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Energy

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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UNI, ISU among country's most affordable "eco-friendly" universities

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Oct 17, 2014 at 16:03:11 PM CDT

The University of Northern Iowa ranks third and Iowa State University twelfth on Best Choice Schools' list of "50 Great Affordable Eco-Friendly Colleges. The website evaluated more than 300 universities to find 50 that had an "estimated net price of under $25,000 a year" as well as "unique structures or lifestyle characteristics that make them leaders in sustainability." The schools included "have all earned formal 'green' ratings from one major agency or another, and most have been recognized by respected groups such as the Sierra Club." The schools were ranked from least expensive to most expensive, and UNI's tuition of $15,232/year secured third place. Best Choice Schools commented,

University of Northern Iowa's on-campus organization c.a.r.e. (creating a responsible environment) promotes Eco-friendliness and sustainable living through a number of on-campus initiatives. In dining services, most disposable items were eliminated and a refillable mug program introduced. A local buying program was also introduced and has successfully reduced packaging and shipping wastes while simultaneously supporting local vendors. The University itself has done its part, too. Currently, a whopping 23 campus buildings are undergoing energy-saving retrofits or renovations.

ISU's tuition of $19,281/year was affordable enough for twelfth place on the list:

Iowa State University has proven itself willing to go above and beyond when it comes to campus sustainability. Ambitiously, it requires all new construction and major renovation projects to achieve LEED Gold certification. So far, it has succeeded, with two of its buildings achieving the even higher status of Platinum. The implementation of tray-less dining services reduced food waste by more than 50%, and the food that is wasted is composted at the University's very own compost facility. Active student groups include a Solar Decathlon team, The GreenHouse Group, and Keep Iowa State Beautiful.

Click here for more information on sustainability initiatives at UNI and here for more information on ISU's Live Green! efforts.

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IA-Sen: First Braley/Ernst debate liveblog and discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Sep 28, 2014 at 16:59:26 PM CDT

In a few minutes Representative Bruce Braley and State Senator Joni Ernst will start their first debate at Simpson College in Indianola. You can watch the debate on KCCI-TV in the Des Moines viewing area and on C-SPAN across the country (in central Iowa that's channel 95).

I previewed what I see as the biggest potential pitfalls for each candidate here. I'll be liveblogging after the jump and will also update later with some reaction to the debate.

UPDATE: KCCI has posted the debate video online. I cleaned up some typos and filled in gaps in the liveblog below.

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IA-Sen: "No Labels" group sucker punches Bruce Braley

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Sep 27, 2014 at 17:01:02 PM CDT

Few members of Congress have done more to link themselves with the "No Labels" movement than U.S. Representative Bruce Braley. He spoke at the group's launch event in December 2010. He participated in the group's December 2011 release of a 12-point action plan to "Make Congress Work." In 2012, Braley co-sponsored "No Budget, No Pay" legislation supported by No Labels; similar language was included in a budget bill President Barack Obama signed the following year. A review of Braley's voting record on a wide range of issues shows many examples of the Democrat voting with the majority of House Republicans and against most members of his own caucus.

When Braley received the No Labels "Problem Solver Seal of Approval" this July, his U.S. Senate campaign enthusiastically spread the news along with a long list of his bipartisan accomplishments in the House.

It must have come as a shock when No Labels turned around and gave Republican State Senator Joni Ernst the same "Problem Solver Seal of Approval" a few days ago. Just in time for the Senate nominees' first debate on Sunday, without any bipartisan legislative accomplishments to speak of, Ernst got outside validation for her campaign's otherwise laughable pivot from the "mother, soldier, conservative" tag line to "mother, soldier, independent leader." All she had to do to gain equal status with Braley was pay lip service to the No Labels "National Strategic Agenda."

I've long believed that No Labels is an "astroturf" (fake grassroots) movement founded on false premises, and that Democrats who got mixed up with the latest incarnation of Beltway "centrists" were making a mistake. Braley may not be the last to learn this lesson the hard way. Follow me after the jump for more thoughts on No Labels' wrong-headed policy stands and political choices.  

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IA-Gov: First Branstad-Hatch debate discussion thread (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Aug 14, 2014 at 16:08:26 PM CDT

Governor Terry Branstad and State Senator Jack Hatch are debating this afternoon at the Iowa State Fair. Iowa Public Television is live-streaming the event and will replay the debate at 7 pm tonight. Share any comments about the governor's race in this thread. I will be updating with my thoughts after the jump.

