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

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.

Continue Reading...

Iowans split on party lines over bill to weaken hazardous waste laws

Talk about lousy timing: just before a chemical spill made tap water unusable for 300,000 West Virginians, the U.S. House approved a bill that would “weaken the nation’s hazardous waste laws and place American communities at increased risk of toxic exposure.” The Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act of 2013 (H.R. 2279) includes three bills House Republicans drafted last year. In a letter signed by 129 public interest groups, Earth Justice listed the key points of each bill and explained why the package would “threaten human health and the environment while protecting polluters from liability for the costs of toxic cleanups.” I’ve posted an excerpt from that open letter after the jump. In a post for the Earth Justice blog last week, Lisa Evans called this bill “Kryptonite for Superfund” and “a con job of the highest order, allowing polluters to walk away without losing a penny, while taxpayers are left footing the bill.”

Under its current leadership, the House has been called “the most anti-environmental House in our nation’s history” because of the many bills passed that would curtail federal regulations and take power away from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Occasionally Iowa’s two House Democrats have gone along with those efforts, but I was pleased to see that on January 9, Representatives Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) voted against the latest effort to hamstring the EPA and for the Democratic motion to recommit this bill with instructions (often a last-ditch effort to kill legislation in the House). Iowa Republicans Tom Latham (IA-03) and Steve King (IA-04) lived up to their abysmal voting records on the environment by voting for the Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act and against the motion to recommit.

Continue Reading...

Environmental groups sue EPA over inaction on "Dead Zone" pollution

The Iowa Environmental Council is one of 11 plaintiffs in two lawsuits filed today to challenge inaction by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The legal actions are aimed at forcing the EPA “to address the nitrogen and phosphorous pollution degrading water quality in Iowa, the Mississippi River Basin, and the Gulf of Mexico, where this pollution causes the Dead Zone.”  

Continue Reading...

IA-01: Braley seeks more ag power over environmental rules

Representative Bruce Braley (D, IA-01) has introduced a bipartisan bill to put more people “with agricultural backgrounds” on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board. The full press release from Braley’s office is after the jump. Excerpt:

“Our farmers must have a voice when it comes to their life’s work,” said Congressman Braley. “This bill will give them a chance to bring some common sense to EPA regulations that have an effect on them every single day.”

The EPA Science Advisory Board provides analysis and recommendations for EPA regulations and other technical matters that often impact agriculture. Farmers have become increasingly concerned that EPA decisions are creating unnecessary and undue economic hardship. For example, proposals to regulate dust on farms have raised concerns. Braley recently voted to protect Iowa farms from these burdensome federal dust regulations.

I don’t know the details on the proposed dust rules. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has spoken with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson about the issue and has urged farmers not to worry about excessive regulation of dust clouds on farms.

From where I’m sitting, it’s a bad time for Congress to pick on the EPA Science Advisory Board. While Braley implies EPA regulations are lacking in “common sense,” I see an agency that has recently backed off from protecting public health in order to appease certain industries and political opponents.

Here in Iowa, the last thing we need is another politician arguing that environmental regulations threaten farmers. Iowans with agricultural backgrounds have long been well represented on environmental regulatory and advisory bodies in this state. Now our Republican governor has handed over the state Environmental Protection Commission to agribusiness advocates and may move all water quality and monitoring programs to the agriculture department, something that hasn’t been done anywhere else in the country. Braley doesn’t seem too aware of the relationship between agricultural pollution and Iowa’s water quality problems; last year he supported a proposed expansion of a Scott County hog confinement despite evidence that the operator had previously violated manure discharge rules.

Braley’s press release names several agricultural groups supporting his new legislation. Perhaps this bill will help bolster his position as a voice for Iowa farmers. He lost most of the rural counties in his district in the 2010 election (pdf), and Iowa’s forthcoming four-district map will add more rural counties to the first Congressional district.

Braley has long championed the biofuels industry. He received the Iowa Corn Growers Association endorsement last year and won praise from the Renewable Fuels Association last month for “raising awareness about the anti-ethanol, anti-fuel choice agenda of some members of Congress.” (Braley clashed with Republican Representative Tom Latham (IA-04) over an amendment to confirm the EPA’s power to implement the Renewable Fuels Standard.) However, the Iowa Farm Bureau didn’t endorse a candidate in IA-01 last year. Although the American Farm Bureau supports Braley’s new bill on the EPA Science Advisory Board, I doubt the Iowa Farm Bureau would back him in 2012, especially if redistricting pits him against Latham. Braley voted for the 2009 climate change bill that the Farm Bureau strongly opposed and helped to bury in the Senate.

