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environment

Weekend open thread: Walking the talk edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Jul 20, 2014 at 08:01:34 AM CDT

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

State Representative Chuck Isenhart, the ranking Democrat on the Iowa House Environmental Protection Committee, has installed solar panels on his Dubuque home as a personal step to address climate change. Details are after the jump. Solar power has a reputation for being expensive to install, but technological advances and policy changes have reduced the payback time for many home and business owners. Isenhart expects to save money in the long-term. A bill approved during this year's legislative session improved Iowa's tax incentives for solar in several ways.

The Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, begins its northern route in Rock Valley today. Good luck to everyone in the Bleeding Heartland community planning to do all or part of RAGBRAI. Last week's weather would have been absolutely perfect; I hope the high temperatures will mostly stay below 90 this week. In its recent feature on "33 useful tips for newbies" to the experience, I found it strange that the Register focused so much on the drinking culture. Carl Voss, a Des Moines bicycling advocate and veteran of 36 RAGBRAIs, unloaded on what he called "sophomoric drivel" in an angry letter to the editor. Excerpt:

Granted, alcohol attracts some riders and non-riders among the more than 10,000 RAGBRAI participants. It happens. But trust me, that isn't the way most participants enjoy RAGBRAI, Iowa and our communities.

Now, flip to the RAGBRAI website, where RAGBRAI (and therefore the Register) includes among the "Top 10 Recommendations for Rider Safety": Do NOT drink alcohol and ride. [...]

Publishing crap like this in your news columns will turn me off to RAGBRAI and the Register.

Another letter to the editor, which I've posted after the jump, focused on the large number of puppy mills near this year's RAGBRAI route. The Iowa legislature passed a bill in 2010 that was designed to reduce abuses at puppy mills, but unfortunately Iowa still has some bad actors in the industry. Adopting a pet from a shelter such as the Animal Rescue League has so many advantages. If your heart is set on a purebred animal, at least visit the breeder's facility before buying a pet.

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Iowa Supreme Court rejects Farm Bureau's effort to nullify clean water rules (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jul 11, 2014 at 18:08:12 PM CDT

In a 4-3 split decision, the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed today a Polk County District Court ruling that dismissed a lawsuit seeking to nullify new state water quality rules.

The environmental community and groups representing big agribusiness have closely watched this case for years, because the "antidegradation" rules are an important step toward bringing Iowa into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act. Had this lawsuit succeeded, no strong water quality rules would have seen the light of day for the forseeable future in Iowa, because Governor Terry Branstad has packed the State Environmental Protection Commission with advocates for agribusiness.

Follow me after the jump for more background on the case and details about today's decision.

UPDATE: Added reaction from the Iowa Farm Bureau and the Iowa Environmental Council below. If there's a more hypocritical statewide organization than the Farm Bureau, I can't think what it could be.

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Time for Tom Vilsack to show leadership on weed control

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 02, 2014 at 11:57:01 AM CDT

Commenting on the latest evidence of herbicide-resistant "superweeds" spreading in Iowa, Drake Law Professor Neil Hamilton argued in an editorial this week that we must not embrace "solutions" offered by biotech companies that "will simply repeat our mistakes."

Hamilton's appeal was not addressed to any specific person. Yet one Iowan is uniquely positioned to heed his warning: U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. As the USDA considers the biotech industry's "next silver bullet solution" for herbicide-resistant weeds, Vilsack should think hard about the risks, "rather than just believing people who have some shiny new product to sell," in Hamilton's words. Vilsack's record raises doubts about whether he is up to this task.

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No one could have predicted... "Superweed" edition

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jun 23, 2014 at 06:45:00 AM CDT

Sunday's Des Moines Register carried the latest journalistic exploration of herbicide-resistant "superweeds" on Iowa farmland. The story's not new: agronomists at Iowa State University anticipated this problem and have been warning farmers for at least 15 years. Various published studies have shown the connection between widespread corn and soybean farming practices and the "rapid selection of 21 species of glyphosate-resistant weeds."

