# Chuck Gipp

Exclusive: Bonuses push five Iowa agency heads above maximum pay

Governor Kim Reynolds has approved bonuses for at least five current state agency directors, allowing them to receive substantially more compensation than the top of the pay scale Iowa law sets for their positions.

The Iowa Department of Administrative Services disclosed information about four agency leaders now receiving such bonuses in response to Bleeding Heartland’s public records request. The Cedar Rapids Gazette’s Erin Jordan was first to report on Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Paul Trombino’s bonus, in an article published April 7.

This post discusses each official’s bonus pay in the order that they were awarded. The governor’s spokesperson Pat Garrett did not respond to an April 7 email seeking to clarify whether any other heads of state departments are receiving greater compensation than the statutory maximum for their positions.

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Throwback Thursday: When state lawmakers chose not to change "infamous crime" to "felony" in the Iowa Constitution

A 2008 amendment to the Iowa Constitution became a matter of debate in Griffin v Pate, the major voting rights case before the Iowa Supreme Court. The amendment changed Article II, Section 5, which as adopted in 1857 read, “No idiot, or insane person, or person convicted of any infamous crime, shall be entitled to the privilege of an elector.” The same section now reads, “A person adjudged mentally incompetent to vote or a person convicted of any infamous crime shall not be entitled to the privilege of an elector.”

Two of the seven Supreme Court justices have previously held that when approving the 2008 constitutional amendment, the legislature “ratified its own existing interpretation of that provision under which infamous crime meant a felony.” In its brief for the Iowa Supreme Court on behalf of defendants in Griffin, the Iowa Attorney General’s Office carried forward that claim: “By failing to alter the Infamous Crime Clause when other portions of Article II, section 5 were amended, the Legislature and the public ratified the definition of infamous crime as all felonies under state and federal law.” During the March 30 Supreme Court hearing on Griffin v. Pate, Solicitor General Jeffrey Thompson likewise argued “the simple answer here” is the 2008 constitutional amendment was “passed twice by the General Assembly, adopted by the people of Iowa, in the context of a legal system and historical cases and practices that said felonies are the line.”

My curiosity piqued, I decided to look into the legislative intent behind the 2008 constitutional amendment. What I found does not support the view that Iowa lawmakers envisioned “infamous crime” as synonymous with “felony” or intended to ratify such an interpretation when voting to remove offensive language from the state constitution.

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Iowa legislature not serious yet about preserving soil and clean water

The Iowa House and Senate wrapped up the 2014 session during “Soil and Water Conservation Week.” While certain environmental programs did well in the budget for fiscal year 2015, the legislature did not adequately address some of the biggest problems affecting Iowa’s soil and water.

The Iowa Environmental Council blog linked to several recent articles by “top experts on Iowa soil conservation,” who “expressed alarm about the state of our soil” and in particular the rapid rate of erosion. Along with other kinds of agricultural runoff, soil erosion contributes to toxic algae blooms in rivers and lakes, not only in Iowa and neighboring states but also across much of the U.S. Nutrient pollution is a major reason that more than half of the country’s rivers and streams are “in poor condition for aquatic life.”At the end of this post, I’ve enclosed an infographic explaining how toxic algae blooms form and how to prevent them.

Iowa lawmakers continue to throw money at the state’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy, without insisting on numeric criteria for nitrogen and phosphorous levels in water and without the goals, timelines and monitoring needed to assure Iowans that waterways are becoming cleaner. In fact, the fiscal year 2015 appropriation for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship removed wording requiring that money for watershed projects be used to reduce nutrients. Follow me after the jump for the disturbing details.

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Iowa DNR and EPA sign work plan on CAFO inspections (updated)

Some potentially good news for Iowa waterways: after months of delays, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finally signed a work plan on new procedures for permitting and inspecting large livestock farms.

Iowa’s confined animal feeding operations create more untreated manure annually than the total sewage output of the U.S. population. An EPA report published last summer concluded that the DNR’s CAFO permitting and inspection protocols did not conform to the Clean Water Act.

