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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ACTION: Help protect outstanding Iowa waters

Political journalists tend to write about laws and executive orders, but some of the most important policy decisions take place during the rulemaking process within executive branch agencies.

Last month I wrote about rulemaking at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources that will affect the highest-quality waters in Iowa. These rules will determine which lakes and streams receive the “Outstanding Iowa Waters” designation, as well as the level of protection those waterways receive from future polluters.

The Iowa Environmental Council’s monthly newsletter arrived today, and it contained the following action alert:

Currently underway at the Iowa DNR is a rule-making package that includes protections for Iowa’s very best, few remaining high quality waters. From now through November 10, 2009, they are accepting public comments/letters, which will help them decide whether to designate 6 Iowa lakes and 32 streams as Outstanding Iowa Waters. This designation will provide protections which keep the water quality in these water bodies from becoming degraded. In addition, the Iowa Legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee also needs to hear from Iowans about these designations.

Follow this link to learn more about Outstanding Iowa Waters.

Follow this link to learn more about Antidegradation Rules and Outstanding Iowa Waters

Three Ways you can help protect Iowa’s Outstanding Iowa Waters…

1) Follow this link to send a comment letter to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and your State Senator and Representative. LINK to ACTION ALERT and SAMPLE LETTER. This letter must be sent no later than November 10, 2009.

2) Attend and speak out at a public meeting in Des Moines on November 10, in the Wallace Building Auditorium, at 1:00 p.m. Public meetings, let the DNR hear directly from local citizens about the value they place on clean water.  At these meetings the public can provide oral testimony on the record demonstrating their support for the designation and protection of the nominated waters.  TALKING POINTS

3) Attend a meeting of the Iowa Legislative Administrative Rules Committee, also on November 10, at the Capitol, at 9:00 a.m., in room 24 (behind the Senate Chambers) and present your comments to the Committee. TALKING POINTS

If you have questions or need help with your comments, contact Shannan Garretson at the Iowa Environmental Council at 515-244-1194 ext 211, email skgarretson@iaenvironment.org or contact Susan Heathcote at extension 205, email heathcote@iaenvironment.org.

If the talking points links don’t work from here, you can find them on this page of the IEC’s website.

Remember, the public comment period ends on November 10. Please take a few minutes to make your voice heard, and pass this link along to friends who like paddling, fishing or are just passionate about Iowa lakes and streams.

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Events coming up during the next two weeks

Food advice for the Iowa State Fair, which runs from August 13-23: The best deal on lemonade is at the honey producers’ booth in the ag building. The best ice cream is in the Bauder’s truck, not far from the ag building. Don’t miss popcorn with real butter.

If you’re looking for something useful to do in August, I’ve got lots of event details after the jump.

Please consider attending some town hall meetings with members of Congress. Don’t let right-wing astroturf mobs dominate all of this month’s town-hall meetings.

As always, post a comment or send an e-mail to desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com if you know of something I’ve left out. You can volunteer for Curt Hanson’s campaign in Iowa House district 90 any weekend this month. I noticed that Mariannette Miller-Meeks has been knocking on doors for the Republican candidate, Stephen Burgmeier.

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Events coming up during the next two weeks (updated)

Who else is looking forward to the Iowa State Fair, which runs from August 13-23?

If you’re looking for something useful to do in August, I’ve got lots of event details after the jump. As always, post a comment or send an e-mail to desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com if you know of something I’ve left out. You can volunteer for Curt Hanson’s campaign in Iowa House district 90 any weekend this month.

Please submit a comment to preserve public input on CAFO permits by Thursday, August 6. The Sierra Club’s Iowa chapter has made it easy for people to send comments to the right DNR official as well as all the members of the Environmental Protection Commission.

UPDATE: Added some public events featuring Democratic members of Congress. Don’t let right-wing astroturf mobs dominate all of this month’s town-hall meetings.

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Why don't Iowa leaders do more to protect the environment? (updated)

David Yepsen published his final column in the Des Moines Register before starting his new job as director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. It reprises some themes from many previous columns, such as the need to create a world-class education system and thriving economy in Iowa, with fewer layers of government.

As often happens when I read one of Yepsen’s columns, I wonder why he ignores some obvious paths to achieving his admirable goals. For instance, he wants Iowa to “set the goal of having one of the highest per-capita incomes in the country within 10 years.” Is this the same columnist who never met a labor union he liked? It reminded me of how Yepsen periodically slams the excessive influence of big money in politics, but won’t get behind a voluntary public financing system for clean elections.

In Yepsen’s final column, one passage in particular caught my eye:

Let’s set a goal to have the cleanest environment in the country within 10 years. The cleanest air. The cleanest water. The best soil- and energy-conservation practices.

We’ve had education governors. We’ve had sporadic focus on growing the economy. For some reason, we’ve lacked a similar focus on the environment. Creating a clean environment will create green jobs, but it will also make Iowa more attractive as a place to live and do business.

“For some reason”? I think most of us have a pretty good idea why improving air and water quality has never been a high priority for Iowa leaders. Follow me after the jump for more on this problem.

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