Attorney calls for Iowa Utilities Board investigation

Nancy Dugan lives in Altoona, Iowa and has worked as an online editor for the past 12 years. 

Late in the afternoon on Friday, August 18, attorney Anna Ryon filed a Motion to Stay Proceedings on behalf of Kerry Mulvania Hirth with the Iowa Utilities Board (Summit Carbon Solutions, LLC, IUB docket number HLP-2021-0001).

In the motion, Ryon asserts that Board staff “improperly coerced Ms. Hirth into relinquishing her right to participate in this proceeding that was granted by the Board on July 19, 2023.” Items 12 to 15 of the motion are reproduced in full below:

12. A withdrawal of intervention is a relinquishment of substantial legal rights.

13. Since August 3, 2023, at least five parties have filed withdrawals of their intervention, despite having already been granted intervention by the Board.

14. Based on Ms. Hirth’s sworn affidavit, the role of Board staff in improperly requiring individuals who had been granted intervenor status to relinquish that status should be investigated. Some of the parties who filed withdrawals of intervention are also Exhibit H landowners, suggesting Board staff may have also influenced parties’ decisions about whether or not to testify during the Exhibit H portion of the hearing.

15. No further proceedings should be held in this docket until the Board determines the extent to which Board staff has improperly impacted the rights of intervening individuals and Exhibit H landowners and the Board has taken steps to remedy any impacts on the rights of parties to this proceeding.

Ryon was previously employed by the Office of Consumer Advocate (OCA). On July 10, she filed a Petition to Intervene on behalf of former U.S. Representative Steve King. The Board issued an Order on July 19 denying King’s petition to intervene (see Item 19, ordering clauses).

Ryon filed Supplemental Petitions to Intervene on July 24, on behalf of the King Intervenors, a group comprised of the former member of Congress, Michael Daly, Mark Joenks, Ted Junker, James and Janet Norris, Jeffrey Reints, and Jessica Wiskus.

On July 31, the OCA filed a Motion to Strike Filings and Prohibit Future Filings of Anna Ryon, citing “her employment at OCA and her involvement in this docket representing OCA.” Ryon submitted a response to that motion the following day on behalf of the King Intervenors. She characterized the motion to strike as improper: “If OCA wants to pursue action against Ms. Ryon, it should do so in a manner that doesn’t prejudice the rights of the King Intervenors.”

The Iowa Utilities Board issued an Order on August 8 denying the King Intervenors’ supplemental petitions to intervene (see Item 15, ordering clauses). A review of the docket indicates that at this writing, the Board has not ruled on the OCA’s July 31 motion.

Attorney General Brenna Bird named attorney Lanny Zieman Consumer Advocate on March 27. The attorney general has long had authority to appoint that official. But pursuant to Senate File 514, the state government reorganization that Governor Kim Reynolds signed on April 4, the attorney general (not the consumer advocate) is now responsible for hiring OCA employees, who are now at-will employees.

In addition, Bird can replace the consumer advocate at any time. Previously, the consumer advocate served a fixed four-year term and oversaw the hiring and management of office staff, whose merit-based employment gave them greater protections from political winds.

Before being sworn in as attorney general this year, Bird was employed by the LS2 Group lobbying firm, which Summit Agricultural Group lists as a partner on its website. The firm lobbies for both the Summit Group and Summit Carbon Solutions, as well as Alliant Energy Corp., AT&T, Energy Transfer, Iowa American Water Co., Ranger Power and SOO Green HVDC Link ProjectCo, LLC.

Whether Bird was involved in the Summit Carbon project while working at LS2 Group is not known. The proposal to build a CO2 pipeline was well underway before her election in November 2022. Nor is it known whether Bird represented other LS2 clients who routinely appear before the Iowa Utilities Board.

What is clear: Bird now directly oversees the Office of Consumer Advocate and its staff, whose mission is “To represent Iowa consumers and the public interest in all forums with the goal of maintaining safe, reliable, reasonably-priced, and nondiscriminatory utility services for all consumers in all market settings while informing and educating the public on utility related issues.”

Editor's note from Laura Belin: The Government Alignment Project report developed by Guidehouse (the out-of-state consultant hired by the Reynolds administration) did not propose any changes to the Office of Consumer Advocate. However, the draft bill the governor's office submitted to the legislature early this year included language giving the attorney general direct control over that office's operations. Despite many public comments expressing concern about undermining the consumer advocate's independence, Republican lawmakers made no changes to that section of the governor's bill, which eventually became Senate File 514.

Top image of Iowa Utilities Board/Office of Consumer Advocate building in Des Moines is a screenshot from a virtual tour of the building, published online in 2013.

  • The full impacts...

    ...of the government reorganization bill will continue to unfold. Just wait until we see what may be in store for Iowa boards and commissions. As I recall, the first public look at that is slated for next month.

Login or Join to comment and post.