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Bloomfield, Iowa pushing for energy independence by 2030

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Oct 02, 2015 at 13:49:51 PM CDT

The Davis County seat of Bloomfield (population 2,640) is "instituting aggressive strategies to become energy independent by 2030," Karen Uhlenhuth reported for Midwest Energy News on October 1.

The city council in Bloomfield decided to pursue the goal of energy independence after a pair of consultants and the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities last fall produced a study that concluded that with a lot of efficiency upgrades and a relatively modest investment in renewable energy, the town could meet all of its electricity needs with locally-produced power.

One advantage Bloomfield has is a municipal utility, which tends to be more open to reducing power sales, said Tom Wind, one of the authors of the study.

Iowa's 136 municipal electric utilities "have a lot of flexibility to do different things because they are governed by the city council or a local board of trustees," Wind wrote in an e-mail. "For example, they can tailor any new power-supply contract with the flexibility they need to accommodate local wind and solar generation. A community served by an investor-owned utility has no say about where their power comes from."

Click through to read Uhlenhuth's whole piece, which describes the mix of energy efficiency, solar, and geothermal projects expected to help Bloomfield reduce energy consumption while increasing production. City staff recently visited the Fayette County seat of West Union to learn about its installation of geothermal heating and permeable pavement. Bleeding Heartland discussed West Union's successful streetscape project here.

The non-profit news site Midwest Energy News (on the web here and on Twitter here) is a must-follow for anyone interested in energy policy, especially renewable energy.

Speaking of which, Midwest Energy News just announced the winners of their new "40 under 40" award to recognize leaders in the field of clean energy. Two Iowans made the list out of hundreds nominated from seven states. Congratulations to Paritosh Kasotia and Dwight Stewart; I've posted their short bios after the jump.

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Iowa Democratic caucus links and latest polls

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Sep 24, 2015 at 12:59:06 PM CDT

It's been a while since Bleeding Heartland had a discussion thread about the Democratic caucus campaign. After the jump I've posted highlights from the latest opinion polls of Iowa Democrats and other links on campaign infrastructure and strategies. Whether Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders is building a stronger Iowa organization so far is an open question.

Any comments about the caucuses are welcome in this thread.

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Is the Promise of Natural Gas Waning?

by: parikasotia

Tue Sep 15, 2015 at 11:49:01 AM CDT

(The former leader of the Iowa Energy Office and founder of the non-profit Unfolding Energy challenges some assumptions about natural gas as a "bridge" between coal-fired power plants and renewable energy production. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

The final Clean Power Plan released on August underplays the role of natural gas in reducing carbon emissions in comparison to the draft Clean Power Plan rules released in 2014. According to the America's Natural Gas Alliance President Martin Durbin, initial indications from the final Clean Power Plan rues indicate that the White House discounted gas's ability to reduce GHG emissions quickly and reliably while contributing to growth and helping consumers.

For the last few years, natural gas was considered to be a bridge between carbon-intensive fuels such as coal and the clean energy of the future. Given that natural gas releases 50% fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to coal, it was certainly a great substitute. However, the recent growth in the renewable energy industry is quickly proving that we may not need this bridge fuel after all.  Here is why.  

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Pella Electric Cooperative drops discriminatory charge for solar users

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Aug 28, 2015 at 17:22:13 PM CDT

The Pella Electric Cooperative has told the Iowa Utilities Board it will no longer seek to charge some customers using solar panels a much higher "facilities fee," Karen Uhlenhuth reported today for Midwest Energy News. The rural electric cooperative had informed members in June that customers installing new solar panels after August 15 would be charged a monthly fee of $85, which is $57.50 higher than what most of the Pella Electric customers pay. Those who had already installed solar systems would be exempt from the higher fee for five years, but would have to start paying it in 2020.

