Agriculture trumps environment on flood recovery panel

cross-posted at La Vida Locavore and Daily Kos

I was concerned when Governor Chet Culver put Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge in charge of the Rebuild Iowa Commission and nine task forces to deal with flood recovery. In her previous job as secretary of agriculture, Judge was very close to industrial agricultural interests and did little to promote sustainable agriculture. She is not receptive to environmental and public-health concerns associated with large-scale livestock operations.

Even though Judge has few friends in the environmental community, I kept an open mind about the process, because one of Rebuild Iowa’s nine task forces was dedicated to Environmental Quality and Review.

Neila Seaman, director of the Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club, picks up the story in this editorial for the Des Moines Register:

However, on July 10, the governor’s office issued a news release listing all of the task forces as written in the executive order, except the task force for Environmental Quality and Review had morphed into the Agriculture and Environment task force. […]

I received e-mails from six people who reported that as of July 24, there were no available slots on the 24-person task force.

People who have been active in agriculture and environment issues for years were told they could be a “resource person” but could not sit on the task force and could not speak unless they were asked a question. Task-force staff was instructed that some organizations could not delegate their staff to the task forces or delegate board members. The governor’s office, they were told, was seeking “regular members” of organizations that had been invited to participate. One e-mail quoted a governor’s office representative as saying appointments were still being considered and the names of appointments would be released the next day even after others were told that same day that there were no more seats on the task force.

[…] After the first Ag/Environment meeting ended on July 30, I finally obtained a list from a colleague.

You can count on one hand how many of the 24 task-force members are appointed to represent environmental organizations. However, agriculture is heavily represented. The list includes a former deputy director of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa State University’s dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Iowa secretary of agriculture and nine agriculture-related individuals, including some who staff ag organizations. Also included are a school superintendent, a county engineer association representative, a city planning commission member and four legislators.

Iowa Farm Bureau hosted the first meeting. A government facility would have been more appropriate. “Resource persons” and others told me that environmental issues were not discussed.

I am personally acquainted with two people (highly qualified to serve on this task force) who were told soon after applying that they would be welcome at meetings only as “resource persons.” I do not know whether the people I know are the same people Seaman refers to in her editorial.

Many experts agree that replacing more than 90 percent of Iowa prairies with plowed fields and other common agricultural practices greatly contributed to this summer’s unprecedented flooding.

For that reason, it is particularly inappropriate to let representatives of big agribusiness dominate the only government panel assigned to consider environmental issues in relation to flood recovery.

I wish I could say I was surprised. What’s good for industrial agriculture has trumped what’s good for the environment for a long time in Iowa.

I appreciate Seaman’s efforts to shine a light on this problem. If you want to get more involved with your Sierra Club chapter, you can find a long list of Sierra Club listservs here. It’s easy to sign up for these free e-mail loops, and I see a lot on the Iowa Topics list that doesn’t get covered adequately in the mainstream media.

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