A rare victory for Iowa water quality

Following a public outcry, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has abandoned an effort to weaken the state’s E. coli water quality standards.

Officials had designed the change with the explicit goal of reducing the number of Iowa waterways deemed impaired. Environmental advocates had warned public health would suffer if the DNR assessed waterways based on average readings of E. coli levels, rather than the highest single measurement of the bacteria.

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Heidi Heitkamp cancels what might have been an awkward Iowa appearance

U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota was supposed to be the keynote speaker at tonight’s Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame event in Des Moines. However, the party announced last night the senator would be unable to attend “due to a scheduling conflict.” At this writing, the Iowa Democratic Party has not responded to my request for further details on the cancellation.

Heitkamp’s planned Iowa debut could hardly have come at a more awkward time. Among the least progressive Senate Democrats on a number of issues, Heitkamp was noticeably absent this week as some 40 senators took part in a filibuster led by Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut to force a vote on gun control measures. In 2013, she was one of just four Senate Democrats “who sided with the vast majority of Republicans to shoot down a bipartisan proposal to strengthen and expand background checks for gun purchases.” At the time, she said she opposed the bill drafted after the Sandy Hook mass shooting because “the focus should be on mental health issues, full and accurate reporting into the NICS database and ensuring that we are prosecuting criminals in possession of or trying to possess firearms. This conversation should be about what is in people’s minds, not about what is in their hands.”

In numerous social media postings this week, Iowa Democratic activists have criticized Heitkamp’s history of being a reliable vote for the National Rifle Association.

Even before last weekend’s massacre at the Pulse gay club in Orlando drew attention to the availability of assault weapons designed for use in military combat, I was expecting protests outside the hall and some heckling during Heitkamp’s speech, because of her ties to the fossil fuel industry. Opponents of the proposed Dakota Access (Bakken) pipeline have objected to giving Heitkamp such a prominent role in what is usually the Iowa Democratic Party’s second-largest event of the year. I enclose below a letter to the Des Moines Register by Wally Taylor of the Sierra Club.

Recent high school graduate Ryan McDaniel of Marshalltown will replace Heitkamp on tonight’s program, Jason Noble reported for the Des Moines Register. McDaniel won one of the Eychaner Foundation‘s fourteen Matthew Shepard scholarships this year. I’m excited to hear him speak.

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Turtle Protection Bill passes and is signed by the governor

When a bill passes by an overwhelming bipartisan vote, like the turtle harvesting bill did in both the Iowa House and Senate, one might assume it was easy to persuade lawmakers and the governor to act. Not necessarily. Thanks to Mike Delaney for an in-depth look at how one good idea became state law. Delaney is a founder of the non-profit Raccoon River Watershed Association. Turtle graphic produced by the non-profit Iowa Rivers Revival. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Over the years I have noticed a decline in the number of Soft-shelled turtles on my sandbars along the Raccoon River in Dallas County. When I first bought my farm in 1988 12” and 14” Soft-shells would regularly slide into the river off the sand where they were warming their cold-blooded bodies. A few seconds later you could see their noses and foreheads pop up to look around. When my son and daughter were little I showed them (as my older brothers had shown me as a child) how to walk along the shore at night, focus a flashlight at the water’s edge and spot the heads of baby Softshells sticking out of the sand. However, we have not seen these little guys for many years.

I asked around about what happened to the turtles. County conservation folks told me that the commercial turtle trappers were selling them to China. I asked some “environmentally concerned” friends. One said that the DNR was worried about Iowa’s turtles and had proposed rules to limit turtle “harvest” during egg laying season and limits on the numbers that could be taken. Iowa had no rules preventing over-harvest of turtles. I was told that the rules were being held up in the governor’s office.

I decided to act on the matter.

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Market forces may kill Bakken pipeline despite likely Iowa Utilities Board approval

Pipes intended for use in the Dakota Access pipeline being stored in Jasper County, Iowa during 2015. Photo provided by Wallace Taylor, used with permission.

UPDATE: As expected, the board voted unanimously to approve the permit. Scroll to the end of this post for more details and reaction.

The Iowa Utilities Board will meet this afternoon to issue a decision on the proposed Dakota Access pipeline. Everyone I know in the environmental community expects the three board members to approve the permit for this project, better known as the Bakken pipeline. Litigation is sure to follow, as opponents charge the Iowa Utilities Board’s eminent domain powers may be used only in the service of a “public good,” not “to privilege a private corporation.”

Other legal hurdles include the need for a permit from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, because the pipeline route would cross “four areas in Iowa that have been identified as sovereign lands.” The Sierra Club Iowa chapter has been pushing for a thorough Environmental Impact Study and archaeological review. (Too many Iowa politicians from both parties signed a letter to the utilities board opposing an independent environmental impact assessment.)

Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson has long cast doubt on the “bloated” economic impact numbers Dakota Access has used to market the project. Click here for Swenson’s detailed analysis on the pipeline’s “purported economic and fiscal benefits to the state of Iowa.”

A growing number of observers believe the project no longer makes economic sense even for Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of Dakota Access.

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How to write an Iowa caucus party platform resolution

Many Iowans leave their precinct caucuses after the presidential selection process, but the caucuses also provide an opportunity for politically-engaged people to influence their party’s platform. If you bring a resolution to your precinct caucus, you have a good chance of getting it approved and sent to the county platform committee, which decides what will come to a vote at the county convention.

Little-known fact for those who want to exercise this option: platform resolutions should be written in a different format from other political resolutions you may have read. Follow me after the jump for details and examples of resolutions you can bring to your caucus on Monday night.

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