The cooperative's action provoked an outcry from renewable energy advocates as well as from the handful of Pella Electric customers who would have been immediately affected. Uhlenhuth noted that the non-profit Environmental Law & Policy Center intervened with the Iowa Utilities Board, saying "a fee levied only on customers with distributed generation facilities ran counter to two provisions in Iowa law." The Office of Consumer Advocate (part of the Iowa Attorney General's office) asked the cooperative to provide data supporting a much higher monthly fee for solar users. The cooperative had refused to release its "cost of service" study last month.

To all appearances, the coop backed down once leaders realized they were on shaky legal ground, much like Alliant Energy reversed its position on net metering for some solar projects, shortly after critics had intervened with the utilities board. Uhlenhuth quoted a statement released by the Pella cooperative, which sounds like an unconvincing attempt to save face. The coop's chief executive officer John Smith claimed it is "incorrect" to depict the higher facilities fee as "discriminatory." He is sticking to his story that charging solar users more was merely an effort to be "fair" to other customers. While not admitting that the cooperative was wrong, the statement said it is withdrawing the proposal "until such time that we can better educate our members and the community as to the fair and equitable recovery of fixed costs."

A press release from the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which I enclose in full below, notes that the Pella cooperative already benefits from solar panels installed by its customers, because it "buys excess solar energy at a rock bottom price" of 3.3 cents per kilowatt-hour and "sells it at a premium" price of 10.1 cents per kWh. (I'm an active supporter of the ELPC, but I have no role in drafting their public statements or legal strategy.)

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Major utility's about-face is big win for solar power in Iowa

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Aug 11, 2015 at 06:59:41 AM CDT

One of Iowa's major investor-owned utilities has changed a policy that was impeding new solar power projects, Karen Uhlenhuth reported for Midwest Energy News over the weekend. Follow me after the jump for background and details on this excellent news.
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What the Clean Power Plan will mean for Iowa

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Aug 04, 2015 at 14:00:00 PM CDT

Yesterday the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released the final version of its Clean Power Plan for existing power plants, the "first-ever national standards to limit carbon pollution from power plants." The final rule differs from the EPA's original proposal last June in several respects. An EPA fact sheet spells out the key changes to the Iowa targets:

The goals are much closer together than at proposal. Compared to proposal, the highest (least stringent) goals got tighter, and the lowest (most stringent) goals got looser.

o Iowa's 2030 goal is 1,283 pounds per megawatt-hour. That's on the high end of this range, meaning Iowa has one of the least stringent state goals, compared to other state goals in the final Clean Power Plan.
o Iowa's step 1 interim goal of 1,638 pounds per megawatt-hour reflects changes EPA made to provide a smoother glide path and less of a "cliff" at the beginning of the program.

You can read the final Clean Power Plan and related documents here. The EPA has posted a good summary of current climate change research here. After the jump I've enclosed excerpts from a White House list of benefits from the plan, the EPA's two-page fact sheet about Iowa, and a graphic showing how much power plants contribute to U.S. carbon emissions relative to other major sources.

Renewable energy resources should make it easy for Iowa to meet the carbon emissions targets. I've also enclosed below excerpts from Donnelle Eller's report for the Des Moines Register and Alisa Meggett's commentary for the Cedar Rapids Gazette. The facts about wind and solar power's potential belie scary rhetoric from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and various groups funded by fossil fuels interests about how the Clean Power Plan will affect businesses and consumers.

Reducing carbon emissions will incur massive collateral health benefits. The Physicians for Social Responsibility report Coal's Assault on Human Health is still the best one-stop shop on why coal combustion causes so many premature deaths and chronic health problems. On the editorial page of today's Des Moines Register, Dr. Yogesh Shah, associate dean of global health at Des Moines University, outlined the "human health effects of climate change," which "are real and already being felt in Iowa." Scroll to the end of this post to read excerpts, or better yet, click through to read his whole piece.  

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Calling Iowa's young leaders on clean energy

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jul 30, 2015 at 23:15:00 PM CDT

Midwest Energy News, a non-profit news website supported by non-profits focused on energy policy, is launching an award to recognize "emerging leaders throughout the region and their work to accelerate America's transition to a clean energy economy." The site will accept nominations for the "40 Under 40" designation here "until either 250 nominations are received or 10:00 p.m. CT on Monday, August 10." Eligible candidates include "midwest-based leaders and innovators from all sectors -industry, government, regulatory, business, academic, and advocacy."

