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House approves gas pipeline bill: How the Iowans voted

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jan 22, 2015 at 08:05:00 AM CST

Continuing the Republican push to make fossil fuels projects a priority for this Congress, yesterday the U.S. House approved the "Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act" by by 253 votes to 169 (roll call). Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill,

Under the measure, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) would be ordered to approve or deny a [natural gas] pipeline application within 12 months.  Agencies responsible for issuing licenses or permits must act within 90 days after FERC issues a final environmental review, though the deadline could be extended by 30 days if the agency demonstrates it can't finish in time.

But if the agency doesn't make a decision by then, a pipeline would automatically be approved.

Republicans said the legislation would put pressure on agencies to avoid unnecessary delays for natural gas pipelines. [...]

The White House issued a veto threat against the measure, saying it would "create conflicts" with current requirements and force agencies to make rushed decisions or deny applications entirely because they don't have enough information by the established deadlines.

All the Republicans present supported this bill, including Iowans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04). They were joined by fourteen House Democrats, but Dave Loebsack (IA-02) stuck with the majority of his caucus in opposing this bill. Loebsack also voted against a similar bill that the House approved in 2013. I haven't seen any public comment on yesterday's vote, but I will update this post as needed.

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Grassley, Ernst affirm climate change is "not a hoax" but reject human contribution

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jan 21, 2015 at 23:39:21 PM CST

The U.S. Senate considered a series of amendments today to a bill that would force construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Democrats know they will be unable to block passage of the bill, but are trying to get senators on record acknowledging the existence of climate change. One amendment that would "express the sense of the Senate that climate change is real and not a hoax" passed by 98 votes to 1 (roll call). The yes camp included Iowa Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst as well as possible Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio. Laura Barron-Lopez reported for The Hill that most Republicans rejected a separate Democratic amendment which stated that "climate change is real and human activity significantly contributes to climate change." Grassley, Ernst, Cruz, Paul, and Rubio were all in the "nay" group on that amendment. From Barron-Lopez's story:

In an attempt to provide political cover for Republicans, Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) put forward an alternative that expressed the sense of the Senate that the Keystone oil pipeline would not significantly impact the environment or contribute to global emissions. The provision included a line stating that humans contribute to climate change but without the word "significantly."

Fifteen Republicans voted for that amendment, including Paul, making him the only 2016 contender to go on record as saying that human beings contribute to climate change.

Neither Grassley nor Ernst voted for the Hoeven amendment (roll call). I assume that if they do not accept any human contribution to climate change, they would not be open to any government policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  

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Democrat Gary Kroeger may run for Congress in IA-01

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jan 20, 2015 at 08:53:07 AM CST

What better way to launch a new blog than with a scoop? Pat Rynard delivered that when his Iowa Starting Line website came online yesterday, with this post about Gary Kroeger considering the Democratic primary in Iowa's first Congressional district. On his own blog, Gary Has Issues, Kroeger describes himself as follows:

First and foremost, I am the father of two wonderful boys.  I am also a son, a brother, and the creative director at an advertising agency in Cedar Falls, Iowa.  I write an Op-Ed column for the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, and in my past, present and future, I have been an actor, a writer, television host, announcer, voice over artist, producer, restaurateur, emcee, activist, and fundraiser.

Judging by his comments to Rynard, Kroeger would position himself as the progressive candidate in a Democratic primary:

Born in Cedar Falls, he moved back to his hometown in 2003 to give his two young sons a more stable life. At 57, he says he's kept himself involved in local politics by hosting coffees for candidates, lobbying a bit on some statehouse legislation, and writing the left-leaning column for the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. That got him thinking about taking his passion for politics to a bigger stage.

"I have a strong voice and a capability to persuade people to listen better than most in the political arena," Kroeger says of what advantages he thinks he'd bring to a campaign. "I believe I have something that may be missing. I've been watching politics my whole life. It's a whole lot of dull. Legislators are not persuading, not convincing people, not getting people to think."

