# Environment



Governor's plan would gut independence of Iowa Consumer Advocate

First in a series analyzing Governor Kim Reynolds’ plan to restructure state government.

Attorney General Brenna Bird would gain direct control over the office charged with representing Iowa consumers on issues related to utilities, under Governor Kim Reynolds’ proposed restructuring of state government.

House Study Bill 126, which lays out the governor’s plan over more than 1,500 pages, contains several provisions undermining the independence of the Office of Consumer Advocate. Iowa House State Government Committee chair Jane Bloomingdale introduced the legislation on February 1.

The Office of Consumer Advocate’s mission is to represent consumers on issues relating to gas and electric utilities and telecommunications services, “with the goal of maintaining safe, reliable, reasonably-priced, and nondiscriminatory utility services.” Much of the office’s work involves matters before the Iowa Utilities Board, which regulates the state’s investor-owned utilities, Alliant Energy and MidAmerican Energy.

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USDA makes federal farm subsidies less transparent

Anne Schechinger is Senior Analyst of Economics for the Environmental Working Group. This report, which she co-authored with the EWG’s Senior Vice President for Government Affairs Scott Faber, first appeared on the EWG’s website. 

The Environmental Working Group’s newly updated Farm Subsidy Database shows that federal farm subsidies between 1995 and 2021 totaled $478 billion. This huge amount of taxpayer money does almost nothing to help farmers reduce their greenhouse gas emissions or adapt to adverse weather conditions caused by the climate crisis.

Our database update also shows that farm subsidy funding still goes to the largest and wealthiest farms, which can weather the climate crisis best, and that payments are getting less transparent, obscuring who has received almost $3.1 billion in payments. 

The Department of Agriculture’s subsidy funding could be used in much more useful ways that would help farmers in mitigating their emissions and becoming more resilient to hazardous weather conditions. Instead, it’s still a handout for rich landowners, city dwellers and family members of farmers. Even the USDA is benefiting, with one of its divisions receiving almost $350 million in payments.

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Bruce Rastetter weighs in with Iowa lawmakers on school vouchers

One of Iowa’s largest Republican donors, whose company is seeking to build a carbon dioxide pipeline across Iowa, has urged state lawmakers to pass Governor Kim Reynolds’ “school choice” proposal.

Bruce Rastetter sent identical emails to numerous members of the Iowa House and Senate, from both parties, on January 19. The message (enclosed in full below) called the plan for state-funded accounts to cover private school costs “historic” and “important to families all across Iowa.”

Rastetter is the founder and CEO of Summit Agricultural Group. Its affiliate Summit Carbon Solutions is seeking to build a CO2 pipeline linking 30 ethanol plants in five states, and Rastetter has signed appeals to landowners in the pipeline’s path as Summit seeks voluntary easements. Summit has filed for but not yet received a permit from the Iowa Utilities Board. Its plan (along with other carbon pipeline proposals) has aroused intense opposition in rural Iowa.

Summit’s lobbyists have not registered a position on the school voucher bill, which Iowa House and Senate committees approved this week. Republican leaders are expected to bring it up for floor votes in both chambers next week.

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Iowa Democrats demand Arab, Climate caucuses be seated on governing body

Brian McLain chairs the Iowa Democratic Party’s Progressive Caucus.

In a letter finalized on January 14, several Democratic leaders called for a special meeting to challenge the refusal to seat the Iowa Democratic Party’s two newest constituency caucuses on the State Central Committee.

According to a letter from outgoing state party chair Ross Wilburn, the Iowa Democratic Party’s attorney and co-chairs of the Rules and Nominations Committee Co-Chairs “all reached the same conclusion”: there is no legal mechanism for the Arab-American Caucus and Climate Change & Environmental Caucus to elect representatives to the State Central Committee.

However, the State Convention of 2022, which is the party’s supreme governing body, officially recognized both new constituency caucuses last July. In the interest of transparency, these leaders have chosen to make this letter publicly available.

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Can Republicans and Democrats find common ground?

Linda Schreiber is a member of the League of Women Voters of Johnson County.

Rural policy is an area where Republicans and Democrats should be able to find common ground (no pun intended). The new Congress presents a real opportunity as work begins to pass a Farm Bill in 2023. This legislation is renewed roughly every five years to authorize rural development programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The current Farm Bill will expire on September 30, 2023.

Reauthorization allows policymakers the ability to review programs included in the legislation, consider changes, and address implementation barriers that may have come up since the previous Farm Bill passed.

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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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