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environment

Pella Electric Cooperative trying to discourage customers from installing solar or wind

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 27, 2015 at 18:01:32 PM CDT

Solar power made big news in Iowa today, as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke in Des Moines about ambitious goals for installing solar panels. In a forthcoming post, Bleeding Heartland will compare the Democratic presidential candidates' proposals to combat climate change by increasing renewable energy production and decreasing carbon emissions.

Iowa has tremendous potential to generate electricity from the sun. Recognizing that fact, large bipartisan majorities in the Iowa House and Senate "triple[d] the size of Iowa's successful solar tax incentive program" in 2014 and during this year's session increased available solar energy tax incentive funds by another $500,000 to $5 million per year.

But some segments of the utilities sector have been slow to embrace solar power. One of Iowa's major investor-owned utilities persuaded the Iowa Utilities Board to block certain financing arrangements that made it easier for customers to install solar panels. An appeal of that administrative decision went to the Iowa Supreme Court, which overturned the Iowa Utilities Board last year.

Rural electric cooperatives, which supply electricity to roughly 650,000 Iowans, have approached renewable energy and solar power in vastly different ways. Farmers Electric Cooperative in the Kalona area installed the largest solar farm in Iowa last year.  

But as first reported by Karen Uhlenhuth at Midwest Energy News last week, the Pella Electric Cooperative is seeking to penalize customers who choose to install new solar or other renewable technology. Lee Rood picked up the story on the front page of today's Des Moines Register. The cooperative's new monthly charge for a handful of consumers is brazen and probably illegal.  

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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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Confederate flag controversy returns to U.S. House: How the Iowans voted

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jul 09, 2015 at 22:28:39 PM CDT

The continuing controversy over displaying Confederate flags has divided the Republican caucus in the U.S. House, forcing leaders to cancel a vote planned for today on a bill to fund the Interior Department for the 2016 fiscal year.

For the second time in less than a month, Iowa's four U.S. representatives split along party lines over how to handle Democratic efforts to remove all Confederate flag images from the Capitol.

Follow me after the jump for background and details.

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IA-Sen: Rob Hogg exploring challenge to Chuck Grassley

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 08, 2015 at 12:40:00 PM CDT

Democratic State Senator Rob Hogg announced today,

I have formed an exploratory committee to consider becoming a candidate for the United States Senate in 2016.  Like many Iowans, I believe we need Congress to work better for all of our citizens and our country's future.  If we had a Congress that worked better, we could:

> Build a vibrant, full-employment economy that works for all Americans.
> Improve public health and public safety through prevention, prevention, and more prevention.
> Strengthen Social Security and Medicare and fulfill our commitments to seniors, veterans, and people living with disabilities.
> Confront the challenge of our century - climate change - through solutions that work for our economy, our health, and our environment.

Hogg didn't set a timetable for deciding on a U.S. Senate bid but said he will travel around Iowa in the coming weeks. His full press release and official bio are after the jump. His exploratory committee is on the web here. He's on Twitter @SenatorRobHogg and on Facebook here.

Hogg was just re-elected to his third four-year term in the Iowa Senate last November, so he would not have to give up his legislative seat in order to run for U.S. Senate in 2016. Most recently, he has chaired the Iowa Senate Government Oversight Committee; before that, he chaired the Judiciary Committee. He is among the most outspoken Iowa lawmakers on climate change and other environmental issues.

Two Democrats have already announced plans to run against Grassley: former State Representative Bob Krause and former State Senator Tom Fiegen. They recently discussed their key issues with Mike Glover of the Iowa Daily Democrat. Krause and Fiegen also competed in the 2010 Democratic primary, which Roxanne Conlin won with about 77 percent of the vote.

UPDATE: Added below further comments from Hogg, via Iowa Starting Line.

