Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 1)

I expected 2009 to be a relatively quiet year in Iowa politics, but was I ever wrong.

The governor’s race heated up, state revenues melted down, key bills lived and died during the legislative session, and the Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in Varnum v Brien became one of this state’s major events of the decade.

After the jump I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from January through June 2009. Any comments about the year that passed are welcome in this thread.

Although I wrote a lot of posts last year, there were many important stories I didn’t manage to cover. I recommend reading Iowa Independent’s compilation of “Iowa’s most overlooked and under reported stories of 2009,” as well as that blog’s review of “stories that will continue to impact Iowa in 2010.”

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Year in review: national politics in 2009 (part 1)

It took me a week longer than I anticipated, but I finally finished compiling links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage from last year. This post and part 2, coming later today, include stories on national politics, mostly relating to Congress and Barack Obama’s administration. Diaries reviewing Iowa politics in 2009 will come soon.

One thing struck me while compiling this post: on all of the House bills I covered here during 2009, Democrats Leonard Boswell, Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack voted the same way. That was a big change from 2007 and 2008, when Blue Dog Boswell voted with Republicans and against the majority of the Democratic caucus on many key bills.

No federal policy issue inspired more posts last year than health care reform. Rereading my earlier, guardedly hopeful pieces was depressing in light of the mess the health care reform bill has become. I was never optimistic about getting a strong public health insurance option through Congress, but I thought we had a chance to pass a very good bill. If I had anticipated the magnitude of the Democratic sellout on so many aspects of reform in addition to the public option, I wouldn’t have spent so many hours writing about this issue. I can’t say I wasn’t warned (and warned), though.

Links to stories from January through June 2009 are after the jump. Any thoughts about last year’s political events are welcome in this thread.

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Events coming up during the next two weeks

Last month was so busy that I didn’t manage to post any event calendars here, but I am back on duty now. The highlight of this month for Democrats is the Iowa Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner on Saturday, November 21, featuring Vice President Joe Biden. You can buy tickets online.

Please note that November 10 is the deadline for public comments to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources about protecting our Outstanding Iowa Waters. The Farm Bureau is mobilizing public comments against these regulations. The DNR needs to hear from Iowans committed to preserving our highest-quality waterways. Click here for background and an easy to use comment form.

State Senator Staci Appel will officially announce her re-election campaign on November 12, and I’ve posted details about a fundraiser for her campaign below the fold. Appel’s Republican opponent, State Representative Kent Sorenson, is already gearing up for next year’s election. He spent the weekend in Texas attending the WallBuilders ProFamily Legislators Conference. Here’s some background on David Barton’s vision for America, chock full of Biblical interpretations supporting right-wing public policies. Barton spoke to the Iowa Christian Alliance not long ago (click that link to watch videos). Former presidential candidate Ron Paul is headlining a fundraiser for Sorenson on November 14, by the way.

Many more event details are after the jump. As always, please post a comment about anything I’ve left out, or send me an e-mail (desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com).

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Iowa has 42 of the 150 watersheds that create the Gulf of Mexico's "Dead Zone"

I just received a press release from the Iowa Environmental Council about new data released this week by the U.S. Geological Survey. The USGS identified “the top 150 polluting watersheds in the Mississippi River Basin that cause the annual 8,000 square-mile ‘Dead Zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico” and found that 42 of those watersheds are in Iowa. I’ve posted the whole press release after the jump, but here is an excerpt:

Marine dead zones can be caused by too many nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) in the water. Excess nutrients cause excess algae growth which, in turn, causes oxygen levels to drop too low to support marine life. […]

This is not the first time that Iowa nutrient problems in Iowa waters have been linked to problems downstream. In January of 2008, USGS identified 9* states, including Iowa, as the source of over 70 percent of the Gulf Dead Zone pollution. Nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from commercial fertilizers and animal manure from farmland were the biggest contributing sources in these states.

“It is ironic that our legislature is currently considering a bill that would weaken new rules proposed by the Iowa DNR to reduce runoff of manure applied to frozen or snow covered cropland during the winter,” said Marian Riggs Gelb, executive director for the Iowa Environmental Council.

I wrote about the “manure in water” bill, which passed the Iowa Senate as SF 432, earlier this week. Organizations opposing that bill include the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the Iowa Environmental Council, the Sierra Club’s Iowa chapter, Iowa Farmers Union, Raccoon River Watershed Association, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, and the Izaak Walton League.

In fact, I received an action alert about this bill from the Sierra Club today. Excerpt:

SF 432 is the Manure Bill, with the first Division of the bill being the Liquid Manure on Frozen Ground issue. It allows the spread of liquid manure on snow or ice covered frozen ground under certain conditions. Sierra Club, and many Iowans, are absolutely opposed to the spread of liquid manure on top of snow, ice or frozen ground. The risk of runoff into Iowa’s streams and lakes is quite high from such activity, especially upon thawing. Fundamentally this bill limits State implementation of Clean Water Act rules.

