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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.

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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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Three ways the EPA carbon emissions plan will benefit Iowa, plus Iowa political reaction

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jun 03, 2014 at 11:05:38 AM CDT

Yesterday the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rolled out a proposed rule to reduce carbon emissions from power plants. The full text of the rule and several short fact sheets are available on the EPA's website. Click here to read EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy's speech about the new policy. This fact sheet makes the short and sweet case for targeting power plants, "the largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S." The new policy goal is to "cut carbon pollution from the power sector by 30 percent from 2005 levels" by the year 2030. Other associated benefits: cutting levels of soot and smog in the air by over 25 percent in 2030, and saving money and lives through reducing air pollution. In fact, the EPA estimates $7 in health benefits for every dollar spent to implement the new policy.

While some in the environmental community were hoping for more aggressive carbon reduction targets, the new rule would be a big step in the right direction. For too long, elected officials in Iowa and nationally have ignored evidence that we need to address climate change. Furthermore, coal's "assault on human health" is immense and under-appreciated.

Iowa political reaction to yesterday's news was mostly disappointing but not surprising. I've enclosed noteworthy comments at the end of this post. But first, let's examine three reasons Iowans should embrace the EPA's new rule.  

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IA-03: Monte Shaw's strengths and weaknesses as a candidate

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jun 02, 2014 at 14:42:41 PM CDT

State Senator Brad Zaun won a crowded primary in Iowa's third Congressional district in 2010, and he has led the only public polls in IA-03 this spring, but my best guess is that Iowa Renewable Fuels Association Executive Director Monte Shaw will end up becoming Staci Appel's competition in the general election campaign. I assume no candidate will win 35 percent of the vote in tomorrow's primary, forcing a special district convention to select the nominee. From where I'm sitting, Shaw's strengths as a candidate outweigh his potential weaknesses with Republican voters and delegates.
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Branstad will sign cannabis oil, e-cigarette bills; undecided on dog racing

by: desmoinesdem

Fri May 23, 2014 at 14:05:00 PM CDT

Governor Terry Branstad plans to sign a bill that would allow possession of cannabis oil for the treatment of some seizure disorders, he announced while taping Iowa Public Television's "Iowa Press" program today. He noted the bill will help some children with epilepsy, and he's satisfied its "limited" scope will not increase abuse of marijuana in smokeable form.  

The governor also said he will sign a bill banning the sale of e-cigarettes to children, adding that his wife is a "militant" anti-smoker. Trouble is, that bill was backed by tobacco industry lobbyists. Many public health groups lobbied against the bill.

Branstad has not decided whether to sign the dog racing bill, which would end greyhound racing at one casino in Council Bluffs and get a non-profit casino in Dubuque off the hook for subsidizing the races. His concern isn't the massive giveaway to dog breeders and kennel owners, which makes no sense to me. Rather, he is worried that lobbyists for horse racing interests didn't get their cut from the bailout. O.Kay Henderson reports for Radio Iowa,

"I understand the benefits that the people in Council Bluffs and Dubuque see from this, and the greyhound industry," Branstad says. "My concern is the horse industry was left out of this." [...]

However, the governor's concern is over provisions in the bill that would give the greyhound industry authority to strike deals to simulcast dog and horse races at any of the state's casinos and get all of the profit from it. Today simulcasting deals are only allowed at the casinos in Altoona, Council Bluffs and Dubuque and Iowa's horse industry gets the financial take.

"There is some concern that I'm hearing from my friends in the horse industry. I've always been close with them," Branstad says. "We have a very big and significant horse industry in the state of Iowa."

Branstad has 'til June 2 to decide whether to sign or veto the bill.

"I'm trying to weigh all those things," Branstad says. "I want to do something that's fair to all the communities involved and fair to all the parties and the one group that seems to be, because of the simulcasting provisions of that bill, having some concerns is the horse industry and so I'm carefully reviewing that," Branstad says. "I have not made a final decision."