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Iowa Congressional voting catch-up thread: Defense, trade, Medicare, chemicals, and power plants

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jun 29, 2015 at 23:51:38 PM CDT

While Congress is on recess until after July 4, it's time to catch up on an unusually busy few weeks in June for U.S. House members. Bleeding Heartland previously covered how Iowa's representatives voted on the failed and successful attempts to pass trade promotion authority, repeal of country-of-origin labeling requirements for meat, a bill to eliminate a tax on medical devices, and the Intelligence Authorization Act.

Follow me after the jump to find out how Democrat Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04) voted on the latest defense budget bill, more trade-related policies, and legislation dealing with chemical safety, Medicare cost controls, and regulations of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Iowa's representatives also voted last week on a matter relating to the growing national controversy over Confederate symbols.

Something you don't see often when looking through Congressional roll calls: three of Iowa's four House members crossed party lines more than once during the floor debate on the defense budget.

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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.

Discuss :: (3 Comments)

No single issue is worth risking the Iowa Senate majority

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jun 16, 2015 at 08:22:02 AM CDT

Shortly before the end of this year's legislative session, former State Representative Ed Fallon announced "political action" to stop the proposed Bakken Oil Pipeline. He warned that if the Iowa House and Senate did not approve a bill to block the use of eminent domain for the project, he would organize and fundraise "to help defeat one or two Democratic Senators and one or two Republican Representatives" who oppose the bill.

On June 5, the Iowa House and Senate adjourned for the year without passing an eminent domain bill in either chamber. Last week Fallon confirmed that he is sticking to his goal of defeating one or two majority party members in both the House and Senate, adding that he had already raised $4,500 toward the cause.

All I can say is, count me out of that political crusade.

Come to think of it, I have a few more things to say on the subject.

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House seeks to block EPA water rule: How the Iowans voted

by: desmoinesdem

Tue May 12, 2015 at 22:59:22 PM CDT

The U.S. House voted today by 261 votes to 155 to prevent the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from implementing the "waters of the United States" rule. The EPA released the final version of that rule last month. The American Farm Bureau Federation and other agribusiness groups have long bashed the proposed regulation as a threat to farmers. Last summer, Kyle Rabin wrote a clear and concise "debunking" of the Farm Bureau's deceptive hyperbole.

Today's votes to pass the "Regulatory Integrity Protection Act" came from 24 Democrats and all the Republicans present, including Representatives Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04). Meanwhile, Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02) voted with most of the House Democrats against the bill--a pleasant surprise, since he voted for last year's version of the same legislation.

I've been accused of being hostile to Loebsack, in part because Bleeding Heartland has called attention to a few bad votes for Republican bills seeking to rein in the EPA. Some of those bills were merely silly, while others posed a real threat to public health if enacted. I appreciate that since last November's election, Loebsack has voted against several House GOP efforts to target the EPA. More like that, please.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. I haven't seen any official statement from the Iowans in Congress about today's vote, but I'll update this post as needed.

Discuss :: (0 Comments)

Highlights from Bernie Sanders' first day as a Democratic presidential candidate

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Apr 30, 2015 at 18:26:39 PM CDT

After serving in Congress for 25 years as an independent, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont announced today that he will seek the Democratic nomination for president.  
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Still not convinced Martin O'Malley is running for president

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Apr 12, 2015 at 22:49:00 PM CDT

Former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley has been laying the groundwork for a presidential campaign for quite a while. These past few days, he continued to walk and talk just like a presidential candidate would in Iowa. On Thursday, he spoke at Simpson College and headlined a fundraiser for State Representative Scott Ourth before speaking to a good crowd in a heavily Democratic Des Moines neighborhood. The next day, he taped an episode of "Iowa Press" on Iowa Public Television (video and full transcript here; excerpts after the jump). O'Malley wrapped up Friday with a well-received speech at the Polk County Democrats' spring event (click through for video or audio). The stump speech blended a summary of his accomplishments as Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor with a vision for the future. For laughs and applause, he threw in some good jabs at tea party Republicans. Before and after the speech, O'Malley worked the room of activists. His staff had put down placemats and postcards for people to take home.

Yet I still can't shake the feeling that O'Malley will not follow through with running for president.  