As for the issues he would run on, civil rights would anchor his platform. "Civil rights and justice for all, for gay marriage, for women, for minorities. It's what defines progressivism. And then you go out from there. It touches on the right to breathe clean air, it lends itself to environmental justice, to economic justice." On where Kroeger thinks his party goes wrong, he says, "Democrats tend to get soft to win. No one draws a line in the sand. The Constitution guarantees civil rights to all. A woman should have domain over her body. I'm not going to go away from these ideas. It defines being a progressive."

Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon rolled out her campaign in IA-01 last week with endorsements from some liberal Democrats in the Iowa legislature, but others have expressed doubt over whether she is committed to progressive values. For the most part, I believe competitive primaries make parties stronger, so I welcome a good, clean debate between Vernon, Kroeger, and anyone else who wants to make Representative Rod Blum a one-termer. May the best Democrat win.

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Highlights from Branstad's 2015 Condition of the State address

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jan 13, 2015 at 08:55:23 AM CST

Governor Terry Branstad will deliver his annual Condition of the State address to members of the Iowa House and Senate this morning at 10 am. You can watch the speech live on Iowa Public Television's website or on IPTV World (channel 119 on Mediacom in central Iowa). The full text as prepared will be available on the governor's official website.

Judging by yesterday's opening remarks from state legislative leaders, Iowa House Republicans most want to see new tax reform proposals from the governor. Iowa Senate Democrats are most closely watching to see whether Branstad will propose adequate funding for education at all levels, from pre-school to K-12 to community colleges and state universities. I'll update this post later with highlights from the day. Any comments about the governor's speech (content or delivery) or the upcoming legislative session are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Added highlights and some reaction to the "Together We Can" speech below. James Q. Lynch created a graphic showing the words Branstad used most.

Chutzpah alert: Branstad is urging lawmakers to "bring together state agencies that have a shared interest in quality of life initiatives and invest in our parks, trails, lakes and museums." Maybe he's forgotten that the state legislature did that last year, before he vetoed millions of dollars that would have gone toward parks, trails, water quality programs and other amenities.

It's also disappointing that the governor can't quit lying about how many jobs have been created since he returned to public office.

It's encouraging to hear the governor call for stronger efforts to protect victims of domestic violence and end bullying in schools. The devil will be in the details of those proposals. Speaking to Radio Iowa, Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum said "the anti-bullying proposal as well as the anti-domestic violence proposal will get a very good response from the Iowa Senate." But she said the governor's proposed education funding is "less than what we know we need in order to bring Iowa's per pupil spending investment up to at least close the national average." Meanwhile, House Speaker Kraig Paulsen told Radio Iowa that his caucus will continue to look for tax cuts ("a way to for Iowans to leave more of their own money in their pockets").

SECOND UPDATE: As he did last year, the governor called for expanding access to broadband statewide. But strangely, Branstad does not plan to attend President Barack Obama's scheduled January 14 event in Cedar Falls, where the president will "propose plans to increase affordable access to high-speed broadband internet."

LATE UPDATE: Nate Monson, executive director for Iowa Safe Schools, characterized the governor's anti-bullying bill as a "giant leap forward for gay youth" in Iowa. I've enclosed excerpts from his Des Moines Register guest editorial at the end of this post.

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All Iowans in favor as House passes Keystone XL bill

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jan 09, 2015 at 14:58:43 PM CST

Today the U.S. House of Representatives approved by 266 votes to 153 (roll call) a bill to allow construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. As expected, Iowa Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04) voted for the bill. Dave Loebsack (IA-02) was one of 28 Democrats who also supported the bill. Laura Barron-Lopez and Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill,

The vote marked the 10th time the House has voted to authorize the Keystone pipeline in the last four years, and the third time in sixth months.

