Exclusive: Iowa DNR shuts down public comments on fertilizer plant deal

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has denied a request to extend the public comment period on the air permit for a large fertilizer plant to be constructed in southeast Iowa. Wallace Taylor, a Cedar Rapids attorney representing Lee County citizens who oppose the project, asked for a 60-day extension to the October 19 deadline for submitting comments. He cited the complexity of the Iowa Fertilizer Company’s permit application, which involves “unique processes, numerous sources and pollutants, and 23 separate draft permits.”

Taylor gave me permission to publish the relevant e-mail correspondence with DNR Director Chuck Gipp below. He added that he had “never seen the DNR deny a request to extend a comment period before, especially in a case like this.”

Governor Terry Branstad and state economic development officials offered the Egyptian firm Orascom the largest incentive package in Iowa history to build the fertilizer plant in Lee County. Iowa Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Joe Bolkcom has argued that taxpayers “got taken to the cleaners” on the deal, since Orascom would have built its factory in Iowa even without incentives totaling more than $1 million per permanent job created. An Illinois economic development official told the Quad-City Times that the state of Illinois “never put an offer [to Orascom] on the table. We recognized early on that Iowa’s bid was excessive, and we were not going to engage in a bidding war.”

—–Original Message—–

From: wtaylorlaw (wtaylorlaw@aol.com)

To: Chuck.Gipp (Chuck.Gipp@dnr.iowa.gov)

Cc: William.Ehm (William.Ehm@dnr.iowa.gov)

Sent: Thu, Oct 18, 2012 9:06 am

Subject: Re: Iowa Fertilizer Company PSD air permit

Mr. Gipp:

With all due respect, I did include a reason for the extension. I cited the complexity and uniqueness of this permit application and the processes being evaluated. I also noted that the DNR and the applicant have had several months to work through the issues in the permit application and that it is not fair to require members of the public, who are not expert in this area, to understand the process, to obtain expert opinions, review all the permit materials, and prepare comments in 30 days. I frankly don’t know what sort of reason beyond that that you are looking for.

Wally Taylor

—–Original Message—–

From: Gipp, Chuck [DNR] [DNR] (Chuck.Gipp@dnr.iowa.gov)

To: ‘wtaylorlaw@aol.com’ (wtaylorlaw@aol.com)

Cc: Ehm, William [DNR] [DNR] (William.Ehm@dnr.iowa.gov)

Sent: Thu, Oct 18, 2012 8:51 am

Subject: RE: Iowa Fertilizer Company PSD air permit

Mr. Taylor,

The comment period will not be extended. Most requests for extensions include a reason for the extension. Your request does not. Also, you are inaccurate in stating that Iowa Fertilizer Company is requesting an extension. It was The National Fertilizer Institute that made the request which has since been withdrawn.

Chuck Gipp, Director

Iowa Department of Natural Resources

O  – 515 281 3388

502 E. 9th Street, Des Moines, IA 50319-0034


From: wtaylorlaw@aol.com [mailto:wtaylorlaw@aol.com]

Sent: Thursday, October 18, 2012 8:03 AM

To: wtaylorlaw@aol.com; Gipp, Chuck [DNR]; Ehm, William [DNR]

Subject: Re: Iowa Fertilizer Company PSD air permit

Chuck and Bill:

Can you let me know if the comment period will be extended, and if not, why not?

Wally Taylor

—–Original Message—–

From: wtaylorlaw (wtaylorlaw@aol.com)

To: chuck.gipp (chuck.gipp@dnr.iowa.gov); william.ehm (william.ehm@dnr.iowa.gov)

Sent: Thu, Oct 11, 2012 3:13 pm

Subject: Iowa Fertilizer Company PSD air permit

Chuck and Bill:

I am representing citizens in Lee County regarding the PSD air permit for the Iowa Fertilizer Company plant. The comment period on the draft permits ends on October 19, 2012. We have just begun to review the permit documents but it is clear that this is a complex application. There are some unique processes, numerous sources and pollutants, and 23 separate draft permits. It is virtually impossible to review and comment on all of this by October 19.