Branstad has agreed to two other debates with Hatch, but his team are refusing to allow Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds to debate Hatch's running mate, Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon. It's a strange stance for a guy who is determined to make Reynolds the next governor.

UPDATE: My live-blog is after the jump. I will add more links and discussion later. If you missed the debate, you can watch at 7 pm on Iowa Public Television. They may also keep the video up on the IPTV website. SECOND UPDATE: The full debate transcript is now available here.

THIRD UPDATE: Mike Glover saw this debate as a sign Iowa "will actually have a governor's race this year." Click through to read the whole piece; I've posted excerpts below, after the liveblog.

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Weekend open thread: Walking the talk edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Jul 20, 2014 at 08:01:34 AM CDT

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

State Representative Chuck Isenhart, the ranking Democrat on the Iowa House Environmental Protection Committee, has installed solar panels on his Dubuque home as a personal step to address climate change. Details are after the jump. Solar power has a reputation for being expensive to install, but technological advances and policy changes have reduced the payback time for many home and business owners. Isenhart expects to save money in the long-term. A bill approved during this year's legislative session improved Iowa's tax incentives for solar in several ways.

The Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, begins its northern route in Rock Valley today. Good luck to everyone in the Bleeding Heartland community planning to do all or part of RAGBRAI. Last week's weather would have been absolutely perfect; I hope the high temperatures will mostly stay below 90 this week. In its recent feature on "33 useful tips for newbies" to the experience, I found it strange that the Register focused so much on the drinking culture. Carl Voss, a Des Moines bicycling advocate and veteran of 36 RAGBRAIs, unloaded on what he called "sophomoric drivel" in an angry letter to the editor. Excerpt:

Granted, alcohol attracts some riders and non-riders among the more than 10,000 RAGBRAI participants. It happens. But trust me, that isn't the way most participants enjoy RAGBRAI, Iowa and our communities.

Now, flip to the RAGBRAI website, where RAGBRAI (and therefore the Register) includes among the "Top 10 Recommendations for Rider Safety": Do NOT drink alcohol and ride. [...]

Publishing crap like this in your news columns will turn me off to RAGBRAI and the Register.

Another letter to the editor, which I've posted after the jump, focused on the large number of puppy mills near this year's RAGBRAI route. The Iowa legislature passed a bill in 2010 that was designed to reduce abuses at puppy mills, but unfortunately Iowa still has some bad actors in the industry. Adopting a pet from a shelter such as the Animal Rescue League has so many advantages. If your heart is set on a purebred animal, at least visit the breeder's facility before buying a pet.

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Supreme Court ruling will speed up small solar projects in Iowa

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 14, 2014 at 11:42:57 AM CDT

The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday affirmed a lower court ruling that will make it easier for small-scale solar projects to move forward in Iowa. The up-front cost of installing solar panels has long been a barrier to unlocking Iowa's huge potential to generate solar power. Now municipalities, home or business owners will be able to have solar panels installed through a "third-party power purchase agreement," whereby they pay for the electricity generated after installation.

Follow me after the jump for background on this case, key points from the majority ruling, and reaction to the decision. Advocates for solar power in Iowa and elsewhere are enthusiastic about the potential for more small-scale renewable energy projects (sometimes called "distributed generation"). Utility companies are warning that the ruling will drive up electricity costs.  

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Weekend open thread: Iowa Democratic Party convention edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Jun 22, 2014 at 15:34:00 PM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? The Iowa Democratic Party's state convention got overshadowed by the circus-like spectacle Republicans put on in Urbandale yesterday. We're talking about David Young's surprising nomination in IA-03 here. This is an open thread for all other topics.

After the jump I've posted several links about the Democratic convention and the full text (as prepared) of Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley's speech. He seems to have made a good impression, as he did at the Harkin Steak Fry in 2012. O'Malley won't challenge Hillary Clinton for the presidential nomination; he was loyal Clinton surrogate during the 2008 primaries, even after Barack Obama crushed her in his state. If Clinton decides against running for president again, O'Malley could have a lot of upside potential in Iowa. He's much more familiar with this state than your average east-coast governor, having worked as a field organizer for Gary Hart's 1984 Iowa caucus campaign. John Deeth wrote up O'Malley's appearance for gubernatorial nominee Jack Hatch and running mate Monica Vernon in Iowa City.

UPDATE: Added below a short version of what would be the progressive case against O'Malley if he competes in the Iowa caucuses.

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