Industry groups representing conventional growers have repeatedly accused advocates for clean water and sustainable farming of threatening rural Iowans' way of life. Yet the dominant practices of corn and soybeans growers have accelerated the spread of resistant weeds through natural selection, potentially putting many Iowa farmers out of business in the coming years.

After the jump I've posted excerpts from Donelle Eller's story for the Sunday Register and more background on the herbicide-resistant weed problem. The 2013 Union of Concerned Scientists briefing paper on "The Rise of Superweeds-and What to Do About It" is an excellent starting point.

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A Little Vietnam in Dallas County

by: CompassPlant

Sun Jun 22, 2014 at 22:47:55 PM CDT

(Terrifying comment on the lack of basic safety awareness among some Iowa gun enthusiasts. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Yesterday I conducted a wetlands delineation for the Iowa DNR at Pleasant Valley Wildlife Area, along the South Raccoon between Adel and Redfield. Among the highlights: a good plant list that included a new sedge species, Carex oligocarpa; numerous butterflies, including Tiger and Black Swallowtails, American Lady, Spring Azure, Eastern Comma, and Red Admiral; experience with riparian soils; and overall a good day.

The most memorable part came in the last 15 minutes. Four 20-something year-olds noisily stopped about 450 feet away on the old canoe access road and began making sounds that could have been firecrackers. When the first clear rifle report came, I knew that this was no mere Independence Day warm-up. At least two bullets hit within 100 yards of me and a third whizzed overhead as I crouched behind a low dirt pile.

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Weekend open thread: Iowa Democratic Party convention edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Jun 22, 2014 at 15:34:00 PM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? The Iowa Democratic Party's state convention got overshadowed by the circus-like spectacle Republicans put on in Urbandale yesterday. We're talking about David Young's surprising nomination in IA-03 here. This is an open thread for all other topics.

After the jump I've posted several links about the Democratic convention and the full text (as prepared) of Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley's speech. He seems to have made a good impression, as he did at the Harkin Steak Fry in 2012. O'Malley won't challenge Hillary Clinton for the presidential nomination; he was loyal Clinton surrogate during the 2008 primaries, even after Barack Obama crushed her in his state. If Clinton decides against running for president again, O'Malley could have a lot of upside potential in Iowa. He's much more familiar with this state than your average east-coast governor, having worked as a field organizer for Gary Hart's 1984 Iowa caucus campaign. John Deeth wrote up O'Malley's appearance for gubernatorial nominee Jack Hatch and running mate Monica Vernon in Iowa City.

UPDATE: Added below a short version of what would be the progressive case against O'Malley if he competes in the Iowa caucuses.

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Muscatine residents will get day in court against major air polluter

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jun 16, 2014 at 12:33:08 PM CDT

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Friday that a District Court should hear a lawsuit eight Muscatine residents have filed against the Grain Processing Corporation. Muscatine locals have long had to breathe some of Iowa's dirtiest air, and the Grain Processing Corporation has long been one of the area's major polluters. Despite being forced to pay a $538,000 civil penalty for air pollution violations eight years ago, the corporation continued to emit excessive amounts, leading to a lawsuit by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller in 2011. Earlier this year, the company settled that lawsuit, agreeing to pay a $1.5 million civil penalty and to take several steps to reduce toxic emissions from the facility.

But the Grain Processing Corporation stood and fought when local residents filed a class-action lawsuit two years ago, citing health risks as well as damage to personal property related to the air pollution near the plant.

In 2013, a District Court judge granted the defendant's motion to dismiss the case, prompting plaintiffs to appeal. The Iowa Supreme Court found that the Grain Processing Corporation "was not entitled to summary judgment" and sent the case back to District Court, which will consider the lawsuit on its merits. You can read the full text of Justice Brent Appel's ruling here (pdf). (It's more than 60 pages long and gets into some technical legal issues.) All the other Iowa Superme Court justices concurred, except for Justice Edward Mansfield, who recused himself because some of his former law partners were representing the corporation.

After the jump I've posted more background on the lawsuit and excerpts from Jason Liegois' report for the Muscatine Journal on the Iowa Supreme Court ruling. The plaintiffs are not guaranteed to succeed in District Court, but at least they can present their case. In addition to fighting the lawsuit at the lower court level in Iowa, the Grain Processing Corporation could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the federal Clean Air Act preempts claims like the ones the Muscatine residents are making.