Federal and state officials negotiated a draft work plan to address these problems last fall, and the plan was ready to be signed in January of this year. However, the DNR requested changes to the plan based on feedback from the Iowa Farm Bureau, which tries to protect corporate agriculture from effective public oversight. Governor Terry Branstad tried to intervene with EPA officials to reduce inspections of factory farms. (Click here to read the correspondence.) To the dismay of some environmentalists, the governor also insisted that EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy meet with industry representatives to discuss the CAFO inspection regime.

Although the final work plan isn’t ideal and provides for fewer in-person inspections than the earlier draft, the agreement looks like a big improvement on the status quo at the DNR. After the jump I’ve posted statements on today’s news from the DNR and environmental organizations that have been involved with this process. I also posted the seven-page work plan for inspecting thousands of CAFOs over the next five years. For more background, check out the EPA Region 7’s website and the Sierra Club Iowa chapter’s documents on CAFOs.

It will take a lot of follow through to make sure the DNR implements this plan. The agency indicated last fall that it would need thirteen new livestock inspector positions to meet Clean Water Act goals. Then DNR Director Chuck Gipp formally asked for eleven new positions in the 2014 budget, but Governor Branstad requested funding for only five new inspectors. Iowa Senate Democrats approved funding for thirteen new inspectors, but Iowa House Republicans supported the governor, and final budget for fiscal year 2014 included funding for just seven new DNR positions in this area.

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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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Iowa Senate confirms Gipp, Lukan, and other Branstad appointees

Yesterday the Iowa Senate unanimously confirmed eleven of Governor Terry Branstad’s appointees. You can find the full list of confirmations in the Senate Journal (pdf). The department or agency heads confirmed were:

Chuck Gipp, who has been serving as director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources since last May, shortly after his predecessor resigned;

Steve Lukan, whom Branstad hired to run the governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy last June;

Nick Gerhart, who replaced Susan Voss as state insurance commissioner at the end of 2012;

Robert von Wolffradt, whom Branstad appointed as Iowa’s chief information officer last May.

Seven of the nominees senators confirmed yesterday will serve on state boards, councils, or commissions, including Joanne Stockdale, a former chair of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry who is one of Branstad’s appointees to the Environmental Protection Commission.

Iowa DNR director: Please help us stave off the EPA (updated)

Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Chuck Gipp is asking for $1.3 million in additional state funding to help his agency hire eleven new livestock facility inspectors for next year. Gipp has been affiliated with agricultural interest groups throughout his career. He just endorsed a strategy on keeping nutrients of out waterways that was “fiercely criticized” by Iowa DNR staffers with the most expertise on farm runoff.

Why would Gipp suddenly ask for more DNR inspectors? According to his own testimony, he’s trying to keep the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing Clean Water Act provisions against Iowa livestock farms.

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Lawmaker seeking longer public comment period on Iowa water quality policy

State Representative Chuck Isenhart has formally asked Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Chuck Gipp and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey to extend the public comment period on Iowa’s latest water quality policy. Shortly before Thanksgiving, officials revealed a draft strategy “to assess and reduce nutrients delivered to Iowa waterways and the Gulf of Mexico.” The 45-day public comment period falls mostly during the holiday season.

Isenhart, the ranking Democrat on the Iowa House Environmental Protection Committee, pointed out that a 30-day extension of the comment period would allow for feedback from the Watershed Planning Advisory Council and from relevant Iowa House and Senate committees. The legislature’s 2013 session will open on January 14, ten days after the current public comment period expires.

Isenhart also suggested that an extension would be fair to stakeholder groups and members of the public who didn’t have the “privilege” of reading the draft nutrient strategy before last week. Stakeholders whose leaders got a “head start” on reviewing the policy before the official roll-out include agricultural commodity groups, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, the Iowa League of Cities, the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, and the Iowa Waste Water Association.