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Three ways to help save an important rule for Iowa water and soil

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Mar 18, 2015 at 07:30:17 AM CDT

The next few weeks will be critically important for deciding whether Iowa keeps a statewide rule designed to preserve topsoil and reduce stormwater runoff, which carries pollution to our waterways. Bleeding Heartland discussed the 4-inch topsoil rule here and here. Todd Dorman has been on the case with several good columns for the Cedar Rapids Gazette, most recently here.

Follow me after the jump for background on the issue and details on how to weigh in. Submitting a comment takes only a few minutes, or Iowans may attend public hearings in Cedar Rapids tonight, Davenport on March 25, or Des Moines on March 27 (scroll down for times and locations).

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House still going after EPA's science advisors: How the Iowans voted

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 17, 2015 at 19:20:00 PM CDT

Today the U.S. House passed a new version of a bill to change who can serve on the Environmental Protection Agency's scientific advisory board. As happened last year, the Iowans split along party lines.
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Weekend open thread: New jobs for former Iowa lawmakers edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Mar 15, 2015 at 09:56:11 AM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

Looking through Governor Terry Branstad's latest set of appointments and nominations, I was again struck by how many former Iowa House and Senate members end up on state boards and commissions. I remember Governors Tom Vilsack and Chet Culver appointing lawmakers to high-profile jobs too, but the trend seems more pronounced under the current governor. Background and details on the new appointees are after the jump.

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Mike Glover editing new Iowa Democratic blog

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Mar 14, 2015 at 18:30:33 PM CDT

A veteran of Iowa political reporting is running the latest addition to this state's blogosphere.  
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Weekend open thread: Iowa Agriculture Summit edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Mar 08, 2015 at 17:21:55 PM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

Confession: I didn't watch any speeches at the Iowa Agriculture Summit. I followed some through many people's tweets and caught up on the rest through Pat Rynard's liveblog at Iowa Starting Line. As expected, given the background of moderator and organizer Bruce Rastetter, the event was no non-partisan issue forum. The audience for this "informercial for agribusiness" was overwhelmingly Republican, and some Democrats who wanted to attend were turned away at the door.

I enjoyed one person's comment on the "twilight zone trifecta": watching a parade of Republicans profess their love for government mandates (the Renewable Fuels Standard), subsidies, and science. The same person observed that the summit was "a textbook course on cognitive dissonance as hatred for @EPA clashes w/ begging them for #RFS mandates." Speaking of cognitive dissonance, how about former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckbee (an ordained Christian minister) criticizing immigrants who come to this country for free "goodies" and "a bowl of food."

Former Iowa Secretary of Agriculture and Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge was the only Democrat to accept Rastetter's invitation to speak at the event. Rynard saw that as a "missed opportunity" for other Democrats, but I believe there is little upside to validating Rastetter as some kind of neutral authority or referee. He isn't, and he never will be. Judge was reportedly well-received, probably because she's not running for any political office again.

Some important problems facing Iowa farmers didn't come up much, if at all, in Rastetter's Q&A format. Soil erosion is not only a major factor in water pollution but also a costly trend for the agricultural sector. Rick Cruse of Iowa State University has researched the economic costs of soil loss and the associated impact on crop yields. Iowans who wanted to learn about those issues were better off attending a different event in Des Moines on March 7: the Raccoon River Watershed Association's ninth annual Iowa Water Quality conference. Excerpts from Ben Rodgers' report for the Des Moines Register are after the jump.

Final related note: on Friday, Sena Christian profiled four women farmers who are "stepping up to sustain the land." One of them is LaVon Griffieon of Ankeny, a superstar whom I'm proud to call a friend. Click through to read Christian's post at Civil Eats.

