# CAFOs



Want stronger CAFO regulations? Then stop Senate File 2370

Downstream of the Dunning’s Spring waterfall in Decorah; photo by Ralf Broskvar, available via Shutterstock.

Diane Rosenberg is executive director of Jefferson County Farmers & Neighbors, where this commentary first appeared.

Given Iowa’s 721 polluted waterways, it’s clear current factory farm rules and regulations don’t adequately safeguard water quality or public health. Stronger regulations on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are needed to protect water quality from worsening.

Yet a section of Senate File 2370—passed by the Senate along party lines and now pending in the Iowa House—would permanently prohibit the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) from strengthening CAFO regulations. The bill, which Governor Kim Reynolds’ office introduced, would codify the governor’s Executive Order Number 10, issued last year. That order required every state agency to conduct a comprehensive overhaul of the Iowa Administrative Code in order to promote private sector development.

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Proposed CAFO rules won't protect Iowans or the environment

Wally Taylor is the Legal Chair of the Sierra Club Iowa chapter. He wrote this essay after attending the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ virtual public hearing about the new Chapter 65 regulations on February 19.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has been revising its regulations for animal feeding operations as dictated by Governor Kim Reynolds’ Executive Order 10, issued in early 2023.

Chapter 65 of the Iowa administrative code has long contained confusing and inadequate rules, which are open to manipulation by livestock producers and the DNR.

The DNR tried to revise the regulations recently to provide more protection for Iowa’s waters in areas of karst terrain. But the governor’s “Administrative Rules Coordinator” Nate Ristow blocked the proposed rule, because it would not reduce the “regulatory burden” on livestock producers.

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The 23 most-viewed Bleeding Heartland posts of 2023

Iowa’s Republican legislators, Governor Kim Reynolds, and Senator Chuck Grassley inspired the majority of Bleeding Heartland’s most-read posts during the year that just ended. But putting this list together was trickier than my previous efforts to highlight the site’s articles or commentaries that resonated most with readers.

For fifteen years, I primarily used Google Analytics to track site traffic. Google changed some things this year, prompting me to switch to Fathom Analytics (an “alternative that doesn’t compromise visitor privacy for data”) in July. As far as I could tell during the few days when those services overlapped, they reached similar counts for user visits, page views, and other metrics. But the numbers didn’t completely line up, which means the Google Analytics data I have for posts published during the first half of the year may not be the same numbers Fathom would have produced.

Further complicating this enterprise, I cross-post some of my original reporting and commentary on a free email newsletter, launched on Substack in the summer of 2022 as part of the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative. Some of those posts generated thousands of views that would not be tabulated as visits to Bleeding Heartland. I didn’t include Substack statistics while writing this piece; if I had, it would have changed the order of some posts listed below.

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Clarke County livestock dwarf human population, heighten water crisis

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

A labyrinth of limited liability companies own numerous animal feeding operations in Clarke County that continue to rely on the city of Osceola’s depleted water supply, even as city residents face restrictions since the Osceola Water Works Board of Trustees declared a water emergency on October 5.

A search of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) animal feeding operation website identifies 27 animal feeding operations in Clarke County. The chart below identifies these facilities, the majority of which appear to house hogs in enclosed structures commonly known as confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.

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Fewer words, more confusion as state rewrites Iowa's CAFO rules

Diane Rosenberg is executive director of Jefferson County Farmers & Neighbors, where this commentary first appeared.

Rules and regulations need to be clear, orderly, and in one place so they can be completely understood and followed. This is especially true of those focused on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) as they impact the public health of 3.19 million Iowans and water quality of 70,297 miles of rivers and streams.

However, Chapter 65, the Iowa administrative code that regulates CAFOs, is becoming weaker, confusing, and more difficult to use under the dictates of Governor Kim Reynolds’ Executive Order Number Ten. Rather than have all pertinent information in one place, the executive order will fragment Chapter 65’s essential information and scatter it in several locations online and in offices around the state.

Executive Order Ten, dubbed “The Red Tape Review”, directs all agencies to reduce the number of words throughout the state’s entire code, eliminating language deemed unnecessary, redundant, or even too restrictive. Users will now have to search for specific Iowa statutes to completely understand and comply with CAFO rules and regulations. In the case of Chapter 65, some of the missing information will now be housed on the DNR’s website or obtained from a field office. Both environmental organizations and industry groups oppose this change.

The order requires agencies to develop a cost-benefit analysis for all the rules and regulations. We have serious concerns about how the CAFO industry’s financial interests may dominate public health and the environmental protections. The order also stipulates no new rules can be made more stringent than what is already in the code. Most CAFO regulations are anything but stringent and should be strengthened.

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Iowa agency's revision of CAFO rules raises concerns

Diane Rosenberg is executive director of Jefferson County Farmers & Neighbors, where this commentary first appeared.

Jefferson County Farmers & Neighbors and several other environmental organizations recently met with Kelli Book, legal counsel for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), to learn how the agency is revising Chapter 65 of Iowa’s administrative code, dealing with animal feeding operations.

We came away with many concerns about how the DNR is approaching the “Red Tape Review,” required by Governor Kim Reynolds’ Executive Order Number Ten.

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Victory for Sierra Club in Supreme Beef lawsuit

Wally Taylor is the Legal Chair of the Sierra Club Iowa chapter.

A Polk County District Court ruled on April 28 that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) improperly approved Supreme Beef’s nutrient management plan.

Supreme Beef LLC is an 11,600-head cattle feeding operation in Clayton County. It sits at the headwaters of Bloody Run Creek, one of the most treasured trout streams in Iowa and officially designated as an Outstanding Iowa Water.

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Governor's order threatens factory farm regulations, water quality, communities

Diane Rosenberg is executive director of Jefferson County Farmers & Neighbors, where this commentary first appeared.

An Executive Order that directs state agencies to reduce rules and regulations threatens the ability of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’(DNR) to protect communities and waterways. Governor Kim Reynolds signed Executive Order Number Ten on January 11, putting a moratorium on administrative rulemaking and requires every agency, board, or commission to conduct a comprehensive overhaul of the Iowa Administrative Code.

The order’s purpose is to provide a more fertile ground for job growth and private sector development.

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Hog confinements and human health

Photo by Larry Stone taken outside an Iowa hog confinement, published with permission.

Iowans continue to advocate for tighter regulations on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which house more than 23 million hogs in the state. The animals produce manure equivalent to the waste from more than 83 million people. This publication outlines the problem and potential solutions: Hog Confinements and Human Health: the intersection of science, morals, and law.

Lead author Bob Watson, of Decorah, is an environmental activist who makes his living in the wastewater industry. He deals with Iowa and surrounding states on wastewater issues as owner of Watson Brothers. 

Larry Stone, of Elkader, has continued writing about and speaking on environmental issues after leaving a 25-year career as outdoor writer/photographer with The Des Moines Register.

Richard “Dick” Janson, Ed.D., of Decorah, is a retired public school administrator and teacher with undergraduate training in engineering, science, history, political science, and English. He’s also a tireless researcher and activist for social justice and environmental issues.

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A rose by any other name would not smell as sweet

Silvia Secchi is a professor in the Department of Geographical and Sustainability Sciences at the University of Iowa. She has a PhD in economics from Iowa State University.

What’s a farm? Who is a farmer? These are political questions.

They are important questions for Iowa, as so much of the state’s identity is wrapped around its historical role in U.S. agriculture. The questions also matter for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which implements policies that strongly favor Iowa’s farm and agribusiness sectors. The higher the number of farms, the more legitimate it is to keep claiming that “Iowa feeds the world.” Funding depends on that number too.

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How Iowa Supreme Court's McDermott, Oxley have decided big cases

Disclosure: I am a plaintiff in an open records lawsuit that is pending before the Iowa Supreme Court on interlocutory appeal. (The governor’s office appealed a lower court ruling against the state’s motion to dismiss our case.) That litigation has nothing to do with this post.

On the back side of Iowa’s general election ballot, voters have a chance to vote yes or no on allowing two Iowa Supreme Court justices, two Iowa Court of Appeals judges, and dozens of lower court judges to remain on the bench.

No organizations are campaigning or spending money against retaining Justices Dana Oxley and Matthew McDermott, whom Governor Kim Reynolds appointed in 2020.

Nevertheless, I expect the justices to receive a lower share of the retention vote than most of their predecessors. Shortly after the newest justices were part of a controversial ruling on abortion in June, the Iowa Poll by Selzer & Co for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom found a partisan split in attitudes toward the Iowa Supreme Court, with a significant share of Democrats and independents disapproving of the court’s work.

This post seeks to provide context on how the justices up for retention have approached Iowa Supreme Court decisions that may particularly interest Bleeding Heartland readers.

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Iowa Supreme Court's unfair message: "Take one for the team"

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com.

In 1972, Gordon Garrison purchased 300 acres of farmland in Emmet County, a rectangle near the Minnesota border one county to the east of the Iowa Great Lakes. 

The Iowa State University agricultural engineering graduate began raising sheep and crops. He also set about working to restore the “prairie pothole” ecology of shallow wetlands that was common in northwestern Iowa when white settlers began arriving 175 years ago. 

Garrison built a house on his land in 1999. He still lives there, although his quality of life has taken a troubling turn since he put down roots there.  

Life for Garrison and his neighbors changed significantly in December 2015 when New Fashion Pork LLP built a CAFO, or a confined animal feeding operation, uphill from and adjacent to Garrison’s property. The confinement building — which the state allows to house 4,400 to 8,800 hogs, depending on their size — is about a half mile from Garrison’s property. 

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Earth Day 2021: Iowa needs more nature imagination

Neil Hamilton shares remarks he delivered on “Iowa needs more nature imagination: Lessons from our missed opportunities at the Des Moines Area Community College Earth Day event on April 22. -promoted by Laura Belin

It is a pleasure to be with you as we celebrate Earth Day 51. Unfortunately, festivities for Earth Day 50 came and went with hardly a whisper, a casualty of our unfolding COVID pandemic. But even as our attention was drawn to the challenges we faced – the power of nature and being outdoors continued working on our lives. There are many lessons we will take from this shared experience but among the most significant is how it reaffirmed the valuable role nature plays in keeping us healthy and sane.

That is why it is fitting on Earth Day 51 as we emerge from our cocoons – we use this opportunity to think critically about our future with Iowa’s land and water. To do so it is important to consider some history – especially some of our most significant lost opportunities – and identify any lessons for the years ahead. The good news is we have a legion of conservation champions working to protect nature in Iowa and the ranks are growing.

The bad news we are still in the minority and face stiff headwinds.

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Ignoring Iowa’s factory farm crisis is a big mistake

Emma Schmit is an Iowa organizer for Food & Water Watch. -promoted by Laura Belin

The rise of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has shown us a lot. We’ve seen communities banding together to protect our most vulnerable citizens. We’ve seen the courage of our frontline, essential workers as they continue to provide necessary services. We’ve seen the importance of clean water in safeguarding our public health. And we’ve seen citizens and local governments standing up to guarantee water as a human right.

Unfortunately, what we haven’t seen is Governor Kim Reynolds step up to be the leader we need. With more than 2,400 employees of Iowa slaughterhouses testing positive for COVID-19, our supply chain failing, and no meaningful action taken to address either, it’s clear we need new leadership.

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Representative Fisher’s last chance

Leaders of Iowa House or Senate committees can bury legislation without ever allowing discussion, let alone a vote. As Emma Schmit and Adam Mason report, that’s what’s happening with a bill that could help clean up our state’s filthy waterways. -promoted by Laura Belin

Republican State Representative Dean Fisher has less than one week left to do the right thing for Iowa’s rural communities, independent farms, and water quality.

Fisher has a choice to make this week. As chair of the House Environmental Protection committee, he is single-handedly holding up progress on a bill that would enact a moratorium on new and expanding factory farms. We aren’t talking about a floor vote or even a committee vote– we’re talking his outright refusal to even assign the bill to a subcommittee so that it could be debated.

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Comments at a CAFO hearing

Francis Thicke is a soil scientist and organic dairy farmer. He has served as the National Program Leader for Soil Science for the USDA-Extension Service and was the 2010 Democratic candidate for Iowa secretary of agriculture. -promoted by desmoinesdem

The room was packed for an August 28 hearing on a new proposed confined-animal feeding operation (CAFO) in Jefferson County. Lots of people expressed their frustration that Iowa’s laws make it nearly impossible to stop a CAFO that will compromise the quality of life for the neighbors.

Here are my comments:

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Another Iowa legislative victory for Big Ag

Factory farm advocates failed in 2009 to circumvent the Iowa DNR’s rulemaking on applying manure over frozen and snow-covered ground. Then they failed in 2010 to win passage of a bill designed to weaken Iowa’s newly-adopted regulations on manure storage and application.

But this year, the Iowa Pork Producers Association succeeded in convincing state lawmakers to relax requirements for CAFO operators to be able to store their own manure properly. All they had to do was dress up their effort as an attempt to help families with aspiring young farmers.

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Iowa House votes to relax manure storage rules for CAFOs (updated)

In an ideal world, evidence that more than half of Midwest rivers and streams can’t support aquatic life would inspire policy-makers to clean up our waterways. Rivers that are suitable for swimming, fishing, and other recreation can be a huge economic engine for Iowa communities.

We live in Iowa, where most of our lawmakers take the Patty Judge view: “Iowa is an agricultural state and anyone who doesn’t like it can leave in any of four directions.”

Yesterday the Iowa House approved a bill to relax manure storage regulations for large confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). All of the House Republicans and two-thirds of the Democrats supported this bad legislation. Details on the bill and the House vote are below.

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Six links to mark the International Day of Action for Rivers

March 14 is the International Day of Action for Rivers. These stories about water pollution and the economic potential of healthy rivers are worth a read.

Contrary to what agribusiness industry lobbyists would have you believe, a majority of Iowa farmers “support expanding conservation requirements for soil erosion and the control of nitrogen and phosphorous runoff.”

