Iowa DNR issues stop work order on Bakken pipeline route "ground-disturbing activity"

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has told attorneys for Dakota Access the company is "no longer authorized to engage in any activities" related to a permit previously issued for a pipeline across the Big Sioux River Wildlife Management Area in northwest Iowa, Gavin Aronsen reported at Iowa Informer. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service informed Iowa DNR Director Chuck Gipp on May 25 that a "significant archeological site" identified within that Wildlife Management Area "may fall along the proposed path of the Dakota Access Pipeline," more commonly known as the Bakken pipeline. Consequently, the federal agency revoked approval of that permit and asked the DNR to "stop all tree clearing or any ground-disturbing activities within the pipeline corridor pending further investigation."

Citing the letter from the Fish and Wildlife Service as well as e-mail communication from Iowa’s State Archeologist John Doershuk, yesterday the DNR sent Dakota Access a stop work order for the eastern half of the Wildlife Management Area in Lyon County, overlapping the proposed pipeline route. Aronsen posted both letters in full. Iowa Informer is a must-follow for Bakken pipeline news.

The Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition is holding a day of action in Oskaloosa (Mahaska County) on Saturday, May 28. In the morning, kayaks and canoes will float along the South Skunk River near where the pipeline would cross it. Along that section of river, paddlers will pass "7-generation landowner Sylvia Rodgers Spalding’s property adjacent to the proposed pipeline route." Authors Carolyn Raffensperger, Fred Kirschenmann, Angie Carter, and Rachel Morgan will read from the recently-published book Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in America at 3 pm at the Book Vault in Oskaloosa (105 South Market Street).

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Turtle Protection Bill passes and is signed by the governor

When a bill passes by an overwhelming bipartisan vote, like the turtle harvesting bill did in both the Iowa House and Senate, one might assume it was easy to persuade lawmakers and the governor to act. Not necessarily. Thanks to Mike Delaney for an in-depth look at how one good idea became state law. Delaney is a founder of the non-profit Raccoon River Watershed Association. Turtle graphic produced by the non-profit Iowa Rivers Revival. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Over the years I have noticed a decline in the number of Soft-shelled turtles on my sandbars along the Raccoon River in Dallas County. When I first bought my farm in 1988 12” and 14” Soft-shells would regularly slide into the river off the sand where they were warming their cold-blooded bodies. A few seconds later you could see their noses and foreheads pop up to look around. When my son and daughter were little I showed them (as my older brothers had shown me as a child) how to walk along the shore at night, focus a flashlight at the water’s edge and spot the heads of baby Softshells sticking out of the sand. However, we have not seen these little guys for many years.

I asked around about what happened to the turtles. County conservation folks told me that the commercial turtle trappers were selling them to China. I asked some “environmentally concerned” friends. One said that the DNR was worried about Iowa’s turtles and had proposed rules to limit turtle “harvest” during egg laying season and limits on the numbers that could be taken. Iowa had no rules preventing over-harvest of turtles. I was told that the rules were being held up in the governor’s office.

I decided to act on the matter.

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Market forces may kill Bakken pipeline despite likely Iowa Utilities Board approval

Pipes intended for use in the Dakota Access pipeline being stored in Jasper County, Iowa during 2015. Photo provided by Wallace Taylor, used with permission.

UPDATE: As expected, the board voted unanimously to approve the permit. Scroll to the end of this post for more details and reaction.

The Iowa Utilities Board will meet this afternoon to issue a decision on the proposed Dakota Access pipeline. Everyone I know in the environmental community expects the three board members to approve the permit for this project, better known as the Bakken pipeline. Litigation is sure to follow, as opponents charge the Iowa Utilities Board’s eminent domain powers may be used only in the service of a "public good," not "to privilege a private corporation."

Other legal hurdles include the need for a permit from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, because the pipeline route would cross "four areas in Iowa that have been identified as sovereign lands." The Sierra Club Iowa chapter has been pushing for a thorough Environmental Impact Study and archaeological review. (Too many Iowa politicians from both parties signed a letter to the utilities board opposing an independent environmental impact assessment.)

Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson has long cast doubt on the "bloated" economic impact numbers Dakota Access has used to market the project. Click here for Swenson’s detailed analysis on the pipeline’s "purported economic and fiscal benefits to the state of Iowa."

A growing number of observers believe the project no longer makes economic sense even for Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of Dakota Access.