Loebsack has not supported all of those bills, but he voted for several of the Keystone XL measures, most recently in November. In a statement I've posted after the jump, Loebsack explained that "environmental concerns are important," but he came down in favor of the pipeline because of "the infrastructure jobs that will be created."

In the comments to yesterday's post on Loebsack joining a Republican effort to roll back financial regulations, Bleeding Heartland user ontheright asked whether the five-term Democrat might face a primary challenge from the left. I don't expect that to happen, because for reasons I don't entirely understand, Johnson County liberals never hold Loebsack accountable for his bad votes on Republican bills, no matter how disappointed they may be. In this case, people will forgive the vote because several Iowa labor unions want the Keystone XL pipeline to be built, or because the White House has said President Barack Obama will veto the bill. Next week or next month, it will be another disappointing vote by Loebsack, and another excuse.

The veto threat is important because for now, Keystone XL backers lack the two-thirds majority needed to over-ride a presidential veto in the U.S. House. The Republican-controlled Senate is expected to pass the Keystone bill next week. While there are enough Democrats in favor to cross the 60-vote threshold to break a filibuster, there are not enough to provide 67 Senate votes to over-ride a veto on this issue.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. King released a video statement on today's vote.

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15 Iowa politics predictions for 2015

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jan 02, 2015 at 09:41:49 AM CST

Happy new year to everyone in the Bleeding Heartland community! Undeterred by my failure (yet again) to win, place, or show in my own blog's election contest, I offer fifteen Iowa politics predictions for this calendar year.

Your own predictions or any other relevant comments are welcome in this thread. At the end of this year I'll look back to see what we got right or wrong.

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High Nitrate in the Water Supply: Why Now?

by: Dendroica

Mon Dec 22, 2014 at 23:01:24 PM CST

(Thanks for this guest diary. Previous surges in nitrate levels happened in the spring or summer. The Des Moines Water Works is considering legal action to force the state of Iowa to adopt a more than voluntary nutrient reduction strategy. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

It may come as a surprise to some that the measurements of nitrogen levels in the Raccoon River are extremely high. The result is that the drinking water for the Greater Des Moines area (about 500,000 customers) costs more because Des Moines Water Works must reduce the levels before you and I can drink the water.

The US EPA has established a maximum of 10 milligrams per liter for nitrogen in the form of nitrate, the more stable and more threatening form of nitrogen in water. (10 mg/l is the same as 10 parts per million, or ppm). Above that level, infants under six months of age are at risk for "blue baby syndrome" and shortness of breath. See this EPA web page for more: http://water.epa.gov/…/contami…/basicinformation/nitrate.cfm

The surprise isn't that nitrate levels are high - it's happened before - but that the levels are over the EPA standard in the wintertime. Usually late fall and winter see very low nitrogen levels.


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House passes huge government funding bill: How the Iowans voted

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Dec 12, 2014 at 17:19:58 PM CST

Last night the U.S. House approved a $1.1 trillion "cromnibus," a massive continuing resolution to fund most of the federal government through September 2015. The 219 to 206 roll call showed an unusual bipartisan split, with 162 Republicans and 57 Democrats supporting the bill, while 67 Republicans and 139 Democrats voted against it. Many of the most outspoken House progressives and conservatives were against the cromnibus, for different reasons. Only one of Iowa's four U.S. House members voted yes: retiring Republican Tom Latham (IA-03). I have not seen any official statement explaining his reasons.

Republican Steve King (IA-04) opposed the bill primarily because in his view, it did not do enough to block funding for President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration. I've posted some of King's recent statements on the issue after the jump. King's office has not responded to my request for comment on assertions by House Appropriations Committee staff that it would be "impossible" to defend the immigration order. King offered an amendment (full text here) which would have funded "all of the government until January 30 of next year but [would] prohibit any and all funds from being used to carry out the president's lawless, unconstitutional executive amnesty in all its forms." But an analysis by Scott Wong for The Hill suggests that the Obama administration would be able to carry out the executive order even if Congress shut down the federal government.