Iowa’s confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs or factory livestock farms) create more untreated manure annually than the total sewage output of the U.S. population.

Aging sewer systems in urban areas also allow too much sewage to leak into watersheds. The I-JOBS infrastructure bonding initiative (signed into law by Governor Chet Culver) included some money to improve sewer systems in Iowa, but we need to do much more on this front.

Iowa Rivers Revival Executive Director Rosalyn Lehman recently published a call to revive Iowa’s rivers in the Des Moines Register. I’ve posted excerpts from her guest editorial after the jump.

The Metro Waste Authority has created an Adopt a Stream website, with “resources to help you organize a stream cleanup in the Greater Des Moines area.”

Dam removal as part of a river restoration project supports local economic activity as well as the environment.

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Clean Water Act 40th anniversary linkfest

Forty years ago today, Congress enacted the Clean Water Act by overriding a presidential veto. Global Water Policy Project Director Sandra Postel is dead on: “As game-changing laws go, the 1972 U.S. Clean Water Act ranks high.”

Though Iowa is still not in full compliance with this law (and may never be during my lifetime), there’s still some good news in the links I’ve enclosed below.

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Iowa Senate passes two bills favored by Big Ag (updated)

The Democratic-controlled Iowa Senate passed two bills today favored by corporate agricultural interest groups. House File 589, the notorious “ag gag” bill, seeks to prevent whistleblowers from reporting alleged abuse at agricultural facilities. Senate File 2172 would reduce the number of sows that confined-animal feeding operations need to report for manure management purposes. Details on the bills and how senators voted are after the jump.

UPDATE: Bypassing normal legislative procedures, the Republican-controlled Iowa House also passed the “ag gag” bill on February 28. Scroll down for details on how the state representatives voted.  

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Philip Brasher has a new food policy blog

Philip Brasher, the agriculture and food policy reporter recently laid off by the Des Moines Register, launched the FoodWatch blog yesterday to cover “the politics of what we eat, how it’s produced, and why that matters.” His first two posts were about a Senate deal to replace current ethanol subsidies with different biofuels incentives and a “landmark deal” on improving conditions for caged hens, announced by the industry group United Egg Producers and the Humane Society of the United States, a leading animal welfare organization.

Many sustainable food advocates were alarmed when the Des Moines Register let Brasher go and closed its Washington bureau. The FoodWatch blog doesn’t have the Register’s high profile, but at least it keeps Brasher’s reporting accessible to the public for now.

Register publisher Laura Hollingsworth assured Paula Crossfield of the Civil Eats blog that the newspaper’s remaining staff and the Gannett Corporation would be able to “provide comprehensive political and agricultural coverage for our readers in Des Moines and beyond.” What passes for a business section in today’s Des Moines Register includes a Gannett Washington bureau report on the Senate ethanol deal and an Associated Press story about the egg industry’s agreement with the Humane Society. The AP report lacks some of the details and context Brasher provides on his blog.

LATE UPDATE: Brasher rejoined Gannett in late August 2011; his articles about food and agriculture appear in several newspapers, including the Des Moines Register.

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.  

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Farm Bill Platform Plank

WHEREAS, the Commodity Title of the US farm bill is the largest and most important part of the farm bill, in terms of economic impact in the United States and worldwide;1 and
WHEREAS, farm program crops, like corn, wheat, rice, cotton and soybeans, lack price responsiveness on both supply and demand sides,2 leading in the 20th century to chronic low prices, except for three significant price spikes upward;3 and
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Proposed CAFO expansion threatens Scott County water, air quality

The Scott County Board of Supervisors will vote August 19 on a proposed major expansion of a Grandview Farms Inc., a confined animal feeding operation owned by Thomas Dittmer. The supervisors' public hearing on the matter drew large numbers of supporters and opponents earlier this month. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has authority to issue permits, but the county's recommendation may influence the DNR's decision on the expansion. If approved, the CAFO could nearly double its annual production of hogs from 80,000 to 150,000.  

Scott County officials who reported to the supervisors gave the CAFO expansion proposal 480 on the "master matrix" evaluation system, where 880 is the maximum number of points and 440 is needed to pass. However, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement disputes that score on several grounds:  

Factory farm operator Tom Dittmer discharged manure into a tile line that runs into a tributary of Hickory Creek, a state waterway, according to preliminary test results obtained by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) during a site survey conducted last Friday [August 6].  

Iowa Legislative Code 459.311(1); 567 and Iowa Administrative Code 65.2(3) both state, "A confinement feeding operation shall not discharge manure directly into water of the state or into a tile line that discharges into a water of the state."  

"We have a documented discharge from the confinement to a tile line," Dennis Ostwinkle, Supervisor of the Iowa DNR's Field Office in Washington, said in an email correspondence with Iowa CCI Tuesday.  

The DNR field investigation was prompted in part by complaints filed by the Quad City Waterkeepers, Illinois Citizens for Clean Air and Water, and Iowa CCI.  According to Ostwinkle, the field tests were submitted to the University of Iowa Hygenics Lab for further testing. If the preliminary field tests are confirmed, the violation could force a deduction of an additional 25 points from Dittmer's Master Matrix score. Scott County Iowa CCI members have already identified 160 points that should be deducted from the Master Matrix score.

 

While water pollution is a primary concern of those who oppose CAFO expansions, large hog lots can also compromise air quality. As Paul Deaton discussed at Blog for Iowa, CAFOs near industrial areas pose a particular risk:  

According to the 2010 State of the Environment report from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, "In Iowa, most fine particle pollution forms in the atmosphere when ammonia (from animal feeding operations, fertilizer application and other natural sources) combines with sulfuric or nitric acid (from power plants, automobiles and other combustion sources) to create tiny particles."  

Expanding the amount of ammonia emitted in Scott County, which the additional capacity of Dittmer's hog lot would do, combined with the heavy industry already there would create additional fine particulate matter. It is a formula for trouble as it pertains to human health.  

It works like this: ammonia from livestock operations is emitted into the atmosphere where it combines with sulfuric or nitric acid emitted from burning coal and creates fine particulate matter which gets into the lungs of people and causes significant health problems in the form of increased incidence of asthma, cardio-respiratory problems and increase morbidity and mortality.

Let's not talk about the fact that Davenport and neighboring Muscatine and Rock Island Counties were identified by the United States Environmental Agency as being in non-attainment for fine particulate matter. During the phase in of testing for fine particulate matter, Scott and Muscatine Counties were identified as being in non-attainment according to newly promulgated standards.

 

Congressman Bruce Braley, who represents Scott County, is a friend of Dittmer and "submitted a letter in support of the expansion,&quot. State Senator Joe Seng of Davenport has not taken a position for or against the proposal.  

Seng said he was “sort of sitting on the fence” about the project. But as chairman of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Budget subcommittee, he believes funding needs to be restored for odor quality research.

 

Wrong answer, Senator Seng. The “odor-study bill” approved by Iowa legislators in 2008 was a waste of time and money, because Iowa taxpayers already paid to study this issue, and research conducted in other states has identified “cost effective ways to mitigate odor” from hog lots.

If you live in Scott County and are concerned about the potential increase in air and water pollution, please consider contacting the five members of the Board of Supervisors before Thursday, August 19. Phone calls or old-fashioned letters are harder to ignore than e-mails.

LATE UPDATE: The Scott County board of supervisors approved the planned CAFO. Molly Regan, a former former Soil and Water Commissioner for the county, has more on this story at Blog for Iowa.

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Iowa, Oil and Agriculture-- Meet Francis Thicke, Candidate for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture

(I enjoyed the diary and the video tour of Thicke's farm after the jump. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Who is the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture?  The answer to that question is, and has always been:  whichever faithful servant of Big Agriculture was keeping the chair warm and keeping Monsanto,  Koch and Cargill happy, Democrat or Republican.  (Currently, it's a guy who loves chicken factories.)  An urban dweller, I didn't think that the Ag Secretary had anything to do with me. 

A few months ago, I met Francis Thicke, an organic dairy farmer who is running for Secretary of Agriculture, and he changed my mind about that.   I have begun to grasp how this official affects the food I eat, the quality of the air and rivers where I live, and waters far downstream from Iowa.  I have even begun to hope for change in the way we produce food and use energy in Iowa, where we often set the example for farming practices across the country.

  Francis Thicke (pronounced “tickee”) has an organic dairy farm near Fairfield, Iowa, a small community best known as the home of Maharishi University.   Francis and his wife, Susan, make milk, yogurt and cheese with the milk from his 80 cows, and sell all of it locally.  Although he grew up on a farm, Francis wanted to be a musician.  He studied music and philosophy in college, and plays a mean trumpet.  But eventually he got a doctorate in agronomy instead, worked at the USDA, then came back to Iowa to start a dairy farm. 

 Radiance Dairy is no ordinary farm.  Livestock and landscape nourish each other.  Everything the cows eat is grown on land they fertilize, and as Francis says, they enjoy their work.  He uses solar panels to power pumps for water , to electrify fences, and to heat water for his dairy processing plant.  A wind turbine is in the works.  His operation is so innovative that he attracts visitors who come to learn, from local schoolchildren to the World Bank, and he travels frequently to teach and give lectures.   He has received awards from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club, which recognized him as a “Steward of the Land,” among other awards.  People who know him regard him as a national treasure.

more below the fold… 

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Culver opposes dirty water bill

Governor Chet Culver will not sign a bill that would weaken Iowa’s current restrictions on spreading manure over frozen and snow-covered ground. Culver’s senior adviser Jim Larew confirmed the governor’s opposition during a February 22 meeting with members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. Iowa CCI is among the environmental groups that have sounded the alarm about House File 2324 and a companion bill, Senate File 2229. The bills would exempt many large farms from the new manure application rules adopted last year. Earlier this month, the House Agriculture Committee approved HF 2324 with minimal debate.

Culver had previously promised to block the new proposal in private conversations. The bill’s lead sponsor in the Iowa House, Democratic State Representative Ray Zirkelbach, told IowaPolitics.com yesterday, “Basically I was told that the governor’s going to veto it no matter what … if it came to his desk […].” Zirkelbach contends that the bill is needed to help the struggling dairy industry. He denies that it would lead to more manure contaminating Iowa waters.

I am glad to see the governor take a stand against Zirkelbach’s proposal. Improving the manure application bill was a major victory during the closing days of last year’s legislative session. We should not have to keep fighting efforts to move us backwards on water quality.

The full text of yesterday’s press release from Iowa CCI is after the jump.

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One step forward, two steps back on Iowa water quality?

I seem to have jinxed things by praising Democratic state legislators who allowed the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ new clean water rules to go forward this week.

I learned yesterday from Iowa CCI, 1000 Friends of Iowa and the Iowa Environmental Council that a horrible bill, House File 2324, is being fast-tracked through the Iowa House. This bill was introduced to the House Agriculture Committee on Monday afternoon, and on Tuesday it was unanimously approved by a subcommittee and then the full House Agriculture Committee. An action alert from the Iowa Environmental Council explains the substance:

DNR has proposed rules that would require existing facilities need to have at least 100 days of storage, in order to qualify for an emergency exemption for winter application because of full storage structures.  But HF 2324 exempts confinement feeding operations constructed before July 1, 2009 from this rule.  Specifically the bill states:

“A confinement feeding operation constructed before July 1, 2009, and not expanded after that date is not required to construct or expand a manure storage structure to comply with this section.”  

Lack of adequate manure storage during winter months is a major cause of water pollution in Iowa.  Without adequate storage, farmers apply the manure to frozen or snow-covered farm fields, risking run-off into nearby streams at the first thaw or rain.

From a statement issued by Iowa CCI:

Iowa already suffers from some of the worst water quality in the nation. High levels of ammonia pollution all across Iowa were traced back to manure application on frozen and snow-covered ground. This bill would gut the state law that bans the spreading of manure on frozen and snow-covered ground by exempting more than 5,500 factory farms that were built before July 1, 2009 due to a lack of storage for their manure.

“Poor manure management is not an emergency,” [CCI Executive Director Hugh] Espey said.

The Environmental Protection Agency came down strongly in favor of a ban without exceptions last year.  Passage of this new legislation would be a clear violation of the Clean Water Act and would also undermine the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ authority to regulate factory farms.

Shame on the members of the House Agriculture Committee for fast-tracking this bill. Yet again, Iowa environmentalists have to fight efforts to circumvent DNR rules aimed at protecting the public interest. We should be making CAFOs pay for the harm they cause, not exempting them from reasonable manure storage requirements. But no, proponents want to rush through a gift for factory farms.

It’s a disgrace that a legislative committee unanimously recommended this bill, especially in a Democratic-controlled legislature. This kind of thing is one reason why I have stopped donating to the House and Senate Democratic leadership committees.

Last year many legislators tried to circumvent the DNR’s rule-making on the application of manure on frozen ground, prompting several Iowa non-profits to spend staff time and energy mobilizing against the bad bill. By a minor miracle, last-minute amendments greatly improved that bill before it passed in the closing days of the 2009 session.

The Iowa Environmental Council makes it easy for you to send an e-mail urging your state legislators to vote down HF 2324. But some lawmakers don’t read all their e-mail, so I recommend calling your representative as well. The House switchboard is 515-281-3221.  

UPDATE: Adam Mason of Iowa CCI informed me that another bad bill, House File 2365, was introduced in the House Agriculture Committee yesterday. It would change the definition of a “residence” in proximity to a CAFO, excluding homes that are “off the grid.” Iowa law restricts how close factory farms can be to residences, but this bill would make it harder for some homeowners to fight a factory farm permit. So far HF 2365 hasn’t received subcommittee or full committee approval, but it bears watching.

SECOND UPDATE: There is also an Iowa Senate version of the bill that would undermine regulations on winter spreading of manure: it’s Senate File 2229. It was referred to a subcommittee on February 9, but no further action has been taken as of February 14.  