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Four comments and a question about the IA-01 Democratic primary results

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jun 10, 2014 at 12:33:17 PM CDT

Past time for a post-mortem on the five-way Democratic primary in the open first Congressional district. Here are the unofficial results from June 3:

IA-01 Democratic primary results photo Screenshot2014-06-10at95141AM_zps4ce44fc8.png

A few thoughts struck me as I reflected on this campaign and looked more closely at the results.  

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Branstad slashes conservation and clean water funding

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jun 02, 2014 at 07:10:00 AM CDT

It's one of the oldest tricks in any governor's playbook: schedule media events for bill signing ceremonies you want the public to hear about, while burying bad news late on a Friday, after reporters have filed their stories. I was worried Governor Terry Branstad would make big cuts to environmental funding just before Memorial Day weekend, as he had cut food bank money two years ago.

Instead, Branstad's office released the news about this year's spending vetoes after dinnertime on Friday, May 30. Hours earlier, the governor had welcomed reporters, lawmakers, and members of the public to watch him sign a bill legalizing the possession of cannabis oil to treat seizure disorders, as well as a bill altering Iowa's HIV transmission law.

Follow me after the jump for the gory details. I no longer consider 2014 a good year for Iowa environmental funding.

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Still time to help preserve Iowa topsoil, reduce flooding

by: desmoinesdem

Tue May 27, 2014 at 09:10:00 AM CDT

Comments to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources are still needed in support of a 2012 rule that requires developers and home builders to leave four inches of topsoil on the ground after construction. Bleeding Heartland discussed this issue last week, and Todd Dorman wrote a more detailed background piece for the Cedar Rapids Gazette earlier this month. I've posted excerpts from that article below.

Iowa has lost too much of its world-class topsoil already. Not only does this non-renewable resource help plants grow, it reduces stormwater runoff that can cause flooding and water pollution. As Dorman points out, homeowners would also benefit from having more topsoil on their lots, so they could grow grass or other plants without having to inundate hard clay subsoil with chemicals. Representatives of business groups that oppose the DNR rule have estimated its cost at between $1,200 per residential to $2,500 or even $5,000. I haven't seen any estimate of the hidden costs of more flooding and excess nutrients in waterways. Although farms contribute more to Iowa topsoil runoff than new residential construction does, we all have to do our part.

A public hearing on the soil conservation rule is happening this Thursday, May 29, in Des Moines; click through for details on how to participate in person or by phone. Public comments can be sent via e-mail to Adam.Schnieders AT dnr.iowa.gov, ideally before Thursday's meeting.  

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Branstad will sign cannabis oil, e-cigarette bills; undecided on dog racing

by: desmoinesdem

Fri May 23, 2014 at 14:05:00 PM CDT

Governor Terry Branstad plans to sign a bill that would allow possession of cannabis oil for the treatment of some seizure disorders, he announced while taping Iowa Public Television's "Iowa Press" program today. He noted the bill will help some children with epilepsy, and he's satisfied its "limited" scope will not increase abuse of marijuana in smokeable form.  

The governor also said he will sign a bill banning the sale of e-cigarettes to children, adding that his wife is a "militant" anti-smoker. Trouble is, that bill was backed by tobacco industry lobbyists. Many public health groups lobbied against the bill.

Branstad has not decided whether to sign the dog racing bill, which would end greyhound racing at one casino in Council Bluffs and get a non-profit casino in Dubuque off the hook for subsidizing the races. His concern isn't the massive giveaway to dog breeders and kennel owners, which makes no sense to me. Rather, he is worried that lobbyists for horse racing interests didn't get their cut from the bailout. O.Kay Henderson reports for Radio Iowa,

"I understand the benefits that the people in Council Bluffs and Dubuque see from this, and the greyhound industry," Branstad says. "My concern is the horse industry was left out of this." [...]

