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Terry Branstad

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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Branstad vetoes will stand: not enough support for Iowa legislative special session

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jul 30, 2015 at 16:58:51 PM CDT

Governor Terry Branstad's vetoes of education and mental health funding will stand, as the two-thirds majority needed to call a special legislative session has failed to materialize in either the Iowa House or Senate.

A special session always looked like a long-shot, given that Iowa House Republican leaders didn't want to spend extra money on education and only reluctantly agreed to extend funding for mental health institutions. In addition, 23 of the 24 Iowa Senate Republicans voted against the supplemental spending bill. They had no stake in the compromise the governor blew apart.

Still, the outcry over school funding (including dozens of normally non-political superintendents speaking out) created an opening for Republican lawmakers. Even if they didn't believe in the substantive value of additional education or mental health funding, they could have taken a big issue off the table for next year's statehouse elections. So far, very few Republicans seem worried about the political fallout from not overriding Branstad's vetoes. Democrats appear ready to remind voters at every opportunity who created the holes local education leaders are scrambling to fill.  

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Matt Hinch stepping down as Branstad's chief of staff

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 29, 2015 at 12:55:00 PM CDT

After nearly two years on the job, Matt Hinch is resigning as Governor Terry Branstad's chief of staff, effective August 7. The full press release from the governor's office is after the jump.

Hinch is leaving for an unspecified "private sector" opportunity. I expect to hear soon that he is joining one of the Republican presidential campaigns. Hinch's previous work included a stint as campaign manager for then-U.S. Representative Tom Latham. He also served as chief of staff for Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen and handled government relations for the Greater Des Moines Partnership, an influential business-oriented group.

Hinch kept a low profile as the governor's chief of staff, rarely making the news. Last year, he headed a quick (and I mean very quick) review of secret settlements with former state employees, which sidestepped allegations of political cronyism that affected the careers of some merit-based state workers. Former Iowa Workforce Development Director Teresa Wahlert has asserted that Hinch and other senior Branstad administration officials thwarted her efforts to make her department's chief administrative law judge position a merit-based job, as the U.S. Department of Labor has demanded.

UPDATE: Another plausible theory: Hinch may go to work for the Iowa Partnership for Clean Water, an astroturf group the Iowa Farm Bureau created to lobby against any regulations to improve water quality.

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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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Where are they now? Non-existent heated sidewalks edition

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 15, 2015 at 09:40:00 AM CDT

Bleeding Heartland's "Where are they now?" posts usually focus on new jobs for former elected officials, candidates for high office, or other prominent individuals in Iowa politics.

Todd Dorman's latest commentary for the Cedar Rapids Gazette prompted me to follow up on a smear from the 2010 state legislative elections.

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A close look at the status of abortion regulations in Iowa

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jul 14, 2015 at 09:19:20 AM CDT

Anti-abortion activists suffered a setback last month when the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously ruled unconstitutional the state ban on using telemedicine for medical abortions. But the health and human services budget for the fiscal year that began on July 1 contained two provisions sought by those who want to reduce the number of abortions performed in Iowa.

The first part of this post examines new language in the Iowa Code related to ultrasounds for women seeking abortions. Who was closer to the mark: Iowa Right to Life, which hailed the "HUGE life-saving victory" as the anti-choice movement's biggest legislative success in two decades? Or Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which countered that the ultrasound language would neither change the standard of care at their clinics nor "directly impact a woman's access to abortion"?

Next, the post addresses language lawmakers first adopted in 2013 and renewed in the just-passed human services budget, which allows the Iowa governor to determine whether Medicaid should reimburse for abortion services. No other state has a similar provision.

Finally, I offer some thoughts on an odd feature of anti-abortion activism in the Iowa legislature. State Senate Republicans advocate more for restrictions on abortion rights and access than do GOP representatives in the House, even though "pro-choice" Democrats control the upper chamber, while all 57 members of the House majority caucus are nominally "pro-life." Iowa House leaders have not been eager to put abortion bills on the agenda. This year, rank-and-file House Republicans didn't even introduce, let alone make a serious attempt to pass, companion bills to most of the abortion-related legislation their counterparts filed in the state Senate.

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AFSCME, 20 Democratic legislators sue Branstad over mental health closures (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 13, 2015 at 21:10:00 PM CDT

Iowa's largest public employee union and 20 Democratic state legislators filed a lawsuit today challenging the closure of mental health institutes in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda. I enclose below a press release from AFSCME Council 61, which lists the six state senators and fourteen state representatives who joined the lawsuit naming Governor Terry Branstad and Department of Human Services Director Chuck Palmer.

