuing licenses or permits must act within 90 days after FERC issues a final environmental review, though the deadline could be extended by 30 days if the agency demonstrates it can't finish in time.

But if the agency doesn't make a decision by then, a pipeline would automatically be approved.

Republicans said the legislation would put pressure on agencies to avoid unnecessary delays for natural gas pipelines. [...]

The White House issued a veto threat against the measure, saying it would "create conflicts" with current requirements and force agencies to make rushed decisions or deny applications entirely because they don't have enough information by the established deadlines.

All the Republicans present supported this bill, including Iowans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04). They were joined by fourteen House Democrats, but Dave Loebsack (IA-02) stuck with the majority of his caucus in opposing this bill. Loebsack also voted against a similar bill that the House approved in 2013. I haven't seen any public comment on yesterday's vote, but I will update this post as needed.

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Grassley, Ernst affirm climate change is "not a hoax" but reject human contribution

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jan 21, 2015 at 23:39:21 PM CST

The U.S. Senate considered a series of amendments today to a bill that would force construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Democrats know they will be unable to block passage of the bill, but are trying to get senators on record acknowledging the existence of climate change. One amendment that would "express the sense of the Senate that climate change is real and not a hoax" passed by 98 votes to 1 (roll call). The yes camp included Iowa Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst as well as possible Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio. Laura Barron-Lopez reported for The Hill that most Republicans rejected a separate Democratic amendment which stated that "climate change is real and human activity significantly contributes to climate change." Grassley, Ernst, Cruz, Paul, and Rubio were all in the "nay" group on that amendment. From Barron-Lopez's story:

In an attempt to provide political cover for Republicans, Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) put forward an alternative that expressed the sense of the Senate that the Keystone oil pipeline would not significantly impact the environment or contribute to global emissions. The provision included a line stating that humans contribute to climate change but without the word "significantly."

Fifteen Republicans voted for that amendment, including Paul, making him the only 2016 contender to go on record as saying that human beings contribute to climate change.

Neither Grassley nor Ernst voted for the Hoeven amendment (roll call). I assume that if they do not accept any human contribution to climate change, they would not be open to any government policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  

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All Iowans in favor as House passes Keystone XL bill

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jan 09, 2015 at 14:58:43 PM CST

Today the U.S. House of Representatives approved by 266 votes to 153 (roll call) a bill to allow construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. As expected, Iowa Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04) voted for the bill. Dave Loebsack (IA-02) was one of 28 Democrats who also supported the bill. Laura Barron-Lopez and Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill,

The vote marked the 10th time the House has voted to authorize the Keystone pipeline in the last four years, and the third time in sixth months.

Loebsack has not supported all of those bills, but he voted for several of the Keystone XL measures, most recently in November. In a statement I've posted after the jump, Loebsack explained that "environmental concerns are important," but he came down in favor of the pipeline because of "the infrastructure jobs that will be created."

In the comments to yesterday's post on Loebsack joining a Republican effort to roll back financial regulations, Bleeding Heartland user ontheright asked whether the five-term Democrat might face a primary challenge from the left. I don't expect that to happen, because for reasons I don't entirely understand, Johnson County liberals never hold Loebsack accountable for his bad votes on Republican bills, no matter how disappointed they may be. In this case, people will forgive the vote because several Iowa labor unions want the Keystone XL pipeline to be built, or because the White House has said President Barack Obama will veto the bill. Next week or next month, it will be another disappointing vote by Loebsack, and another excuse.

The veto threat is important because for now, Keystone XL backers lack the two-thirds majority needed to over-ride a presidential veto in the U.S. House. The Republican-controlled Senate is expected to pass the Keystone bill next week. While there are enough Democrats in favor to cross the 60-vote threshold to break a filibuster, there are not enough to provide 67 Senate votes to over-ride a veto on this issue.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. King released a video statement on today's vote.

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Why did Debi Durham sack one of Iowa's leading clean energy experts? (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jan 05, 2015 at 22:59:22 PM CST

Iowa is already one of the top states for wind power and could become one of the country's solar power leaders as well. Unfortunately, Governor Terry Branstad has a mixed record on promoting alternative energy. On the plus side, Branstad has praised "tremendous potential for growth in solar energy." He has signed bipartisan legislation to provide state income tax credits for renewable energy, including a bill last spring that tripled the annual amount of solar tax credits in Iowa.

