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Iowa DNR

Iowa Supreme Court rejects Farm Bureau's effort to nullify clean water rules (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jul 11, 2014 at 18:08:12 PM CDT

In a 4-3 split decision, the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed today a Polk County District Court ruling that dismissed a lawsuit seeking to nullify new state water quality rules.

The environmental community and groups representing big agribusiness have closely watched this case for years, because the "antidegradation" rules are an important step toward bringing Iowa into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act. Had this lawsuit succeeded, no strong water quality rules would have seen the light of day for the forseeable future in Iowa, because Governor Terry Branstad has packed the State Environmental Protection Commission with advocates for agribusiness.

Follow me after the jump for more background on the case and details about today's decision.

UPDATE: Added reaction from the Iowa Farm Bureau and the Iowa Environmental Council below. If there's a more hypocritical statewide organization than the Farm Bureau, I can't think what it could be.

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A Little Vietnam in Dallas County

by: CompassPlant

Sun Jun 22, 2014 at 22:47:55 PM CDT

(Terrifying comment on the lack of basic safety awareness among some Iowa gun enthusiasts. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Yesterday I conducted a wetlands delineation for the Iowa DNR at Pleasant Valley Wildlife Area, along the South Raccoon between Adel and Redfield. Among the highlights: a good plant list that included a new sedge species, Carex oligocarpa; numerous butterflies, including Tiger and Black Swallowtails, American Lady, Spring Azure, Eastern Comma, and Red Admiral; experience with riparian soils; and overall a good day.

The most memorable part came in the last 15 minutes. Four 20-something year-olds noisily stopped about 450 feet away on the old canoe access road and began making sounds that could have been firecrackers. When the first clear rifle report came, I knew that this was no mere Independence Day warm-up. At least two bullets hit within 100 yards of me and a third whizzed overhead as I crouched behind a low dirt pile.

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Still time to help preserve Iowa topsoil, reduce flooding

by: desmoinesdem

Tue May 27, 2014 at 09:10:00 AM CDT

Comments to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources are still needed in support of a 2012 rule that requires developers and home builders to leave four inches of topsoil on the ground after construction. Bleeding Heartland discussed this issue last week, and Todd Dorman wrote a more detailed background piece for the Cedar Rapids Gazette earlier this month. I've posted excerpts from that article below.

Iowa has lost too much of its world-class topsoil already. Not only does this non-renewable resource help plants grow, it reduces stormwater runoff that can cause flooding and water pollution. As Dorman points out, homeowners would also benefit from having more topsoil on their lots, so they could grow grass or other plants without having to inundate hard clay subsoil with chemicals. Representatives of business groups that oppose the DNR rule have estimated its cost at between $1,200 per residential to $2,500 or even $5,000. I haven't seen any estimate of the hidden costs of more flooding and excess nutrients in waterways. Although farms contribute more to Iowa topsoil runoff than new residential construction does, we all have to do our part.

A public hearing on the soil conservation rule is happening this Thursday, May 29, in Des Moines; click through for details on how to participate in person or by phone. Public comments can be sent via e-mail to Adam.Schnieders AT dnr.iowa.gov, ideally before Thursday's meeting.  

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One easy way to help protect Iowa soil and clean water

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 21, 2014 at 07:00:00 AM CDT

In August 2012, Governor Terry Branstad issued an executive order creating a mechanism for "stakeholder groups" to block potentially "burdensome" administrative rules proposed by state agencies. Those groups include representatives of businesses that would be affected by any new regulation. One of those stakeholder groups is meeting next week to discuss the fate of a rule the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has advanced in order to reduce soil runoff and storm water discharge associated with construction activities.

You can view the rule here (pdf). The main point is to require developers and home builders to leave four inches of topsoil on the ground after construction, so that yards will be able to absorb more of the expected rainfall. Some business interests oppose the rule because it will add costs to construction. But they are not considering the hidden costs of runoff (increased water pollution and a loss of irreplaceable topsoil). State government needs to act in the public interest and not only consider the bottom line of a few companies.

An action alert I've posted after the jump provides more background and details. Lucy Hershberger, an Iowa City-based landscaper who serves on the stakeholder group, wrote it and gave me permission to publish here. The Iowa DNR is accepting public comments on this issue via e-mail: Adam.Schnieders AT dnr.iowa.gov. It would be better to submit those comments before the public hearing scheduled for May 29. People can also attend that hearing, either in person or by telephone (instructions for calling in are below).  