I learned about the 40 Under 40 competition from State Representative Chuck Isenhart, who will serve on the selection advisory committee for Midwest Energy News. Isenhart is the ranking Democrat on the Iowa House Environmental Protection Committee and has been a strong voice in the Iowa legislature on a range of environmental issues.

Through volunteering for various non-profits, I have become acquainted with several Iowans who deserve serious consideration for the new award, and I plan to encourage their colleagues to nominate them. The candidate who immediately came to my mind, though, is someone I've never met. Paritosh Kasotia is the founder and CEO of Unfolding Energy, a non-profit "founded on a premise that clean energy choices can safeguard the climate as well as create economic growth." She is best known as the highly capable former leader of the Iowa Energy Office; I enclose below more background on that part of her career. Late last year, leaders of the Iowa Economic Development Authority fired Kasotia for reasons never explained to anyone's satisfaction. Some suspected the dismissal was related to a $1 million solar power grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, which Kasotia helped land but Iowa eventually relinquished after Branstad administration officials "amended an original proposal and insisted the grant not be used to evaluate solar energy policies - a change that utility lobbyists sought," Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press last July.

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Pella Electric Cooperative trying to discourage customers from installing solar or wind

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 27, 2015 at 18:01:32 PM CDT

Solar power made big news in Iowa today, as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke in Des Moines about ambitious goals for installing solar panels. In a forthcoming post, Bleeding Heartland will compare the Democratic presidential candidates' proposals to combat climate change by increasing renewable energy production and decreasing carbon emissions.

Iowa has tremendous potential to generate electricity from the sun. Recognizing that fact, large bipartisan majorities in the Iowa House and Senate "triple[d] the size of Iowa's successful solar tax incentive program" in 2014 and during this year's session increased available solar energy tax incentive funds by another $500,000 to $5 million per year.

But some segments of the utilities sector have been slow to embrace solar power. One of Iowa's major investor-owned utilities persuaded the Iowa Utilities Board to block certain financing arrangements that made it easier for customers to install solar panels. An appeal of that administrative decision went to the Iowa Supreme Court, which overturned the Iowa Utilities Board last year.

Rural electric cooperatives, which supply electricity to roughly 650,000 Iowans, have approached renewable energy and solar power in vastly different ways. Farmers Electric Cooperative in the Kalona area installed the largest solar farm in Iowa last year.  

But as first reported by Karen Uhlenhuth at Midwest Energy News last week, the Pella Electric Cooperative is seeking to penalize customers who choose to install new solar or other renewable technology. Lee Rood picked up the story on the front page of today's Des Moines Register. The cooperative's new monthly charge for a handful of consumers is brazen and probably illegal.  

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Desmund Adams first Democrat running in IA-03: Five themes of his campaign

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 20, 2015 at 17:51:32 PM CDT

This morning, business owner Desmund Adams became the first Democratic candidate in Iowa's third Congressional district. His campaign is on the web here as well as on Facebook and Twitter. State Representative Ako Abdul-Samad attended the event and confirmed to me that he will support Adams for Congress. Former State Senator and gubernatorial candidate Jack Hatch was there too and told me he is "encouraging" Adams to run.

I enclose below more background on Adams and five themes from his remarks today, along with details on first-term Representative David Young's record in those areas.

Leaders in both parties expect IA-03 to be competitive in 2016. Young is on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's target list and in the National Republican Congressional Committee's incumbent protection program. The latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State's office indicate that 150,925 active registered Democrats, 162,921 Republicans, and 162,161 no-party voters live in IA-03. The district covers sixteen counties in central and southwest Iowa. About two-thirds of the Democrats and more than half of all registered voters reside in Polk County, containing Des Moines and most of its suburbs.