On the other hand, last year the Branstad administration "surrendered a $1 million grant designed to make Iowa a nationwide leader in solar energy after electric utilities lobbied for major changes," Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press. You can view what that grant might have accomplished here. After the jump I've enclosed excerpts from Foley's report on the e-mail correspondence.

Now we find out that last month the Iowa Economic Development Authority quietly sacked Paritosh Kasotia as leader of the state energy office. The Associated Press reported that Kasotia was "informed of her ouster Dec. 8 and stopped working the same day."

Colleagues said Kasotia was not given an explanation for the termination, which came days after she returned from a national conference. An expert on alternative energy and energy efficiency, Kasotia oversaw tens of millions of dollars in funding for state and federal programs during her five-year state tenure. [...]

Kasotia, 32, also became active in the National Association of State Energy Officials and served on the advisory council of the Iowa Energy Center at Iowa State University.

Gary Steinke, who served with Kasotia on the advisory council, called her a "national leader in alternative energy."

"My reaction is that I'm shocked and disappointed," said Steinke, president of the Iowa Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. "She brought a wealth of knowledge and information to the advisory council and she will be sorely missed."

Last year, Kasotia helped land a competitive $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to make Iowa a leader in solar energy. Environmentalists said the grant would cut costs and regulations to speed solar adoption. Branstad had written a letter in support. But state officials ended up giving up the grant after utility lobbyists complained they had not been consulted and objected to the grant's scope.

The move was seen as an embarrassment to the energy office, which started meeting routinely with representatives from utilities such as Alliant Energy and MidAmerican to get input on grant applications.

I sought comment from the governor's office on why Kasotia was fired. Governor Branstad's spokesman Jimmy Centers responded, "Iowa law prevents our office from commenting on personnel matters. It's important to note that state agencies, not the governor's office, handle personnel matters within their departments."

Raise your hand if you think Iowa Economic Development Authority Director Debi Durham would fire a senior official in her department without running it by the governor's office.

Incidentally, Kasotia was a merit employee in the Office of Energy Independence under Governor Chet Culver. But when the Branstad administration restructured the office and assigned it to Durham's agency, Kasotia's job as team leader became an "at will" position. Democrats have criticized the governor's policy of making some 350 state employees at will, because those people can be fired for any reason or no reason. In addition, at will employees may be replaced without advertising the job. Senior officials in the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals have challenged their change in job status, and the U.S. Department of Labor had to intervene to block the Iowa Workforce Development director's attempt to make that agency's chief administrative law judge an at will employee.

Someone with as much knowledge and expertise as Kasotia should not be shown the door without a valid reason. Branstad may be be a huge cheerleader for Durham, but when Iowa state senators consider whether to confirm her for another term as Iowa's top economic development official, they should question her about Kasotia's firing.

P.S.- Durham's confirmation hearing could be one of the most contentious during the upcoming legislative session. Democratic lawmakers will also challenge Durham on why she committed Iowa to more than $100 million in unnecessary state tax incentives for one foreign-owned corporation. They may also ask why she has taken several annual bonuses to put her total compensation well above the salary cap defined by state law.

P.P.S.- Kasotia's ouster makes me more concerned that the Iowa Utilities Board (now run entirely by Branstad appointees) will take administrative steps to overturn a recent Iowa Supreme Court ruling, which went against utility companies' interests.

UPDATE: Added portions of the Des Moines Register's January 6 editorial after the jump.

SECOND UPDATE: Des Moines Cityview's Civic Skinny column discussed the firing as well. Scroll down for excerpts.

THIRD UPDATE: Added Governor Branstad's latest comments below.

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Final news roundup of how Harkin and Grassley voted

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Dec 17, 2014 at 19:36:37 PM CST

Senator Tom Harkin cast his final votes in Congress yesterday as the upper chamber wrapped up the lame-duck session. He and Senator Chuck Grassley were on opposite sides as Democrats confirmed a batch of presidential nominees on Monday and Tuesday. You can view all the roll calls here; the nominees were approved mostly along party lines. They included several judges and assistant secretaries of various agencies and Dr. Vivek Murthy, confirmed as surgeon general by 51 votes to 43, with only one Republican yes vote. Murthy had been the target of a relentless "smear campaign" by conservative media and the National Rifle Association, because of his comment in October 2012 that "Guns are a health care issue."

