New Report: Iowa's Power Sources Outdated, Under-regulated

For Immediate Release: November 24, 2009
Contact: Eric Nost, Environment Iowa | 515-243-5835; cell: 319-621-0075 |

New Report: Iowa’s Power Sources Outdated, Under-regulated

Des Moines — Iowa is home to some of the nation's oldest and most polluting coal-fired power plants, according to a new analysis of government data released today by Environment Iowa.  Half a year after a proposal for a new coal plant in Marshalltown was canceled and over one year after a similar proposal for Waterloo was denied, a group of environmental groups are calling for tougher regulation on existing power plants. (Report available at

“Building new coal plants in Marshalltown and Waterloo would have been disastrous. Now we need to make sure that we clean up those plants that we've already built,” said Environment Iowa state associate Eric Nost. “They are outdated and under-regulated. Old coal-fired clunkers ought to have to meet modern emissions standards.”

Nationally, the report shows that America's supply of electricity is dominated by old plants, and that the oldest and dirtiest facilities often go hand-in-hand. Power plants first built three decades ago or more produced 73 percent of the total global warming pollution from power plants in 2007. Older power plants on average emit more carbon dioxide per unit of energy than newer ones.

Though it supplies the majority of Iowa’s electricity, coal is the most polluting of all fuel sources.

The state's largest and most polluting coal plant – the Walter Scott Jr. Energy Center in Council Bluffs – released nearly ten million tons of carbon dioxide into atmosphere in 2007. Parts of the facility date back to 1954.

Coal-fired plants like the Walter Scott Jr. Energy Center currently do not have to meet any carbon dioxide pollution standard, meaning that they can function as an unchecked contributor to global warming. Such plants comprise the nation’s single largest source of global warming pollution.  

The growing impacts of global warming will pose serious threats to Iowa, particularly on the agricultural sector as rainfall declines and warmer temperatures evaporate moisture in the soil more quickly, leading to lower yields.  To avoid the worst effects of global warming, science shows that the U.S. must cut its global warming pollution by 35 percent by 2020.

“Although numerous studies have shown that Iowa’s important agricultural sector has a great deal to lose if nothing is done to stop climate change, groups opposed to taking steps to curb global warming emissions have used a strategy of focusing on energy cost increases for farmers, businesses, and residential consumers, and emphasizing potential job losses in energy-intensive industries,” said Neila Seaman, director of the Iowa Chapter of Sierra Club. “It is imperative that Iowa’s U.S. Senators use their power to ensure a strong Clean Air Act and pave the way for the regulation of carbon dioxide.”

The Senate is slated to consider legislation in the next few months to establish the first-ever federal limits on global warming pollution and bolster incentives for clean energy sources like wind power.In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed a rule to require coal plants and other large industries to use available technology to cut their global warming pollution when new facilities are constructed or existing facilities are significantly modified. 

“We urge Senators Harkin and Grassley to ensure that the Senate passes an energy bill that requires coal plants to meet modern standards for global warming pollution, making room for more clean energy projects, like wind and solar power. We need more jobs building wind farms, installing solar panels and weatherizing homes, not more pollution,” concluded Nost.
Environment Iowa is a citizen-funded advocacy organization working to protect the state's clean air, clean water, and open spaces.

Why did Iowa Senate Republicans reject three Culver appointees?

The Republican caucus in the Iowa Senate is the smallest it’s ever been in this state’s history, but they let us know this week that they are not entirely irrelevant. On Tuesday all 18 Republican senators blocked Governor Chet Culver’s appointment of Shearon Elderkin to the Environmental Protection Commission. The 32 Senate Democrats supported Elderkin, but nominees need a two-thirds majority (34 votes) to be confirmed.

The following day, Senate Republicans unanimously blocked Gene Gessow’s appointment as head of the Department of Human Services. Also on April 15, two Senate Democrats joined with the whole Republican caucus to reject a second term for Carrie La Seur on the Iowa Power Fund board.

Senate Republican leader Paul McKinley released statements explaining each of these votes, but I doubt those statements tell the whole story, and I’ll tell you why after the jump.