Iowa Democrats Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) both voted against the funding bill. I have not seen any official statement explaining those votes but will update this post as needed.

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Chutzpah alert: Branstad as defender of the separation of powers

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Dec 03, 2014 at 19:58:40 PM CST

In the busy days before Thanksgiving, I missed this unintentional comedy from Governor Terry Branstad's weekly press conference (hat tip to Todd Dorman):

"There's also a constitutional question about whether the president of the United States has the authority to act unilaterally on issues like this [immigration policy]," Branstad said. "So I expect there's going to be a lot of unanswered questions that I need to get information about and what the impact would have on our state."

Asked if he would take executive action on state immigration policy, Branstad responded, "We don't operate that way in Iowa."

"That's the difference between Washington, D.C., and Iowa," Branstad said. "In Iowa, I'm very careful to recognize the separation of powers and to work with the Legislature."

Where to begin?

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EPA proposes stronger smog standards for public health

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Dec 02, 2014 at 11:26:47 AM CST

Catching up on news from last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released new standards for ground-level ozone that will reduce the incidence and severity of various respiratory diseases. Click here for details on the standards.

Ground level or "bad" ozone is not emitted directly into the air, but is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the presence of sunlight. Emissions from industrial facilities and electric utilities, motor vehicle exhaust, gasoline vapors, and chemical solvents are some of the major sources of NOx and VOC. Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems, particularly for children, the elderly, and people of all ages who have lung diseases such as asthma. Ground level ozone can also have harmful effects on sensitive vegetation and ecosystems.

Current regulations allow ozone at 75 parts per billion. The new rules would lower that to a level between 65 and 70 parts per billion. Mark Drajem reported for Bloomberg News, "The EPA's independent science advisers this year recommended the administration set the standard at 60 to 70 parts per billion, and urged the agency to consider the lower end of that range."

After the jump I've posted the EPA's press release and excerpts from a commentary by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, along with some reaction by critics of the proposal. Predictably, some business groups say the new standards will be devastating for the economy. McCarthy pointed out that same dire warnings have accompanied every new environmental regulation for decades.

The Iowa Association for Business and Industry is concerned that the EPA proposal may be expensive for manufacturers. Data collected between 2011 and 2013 at various monitoring sites around Iowa indicate that ground-level ozone is already below 70 parts per billion at all tested locations. Some of the Iowa sites recorded levels below 65 parts per billion; others are slightly above that level. The EPA does not anticipate that any counties in Iowa will violate the new ozone standard by 2025. Counties with the worst smog problems, including many in California, will be given more time to comply with the new ozone standards.

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Supreme Court denies Muscatine polluter's last-ditch effort to block nuisance lawsuit

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Dec 02, 2014 at 09:55:00 AM CST

A group of Muscatine residents will be able to pursue their nuisance lawsuit against the Grain Processing Corporation, one of the area's major polluters for many years. Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the company's appeal of a unanimous Iowa Supreme Court decision allowing the lawsuit to be heard in Iowa District Court. The company had argued that the federal Clean Air Act preempts claims like the ones the Muscatine residents are making. (You can see Grain Processing Corp v. Freeman, Laurie, et al on a long list of cases in which the Supreme Court denied certiorari.)

There is no guarantee that the Muscatine residents will win their nuisance lawsuit, but now a District Court will consider the merits of their case. Plaintiffs claim that the Grain Processing Corporation's facility exposes locals to dangerous levels of air pollution, damages their property, and reduces property values.

UPDATE: Jason Liegois reported for the Muscatine Journal,

Environmental groups, including Clean Air Muscatine, supported the lawsuit, but business groups said regulation of air pollution should be left to state and federal agencies and not judged on a case-by-case basis.

"We are disappointed in the decision" GPC spokesperson Janet Sichterman, stated in an to the Muscatine Journal. "GPC, and others, strongly contend that regulation of air emissions is not the responsibility of the courts, rather the responsibility of the EPA and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR)."