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Year in review: Bleeding Heartland on food and parenting in 2009

This blog will always be primarily about politics, but I enjoy writing about other subjects from time to time. In fact, one of my new year’s resolutions for Bleeding Heartland is to write more about food and parenting in 2010.

After the jump I’ve compiled links to posts on those topics in 2009. Some of the diaries were political, others are personal. The link I’m most proud of combined the two: My case against Hanna Rosin’s case against breastfeeding.

Any thoughts or suggestions for future topics to cover are welcome in this thread.

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Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 2)

Following up on my review of news from the first half of last year, I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from July through December 2009 after the jump.

Hot topics on this blog during the second half of the year included the governor’s race, the special election in Iowa House district 90, candidates announcing plans to run for the state legislature next year, the growing number of Republicans ready to challenge Representative Leonard Boswell, state budget constraints, and a scandal involving the tax credit for film-making.

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Year in review: national politics in 2009 (part 1)

It took me a week longer than I anticipated, but I finally finished compiling links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage from last year. This post and part 2, coming later today, include stories on national politics, mostly relating to Congress and Barack Obama’s administration. Diaries reviewing Iowa politics in 2009 will come soon.

One thing struck me while compiling this post: on all of the House bills I covered here during 2009, Democrats Leonard Boswell, Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack voted the same way. That was a big change from 2007 and 2008, when Blue Dog Boswell voted with Republicans and against the majority of the Democratic caucus on many key bills.

No federal policy issue inspired more posts last year than health care reform. Rereading my earlier, guardedly hopeful pieces was depressing in light of the mess the health care reform bill has become. I was never optimistic about getting a strong public health insurance option through Congress, but I thought we had a chance to pass a very good bill. If I had anticipated the magnitude of the Democratic sellout on so many aspects of reform in addition to the public option, I wouldn’t have spent so many hours writing about this issue. I can’t say I wasn’t warned (and warned), though.

Links to stories from January through June 2009 are after the jump. Any thoughts about last year’s political events are welcome in this thread.

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Congratulations to Iowa CCI

John Nichols posted his annual “most valuable progressives” list at The Nation this week, and he named Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement as the “most valuable grassroots advocacy group”:

For three decades, Iowa CCI has built and maintained remarkable rural-urban coalitions to fight factory farms, urban blight and abuses of Latino and Asian immigrants. In the current financial crisis, the group has ramped up its activism on behalf of banking reforms that free up credit for small farms, businesses and families while cracking down on payday loan operations. When the American Bankers Association held its annual convention in Chicago, National People’s Action called for protests that declared, “We didn’t break the banks–the big banks broke us!” Iowa CCI, long a backbone member of the NPA coalition, showed up in force. Viewers of Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! got a flavor of the group’s in-your-face activism as Iowa farmer Larry Ginter brought activists from across the country to their feet with his cry, “If you are from rural America and tired of bank greed, stand up! If you are from urban America and you’re tired of bank greed, stand up! If you think it’s time to put people first and hold banks accountable, stand up!”

In January Jason Hancock profiled Iowa CCI for the Iowa Independent. The group has a very large statewide membership and works on a wide range of issues. However, at the state capitol they are outgunned by interests blocking campaign finance reform and increased regulation of factory farms.

You can follow Iowa CCI on Facebook here and on Twitter here.

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No more bailouts for factory farms

If your widget factory produces too many widgets, you will be stuck with extra inventory, affecting your bottom line.

In contrast, if your factory farm contributes to excess production of pork, high-level elected officials will ask the federal government to bail you out. I learned from Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement today that last week nine governors, including Chet Culver,

requested $50 million of taxpayer money from the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) to buy over-produced pork off the market.  This follows similar requests made by the National Pork Producers Council in early May and Iowa Secretary of Ag Bill Northey in June.

The hog factory industry, though, has received two recent taxpayer-funded bailouts from USDA — one for $25 million in March 2009 and the other for $50 million in April 2008 — to buy over-produced pork off the market. […]

Ag economists have warned for months that the pork industry must stabilize prices by trimming the fat and reducing the herd size.  But the pork industry has ignored basic economic rules and continues to increase supply as demand goes down.  This is the result of continuous government subsidies and bailouts to the factory farm industry.

“Corporate ag receives government subsidies and guaranteed loans that promote the expansion of factory farms on the front end,” said CCI member Lori Nelson of Bayard.  “And then, when they produce too much pork, they ask the government — that’s us — to bail them out with huge amounts of taxpayer dollars. The factory farm industry is a house of cards that would crumble as soon as you take away taxpayers propping them up.”

The governors of Nebraska, Colorado, Michigan, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Illinois and Oklahoma joined Culver in signing the appeal for federal aid. According to DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Representatives from the Iowa and the National Pork Producers Councils, Tyson Fresh Foods, Hormel Foods and Paragon Economics support the letter’s three proposals for aid.”

I’ve posted the full text of Iowa CCI’s press release after the jump. There’s no reason to exempt corporate agriculture from basic laws of supply and demand. Taxpayers already pay too much to subsidize factory hog farms.

By the way, Iowa CCI might be willing to cut Culver more slack if the governor had done more during the past three years to address the hidden environmental costs of CAFOs (air and water pollution). It’s also worth noting that Culver has done nothing since his election to push for agricultural zoning at the county level. During the 2006 campaign, Culver said he backed “local control.” Add this to the list of reasons why part of the Democratic base doesn’t approve of Culver’s performance.

LATE UPDATE: The USDA announced plans to buy $30 million of pork in September.

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Events coming up during the next two weeks

Food advice for the Iowa State Fair, which runs from August 13-23: The best deal on lemonade is at the honey producers’ booth in the ag building. The best ice cream is in the Bauder’s truck, not far from the ag building. Don’t miss popcorn with real butter.

If you’re looking for something useful to do in August, I’ve got lots of event details after the jump.

Please consider attending some town hall meetings with members of Congress. Don’t let right-wing astroturf mobs dominate all of this month’s town-hall meetings.

As always, post a comment or send an e-mail to desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com if you know of something I’ve left out. You can volunteer for Curt Hanson’s campaign in Iowa House district 90 any weekend this month. I noticed that Mariannette Miller-Meeks has been knocking on doors for the Republican candidate, Stephen Burgmeier.

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Events coming up during the next two weeks (updated)

Who else is looking forward to the Iowa State Fair, which runs from August 13-23?

If you’re looking for something useful to do in August, I’ve got lots of event details after the jump. As always, post a comment or send an e-mail to desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com if you know of something I’ve left out. You can volunteer for Curt Hanson’s campaign in Iowa House district 90 any weekend this month.

Please submit a comment to preserve public input on CAFO permits by Thursday, August 6. The Sierra Club’s Iowa chapter has made it easy for people to send comments to the right DNR official as well as all the members of the Environmental Protection Commission.

UPDATE: Added some public events featuring Democratic members of Congress. Don’t let right-wing astroturf mobs dominate all of this month’s town-hall meetings.

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ACTION: Help preserve public input on CAFOs

The state Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) is considering new rules that would limit public input during the permit approval process for confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Iowa. Up to now, members of the public have been able to speak before the EPC concerning proposed new CAFOs. Under the new rules, only representatives of the entity applying for the permit, the county board of supervisors, and the Department of Natural Resources would be able to speak at EPC hearings on CAFO permits. People and entities that might be affected by downstream or downwind pollution from the proposed CAFO would not be allowed to speak at such hearings.

The public can submit comments on the new rule through this Thursday, August 6.

After the jump I’ve posted action alerts sent out by 1000 Friends of Iowa and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. They contain some talking points for public comments and contact information for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Iowa CCI also mentions two points worth preserving in the new rule, which industrial agriculture interests are apparently trying to have removed.

Comments must be received by Thursday, so if you are using the regular mail, please send your letter as soon as possible. There are also three DNR public hearings this week in Spencer, Des Moines and Ainsworth (details below).

I’ve also posted two pieces containing further background information after the jump. These may help you prepare comments to submit to the DNR. Shearon Elderkin discusses a controversial EPC decision last summer, which prompted the rewriting of the rules on the CAFO permit application process. Elderkin served on the EPC from August 2008 through April 2009. She had to step down when Iowa Senate Republicans blocked her confirmation for the position.

The final document you can find below is by Cedar Rapids attorney David Elderkin, Shearon’s husband. He covers the legal issues at hand in more detail.

Please take a few minutes to submit a public comment on this issue by Thursday, August 6. Please forward to any friends or relatives in Iowa who might be willing to comment as well.

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Eat pork that's not factory-farmed

Government officials and pork industry representatives are working hard to convince the public that it’s still safe to eat pork despite the rapidly spreading swine flu virus that may have already infected two Iowans.

They are correct that there is no risk of contracting the flu from eating pork.

Some Mexican news reports have linked the swine flu outbreak to conditions in factory farms owned by the Smithfield Foods corporation. Smithfield released a statement saying the company “has no reason to believe that the virus is in any way connected to its operations in Mexico.” However, many commentaries have highlighted the ways that confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) may contribute to the spread of disease. See this post by Ellinorianne or articles linked in this post by Jill Richardson.

Whether or not the swine flu outbreak is ever conclusively linked to CAFOs, there is already overwhelming evidence of problems with the current model for raising hogs industrially. Charles Lemos briefly covered them in this post. For more detail, read last year’s report by the Union of Concerned Scientists: CAFOs Uncovered: The Untold Costs of Confined Animal Feeding Operations. Also last year, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production issued its final report on “Putting Meat on The Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America.”  The authors concluded that “The current industrial farm animal production (IFAP) system often poses unacceptable risks to public health, the environment and the welfare of the animals themselves […].” There are many resources on the Save Antibiotics site as well.

For some people, including April Streeter of the Treehugger blog, problems with the CAFO model warrant giving up pork altogether.

I would encourage those who enjoy pork to choose meat from sustainable producers instead. Depending on where you live, it may be hard to find pork that hasn’t been factory-farmed because of the massive consolidation in the pork industry during the past decade or two (see also here).

Central Iowa residents are fortunate to have the Iowa Food Cooperative close by. Several different farmers raising hogs organically, or on pasture without hormones and antibiotics, sell a wide range of pork products through the coop.

If you don’t live near a store or market that sells sustainable meat, an advocacy organization such as Practical Farmers of Iowa, the Iowa Network for Community Agriculture or the Women, Food and Agriculture Network may be able to put you in touch with a farmer who sells pork directly to consumers.

Sustainable meat can be expensive, but you can reduce the cost by buying directly from the farmer. If you have a chest freezer and buy in large quantities, the price per pound can drop down into the range you would pay for lower-quality conventionally raised meat.

UPDATE: Jill Richardson linked to an interview Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack gave CNN today, in which he talked about eating pork every day. Vilsack echoed industry talking points about how the media should be calling this virus by its scientific name, H1N1, instead of using the term “swine flu.” I agree with Jill:

Whether or not this flu came from a factory farm, I don’t think the fact that factory farms are a problem is really up for debate. Vilsack comes from a state totally overrun by them so he should know best.

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Last day to help end "factory farm bailout"

Last month I posted about efforts to convince the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reduce the share of conservation funds that large confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) receive through the USDA’s Environmental Quality Initiatives Program (EQIP).

Food Democracy Now sent out an action alert on Thursday reminding supporters that comments on making EQIP work for sustainable and organic farmers must be received by the USDA by the close of business on April 17 (today).

You can fax your letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack (202-720-4265) or submit your comments online (Food Democracy Now has instructions on that process).

Click here and scroll down the page for talking points and a sample letter on this issue. However, it’s always better to put these things in your own words if possible. I’ve posted Food Democracy Now’s sample letter after the jump. If you are writing your own letter, make sure it goes to the correct address and says this near the top:

Re: Docket Number NRCS- IFR-08005 Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Final Rules

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Why don't Iowa leaders do more to protect the environment? (updated)

David Yepsen published his final column in the Des Moines Register before starting his new job as director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. It reprises some themes from many previous columns, such as the need to create a world-class education system and thriving economy in Iowa, with fewer layers of government.

As often happens when I read one of Yepsen’s columns, I wonder why he ignores some obvious paths to achieving his admirable goals. For instance, he wants Iowa to “set the goal of having one of the highest per-capita incomes in the country within 10 years.” Is this the same columnist who never met a labor union he liked? It reminded me of how Yepsen periodically slams the excessive influence of big money in politics, but won’t get behind a voluntary public financing system for clean elections.

In Yepsen’s final column, one passage in particular caught my eye:

Let’s set a goal to have the cleanest environment in the country within 10 years. The cleanest air. The cleanest water. The best soil- and energy-conservation practices.

We’ve had education governors. We’ve had sporadic focus on growing the economy. For some reason, we’ve lacked a similar focus on the environment. Creating a clean environment will create green jobs, but it will also make Iowa more attractive as a place to live and do business.

“For some reason”? I think most of us have a pretty good idea why improving air and water quality has never been a high priority for Iowa leaders. Follow me after the jump for more on this problem.

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Organic farmer plans to run for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture (updated)

It’s not yet clear whether Iowa’s Republican Secretary of Agriculture, Bill Northey, will seek re-election in 2010 or run against Governor Chet Culver instead. But at least one Democrat appears ready to seek Northey’s job next year.

Francis Thicke, an organic dairy farmer near Fairfield with a Pd.D. in agronomy and soil fertility, announced yesterday that he has formed an Exploratory Committee to consider running for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. I’ve posted the press release from Thicke after the jump. One of his top priorities would be expanding local food networks:

“Growing more of our food in Iowa represents a multi-billion dollar economic development opportunity.”  This potential economic activity could “create thousands of new jobs and help revitalize rural communities in Iowa, as well as provide Iowans with fresh, nutritious food,” said Thicke.

Thicke would be an outstanding asset to Iowa as Secretary of Agriculture. A working farmer and expert on many agricultural policy issues, he currently serves on Iowa’s USDA State Technical Committee and has an impressive list of publications. In the past he has served on the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission, the Iowa Food Policy Council, and the Iowa Organic Standards Board.