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The Marshalltown coal plant is dead

Here’s some good news for the environment and public health:  

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.


Economic concerns prompted a different company to pull the plug on a proposed coal-fired power plant near Waterloo earlier this year.

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.  

I am still annoyed that the Iowa Utilities Board approved an application to build the Marshalltown plant last spring, but at least the IUB’s recent ratemaking decision helped doom the project.

Please disregard my action alert regarding public comments on the DNR’s draft air quality permit for the Marshalltown plant.

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.  

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Speak out for water quality and air quality in Iowa

Today is the last day to submit public comments to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources concerning draft water quality rules ("Antidegradation rules").

Background information and talking points can be found on the websites of Sierra Club Iowa or the Iowa Environmental Council. Submit your comments to Adam Schnieders, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Wallace State Office Building, 502 East 9th Street, Des Moines, Iowa 50319-0034, fax (515) 281-8895 or by E-mail to Contact Adam Schnieders at (515) 281-7409 with questions.

While you’re on the Sierra Club Iowa page, look on the left-hand side for talking points about the draft air quality permit for the proposed coal-fired power plant near Marshalltown. As I wrote in this post, there are some big problems with the permit, and it’s important for as many Iowans to weigh in as possible with public comments. The DNR recently extended the comment period for that air quality permit until May 18, but it’s not too early to send in your letter.

Last week Blog for Iowa published an excellent letter on the draft permit by Paul Deaton, who chairs the Johnson County Board of Health. Read his letter as well as the Sierra Club talking points for some ideas, but remember to use your own words when writing to the DNR.

DNR extends comment period for Marshalltown coal plant air permit

Earlier this month, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources issued a draft air quality permit for the proposed coal-fired power plant near Marshalltown. There are big problems with the draft permit. For one thing, it does not regulate carbon-dioxide emissions, even though coal-fired power plants are a major source of greenhouse gases.

In addition, the draft permit does not regulate fine particulate matter (also known as particulate matter 2.5), which causes and exacerbates many respiratory illnesses. Fine particulate matter isn’t just a nuisance—it causes many premature deaths. You would think that an air quality permit would address an air pollution issue with major implications for human health.

The good news is that on Friday the DNR extended the public comment period for this air quality permit, thanks to numerous comments encouraged by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups. Mike Carberry of Green State Solutions forwarded the DNR’s press release to me:

Due to extensive interest, the public comment period for the draft air quality construction permits for the coal-fired power plant proposed by Interstate Power and Light for its Marshalltown facility-Sutherland Generating Station-has been extended to May 18. Public hearings will also be held in five additional cities.

Currently scheduled are four public hearings (two each at two locations):

March 16, 2:30 p.m. – 5 p.m., Iowa Veterans’ Home, Whitehill Chapel, 1501 Summit Street Marshalltown

March 16, 6:30 p.m. – 9 p.m., Iowa Veterans’ Home, Marshalltown

March 17, 3 p.m. – 5 p.m., Meskwaki Tribal Center, 346 Meskwaki Road, Tama

March 17, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m., Meskwaki Tribal Center, Tama

Due to the many comments received from particular areas of the state, additional public hearings have been scheduled in Council Bluffs, Davenport, Des Moines, Iowa City and the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area. Specific times and sites have not been determined at this point, but the hearings will likely be held in early May. As soon as that information is available it will be released to the public.

The public hearings are for the purpose of accepting comments only. Comments at the public hearings will be limited to five minutes. Presentations shall include a hard copy for inclusion into public record.

Comments may also be submitted in writing before 4:30 p.m., May 18, to Chris Roling, Air Quality Bureau, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 7900 Hickman Road Ste 1, Urbandale, IA 50322 or emailed to

All documents for this project are available on the DNR Air Quality Bureau’s Web site at…

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Please submit your comments on this draft air quality permit. Making this permit stronger in any way would reduce the adverse impact of this coal plant and might prompt the utility to abandon the project.

You can download a pdf file with talking points for your comments on the Iowa page of the Sierra Club’s website.

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