Sichterman also pointed out GPC's plan to transition from using coal to natural gas boilers, which would nearly eliminate sulfur dioxide and lead, among other emissions. The company is doing this as part of an agreement between the state and GPC, which also saw the company pay a $1.5 million fine to settle a lawsuit against the company filed by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller. In addition, GPC is investing nearly $100 million in a dryer house project and other environmental control technology. [...]

GPC, a subsidiary company of the Muscatine-based Kent Corp., operates a plant that turns corn kernels into products ranging from corn syrup to ethyl alcohol. A regional economic force, the company buys $400 million in corn from farmers annually and is one of the area's largest employers. [...]

Sichterman said the case is in the discovery phase, where it is expected to remain until at least the summer of 2015.

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Iowa Farm Bureau: Voice of Hypocrisy and Big Business

by: Mark Langgin

Mon Dec 01, 2014 at 10:36:57 AM CST

(The facts about the Farm Bureau should be more widely known. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

(*Cross-Posted from Op-Ed by Mike Delaney, President of Citizens for a Healthy Iowa)

As the new year approaches, many of us resolve to better align our actions with our best selves, by supporting organizations that help to build healthier families and stronger communities, and seeking to make our world a better place. This week, against this backdrop, the Iowa Farm Bureau (IFB) hosts its annual convention in Des Moines.

(for the full report and background go to www.FarmBureauExposed.com

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New Big 10 Rivalry? Iowa can compete with Maryland on clean water

by: openureyes

Mon Nov 24, 2014 at 22:09:02 PM CST

(Thanks to State Representative Chuck Isenhart for the guest commentary. He is ranking member on the Iowa House Environmental Protection Committee and liaison to the state Watershed Planning Advisory Council. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Iowans want clean water, but that has not motivated Iowa policymakers to tackle water pollution.

Rather, the driving fear is stronger regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because of the "dead zone." That 5,000-square-mile area in the Gulf of Mexico has become toxic to life because of nitrogen and phosphorus, mostly from farm runoff. Iowa and Illinois are the top culprits.

The state's "nutrient reduction strategy" is a narrow approach designed not to clean up Iowa's water in our lifetimes, but to forestall specific federal limits on polluted water. The plan is focused on how to manage fertilizer. That piece is good as far as it goes, but does not go far enough. Iowa needs a broader strategy.

The Gulf of Mexico is not the only water body with a "dead zone." For example, Maryland depends on  the Chesapeake Bay as a $1 trillion economic driver, including tourism, recreation, seafood and other industries. Maryland has been fouling its own nest for decades.

Imagine the Gulf of Mexico in Iowa. No doubt dealing with our 489 impaired lakes and streams suffering death by a thousand drips would become more urgent, undeserving of the 80 percent budget cut inflicted by Governor Branstad this year.

As both perpetrators and victims, Maryland citizens made clean water a top public priority. In leaner economic times, a 2012 poll showed that 91 percent of Maryland residents said cleaner water was important and nearly two-thirds supported increasing a statewide household tax to do it. Eighty percent wanted the state to be active in managing growth.

I spent a day on a recent trip to Maryland learning about the Chesapeake Bay. Governor Martin O'Malley put his staff at my disposal after I met him on his summer visit to Iowa. What lessons can be learned from the Chesapeake initiative that might be helpful to us?

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House continues assault on EPA: How the Iowans voted

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Nov 24, 2014 at 11:50:47 AM CST

Before adjourning for the Thanksgiving recess, the U.S. House approved three bills last week designed to limit the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to function. Iowa Republicans Tom Latham (IA-03) and Steve King (IA-04) voted for all three bills, while Democrats Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) voted against them all. On November 18, representatives passed the "EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act" by 229 votes to 191 (roll call). Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill, "Among other provisions, the measure would require the Scientific Advisory Board, which consults the EPA on its regulations, to have at least ten percent of members from state, local or tribal governments. [...] Democrats said the measure would hinder the board's effectiveness and compromise its members' scientific expertise." Scientists are alarmed about the prospect of more industry experts on an EPA board.