The Sierra Club wants Iowans to contact House representatives and ask them to remove the Liquid Manure division of SF 432. The floor manager of this bill in Iowa House is Representative Ray Zirkelbach (district 31). Other key Democratic legislators to contact about this bill, according to the Sierra Club, are House Speaker Pat Murphy (district 28), Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (district 67), Representative Mike Reasoner (district 95), Representative Donovan Olson (district 48), and Representative Polly Bukta (district 26).

If you live in any of the above districts, please contact them in the next few days regarding the manure in water bill. You can find contact information at the Iowa House Democrats’ site.

Getting back to the U.S. Geological Survey findings, the Iowa Environmental Council’s water program director, Susan Heathcote, pointed out that Iowans would also benefit from cleaning up our watersheds that contribute to the Gulf of Mexico’s “Dead Zone.” By way of example, she cited the Cedar, Iowa and Des Moines Rivers, which are on the USGS list and also provide drinking water for major population centers in Iowa.

Click “there’s more” to read the rest of the IEC’s press release on this issue.

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Organic farming is carbon sequestration we can believe in (updated)

The phrase “carbon sequestration” is often used in connection with so-called “clean coal” technology that doesn’t exist. Scientific debate over the best methods of carbon capture and storage tends to weigh the costs and benefits of various high-tech solutions to the problem.

But Tim LaSalle, CEO of the non-profit Rodale Institute, reminds us in a guest column for the Des Moines Register that an effective means of sequestering carbon in our soil already exists:

By using organic agricultural methods and eliminating petroleum-based fertilizers and toxic chemical pest-and-weed control, we build – rather than destroy – the biology of our soil. While improving the health of the soil we also enhance its ability to diminish the effects of flooding, as just one example. In some laboratory trials, organically farmed soils have provided 850 percent less runoff than conventional, chemically fertilized soils. This is real flood prevention, not sandbag bandages for life-threatening emergencies.

When the soil is nurtured through organic methods, it allows plants to naturally pull so much carbon dioxide from the air and store it in the soil that global warming can actually be reversed. Farms using conventional, chemical fertilizer release soil carbon into the atmosphere. Switching to organic methods turns a major global-warming contributor into the single largest remedy of the climate crisis, while eliminating toxic farm chemical drainage into our streams, rivers and aquifers.

Using such methods, we would be sequestering from 25 percent to well over 100 percent of our carbon-dioxide emissions. Microscopic life forms in the soil hold carbon in the soil for up to 100 years. This is much more efficient than inserting foreign genes. Healthy soil already does that at such remarkable levels it usually can eliminate crop disasters, which means greater food security for all nations. And the beauty is, investing in soils is not patentable, enriching just some, but instead is free to all.

Where has this science, this solution, been hiding? It has been intentionally buried under the weight of special interests – that are selling chemicals into our farming system, lobbying Congress, embedding employees in government agencies and heavily funding agricultural university research.

A few years ago, the Rodale Institute published a detailed report on how Organic farming combats global warming. Click that link for more facts and figures.

For more on how groups promoting industrial agriculture lobby Congress, see this Open Secrets report and this piece from the Green Guide on The New Food Pyramid: How Corporations Squash Regulation.

Expanding organic farming and reducing the amount of chemicals used on conventional farms would have other environmental advantages as well, most obviously an improvement in water quality both in farming states and downstream. Last week the National Academcy of Sciences released findings from the latest study proving that chemicals applied to farms are a major contributor to the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico:

The study, conducted at the request of the Environmental Protection Agency, recommends setting pollution reduction targets for the watersheds, or drainage areas, that are the largest sources of the pollution that flows down the Mississippi River to the gulf.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture was urged to help fund a series of pilot projects to test how changes in farming practices and land use can reduce the runoff of nitrogen and phosphorus. The report, written by a panel of scientists, did not say how much money would be needed. Agricultural experts and congressional aides said it wasn’t clear whether there was enough money in federal conservation programs to fund the necessary projects.

[…]

The government has been debating for years about how to address the oxygen-depleted dead zone, or hypoxia, in the gulf. The dead zone reached 8,000 square miles this year, the second-largest area recorded since mapping began in the 1980s.

[…]

Agricultural groups don’t want mandatory controls put on farms.

However, a scientific advisory board of the EPA has recommended reducing the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus flowing to the gulf by 45 percent. More than 75 percent of those two pollutants originates in nine states, including Iowa, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Here’s a link to more detailed findings about how agricultural states contribute to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

Organic farming is also good for rural economic development because it employs more people. I’ll write more soon on the economic benefits of implementing other sustainable agriculture policies.

UPDATE: This post generated a lot of good discussion at Daily Kos. You can view those comments here.

When OrangeClouds115 speaks, I listen:

BTW – can you request in your diary that people who support your ideas here sign the petition at http://www.fooddemocracynow.org/ ? Apparently its 40,000+ signatures have gotten the attention of Obama’s transition team and Michael Pollan himself thinks that they may actually listen to us if we get to 100,000 signatures.

SECOND UPDATE: Thanks to understandinglife for the Digg link.

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