The conservative media attacks against Murthy began in early March. Coverage of his nomination focused on his past acknowledgement that gun violence affects public health, which conservative media spun as evidence Murthy is obsessed with gun regulations. (Murthy has actually said his focus as Surgeon General will not be on gun violence, but rather obesity.)

Because of strange Senate procedural rules, hardline conservative Republican Senator Ted Cruz inadvertently made this week's raft of confirmations possible. His constitutional point of order against the massive federal government funding bill last Friday prompted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to convene the chamber on Saturday. That gave Democrats more time to set up confirmation votes on nominees this Monday and Tuesday. Rebecca Kaplan of CBS News explained here that the most controversial presidential nominees to be confirmed "thanks to Ted Cruz" are Murthy, Tony Blinken for Deputy Secretary of State, and Sarah SaldaƱa, for Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director in the Department of Homeland Security. Harkin voted for and Grassley against all of those nominees.

Iowa's senators ended up on the same side in one big vote this week: the bill extending dozens of tax breaks for corporations and individuals. Steven Dennis noted in Roll Call,

Handing out mostly corporate tax breaks and adding to the debt to do it has proven to be a popular thing for Congress. Democrats including President Barack Obama spent the better part of 2013 trying to get Republicans to agree to more revenue as part of a budget deal, but are now signing on to deficit expansion for the sake of tax breaks that will expire, again, in two weeks.

Usually, these tax breaks - which range from the R&D tax break to breaks for NASCAR, racehorse owners and wind farms - are touted as incentives - and indeed some senators called them that Tuesday. But it's hard to retroactively incentivize anything - a point made on the Senate floor by outgoing Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who voted no and said the tax bill didn't even have the shelf life of a carton of eggs. [...] After President Barack Obama threatened to veto an emerging deal after the midterms that would have added close to half a trillion to the debt over a decade, the scaled-back bill was all Congress could muster.

The tax extenders bill passed by 76 votes to 16. Joining Iowa's senators in the yes column were possible GOP presidential candidates Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio. Opponents of this bill included Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Elizabeth Warren. Independent Bernie Sanders, who is exploring a presidential campaign as a Democrat, missed yesterday's votes because he was in Iowa.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. Grassley's official statement on the tax extenders bill is after the jump.

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House passes huge government funding bill: How the Iowans voted

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Dec 12, 2014 at 17:19:58 PM CST

Last night the U.S. House approved a $1.1 trillion "cromnibus," a massive continuing resolution to fund most of the federal government through September 2015. The 219 to 206 roll call showed an unusual bipartisan split, with 162 Republicans and 57 Democrats supporting the bill, while 67 Republicans and 139 Democrats voted against it. Many of the most outspoken House progressives and conservatives were against the cromnibus, for different reasons. Only one of Iowa's four U.S. House members voted yes: retiring Republican Tom Latham (IA-03). I have not seen any official statement explaining his reasons.

Republican Steve King (IA-04) opposed the bill primarily because in his view, it did not do enough to block funding for President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration. I've posted some of King's recent statements on the issue after the jump. King's office has not responded to my request for comment on assertions by House Appropriations Committee staff that it would be "impossible" to defend the immigration order. King offered an amendment (full text here) which would have funded "all of the government until January 30 of next year but [would] prohibit any and all funds from being used to carry out the president's lawless, unconstitutional executive amnesty in all its forms." But an analysis by Scott Wong for The Hill suggests that the Obama administration would be able to carry out the executive order even if Congress shut down the federal government.

Iowa Democrats Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) both voted against the funding bill. I have not seen any official statement explaining those votes but will update this post as needed.

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Chutzpah alert: Branstad as defender of the separation of powers

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Dec 03, 2014 at 19:58:40 PM CST

In the busy days before Thanksgiving, I missed this unintentional comedy from Governor Terry Branstad's weekly press conference (hat tip to Todd Dorman):

"There's also a constitutional question about whether the president of the United States has the authority to act unilaterally on issues like this [immigration policy]," Branstad said. "So I expect there's going to be a lot of unanswered questions that I need to get information about and what the impact would have on our state."

Asked if he would take executive action on state immigration policy, Branstad responded, "We don't operate that way in Iowa."