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Don't RAPE REAP

by: Supervisor Brent Oleson

Wed Apr 09, 2014 at 18:12:24 PM CDT

(The author has been a Linn County Supervisor since 2009 and previously worked with the Iowa Senate Minority leader. Bleeding Heartland discussed the bipartisan effort to increase REAP funding to $25 million here. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

I'm gonna go on a rant...about an attempted RAPE.

Yes, I mean every word and hyperbole I'm uttering on this post. REAP (Resource Enhancement & Protection) is being RAPED! For Agriculture...by agri-business...to correct it's mistakes in a supposedly free and private market of farming. How is this rape of taxpayer funds and DNR license plate fees occurring and for what specifically? Read on My friends. 

The Iowa House of Representatives wants to put REAP dollars toward... agri-terrace projects, forestry management (subject to logging), and water nutrient pollution clean-up programs because farmland soil is laden with fertilizer chemicals. These are all worthy issues to be addressed on their own I say, and should indeed be addressed and monies put toward mitigation efforts. The Iowa Dept. Of Ag has jurisdiction on all these problems, and they should since their policies and practices created them in the first place.

This isn't an indictment of farmers, because most are great conservationists of their own free will as it's good business and good citizenship. I commend those Iowa farmers, especially my Linn County ones, who work hard to be responsible neighbors, citizens and conservationists...voluntarily I might add! But I don't give a pass to bad apples, policy-makers, or special interest Ag industry lobbyists.

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Bipartisan push underway to increase Iowa REAP funding

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 18, 2014 at 17:44:07 PM CDT

Iowa's Resource Enhancement and Protection program (REAP) celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Among the most successful conservation initiatives in Iowa history, REAP has cumulatively distributed about $300 million to thousands of projects across the state. It is mostly funded through gaming revenues that go into the state's Environment First Fund. In theory, REAP "is authorized to receive $20 million per year until 2021," but the state legislature has never fully funded REAP to the authorized level. This year's budget included $16 million for REAP, and Governor Terry Branstad kept that item at the same level in his draft budget for fiscal year 2015.

Today about three dozen non-profit organizations gathered at the State Capitol for the annual Environmental Lobby Day organized by the Iowa Environmental Council. I attended the event because I'm active in the IEC and in several of its member organizations. At a press conference organized by the IEC, four speakers emphasized the need to increase conservation funding: Republican State Senator David Johnson, Democratic State Senator Bob Dvorsky, Iowa Natural Resource Commission Chair Margo Underwood, and Rod Marlatt, executive director of the Fayette County Conservation Board. Dvorsky particularly emphasized his goal to secure $25 million in funding for REAP in the coming fiscal year, in honor of the program's 25th anniversary.

Because REAP-supported projects are often popular locally, the program has mostly escaped the partisan divisions that have led to the demise of some state initiatives. Today the Iowa House approved a resolution celebrating the 25th anniversary of REAP. Remarkably, 96 of the 100 state representatives co-sponsored this resolution, which House Democrat Chuck Isenhart proposed. Now that they're on record agreeing, "Iowans strongly believe that the Resource Enhancement and Protection Program is a successful venture worthy of the continued support of the General Assembly," let's hope they will put a lot of money where their mouths are. The $25 million in REAP funding has an excellent chance of clearing the Iowa Senate, since Dvorsky chairs the Appropriations Committee. Will the Iowa House go along? The many state lawmakers who spoke with Environmental Lobby Day exhibitors today included House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer and several members of the House Appropriations Committee.

After the jump I've posted background on the REAP program from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources website, including a map showing how much REAP funding has gone to each of Iowa's 99 counties. I also enclosed a press release from the Iowa Environmental Council, with highlights from speakers at the conservation rally.

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Iowa DNR and EPA sign work plan on CAFO inspections (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Sep 11, 2013 at 16:38:00 PM CDT

Some potentially good news for Iowa waterways: after months of delays, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finally signed a work plan on new procedures for permitting and inspecting large livestock farms.

Iowa's confined animal feeding operations create more untreated manure annually than the total sewage output of the U.S. population. An EPA report published last summer concluded that the DNR's CAFO permitting and inspection protocols did not conform to the Clean Water Act.

