Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 1)

I expected 2009 to be a relatively quiet year in Iowa politics, but was I ever wrong.

The governor’s race heated up, state revenues melted down, key bills lived and died during the legislative session, and the Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in Varnum v Brien became one of this state’s major events of the decade.

After the jump I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from January through June 2009. Any comments about the year that passed are welcome in this thread.

Although I wrote a lot of posts last year, there were many important stories I didn’t manage to cover. I recommend reading Iowa Independent’s compilation of “Iowa’s most overlooked and under reported stories of 2009,” as well as that blog’s review of “stories that will continue to impact Iowa in 2010.”

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ACTION: Help preserve public input on CAFOs

The state Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) is considering new rules that would limit public input during the permit approval process for confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Iowa. Up to now, members of the public have been able to speak before the EPC concerning proposed new CAFOs. Under the new rules, only representatives of the entity applying for the permit, the county board of supervisors, and the Department of Natural Resources would be able to speak at EPC hearings on CAFO permits. People and entities that might be affected by downstream or downwind pollution from the proposed CAFO would not be allowed to speak at such hearings.

The public can submit comments on the new rule through this Thursday, August 6.

After the jump I’ve posted action alerts sent out by 1000 Friends of Iowa and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. They contain some talking points for public comments and contact information for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Iowa CCI also mentions two points worth preserving in the new rule, which industrial agriculture interests are apparently trying to have removed.

Comments must be received by Thursday, so if you are using the regular mail, please send your letter as soon as possible. There are also three DNR public hearings this week in Spencer, Des Moines and Ainsworth (details below).

I’ve also posted two pieces containing further background information after the jump. These may help you prepare comments to submit to the DNR. Shearon Elderkin discusses a controversial EPC decision last summer, which prompted the rewriting of the rules on the CAFO permit application process. Elderkin served on the EPC from August 2008 through April 2009. She had to step down when Iowa Senate Republicans blocked her confirmation for the position.

The final document you can find below is by Cedar Rapids attorney David Elderkin, Shearon’s husband. He covers the legal issues at hand in more detail.

Please take a few minutes to submit a public comment on this issue by Thursday, August 6. Please forward to any friends or relatives in Iowa who might be willing to comment as well.

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Why did Iowa Senate Republicans reject three Culver appointees?

The Republican caucus in the Iowa Senate is the smallest it’s ever been in this state’s history, but they let us know this week that they are not entirely irrelevant. On Tuesday all 18 Republican senators blocked Governor Chet Culver’s appointment of Shearon Elderkin to the Environmental Protection Commission. The 32 Senate Democrats supported Elderkin, but nominees need a two-thirds majority (34 votes) to be confirmed.

The following day, Senate Republicans unanimously blocked Gene Gessow’s appointment as head of the Department of Human Services. Also on April 15, two Senate Democrats joined with the whole Republican caucus to reject a second term for Carrie La Seur on the Iowa Power Fund board.

Senate Republican leader Paul McKinley released statements explaining each of these votes, but I doubt those statements tell the whole story, and I’ll tell you why after the jump.

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No time like today to contact your state legislators

The 2009 legislative session is ending soon, and if you haven’t contacted your state representative or senator yet, quit procrastinating. I don’t think legislators diligently read every e-mail when the session gets busy, so I recommend calling them.

Iowa Senate switchboard: 515-281-3371

Iowa House Switchboard: 515-281-3221

I encourage you to tell your state representative and state senator that you support the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision in Varnum v Brien and want them to respect that ruling.

Although I haven’t had time to finish writing a post here about the tax reforms being proposed this year, I support most of what’s in the package, including ending federal deductibility. Right-wing groups are urging Iowans to call their legislators about this issue, so if you support the Democratic tax reform plan, please say so. This article describes the proposed changes to Iowa’s tax code, which Democratic legislative leaders and Governor Culver have agreed on.

Please also mention to members of the Iowa House that you want them to reject SF 432 (here’s why) or remove the Liquid Manure division in SF 432.

If you are speaking with a state senator, especially a Republican senator, please also mention that you want Shearon Elderkin to be confirmed as a member of the Environmental Protection Commission. Culver appointed her to that body last year, and she has been a good vote for the environment.

I happen to know Shearon (pronounced like “Sharon”), because we used to serve on the same non-profit organization’s board of directors. She reads widely on public policy and asks tough questions. She also is a good listener and does not view issues through the prism of partisan politics. Even after serving with her for more than a year, some of our board members did not know whether she was a Republican, Democrat or independent. (For the record, she’s a moderate Republican.)

Feel free to mention any other pending bills or tips for contacting legislators in this thread.

UPDATE: Senator Jack Hatch, who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, says Gene Gessow’s confirmation as director of the Department of Human Services “is in trouble.” I posted Hatch’s speech calling for Gessow to be confirmed after the jump. If your state senator is a Republican, you may want to bring this up as well.

SECOND UPDATE: 1000 Friends of Iowa sent out an action alert regarding Elderkin’s nomination. I’ve posted that after the jump.

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EPC moves to block two new CAFOs in Dallas County

cross-posted at La Vida Locavore

The Iowa legislature and state agencies have notoriously failed to do anything to address the pollution problems stemming from confined-animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

But the Environmental Protection Commission took one small step in the right direction:

The state Environmental Protection Commission today rejected previously approved permits for two large hog confinements in Dallas County.

The surprise move came after a two-hour meeting in Urbandale at which commissioners said rules drawn up to dictate approval of large-scale confinement permits leave out important environmental considerations and neighbors’ quality-of-life concerns.

“There are battle lines being drawn on this, and it creates a political situation that the Legislature cannot ignore,” commission chairman Henry Marquard said.

Only a handful of permits have been denied in Iowa, but rarely has one been turned down after it met approval from the Department of Natural Resources and passed a complicated scoring system adopted by counties, including Dallas.

The nine-member commission voted to block these permits on a strong 6-2 vote. I wouldn’t be surprised if the matter ends up in court, however.

Noneed4thneed wrote about the controversy over the new Dallas County CAFOs in late July:

The proposed hog confinements would have a total of 7,440 hogs in rural Dallas County, which is the fastest growing county in the state. These confinements will produce as much waste as a town of 30,000 people and it will go untreated.

Earlier this month, Dallas County Supervisors voted against allowing these proposed hog confinements, but in reality there isn’t much the local people can do about the hog confinements that will be owned by the out of state company, Cargill.

We need federal legislation to make CAFOs pay for the harm they cause, because our state legislature has shown itself to be unwilling to act to protect air and water quality in Iowa.

But in the absence of federal action, a state law giving counties “local control” (agricultural zoning rights) would at least offer some protection. Some county supervisors would rubber-stamp every proposed CAFO, but others would follow the lead of the Dallas County supervisors.

For all I know, Cargill will sue to reinstate their permits to open these hog confinements. But however this story ends, it’s good to see the majority of the Environmental Protection Commission’s members doing something to protect the environment.

UPDATE: I learned from the online newsletter of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources recently denied a permit for a different proposed CAFO.

Because of the efforts of CCI members and other local residents, the DNR recently denied a 4,900-head hog factory proposed for southern Appanoose County. The permit application did not meet legal requirements, nor did their master matrix pass muster. Although the applicant for this proposed confinement is a local resident, the 4,900 hogs would have been owned by Cargill. Cargill, one of the largest privately-held corporations in the world, has been behind a number of proposed factory farms around the state, including two proposed 7,440-head hog factories in northwest Dallas County.

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