Branstad stacks environmental commission with agribusiness advocates

Governor Terry Branstad announced more than 200 appointees to various state boards and commissions yesterday. He named Dolores Mertz, Brent Rastetter, Eugene Ver Steeg, and Mary Boote to four-year terms on the Environmental Protection Commission.

Mertz retired last year after more than two decades in the Iowa House. She was the most conservative House Democrat and chaired the Agriculture Committee for four years. She was a reliable vote against any attempt to limit pollution from factory farms and regularly assigned such bills to subcommittees that would bury them. Her sons own large hog farms and have been cited for several environmental violations. She also earns income from renting farmland to those operations. On the policy side, last year Mertz fast-tracked a bill that would have undermined new rules on spreading manure over frozen and snow-covered ground. She pushed (unsuccessfully) for a bill that would have given landowners until 2020 to comply with regulations passed in 1997 to prevent water contamination from agricultural drainage wells. Mertz has spoken of her “passion” to advocate for agriculture.

Brent Rastetter gave Branstad’s gubernatorial campaign at least $30,000. He is the owner and CEO of Quality Ag Construction, a company he and his brother Bruce Rastetter created in 1992. Quality Ag Construction’s market niche has been building hog confinement facilities. UPDATE: It’s also worth noting that Bruce Rastetter built a business empire in large-scale hog production and later ethanol. Groups representing agribusiness and biofuels producers are suing the Environmental Protection Commission and the Department of Natural Resources over water quality protection rules.

Ver Steeg was first named to the Environmental Protection Commission by Governor Chet Culver in 2008 for the position on the nine-member body that must be filled by “an active grain or livestock farmer.” Ver Steeg owns a hog farm and is a past president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association.

Boote is a “longtime Republican activist” who founded and runs an organization called Truth About Trade and Technology. The organization’s mission is to “support free trade and agricultural biotechnology.” It is primarily funded by “U.S. agribusinesses, farm organizations and individuals.” Boote has served as executive director of Truth About Trade and Technology for the past decade, so her income depends on the business organizations supporting the group.

Many in the environment-minded community criticized Culver in 2007, when he replaced four strong members of the Environmental Protection Commission with two people who had background in conservation and two who had close ties to agribusiness. Culver later named other supporters of protecting natural resources to the EPC, notably Shearon Elderkin and Carrie La Seur.

I don’t see any balance in Branstad’s appointees. That doesn’t bode well for the future work of the Environmental Protection Commission, charged with providing policy oversight over Iowa’s environmental protection efforts.

After the jump I’ve posted the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement’s statement on the new EPC appointees. Iowa CCI has sought to monitor compliance with new rules on spreading manure over farmland during the winter.  

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:       March 2, 2011

Official statement from Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement on Governor Branstad’s commission appointments:

“Members of Iowa CCI are not at all surprised Governor Branstad appointed former Rep. Dolores Mertz, Brent Rastetter, Mary Boote and re-appointed Eugene Ver Steeg to the Environmental Protection Commission (EPC). Mertz, Rastetter, Boote and Ver Steeg all have ties to the factory farm industry and will put the interests of corporate agriculture over the interests of every day Iowans,” said Iowa CCI’s State Policy Organizing Director Adam Mason.

“The EPC makes key decisions related to factory farm construction permits, fines and penalties for factory farm polluters, and also writes rules and regulations protecting our air and water from factory farm manure pollution. During his re-election campaign, Branstad called for more “streamlined” regulations for the factory farm industry. These appointments are part of Branstad’s plan to roll-back environmental protections and strip the power of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Commission,” Mason said.

Iowa CCI members will continue to push the DNR and EPC to crack down on factory farm polluters and write strong rules protecting our air and water. CCI members have been weighing in across the state at Republican sponsored “red tape hearings” to set the record straight, to amplify the call for stronger and more effective oversight, especially in regards to factory farms and the pollution they create.

CCI will continue to push the current EPC commissioners to advance a strong rule to fully implement enforcement of the federal Clean Water Act. The rulemaking was initiated last year, and will come for a vote before the EPC in April.

“We are calling on the outgoing commissioners to leave a lasting legacy of strong water protections. With 572 polluted waterways and over 700 manure spills in the last 15 years, it is a proven fact that factory farms can pollute, and obvious that they should have Clean Water Act Operating permits.” Mason said.

About the Author(s)


  • Boat rocking

    When Dems win elections they try not to rock the boat,  to gloat or upset the status quo too much.  

    When the cheap labor party wins, they immediately look for opportunities to reverse progress and sink as many boats as possible. And they do it–either loudly like Walker, Reagan, Bush; or quietly like Branstad, Daniels.

    But they still go around saying they believe in clean water.


  • I've been pissed

    About all of these huge donors getting appointments.  Branstad wants everyone to think that his administration is transparent and a change from the past. It’s just typical big-donor politics.

    Putting Brent Rastetter on the EPC board is just icing on the cake. It’s a slap in the face of everyone who thinks that perhaps we shouldn’t have pig shit polluting our water tables.

    We should keep a close eye on the deregulation plans they put in place.

    • Environmental Assault

      These appointments are part and parcel of an all out assault on environmental regulation by the Branstad Administration, House Republicans and the Farm Bureau.  Today, unbelievably, the Senate Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Dennis Black (D), passed out a bill transfering all EPA Clean Water Act programs from the DNR to Iowa Department of Ag and Land Stewardship (misnomer if there ever was one).  A similar measure is working its way thru the House.  Environmental groups have awakened to this in the past couple of days, but I wonder why the MSM hasn’t done anything?  This will set water quality back in this state DECADES.  We can only hope that leader Gronstal and his troops can put the kibosh on this.  You know, with 60% of Iowa voters passing IWILL in November, this would seem to be bad public policy AND bad politics.

      • Waste of Effort

        Nice of you to remind us of Iowa’s supposed desire for clean water, expressed in the constitutional amendment last fall.  It’s pretty much forgotten already.  It was a waste of time and effort.  It was also an illustration of my point (above) that Dems (environmentalists) play patty-cake while the profiteer party plays extreme boxing.

  • A good reminder

    that elections do matter. On many issues, even a “bad Democrat” is usually much better than a Republican.

  • I thought there was no difference?

    ICCI, Ed Fallon and a host of others acted like there wasn’t much difference between Culver and Branstad.

    We’ll see what they think of Obama next year.

    Ralph Nader anyone?