He has also won awards including “the Activist Award from the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Outstanding Pasture Management award from the Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District and the Friend of the Earth award from the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition in Washington, D.C.”

Here’s an interview Thicke gave in 2003 about his organic dairy operation. He also wrote this piece on the benefits of pasture-based dairies for CounterPunch in 2004. I found a YouTube video of Thicke speaking about livestock farming in Pella last year.

Thicke’s relationship with the Culver administration is strained, to put it mildly. He did not go quietly when Culver declined to reappoint him to the Environmental Protection Commission. In addition, Thicke is a strong advocate for “local control” of confined-animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge opposes and Culver has not pursued as governor.

If Thicke runs for Secretary of Agriculture, his campaign is likely to become a focal point for environmentalists who aren’t satisfied with our current Democratic leadership in Iowa.

UPDATE: Denise O’Brien responded to my request for a comment on Thicke’s candidacy:

I have pledged my support to Francis. He has an excellent background to be a strong leader of our state agriculture department. His depth of knowledge of agriculture and natural resource management gives him credibility when it comes to truly understanding the relationship of agriculture to the rest of the world. It is my intention to work hard to get Francis elected.

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The failure of leadership behind that pig odor earmark

President Barack Obama proposed reforms to the Congressional earmarking process on Wednesday:

• Members’ earmark requests should be posted on their Web sites.

• There should be public hearings on earmark requests “where members will have to justify their expense to the taxpayer.”

• Any earmark for a for-profit company would have to be competitively bid.

The reforms are intended to deflect criticism after Obama signed the $410 billion 2009 omnibus spending bill, which included about $7.7 billion in earmarks.

I have no time for the Republican Party’s blatant hypocrisy on what is really a “phantom problem”. Republican members of Congress secure plenty of earmarks for their own states even as they posture against “pork.” They don’t seem to care about sweetheart deals and no-bid contracts awarded by executive agencies, which cost taxpayers much more than all earmarks combined.

Beltway journalists have been following the Republican script, focusing way too much on earmarks, even though they are “inconsequential”:

Not only do they represent less than one percent of the federal budget, eliminating them wouldn’t even reduce federal spending by even that tiny amount, or any amount at all, since earmarks by definition simply tag the spending in an already established pot of money, such as the Community Development Block Grant. The only question is whether decisions about funding individual projects should be made by Congress — through earmarks — or by a supposedly apolitical administrative process.

Furthermore, Jonathan Singer points out, earmarks simply don’t register when Americans are asked an open-ended question about their concerns.

I’m all for the reforms Obama announced yesterday, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that they will make a dent in government spending.

Although I think concerns about earmarks are exaggerated, I do want to examine the origin of Senator Tom Harkin’s $1.8 million earmark for studying odors from large hog confinements (CAFOs) in Iowa. It has become the poster child for Republican taunts about useless earmarks, prompting Harkin to defend himself (see here and here).

Follow me after the jump for more on why the federal government is funding this study. The earmark has its roots in unfortunate decisions that Iowa Democratic leaders made last year–with the enthusiastic support of statehouse Republicans and corporate ag groups.

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Stop letting factory farms hog USDA conservation funds

Jill Richardson has an action alert up at La Vida Locavore regarding new rules for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Environmental Quality Initiatives Program (EQIP). She lays out the problem with the status quo:

A report (Industrial Livestock at the Taxpayer Trough by Elanor Starmer and Timothy A. Wise, Dec 2008) found that nationally, factory hog farms comprise 10.7% of all hog operations – but get 37% of all of the EQIP contracts. Factory farm dairies make up 3.9% of all dairy farms – but they get 54% of EQIP contracts. All in all, between 2003 and 2007, 1000 factory hog and dairy farms ate up $35 million in EQIP conservation funding.

This happened at the expense of smaller farms that COULD HAVE gotten the money. Mid-sized hog farms make up 15% of hog operations but got 5.4% of EQIP contracts. Mid-sized dairy farms make up 13% of dairies – and got 7% of contracts.

This report by the Union of Concerned Scientists estimated that confined animal feeding operations “have received $100 million in annual pollution prevention payments in recent years” through EQIP.

Do you think CAFOs should be able to hog taxpayer dollars intended for conservation programs? Neither do I. More important, neither does Congress:

USDA was directed by Congress in the 2008 Farm Bill to make EQIP more inclusive of organic agriculture practices – including implementing a new provision that assists farmers converting to organic farming systems and rewarding the conservation benefits of organic farming. However, USDA fell far short of meeting this directive in their [Interim Final Rule for EQIP].

We have until March 16 to submit public comments urging the USDA to make EQIP more organic-friendly, as Congress stipulated last year. There is a clear public interest in helping more farmers meet the growing demand for organic food. As a side benefit, directing more EQIP funds to organic farms would be a step toward making CAFOs pay for the harm they cause.

For details on how to submit your comments on this issue, click here or here.

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Events coming up during the next two weeks

Send me an e-mail (desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com) or post a comment if you know of another event that should be added to this calendar.

Sunday, January 18:

From Blog for Iowa (click the link for more details):

On Sunday, January 18, the Iowa City Environmental Film Festival and Sierra Club will sponsor a screening of Fighting Goliath: Texas Coal Wars.  The film portrays how Texans formed unlikely coalitions to fight the construction of nineteen coal-fired power plants being fast-tracked by the state’s governor, Rick Perry.  The film, narrated by Robert Redford, has received numerous awards.

Representatives from two groups instrumental in challenging the construction of the two plants in Iowa will lead a discussion following the film.  Mike Carberry, Sierra Club, will be joined by Carrie LeSeur, founder and Executive Director of Plains Justice, to talk about what is being done and what Iowans can do to stop construction of the coal-fired power plants.   Plains Justice, a public interest law center, was founded in 2006 in part in response to the Waterloo, Iowa Coal Plant Proposal, which has now been withdrawn.        

[…] Sunday, January 18th at the Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St., Room A at 3:00 PM.

The screening is free and open to the public.

Monday, January 19:

From Polk County Democrats:

From Vern Naffier

Come to the Pre-Inauguration Celebration

Friends:  Join me Monday night at 7 pm at the State Historical Building for an inspiring event celebrating Martin Luther King’s Birthday, Barack Obama’s inauguration, and the beginning of an era of peace, reconciliation, and social justice throughout the world. See announcement below.

RENEWING AMERICA’S PROMISE

Rebirthing King – Rebirthing America

A pre-inauguration celebration

State Historical Building

600 East Locust

Des Moines

January 19, 2009

7-8 pm

Come join the effort to reclaim the dream of America free from racism, militarism, and materialism. Come join the candlelight march for Martin’s memory and Barack’s beginning.

The Iowa Obama Presidential Inauguration Committee invites you to bring items for the DMARC Food Pantry.

Sponsored by the King Birthday Celebration Planning Committee

Tuesday, January 20:

George W. Bush’s presidency will finally end as Barack Obama takes the oath of office. What are you doing to celebrate? There must be many parties going on all over this state.

Urban Dreams Presents

Brown, Black & The Blues People’s Ball

Celebrating the Inauguration of

President Barack Obama

Together through the diversity of our community

Jnauary 20, 2009

8:00 PM until…

Hotel Fort Des Moines

1000 Walnut Street

Des Moines, IA  50309

$25 / person

Dress to Impress

Featuring Musica Latina, Soul and the Blues

A nonpartisan event open to the whole community

for more information please call 515-288-4742

The Brown, Black & The Blues People’s Ball is brought to you by

Project V.O.T.E. (Voting Opportunities Through Education).

PLease call Hotel Fort Des Moines at 515-243-1181 if interested in room reservations.

From 1000 Friends of Iowa:

There will be a Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Public Input Meeting in the DMAMPO Meeting Room, Merle Hay Center, 6200 Aurora Avenue, Suite 300W, Urbandale, IA. Click here for more details about what’s on the agenda and why you should care.

Friday, January 23:

For bicycling advocates and enthusiasts:

Iowa Bicycle Summit

January 23-24, Des Moines

Iowa Bicycle Summit will be held in Des Moines at the Holiday Inn, Downtown, from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Friday’s session features Steve Durrant from Portland, Oregon, a registered landscape architect and planner with over 30 years experience helping communities become better places to live. A Friday Bike Night fundraiser will feature a presentation by mountain-biking legend Gary Fisher at a dinner and silent auction. Saturday is geared for grassroots bicyclists who want to better their communities. Sessions include Safe Routes to Schools, Bike to Work Week, legislative issues and more. Primary sponsors are the Iowa Department of Transportation and the Iowa Bicycle Coalition. Participation is limited. Find out more or register at the Iowa Bicycle Summit webpage, http://www.iowabicyclecoalitio…

From the Iowa Environmental Council newsletter:

Winter Solstice Workshop: No Child Left Inside

January 23-25, Honey Creek State Park

The Iowa Conservation Education Coalition’s annual Environmental Education Workshop, Winter Solstice, will be held on January 23-25, 2009.  The workshop title is No Child Left Inside.  Winter Solstice will be held at the Honey Creek State Park Resort on Lake Rathbun. This new resort features motel rooms, a restaurant, an indoor water park, and most important for ICEC, a wonderful conference center. Our keynote speakers include: Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder; Connie Mutel, author of The Emerald Horizon: The History of Nature in Iowa; and Jim Pease and Susan O’Brien author of Environmental Literacy in Iowa. For questions about the workshop, please contact Gail Barels at gail.barels@linncounty.org or Heather Niec at adminicec@hotmail.com.

Saturday, January 24:

For those who enjoy public art:

Design a Dragonfly on Ice at Iowa Lakeside Laboratory

January 24, West Lake Okoboji

Filmmaker Chad Branham will design this year’s Artslive’s People Project on Saturday, January 24, on the ice in Miller’s Bay, beginning at Iowa Lakeside Laboratory. This ephemeral art project will line people up on the ice on West Lake Okoboji, in the shape of a giant 100 foot dragonfly. This design will take over 225 people to complete. Once everyone is in place the dragonfly will be photographed from an airplane by Judy Hemphill. Due to limited parking at Lakeside, participants are asked to gather at Peace Corner, at the corner of Highways 9 and 86, at 12:30 pm, and take a shuttle bus to the project site at Iowa Lakeside Laboratory. People are encouraged to dress warmly and, if possible, in bright primary colors.  To sign up to participate, or for more information about participating in this year’s ArtsLive People’s Project, contact Jen Johnson at (712)332-6502 or jen@activeokoboji.org, or visit artslive.com.

Tuesday, January 27:

From Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement:


Jan. 27, 2009  

BIG Rally & Lobby Day

Mark your calendars and plan to be at our Rally & Lobby Day at the State Capitol Tuesday, Jan. 27. We need you there to show our legislators that thousands of Iowans will be holding them accountable this legislative session to issues like local control, clean elections, homeowner protections and the rights of all workers.

Decisions made at the Statehouse impact us every day. This is our chance to put our issues at the top of the legislative agenda. Join with us today – click here for more information and REGISTER TODAY!

Friday, January 30:

From Polk County Democrats:

The Ankeny Area Democrats and The Polk County Democrats Present An Inauguration Celebration Dinner At The Iowa State Historical Building

Friday, January 30, 2009

Catered by Baratta’s Restaurant

Social Hour begins at 6:00 PM

Dinner at 7:00 PM

Live music through the Musician’s Union

Tickets $25 per person

Tickets include chicken / pasta dinner and sides, soft drinks, coffee, iced tea or water

Semi-formal attire encouraged, but not required

Tickets available by calling Tamyra at 515-285-1800 or Mary Oliver at 515-964-1227

Email polkdems@gmail.com or Ankenyareadems@msn.com

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Highlights and analysis of the Vilsack confirmation hearing

Tom Vilsack appears to be on track for unanimous confirmation by the Senate as Secretary of Agriculture in Barack Obama’s cabinet. At his confirmation hearing yesterday, Republicans didn’t ask hostile questions, and Vilsack didn’t have to explain away any embarrassing behavior like Treasury Secretary-nominee Timothy Geithner’s failure to fully meet his tax obligations over a period of years.

Despite the lack of drama, Vilsack made a number of noteworthy comments during the hearing. Here are some highlights.

Vilsack told senators on Wednesday that

The Obama administration wants to accelerate the development of new versions of biofuels made form crop residue and non-food crops such as switchgrass. The plants’ fibrous material, or cellulose, can be converted into alcohols or even new versions of gasoline or diesel.

“Moving toward next-generation biofuels, cellulosic ethanol, is going to be really important in order to respond” to concerns about the impact on food prices of using grain for fuel, he said.

Vilsack addressed a range of other issues, pledging, for example, to promote fruit and vegetable consumption and promising to ensure that any new international trade agreement is a “net plus for all of agriculture.”

It makes a lot of sense to produce ethanol from perennial plants that are less energy-intensive to grow and need fewer herbicides, pesticides and fertilizer than corn.

Vilsack’s opening statement also

promised swift implementation of the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) which, alone among farm bill conservation programs, has languished under the Bush Administration since passage of the 2008 Farm Bill last May.

A little later during the hearing, Vilsack described the Conservation Stewardship Program as important for the environment and cited its potential to boost farm income and create jobs.

By the way, Vilsack’s disclosure documents show that he collects payments from the US Department of Agriculture on some Iowa farmland he and his wife own:

The former Iowa governor and his wife, Christie, have been receiving payments since 2000 for an acreage in Davis County that is enrolled in the land-idling Conservation Reserve Program, according to USDA data compiled by the Environmental Working Group.

In a Jan. 8 letter to USDA ethics officials, Vilsack said he would seek a waiver to continue receiving CRP payments while he is secretary. Otherwise, experts said, he would have to break his contract and reimburse the USDA for all previous payments he has received, which would total nearly $60,000.

Craig Cox, Midwest vice president of the Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy organization, welcomed having an agriculture secretary who receives conservation payments.

