Iowa Environmental Council announces legislative priorities

The Iowa Environmental Council and about 20 of its member organizations held a lobby day at the state capitol on Thursday.

I missed the press conference at which IEC executive director Marian Riggs Gelb announced the council’s legislative priorities, but I received a copy of her statement. I’ve put almost the full text (minus a few welcoming remarks and introductions of IEC staff and board members) after the jump.

Remarks by Marian Riggs Gelb, executive director of the IEC, at the State Capitol on January 24, 2008:

Thank you for coming and being a part of Lobby Day and the announcement of the Iowa Environmental Council’s 2008 legislative priorities.

Before I get into the meat of the priorities, let me reflect for a moment on the successes of the past legislative session.  Last year was an important year for the environment in the Iowa legislature, with significant legislation being passed to create the Office of Energy Independence, the Iowa Climate Change Advisory Council and the Iowa Power Fund Board.  I commend the House and the Senate, the Governor, and republicans and democrats alike, for being able to work in a bi-partisan manner to create these vehicles for determining how we, as Iowans, can address climate change.  

Building upon the successes of last session, the Council’s Energy and Global Warming priorities for 2008 are aimed at transitioning Iowa to a clean energy economy that will create jobs and economic growth, save consumers money, and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  We have a moral responsibility to our children and their children to address climate change. Iowa needs the wisdom of all of its lawmakers focused on finding innovative solutions to mitigate global warming. Denial of the severity of our current environmental crisis wastes precious time and dampens the spirits of leaders who would have Iowa lead the nation in renewable energy production, jobs, and businesses.”

And, fortunately, here in Iowa, we have the resources available to be successful.  We have plenty of wind.  Iowa is now home to five wind generation manufacturers and more will come.  That means long-term jobs for Iowans.  We have the bio-fuels industry and we have the promise of new technologies on the horizon as the necessity of solutions drives invention.  

But specifically, how do we start to make this transition?  First of all, by setting an energy savings goal of 2% annually for all electric and natural gas utilities in Iowa.  This will maximize the effectiveness of current utility energy efficiency programs.  It is through energy efficiency measures that we can realize the quickest and most cost-effective energy savings.

We should increase Iowa’s renewable energy standard to at least 25% by the year 2025.  This will ensure the long-term growth of Iowa’s successful renewable energy industry and will keep good jobs in Iowa as we transition from a reliance on fossil energy to renewables.

Iowa needs to set a long-term greenhouse gas reduction goal of at least 80% below 1990 levels by the year 2050.  Our emissions must peak now and begin declining as soon as possible to avoid catastrophic consequences.

Some of the biggest energy users are buildings.  We believe that the government should lead by example by ensuring that all new public buildings are next-generation green buildings.  Along that same line, we should provide incentives and support for highly efficient buildings in the private sector.  At a minimum, Iowa needs to enforce the excellent building codes that it already has on the books.

The transportation sector is the second largest source of emissions in Iowa.  If we adopt improved emissions standards for vehicles, it will reduce pollution, greenhouse gases and save consumers money at the pump.

But our 2008 legislative priorities are not limited to energy policy.

The last comprehensive state water plan was completed in 1978. We would like to work with the legislature and the Governor on authorizing legislation to implement a comprehensive State Water Plan.  This plan should address both water quality and quantity issues for surface and groundwater resources.  We are proposing a proactive plan to assure that there are sustainable water resources available for economic and environmental benefits.  We propose that this plan be overseen by a Water Resource Coordinating Council composed of state and federal agencies responsible for water management.  I might add that formation of this Water Resource Coordinating Council is a unanimous recommendation made by the Watershed Quality Planning Task Force in its January 2008 report to the Legislature.  The Task Force was formed by the 2006 Legislature to address statewide water quality programs and needs and was made up of organizations such as the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities, Iowa Association of Business and Industry, Iowa Rural Water Association, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Pork Producers, and the Conservation Districts of Iowa, to name a few.  I think you get a sense of the diversity of the Task Force and hence the power of their unanimous recommendations.

Additionally, the Council supports the other five consensus recommendations outlined in the Watershed Quality Planning Task Force’s report which include a water quality research and marketing campaign, watershed assessment, planning and prioritization on large and small scales, and community -based watershed monitoring and measurement, along with the annual $13.5 million funding request to implement these important new water quality programs.  Once we start looking at our waters on a watershed basis, we will be able to more precisely target the problem areas, spend our limit dollars more efficiently and realize greater results.

Additionally, for water, we support the legislation introduced last year requiring inspection of septic systems at the time of property transfer.  Over 20 counties in Iowa have already enacted this on a county level, and it is time for the state to adopt this statewide, thereby making this standard fair across all counties for realtors while protecting the environment from leaking or failed septic systems.  Not only does the public have the right to water free from septic pollutants, but the prospective landowners have the right to know the condition of the septic system supporting their home investment.

Finally, I would like to turn to sustainable funding for Iowa’s natural resources.  I am almost ashamed to say that Iowa ranks among the lowest in the nation for such funding.  In an effort to address this, a Sustainable Natural Resources Funding Advisory Committee was established by the legislature during the 2006 session in order to investigate funding needs and mechanisms as well as to assess the willingness of Iowans to financially support our natural resources.  During the 2007 legislative session a legislative interim committee, the Natural Resources Sustainable Funding Study Committee, was established.  The original Advisory Committee has continued to meet and has been providing information, testimony and advice to the legislative interim committee.  The final meeting for the interim committee is scheduled for next Monday, so the final recommendations are not yet public.  I can assure you that the Council will continue to advocate for sustainable funding of our natural resources and studies have shown that a majority of Iowans are willing to pay for it.

As a part of this, we support fully funding REAP at its authorized level of $20 million and ensuring that the Environment First Fund is funded at $44.5 million.

Recreational trails are becoming an important part of the quality of life in Iowa and have demonstrated economic development potential.  As these trails age, we must address the mounting maintenance costs associated with them.  Additionally, as our water trails develop and mirror the potential of the hard-surface trails, we must attend to the removal of large trash items such as cars and farm implements in our waterways.

In addition, Iowa’s State parks, along with county and city parks, have significant infrastructure needs that are not being addressed.  These are assets that must be maintained.  The Council will support recommendations for increased funding to support these resources.

In conclusion, I would like to encourage Iowa lawmakers to embrace our environmental problems for the opportunities they present-to create new green jobs and businesses, to save consumers money at the gas pump, to create recreational opportunities for Iowans and tourists alike, and to give Iowa’s youth a multitude of reasons to stay in Iowa.

Thank you for your time.  I am happy to answer any questions you might have.

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