Environmental activists in Iowa are nervously awaiting the governor's decision on a bill to expand solar tax credits and several spending bills that include record-high funding for the Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) conservation program. The governor recently said he is concerned about various parts of a supplemental spending bill that contained $5 million of the REAP funding. In 2012, Branstad line-item vetoed half a million dollars for Iowa food banks on the Friday before Memorial Day.

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Highlights from this year's Iowa Senate votes on Branstad nominees

by: desmoinesdem

Thu May 08, 2014 at 07:38:29 AM CDT

During the 2014 legislative session, the Iowa Senate confirmed all but a handful of Governor Terry Branstad's more than 200 nominees for state boards and commissions. It's not unusual for senators to vote down one or two appointees, but this year the Senate confirmed everyone who came up for a vote on the floor.

The only close call was former Iowa House Republican Nick Wagner, confirmed to the Iowa Utilities Board last month with just one vote to spare. Branstad originally named Wagner to the three-member utilities board in 2013 but pulled his nomination when it became clear that senators would not confirm him. Branstad named Wagner to that board anyway, right after the Senate adjourned for the year in 2013. By the time his nomination came up for consideration this year, a couple of factors that worked against him were no longer relevant. Former State Senator Swati Dandekar had resigned from the board to run for Congress, so there would no longer be two of three members from Marion (a Cedar Rapids suburb). Furthermore, Branstad named attorney Sheila Tipton to replace Dandekar, so senators could no longer object to the lack of a lawyer on the Iowa Utilities Board.

Still, most of the Democratic caucus opposed Wagner's nomination. State Senator Rob Hogg cited the nominee's support for a bad nuclear power bill that the legislature considered a few years back. Meanwhile, State Senator Matt McCoy (who incidentally wanted to pass the nuclear bill) noted that as a key Iowa House Republican on budget matters, Wagner "was not willing to listen" and "took very difficult and very hard-line positions." After the jump I've posted the roll call on the Wagner nomination; 11 Democrats joined all 24 Republicans to confirm him.

As in recent years, the governor withdrew a handful of nominees who were not likely to gain at least 34 votes (a two-thirds majority) in the upper chamber. A few nominees for low-profile boards had to go because of party imbalance issues. Chet Hollingshead, one of seven Branstad appointees to the Mental Health and Disability Services Commission, never came up for a vote, presumably because of a theft incident Bleeding Heartland user Iowa_native described here.

I am not sure why Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal informed Branstad that Jason Carlstrom was unlikely to be confirmed as chair of the Iowa Board of Parole. The governor first appointed Carlstrom to that position in the summer of 2012, to fill out the remainder of someone else's term. The Iowa Senate unanimously confirmed him during the 2013 legislative session. When Branstad reappointed Carlstrom to the parole board this year, I didn't expect him to run into any trouble. I will update this post if I learn more details.

The highest-profile nominee withdrawn by Branstad was former Iowa House Republican Jamie Van Fossen, whom the governor wanted to chair the Public Employment Relations Board. Cityview's Civic Skinny described the backstory well; I've posted excerpts after the jump. Van Fossen still serves on that board, having been confirmed to a full term in 2012. But the new chair will be Mike Cormack, a Republican who served four terms in the Iowa House and later worked for the State Department of Education. Senators unanimously confirmed Cormack last month. The outgoing Public Employment Relations Board chair, Jim Riordan, has alleged that the board faced political pressure from Branstad staffers to hire an employer-friendly administrative law judge.

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IA-Sen: Braley learns painful lesson in 21st century campaigning (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 25, 2014 at 17:59:19 PM CDT

Every candidate for public office has to learn basic rules of campaigning, such as, "Every mic is a live mic." In other words, always assume you may be overheard when you stand next to a microphone, even if you think it's not turned on.

In the age of camera phones and YouTube, candidates may be speaking into a live mic even when there's no microphone to be seen. Representative Bruce Braley, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Iowa, learned that lesson the hard way today.  