"That's the difference between Washington, D.C., and Iowa," Branstad said. "In Iowa, I'm very careful to recognize the separation of powers and to work with the Legislature."

Where to begin?

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Weekend open thread: More limbo for ethanol industry edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Nov 23, 2014 at 07:50:43 AM CST

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

About a year ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to change the Renewable Fuel Standard, which regulates how much ethanol must be blended into gasoline. Iowa elected officials from both parties expressed unanimous outrage, with Governor Terry Branstad and Representative Bruce Braley seeking out especially prominent roles in the battle against reducing the Renewable Fuel Standard. The very first week of the Iowa legislature's 2014 session, state lawmakers unanimously approved a non-binding resolution urging the EPA to abandon its proposed rule.

The EPA proposal was supposed to become final in the spring of 2014, but political pressure forced a series of delays. Finally, this past Friday the agency announced "that it will not be finalizing 2014 applicable percentage standards under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program before the end of 2014." After the jump I've posted reaction from Senators Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley, Governor Branstad, and Representative Dave Loebsack (D, IA-02).

The immediate impact will be more uncertainty for Iowans whose livelihood depends either directly or indirectly on the ethanol industry. But I would guess that every delay makes it less likely that the EPA will move forward with its original proposal, which could be construed as a victory for Iowa biofuels.

The reality is more complicated than such unusual political consensus implies. At an "all-day pepfest for ethanol" organized by the governor in January, Francis Thicke was the only person to offer the "other side" of the story. Thicke has a doctorate in agronomy and soil science from Iowa State University. His testimony asserted that it is "disingenuous to frame the debate on the Renewable Fuels Standards (RFS) as a struggle between farmers and Big Oil" and that "EPA's proposed changes to the RFS are not that radical." Thicke also pointed out, "Corn ethanol was always meant to be a stepping stone to advanced biofuels." In this guest post, Bleeding Heartland user black desert nomad likewise questioned whether corn ethanol was really "under attack" and argued that "Vested interests want to double-down on endless growth in corn ethanol, but they have lost sight of the long game amidst a tangled web of conflict-of-interest."  

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Countering Bloated Economic Impact Reports

by: daveswen

Thu Nov 20, 2014 at 10:58:17 AM CST

(Thanks to Dave Swenson for this post. Journalists should stop quoting self-serving, industry-generated economic impact numbers. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Iowa was recently informed with quite a bit of media hoopla that the proposed Dakota Access pipeline conveying oil from the Bakken formation in North Dakota to a refinery in Illinois will give a "$1.1 billion boost" to the Iowa economy and support 7,600 jobs.
 
Both numbers are hooey.
 
Before I get to the hooey, however, I need to talk a little bit about economic impact studies.  These studies usually utilize an input-output model of the study region.  These models are initially constructed properly, and they provide reasonable and reliable estimates of the multiplied-through consequences of economic change. Those consequences are often called "the ripple effect" because a change in activity in one industry affects all of the industries that business relies on for inputs; hence, the economic impact.  Done properly, they are useful tools for economic development planning.
 

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Senate roundup: Harkin, Grassley split on Keystone XL, limits on NSA spying, and judges

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Nov 19, 2014 at 12:53:16 PM CST

Iowa's Senators Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin rarely found themselves in agreement during a busy day on the Senate floor yesterday. A bill to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline project fell one vote short of the 60-vote threshold to defeat a filibuster. The roll call shows that Grassley was among the 59 yes votes (all Republicans plus 14 Democrats), while Harkin was among the 41 Democrats who defeated the bill. Scroll to the end of this post to read Grassley's statement on the failure to pass this measure. He backs an "all-of-the-above approach to meet the country's energy needs and give consumers choice." He does not address the reality that oil transported via Keystone XL would likely be sold to foreign markets, having no effect on domestic gasoline prices.

Although several of the pro-Keystone Democrats just lost their seats in this year's elections, nine of them will continue to serve next year. That means future Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will have the votes to overcome a filibuster of future bills on the pipeline. He won't have the 67 votes needed to overcome a presidential veto, but Republicans have vowed to attach Keystone language to "must-pass" bills that President Barack Obama won't want to veto.