On November 19, House Republicans and a handful of Democrats approved the "Secret Science Reform Act of 2014" by 237 votes to 190 (roll call). This bill would block the EPA from adopting new regulations based on scientific research unless all raw data were publicly available. Its backers claim they are only trying to improve transparency at the federal agency. But peer-reviewed studies, particularly in the field of public health, often rely on confidential patient information that cannot be made public.

Andrew Rosenberg, who heads the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, discussed both of these "attacks on independent science" by House Republicans. I've enclosed excerpts from his commentary after the jump.

Finally, on November 20 every House Republican and sixteen Democrats approved the "Promoting New Manufacturing Act" by 238 votes to 172 (roll call). Cristina Marcos reported that this bill would " enhance the Environmental Protection Agency's reporting requirements for the number of pre-construction permits it issues under the Clean Air Act."

In addition, the bill would direct the EPA to report to Congress each year on how it can expedite the permitting process. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), the measure's sponsor, argued it would promote manufacturing and increase transparency. [...]

But Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the measure would weaken environmental protections by allowing permit applicants to avoid updated EPA air quality standards if the facilities are new or expanding, calling it "pollution amnesty."

"This bill does not do anything to improve the permitting process for new and expanding facilities, but it does weaken air quality protection," Waxman said.

Marcos' reporting indicates that the White House has issued veto threats against all three of these bills. Once Republicans take control of the U.S. Senate in the new year, Obama may get several opportunities to reject bad bills affecting the EPA.  

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Weekend open thread: More limbo for ethanol industry edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Nov 23, 2014 at 07:50:43 AM CST

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

About a year ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to change the Renewable Fuel Standard, which regulates how much ethanol must be blended into gasoline. Iowa elected officials from both parties expressed unanimous outrage, with Governor Terry Branstad and Representative Bruce Braley seeking out especially prominent roles in the battle against reducing the Renewable Fuel Standard. The very first week of the Iowa legislature's 2014 session, state lawmakers unanimously approved a non-binding resolution urging the EPA to abandon its proposed rule.

The EPA proposal was supposed to become final in the spring of 2014, but political pressure forced a series of delays. Finally, this past Friday the agency announced "that it will not be finalizing 2014 applicable percentage standards under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program before the end of 2014." After the jump I've posted reaction from Senators Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley, Governor Branstad, and Representative Dave Loebsack (D, IA-02).

The immediate impact will be more uncertainty for Iowans whose livelihood depends either directly or indirectly on the ethanol industry. But I would guess that every delay makes it less likely that the EPA will move forward with its original proposal, which could be construed as a victory for Iowa biofuels.

The reality is more complicated than such unusual political consensus implies. At an "all-day pepfest for ethanol" organized by the governor in January, Francis Thicke was the only person to offer the "other side" of the story. Thicke has a doctorate in agronomy and soil science from Iowa State University. His testimony asserted that it is "disingenuous to frame the debate on the Renewable Fuels Standards (RFS) as a struggle between farmers and Big Oil" and that "EPA's proposed changes to the RFS are not that radical." Thicke also pointed out, "Corn ethanol was always meant to be a stepping stone to advanced biofuels." In this guest post, Bleeding Heartland user black desert nomad likewise questioned whether corn ethanol was really "under attack" and argued that "Vested interests want to double-down on endless growth in corn ethanol, but they have lost sight of the long game amidst a tangled web of conflict-of-interest."  