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Ethanol Hearing

by: Francis Thicke

Thu Jan 23, 2014 at 21:15:57 PM CST

(In addition to earning a Ph.D in agronomy/soil science, Thicke is an organic farmer and was the Democratic nominee for Iowa secretary of agriculture in 2010. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Today I attended the hearing put on by Governor Branstad to bash the EPA for proposing to change the rules on the Renewable Fuels Standard for ethanol.  It was an all-day pepfest for ethanol.  I came late, but I think was the only one to talk about the "other side" of ethanol.Here are my remarks (although the footnote explanations and references don't come through):
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Corn ethanol under attack, or is it?

by: black desert nomad

Wed Jan 22, 2014 at 01:06:46 AM CST

(Here's a view you won't hear from Iowa elected officials of either party. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Later this week state and regional agribusiness leaders will gather at the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates to cheerlead for corn ethanol.  The agenda for this “Hearing in the Heartland” is to rail against a proposed update to the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The bipartisan entrenchment against the update suggests corn ethanol is being somehow threatened, but despite the fanfare it really isn’t.

The EPA’s update to the 2007 law deals mostly with 2nd and 3rd generation biofuels. The proposed volume requirements don't hinder corn ethanol; the grain mandates shifts a few percent as business models tend to do when they are updated after 7 years.  The long-term prospects for next generation biofuels also remain strong. So why an update?  Projections for next generation biofuel have not panned out, yet. Simply put: science & engineering need to catch up to ambitious policy.

Corn ethanol was always meant as a stepping stone to “advanced” biofuels. The RFS update only seriously impedes corn if convoluted math is done to figure corn as the stop-gap filler for our old overestimates for next generation biofuels. 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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"Alarm bells" over impact of new trade agreement on states' rights

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jan 16, 2014 at 13:05:24 PM CST

"States' rights" has typically been a rallying cry among American conservatives, but six Democratic Iowa legislators are concerned that the Trans-Pacific Partnership now being negotiated may infringe on local control and states' ability to legislate in the public interest. In an open letter, 43 state lawmakers have asked 23 state attorneys general, including Iowa's Tom Miller, to analyze the Trans-Pacific Partnership's possible impact on state and local governments.

I've enclosed the text of the letter below, along with a news release on the initiative from the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators. The Iowans who signed are State Representatives Chuck Isenhart, Marti Anderson, Dan Kelley and Curt Hanson, and State Senators Bill Dotzler and Joe Bolkcom. The letter spells out ten areas of state regulation that signers fear could be undermined by the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Isenhart stressed that the lawmakers' concerns go beyond environmental issues, citing Iowa's support for the biofuels industry as well as state policies to protect consumers and discourage smoking.

President Barack Obama is seeking to fast-track the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Activists who oppose the trade agreement have criticized the secrecy surrounding the negotiations as well as the agreement's tilt toward corporations and potential to undermine environmental and public health protections.

UPDATE: Bleeding Heartland user cocinero notes in the comments that the American Cancer Society is concerned about this trade agreement. At the end of this post I've enclosed a joint statement from Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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Mid-week open thread: Coal is not cheap edition

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jan 15, 2014 at 19:55:00 PM CST

Here's your mid-week open thread, Bleeding Heartland readers: all topics welcome. Earlier this evening, Governor Terry Branstad made his re-election campaign official. I'll post a roundup of news clips and highlights tomorrow morning.

One thing's been bothering me all week. We hear so much about how renewable energy is too expensive for consumers compared to coal and other fossil fuels used to generate electricity. But we don't often calculate the hidden costs of this allegedly "cheap" coal. Even under normal circumstances, coal takes an enormous toll on human health every step of the way, from mining to combustion to waste disposal. Chronic illnesses shorten lives, reduce productivity and can be expensive to treat.

Costs escalate when a catastrophe happens like last week's chemical spill in West Virginia. Not only were 300,000 people in the area left without usable water for days, residents of Cincinnati may be affected too as the pollution flows downstream. Taxpayers will foot the bill for the emergency water deliveries and probably most of the cleanup. The government board that will investigate the chemical spill lacks the resources to do its job properly.

