Bleeding Heartland is a community blog about Iowa politics: campaigns and elections, state government, social and environmental issues. Bleeding Heartland also weighs in on presidential policies and campaigns, federal legislation and what the Iowans in Congress are up to. Join our community, post your thoughts as comments or diaries, help keep our leaders honest and hold them accountable.
I missed this story last week, but Ryan Foley didn't: Governor Terry Branstad is replacing Sheila Tipton with Geri Huser on the Iowa Utilities Board. Not only that, Branstad appointed Huser to chair that three-member board, demoting current Chair Libby Jacobs for the remainder of her term, which runs through April 2017. A recent board ruling that disappointed MidAmerican Energy, an investor-owned utility serving a large area in Iowa, precipitated the governor's decision.
Details from Foley's report are after the jump, along with background on Huser and first thoughts on her chances to be confirmed by the Iowa Senate.
The proposed Bakken pipeline is one of the most urgent issues facing Iowa's environmental community. The Texas-based company Energy Transfer Partners wants to build the pipeline to transport crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to Illinois, crossing eighteen Iowa counties in the process. Governor Terry Branstad has made clear he won't support any legislative action to stop the pipeline. That will leave the initial decision up to the Iowa Utilities Board, though approval by other state and federal agencies would be needed later; more details on that are below.
Former state legislator Ed Fallon, who ran for governor in 2006 and for Congress in 2008, is kicking off a 400-mile walk along the proposed pipeline route today, starting from southeast Iowa and heading northwest over the next several weeks. I've enclosed below an excerpt from his first e-mail update about the walk, in which Fallon recounts a conversation with Lee County farmers whose land lies along the proposed pipeline route. Click here to view upcoming events, including a public meetings for residents of Lee County this evening, for Van Buren County residents in Birmingham on March 5, and for Jefferson County residents in Fairfield on March 6.
The latest Iowa poll conducted by Selzer & Co for the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics found that a majority of Iowans support the Bakken pipeline, but a larger majority oppose using eminent domain to seize land for the pipeline. Excerpts from the Iowa poll findings are at the end of this post.
Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.
P.S. - The company that wants to build the pipeline has claimed "the project would have an Iowa economic impact of $1.1 billion during two years of construction, creating enough work to keep 7,600 workers employed for a year." Economist Dave Swenson explained here why such estimates are misleading.
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.
It's the most list-making time of the year. Let's start talking about Iowa political highlights of 2011.
This thread is devoted to master strokes. I don't mean our elected officials' wisest actions, or the policy choices that affected the greatest number of Iowans. I mean acts of such skill that even opponents had to grudgingly acknowledge their brilliance.
My top picks are after the jump. Tomorrow Bleeding Heartland will review the year's most bewildering acts of incompetence. On Thursday we'll look at the events that are likely to have the greatest long-term impact on Iowa politics.
At the Moving Planet climate change event in Des Moines on Saturday, I heard a few activists talk about organizing against former State Senator Swati Dandekar's confirmation to the Iowa Utilities Board. The Iowa Senate will consider her nomination during the 2012 legislative session.
Democratic State Senator Swati Dandekar is stepping down from the legislature in order to accept an appointment to the Iowa Utilities Board, the Des Moines Register reported today. Her resignation forces a special election this fall in Iowa Senate district 18, which covers suburban and rural areas in Linn County.
Democrats currently hold a 26-24 Iowa Senate majority, so a Republican victory in the special election would deadlock the upper chamber for the 2012 legislative session. Follow me after the jump for a district map and first take on the race to replace Dandekar.
Governor Terry Branstad announced some important personnel decisions in the past few days, naming former State Representative Libby Jacobs to chair the Iowa Utilities Board and three new members of the Board of Regents, including Bruce Rastetter.
Follow me after the jump for more on those and other Branstad administration appointments.
UPDATE: On March 1 President Barack Obama named Branstad to co-chair the Council of Governors, "established by the National Defense Authorization Act in 2008 to strengthen further partnership between the Federal and State governments as it pertains to national security." Branstad will serve a two-year term as co-chair.
Another name that caught my eye was Eric Goranson, a lobbyist and parochial schools advocate whom Branstad named to the State Board of Education. He has been a leading critic of the Iowa Core Curriculum (see here and here). The Under the Golden Dome Blog argues that Goranson's appointment may violate Iowa code, which states, "A voting member [of the Board of Education] shall not be engaged in professional education for a major portion of the member's time nor shall the member derive a major portion of income from any business or activity connected with education." Several of Goranson's lobbying clients represent religious private schools or Christian home-schooling parents.