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Group highlights Iowa DNR's failure to enforce manure management plans

Numerous large-scale hog confinements in five Iowa counties are not following recommended practices for applying manure to farmland, according to findings the advocacy group Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement released today. Under Iowa law, livestock farms "with 500 Animal Units or more (equivalent to 1,250 hogs)" must have a Manure Management Plan. Iowa CCI members studied 234 of those plans in Adair, Boone, Dallas, Guthrie, and Sac counties (central and western Iowa). They found "missing documents, double-dumping, over-application, potential P-index violations, incorrect application rates, and potential hazards of manure application based on the geography and farming practices of the land." Iowa CCI filed a complaint with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources today, requesting a thorough investigation of manure management plan violations as well as reforms "to improve oversight and to hold factory farm polluters accountable," including stronger enforcement of plans and permits, "increased public access to manure application records," more thorough inspections of livestock farms, and "better training across field offices for DNR staff."

I enclose below the executive summary of Iowa CCI’s findings. The full complaint to the DNR is available here (pdf). Pages 4 through 6 offer detailed recommendations for "next steps" to address the problems. Appendix A lists 91 farms in the five counties that are large enough to need Manure Management Plans, but for which such plans are missing. Appendix B lists five farms for which Manure Management Plans were not in the DNR’s animal feeding operations database. Appendix C shows which documents were missing from dozens of farms’ Manure Management Plans across the counties. The file also includes county maps of watersheds and roads to show where the farms in question are located.

Since Iowa CCI members examined Manure Management Plans in only five of Iowa’s 99 counties, today’s case study reveals only a small fraction of statewide problems related to manure application. Kudos to those who researched and exposed the DNR’s failure to do its job.

Calls for tougher enforcement may be a dead letter, given the Branstad administration’s hostility to regulations that inconvenience business owners and the Iowa legislature’s resistance to approve even small measures to improve water quality (and I’m not just talking about Republican lawmakers).

Iowa CCI’s mission and methods have made it unpopular in powerful circles. But those who criticize the group’s controversial acts (like heckling politicians) should also acknowledge important work like today’s case study. While some Democratic elected officials are deeply committed to addressing our water pollution problem, as a group Iowa Democratic officialdom has said little and done less about agricultural runoff. Iowa CCI speaks for many people who are angry about pollution impairing hundreds of waterways, and who know that electing more Democrats alone will not solve the problem. That’s why it has long been among the largest non-profits working on environmental and social justice issues in this state.

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Longer summer break for Iowa kids, but with less lake swimming

Thousands of Iowa children went back to school today, having enjoyed an extra week or two of vacation thanks to a new state law preventing K-12 school districts from beginning the academic year before August 23. In response to lobbying from the tourism industry, most state lawmakers and Governor Terry Branstad sought to block local school administrators from starting in early or mid-August. However, as economist Dave Swenson explained here, "there is no evidence that early start dates interfere in any meaningful sense with the Iowa State Fair or with any other tourism activity in Iowa."

If only the governor and most of our state legislators were as tuned in to how dirty water hurts Iowa tourism.  

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Environmental Protection Commission fails to protect the environment

The Environmental Protection Commission voted yesterday to eviscerate a rule adopted in 2012 to reduce stormwater runoff from new construction sites. The rule previously required developers to put at least four inches of topsoil back on sites. Thanks to a lobbying campaign from home-builders, the new wording requires topsoil replacement "unless infeasible," without defining that term. So any developer who doesn’t feel like spending money to put topsoil back can claim it would have been "infeasible" to do so. If the homeowner can’t grow anything on the impacted clay, and runoff contributes to more flash flooding in the area or downstream, too bad.

Dar Danielson reported for Radio Iowa that only two of the nine Environmental Protection Commission members voted against the rule change: Bob Sinclair and Nancy Couser. Sinclair proposed different wording, which sounded like a reasonable compromise, but other commission members did not want to adopt new wording, which would restart the lengthy public input process. The full list of EPC members is available on the Iowa Department of Natural Resources website.

One of the newest commissioners, who joined the majority yesterday in putting a few developers’ interests ahead of the environment, is former State Representative Joe Riding. Branstad named the Democrat to the EPC earlier this year. Riding’s action is disappointing but hardly surprising. He didn’t serve on committees that focused on environmental issues during his one term in the Iowa House. A former city council member in the rapidly-growing Des Moines suburb of Altoona, Riding has probably worked with lots of home-builders.

As Todd Dorman wrote earlier this year, the EPC “abandoned all sense of balance and fairness on this issue.” Expect more flooding in Iowa, more topsoil loss, and more pollution from yard chemicals making its way to our waterways.

UPDATE: Matthew Patane reported for the Des Moines Register,

Prior to voting, Couser said the rule change would mean homeowners will get “thrown under the bus” if builders don’t have to evenly distribute topsoil.

“Although it may not be the intent of the rule to protect the homeowner, the homeowner definitely, 7-to-1, is telling us that’s what they want from us. They want their soil,” she said.

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