I hope to see a competitive Democratic primary, which would help raise the eventual nominee's profile and likely sharpen his or her skills on the stump. Other potential candidates include State Senator Matt McCoy, former Governor Chet Culver, and Jim Mowrer, the 2014 Democratic nominee against Steve King in IA-04. Since Young's 2014 opponent Staci Appel ruled out a repeat Congressional bid, I have not heard of any Democratic women actively considering this race, but if one emerges, the EMILY's List political action committee may get involved on her behalf.  

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Five ways cleaning up coal-fired power plants will save Iowans' lives

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jul 17, 2015 at 10:05:28 AM CDT

The best news in Iowa this week came out of a federal courtroom in Cedar Rapids. As Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press, "Iowa's second-largest power company agreed Wednesday to drastically cut pollution at several coal-fired power plants under a Clean Air Act settlement that's expected to make the air safer and easier to breathe around the state." You can read the full consent decree here and the complaint filed against the Alliant Energy subsidiary Interstate Power and Light here.

Huge credit for the victory goes to the Sierra Club Iowa chapter. Foley reports that this federal government enforcement action "started in 2011 when the Sierra Club filed a notice accusing the company [Interstate Power and Light] of violating the Clean Air Act." The Sierra Club advocates for a range of policies to reduce air pollution and Iowa's reliance on coal to generate electricity.

I enclose below highlights from Foley's article and five reasons the changes at the affected power plants will save Iowans' lives.

The agreement U.S. officials reached with Interstate Power and Light is also an encouraging sign that a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision against the Environmental Protection Agency's rule on mercury emissions is at most a temporary setback for clean air. In some communities, the court's ruling won't even slow down efforts to convert coal-fired plants to other fuel sources.

If only Governor Terry Branstad, who has often spoken of his desire to make Iowa the "healthiest state," could recognize the benefits of burning less coal. Although Branstad was happy to bask in the reflected glory of new pollution controls at one of the affected Interstate Power and Light power plants, he welcomed the U.S. Supreme Court ruling against the mercury rule, which the governor's office characterized as a "misguided" EPA regulation.  

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IA-Sen: Rob Hogg exploring challenge to Chuck Grassley

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 08, 2015 at 12:40:00 PM CDT

Democratic State Senator Rob Hogg announced today,

I have formed an exploratory committee to consider becoming a candidate for the United States Senate in 2016.  Like many Iowans, I believe we need Congress to work better for all of our citizens and our country's future.  If we had a Congress that worked better, we could:

> Build a vibrant, full-employment economy that works for all Americans.
> Improve public health and public safety through prevention, prevention, and more prevention.
> Strengthen Social Security and Medicare and fulfill our commitments to seniors, veterans, and people living with disabilities.
> Confront the challenge of our century - climate change - through solutions that work for our economy, our health, and our environment.

Hogg didn't set a timetable for deciding on a U.S. Senate bid but said he will travel around Iowa in the coming weeks. His full press release and official bio are after the jump. His exploratory committee is on the web here. He's on Twitter @SenatorRobHogg and on Facebook here.

Hogg was just re-elected to his third four-year term in the Iowa Senate last November, so he would not have to give up his legislative seat in order to run for U.S. Senate in 2016. Most recently, he has chaired the Iowa Senate Government Oversight Committee; before that, he chaired the Judiciary Committee. He is among the most outspoken Iowa lawmakers on climate change and other environmental issues.

Two Democrats have already announced plans to run against Grassley: former State Representative Bob Krause and former State Senator Tom Fiegen. They recently discussed their key issues with Mike Glover of the Iowa Daily Democrat. Krause and Fiegen also competed in the 2010 Democratic primary, which Roxanne Conlin won with about 77 percent of the vote.

UPDATE: Added below further comments from Hogg, via Iowa Starting Line.