Federal and state officials negotiated a draft work plan to address these problems last fall, and the plan was ready to be signed in January of this year. However, the DNR requested changes to the plan based on feedback from the Iowa Farm Bureau, which tries to protect corporate agriculture from effective public oversight. Governor Terry Branstad tried to intervene with EPA officials to reduce inspections of factory farms. (Click here to read the correspondence.) To the dismay of some environmentalists, the governor also insisted that EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy meet with industry representatives to discuss the CAFO inspection regime.

Although the final work plan isn't ideal and provides for fewer in-person inspections than the earlier draft, the agreement looks like a big improvement on the status quo at the DNR. After the jump I've posted statements on today's news from the DNR and environmental organizations that have been involved with this process. I also posted the seven-page work plan for inspecting thousands of CAFOs over the next five years. For more background, check out the EPA Region 7's website and the Sierra Club Iowa chapter's documents on CAFOs.

It will take a lot of follow through to make sure the DNR implements this plan. The agency indicated last fall that it would need thirteen new livestock inspector positions to meet Clean Water Act goals. Then DNR Director Chuck Gipp formally asked for eleven new positions in the 2014 budget, but Governor Branstad requested funding for only five new inspectors. Iowa Senate Democrats approved funding for thirteen new inspectors, but Iowa House Republicans supported the governor, and final budget for fiscal year 2014 included funding for just seven new DNR positions in this area.

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Iowa House votes to relax manure storage rules for CAFOs (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Apr 02, 2013 at 07:15:00 AM CDT

In an ideal world, evidence that more than half of Midwest rivers and streams can't support aquatic life would inspire policy-makers to clean up our waterways. Rivers that are suitable for swimming, fishing, and other recreation can be a huge economic engine for Iowa communities.

We live in Iowa, where most of our lawmakers take the Patty Judge view: "Iowa is an agricultural state and anyone who doesn't like it can leave in any of four directions."

Yesterday the Iowa House approved a bill to relax manure storage regulations for large confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). All of the House Republicans and two-thirds of the Democrats supported this bad legislation. Details on the bill and the House vote are below.

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More than half of U.S. rivers "in poor condition for aquatic life"

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 26, 2013 at 20:40:00 PM CDT

After testing waterways at about 2,000 sites during 2008 and 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that 55 percent of rivers and streams in the country are "in poor condition for aquatic life." One of the biggest problems was nutrient pollution from excessive levels of nitrogen and phosphorus. Reduced vegetation cover near streams also contributed to poor water quality. Only 21 percent of U.S. river and stream length was judged to be in "good" condition, with another 23 percent in "fair" condition.

Compared to an EPA survey conducted in 2004, the latest data show a smaller percentage of rivers and streams in good condition and a higher percentage in poor condition.

An EPA summary of the key findings is after the jump. You can find more data on the National Aquatic Resource Surveys here, including this two-page fact sheet (pdf) and the full draft report (pdf). Iowa is part of the "temperate plains" region, discussed on pages 78 through 80 of that report. I've posted an excerpt below. Only 15 percent of rivers and streams in the temperate plains region were judged to be in good condition; 55 percent were in poor condition.

Iowa should reject the all-voluntary nutrient reduction strategy favored by agricultural interest groups. Given the awful state of our rivers and streams, we need some mandatory steps to reduce nutrient pollution, including numeric standards for nitrogen and phosphorus. Both EPA staff and environmental advocates in Iowa have called for strengthening the nutrient reduction strategy. Unfortunately, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey has a firmly closed mind.  

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Iowa Senate confirms Gipp, Lukan, and other Branstad appointees

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 12, 2013 at 09:35:00 AM CDT

Yesterday the Iowa Senate unanimously confirmed eleven of Governor Terry Branstad's appointees. You can find the full list of confirmations in the Senate Journal (pdf). The department or agency heads confirmed were:

Chuck Gipp, who has been serving as director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources since last May, shortly after his predecessor resigned;

Steve Lukan, whom Branstad hired to run the governor's Office of Drug Control Policy last June;

Nick Gerhart, who replaced Susan Voss as state insurance commissioner at the end of 2012;

Robert von Wolffradt, whom Branstad appointed as Iowa's chief information officer last May.

Seven of the nominees senators confirmed yesterday will serve on state boards, councils, or commissions, including Joanne Stockdale, a former chair of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry who is one of Branstad's appointees to the Environmental Protection Commission.