Incidentally, Representative Leonard Boswell (IA-03) was among the House Agriculture Committee Democrats who lobbied successfully to weaken the climate change bill’s impact on agriculture. I don’t recall Braley getting involved in that fight.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

UPDATE: On March 16 Braley and Boswell jointly introduced an amendment to preserve federal funding for “local governments and organizations to purchase and renovate foreclosed properties for resale in rural communities.” The press release on that amendment is after the jump.

Continue Reading...

Another study finds link between atrazine and birth defects

Yet another study has found that exposure to the weed-killer atrazine is associated with a higher rate of a birth defect:

Living near farms that use the weed killer atrazine may up the risk of a rare birth defect, according to a study presented this past Friday [February 5] at the annual meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine in Chicago.

About 1 in 5000 babies born in the U.S. each year suffers from gastroschisis, in which part of the intestines bulges through a separation in the belly, according to the March of Dimes. The rate of gastroschisis has risen 2- to 4-fold over the last three decades, according to Dr. Sarah Waller, of the University of Washington, Seattle, and colleagues. […]

The researchers looked at more than 4,400 birth certificates from 1987-2006 – including more than 800 cases of gastroschisis — and U.S. Geological Survey databases of agricultural spraying between 2001 and 2006.

Using Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards to define high chemical exposure levels in surface water, they found that the closer a mother lived to a site of high surface water contamination by atrazine, the more likely she was to deliver an infant with gastroschisis.

The birth defect occurred more often among infants who lived less than 25 km (about 15 miles) from one of these sites, and it occurred more often among babies conceived between March and May, when agricultural spraying is common.

A separate study published last year in the medical journal Acta Paediatrica compared monthly concentrations of “nitrates, atrazine and other pesticides” in the U.S. water supply with birth defect rates over a seven-year period. The researchers found, “Elevated concentrations of agrichemicals in surface water in April-July coincided with higher risk of birth defects in live births with [last menstrual periods in] April-July.” The association was found for “eleven of 22 birth defect subcategories” as well as for birth defects as a whole.

The European Union banned atrazine in 2003 because of groundwater contamination, but tens of millions of pounds of the chemical are still sprayed on American farms. It has been proven to enter the water supply and is correlated with increased rates of breast and prostate cancers.

During the Bush administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maintained that atrazine had no detrimental effects in humans. But in a policy shift last October, the EPA announced that it would ask the independent Scientific Advisory Panel to conduct a thorough scientific review of atrazine’s “potential cancer and non-cancer effects on humans,” including “its potential association with birth defects, low birth weight, and premature births.” The panel will also evaluate research on “atrazine’s potential effects on amphibians and aquatic ecosystems.” Conventional agriculture groups aren’t waiting for the results of the review; they are already lobbying the EPA not to restrict or ban the use of atrazine.

I’d have more respect for the “pro-life” movement if they supported restrictions on chemicals that threaten babies in the womb. I don’t think I have ever heard an anti-abortion activist railing against atrazine or pesticides that can cause spontaneous abortions, though.

Continue Reading...

ACTION: Help protect air quality in northwest Iowa

An oil refinery proposed for a South Dakota site near Sioux City poses a threat to air quality in northwest Iowa, I recently learned from Dr. Jim Redmond, chair of the Sierra Club’s Northwest Iowa Group. The Hyperion Energy Center would be the sixth-largest oil refinery in the country. It would emit large quantities of several pollutants, including particulate matter 2.5, which is hazardous to human health.

The South Dakota Department of Natural Resources (DENR) and the South Dakota Board of Minerals and Environment have issued a preconstruction air permit to the Hyperion Energy Center. Unfortunately, the permit omits relevant information. For instance, instead of using five years of data on ambient air conditions in Sioux Falls and Sioux City, only one year of information for Sioux Falls was used. The environmental impact on Sioux City (25 miles downwind from the proposed facility) will certainly be greater than on Sioux Falls (50 miles upwind).

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) criticized the draft air permit for the Hyperion project, but South Dakota’s DENR did not incorporate their suggestions.

Because the Hyperion project will adversely affect air quality in and around Sioux City, Iowans should contact the EPA administrator in Region 7 (containing Iowa). South Dakota lies in the EPA’s Region 8.

Redmond sent me extensive background information on this matter and sample letters to the EPA, which I’ve posted after the jump.

Continue Reading...
View More...