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Keystone XL bill dead for now but will be back

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Mar 05, 2015 at 15:58:52 PM CST

As expected, the U.S. Senate failed yesterday to override President Barack Obama's veto of a bill that would clear the way for building the Keystone XL pipeline. Supporters of the bill managed 62 votes, five short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto. Iowa's Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst both voted yes, along with all of their Republican colleagues and eight Democrats (roll call). Republicans will now try to attach the Keystone language to some bill the president won't want to veto. Laura Barron-Lopez reported for The Hill,

"If we don't win the battle today, we will win the war, because we will attach it to another piece of legislation," Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), who wrote the bill, said Wednesday.

Hoeven said Republicans are likely to try to attach the legislation to a long-term transportation funding bill. Congress faces a May 31 deadline to approve new transportation funding.

"This is coming back in the form an infrastructure bill, a road bill that we are all voting for," said Manchin.

Keystone supporters are optimistic that Obama won't veto a six-year highway bill if it includes Keystone, despite vows by the president to veto any attempt to circumvent the federal review process of the pipeline.

If attaching Keystone to a transpiration bill doesn't work, supporters say, they will try to link it to a broader energy package.

That sounds like a good strategy. I suspect Keystone XL is a price Obama would be willing to pay for a long-term transportation funding bill. Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

Discuss :: (1 Comments)

Bakken pipeline links and discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Mar 02, 2015 at 09:51:19 AM CST

The proposed Bakken pipeline is one of the most urgent issues facing Iowa's environmental community. The Texas-based company Energy Transfer Partners wants to build the pipeline to transport crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to Illinois, crossing eighteen Iowa counties in the process. Governor Terry Branstad has made clear he won't support any legislative action to stop the pipeline. That will leave the initial decision up to the Iowa Utilities Board, though approval by other state and federal agencies would be needed later; more details on that are below.

Two dozen non-profit groups have formed a coalition to fight the pipeline. You can keep up with their work on Facebook or at the No Bakken website. I'm active with several of the coalition members and enclosed the full list after the jump. The Sierra Club's Iowa chapter outlined some of the key concerns concisely and explained how members of the public can submit comments.

Former state legislator Ed Fallon, who ran for governor in 2006 and for Congress in 2008, is kicking off a 400-mile walk along the proposed pipeline route today, starting from southeast Iowa and heading northwest over the next several weeks. I've enclosed below an excerpt from his first e-mail update about the walk, in which Fallon recounts a conversation with Lee County farmers whose land lies along the proposed pipeline route. Click here to view upcoming events, including a public meetings for residents of Lee County this evening, for Van Buren County residents in Birmingham on March 5, and for Jefferson County residents in Fairfield on March 6.

The latest Iowa poll conducted by Selzer & Co for the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics found that a majority of Iowans support the Bakken pipeline, but a larger majority oppose using eminent domain to seize land for the pipeline. Excerpts from the Iowa poll findings are at the end of this post.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

P.S. - The company that wants to build the pipeline has claimed "the project would have an Iowa economic impact of $1.1 billion during two years of construction, creating enough work to keep 7,600 workers employed for a year." Economist Dave Swenson explained here why such estimates are misleading.

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Obama vetoes Keystone XL pipeline bill, with Iowa reaction

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Feb 25, 2015 at 19:20:00 PM CST

As expected, President Barack Obama vetoed a bill that would have forced approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. In his message to Congress, Obama said the bill "conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest -- including our security, safety, and environment."  

Republican leaders will attempt to override the veto, but those efforts will almost certainly fail, since the bill didn't muster a two-thirds majority in either the House or the Senate. The next likely step is for Congressional Republicans to attach language on Keystone XL to some other "must-pass" bill. I am concerned that under those conditions, language on the pipeline would not be a deal-breaker for Obama.

All four Iowans in the U.S. House supported the Keystone XL bill, as did Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst. I haven't seen any official comment on the veto from Representatives Rod Blum (IA-01), Dave Loebsack (IA-02), David Young (IA-03), or Steve King (IA-04). After the jump I've posted the full text of the president's veto message, along with reaction from Grassley and Ernst. I will update as needed.