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Iowa Congressional voting catch-up thread: Defense, trade, Medicare, chemicals, and power plants

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jun 29, 2015 at 23:51:38 PM CDT

While Congress is on recess until after July 4, it's time to catch up on an unusually busy few weeks in June for U.S. House members. Bleeding Heartland previously covered how Iowa's representatives voted on the failed and successful attempts to pass trade promotion authority, repeal of country-of-origin labeling requirements for meat, a bill to eliminate a tax on medical devices, and the Intelligence Authorization Act.

Follow me after the jump to find out how Democrat Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04) voted on the latest defense budget bill, more trade-related policies, and legislation dealing with chemical safety, Medicare cost controls, and regulations of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Iowa's representatives also voted last week on a matter relating to the growing national controversy over Confederate symbols.

Something you don't see often when looking through Congressional roll calls: three of Iowa's four House members crossed party lines more than once during the floor debate on the defense budget.

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No single issue is worth risking the Iowa Senate majority

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jun 16, 2015 at 08:22:02 AM CDT

Shortly before the end of this year's legislative session, former State Representative Ed Fallon announced "political action" to stop the proposed Bakken Oil Pipeline. He warned that if the Iowa House and Senate did not approve a bill to block the use of eminent domain for the project, he would organize and fundraise "to help defeat one or two Democratic Senators and one or two Republican Representatives" who oppose the bill.

On June 5, the Iowa House and Senate adjourned for the year without passing an eminent domain bill in either chamber. Last week Fallon confirmed that he is sticking to his goal of defeating one or two majority party members in both the House and Senate, adding that he had already raised $4,500 toward the cause.

All I can say is, count me out of that political crusade.

Come to think of it, I have a few more things to say on the subject.

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Iowa Utilities Board chair won't recuse herself on Bakken pipeline

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jun 05, 2015 at 12:22:49 PM CDT

Iowa Utilities Board Chair Geri Huser "will help decide whether to build a major oil pipeline even though her family law firm has represented a landowner trying to block it," Ryan Foley reported yesterday for the Associated Press. Shortly after Governor Terry Branstad named Huser to the utilities board in March, Foley reported that Huser's brother R. Bradley Skinner "has represented farmers who oppose the $3.8 billion [Bakken] pipeline that would transport crude oil from North Dakota across Iowa." Skinner is no longer the landowners' legal counsel, and Huser has said she wasn't aware of her brother's involvement in the Bakken pipeline dispute.

The latest AP story notes that Huser's decision not to recuse herself

means all three [Iowa Utilities] board members will vote on whether to approve the $3.8 billion underground pipeline, avoiding a possible deadlock. But legal experts say parties may request Huser's recusal due to the appearance of bias, and if she declines, the issue could be raised during any appeals of the board's decision.

I have a bad feeling that any appeals of the board's decision will come from pipeline opponents rather than from Dakota Access, LLC, the subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners that wants to build the Bakken pipeline through eighteen counties from northwest to southeast Iowa.  

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Ed Fallon arrested after sit-in at governor's office over Bakken pipeline (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon May 18, 2015 at 22:05:43 PM CDT

Former state lawmaker Ed Fallon is in police custody tonight after he refused to leave Governor Terry Branstad's office at the close of business today. Fallon went to the governor's office this afternoon demanding a meeting to discuss "eminent domain legislation that would help landowners along the path of the Bakken Oil Pipeline." More details are in a press release I've enclosed after the jump. Branstad's legal counsel Michael Bousselot came out to talk with Fallon, who insisted on a meeting or phone conversation with the governor himself. Brianne Pfannenstiel reported for the Des Moines Register,

When the statehouse closed at 5 p.m., Iowa State Patrol troopers approached Fallon and asked if he would be willing to leave, or be arrested for criminal trespassing. Fallon declined to leave, so he was escorted out of the building and arrested outside.