However, the governor's concern is over provisions in the bill that would give the greyhound industry authority to strike deals to simulcast dog and horse races at any of the state's casinos and get all of the profit from it. Today simulcasting deals are only allowed at the casinos in Altoona, Council Bluffs and Dubuque and Iowa's horse industry gets the financial take.

"There is some concern that I'm hearing from my friends in the horse industry. I've always been close with them," Branstad says. "We have a very big and significant horse industry in the state of Iowa."

Branstad has 'til June 2 to decide whether to sign or veto the bill.

"I'm trying to weigh all those things," Branstad says. "I want to do something that's fair to all the communities involved and fair to all the parties and the one group that seems to be, because of the simulcasting provisions of that bill, having some concerns is the horse industry and so I'm carefully reviewing that," Branstad says. "I have not made a final decision."

Environmental activists in Iowa are nervously awaiting the governor's decision on a bill to expand solar tax credits and several spending bills that include record-high funding for the Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) conservation program. The governor recently said he is concerned about various parts of a supplemental spending bill that contained $5 million of the REAP funding. In 2012, Branstad line-item vetoed half a million dollars for Iowa food banks on the Friday before Memorial Day.

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One easy way to help protect Iowa soil and clean water

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 21, 2014 at 07:00:00 AM CDT

In August 2012, Governor Terry Branstad issued an executive order creating a mechanism for "stakeholder groups" to block potentially "burdensome" administrative rules proposed by state agencies. Those groups include representatives of businesses that would be affected by any new regulation. One of those stakeholder groups is meeting next week to discuss the fate of a rule the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has advanced in order to reduce soil runoff and storm water discharge associated with construction activities.

You can view the rule here (pdf). The main point is to require developers and home builders to leave four inches of topsoil on the ground after construction, so that yards will be able to absorb more of the expected rainfall. Some business interests oppose the rule because it will add costs to construction. But they are not considering the hidden costs of runoff (increased water pollution and a loss of irreplaceable topsoil). State government needs to act in the public interest and not only consider the bottom line of a few companies.

An action alert I've posted after the jump provides more background and details. Lucy Hershberger, an Iowa City-based landscaper who serves on the stakeholder group, wrote it and gave me permission to publish here. The Iowa DNR is accepting public comments on this issue via e-mail: Adam.Schnieders AT dnr.iowa.gov. It would be better to submit those comments before the public hearing scheduled for May 29. People can also attend that hearing, either in person or by telephone (instructions for calling in are below).  

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Iowa legislature not serious yet about preserving soil and clean water

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 07, 2014 at 08:16:45 AM CDT

The Iowa House and Senate wrapped up the 2014 session during "Soil and Water Conservation Week." While certain environmental programs did well in the budget for fiscal year 2015, the legislature did not adequately address some of the biggest problems affecting Iowa's soil and water.

The Iowa Environmental Council blog linked to several recent articles by "top experts on Iowa soil conservation," who "expressed alarm about the state of our soil" and in particular the rapid rate of erosion. Along with other kinds of agricultural runoff, soil erosion contributes to toxic algae blooms in rivers and lakes, not only in Iowa and neighboring states but also across much of the U.S. Nutrient pollution is a major reason that more than half of the country's rivers and streams are "in poor condition for aquatic life."At the end of this post, I've enclosed an infographic explaining how toxic algae blooms form and how to prevent them.

Iowa lawmakers continue to throw money at the state's Nutrient Reduction Strategy, without insisting on numeric criteria for nitrogen and phosphorous levels in water and without the goals, timelines and monitoring needed to assure Iowans that waterways are becoming cleaner. In fact, the fiscal year 2015 appropriation for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship removed wording requiring that money for watershed projects be used to reduce nutrients. Follow me after the jump for the disturbing details.

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2014: A good legislative session for Iowa environmental funding

by: desmoinesdem

Tue May 06, 2014 at 06:45:00 AM CDT

During the legislative session that just ended, the Iowa House and Senate approved substantial increases in funding for some key environmental programs.