It is also worth mentioning that the company, its consultants, and DNR staff have had several months to work on this before the notice for public comment was issued. Based on all of these facts, we respectfully request that the comment period be extended for an additional 60 days.

I understand that Iowa Fertilizer Company has also requested an extension of the comment period, so they should not have any objection to our request.

Thank you for your attention to this request.

Wally Taylor

Wallace L. Taylor

Attorney at Law

118 3rd Ave. S.E., Suite 326

Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401


e-mail: wtaylorlaw@aol.com

  • Thoughts

    I don’t think Terry Branstad would take Iowa taxpayers on this large of a ridge if he genuinely didn’t have to.  

    It’s issues like this that make me despise the “progressive wing” of the Democratic Party and the Tea Party as well.

    In full disclosure I am in support the project.  Those who oppose the project are more than welcome to raise capital for an environmentally safer facility where they can make something and employ a lot of people.  

    I’m sure that this post will not go over well.  

    • I understand why

      you support the project, but there should still be opportunities for meaningful public input on an air permit for a major new industrial facility.

      Joe Bolkcom made a compelling case that Orascom would never have built this plant in Illinois, because doing so would have cost them hundreds of millions more dollars. Perhaps Terry Branstad thought he needed to go out on a limb with the offer he made, but no one in the Branstad administration has pointed out any problem with Bolkcom’s data.

      • Valid point

        I’ve seen a lot of people have numerous conversations with the Board of Supervisors, I agree that the conversation could continue.

        I just hope that the project does not get blocked due to the discussion or the need to defeat Governor Branstad.  

        • plant

          If they aren’t going to extend the discussion period, they could at least cite a time-sensitive reason (ie, they’re scheduled to break ground the day after).

          Also, they didn’t even respond to his request until the day the comment period was to expire. Bush league.  

          • Wallace Taylor

            has been dealing with the DNR for many years and says he has never seen them deny a request to extend a public comment period. It creates the appearance of pressure to rush this project through with as little scrutiny as possible.

        • not surprised

          that some people aren’t thrilled with the supervisors. Lee County taxpayers will have to pick up the slack for the $100 million plus the fertilizer company won’t be paying in local taxes.

          • Take time to ensure clean air

            The taxpayer will be giving Orascom half a billion dollars in incentives and interest breaks.  Orascom and the Department of Natural Resources should be more than gracious in giving the public adequate time and opportunity to review the air permits.

            After all the public will be left breathing the air emissions from this plant for decades.  We all deserve clean air.  A thorough review of the permit should ensure that the emissions are appropriate.

            Since this project is a public-private partnership, it should not be the public gives and the private takes.  

            We can have clean air and jobs.

            • Great points

              I don’t think very many people in support of the project are opposed to clean air, just guessing.  I’m a bit aggravated by this because a group called We Are Iowa (previously known as we are Lee County) was sending me e-mails without my authorization.  I serve on a couple of different committees and someone from Burlington got a hold of an e-mail list.  I asked them to stop sending me e-mails and for the most part they have.  

              I know I should be more rational about this, but we’ve been sending Democrats to Des Moines for a long time and don’t get much in return as far as lifting people out of poverty.  (I know many folks don’t care for Phil Wise and didn’t consider him much of a Democrat)  I like Jerry Kearns and Gene Fraise a lot as people and they do try their best.  

              If a private enterprise can be convinced to offer 15 dollars per hour (I’m just ballparking what a really good wage for Lee County would be) and cover all of the cost themselves then you are a smarter human being than I am.  We have to offer deals to everyone, including telemarketing firms.  It’s not ideal, but its reality.  

    • blackmail

      I got the feeling we were being threatened when Branstad announced this project.  He said the tax laws here are so bad he had to give away the store to get this company to come to Iowa.  So we better change our tax laws to favor industry.

      It sounded like a bargaining chip or an implied threat to do it again if he doesn’t get the property tax cuts and corporate income tax cuts he wants.

      This is Iowa’s history for the last twenty years: to cut taxes as soon as there is a surplus in the treasury, but to cut spending as soon as the surplus disappears.  Branstad sees a chance to cut taxes again and he is putting on the pressure with stunts like this one.

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