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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