New Iowa carbon task force looks like greenwashing

“If someone tasked you with making an exhaustive list of who could profit from carbon sequestration, this is what you would come up with,” tweeted Chris Jones, a research engineer at the University of Iowa who has written extensively about agriculture and water quality.

He was referring to the Carbon Sequestration Task Force, which Governor Kim Reynolds established through a June 22 executive order. In a written statement touting the initiative, Reynolds said Iowa “is in a strong position to capitalize on the growing nationwide demand for a more carbon free economy.” She will chair the task force, and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig will co-chair.

The task force looks like a textbook greenwashing effort: deploying concern about about “sustainability” and “low carbon solutions” as cover for policies that will direct public money to large corporations in the energy and agriculture sectors.

One tell: Reynolds did not involve any of Iowa’s leading environmental organizations, which have long worked to reduce carbon emissions.

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The 2007 votes that made 2019 a historic year for transgender Iowans

Only three months in, 2019 is already the most significant year for transgender equality in Iowa since 2007, when state lawmakers and Governor Chet Culver added sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes in the Iowa Civil Rights Act. That 1965 law hadn’t been significantly amended in decades.

The crucial Iowa House and Senate votes on the civil rights law happened during the first year since the 1960s that Democrats controlled both legislative chambers and the governor’s office. Support for LGBTQ equality is often taken for granted now in Democratic circles, but the issue was seen as more politically volatile twelve years ago. The bill amending the civil rights act came late in the 2007 legislative session and could not have passed without some Republican votes.

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What's going on at the Iowa Department of Revenue?

Governor Kim Reynolds appointed former Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen as director of the Iowa Department of Revenue on February 22, only six weeks after she had named Adam Humes to lead the agency. A late Friday afternoon news release did not explain the reason for the change, saying only that Humes “has decided to pursue other opportunities.”* Paulsen will start work this coming Monday. Leadership transitions at state agencies typically are weeks or months in the making.

Humes’ predecessor, Courtney Kay-Decker, also left under odd circumstances. Appointed by Governor Terry Branstad in 2011, she sounded excited to continue to lead the department after the 2018 election. But in early December, Kay-Decker announced her resignation, effective at the start of the new year.

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Only four senators voted to hold Geri Huser accountable

Disappointing but not surprising: the Iowa Senate on April 10 confirmed Geri Huser as chair of the Iowa Utilities Board by 44 votes to four. Senators delayed consideration of Huser’s nomination in late March, after Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press that she “has maintained a busy and profitable private legal practice” during her first two years as board chair.

Iowa Code 474.8 stipulates that each utilities board member “shall devote the member’s whole time to the duties of the office.” For decades, every other attorney appointed to that board halted his or her legal practice during the term of service. For some reason, Huser decided those standards need not apply to her. She has also given out conflicting information about her work for the Skinner Law Office. Although she has claimed not to receive any income from that firm, she appears to work out of their office, as Bleeding Heartland discussed near the end of this post.

Only four senators–Democrats Tony Bisignano, Kevin Kinney, Bob Dvorsky, and Herman Quirmbach–found Huser’s outside legal work concerning enough to oppose giving her two more years of greater administrative responsibility and higher pay as the board chair. Most Iowa Senate confirmations are unanimous, so four votes against Huser indicates unusually strong discomfort with her conduct.

On the other hand, the 44 senators who supported Huser on Monday sent a clear message to Iowans. If state law on devoting one’s “full time” to public service gets in the way of a earning a side income, sometimes during regular business hours, powerful and well-connected officials don’t need to follow that rule.

Huser’s ongoing legal practice isn’t her only unprecedented behavior as Iowa Utilities Board chair. Less than six months into her term, she withheld funding for energy centers affiliated with state universities. That inappropriate exercise of her authority was disruptive to the centers and possibly illegal. At the time, a former lawmaker who helped create the energy centers described Huser’s interference as “way out of line.”

Democratic State Senator Joe Bolkcom works at the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research at the University of Iowa, which got caught up in Huser’s power play, even though the Iowa Energy Center at Iowa State University was her primary target. I am seeking comment from Bolkcom on his vote to confirm Huser and will update this post as needed.

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