THIRD UPDATE: I forgot to mention Branstad's two appointees to the State Judicial Nominating Commission: Helen St. Clair of Melrose and William Gustoff of Des Moines. I have been unable to find any information about Helen St. Clair, but a Maurice St. Clair of Melrose was among Branstad's top 20 individual donors, contributing more than $45,000 to the gubernatorial campaign. I assume he is related to Helen St. Clair and will update this post if I confirm that. William Gustoff is a founding partner of the Whitaker Hagenow law firm, which includes Republican former U.S. attorney Matt Whitaker and State Representative Chris Hagenow. Branstad's legal counsel Brenna Findley also worked at Whitaker Hagenow last year.
In terrible news for central Iowa, Wells Fargo announced on July 7 that it is "eliminating Des Moines-based Wells Fargo Financial and 3,800 positions nationwide." From the Des Moines Register report:
Wells Fargo Financial will eliminate 2,800 positions in the next six months. The majority of those will come with the closing of 638 Wells Fargo Financial stores around the country, including 12 in Iowa. Only 14 of the initial layoffs will be in the Des Moines headquarters.
Wells Fargo also will eliminate an additional 1,000 positions in the next 12 months, most of those positions in Des Moines, said David Kvamme, president of Wells Fargo Financial. [...]
Currently, Wells Fargo Financial has approximately 14,000 team members throughout the country, and 3,500 in Des Moines. The remaining 10,600 jobs will transition to other Wells Fargo units, including mortgage and community banking.
Laid off employees will receive 60 days' working notice and a severance package.
Affected Wells Fargo employees also are encouraged to apply for other jobs throughout the company. Wells Fargo currently has more than 400 open positions in the Des Moines area, Kvamme said.
Wells Fargo is Iowa's largest bank in terms of deposits and Central Iowa's largest private employer with about 12,900 employees in the Des Moines area.
Here's some good news from the past week: the Iowa Utilities Board adopted "rules to encourage the development of more small wind generation systems across Iowa," the Newton Independent reported.
One prominent Iowan got a new (unpaid) position this week, as President Obama appointed Vermeer Corporation president and CEO Mary Andringa to his 18-member export advisory council. Heavy-hitter Iowa Republicans tried to recruit Andringa to run for governor last year, and she is a chair of Terry Branstad's campaign.
The celebrity job story of the week was of course LeBron James abandoning the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat. I haven't watched an NBA game in years, but I think James should have stayed in Cleveland, or at least not humiliated his hometown on nationwide television. A couple of good takes on the unprecedented dumping via tv special: Bill Simmons for ESPN and Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.
This thread is for anything on your mind this weekend.
UPDATE: Who else watched the World Cup final? I was rooting for the Netherlands, but at least it wasn't decided by penalty kicks. Spain scored a goal in the final minutes of extra time to post its fourth straight 1-0 victory. (Paul the psychic German octopus was right.) I'm happy for Spain, because they looked like the better team for most of the game, but it's incredible to think that they are the World Cup champions after scoring eight goals in seven games.
I expected 2009 to be a relatively quiet year in Iowa politics, but was I ever wrong.
The governor's race heated up, state revenues melted down, key bills lived and died during the legislative session, and the Iowa Supreme Court's unanimous ruling in Varnum v Brien became one of this state's major events of the decade.
After the jump I've posted links to Bleeding Heartland's coverage of Iowa politics from January through June 2009. Any comments about the year that passed are welcome in this thread.
Although I wrote a lot of posts last year, there were many important stories I didn't manage to cover. I recommend reading Iowa Independent's compilation of "Iowa's most overlooked and under reported stories of 2009," as well as that blog's review of "stories that will continue to impact Iowa in 2010."
Culver also reappointed Krista Tanner as one of the IUB's three members. Culver appointed her in 2007 to serve out the remainder of someone else's IUB term, which expires at the end of April. Now she will serve out the remainder of Norris's term, which ends in April 2011.
The governor named Berntsen for the full six-year term that begins on May 1 and expires in 2015. (The third IUB member, Darrell Hanson was appointed by Culver in 2007 for a term that expires in 2013.)
Join me after the jump for more background on the new IUB chairman, along with some speculation about what can we expect from the board.