At a time “when simultaneously protecting our soil, water, wildlife habitat and climate is an urgent priority, it is encouraging that our new secretary of agriculture is personally participating in a conservation program that does just that,” he said.

I’m with Cox; it’s good for the secretary of agriculture to have first-hand knowledge of the conservation reserve program’s value.

Earlier this week the Register published an article on the opening statement Vilsack prepared for his confirmation hearing:

Tom Vilsack is promising to use the U.S. Department of Agriculture to “aggressively address” global warming and energy independence.

In an opening statement prepared for his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, President-elect Barack Obama’s nominee for agriculture secretary also said he would use the department to “create real and meaningful opportunities” for farmers and to guarantee that rural communities grow and prosper. […]

Vilsack, a former mayor of Mount Pleasant, also said rural communities continue to lose population and “find it increasingly difficult to keep pace with the ever-changing national and global economy.”

He pledged to try to resolve the long-standing civil rights claims against the department.

“If I’m confirmed, the message will be clear: discrimination in any form will not be tolerated,” Vilsack said.

After reading that Register article, La Vida Locavore’s Jill Richardson commented,

I want to see our subsidy structure change to reward farmers for sustainability instead of yield. I want the government to ease the financial risk on any farmer transitioning to organic because it appears to me that being an organic farmer isn’t so bad on your bank account, but transitioning alone might break several farmers financially. I want to outlaw CAFOs altogether. But will Vilsack do this? Let me just say this: I am so confident he won’t that I promise now to entirely shave my head if he DOES do each of these 3 things.

I think we can all agree that Jill is not going to look like Sinead O’Connor anytime soon. I totally agree with her first two suggestions. As for CAFOs, it’s not realistic to expect them to be banned, but I believe they would be greatly reduced in number and size (over time) if government policy made them pay for the harm they cause.

On a more encouraging note, I read this at the U.S. Food Policy blog:

Some highlights included Vilsack’s encouragement of locally grown fruits and vegetables and pronouncement that they should be grown not just in rural areas, but everywhere. He announced that he met with Health and Human Services nominee Tom Daschle last week in order to demonstrate the importance of working together for nutrition. “It’s going to be important for us to promote fresh fruits and vegetables as part of our children’s diets. . .that means supporting those who supply those products” and making it easier for consumers to buy locally grown products, Vilsack said.

Maybe Vilsack and Daschle will take some of Angie Tagtow’s excellent advice on how their agencies can work together to improve human health. I would also encourage them to read this recent piece by Steph Larsen: “For healthy food and soil, we need affordable health care for farmers.”

I am curious about what Vilsack means by “supporting those who supply” locally-grown fresh fruits and vegetables. One problem with our current agricultural policy is that commodity farmers lose all federal subsidies if they put more than two acres into growing fruits or vegetables. Apparently that was the price needed to get California’s Congressional delegation to vote for various farm bills over the years. Even though almost no subsidies go directly to California farmers, this penalty limits the competition California growers might otherwise face from Midwestern farmers.

So, very little of the produce consumed by Iowans is grown in Iowa, and our grocery stores are full of produce trucked in from thousands of miles away. Most of the crops Iowa farmers grow are inedible for humans without processing.

A few years back the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University published a report on “Food, Fuel and Freeways.” It showed how far food travels to Iowans and how much Iowans could reduce greenhouse-gas emissions if we increased the proportion of locally-grown food in our diets to even 10 percent of what we eat.

Getting back to the Vilsack hearing, members of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee made some notable comments yesterday. who questioned Vilsack made some notable comments on Wednesday. Iowa’s own Tom Harkin, who chairs the committee, gave Vilsack a warm welcome:

“I just couldn’t be more proud to see you sitting there. I don’t think President-elect [Barack] Obama could have picked a better person for this position,” Harkin said.

Harkin also discussed federal child nutrition programs:

Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin , D-Iowa, said reauthorization of a law (PL 108-265) governing school lunches and other child nutrition programs “is really the only thing that we have to do this year.” […]

During the hearing, Harkin said he will propose that the Department of Agriculture use Institute of Medicine guidelines to set standards for junk food sold in schools. Current USDA school food standards exempt most snack foods, because they aren’t a part of subsidized lunches.

During the last renewal of the child nutrition act, then-Gov. Vilsack wrote a letter to lawmakers and the Bush administration expressing concern about childhood obesity and the problem of vending machine snacks that compete with school meals.

At the time, Vilsack backed limits on the kinds of snacks and beverages students can buy outside the lunch line. Nutrition advocates want junk food kicked out of schools, but many schools use the cash from sales to cover the rising costs of meal services.

(Side note: the state of Iowa is now considering banning the sale of junk food in public schools.)

Meanwhile, Iowa’s Republican Senator Chuck Grassley urged Vilsack to act quickly on several other fronts, including rule-making that would protect smaller volume livestock producers. Also, Grassley and Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota wrote an open letter to Vilsack asking him to close a loophole affecting commodity program payment limits. Ferd Hoefner, Policy Director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, explains that “This particular loophole is the single most important one allowing mega farming operations to collect payments in multiples of what otherwise appears to be the statutory dollar limit.”

According to Hoefner,

Another former chairman, Pat Leahy (D-VT), weighed in with a comment that the Department is not keeping up with the rapid growth of organic and then with a question asking whether it wasn’t time for the Department to get on with the business of actually actively promoting organic.  Vilsack said we need to “celebrate and support” organic and USDA should view it as one very legitimate option in a menu of options for improving farm incomes.  Then, in response to an extended monologue from Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) deriding organic as marginal, Vilsack held his ground, but diffused the implied antagonism, saying the Department needs to support the full diversity of American agriculture.

The Ethicurean blog published an excerpt of Roberts’ insult to “small family farmers”:

That small family farmer is about 5’2″ … and he’s a retired airline pilot and sits on his porch on a glider reading Gentleman’s Quarterly – he used to read the Wall Street Journal but that got pretty drab – and his wife works as stock broker downtown. And he has 40 acres, and he has a pond and he has an orchard and he grows organic apples. Sometimes there is a little more protein in those apples than people bargain for, and he’s very happy to have that.

How disappointing that an imbecile like this could easily get re-elected in Kansas. Roberts’ caricature does not resemble any of the sustainable farmers I know. They work just as hard as Roberts’ idealized “production agriculture farmer” but don’t receive any federal subsidies, despite growing high-quality food and being good stewards of the land.

If you haven’t already done so, please go to the Food Democracy Now site and sign their new petition recommending 12 good candidates for undersecretary positions at the USDA. These will be important appointments, since Vilsack won’t single-handedly be setting the USDA’s policy direction.

The Center for Rural Affairs has also launched a petition worth signing, which urges Vilsack to implement a number of programs that would benefit farmers and rural economies.

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Bleeding Heartland Year in Review: Iowa politics in 2008

Last year at this time I was scrambling to make as many phone calls and knock on as many doors as I could before the Iowa caucuses on January 3.

This week I had a little more time to reflect on the year that just ended.

After the jump I’ve linked to Bleeding Heartland highlights in 2008. Most of the links relate to Iowa politics, but some also covered issues or strategy of national importance.

I only linked to a few posts about the presidential race. I’ll do a review of Bleeding Heartland’s 2008 presidential election coverage later this month.

You can use the search engine on the left side of the screen to look for past Bleeding Heartland diaries about any person or issue.

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A contest Iowa has no hope of winning

At Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall just opened nominations for the second annual “Golden Duke Awards,” “given out for excellence in corrupt acts, betrayals of the public trust and generalized shameful behavior.” You have until December 17 to submit nominations in the following categories:

Sleaziest Campaign Ad

Best Election Season Fib

Outstanding Achievement in Corruption-based Chutzpah

Best Scandal — Sex and Generalized Carnality

Best Scandal — Local Venue

Best Scandal — General Interest

Click here to view last year’s Golden Duke winners.

Talking Points Memo also has launched a contest to determine the most corrupt state. Reader WO named the short list:

I think it’s pretty clear that the only three serious contenders are Illinois, Louisiana, and Alaska. My money would be on the young upstart, Alaska, over the grizzled corruption veterans of Illinois and Louisiana, but who knows. Statistics should play a part in the contest, but style points are important, too. Cash in the freezer is pretty impressive, as is trying to shake down the President-Elect.

One of Marshall’s readers in New Orleans argues here that Louisiana is the “all time champ”.

A reader in Arizona explains why that state should be a finalist.

Another reader makes the case for Nevada.

Marshall also received a bunch of e-mails nominating New York, New Jersey or Rhode Island. He explained here why those states are not in the same league as Illinois, Louisiana or Alaska:

I know there are a lot of hurt feelings out there. A lot of people feel slighted on behalf of their states. But while a number of these states have impressive histories of corruption, as I told a few emailers, a lot of it really comes down to a case of ‘what have you done for me lately?’ […]

Sure, there’s plenty of crooks in New York and New Jersey and Rhode Island. And Massachusetts has its moment. But I’m just not sure any of them can put the kind of serious and recent per capita muck on the table as these three other worthy states. Certainly not when it comes to governors and federal officeholders.

I think we can all agree that Iowa is never going to win any (mock) awards for political corruption.

Historically and today, our problem is not so much law-breaking by elected officials but the “legal corruption” that stems from the influence of money in our system. So, we get state lawmakers traveling on the dime of the Iowa Healthcare Association, which represents nursing homes, and then lobbying Congress and state officials to reduce regulation of nursing homes.

Similarly, we won’t get any legislative action to give counties zoning authority over agriculture (which would allow greater regulation of large hog lots), even though Governor Chet Culver as well as the Iowa Democratic and Republican party platforms ostensibly support “local control.”

Iowa is not a particularly corrupt state, but we should not let our squeaky-clean image blind us to the influence of money in politics, even here.

To get involved with solving this problem, check out the Voter-Owned Iowa website. Public Campaign’s site has tons of information on how “clean elections” systems work in other states.  

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Events coming up this week

I haven’t posted an event calendar for the last couple of weeks, because there was hardly anything going on. Things are picking up again this week, however.

As always, post a comment or send me an e-mail (desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com) if you know if an event I’ve left out, which would be of interest to the Bleeding Heartland community.

Monday, December 8:

Learning from the Floods of 2008: Practical Strategies for Resilience

Join the conversation December 8, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m, at a flood workshop at the Gateway Hotel and Conference Center in Ames. This workshop will explore the potential ways to mitigate future flooding and offer insights from experts in agriculture, water and land use, urban planning and government, and representatives from state and federal agencies. Sessions are planned on Flood 2008 realities; farming systems; urban systems and river systems. Sponsors for the event are the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University and the Center for Energy and Environmental Education at the University of Northern Iowa. The workshop is free but registrations must be received by Monday, December 1 at the conference web site: http://www.flood.leopold.iasta…  For more information, contact Jeri Neal, wink@iastate.edu, or (515) 294-5610. (Note: It may be worth calling first thing on Monday to see if you can get in, even past the registration deadline.)

IowaPolitics.com is hosting a panel discussion featuring Iowa’s legislative leaders and from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Confirmed panelists include House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal. It will be located at the Iowa Historical Building, third floor, Classroom A & B. (Doors open at 2 p.m.) In theory, you were supposed to RSVP by December 1 if you wanted to attend, but it may be worth contacting Julie Rutz at 515.226.8774 or email rutz@IowaPolitics.com to see if there is still seating available. Free parking will be available in a ramp located directly North of the Historical Building on Grand Avenue.

If anyone goes to this forum, you might want to ask ask why the legislative leadership isn’t making local control (agricultural zoning) a priority, even though both parties’ platforms endorse the principle. I think I know the answer to that question, but I would be curious to know how the leaders answer.

On Monday evening from 6:30 to 8:00 pm, join One Iowa for the public premiere of “Our Story”, One Iowa’s short film featuring Iowans speaking out in favor of marriage for gays and lesbians. The screening will be at Fleur Cinema and Cafe, 4545 Fleur Drive in Des Moines. Come celebrate with us and don’t miss your chance to mingle with the stars! Light appetizers will be provided with a cash bar. Remarks by Senator Matt McCoy and Des Moines Register Columnist Rekha Basu.

RSVP here: http://eqfed.org/oneiowa/event…

For more information, contact One Iowa at (515) 288-4019 or organize@oneiowa.org

Tuesday, December 9:

The Iowa Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a marriage equality case (Varnum v. Brien):

Join One Iowa across the state to celebrate and learn more about this historic opportunity for equality. Given the interest in the case and limited capacity, we anticipate that there will not be enough seating for everyone in the Supreme Court chamber.  To accommodate growing interest from our supporters, One Iowa has planned several “watch parties” across the state!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008 – 9:45 – 11:30 AM

Des Moines Watch Party – Des Moines Public Library, 1000 Grand Avenue

Ames Watch Party – ISU Memorial Union, Gallery Room (3rd Floor), 2229 Lincoln Way

Iowa City Watch Party – Iowa City Public Library, 123 South Linn

We are making every effort to ensure a live-feed at each of these locations; but due to technology limitations and previous experiences in other states, we cannot make any guarantees on the quality of the live-feed. Regardless, this will be a great way for our supporters to gather for a truly historic event!

If you can’t watch the Supreme Court arguments live, One Iowa is organizing a “Making the Case” Des Moines Reception on Tuesday from 6:30-8:00 pm at the Pappajohn Center, 1200 Grand Avenue in Des Moines. Join us in the evening for a reception to discuss this historic event with remarks by Camilla Taylor, Lambda Legal’s senior attorney on the case. If the district court ruling is upheld, it will provide gay and lesbian couples the freedom to marry; full marriage equality in Iowa. Wine and hors d’oeuvres provided.

Also on December 9, James Patchett, landscape architect, hydrologist and founder/president of the Conservation Design Forum in Chicago, will explore peoples’ cultural relationships to land and water resources. His presentation will be from 4-5:30 p.m. at the UNI Center for Energy & Environmental Education in the Auditorium (Cedar Falls). It is free and open to the public. Patchett will present case studies that show how to apply sustainable development practices of green roof technologies, porous pavements, bio-retention systems, and integration of native landscapes. For more information, go to http://www.ceee.uni.edu.