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Iowa Congressional voting roundup: Keystone XL and TSA "investigators"

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Feb 11, 2015 at 19:05:00 PM CST

This afternoon the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Senate-passed version of a bill that would authorize construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. As was the case last month, all four Iowans were part of the House majority that passed the bill by 270 votes to 152 (roll call). Dave Loebsack (IA-02) was one of 29 Democrats who voted yes today; his record on previous bills related to the pipeline is mixed. President Barack Obama has said he will veto the Keystone XL bill. The big question is what he will do if Congress includes similar language in other "must-pass" legislation.

Yesterday the House passed two bills related to the Transportation Security Agency. Members unanimously approved a bill "aimed at stopping the Transportation Security Agency from overpaying some of its workers to act as investigators, when they aren't really investigating anything," Pete Kasperowicz reported for The Blaze. The other bill, approved with only one dissenting vote, is intended to improve security at U.S. airports, in particular contingency plans for terrorist incidents.

Also today, House members including all four Iowans unanimously approved a bill to award "a Congressional Gold Medal to the Foot Soldiers who participated in Bloody Sunday, Turnaround Tuesday, or the final Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March in March of 1965, which served as a catalyst for the Voting Rights Act of 1965." However, House Republicans rejected calls from Democratic leaders to quickly pass legislation that would reanimate the Voting Rights Act after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of that law in 2013.  

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Grassley, Ernst vote for Keystone XL pipeline bill

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jan 29, 2015 at 20:51:02 PM CST

After hours of floor debate and votes on dozens of amendments over more than two weeks, today the U.S. Senate approved a bill to force construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Nine Democrats joined all the Republicans present to pass the final bill by 62 votes to 36 (roll call). Iowa's Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst have long supported Keystone XL, and Ernst possibly owes as much as any member of the Senate to campaign spending by the Koch brothers, who stand to profit from more tar sands oil extraction in Canada.

The Keystone XL bill now goes back to the U.S. House, which will surely send it to President Barack Obama. (All four Iowans supported the pipeline bill that cleared the House earlier this month.) A White House spokesman repeated today that the president intends to veto the current bill.

Before today's vote on final passage, senators rejected more than a dozen amendments to the Keystone XL bill. You can find all the roll calls here. Democrats offered most of the defeated amendments, which went down primarily along party lines. For instance, Grassley and Ernst helped their GOP colleagues reject Sheldon Whitehouse's amendment, which was designed to "require campaign finance disclosures from companies benefitting from the Alberta oil sands." Other defeated Democratic amendments would have further studied potential safety problems and threats to public health associated with the Keystone XL pipeline, allowed permitting agencies "to consider new circumstances and new information," or delayed the effective date of the bill until the President could rule out "certain negative impacts" from its construction.

In what may be the first Senate vote where Grassley and Ernst landed on opposite sides, Grassley was one of just three GOP senators to support Heidi Heitkamp's amendment that would have extended renewable energy tax credits. Ernst was among the 51 Republicans who voted against that amendment, which would benefit Iowa's wind power industry. Both Grassley and Ernst voted against Bernie Sanders' effort to expand incentives for installing solar power and Tom Udall's amendment on establishing a federal renewable electricity standard.

A few Republican amendments also fell short of the 60 votes needed for passage during the Keystone XL debate. Without Democratic votes, support from Grassley, Ernst, and most of the GOP caucus wasn't enough to win approval of Ted Cruz's amendment promoting crude oil exports, Jerry Moran's effort to "delist the lesser prairie-chicken as a threatened species," or Lisa Murkowski's amendment, which would "free up areas like ANWR [Alaska National Wildlife Refuge] and others that have been designated by the federal government as wilderness regions to potential drilling." Yesterday and today, Grassley and Ernst helped the Republican majority either to reject or to table a series of amendments related to climate change. Puneet Kollipara and David Malakoff described those amendments and votes in this Science magazine article.

During Senate sessions last week, Grassley and Ernst voted for language stating that climate change is "real" and "not a hoax" but against various statements indicating that human activity contributes to climate change.  

Discuss :: (1 Comments)
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