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Countering Bloated Economic Impact Reports

by: daveswen

Thu Nov 20, 2014 at 10:58:17 AM CST

(Thanks to Dave Swenson for this post. Journalists should stop quoting self-serving, industry-generated economic impact numbers. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Iowa was recently informed with quite a bit of media hoopla that the proposed Dakota Access pipeline conveying oil from the Bakken formation in North Dakota to a refinery in Illinois will give a "$1.1 billion boost" to the Iowa economy and support 7,600 jobs.
 
Both numbers are hooey.
 
Before I get to the hooey, however, I need to talk a little bit about economic impact studies.  These studies usually utilize an input-output model of the study region.  These models are initially constructed properly, and they provide reasonable and reliable estimates of the multiplied-through consequences of economic change. Those consequences are often called "the ripple effect" because a change in activity in one industry affects all of the industries that business relies on for inputs; hence, the economic impact.  Done properly, they are useful tools for economic development planning.
 

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Senate roundup: Harkin, Grassley split on Keystone XL, limits on NSA spying, and judges

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Nov 19, 2014 at 12:53:16 PM CST

Iowa's Senators Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin rarely found themselves in agreement during a busy day on the Senate floor yesterday. A bill to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline project fell one vote short of the 60-vote threshold to defeat a filibuster. The roll call shows that Grassley was among the 59 yes votes (all Republicans plus 14 Democrats), while Harkin was among the 41 Democrats who defeated the bill. Scroll to the end of this post to read Grassley's statement on the failure to pass this measure. He backs an "all-of-the-above approach to meet the country's energy needs and give consumers choice." He does not address the reality that oil transported via Keystone XL would likely be sold to foreign markets, having no effect on domestic gasoline prices.

Although several of the pro-Keystone Democrats just lost their seats in this year's elections, nine of them will continue to serve next year. That means future Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will have the votes to overcome a filibuster of future bills on the pipeline. He won't have the 67 votes needed to overcome a presidential veto, but Republicans have vowed to attach Keystone language to "must-pass" bills that President Barack Obama won't want to veto.

Senators also blocked a bill that would have attempted to rein in domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency. Timothy B. Lee wrote a good backgrounder on the USA Freedom Act. The cloture vote failed by 58 to 42. Like almost all the Senate Democrats, Harkin voted for proceeding to debate the bill. Like all but four Republicans, Grassley voted to block efforts to reduce NSA spying on Americans. Members of Congress will revisit this issue next year, but I'm not optimistic any reforms will pass.

Side note: among the senators who are possible Republican presidential candidates in 2016, Ted Cruz voted for the USA Freedom Act. Rand Paul and Marco Rubio voted no. Paul opposed the bill because it did not go far enough, in his view; Rubio voted no because he thought the bill would increase the risk of terrorist attacks in this country.

Last week and this week, the Senate has moved forward on several nominees for vacant judicial spots on U.S. district courts. Harkin supported confirming all of the president's nominees. Grassley voted against cloture on all of the nominations, but Republicans were not able to block any of them from a vote on the floor, because the 60-vote threshold no longer applies to most confirmations. (That could change when Republicans take control of the chamber in the new year.) On the confirmation votes themselves, Grassley opposed most of the judges nominated by the president, with one exception last week and another exception yesterday. Many expect judicial confirmations to stop happening when Grassley becomes chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, but perhaps he will let a few non-controversial nominees through.

A bill reauthorizing the Child Care and Development Block Grant gained massive bipartisan support on Monday, passing by 88 votes to 1. Both Grassley and Harkin backed this bill. In a statement I've enclosed after the jump, Harkin explained how this bill "will expand access to and improve the quality of child care for the more than 1.5 million children and families that benefit from the federal child care subsidy program." President Obama signed this bill today, and Representative Dave Loebsack (D, IA-02) attended the ceremony. He worked on the bill as ranking member of the House Education and Labor subcommittee that covers early childhood issues. I posted Loebsack's statement below Harkin's.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

Note: Over the years I've written dozens of posts about Grassley and Harkin splitting on Senate votes. I expect that to end for the most part in January. If Joni Ernst votes differently from Grassley even five times over the next two years, I'll be shocked.