Lawmakers committed to providing $25 million to mark the 25th anniversary of the Department of Natural Resources' Resource Enhancement and Protection program (REAP) achieved their goal. REAP had only been funded at the $20 million level once before during the past two and a half decades. The REAP money came from three separate bills appropriating funds for the 2015 fiscal year; I've posted details after the jump. Many REAP-funded projects have a lasting positive impact on local communities for decades. Click here for more background on the kind of projects REAP has supported around Iowa.

Last month, Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson posted a guest diary warning about legislative proposals that would indirectly undermine REAP by changing the program's funding formula. Fortunately, the conference committee agreement negotiated by Iowa House and Senate members did not include that language in the final bill.

Senate File 2349 allocates Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund money, which mostly comes from gambling revenues. That bill included $9.6 million for lake restoration funding during the 2015 fiscal year, a big improvement on the recent past when lawmakers approved just $5.5 million for lake restoration projects. The Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund bill also included $2 million "for the administration of a water trails and lowhead dam public hazard statewide plan." Just a few years ago, environmental groups including Iowa Rivers Revival were fighting for even $1 million in state funding for rivers. The only downside to the river funding was that the conference committee went with House-approved language allocating the whole $2 million to low-head dam removal and water trails. Iowa Rivers Revival preferred the Senate-passed bill, which contained $1 million for that purpose and $1 million to launch a new Iowa River Restoration Program. You can find the Senate-passed version of Senate File 2349 here and the conference committee report describing agreed changes in detail here (the river funding is discussed on pages 4-5 of the Senate bill).

Governor Terry Branstad hasn't signed any of these appropriations bills yet, so funding for REAP and Iowa lakes are rivers is not a sure thing. I would be surprised if he item-vetoed any of these appropriations, although in 2011, Branstad vetoed river restoration funds that lawmakers had allocated for fiscal year 2012.

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Don't RAPE REAP

by: Supervisor Brent Oleson

Wed Apr 09, 2014 at 18:12:24 PM CDT

(The author has been a Linn County Supervisor since 2009 and previously worked with the Iowa Senate Minority leader. Bleeding Heartland discussed the bipartisan effort to increase REAP funding to $25 million here. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

I'm gonna go on a rant...about an attempted RAPE.

Yes, I mean every word and hyperbole I'm uttering on this post. REAP (Resource Enhancement & Protection) is being RAPED! For Agriculture...by agri-business...to correct it's mistakes in a supposedly free and private market of farming. How is this rape of taxpayer funds and DNR license plate fees occurring and for what specifically? Read on My friends. 

The Iowa House of Representatives wants to put REAP dollars toward... agri-terrace projects, forestry management (subject to logging), and water nutrient pollution clean-up programs because farmland soil is laden with fertilizer chemicals. These are all worthy issues to be addressed on their own I say, and should indeed be addressed and monies put toward mitigation efforts. The Iowa Dept. Of Ag has jurisdiction on all these problems, and they should since their policies and practices created them in the first place.

This isn't an indictment of farmers, because most are great conservationists of their own free will as it's good business and good citizenship. I commend those Iowa farmers, especially my Linn County ones, who work hard to be responsible neighbors, citizens and conservationists...voluntarily I might add! But I don't give a pass to bad apples, policy-makers, or special interest Ag industry lobbyists.

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"Edible forest" coming to Iowa City

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Apr 02, 2014 at 07:26:00 AM CDT

An incredible project will take shape soon in Iowa City:

A food forest is a gardening technique or land management system, which emulates a woodland ecosystem using edible trees, shrubs, and herbs. Fruit and nut trees make up the upper level, while berry shrubs, edible perennials, and annuals make up the lower levels. The Wetherby Park Edible Forest will combine aspects of native habitat rehabilitation with edible forest gardening.

Food in the Wetherby Food Forest:

Trees: apple, pear, plum, cherry, mulberry
Shrubs: hazelnut, serviceberry, aronia berry, beach plum, gooseberry, currant, honeyberry
Herbs: strawberry, oregano, thyme, lemon balm, chives, sorrel, lovage

The non-profit group Backyard Abundance is organizing a volunteer day on April 12 to prepare and mulch the future orchard site. Planting will begin in 2015. Backyard Abundance posted detailed design plans and plant lists here (pdf). Iowa City Parks and Recreation is partnering with Backyard Abundance on the edible forest, having previously worked with the group and other volunteers to establish an edible maze in the same park.