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Massive meteorite crater lies beneath Decorah

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 05, 2013 at 20:11:49 PM CST

I don't cover many science topics here, but this story fascinated me. Scientists have recently confirmed that an "asteroid as big as a city block" created a crater more than three miles wide under what is now Decorah, Iowa. This anomaly would be only the 184th confirmed impact crater on earth, according to an excellent piece by Brian Vastag for the Washington Post.  Bevan French, an adjunct scientist at the National Museum of Natural History, announced the discovery last month. His research built on the work of geologists from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources began several years ago. Aerial surveys conducted this year provided more evidence of the meteor crater, Science Daily reported today.

Scientists estimate that the meteor smashed into what is now northeast Iowa approximately 470 million years ago, during the Ordovician geologic period. That's way before the age of dinosaurs--in fact, before any amphibians, bony fish, or reptiles appeared on earth. Quite a few meteors hit earth around this time, probably asteroid fragments created by a "massive collision in the asteroid belt beyond Mars."

Discuss :: (8 Comments)

Mid-week open thread: Sports and the great outdoors

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 20:35:00 PM CST

I'm not much of a wrestling fan, but what the heck were members of the International Olympics Committee thinking when they voted to eliminate wrestling as an Olympic sport beginning in 2020? Wrestling is a much more important sport than some other events they're keeping. The IOC is adding golf as an Olympic sport in 2016, but even professional golfer Zach Johnson, an Iowa native, disagrees with the IOC's decision on wrestling. I've posted some Iowa political reaction to this news after the jump. UPDATE: More comments are below; also, Governor Terry Branstad's campaign set up a "keep wrestling" website.

A few weeks ago, Republican State Representative Josh Byrnes made the discovery of a lifetime for a Hawkeye fan: a football signed by Nile Kinnick and other members of the 1939 University of Iowa team. Mike Wiser wrote up the story. Byrnes found the football in the place he's renting with three other Iowa House Republicans during this year's legislative session.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is training volunteers to help with their wildlife monitoring programs. They are looking for people to identify certain types of bird nests and frog and toad calls. I've posted some details after the jump.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is happening from February 15 to 18. You don't have to be an expert bird-watcher to help scientists collect information about bird populations. This winter we've had more birds at our finch feeder than usual, and I learned they are pine siskins (closely related to goldfinches). They don't always over-winter in Iowa.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

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Voluntary Nutrient Reduction Strategy Will Not Work

by: Francis Thicke

Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 20:30:15 PM CST

(The author is an organic farmer with a Phd in soil science. He was the Democratic nominee for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture in 2010. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

We have been hearing a lot of hype from Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey about how the voluntary approach to changing agricultural practices to improve water quality -- as proposed in the Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS) -- will be effective.  However, my experience in over 25 years of work on water quality tells me that this is very naive thinking at best, and deceptive to the public at worst.  Below are the comments on the NRS that I submitted a few days ago.
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Iowa Secretary of Agriculture rules out big changes to water quality strategy

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jan 23, 2013 at 14:10:00 PM CST

The public comment period on Iowa's draft strategy to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous pollution in waterways ended on January 18. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey indicated this week that policy-makers aren't open to key changes suggested by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and advocates for cleaner water.
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Shorter EPA: Iowa's nutrient reduction strategy needs a lot of work

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 09:10:00 AM CST

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency submitted lengthy comments this week on Iowa's draft strategy for reducing nutrients in waterways. I've posted the full text of EPA Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks' letter after the jump. The EPA found more problems with the "nonpoint source" part of the strategy, which primarily addresses runoff from farms. The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship drafted the nonpoint source part of the nutrient strategy, largely without input from Iowa Department of Natural Resources staff who are experts on agricultural runoff. Under "general comments," the EPA confirmed that rejecting numeric criteria for nutrient pollution from farms "does not reflect the EPA's current thinking." The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation applauded that aspect of the nutrient strategy. We'll see whose view holds sway in the final version.

The Iowa DNR was responsible for drafting the "point source" part of the nutrient strategy, which addresses municipal and industrial discharges (such as from wastewater treatment facilities) into rivers and streams. The EPA submitted only minor suggestions for improving the point source section.

Iowa citizens and advocacy groups have until January 18 to comment on the nutrient strategy.

