Good riddance

cross-posted at La Vida Locavore

Sometimes one small step against confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) leads to another.

Over at Iowa Independent, Jason Hancock reports that

A member of the state’s Environmental Protection Commission who has been labeled by critics as “pro-factory farms” has stepped down.

Ralph Klemme, a former Republican state representative from LeMars, resigned from the nine-person oversight panel, which is part of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, late last week. He told the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers that the commission’s “increasing tilt against agriculture” was his main reason to step down.

The commission’s recent vote to reject permits for two hog confinements in Dallas County appears to have been a major factor in Klemme’s decision.

I was against Klemme’s appointment to this commission in 2007 because of his involvement with corporate agriculture groups.

My suspicions were warranted. In a statement welcoming Klemme’s resignation, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement recounted his record of looking out for agribusiness instead of the environment:

Klemme voted in May to approve a large hog factory in Greene County that was overwhelmingly opposed by local residents, county officials and local business leaders. He also voted against a common-sense rule that would have limited the amount of manure that factory farm owners could be spread on soybean crops.

Governor Chet Culver should replace Klemme with someone committed to protecting the environment. Otherwise why call it an Environmental Protection Commission?

I am hopeful because several of Culver’s appointments to this body have been quite good.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t underestimate the clout of corporate agriculture groups that will lobby the governor to replace Klemme with a person who is equally sympathetic to their interests. We saw this summer that agriculture trumped the environment on the task forces associated with the Rebuild Iowa Commission.

Whoever takes Klemme’s place on the Environmental Protection Commission, I view his resignation as a healthy sign. The majority of commission members are not willing to look the other way regarding the environmental impacts of CAFOs.

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EPC moves to block two new CAFOs in Dallas County

cross-posted at La Vida Locavore

The Iowa legislature and state agencies have notoriously failed to do anything to address the pollution problems stemming from confined-animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

But the Environmental Protection Commission took one small step in the right direction:

The state Environmental Protection Commission today rejected previously approved permits for two large hog confinements in Dallas County.

The surprise move came after a two-hour meeting in Urbandale at which commissioners said rules drawn up to dictate approval of large-scale confinement permits leave out important environmental considerations and neighbors’ quality-of-life concerns.

“There are battle lines being drawn on this, and it creates a political situation that the Legislature cannot ignore,” commission chairman Henry Marquard said.

Only a handful of permits have been denied in Iowa, but rarely has one been turned down after it met approval from the Department of Natural Resources and passed a complicated scoring system adopted by counties, including Dallas.

The nine-member commission voted to block these permits on a strong 6-2 vote. I wouldn’t be surprised if the matter ends up in court, however.

Noneed4thneed wrote about the controversy over the new Dallas County CAFOs in late July:

The proposed hog confinements would have a total of 7,440 hogs in rural Dallas County, which is the fastest growing county in the state. These confinements will produce as much waste as a town of 30,000 people and it will go untreated.

Earlier this month, Dallas County Supervisors voted against allowing these proposed hog confinements, but in reality there isn’t much the local people can do about the hog confinements that will be owned by the out of state company, Cargill.

We need federal legislation to make CAFOs pay for the harm they cause, because our state legislature has shown itself to be unwilling to act to protect air and water quality in Iowa.

But in the absence of federal action, a state law giving counties “local control” (agricultural zoning rights) would at least offer some protection. Some county supervisors would rubber-stamp every proposed CAFO, but others would follow the lead of the Dallas County supervisors.

For all I know, Cargill will sue to reinstate their permits to open these hog confinements. But however this story ends, it’s good to see the majority of the Environmental Protection Commission’s members doing something to protect the environment.

UPDATE: I learned from the online newsletter of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources recently denied a permit for a different proposed CAFO.

Because of the efforts of CCI members and other local residents, the DNR recently denied a 4,900-head hog factory proposed for southern Appanoose County. The permit application did not meet legal requirements, nor did their master matrix pass muster. Although the applicant for this proposed confinement is a local resident, the 4,900 hogs would have been owned by Cargill. Cargill, one of the largest privately-held corporations in the world, has been behind a number of proposed factory farms around the state, including two proposed 7,440-head hog factories in northwest Dallas County.