Senators also blocked a bill that would have attempted to rein in domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency. Timothy B. Lee wrote a good backgrounder on the USA Freedom Act. The cloture vote failed by 58 to 42. Like almost all the Senate Democrats, Harkin voted for proceeding to debate the bill. Like all but four Republicans, Grassley voted to block efforts to reduce NSA spying on Americans. Members of Congress will revisit this issue next year, but I'm not optimistic any reforms will pass.

Side note: among the senators who are possible Republican presidential candidates in 2016, Ted Cruz voted for the USA Freedom Act. Rand Paul and Marco Rubio voted no. Paul opposed the bill because it did not go far enough, in his view; Rubio voted no because he thought the bill would increase the risk of terrorist attacks in this country.

Last week and this week, the Senate has moved forward on several nominees for vacant judicial spots on U.S. district courts. Harkin supported confirming all of the president's nominees. Grassley voted against cloture on all of the nominations, but Republicans were not able to block any of them from a vote on the floor, because the 60-vote threshold no longer applies to most confirmations. (That could change when Republicans take control of the chamber in the new year.) On the confirmation votes themselves, Grassley opposed most of the judges nominated by the president, with one exception last week and another exception yesterday. Many expect judicial confirmations to stop happening when Grassley becomes chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, but perhaps he will let a few non-controversial nominees through.

A bill reauthorizing the Child Care and Development Block Grant gained massive bipartisan support on Monday, passing by 88 votes to 1. Both Grassley and Harkin backed this bill. In a statement I've enclosed after the jump, Harkin explained how this bill "will expand access to and improve the quality of child care for the more than 1.5 million children and families that benefit from the federal child care subsidy program." President Obama signed this bill today, and Representative Dave Loebsack (D, IA-02) attended the ceremony. He worked on the bill as ranking member of the House Education and Labor subcommittee that covers early childhood issues. I posted Loebsack's statement below Harkin's.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

Note: Over the years I've written dozens of posts about Grassley and Harkin splitting on Senate votes. I expect that to end for the most part in January. If Joni Ernst votes differently from Grassley even five times over the next two years, I'll be shocked.

UPDATE: Added after the jump some of Harkin's recent comments on the Keystone XL pipeline.

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Loebsack joins House Republicans to back Keystone XL pipeline

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Nov 17, 2014 at 12:26:11 PM CST

On Friday the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill to build the Keystone XL pipeline by 252 votes to 161. The roll call shows that all 221 Republicans present supported the bill, including Tom Latham (IA-03) and Steve King (IA-04). Dave Loebsack (IA-02) was among 31 Democrats who joined them. Bruce Braley (IA-01) voted no, along with the majority of the Democratic caucus.

Ed Tibbetts reported for the Quad-City Times that Loebsack's support was "a change from his vote on a similar measure last year." But Loebsack has repeatedly voted for language backing construction of the Keystone pipeline, even if he has not backed every Republican bill on that subject.

Braley also supported Keystone XL at one time, but changed his mind after realizing that the project was not going to live up to promises made about jobs or the ultimate destination of the oil. Loebsack must know those facts too, but he chooses to hide behind talking points: "I was skeptical of side stepping the normal processes, but the jobs attached to building the Keystone Pipeline are too important and can no longer be tied to DC gridlock." No doubt organized labor's support for the pipeline influenced Loebsack's vote.

The U.S. Senate will take up a similar bill on Keystone this week.  Democrat Mary Landrieu is pushing the legislation in a desperate attempt to save her Senate seat. Reality: she is going to lose next month's Louisiana runoff election regardless of what happens with the pipeline.

The White House has "hinted" but not explicitly stated that President Barack Obama would veto legislation designed to force approval of Keystone XL. Obama commented last week,

"Understand what this project is: It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land, down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else. It doesn't have an impact on U.S. gas prices. If my Republican friends really want to focus on what's good for the American people in terms of job creation and lower energy costs, we should be engaging in a conversation about what we are doing to produce more homegrown energy."

Even if the president blocks this attempt, Congressional Republicans will likely include Keystone language in various must-pass bills until Obama goes along sometime next year.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. Blad Plumer's backgrounder on the key arguments for and against the pipeline is a good read.

P.S. I disagree with Paul Deaton's claim that Keystone XL is merely a distraction ("bright shiny object"). He argues that the environmental movement failed by targeting this pipeline instead of making a broader case against tar sands oil. Blocking this pipeline may not be sufficient to keep the tar sands oil in the ground, but it is certainly a necessary condition.

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