After the jump I've enclosed more about the new project, which aims to improve public health while using land sustainably and reducing the area's carbon footprint.

For Iowans who would like to create similar projects in their communities, I highly recommend Darrin Nordahl's book Public Produce. Nordahl formerly worked for the City of Davenport, where he promoted growing food in public spaces. The Cultivate Hope farm and urban agriculture education center in downtown Cedar Rapids would be a great source of advice and inspiration as well.

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Report highlights growing land access problem for Iowa farmers

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 25, 2014 at 13:20:00 PM CDT

Since at least 2007, roughly half of Iowa's land in agricultural production has been rented or leased rather than farmed by its owner. Farmland values at historically high levels are making it even more difficult for Iowans to pursue a secure career in farming. Almost no one can afford a large parcel of farmland at more than $8,000 per acre (or $10,000 per acre of high-grade land). Banks are rarely willing to lend aspiring farmers the kind of money needed to buy a farm, or to buy out siblings or cousins who inherited parts of the family farm.

Some experts believe Iowa farmland values have peaked, but via Tom Philpott I came across evidence that pressure from large buyers may continue to drive up prices. The Oakland Institute analyzed the trend of Wall Street investors buying farmland in the U.S. As institutional investors pile into this market, Iowa farmland may become increasingly unaffordable.

After the jump I've posted a few excerpts from the Oakland Institute's report, but I recommend downloading the whole piece to see supporting charts and references.

The trend toward absentee landlords owning Iowa farms is one among many reasons we can't rely on purely voluntary efforts to protect soil and water quality. Tenant farmers have no incentive to spend money on conservation practices to improve land for the long-term. Landowners (whether they be Wall Street firms or individual investors) are often looking for the highest rent this year, not farming practices that preserve soil fertility and keep excess nutrients out of waterways.  

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Decorah recognized as Iowa River Town of the Year

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Mar 21, 2014 at 09:35:40 AM CDT

The Winneshiek County seat of Decorah has a well-deserved reputation as one of Iowa's most environmental-minded towns. Organic farmers and gardeners from all over the country have long relied on Seed Savers Exchange as a source for heirloom vegetable seeds and herbs. Two years ago, Luther College installed Iowa's largest solar array. Small-scale renewable energy allows a growing number of people in the Decorah area to live "off the grid."

This month, the non-profit group Iowa Rivers Revival honored Decorah for "efforts by the city and its many partners to make the Upper Iowa River the heart and soul of the community and a focus for recreation, economic development, and environmental stewardship." The news release I've enclosed below highlights an impressive range of programs and projects, which have made the Upper Iowa River both cleaner and more usable for locals and tourists. Here's hoping many other city leaders and Iowa school districts will learn from Decorah's success.

UPDATE: The April edition of Smithsonian magazine ranked Decorah as number 19 on its list of America's 20 "best small towns" to visit. The story noted, "Decorah sits in the heart of Iowa's bluff country, an area heralded for scenic beauty and wildlife. Dunning Springs, just minutes from downtown Decorah, is a 200-foot waterfall-visitors can explore the area by bike or via a network of hiking trails."

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Bipartisan push underway to increase Iowa REAP funding

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 18, 2014 at 17:44:07 PM CDT

Iowa's Resource Enhancement and Protection program (REAP) celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Among the most successful conservation initiatives in Iowa history, REAP has cumulatively distributed about $300 million to thousands of projects across the state. It is mostly funded through gaming revenues that go into the state's Environment First Fund. In theory, REAP "is authorized to receive $20 million per year until 2021," but the state legislature has never fully funded REAP to the authorized level. This year's budget included $16 million for REAP, and Governor Terry Branstad kept that item at the same level in his draft budget for fiscal year 2015.