The full text of Isenhart’s letter is below. Last month Gipp denied a request to extend public comments on a complex air quality permit linked to a large fertilizer plant construction project.

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New water quality policy stacked against public input, for Big Ag

Iowa officials formally unveiled a new strategy yesterday “to assess and reduce nutrients delivered to Iowa waterways and the Gulf of Mexico.” As the Des Moines Register’s Perry Beeman reported last week, the policy related to farm runoff was drafted without input from key Iowa Department of National Resources personnel. Instead, it closely resembles positions advocated by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

The best time to roll out a policy that goes against the public interest is when few people are paying attention. Citizens will have only 45 days to comment on the new Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Most of the comment period falls during the Thanksgiving to New Year’s holiday season. More details are below.

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

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

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

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

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Friend of big ag gets number two Iowa DNR job

Environmental advocates were relieved when the Iowa legislature adjourned without passing any bill to move Iowa’s water quality and monitoring programs from the Department of Natural Resources to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. However, Plan B to accomplish the same goal without legislative action took another step forward yesterday, when Chuck Gipp was named deputy director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Governor Terry Branstad’s administration advocated moving water programs to IDALS earlier this year, around the same time he stacked the Environmental Protection Commission with friends of agribusiness. Critics pointed out that the DNR had been praised for its efficient use of federal water quality funding. Moreover, it is illogical to move Clean Water Act compliance from a department that exists to “conserve and enhance our natural resources” to a department that exists “to encourage, promote, market, and advance the interests of agriculture.” Iowa House Republicans (assisted by some Democrats) approved a bill transferring some water programs to the agriculture department, but the proposal never cleared the Iowa Senate.

In May, Branstad’s DNR director Roger Lande announced major staff cuts, including three full-time and three contract positions solely focused on water monitoring. (Lande didn’t cut full-time employees from any DNR division besides the Geological and Water Survey Bureau.) At that time, DNR stream monitoring coordinator Mary Skopec warned, “This is definitely going to impact our ability to do data management and lake monitoring.” The cuts serve the interests of industrial agriculture, because collecting fewer samples from lakes and streams makes it less likely that any polluted waterway will be labeled “impaired.”

Gipp’s appointment looks like part of the same strategy to give agribusiness more control over how, when and where the DNR monitors Iowa waters. The deputy director handles a lot of day-to-day management for the large department. Gipp is a longtime dairy farmer and member of the Iowa Farm Bureau. He served in the Iowa House for 18 years, rising to the position of majority leader under Republican Speaker Chris Rants. He chose not to seek re-election in 2008, and Republican Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey named him to head the IDALS Division of Soil Conservation. The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported,

Gipp, a lifelong dairy farmer who is respected in both production agriculture and environmental circles, said he hopes to foster understanding and cooperation between the two often-opposed groups.

“Both are important to Iowans, and we need to bring both sides together and strike a sustainable balance,” Gipp, 63, of Decorah, said.

It’s news to me that Gipp is respected in environmental circles. I can’t recall any instance of him using his authority as Iowa House majority leader to promote environmental protection. By all accounts Gipp did an adequate job overseeing soil conservation programs used by some farmers, but relying solely on voluntary measures (the Iowa Farm Bureau-approved method) hasn’t solved our water quality problems.

I recognize that Iowa state government will balance the DNR’s needs with those of the agriculture department, but that’s not what appears to be happening here. Having failed to move water programs to IDALS, the Branstad administration is giving IDALS substantial influence over DNR internal policies and practices. In a July 26 press release, Lande praised Gipp as “someone who is not only very dedicated and knowledgeable about conservation of our natural resources but also a very talented individual in working with our stakeholders and Legislature.” I hope Gipp proves me wrong, but I’m not encouraged to see him hired less than a week after the DNR’s top environmental regulator was pushed out the door.

UPDATE: Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement highlighted Gipp’s legislative votes against any meaningful regulation of factory farm pollution. Details are after the jump.

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