From the Sierra Club e-mail list:

Conference to Assist Those Planning to Circumvent Disaster from Future Weather Events Will Be Held December 9-11 in Coralville

Learn from the experience of those impacted by natural disasters, their recovery, the regulatory issues involved, the rebuilding process, and an exploration of strategies to consider prior to reconstruction. Attend the Iowa Disaster Recovery Conference scheduled for December 9 and 10 at the Marriott Coralville Hotel & Conference Center. An optional community design workshop led by design professionals will be held December 11 at the same location.

Three concurrent breakout sessions tracks are offered for Natural Disaster Recovery, Regulatory Compliance, and Sustainability/Green Design. Keynote speakers are Bob Dixon of Greensburg, Kansas, and former Maryland Governor Parris N. Glendening, President, Smart Growth Leadership Institute.

Conference agenda and registration are available at www.iowalifechanging.com/register .

This conference is sponsored by Department of Economic Development, Rebuild Iowa Office, Department of Natural Resources, Iowa Waste Reduction Center.

Wednesday, December 10:

Join One Iowa and Lambda Legal for a “Making the Case” townhall forum in Cedar Rapids to celebrate and discuss the oral arguments before the Iowa Supreme Court in the landmark Varnum v. Brien case. The event will take place from 6:30-7:30 pm at CSPS/Legion Arts, 1103 3rd St SE in Cedar Rapids.

Thursday, December 11:

One Iowa and Lambda Legal are holding a “Making the Case” townhall forum from 6:30-7:30 at  Davenport Unitarian, 3707 Eastern Ave in Davenport.

Friday, December 12:

The Iowa Commission on the Status of Women is organizing a lunch and learn:

Bring your lunch and join the discussion regarding violence against college women. Presenters will be Annette Lynch with the Iowa Regent’s Campus Violence Prevention Project and Karen Mitchell with the SAVE* Forum Actors, University of Northern Iowa . The panel will be moderated by Rachel Scott, ICSW division administrator.

Friday, December 12th

12 noon – 1 p.m.

Lucas State Office Building 6th Floor Cafeteria

321 East 12th Street, Des Moines

Free and open to the public

Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has scheduled a meeting at 1:00 pm in the Wallace State Office Building (5th floor), 502 East 9th Street in Des Moines, to receive public comments about new Antidegradation rules for rivers, streams and lakes in Iowa. Background from the Iowa Environmental Council:

New Water Rules Proposed

Citizen Comments Important!

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has scheduled nine meetings in December and January to receive public comments about new Antidegradation rules for rivers, streams and lakes in Iowa. It is important that citizens attend the meetings or send written comments in support of these protective rules.

These new water rules, called Antidegradation, refer to regulations that significantly increase protections for all rivers, streams and lakes and keep water quality from worsening.  Under the federal Clean Water Act, each state must adopt antidegradation rules for their rivers, streams and lakes.  The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is currently in the process of proposing antidegradation rules for Iowa waters and is asking for public comments that will help determine how protective (or lax) these rules will be.  That is why it’s important that concerned Iowans participate in this process.

In addition to strengthening protections for all rivers and lakes the proposed rules include an initial list of more than 50 waters with exceptional recreational or ecological significance to receive special designation and protection as Outstanding Iowa Waters, including West Lake Okoboji, Spirit lake, Wapsipinicon River, Maquoketa River, and French Creek.

How you can help

1)      Learn about antidegradation policy, frequently asked question, talking points and much more, by reading the documents posted on this section of our website (http://www.iaenvironment.org/Antidegradation1.htm).  Don’t feel like you have to be an expert on antidegradation policy.  If you have questions after reading these documents, call or email Susan Heathcote, water program director for the Iowa Environmental Council.  515-244-1194, ext 205.  Heathcote@iaenvironment.org.

2)      Attend a public comment meeting and speak up in support of the antidegradation rules as proposed by the Iowa DNR.  Meetings will be held in December and January.  For a list of dates and locations, go to http://www.iaenvironment.org/w…

Antidegradation rules have been a required component of all state’s Water Quality Standards since 1972 as part of the federal Clean Water Act and have never been fully implemented in Iowa. These rules are a top priority for the Iowa Environmental Council and we are glad the Iowa DNR has finally begun rule making on these important rules.

These rules will allow Iowa to grow sensibly and sustainably by ensuring that new pollution will be allowed into Iowa’s rivers, lakes and streams only if it will not harm existing uses of those water bodies and is truly necessary to achieve important social and economic goals of the people of Iowa.

An especially critical part of these new rules are two new designations for Iowa’s highest quality waters called Outstanding Iowa Waters (OIW) and Outstanding National Resource Waters (ONRW). These new designations require stringent protections against permitting any new sources of pollution that would lower water quality. Currently the Iowa Great Lakes in Dickinson County (including West Lake Okoboji, Big Spirit Lake, East Okoboji Lake, Lower Gar, Upper Gar and Minnewashta) and Dalton Lake in Jackson County are proposed for OIW designation. Also proposed for OIW designation are 46 stream segments (mostly cold  water streams in Northeast Iowa), including portions of the Wapsipinicon River, Maquoketa River, French Creek, Sny Magill Creek, Trout Run, and Waterloo Creek.

Plains Justice is holding a holiday open house at its Cedar Rapids office from 4 to 6 p.m.:  

We have a lot to celebrate, including our second anniversary in November, the addition of several great new staffers, board and advisory board members this year, and getting back on our feet after the flood.  We’re so grateful for the support of all our friends and colleagues.

Our office is at the corner of 1st Avenue and 1st Street SW, on the west side of the Cedar River next to I-380, on the second floor.  We’d love to see you.

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Bush's parting gifts

Today I am beginning an occasional series on what George W. Bush will do for corporate interests and major Republican donors during the final weeks of his presidency.

This comes from the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s e-mail newsletter:

EPA Administrator Signs Off on Final CAFO Rule:  Last Friday, as a “Halloween trick” for the environment and public health, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson signed a revised Clean Water Act final regulation for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) permits and effluent limitations.  EPA revised the CAFO regulations in response to legal challenges to a 2003 CAFO final regulation, brought in the case Waterkeeper Alliance Inc. v. EPA by both environmental organizations and the CAFO sector.  

The revision opens a gaping hole in the 2003 regulation by allowing a CAFO, no matter how large, to self-certify that the CAFO does not “intend” to discharge to the waters of the U.S.   EPA ignored the recommendation of the federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals to establish a regulatory presumption that large-scale CAFOs discharge pollutants.  The presumption would have required that a large-scale CAFO demonstrate to regulatory authorities that it is designed and can be operated to avoid all discharges of regulated pollutants.  

EPA also rejected making improvements in technology that reduce harmful bacteria and other pathogens that threaten public health, a problem aggravated by the development of antibiotic resistant pathogens in CAFOs.  The revised rule does include one improvement required in Waterkeeper — that a CAFO nutrient management plan must be included in a Clean Water Act permit for the CAFO and made available for public review and comment.

EPA is expected publish the revised final regulation in the Federal Register before the end of November. In the meantime, a copy of the unofficial version of the revised regulation is posted on the EPA website. You can also register on the website for a November 19 EPA webcast about the revised CAFO regulation.

SAC will be urging the new Administration to revisit this rulemaking on an expedited basis.

Why am I not surprised that industrial ag profits are a higher priority than the environment and public health?

I hope that the Obama administration will put this on the list of actions to be overturned.  

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Good riddance

cross-posted at La Vida Locavore

Sometimes one small step against confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) leads to another.

Over at Iowa Independent, Jason Hancock reports that

A member of the state’s Environmental Protection Commission who has been labeled by critics as “pro-factory farms” has stepped down.

Ralph Klemme, a former Republican state representative from LeMars, resigned from the nine-person oversight panel, which is part of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, late last week. He told the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers that the commission’s “increasing tilt against agriculture” was his main reason to step down.

The commission’s recent vote to reject permits for two hog confinements in Dallas County appears to have been a major factor in Klemme’s decision.

I was against Klemme’s appointment to this commission in 2007 because of his involvement with corporate agriculture groups.

My suspicions were warranted. In a statement welcoming Klemme’s resignation, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement recounted his record of looking out for agribusiness instead of the environment:

Klemme voted in May to approve a large hog factory in Greene County that was overwhelmingly opposed by local residents, county officials and local business leaders. He also voted against a common-sense rule that would have limited the amount of manure that factory farm owners could be spread on soybean crops.

Governor Chet Culver should replace Klemme with someone committed to protecting the environment. Otherwise why call it an Environmental Protection Commission?

I am hopeful because several of Culver’s appointments to this body have been quite good.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t underestimate the clout of corporate agriculture groups that will lobby the governor to replace Klemme with a person who is equally sympathetic to their interests. We saw this summer that agriculture trumped the environment on the task forces associated with the Rebuild Iowa Commission.

Whoever takes Klemme’s place on the Environmental Protection Commission, I view his resignation as a healthy sign. The majority of commission members are not willing to look the other way regarding the environmental impacts of CAFOs.

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Events coming up this week

There is so much happening this week that I hereby forbid you from complaining that there’s nothing to do in Iowa.

If you can make it to the I-RENEW Energy and Sustainability Expo in Cedar Falls this weekend, I encourage you to go. I have attended the I-Renew expo several times in the past and never been disappointed. There are also great books and progressive advocacy materials (shirts, posters, bumper stickers) available in the exhibitor tent.

I won’t be at the Harkin Steak Fry featuring Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, so I hope someone out there will post a diary with a first-person account of the event.

Please post a comment or send me an e-mail if I’ve left out anything important.

Tuesday, September 9:

School board elections are being held across the state. Get out and vote, even if you don’t have kids in school. We don’t want the religious right taking control of these boards.

From the Iowa Citizen Action Network:

Iowa Citizen Action Network (ICAN) is proud to take a lead role in the “Health Care for America Now” campaign and we hope you will join us and all the coalition partners in Iowa to make our voices heard!

Health Care for America Now is all about raising this very important question in the minds of the public and in decision makers: Do we want a health care system where everyone has responsibility to ensure access for all Americans – individuals, employers, our communities, and our government?  Or do we want to continue with a system that says – “You’re all on your own to deal with insurance companies.”

We’ve been doing just that this summer, and we’re excited to bring this campaign to cities all around Iowa.  

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

HEALTH CARE COVERAGE LISTENING POSTS

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Have you been struggling with your health insurance coverage?  Do you find yourself paying more for less coverage every year?  Have you been denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions?  Have you been dropped from your coverage and aren’t sure how to fight back?  Do you have a family member or neighbor who is struggling?

Here’s your chance to let your elected representatives know what you’re going through, and what you think they should do about it.

September 9,

6:30-7:30 PM

AMES PUBLIC LIBRARY, COMMUNITY ROOM

515 Douglas Avenue

Ames, IA 50010

One Iowa Campaign Training RSVP

Today – Tuesday, September 9 – 6:30 PM-8:30 PM

AFSCME Council 61, 4230 NW 2nd Avenue, Des Moines

We’re weeks away from what may prove to be the most critical election of our time. Success this November depends on individuals like you making a commitment to get involved. Join us to learn more about what’s at stake and how you fit into the big picture!

One Iowa Coffee House

Today – Tuesday, September 9 – 5:00-6:45pm

Ritual Cafe, 1301 Locust Street, Des Moines

Sandy Vopalka will talk about PFLAG (Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays) the importance of this organization and the work being done across the state. PFLAG is a national non-profit organization with over 200,000 members and supporters and over 500 affiliates in the United States. Sandy’s presentation will start at 5:30pm.

Wednesday, September 10:

Democracy for America is holding another session of its famous “Night School,” with a focus on recruiting volunteers. The session begins at 7:30 pm, and you can register by clicking here:

http://democracyforamerica.com…

The Iowa Citizen Action Network has scheduled an event to give Iowans a chance to talk about what real economic recovery looks like. September 10, 6:30 pm at the Local 6 UFCW, 15 N 12th Street in Fort Dodge. “We are inviting our Congressional representatives and State and Local Officials to hear from US what we need during this week of Economic Recovery talks.”

Iowa’s Office of Energy Independence invites you to attend the public forum on energy issues in Mount Vernon at Cornell College on Wednesday, September 10, at 6:30 p.m., following a Power Fund Board meeting. The forum will take place in the Hedges Conference Room, 600 First Street SW in Mount Vernon.

Thursday, September 11:

The Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa Book Sale opens at 4 pm at the 4-H building of the State Fairgrounds. The sale runs through Monday, September 15. More details here:

http://www.bleedingheartland.c…

The Organization for Competitive Markets will hold an event the Clay County Fair in Spencer, Iowa to learn how to “Take Back” a fair and open seed marketplace. We’ll gather at the 4H building on the fairgrounds from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. to hear speakers talk about the problem of concentration in the seed industry and what we can do about it. Enjoy engaging discussions with farmers and local politicians, as well as a complimentary dinner from Oak Tree Bar-B-Que. The event is co-chaired by State Representatives Marcie Frevert and Mark Kuhn, and speakers include Iowa State University’s Fred Kirschenmann and past president of the National Family Farm Coalition, George Naylor. Tell your friends! For more information, click here:

http://www.competitivemarkets….

One Iowa is organizing a PFLAG Des Moines Re-Launch at 7:00 PM, First Unitarian Church, 1800 Bell Avenue in Des Moines. The Des Moines Metro Area PFLAG will meet to discuss relaunching the chapter. Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays provides opportunity for dialogue about sexual orientation and gender identity, and acts to create a society that is healthy and respectful of human diversity. Coffee and refreshments served before the meeting, beginning at 6:30 PM. All are welcome, but confidentiality is required.