Interstate Power and Light on Thursday canceled plans for a $1.8 billion coal-fired power plant in Marshalltown, citing the economy and uncertainty over state regulations. [...]
"At the end of the day it's economic condition, uncertainly regarding future regulatory and legislative treatment of environmental issues, meaning greenhouses gases," said spokesman Ryan Steensland.
Other factors were terms placed on the power plant by the Iowa Utilities Board, including a 10.1 return on equity for investors. "It would have made it very challenging to attract the capital necessary to build these types of investments. The cost and the return laid out by the board just did not wet the appetite of the investment community to move forward with this project," Steensland said.
Thanks to all the environmental and public-health advocates who have worked so hard for years to defeat both coal plants, including the Sierra Club, Plains Justice, the Iowa Environmental Council, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Community Energy Solutions, the Iowa Renewable Energy Association and Iowa Interfaith Power and Light.
UPDATE: At Century of the Common Iowan, noneed4thneed points out that the coal plant would have created 85 permanent jobs as well as providing a lot of temporary jobs during its construction. I sympathize with people who are upset about losing those jobs. However, I do not support making a 50-year investment in the wrong direction on energy production, which would also result in more respiratory illness, mercury pollution and higher utility bills for thousands of Iowans, all for the sake of some jobs in the Marshalltown area.
On Wednesday the Iowa Utilities Board delivered a long-awaited ruling on "ratemaking principles" for the coal-fired power plant that Interstate Power and Light (a subsidiary of Alliant Energy) wants to build near Marshalltown. The ratemaking principles determine how much of a return the investor-owned utility can make on its investment. A higher return for the utility means the company can pass more of the cost of building a new plant onto customers.
The Iowa Utilities Board's decision was well below what Alliant requested and not far above what the Iowa Consumer Advocate's Office was seeking. The Cedar Rapids Gazette quoted an energy industry analyst:
"We expect LNT (Alliant Energy) will not accept the ratemaking principles as approved by the Iowa Utilities Board, instead allowing the proposal to die," said David Parker of Robert W. Baird in Milwaukee. He said Alliant will probably look instead to building more wind and natural-gas electric turbines.
Alliant's official statement left options open but made clear that the company was not happy with the ratemaking ruling. Excerpt:
In its decision, the IUB established a return on equity of 10.1 percent and a cost cap of $2816.00 per kilowatt, excluding AFUDC. IPL had requested a return on equity of 12.55 percent and a cost cap of $3483.00 per kilowatt, excluding AFUDC. IPL has proposed to own 350 megawatts of the facility's output, with the remaining output owned by other partners or included in purchased power agreements.
"We will need to review the IUB's written order to determine our next steps," states Tom Aller, president-IPL. "However, the conditions placed by the IUB on the proposed hybrid power plant present a number of challenges in today's financial climate, and we are disappointed that this decision seemingly does not take that reality into account. We will continue to work with our partners to determine how today's decision will impact our respective companies' long-term generation plans. IPL remains committed to pursuing safe, reliable, environmentally responsible and cost effective energy supply options to meet Iowa's future energy needs."
Utility executives said the increase would be needed to offset a dramatic decline in power sales because of the recession.
With the closing of the Janesville General Motors plant and other factory cutbacks, the utility is forecasting power sales to drop 6% this year.
"It is understandable that our customers find it frustrating that the economic hardships many of them are experiencing could in turn compel us to increase their electric bills," said Patricia Kampling, the utility's chief financial officer, during a conference call Thursday.
Think about that for a minute. All along Alliant and their boosters in Marshalltown have been telling us that a new coal-fired power plant is needed to meet increased electricity needs. But future demand is almost surely going to be below what they have projected.
"The Iowa Utilities Board has missed an important opportunity to protect our state's economy and shield Iowa consumers from a significant electricity rate increase," said Carrie La Seur, President of Plains Justice.
"New coal power plant proposals are being canceled across the country because they cost too much and pose too many financial risks. The IUB has really let Iowans down by opting for an expensive, polluting coal plant instead of the available cheaper alternative of aggressive energy efficiency programs," she added.
I put the full text of the Plains Justice release after the jump.
On a related note, Plains Justice passed along this news via e-mail a few days ago:
Last week, the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) denied a petition to re-open the generating certificate proceedings for the proposed Marshalltown coal plant. The generating certificate grants permission for the power plant to be built.