The Branstad administration announced plans in January to close two of Iowa's four in-patient mental health facilities. State legislators were neither consulted nor notified in advance. The Department of Human Services started winding down operations well before the end of the 2015 fiscal year. Democrats fought to include funding for the Clarinda and Mount Pleasant institutes in the budget for the current fiscal year, but Branstad item-vetoed the appropriation. The lawsuit contends that closing the facilities violates Iowa Code, which holds that the state "shall operate" mental health institutes in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda. The governor's communications director told KCCI that AFSCME's leader in Iowa "is resistant to change" and that the closed "centers were not suited to offer modern mental health care."

The Iowa legislature's decision next year on whether to fund the Clarinda and Mount Pleasant facilities will be critically important. The Iowa Supreme Court recently dismissed the lawsuit challenging the closure of the Iowa Juvenile Home in 2014, without considering the merits of that case, on the grounds that the legislature made the issue "moot" by no longer appropriating state money to operate that facility. By refusing to include funding for the two closed mental health institutes in the budget for fiscal year 2017, Iowa House Republicans could bolster the Branstad administration's efforts to defeat the lawsuit filed today.

UPDATE: Added more speculation about this lawsuit's prospects below.

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Terry Branstad's weak excuse for axing refugee support funding

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 13, 2015 at 12:31:50 PM CDT

The apparent attempt to bury Governor Terry Branstad's large batch of budget cuts before the July 4 holiday weekend isn't working. Fallout from the governor's line-item vetoes continues to make news on a daily basis. Today, Iowa Senate Democratic leaders announced that they have formally asked colleagues to request a special legislative session to override the highest-profile and largest vetoes, which affected education and mental health funding.

Meanwhile, the latest article by the Des Moines Register's "Reader's Watchdog" Lee Rood called attention to an item veto that flew below the radar last week: $100,000 from the health and human services budget, intended for a pilot project to serve refugees in Polk County. The amount of money was so small--far less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the $7 billion state budget--that Branstad couldn't fall back on misleading statements about "fiscal health" to justify this item veto. Instead, he cited an equally weak pretext.

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"Quit whining" wasn't the most outrageous thing Iowa State Senator David Johnson said yesterday

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jul 10, 2015 at 09:43:05 AM CDT

Waterloo high school teacher Vaughn Gross e-mailed 23 Iowa Republican state senators this week, urging them to "help call a special [legislative] session to fund our schools." State Senator David Johnson sent back a dismissive reply, telling Gross to "Quit whining" and complaining that Democrats had cost him money by sending the Iowa legislative session into overtime.

I'm surprised an experienced politician would respond in that tone to Gross's respectful, heartfelt appeal. But Johnson outdid himself later in the day, after his message to the teacher went viral. Far from seeking a graceful way out of the situation, Johnson defended his choice of words and indicated that he sees GOP legislators as the victims of a "concerted attack" on their votes. In his view, Republicans should not be criticized for education funding levels.

Really?

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Republicans, this is how to talk about the Confederate flag

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jul 07, 2015 at 07:05:00 AM CDT

While too many Republicans of national stature "tread carefully" in commenting on displays of the Confederate flag, Iowa GOP Chair Jeff Kaufmann provided a clinic this week on how to talk about the issue.
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Four takeaways from Branstad destroying the Iowa legislature's budget compromise

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 06, 2015 at 21:01:31 PM CDT

Late in the afternoon on the last day state offices were open before the long holiday weekend, Governor Terry Branstad used his veto pen to strike "all the big deals" Iowa House Republicans and Senate Democrats negotiated to end this year's legislative session.

The budget compromise was already a much better deal for statehouse Republicans than for Democrats. House GOP leaders got the global budget targets they had demanded, which were lower than what the governor requested and Democrats proposed. Most of the concessions to Democrats came in House File 666, a $125 million collection of one-time appropriations.

While Branstad didn't veto the entire supplemental spending bill like he did in 2014, he cut out House File 666's largest and highest-priority items for statehouse Democrats: $55.7 million for K-12 school districts, $2.5 million for community colleges, nearly $2.9 million for the University of Iowa, $2.25 million for Iowa State University, and $1.1 million for the University of Northern Iowa.