Friday, September 12:

From the Iowa City-based Local Foods Connection (http://www.localfoodsconnection.org):

Fundraising event for ZJ Farm

http://zjfarms.com/

http://www.simoneplainandsimpl…

French Dinner at Simone’s Plain & Simple

ZJ Farms Education Programs Fundraiser

Friday, Sept 12, 6:30 p.m.

Susan Jutz of ZJ Farm helped create the idea of Local Foods Connection along with Simone Delaty and Laura Dowd. Local Foods Connection buys vegetables CSA shares from Susan and bread & egg CSA shares from Simone for our clients.

Come enjoy an authentic French dinner in lovely country setting and support the Education Programs at ZJ Farms.  The ZJ Farms Education Programs offer hands-on experience and events that teach young people of all ages that value of land stewardship, nontraditional leadership and nutrition.  Education explorations include milking and petting the farm animals, hunts for vegetable in gardens, work projects to participate in farming experience, lessons on growing food from planting to harvest, leadership and community building training.

Tickets on sale now!

$45 for Slow Food Members/ $50 for non-Slow Food.

Call 621-2484 to reserve a seat.

Saturday, September 13:

From the Polk County Democrats:

A CELEBRATION OF DIVERSITY

UNITED IN DIVERSITY

On September 13, 2008 at 12:00 PM TO 3:00 PM , there will a community celebration picnic at MLK Park, E. 17th and Garfield (1 block north of University), Des Moines , Iowa.

This will be a time for diverse groups of Asian/Pacific Islanders, African Americans, Persons with Disabilities, GaysLesbians, Latinos, Native Americans, Armed Forces Veterans and Young Democrats  to come together with the whole community, celebrating the diversity in our neighborhoods.  Over good food, communication and networking will be done.

The picnic is hosted by the Polk County Democratic Affirmative Action / Diversity Committee.

For more information, call 515-285-1800.

From I-RENEW:

17th Annual I-Renew Energy & Sustainability EXPO

September 13 & 14, 2008

9 to 5 Saturday

10:30 to 4:30 Sunday

At the UNI Center for Energy & Environmental Education, Cedar Falls, IA

Admission: $10 per day, I-Renew members pay no admission. Memberships available at the door.

Featuring renewable energy, energy efficiency, green building, renewable fuels and sustainable living workshops, exhibits and demonstrations

Cedar Falls, IA – The Iowa Power Fund Board approved a grant to support this year’s I-Renew Energy & Sustainability Expo. The grant will go towards promoting the event statewide as well as to produce DVDs of 12 of the 70 workshops offered at the event. “The Iowa Renewable Energy Association has proven its annual Expo is the place to be to learn about renewable energy and energy efficiency”, said Michelle Kenyon Brown, I-Renew Executive Director. “The support from the Iowa Power Fund and the Office of Energy Independence will enable us to bring in a larger audience, an audience that is growing everyday as energy costs are hitting everyone’s pocketbook.”

The 17th I-Renew Energy & Sustainability EXPO will be held Sept. 13-14, 2008, at the University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Energy & Environmental Education (CEEE) in Cedar Falls, Iowa.  The EXPO feature 70 workshops, 80 exhibitors, and demonstrations providing information on renewable energy, energy efficiency, green building, renewable fuels, and sustainable living.

“The I-Renew Expo is the largest event of this type in Iowa,” says Kara Beauchamp, I-Renew Board President. “This years’ expo will be the biggest and the best we have ever had. Increasing energy prices have generated more interest in energy efficiency and renewable energy. The I-Renew Expo is the perfect place for people to get their questions answered while having a great time.”

The EXPO gives the general public, building contractors, installers and others the opportunity to talk directly with Iowa’s energy experts to learn new ways to build greener and live greener using renewable energy.

Demonstrations of solar power, wind power, a hydrogen fuel cell, electric cars, cars that run on alternative fuels, and much more will be at the site in and around the CEEE building. The EXPO runs 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 13; and 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 14. Admission is $10 per day; however, I-Renew members pay no admission. Memberships are available at the door.

For more information or to register, visit www.irenew.org and click on I-Renew EXPO.

The I-Renew Energy & Sustainability Expo is provided with support from our partners: Iowa Office of Energy Independence, Iowa Energy Center, Alliant Energy’s Second Nature Program, Cedar Falls Utilities, Waverly Light & Power, Frontier Natural Products Coop, Center for Energy & Environmental Education and many more.

Contact: Michelle Kenyon Brown, Director Iowa Renewable Energy Association

(319) 325-2701          michellekbrown@irenew.org

Citizens are organizing a rally against a huge proposed hog lot in Poweshiek County:

Does Poweshiek County want more Factory Hog Farms ? NO!!

Prestage Farms of North Carolina, the nations 5th largest factory hog corporation, has plans to put nearly 5,000 hogs in two buildings near Deep River.

If built, this facility will negatively impact our community by creating odor and air quality problems, harming our areas already poor water quality, creating health risks for neighbors, and reducing property values in our county.

Prestage Farms will take the profits out of our state and leave us with the manure.

Please take the time to join with other concerned citizens from our area at a rally on Saturday, September 13th at 9:45 AM on Highway 21, 5 miles South of Interstate 80, between 470th and 480th Streets.

We want as many people to come out as possible to let the owners of the property know that they need to put the health and well-being of their neighbors before greed, and that residents of this county are against selling our future to out-of-state corporations.

Please call 641-990-2470 for more information.

From 1000 Friends of Iowa:

Dear Friends,

In case you didn’t get a chance to attend the public input meetings on the proposed Northwest 26th Street project/MLK extension and Northeast Polk County Beltway studies, you still have a chance to make your voices heard.

If you did attend the meetings, but didn’t submit written comments, your views still need to be documented for public record. The public meetings and collection of written comments are building the case for approval or disapproval of this project. All are part of the Environmental Impact Statement, a federally required evaluation for projects that have extensive environmental impacts.

The deadline for comments on the proposed alternatives for both projects is on Saturday, September 13. After that date, comments will be compiled and sent to Polk County, the Federal Highway Administration, and other decision-makers. Your comments are like a vote which needs to be counted on the stack of documented opinions that is carried forward in the near future.

To be effective in opposition to projects like these, citizens need to be there each major step of the way. This is one of those steps, and your presence is critical to keeping this current of opposition strong.

Gas prices are soaring along with the costs of road building. Public funds for roads are limited, meaning that not every road project gets funded. If constructed, these two costly projects would take money from much-needed transportation improvements.

You can find more information on these projects, maps, and how to send comments at

http://www.1000friendsofiowa.o…

Sincerely,

Stephanie Weisenbach

1000 Friends of Iowa

From Whiterock Conservancy:

Central Iowa Trail Association invites public to celebrate decade of trail stewardship

Sept. 13 ‘Ales and Trails’ event honors dirt trails at Whiterock Conservancy

Des Moines — Central Iowa Trail Association is celebrating its 10th anniversary as a non-profit trail stewardship and advocacy organization by hosting ‘Ales and Trails’ — a public event at the Whiterock Conservancy near Coon Rapids, Iowa on Saturday, Sept. 13.

‘Ales and Trails’ begins at 9 a.m. at Whiterock’s River House with activities including guided trail rides, a hike with Whiterock’s ecologist Elizabeth Hill, canoeing on the Middle Raccoon River and much more. The evening features a party in the storied Heeter Barn with music by Brother Trucker and a beer contest judged by event participants.

“This had been a very rough year for trail-loving Iowans,” said CITA president Ryan Hanser. “CITA has worked hard to repair damage to trails from this summer’s rains. It’s a perfect time to recognize and celebrate our decade of volunteer work that has brought so much enjoyment for cyclists, hikers, birdwatchers and others who appreciate natural trail experiences.”

Registration is required. There is a $20 fee to cover cost of meals and entertainment. Lodging is not included, but options ranging from B&B pampering to primitive campsites can be reserved through the Whiterock Resort. Visit http://www.centraliowatrails.org for details including a schedule of events and online registration.

As an affiliate of the International Mountain Bicycling Association, Central Iowa Trail Association (CITA) works with public and private land owners to design, build and maintain sustainable dirt trail for shared recreational use. The all-volunteer organization was incorporated as an Iowa non-profit organization in 1998 and does more than 500 hours of trailwork on public land in central Iowa each year.

“CITA was proud to bring the International Mountain Bicycling Association’s trailbuilding school to Whiterock in 2006,” said Hanser, who is also Iowa’s state representative for the International Mountain Bicycling Association. “Returning to celebrate their progress as an organization is important, too. Whiterock’s commitment to sustainable, natural recreation makes it a perfect venue to celebrate our shared values.”

Whiterock Conservancy is a new land trust created to manage a 5,000 acre conservation land donation from the Garst Family of Coon Rapids. Its nonprofit mission is to research and promote sustainable land management practices; provide low impact public recreation and environmental education; and protect and restore the area’s natural resources, including a 30-mile network of dirt trails. In October 2005, the Coon Rapids-Whiterock area was designated by Governor Vilsack as one of the first three “Iowa Great Places.” The Iowa Legislature recently appropriated $1 million to the Department of Cultural Affairs for supporting Coon Rapids Great Place projects.

Directions to Whiterock: Coon Rapids is located 75 miles NW of Des Moines and 100 miles east of Omaha on Highway 141. The Conservancy land is east of Coon Rapids and south of Highway 141. Visit http://www.whiterockconservanc…  for more information about Whiterock Conservancy.

Contacts:

Ryan Hanser, President

Central Iowa Trail Association

515.229.3737

Jeana Feazel, Resort Manager

Whiterock Conservancy

712-684-2697 x112

Sunday, September 14:

Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer will headline the 31st Annual Harkin Steak Fry, to be held at the Indianola balloon field. For more details, click here:

http://www.tomharkin.com

Monday, September 15:

Conference Coordinator – Contract Job: Deadline for Application September 15

Iowa Network for Community Agriculture (INCA) is seeking a coordinator for its annual Local Foods Conference to be held in Mason City on February 6 – 7, 2009.  If you are interested, or know of someone who is, then please review the request for proposal on INCA’s website (http://www.growinca.org) and respond by early next week.

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EPC moves to block two new CAFOs in Dallas County

cross-posted at La Vida Locavore

The Iowa legislature and state agencies have notoriously failed to do anything to address the pollution problems stemming from confined-animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

But the Environmental Protection Commission took one small step in the right direction:

The state Environmental Protection Commission today rejected previously approved permits for two large hog confinements in Dallas County.

The surprise move came after a two-hour meeting in Urbandale at which commissioners said rules drawn up to dictate approval of large-scale confinement permits leave out important environmental considerations and neighbors’ quality-of-life concerns.

“There are battle lines being drawn on this, and it creates a political situation that the Legislature cannot ignore,” commission chairman Henry Marquard said.

Only a handful of permits have been denied in Iowa, but rarely has one been turned down after it met approval from the Department of Natural Resources and passed a complicated scoring system adopted by counties, including Dallas.

The nine-member commission voted to block these permits on a strong 6-2 vote. I wouldn’t be surprised if the matter ends up in court, however.

Noneed4thneed wrote about the controversy over the new Dallas County CAFOs in late July:

The proposed hog confinements would have a total of 7,440 hogs in rural Dallas County, which is the fastest growing county in the state. These confinements will produce as much waste as a town of 30,000 people and it will go untreated.

Earlier this month, Dallas County Supervisors voted against allowing these proposed hog confinements, but in reality there isn’t much the local people can do about the hog confinements that will be owned by the out of state company, Cargill.

We need federal legislation to make CAFOs pay for the harm they cause, because our state legislature has shown itself to be unwilling to act to protect air and water quality in Iowa.

But in the absence of federal action, a state law giving counties “local control” (agricultural zoning rights) would at least offer some protection. Some county supervisors would rubber-stamp every proposed CAFO, but others would follow the lead of the Dallas County supervisors.

For all I know, Cargill will sue to reinstate their permits to open these hog confinements. But however this story ends, it’s good to see the majority of the Environmental Protection Commission’s members doing something to protect the environment.

UPDATE: I learned from the online newsletter of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources recently denied a permit for a different proposed CAFO.

Because of the efforts of CCI members and other local residents, the DNR recently denied a 4,900-head hog factory proposed for southern Appanoose County. The permit application did not meet legal requirements, nor did their master matrix pass muster. Although the applicant for this proposed confinement is a local resident, the 4,900 hogs would have been owned by Cargill. Cargill, one of the largest privately-held corporations in the world, has been behind a number of proposed factory farms around the state, including two proposed 7,440-head hog factories in northwest Dallas County.

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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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Fallon calls for moratorium on CAFOs

Ed Fallon has again emphasized agricultural policy in his campaign against Congressman Leonard Boswell.

Contact: Stacy Brenton

Fallon for Congress

(515) 822-3029

stacy@fallonforcongress.com

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Fallon Kicks Off ‘New Energy for Iowa Tour’

Proposes National CAFO Moratorium

Monday, May 19, 2008 – Today in Des Moines, Ed Fallon kicked off his ‘New Energy for Iowa Tour’ with an announcement that if elected to Congress, Fallon would propose a national moratorium on hog confinements built by big corporations. Fallon sees this as a critical step toward restoring vitality to rural areas suffering from the loss of populations, farm employment and economic development.”

Fallon says, “Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) are having an adverse effect on the environment, agriculture, health and local farm and business operations. We need to stop the consolidation and explosion of this industry and renew our commitment to growing a sustainable economy and quality of life in rural Iowa. I commit to leading the way on this issue in Washington, given the lack of leadership here at the state level.”

Fallon and Boswell have drawn contrasts with one another on farm policy several times during this campaign. In general, Boswell is happy with current federal agriculture policies and is proud of his work on them, while Fallon is not satisfied with the priorities that guide current agriculture policies.

Fallon is right to say CAFOs should be a federal concern, because there appears to be little hope of making progress on regulating them at the state level.

Meanwhile, evidence is mounting that CAFOs incur huge hidden costs on society.