UPDATE: Added after the jump some of Harkin's recent comments on the Keystone XL pipeline.

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Weekend open thread, with Iowa nature links

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Nov 09, 2014 at 08:40:00 AM CST

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

I have several posts in progress about the 2014 elections and looking ahead to next year's legislative session and even the campaigns of 2016. But for today, I wanted to share some nature links.

Good news: Iowa's pheasant numbers "have rebounded to a six-year high," according to a roadside survey the Iowa Department of Natural Resources conducted in August.

Hunting season is in full swing. The non-profit Save our Avian Resources has compiled a good list of lead-free bullets and ammunition for hunters. Toxic bullet fragments left in gut piles are a major threat to predatory birds including eagles.

I learned via Radio Iowa that the Iowa DNR has added more content on its website about large mammals in Iowa, including black bears, gray wolf, mountain lion and even moose (rarely seen this far south). This page on the DNR's website is a great resource for all kinds of information about animals indigenous to Iowa.

Bad news: for most of this fall, nitrogen levels in the Raccoon River have remained above the standard for drinking water. Along with the Des Moines river, the Raccoon River is a major source of drinking water for more than a half-million central Iowa residents.

Bleeding Heartland's Iowa wildflower Wednesday series is on hiatus until the spring (you can view the archive here). Guest diaries featuring Iowa nature photography are welcome any time of the year.

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Branstad Beer - It's All About the Dirty Water

by: Mark Langgin

Thu Oct 23, 2014 at 11:28:13 AM CDT

(I saw this ad on cable in the Des Moines area this morning. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

I've had enough.

Gov. Branstad continues to spread misinformation about his record on water quality. The simple fact? He vetoed $20 million in funds that would have improved Iowa's natural resources and protected water quality of our rivers, lakes and streams.

With full disclosure, I'm the Director for Citizens for a Healthy Iowa. We are a non-profit (c4) organized here in Iowa and we work primarily on water quality issues - public education & issue advocacy. More about our new ad, and campaign, after the jump ....

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UNI, ISU among country's most affordable "eco-friendly" universities

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Oct 17, 2014 at 16:03:11 PM CDT

The University of Northern Iowa ranks third and Iowa State University twelfth on Best Choice Schools' list of "50 Great Affordable Eco-Friendly Colleges. The website evaluated more than 300 universities to find 50 that had an "estimated net price of under $25,000 a year" as well as "unique structures or lifestyle characteristics that make them leaders in sustainability." The schools included "have all earned formal 'green' ratings from one major agency or another, and most have been recognized by respected groups such as the Sierra Club." The schools were ranked from least expensive to most expensive, and UNI's tuition of $15,232/year secured third place. Best Choice Schools commented,

University of Northern Iowa's on-campus organization c.a.r.e. (creating a responsible environment) promotes Eco-friendliness and sustainable living through a number of on-campus initiatives. In dining services, most disposable items were eliminated and a refillable mug program introduced. A local buying program was also introduced and has successfully reduced packaging and shipping wastes while simultaneously supporting local vendors. The University itself has done its part, too. Currently, a whopping 23 campus buildings are undergoing energy-saving retrofits or renovations.

ISU's tuition of $19,281/year was affordable enough for twelfth place on the list:

Iowa State University has proven itself willing to go above and beyond when it comes to campus sustainability. Ambitiously, it requires all new construction and major renovation projects to achieve LEED Gold certification. So far, it has succeeded, with two of its buildings achieving the even higher status of Platinum. The implementation of tray-less dining services reduced food waste by more than 50%, and the food that is wasted is composted at the University's very own compost facility. Active student groups include a Solar Decathlon team, The GreenHouse Group, and Keep Iowa State Beautiful.

Click here for more information on sustainability initiatives at UNI and here for more information on ISU's Live Green! efforts.

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