A petition for re-hearing had been filed by the Iowa Office of Consumer Advocate and joined by Plains Justice on behalf of Community Energy Solutions, Iowa Environmental Council, Iowa Farmers Union, Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Iowa Renewable Energy Association (the Coalition). Now that the petition has been denied, the IUB's decision to grant the generating certificate can be appealed in state court although it is not yet known whether anyone will appeal.
A lawsuit would only add to the delay and expense of building this power plant.
Meanwhile, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources is expected to issue a draft air permit for the Marshalltown plant very soon. Opponents of this 50-year investment in the wrong direction on energy will want to make their voices heard during the public comment period on that permit. Coal-fired power plants are a major source of fine-particulate matter pollution, which is linked to various respiratory illnesses.
Norris's departure means that Governor Chet Culver will need to make two appointments to the three-member Iowa Utilities Board this spring. Norris currently chairs the IUB. Someone will need to fill the remainder of his term, which expires in April 2011.
Ratemaking principles define how construction costs will be recovered in utility rates throughout the life of the generating facility. [Interstate Power and Light] is requesting a 12.55 percent return on common equity as part of the filing.
If you know any qualified candidates who are interested in serving on the Iowa Utilities Board, encourage them to submit their resumes and supporting materials to the governor's office as soon as possible.
After the jump, I've posted the whole press release issued by the Reality Coalition. You can sign up to join their effort by clicking here.
My only concern about this message is that it suggests greenhouse-gas emissions are the only thing that makes coal "dirty." Coal-fired power plants are not only a major source of carbon-dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming, they are also one of the leading sources of fine particulate matter linked to asthma and other respiratory problems. This fine particulate matter, also known as particulate matter 2.5, "is much smaller in size and a more serious health hazard" than larger soot particles known as particulate matter 10.
The environmental movement needs to convince not only the public but also policy-makers from Barack Obama down to state-level regulators that Al Gore's vision of ending our reliance on carbon-based fuels is realistic.
UPDATE: A commenter at MyDD pointed me to a recent report from Greenpeace called The True Cost of Coal. It contains much more information about health and environmental hazards associated with mining and burning coal.
Coal-fired power plants are not only a major source of carbon-dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming, they are also one of the leading sources of fine particulate matter linked to asthma and other respiratory problems.
To regulate greenhouse gases and particulate matter 2.5, the DNR should require Alliant to perform a "best available control technology" analysis, known as a BACT analysis. The analysis considers all control technologies available on the market, evaluates what would control the pollutants for this type of facility and takes into account the technology already installed to control the pollutant. With that information, the best technology installed is used to set limits. The limits that are set in the permit would result in the best control of that pollutant. Without this analysis, the permits will not control the pollution from particulate matter 2.5 and greenhouse gases at all.
In other words, without the best-available-control-technology analysis, there will be no regulation of the pollutant in the air permit. With no regulation in the air permit, Alliant will be able to spew unlimited amounts of greenhouse gases and particulate matter 2.5 into the atmosphere.
Currently, the DNR appears to be unwilling to require a best-available-control-technology analysis, asserting rules specifically regulating these pollutants are not in place. The Iowa Chapter of Sierra Club respectfully disagrees. The DNR also maintains that particulate matter 10 - a larger soot particle - is being regulated and, therefore, there is no need to regulate particulate matter 2.5. Although the DNR does control limits on particulate matter 10, particulate matter 2.5 is much smaller in size and a more serious health hazard, but will not necessarily be controlled by the particulate matter 10 limits.
Federal regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency, recent court decisions, and even DNR's own regulations require regulation of particulate matter 2.5 and greenhouse gases. And yet, it appears the DNR is not going to require a best-available-control-technology analysis for particulate matter 2.5 and for greenhouse gases.
I don't understand why the DNR would decide against regulating the fine particulate matter produced by this plant, given the proven impact of emissions from coal facilities on public health.
Let's hope Seaman's pessimism turns out to be unfounded.
Iowa Utilities Board Chairman John Norris, whose wife has been named chief of staff to incoming first lady Michelle Obama, said Monday he is interested in an appointment to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Norris, a veteran Democratic campaign operative, said he would consider serving on the commission or as chairman of the agency with jurisdiction over electricity sales, wholesale electric rates and other energy sales regulation. [...]
"It would be fair to say I'm interested in either FERC chairmanship or a commissioner spot," Norris said. "There are other things I'm interested in and the transition team is rightly focused on filling Cabinet posts and putting together an administration. I'm respecting their timetable and would consider whatever position in the administration where I can be most helpful."