For more on why Fallon is right on this issue, read the final report from the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production and this recent report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, “CAFOs Uncovered: The Untold Costs of Confined Animal Feeding Operations.”

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Boswell and Fallon clash over ethanol

The campaigns of Congressman Leonard Boswell and challenger Ed Fallon put out very different statements about ethanol on Thursday.

This isn’t the first time the candidates have clashed over agriculture policy. In general, Boswell is happy with our federal farm policies and touts how hard he is working to keep them the way they are.

Fallon would like to see a shift toward more support of local food networks and sustainable agriculture, as well as more regulations to address the economic, public health and environmental problems caused by confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

Join me after the jump for more discussion of the ethanol issue.

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10 ways to combat asthma (in honor of Asthma Awareness Month and World Asthma Day)

Asthma has been on my mind lately, because a child in my extended family was recently diagnosed with it after going to the hospital for respiratory problems. The chronic disease is one of the leading causes of hospitalization in children.

In addition, at least 20 million American adults are estimated to have asthma.

Today is World Asthma Day, in connection with Asthma Awareness Month.

Join me after the jump to read about five policies our society should implement, as well as five steps individuals can take, to reduce the incidence and severity of asthma in our households and across the country.

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Make CAFOs pay for the harm they cause

Blog for Iowa published this important post from the Iowa Farmers Union about a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists called CAFOs Uncovered: The Untold Costs of Confined Animal Feeding Operations. Here are some key findings:

Misguided federal farm policies have encouraged the growth of massive confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, by shifting billions of dollars in environmental, health and economic costs to taxpayers and communities […].

“CAFOs aren’t the natural result of agricultural progress, nor are they the result of rational planning or market forces,” said Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist in UCS’s Food and Environment Program and author of the report. “Ill-advised policies created them, and it will take new policies to replace them with more sustainable, environmentally friendly production methods.”

[…]

The report also details how other federal policies give CAFOs hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to address their pollution problems, which stem from the manure generated by thousands, if not tens of thousands, of animals confined in a small area. The report estimates that CAFOs have received $100 million in annual pollution prevention payments in recent years through the federal Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which was established by the 2002 Farm Bill.

“If CAFOs were forced to pay for the ripple effects of harm they have caused, they wouldn’t be dominating the U.S. meat industry like they are today,” said Margaret Mellon, director of UCS’s Food and Environment Program. “The good news is that we can institute new policies that support animal production methods that benefit society rather than harm it.”

Instead of favoring CAFOs, the report recommends that government policies provide incentives for modern production methods that benefit the environment, public health and rural communities. The report also shows that several smart alternative production methods can offer meat and dairy at costs comparable to CAFO products.

[…]

In addition to steering taxpayer dollars away from CAFOs, the report also urges Congress to enforce laws that encourage competition so alternative producers can get their meat and dairy to consumers as easily as CAFOs. Making CAFOs, rather than taxpayers, pay to prevent or clean up the pollution they create is also critical, Gurian-Sherman said.

Meanwhile, earlier this week the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production issued its final report on “Putting Meat on The Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America.” Click the link to find links to pdf files of the executive summary and the full report. The authors concluded that “The current industrial farm animal production (IFAP) system often poses unacceptable risks to public health, the environment and the welfare of the animals themselves […].”

After outlining the harm that industrial farm animal production does to public health, the environment, animal welfare and rural communities, the Pew commission issued six important recommendations:

   1. Ban the non-therapeutic use of antimicrobials in food animal production to reduce the risk of antimicrobial resistance to medically important antibiotics and other microbials.

   2. Implement a disease monitoring program for food animals to allow 48-hour trace-back of those animals through aspects of their production, in a fully integrated and robust national database.

   3. Treat IFAP as an industrial operation and implement a new system to deal with farm waste to replace the inflexible and broken system that exists today, to protect Americans from the adverse environmental and human health hazards of improperly handled IFAP waste.

   4. Phase out the most intensive and inhumane production practices within a decade to reduce the risk of IFAP to public health and improve animal wellbeing (i.e., gestation crates and battery cages).

   5. Federal and state laws need to be amended and enforced to provide a level playing field for producers when entering contracts with integrators.

   6. Increase funding for, expand and reform, animal agriculture research.

The Des Moines Register reported on Wednesday that some representatives of industrial agriculture allegedly tried to use financial leverage to influence the findings:

A Pew Commission report accuses some livestock interests of trying to disrupt a wide-ranging study of the industry by threatening to yank financing for scientists and universities.

The Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production study released Tuesday called for a vast overhaul of the industry.

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“While some agriculture representatives were recommending potential authors for the technical reports to commission staff, other industrial agriculture representatives were discourage those same authors from assisting us by threatening to withhold research funding for their college or university,” commission executive director Robert Martin wrote in the foreword of the report released after 2 1/2 years of study.

Martin didn’t detail those incidents in the report, and a spokesman declined to comment on the allegations.

[…]

The commission, which included key Iowans including the head of the University of Iowa College of Public Health, found that livestock industry powers have too much influence on how government regulates the industry. That presents too much of a public threat in the commission’s view.

The 15-member panel called for a range of actions industry groups have vehemently opposed, including local zoning of confinements, a ban on use of antibiotics as a growth enhancer and stiffer regulations on emissions on everything from manure application to how hogs are housed.

“We found significant influence by the industry at every turn: in academic research, agriculture policy development, governmental regulation, and enforcement,” the study said.

Industry pressure on scientists who study farm-related pollution has been a hot topic nationally in recent years and was detailed in a 2002 Des Moines Register report, “Ag Scientists Feel the Heat.”

Representatives of industrial agriculture have been whining that the Pew commission was biased against them from the beginning. They simply refuse to acknowledge reality when it comes to the drawbacks of CAFOs, routine use of antibiotics, and our aspects of our current food system.

It’s time to end the worst practices of CAFOs and the public policies that promote them. As the Union of Concerned Scientists points out, CAFOs would not be profitable if they had to pay for the hidden health and environmental costs of their operations.

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Fallon and Boswell battle over farm issues

Ed Fallon sought to connect Leonard Boswell with unwelcome trends in Iowa agriculture during three campaign events on April 12. An accompanying press release from the challenger’s campaign noted:

Fallon served on the Iowa House Agriculture Committee for six years and believes that the rampant consolidation of the hog industry and the explosion of confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are impacting family farming and rural community viability.

Fallon noted that in 1995, a bill (HF 519) changed Iowa law to enable a drastic shift in hog production from family farms to corporate giants such as Iowa Select, DeCoster, Murphy, and Premium Standard.    

Fallon said, “As it happens, the President of the Iowa Senate at that time was Leonard Boswell, my opponent in this race. While I worked with fellow House Democrats to block passage of HF 519, Leonard Boswell helped get it passed in the Senate. ”

Fallon says he [is] disappointed that the Democratic Legislature in Iowa has done nothing on this issue and would recommend a moratorium at the federal level.

It’s not the first time Fallon has emphasized the differences between himself and Boswell on agriculture policy. That Iowa bill passed in 1995 features prominently on the agriculture page of Fallon’s campaign website.

Fallon made the point again in an interview with Iowa Independent blogger Dien Judge last month.

Can Fallon, who represented an urban district in the Iowa House, persuade third-district voters that he is the better candidate on farm issues?

The agriculture page on Boswell’s campaign website reads:

“Iowa’s farmers are among our greatest assets and they deserve our support.”

Congressman Boswell grew up on a farm in rural Iowa and returned to Iowa to farm after his service in the military.  He successfully led his local farmer’s co-op through the farm crisis of the 1980s, when he served as its chair.  Today, Boswell is guided by the values and common sense he learned as a farmer.

In Congress, Boswell has been a friend to agriculture.  He is one of two Iowa Representatives to serve on the House Agriculture Committee and one of only 37 farmers in the entire Congress.  He voted in favor of the most recent Farm Bill, which makes historic investments in conservation, nutrition, fruit and vegetable production, and renewable energy while maintaining a strong safety net for America’s farmers and ranchers.

During his tenure in Congress and on the Agriculture Committee, Boswell has fought for increased market transparency, expanding renewable energy production, increasing value-added agricultural products, keeping marginal land out of agricultural production, increased working lands conservation programs, and to keep a real safety net for our nation’s producers.

Speaking to Iowa Independent, Fallon suggested that Iowa needs to build more local food networks and diversity of crops produced:

“Before I got involved in politics I did some farming, but I messed up my back bad enough that wasn’t going to happen anymore. But to me, we need to create local markets for food products where we can help broaden the base of agriculture. I mean, we’re always going to be a leader. Iowa’s always going to be a leader in corn, soybean, hog and cattle production. But why can’t we also regain some of our status with fruits and vegetables and dairy? There are so many other areas. We can do anything here when it comes to agriculture; we can do it all.”

In the same interview, Fallon acknowledged that he has “a lot more to learn” about federal agricultural policy, since his “focus in agriculture has been on Iowa issues, as they related to the Legislature’s role.”

Boswell seized on that admission in his own interview with Dien Judge, which Iowa Independent published on April 11:

Ask Boswell about his primary race, and he’ll say he’s ready for the challenge. He’s proud of his record and isn’t shy about criticizing his opponent. “I’ve had some very good success with different areas of conservation and energy and alternative fuels, which is something I’ve been involved in for many, many years. And I’ll continue to be there,” said Boswell. He said Fallon is always “trying to think of something to be critical about,” when “by his own admission he knows very little, if anything, about agriculture.”

“But I do know about agriculture, and I’m hands-on. I was actually born in a farmhouse. I spent my years growing up farming, and then my friends and neighbors called me off to the Army and I went off for a period of time. And when I came back, I went right back in the same neighborhood and took the risks and made the investment to farm. We went through a farm crisis, not only running a farm operation of my own but also in leadership of my local cooperative. You know, I have that under my belt. And by comparison, he doesn’t have anything like that.”

Boswell said federal agriculture policy is of the utmost importance to Iowa’s 3rd District, and it’s important to have an experienced hand in the Congress. “I think folks will figure that out,” he said. “And so I’m just going to keep on trying to do the good job that I try to do. We’re not going to hit every ball, but we sure try. And overall, I feel good about what I’ve done. So I bring to the table a lot of things that he just has no ability to bring to the table.”

Boswell has occasionally cited his experience as a farmer to justify Congressional votes that have nothing to do with agriculture. For instance, when a participant in a telephone town-hall meeting asked Boswell to defend his vote in favor of the bankruptcy bill in 2005 (which most House Democrats opposed), Boswell replied:

“I am a survivor of the farm crisis, and saw folks that bankrupted when they really had the ability to pay back,” said Boswell, who owns a cattle farm in southern Iowa. “It seems to me like when we sign our name on the line and promise to pay, that we have a responsibility if we have the ability to pay.”

At the same time, more help and counseling are needed to assist consumers from falling too deeply into debt, Boswell said. He said he worked very hard to not fall into bankruptcy when he faced financial problems with his own farm operation.

Although I can’t find a link right now, I recall Boswell justifying his vote to permanently repeal the estate tax (another Republican-backed effort opposed by most House Democrats) by saying we need to protect family farms. But as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows in its discussion of estate tax “myths”,

Despite oft-repeated claims that the estate tax has dire consequences for family farms and small businesses, there is in fact very little evidence that it has an outsize impact on these groups.  Indeed, the American Farm Bureau Federation acknowledged to the New York Times that it could not cite a single example of a farm having to be sold to pay estate taxes.

My guess is that anyone in the third district who is satisfied with current federal policy on farm subsidies and other agricultural issues will support Boswell in the June 3 primary.

But bringing up the expansion of CAFOs in Iowa, and connecting that with the law Boswell supported in 1995, could help Fallon with Democrats who are concerned with environmental problems associated with CAFOs. They include city and suburban dwellers as well as some rural residents who have seen the quality of life in their communities decline. Fallon has been an outspoken proponent of “local control” over the siting of CAFOs (currently Iowa law does not grant counties any zoning authority over agricultural operations).

You can read the full text of the Fallon campaign’s April 12 press release on agricultural issues after the jump.

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Local control and VOICE activists, swarm the Capitol tomorrow

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (ICCI) is holding its lobby day at the State Capitol on Tuesday, January 29.

The main issues on the agenda are local control over siting of confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and the Voter-Owned Iowa Clean Elections bill, which would create a voluntary public-financing option for state elections.

Here is the agenda for the day:

10:30-11:15 – Rally and Legislators addressing crowd

11:15-12:30 – Lunch and individual lobbying

12:30-1 – Head over to Wallace Building

1-1:30 – Meeting w/ DNR Director Rich Leopold

1:30-2:30 – Other meetings/events

2:230-3 – Meeting w/ Gov. Culver’s Chief Policy Adviser, Jim Larew

“People Matter More, Money Matters Less”

If you attend this event, please put up a diary afterwards to let us know how it went.

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Report from the Iowa Progressive Network/DFIA Conference

Yesterday, I attended the Progressive Iowa Network/DFIA conference in Iowa City. There were probably 50 people in attendence, mostly from Iowa City/Cedar Rapids and the Quad Cities. There are representives from the Obama, Richardson, Biden, and Kucinich campaigns.

State Senator Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) was introduced and as soon as he got to the podium Rep. Dave Loebsack came in and bumped Sen. Bolkcom. Bolkcom graciously gave up the podium and Loebsack promised this will be the only time this happens.

Loebsack thanked the people in attendance and said he knew a lot of the people here. Thanked Joyce Shulte, who ran against Steve King in 2006. Loebsack said…

I know some of you aren't happy with everything the Congress has been doing. If I was elected in a district where 60% of the people voted for Bush, it would be a lot harder to do what I have been doing. I don't have extraordinary political courage.

Loebsack will be speaking at the ceremony for departing troops in Ottumwa on Sunday. He said the war must come to an end and he is doing everything he can to end it. Bush is not treating properly. Democrats are trying to do that in House and Senate.       

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