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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Happy Windsor Heights zip code day!

July 1, 2009 is a big day: the 4,800 residents of Windsor Heights are no longer divided by three zip codes. It couldn’t have happened without Congressman Leonard Boswell’s legislative efforts last year, and that probably wouldn’t have happened without Ed Fallon’s primary challenge. (Note: WHO’s Dave Price attended last night’s event celebrating our new zip code.)

Don’t feel left out if you’re among the 3 million Iowans who aren’t enjoying the good life in our state’s only inner-ring suburb. You too may be affected by one of the many laws that take effect today.

The Iowa House Democrats posted a partial list of these laws on their site, and Jason Hancock provided additional information at Iowa Independent, such as the margin by which these bills passed during the 2009 session. Many won unanimous approval or overwhelming bipartisan majorities in one or both chambers.

Most of the new laws are steps in the right direction for Iowa: increased foreclosure protections; $30 million in historic tax credits; expanded health care for children, low-income pregnant women and adult children under 25; broader eligibility for wind energy tax credits; more job protection for volunteer emergency providers, electronic logbooks to track pseudoephedrine sales. A few of the highlights on the House Democrats’ list deserve additional comment.

New rules for sex offenders: I’m glad that legislators replaced pointless sex offender residency restrictions that did nothing to protect children from predators, according to prosecutors as well as advocates for exploited children.  Too bad nobody listened to State Representative Ed Fallon, who was the only legislator to vote against the 2002 law and got bashed for that vote during his primary challenge against Boswell (see also here). Speaking of campaigns, Chris Rants was one of only three state representatives to vote against the new sex offender law. Will he make this an issue in the gubernatorial race?

Manure application during winter: On principle I think it’s a bad idea for legislators to interfere with the rulemaking process at the Department of Natural Resources. However, amendments greatly improved this bill from the version that passed the Iowa Senate. In fact, the new law includes tougher restrictions on liquid manure application than the rules that the DNR would have eventually produced. It’s important to note that these restrictions only apply to manure from hogs. Cattle farmers face no new limits on what to do with solid manure during winter.

Consumer fraud protections: Iowans rightly no longer need permission from the Attorney General’s Office to sue some types of businesses for fraud. Unfortunately, this law contains an embarrassingly long list of exemptions.

Nursing home rules: It’s pure chutzpah for House Democrats to write, “Nursing homes will face higher fines for incidents resulting in death or severe injury.” More like, nursing homes will no longer be fined for the violations most likely to result in death or severe injury, but are subject to higher fines for offenses regulators never charge anyone with.

Let’s end this post on a positive note. The septic tank inspection law approved during the 2008 session also takes effect today. Over time these inspections will reduce water pollution produced by unsewered communities in Iowa. Credit goes to the legislators who approved this bill last year and to Governor Chet Culver. He wisely used his line-item veto to block State Senator Joe Seng’s attempt to sneak a one-year delay of the septic tank inspections into an appropriations bill.

This thread is for any thoughts about Iowa’s brand-new laws. Probably none of them will be as controversial as the public smoking ban that took effect on July 1, 2008.

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Good news for water quality in Culver's final bill signings

Governor Chet Culver signed more than two dozen bills on May 26, the last day he was able to take action on legislation approved during the 2009 session. Two of the bills made up the last piece of the I-JOBS program, four more are aimed at helping veterans and Iowans on active duty, and the rest cover a wide range of issues.

Some good news for water quality was buried in the long list of bills and veto messages signed on Tuesday. For the details, follow me after the jump.

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No time like today to contact your state legislators

The 2009 legislative session is ending soon, and if you haven’t contacted your state representative or senator yet, quit procrastinating. I don’t think legislators diligently read every e-mail when the session gets busy, so I recommend calling them.

Iowa Senate switchboard: 515-281-3371

Iowa House Switchboard: 515-281-3221

I encourage you to tell your state representative and state senator that you support the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision in Varnum v Brien and want them to respect that ruling.

Although I haven’t had time to finish writing a post here about the tax reforms being proposed this year, I support most of what’s in the package, including ending federal deductibility. Right-wing groups are urging Iowans to call their legislators about this issue, so if you support the Democratic tax reform plan, please say so. This article describes the proposed changes to Iowa’s tax code, which Democratic legislative leaders and Governor Culver have agreed on.

Please also mention to members of the Iowa House that you want them to reject SF 432 (here’s why) or remove the Liquid Manure division in SF 432.

If you are speaking with a state senator, especially a Republican senator, please also mention that you want Shearon Elderkin to be confirmed as a member of the Environmental Protection Commission. Culver appointed her to that body last year, and she has been a good vote for the environment.

I happen to know Shearon (pronounced like “Sharon”), because we used to serve on the same non-profit organization’s board of directors. She reads widely on public policy and asks tough questions. She also is a good listener and does not view issues through the prism of partisan politics. Even after serving with her for more than a year, some of our board members did not know whether she was a Republican, Democrat or independent. (For the record, she’s a moderate Republican.)

Feel free to mention any other pending bills or tips for contacting legislators in this thread.

UPDATE: Senator Jack Hatch, who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, says Gene Gessow’s confirmation as director of the Department of Human Services “is in trouble.” I posted Hatch’s speech calling for Gessow to be confirmed after the jump. If your state senator is a Republican, you may want to bring this up as well.

SECOND UPDATE: 1000 Friends of Iowa sent out an action alert regarding Elderkin’s nomination. I’ve posted that after the jump.

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