Today about three dozen non-profit organizations gathered at the State Capitol for the annual Environmental Lobby Day organized by the Iowa Environmental Council. I attended the event because I'm active in the IEC and in several of its member organizations. At a press conference organized by the IEC, four speakers emphasized the need to increase conservation funding: Republican State Senator David Johnson, Democratic State Senator Bob Dvorsky, Iowa Natural Resource Commission Chair Margo Underwood, and Rod Marlatt, executive director of the Fayette County Conservation Board. Dvorsky particularly emphasized his goal to secure $25 million in funding for REAP in the coming fiscal year, in honor of the program's 25th anniversary.

Because REAP-supported projects are often popular locally, the program has mostly escaped the partisan divisions that have led to the demise of some state initiatives. Today the Iowa House approved a resolution celebrating the 25th anniversary of REAP. Remarkably, 96 of the 100 state representatives co-sponsored this resolution, which House Democrat Chuck Isenhart proposed. Now that they're on record agreeing, "Iowans strongly believe that the Resource Enhancement and Protection Program is a successful venture worthy of the continued support of the General Assembly," let's hope they will put a lot of money where their mouths are. The $25 million in REAP funding has an excellent chance of clearing the Iowa Senate, since Dvorsky chairs the Appropriations Committee. Will the Iowa House go along? The many state lawmakers who spoke with Environmental Lobby Day exhibitors today included House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer and several members of the House Appropriations Committee.

After the jump I've posted background on the REAP program from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources website, including a map showing how much REAP funding has gone to each of Iowa's 99 counties. I also enclosed a press release from the Iowa Environmental Council, with highlights from speakers at the conservation rally.

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My comment to the USDA on Dow's petition to unleash 2,4-D resistant crops

by: black desert nomad

Mon Mar 10, 2014 at 22:50:50 PM CDT

(Appreciate this look at an issue that was not on my radar. Bleeding Heartland user black desert nomad has posted more details and references in the comments. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

The path to progress has little to do with speed but a heckuva lot to do with direction - an Iowa farmer said once as he described the act of stewarding his farm land to provide for his family and the next generation.  I suggest the the USDA and all interested parties heed this advice in the consideration of the status of 2,4-D Resistant corn and soybeans, and I hope you will decline the petition.  While this is only a single petition it is a strong signal to agriculture to continue on the pesticide-treadmill, whereby efficacy wanes and a new, often more potent, product is rolled out.  And while the USDA and others may chose to take that path - it should be understood they are deciding for everyone and the destructive nature of 2,4-D will impact all farmers. 

The use of herbicide resistant crops inevitably increases the use of the associated chemicals. For example, the volume of glyphosate deployed in  Iowa has grown exponentially since 1996 and today is nearly unfathomable.  The USGS has shown glyphosate is now persistent in Iowa rains and air. These technologies are dealt on a field by field basis but every acre of Iowa gets the treatment through air, water, and transport of crops.  Now on the docket is a chemical that is arguably worse than glyphosate for human and ecosystem health. When 2, 4-D was championed the first time, Iowa's leading apple and grape industries vanished in less than 10 years. Today, Iowa's wine industry is reborn but its fate likely rests on the decision before the USDA.

Veteran farmers that routinely use 2,4-D today for corn production describe that they are very concerned about this pending biotech trait. If/when the herbicide resistant crops are ok'ed, the deployment of 2,4-D will be increased and perhaps more importantly it will be used later in the growing season when volitilization-potential is greatest due to heat and the respiration of mature crops. Dow Agroscience's insistence of lesser volatility in future formulations of 2,4-D is a tough pill to swallow when Iowans see the chemical-burnt windbreaks along field edges. Agrichemical drift is a common issue for rural citizens and the farmers of Iowa growing crops other than the resistant varieties of corn and soybeans.

I am an aspiring farmer and have been actively searching for farmland upon which to begin. Twice recently I have had interest to purchase - but the small (~ 50 acre) parcels have been too narrow to avoid chemical drift - and I have declined in anticipation of the decision on this petition. If 2,4-D resistant crops are approved by you and widely adopted by farmers, Iowa might no longer be a viable place to pursue the production of small grains, vegetables, orchards and pastures as I plan to.  In order to preserve the rights and liberties of Iowa farmers to pursue diverse approaches to agriculture, I ask that you decline Dow Agroscience's petitions 09-233-01p, 09-349-01p, and 11-234-01p.
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