In other words, after standing on the sidelines during most of the battle over the 2016 budget, Branstad handed House Republicans near-total victory. The fallout will be substantial.

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Ryan Wise is the new Iowa Department of Education director (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 06, 2015 at 07:37:38 AM CDT

Catching up on news from last week, Governor Terry Branstad appointed Ryan Wise to lead the Iowa Department of Education, effective July 1. I've enclosed below the full statement from the governor's office, which includes more background on Wise. He should have no trouble during the Iowa Senate confirmation process, having served as deputy director at the education department since September 2013.

Wise replaces Brad Buck, who started work on July 1 as superintendent of the Cedar Rapids Community School District. It's no surprise that he sought new opportunities after less than two years in the top state education job. Branstad instructed Buck to prioritize the tourism industry's demands over the consensus of school district leaders on academic calendars, even though the large body of research supporting shorter summer vacations for students contrasts sharply with the lack of evidence that "early [school] start dates interfere in any meaningful sense with the Iowa State Fair or with any other tourism activity in Iowa." During Buck's tenure as education director, Branstad also asked lawmakers to approve miserly increases in state aid to K-12 schools. The governor's latest draft budget included "allowable growth" for K-12 education of 1.25 percent for fiscal year 2016 and 2.45 percent for fiscal year 2017. Those levels are low by historical standards and not nearly enough to allow school districts to cover growing costs, leading to either staff and program cuts or property tax increases in many localities.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. UPDATE: Added below excerpts from fifth-grade teacher Amy Moore's editorial for the Des Moines Register, sounding the alarm about Wise's experience with the Teach for America program.

P.S.- Almost every time I read a press release from the governor's office, I am struck by the relentless branding of Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds as a single unit. The communications staff have been doing this for years, supporting Branstad's desire to make Reynolds his successor. Still, it's jarring to read unnatural-sounding quotes mentioning the "governor and lieutenant governor" or "Governor Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Reynolds' leadership." Does anyone really talk the way Wise "speaks" in the enclosed press release ("I admire the Governor's and Lieutenant Governor's commitment to providing every child in Iowa with the world-class education they deserve")?

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Branstad insists on keeping administrative law judges "at-will," easier to fire

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jul 03, 2015 at 10:47:23 AM CDT

Not for the first time and probably not for the last time, Governor Terry Branstad dropped a lot of line-item vetoes late in the afternoon before a holiday weekend. Early news reports are understandably focusing on the vetoes of one-time funding for K-12 education and state universities, as well as language that would have kept mental health institutions in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant open. Bleeding Heartland has a post in progress about the fallout from those actions and others, including Branstad's decision to strike language that would have expanded child care assistance.

Democratic State Representative Sharon Steckman called attention to several other line-item vetoes that flew below the radar yesterday. One of them seems particularly important, as it could put the State of Iowa at odds with U.S. Department of Labor demands to "strengthen Iowa's compliance with Federal law" and keep administrative law judges "free from actual or perceived intimidation."

JULY 6 UPDATE: The vetoed language pertained to administrative law judges working for the Public Employment Relations Board, not Iowa Workforce Development; see further details below.

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Iowa Board of Medicine not ready to face reality on telemed abortion or court appeals process

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jul 02, 2015 at 15:35:07 PM CDT

Nearly two weeks ago, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the state ban on using telemedicine for abortion. The unanimous decision is the end of the line for a rule the Iowa Board of Medicine adopted in the absence of medical evidence.

Yet Governor Terry Branstad isn't the only person reluctant to take the Iowa Supreme Court's no, no, no, no, no, no for an answer. Tony Leys reported for the Des Moines Register on Tuesday, "The Iowa Board of Medicine has huddled three times with its lawyers since losing a key state Supreme Court case this month, but has not yet decided whether to appeal or accept the decision."

I don't know what's more surprising: that after three meetings, those attorneys still haven't persuaded board members to quit while they're behind, or that board members who didn't participate in making the unconstitutional rule are considering hitching their wagons to this cause.

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Judy Bradshaw to lead Iowa Law Enforcement Academy

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 01, 2015 at 17:43:54 PM CDT

Former Des Moines Police Department chief Judy Bradshaw will be the new director of the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy, Governor Terry Branstad announced yesterday. Bradshaw has been assistant director at the academy since last October. Before that, she broke several glass ceilings in Des Moines as the Police Department's "first female lieutenant, captain, major and police chief." When she started at the department in 1980, the only two women working there "both had filed harassment charges."

