Good news for Iowa water quality (for once)

State legislators have allowed clean water “anti-degradation” rules to stand, a step toward filling a significant hole in Iowa’s water quality regulations. A last-ditch effort by Republicans failed to win enough votes on the Iowa legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee (ARRC) to set aside rules adopted by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

I’ve joked that the ARRC’s unofficial motto is “Where good rules go to die,” because on several occasions the committee has rejected rules oriented toward environmental protection. Today Republican Senator Merlin Bartz tried to keep that tradition going with a motion to object to the new water quality rules. However, only Bartz’s three fellow Republicans on the committee (Senator James Seymour and State Representatives Dave Heaton and Linda Upmeyer) voted for rejecting the DNR’s rules. The six Democrats on the ARRC (Senators Wally Horn, Jack Kibbie and Tom Courtney, and State Representatives Marcella Frevert, Tyler Olson and Nathan Reichert) all voted against Bartz’s resolution.

Governor Chet Culver’s chief legal counsel, Jim Larew, spoke in favor of the rules at today’s ARRC hearing, saying they would help Iowa reverse the trend of declining water quality. Unfortunately, we’ve got a long way to go on this front. Further regulation of pollution is warranted, but the political will to accomplish that is currently absent in the state legislature.

Several non-profit organizations deserve special recognition today. Without their efforts, the DNR might not have moved forward to adopt the anti-degradation rules, as required by the Clean Water Act. The Iowa Environmental Council issued a release today with more background and details about the anti-degradation rules. Excerpt:

With the passage of the federal Clean Water Act in 1972 states were required to enact Antidegradation rules to prevent the further pollution of lakes, rivers and streams in the nation by 1985.  Iowa adopted rules but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency informed Iowa that its rules violated federal law as early as 1997.  

Repeated delays in rewriting the rules led a coalition of environmental organizations – Iowa Environmental Council, Hawkeye Fly Fishing Association, the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Environmental Law & Policy Center – to file a Petition for Rulemaking with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources in 2007 requesting that the State act immediately to adopt antidegradation implementation rules.  This action initiated a rule-making process that included several opportunities for public comment and a hearing before the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission, which approved the revised rules in December of last year. Monday’s meeting of the legislative Administrative Rules and Review Committee marked the final step in the decades-long process.

The full text of the press release is after the jump.

Thanks again to the Iowa Environmental Council, the Hawkeye Fly Fishing Association, the Sierra Club Iowa chapter, and the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

UPDATE: I’ve added the press release from the Sierra Club’s Iowa chapter after the jump.

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