A supporter posted on Facebook this evening that Fallon has a "jail support team attending to all his needs" and "will probably be released sometime tomorrow." When Fallon served in the Iowa House from 1995 through the 2006 session, land use issues were a focal point of his legislative efforts. During and since that time, Fallon has opposed various proposals to use eminent domain to seize farmland for use in for-profit ventures. Earlier this year, he walked from the southeast corner of Iowa to the northeast corner along the proposed pipeline route to raise awareness and mobilize landowners and others who oppose the project. The No Bakken website and Facebook page represent a coalition of some two dozen non-profit groups that oppose the project.

The eminent domain bill Fallon wants Branstad to support is Senate File 506 (previously Senate Study Bill 1276), which passed the Iowa Senate Government Oversight Committee on May 6 with support from Democratic State Senators Rob Hogg, Brian Schoenjahn, and Kevin Kinney, and Republican Jack Whitver. Branstad warned state lawmakers in January not to "get politics into this" debate over the pipeline. The governor wants to leave the decision to the Iowa Utilities Board, which is considered likely to approve the pipeline. The Sierra Club Iowa chapter plans to fight the project before every state and federal agency that would be involved.

UPDATE: Fallon was released from jail the same evening he was arrested. In a press release I've posted below, he says he's due in court on May 27 and hasn't decided "what legal route to take yet."

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House passes first 2016 spending bills: How the Iowans voted

by: desmoinesdem

Tue May 05, 2015 at 06:53:47 AM CDT

Catching up on Congressional news, last week the U.S. House approved a joint Republican framework setting top-line numbers for the federal budget as well as the first two spending bills for the 2016 fiscal year, which begins on October 1. Along the way, House members considered amendments covering a wide range of issues, from regulations on incandescent light bulbs to "prevailing wage" rules for federal construction projects to medical marijuana advice for Americans who receive their health care through the Veterans Administration.

Follow me after the jump for details on the latest votes by Iowa Democrat Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04).

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Still not convinced Martin O'Malley is running for president

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Apr 12, 2015 at 22:49:00 PM CDT

Former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley has been laying the groundwork for a presidential campaign for quite a while. These past few days, he continued to walk and talk just like a presidential candidate would in Iowa. On Thursday, he spoke at Simpson College and headlined a fundraiser for State Representative Scott Ourth before speaking to a good crowd in a heavily Democratic Des Moines neighborhood. The next day, he taped an episode of "Iowa Press" on Iowa Public Television (video and full transcript here; excerpts after the jump). O'Malley wrapped up Friday with a well-received speech at the Polk County Democrats' spring event (click through for video or audio). The stump speech blended a summary of his accomplishments as Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor with a vision for the future. For laughs and applause, he threw in some good jabs at tea party Republicans. Before and after the speech, O'Malley worked the room of activists. His staff had put down placemats and postcards for people to take home.

Yet I still can't shake the feeling that O'Malley will not follow through with running for president.  

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Outgoing Iowa Utilities Board member slams Branstad's attempt to "appease" major utility

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Apr 03, 2015 at 09:45:28 AM CDT

Outgoing Iowa Utilities Board member Sheila Tipton sent Governor Terry Branstad a scathing letter after not being reappointed to the three-member board last month, Ryan Foley reported yesterday for the Associated Press. Tipton defended a board decision from earlier this year, which greatly displeased MidAmerican Energy. She warned that by removing her and demoting Iowa Utilities Board Chair Libby Jacobs, Branstad was undermining state agencies' independence "in order to appease MidAmerican Energy," thereby doing "a disservice to the citizens of this State."

Tipton also characterized Branstad's recent personnel changes as  "unfair," saying she had received verbal assurances in 2013 that she would be reappointed to a full six-year term if she accepted the governor's offer to serve out Swati Dandekar's unexpired term.

I enclose the full text of Tipton's letter after the jump, along with a statement provided by the governor's office, which defends the appointment of Geri Huser and denies that Tipton was promised a full term on the Iowa Utilities Board.

Even if Branstad or his staff did promise verbally to reappoint Tipton, the governor retains the right to change his mind. However, Tipton is unquestionably correct that the latest Iowa Utilities Board changes look like "an attempt to 'bring the agency in line' and to influence its future decision-making in a way that favors the utilities."

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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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