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Project Destiny Vote Today

(8:43 PM--Polk County voters have rejected Project Destiny. Now we're waiting on Dallas and Warren county results. Could be slow coming from Dallas County, as I've heard they had ballot machine problems.

8:31 PM--Destiny appears to be losing badly, track the news over at Iowa Independent.

7:57 PM--Bumped back up to the top for discussion as the polls start to close. - promoted by Chris Woods)

If you’re a Bleeding Heartland reader in Polk, Warren, or Dallas counties make sure you get out and vote today on the 28E Agreement, more generally known as Project Destiny.

Both desmoinesdem and myself have urged a no vote in previous posts (see here, here, here, and here) but if you want more information before you head out to your polling place, you can read information from Yes to Destiny (supporters) here and from NoLocalOption.com (opponents) here.

Finally, to find your polling location, click here.

Oh, and let us know what turnout is like in your area after you’ve voted.  I’m curious.

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Union leaders to oppse "Destiny" tax proposal

Desmoinesdem has previously written about Project Destiny–a tricounty joint venture between Polk, Dallas, and Warren Counties to increase the sales tax in the three communities by one cent–and urged you to vote against the plan.  And now the South Central Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO, will announce on Thursday that they plan to oppose the sales tax increase as well.

From an advisory put out today:

“Union leadwers say voters should consider that “basic needs” are not being met in the three-county area. A regressive tax to finance so-called “quality of life” efforts such as bicycle trails, they say, should not take precedence over citizens’ fundamental needs.”

With strong labor opposition, who knows how the effort will fare on election day, July 10th.

Discussing and talking about the proposal is no easy subject.  Almost two weeks ago, CityView’s cover story was dedicated to the debate over Project Destiny.  The story offered more insight on the project, its supporters and opponents than the Register or any other local news stations have offered.  I recommend reading the full story to truly understand the debate behind Project Destiny.

The biggest opposition to the tax comes from taxpayers groups and citizens who feel that the sales tax increase is a regressive move that hits the poorest residents in these three counties the hardest.  And they’re right.  The fact is, the fundamentals for citizens in these areas aren’t even being provided and that is something that local government leaders should focus on first and foremost.

While I’m all about lowering property taxes in the area–because we could certainly use the decrease–the problem is that current tax revenue isn’t being spent wisely.  Not to mention that we’re already giving out large property tax breaks to the corporations who would receive the most benefit from the proposal were it to pass and they were to have their property taxes reduced further.  Inherently, the system is complex and difficult, but the focus should be on infrastructure priorities and essentials.

I want more trails, culture, and focus on the arts in the region.  But I can’t write off a disproportionate tax increase on the low-income and poorest people of the community to make our region better.  I just can’t.

For more information on the proposal, check out the supporters’ website and the opponents’ website.

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Vote No on "Destiny" tax proposal

Those of you who live in Polk, Dallas or Warren counties will get a chance to vote on the “Destiny” tax proposal on July 10.

David Elbert describes the basics in this piece in the Sunday Register. The concept is, the sales tax would go up from 6 percent to 7 percent in the three counties. One-third of the revenues would go to “property tax relief,” one-third to fund cultural attractions like bike trails, and one-third to local governments to use on whatever they want.

The Register coverage has been mostly cheerleader pieces on how great an idea this is, and how “Yes to Destiny” would help fund the things that make Des Moines a great place to live. They've been mostly dismissive of opposition as based on knee-jerk anti-tax sentiment, or on mistrust of local governments because of things like the CIETC scandal.

As much as I hate to find myself in agreement with the Grover Norquist wing of the Republican Party, I strongly oppose this tax proposal.

For me, it's really simple. The sales tax is regressive, and raising it would impact lower and middle-income people disproportionately. In theory, property tax cuts will offset the tax hike, but corporations and high-end homeowners will get most of the benefit from property tax cuts. Renters or those who live in inexpensive homes will just be getting a tax hike.

If corporations are so excited about these cultural amenities as a way to attract quality employees, then let them fund those initiatives without demanding a property tax cut for business at the same time. 

I'm all for spending more on the arts, music, and bike trails, but I'm not for raising the most regressive tax to do so. The Des Moines Partnership and Chamber of Commerce types who will wring their hands if “Destiny” fails to pass should ask the higher-income Iowans to chip in for culture.

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