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Two views of Iowa's strategy on key water pollution problem

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jan 09, 2013 at 11:40:00 AM CST

Last week the Iowa Department of Natural Resources extended the public comment period on the state's proposed strategy "to assess and reduce nutrients delivered to Iowa waterways and the Gulf of Mexico." Nutrients have become "Iowa's most widespread water pollution problem" and are the primary cause of the gulf's "dead zone." The Environmental Working Group's recent report on "Murky Waters" explains the causes of Iowa's chronically poor water quality.

Interest groups aligned with corporate agriculture had extensive input while the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship drafted its part of the nutrient reduction strategy, even shutting out the Iowa DNR's experts on agricultural runoff. For more background on the proposed state policy, which relies on voluntary efforts to curb pollution from farms, click here or here.

Iowans have until January 18 to comment on the nutrient strategy. Many groups and individuals have already submitted their feedback. After the jump I've posted comments from the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and the Sierra Club Iowa Chapter. The contrast is striking.  

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Public comment period on Iowa Nutrient Strategy extended two weeks

by: IowaEnvironmentalCouncil

Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 15:24:58 PM CST

(Good news, though it would have been nice for DNR to announce the extension a little earlier. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

In November on Bleeding Heartland, desmoinesdem posted a review of reaction to Iowa's Nutrient Reduction Strategy, which aspires to clean up the nitrogen and phosphorous pollution that together with Iowa's chronic soil erosion is keeping the state's waters brown and green instead of clear and clean.

Now the public comment deadline for the new strategy has been extended by two weeks, giving Iowans one more chance to weigh in before the comment period ends January 18.

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Weekend open thread: Deer hunting edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Dec 02, 2012 at 07:00:00 AM CST

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? Iowa's deer hunting season began on Saturday. Dates, rules and regulations are on the Department of Natural Resources website. Hunters can use any kind of ammunition in Iowa, but non-toxic options like copper kill more effectively, leaving higher-quality meat without exposing humans, birds, or other wildlife to lead.

The overpopulation of deer has been on Senator Chuck Grassley's mind ever since he was a passenger in a car that hit a deer in October. He is on a mission to lengthen the hunting season by raising awareness about the dangers of deer on the roads. After the jump I've compiled all of Grassley's recent twitter posts on the subject. His comments about deer have attracted a cult following and typically get hundreds of "re-tweets."

Disease related to this year's drought has brought the deer population to its lowest level since 2003. In fact, statistics from the DNR and the Iowa Department of Transportation indicate that the deer-vehicle crash rate is "at its lowest level in 25 years."

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

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Iowa DNR director: Please help us stave off the EPA (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Nov 30, 2012 at 06:50:00 AM CST

Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Chuck Gipp is asking for $1.3 million in additional state funding to help his agency hire eleven new livestock facility inspectors for next year. Gipp has been affiliated with agricultural interest groups throughout his career. He just endorsed a strategy on keeping nutrients of out waterways that was "fiercely criticized" by Iowa DNR staffers with the most expertise on farm runoff.

Why would Gipp suddenly ask for more DNR inspectors? According to his own testimony, he's trying to keep the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing Clean Water Act provisions against Iowa livestock farms.

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Lawmaker seeking longer public comment period on Iowa water quality policy

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Nov 28, 2012 at 10:15:00 AM CST

State Representative Chuck Isenhart has formally asked Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Chuck Gipp and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey to extend the public comment period on Iowa's latest water quality policy. Shortly before Thanksgiving, officials revealed a draft strategy "to assess and reduce nutrients delivered to Iowa waterways and the Gulf of Mexico." The 45-day public comment period falls mostly during the holiday season.

Isenhart, the ranking Democrat on the Iowa House Environmental Protection Committee, pointed out that a 30-day extension of the comment period would allow for feedback from the Watershed Planning Advisory Council and from relevant Iowa House and Senate committees. The legislature's 2013 session will open on January 14, ten days after the current public comment period expires.

Isenhart also suggested that an extension would be fair to stakeholder groups and members of the public who didn't have the "privilege" of reading the draft nutrient strategy before last week. Stakeholders whose leaders got a "head start" on reviewing the policy before the official roll-out include agricultural commodity groups, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, the Iowa League of Cities, the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, and the Iowa Waste Water Association.

The full text of Isenhart's letter is below. Last month Gipp denied a request to extend public comments on a complex air quality permit linked to a large fertilizer plant construction project.

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