Here's some good news, though, courtesy of the Iowa Environmental Council's blog:

Iowa is also making progress retiring coal-fired generation.  In fact, a recent announcement by Alliant energy that it will convert its M.L. Kapp station in Clinton to burn natural gas means that Iowa utilities have announced over one gigawatt of coal retirement in the last year.  These announcements include three Iowa plants involved in a settlement over Clean Air Act violations the Sierra Club reached with MidAmerican Energy last year.

Click through for a table showing coal-fired plants in Iowa that will either close or shift to natural gas. (Disclosure: I'm involved with the Iowa Environmental Council but not with their blog.)

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IA-Sen, IA-Gov: Braley and Branstad go to bat for biofuels (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Dec 05, 2013 at 11:36:00 AM CST

Last month Iowa politicians from both parties expressed outrage after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a proposal to alter the Renewable Fuel Standard on how much ethanol must be blended into gasoline. At an EPA hearing in Washington today, Representative Bruce Braley (a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee) and Governor Terry Branstad both testified against reducing the Renewable Fuel Standard. Several Iowa farmers and representatives of corn and soybeans growers also spoke and met with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy afterwards.

After the jump I've posted a statement from Braley's office containing highlights from his remarks and a link to the video. Branstad warned that reducing the RFS could lead to another farm crisis like the one Iowa experienced during the 1980s. I will add more details from his testimony if they become available. I expect both Braley and Branstad to feature their advocacy for ethanol and biodiesel in their campaigns for the U.S. Senate and governor next year.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that last month, Branstad's re-election campaign created a "Protect the Renewable Fuel Standard" website. I've added more details on that effort below. Like the pro-Olympic wrestling site the campaign launched earlier this year, ProtectTheRFS.com presents as a petition supporting a popular cause in Iowa, doubling as a way to build the Branstad campaign's contact list.

The progressive 501(c)4 group Americans United for Change announced today that it will run a commercial on Des Moines-based television stations to support the Renewable Fuels Standard. Scroll to the end of this post for the video and transcript. The ad encourages viewers to send their comments to the EPA by visiting a website called SavetheRFS.com (a list-building effort like the one Branstad's campaign created). The veterans political action committee VoteVets.org, which is part of the Americans United for Change coalition, operates SavetheRFS.com.

SECOND UPDATE: Added more comments from Branstad below.

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Weekend open thread: Outrages of the week

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 08:05:00 AM CST

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread. Here are a few links to get a conversation started.

A Polk County district court ruling related to one of Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz's pet projects called attention to the fact that Schultz was in Switzerland for the American Swiss Foundation's 24th annual Young Leaders Conference, a weeklong event. Whether the secretary of state should attend a foreign junket like this at any time is debatable. But it's ridiculous for him to have planned to be out of town when Iowa's 99 county auditors were gathering in Des Moines to discuss election-related issues. The Iowa Democratic Party and the only declared Democratic candidate for secretary of state blasted Schultz. I've posted their comments below, along with the official defense from the Iowa Secretary of State's spokesman.

Speaking of Schultz's pet projects, here's some important news from last month: the federal judge who wrote a key ruling upholding Indiana's voter ID law now believes he got that case wrong.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on Friday that it is proposing to alter the Renewable Fuel Standard on how much ethanol must be blended into gasoline. The announcement upset Iowa elected officials from both parties. After the jump I've posted statements from Governor Terry Branstad, Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, and all of the Iowans in Congress except for Representative Tom Latham (R, IA-03), who has not commented on this issue to my knowledge.

The Associated Press reported this week on how the push to produce corn-based ethanol has damaged the environment in Iowa and elsewhere.

One last outrage: Will Potter reported for Mother Jones about a case that "could make it harder for journalists and academics to keep tabs on government agencies." The FBI is going to court to prevent its "most prolific" Freedom of Information Act requester from accessing hundreds of thousands of pages of documents.

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