I don't understand why Branstad renominated Arlen Ciechanowski as director of the Law Enforcement Academy despite disturbing accounts over the last few years of a hostile environment for female staff and cadets. Fortunately, the Iowa Senate declined to confirm Ciechanowski during this year's legislative session, prompting the director to retire and forcing Branstad to look for a replacement. Bradshaw will be much better positioned to change the culture.

Bradshaw said yesterday that her new position will allow her to share her experience and "perspective in what I think is good police work." I've enclosed more background on her career after the jump. She should have no trouble during the Iowa Senate confirmation process.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.  

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Why is Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey blocking a liberal blogger? (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 01, 2015 at 08:27:33 AM CDT

UPDATE: This morning Secretary Northey unblocked me and said the blocking had been unintentional. Glad to hear it.

Pulling together some links for a future post about how Iowans have responded to a new Environmental Protection Agency clean water rule, I checked Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey's Twitter feed yesterday and saw this:

 photo Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 8.51.05 PM_zpswyu83i3v.png

Northey may be the first Iowa Republican elected official to block me. Certainly he is the only statewide official ever to do so. A guy who is likely to run for governor in a couple of years might want to grow a thicker skin.

UPDATE: I learned this morning that I am unable to view Iowa House Judiciary Committee Chair Chip Baltimore's Twitter feed. That was not the case a few months ago. He may have deleted that account; the old @ChipBaltimoreIA feed has no new tweets since 2013. I haven't mentioned Baltimore at Bleeding Heartland in a while, but in April I did tweet a link to an unflattering story about him.

SECOND UPDATE: It seems Baltimore deleted that @chipbaltimore Twitter account.

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Iowa reaction to Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Jun 27, 2015 at 06:42:23 AM CDT

In a 5-4 decision announced Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex couples to marry in all 50 states and ordered state governments to recognize same-sex marriages performed anywhere in the country. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in Obergefell v Hodges, joined by Justices Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Stephen Breyer. Each of the dissenting justices wrote a separate opinion; all are available in this pdf file after Kennedy's opinion. Amy Howe explained the majority opinion in "Plain English" while Lyle Denniston posted a brief analysis.

Follow me after the jump for Iowa reaction on both sides of the marriage debate. Two years ago, Bleeding Heartland compiled Iowa politicians' comments on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Windsor, which struck down the federal ban on same-sex marriages but left state bans intact.

As a group, Iowa Democratic politicians are more enthusiastic and less cautious about welcoming marriage equality now than was the case in 2009, when the Iowa Supreme Court struck down our state's Defense of Marriage Act. Many Iowa Republicans called for elected officials to overturn the 2009 Varnum v Brien ruling by passing a constitutional amendment, but reacting to the latest U.S. Supreme Court ruling, few in the Iowa GOP sounded hopeful that there was any chance to reinstate state bans on same-sex marriage.

I will update this post as needed.  

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Branstad not ready to face reality on telemed abortion or court appeals process

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jun 26, 2015 at 07:15:00 AM CDT

A unanimous Supreme Court ruling against your position is usually a sign that your legal arguments lack merit. But Governor Terry Branstad hasn't learned that lesson from his administration being on the wrong end of not one, not two, but three unanimous Iowa Supreme Court rulings.

Last week, the court ruled with no dissenting justices that Iowa's ban on using telemedicine to provide abortion services is unconstitutional. Three of the justices who concurred in the decision are Branstad appointees (Chief Justice Mark Cady and Justices Edward Mansfield and Thomas Waterman). Two of them--Waterman and Mansfield--have demonstrated in previous cases that they are reluctant to substitute their judgment for that of executive branch bodies responsible for rulemaking. Yet Branstad not only rejects the reasoning underlying the telemedicine ruling, but also refuses to accept legal experts' determination that his administration cannot appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.  

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Five key points about the Iowa Supreme Court striking down the telemedicine abortion ban

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Jun 20, 2015 at 22:30:15 PM CDT

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously yesterday that Iowa's ban on the use of telemedicine to provide abortion services was unconstitutional because it imposed an "undue burden" on women seeking an abortion. You can read the whole ruling here (pdf). I've posted highlights after the jump, along with some reaction to the decision from both sides in the debate.

A few points are worth remembering.

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Environmental Protection Commission fails to protect the environment

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jun 17, 2015 at 09:52:43 AM CDT

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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