# Marshalltown

Libraries shouldn't look for reasons to exclude

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

It hasn’t been easy to be a librarian lately.

Sixty-plus years ago, back when the library card was a coveted sign of my status as a young reader, Miss Botts and Mrs. Sager were never viewed as conspirators of controversy in the corner of the free world where I grew up.

I never remember a time when their domain, Bloomfield’s library shelves, was a controversial place to be.

That was then. Now, too many people in Iowa have drawn targets on the backs of the librarians in Iowa’s schools and town libraries.

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New Report: Iowa's Power Sources Outdated, Under-regulated

For Immediate Release: November 24, 2009
Contact: Eric Nost, Environment Iowa | 515-243-5835; cell: 319-621-0075 | enost@environmentiowa.org

New Report: Iowa’s Power Sources Outdated, Under-regulated

Des Moines — Iowa is home to some of the nation's oldest and most polluting coal-fired power plants, according to a new analysis of government data released today by Environment Iowa.  Half a year after a proposal for a new coal plant in Marshalltown was canceled and over one year after a similar proposal for Waterloo was denied, a group of environmental groups are calling for tougher regulation on existing power plants. (Report available at http://www.environmentiowa.org)

“Building new coal plants in Marshalltown and Waterloo would have been disastrous. Now we need to make sure that we clean up those plants that we've already built,” said Environment Iowa state associate Eric Nost. “They are outdated and under-regulated. Old coal-fired clunkers ought to have to meet modern emissions standards.”

Nationally, the report shows that America's supply of electricity is dominated by old plants, and that the oldest and dirtiest facilities often go hand-in-hand. Power plants first built three decades ago or more produced 73 percent of the total global warming pollution from power plants in 2007. Older power plants on average emit more carbon dioxide per unit of energy than newer ones.

Though it supplies the majority of Iowa’s electricity, coal is the most polluting of all fuel sources.

The state's largest and most polluting coal plant – the Walter Scott Jr. Energy Center in Council Bluffs – released nearly ten million tons of carbon dioxide into atmosphere in 2007. Parts of the facility date back to 1954.

Coal-fired plants like the Walter Scott Jr. Energy Center currently do not have to meet any carbon dioxide pollution standard, meaning that they can function as an unchecked contributor to global warming. Such plants comprise the nation’s single largest source of global warming pollution.  

The growing impacts of global warming will pose serious threats to Iowa, particularly on the agricultural sector as rainfall declines and warmer temperatures evaporate moisture in the soil more quickly, leading to lower yields.  To avoid the worst effects of global warming, science shows that the U.S. must cut its global warming pollution by 35 percent by 2020.

“Although numerous studies have shown that Iowa’s important agricultural sector has a great deal to lose if nothing is done to stop climate change, groups opposed to taking steps to curb global warming emissions have used a strategy of focusing on energy cost increases for farmers, businesses, and residential consumers, and emphasizing potential job losses in energy-intensive industries,” said Neila Seaman, director of the Iowa Chapter of Sierra Club. “It is imperative that Iowa’s U.S. Senators use their power to ensure a strong Clean Air Act and pave the way for the regulation of carbon dioxide.”

The Senate is slated to consider legislation in the next few months to establish the first-ever federal limits on global warming pollution and bolster incentives for clean energy sources like wind power.In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed a rule to require coal plants and other large industries to use available technology to cut their global warming pollution when new facilities are constructed or existing facilities are significantly modified. 

“We urge Senators Harkin and Grassley to ensure that the Senate passes an energy bill that requires coal plants to meet modern standards for global warming pollution, making room for more clean energy projects, like wind and solar power. We need more jobs building wind farms, installing solar panels and weatherizing homes, not more pollution,” concluded Nost.
Environment Iowa is a citizen-funded advocacy organization working to protect the state's clean air, clean water, and open spaces.

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Why did Iowa Senate Republicans reject three Culver appointees?

The Republican caucus in the Iowa Senate is the smallest it’s ever been in this state’s history, but they let us know this week that they are not entirely irrelevant. On Tuesday all 18 Republican senators blocked Governor Chet Culver’s appointment of Shearon Elderkin to the Environmental Protection Commission. The 32 Senate Democrats supported Elderkin, but nominees need a two-thirds majority (34 votes) to be confirmed.

The following day, Senate Republicans unanimously blocked Gene Gessow’s appointment as head of the Department of Human Services. Also on April 15, two Senate Democrats joined with the whole Republican caucus to reject a second term for Carrie La Seur on the Iowa Power Fund board.

Senate Republican leader Paul McKinley released statements explaining each of these votes, but I doubt those statements tell the whole story, and I’ll tell you why after the jump.

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The Marshalltown coal plant is dead

Here’s some good news for the environment and public health:  

Interstate Power and Light on Thursday canceled plans for a $1.8 billion coal-fired power plant in Marshalltown, citing the economy and uncertainty over state regulations. […]  

“At the end of the day it’s economic condition, uncertainly regarding future regulatory and legislative treatment of environmental issues, meaning greenhouses gases,” said spokesman Ryan Steensland.

Other factors were terms placed on the power plant by the Iowa Utilities Board, including a 10.1 return on equity for investors. “It would have made it very challenging to attract the capital necessary to build these types of investments. The cost and the return laid out by the board just did not wet the appetite of the investment community to move forward with this project,” Steensland said.


Economic concerns prompted a different company to pull the plug on a proposed coal-fired power plant near Waterloo earlier this year.

Thanks to all the environmental and public-health advocates who have worked so hard for years to defeat both coal plants, including the Sierra Club, Plains Justice, the Iowa Environmental Council, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Community Energy Solutions, the Iowa Renewable Energy Association and Iowa Interfaith Power and Light.  

I am still annoyed that the Iowa Utilities Board approved an application to build the Marshalltown plant last spring, but at least the IUB’s recent ratemaking decision helped doom the project.

Please disregard my action alert regarding public comments on the DNR’s draft air quality permit for the Marshalltown plant.

UPDATE: At Century of the Common Iowan, noneed4thneed points out that the coal plant would have created 85 permanent jobs as well as providing a lot of temporary jobs during its construction. I sympathize with people who are upset about losing those jobs. However, I do not support making a 50-year investment in the wrong direction on energy production, which would also result in more respiratory illness, mercury pollution and higher utility bills for thousands of Iowans, all for the sake of some jobs in the Marshalltown area.  

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Speak out for water quality and air quality in Iowa

Today is the last day to submit public comments to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources concerning draft water quality rules (“Antidegradation rules”).

Background information and talking points can be found on the websites of Sierra Club Iowa or the Iowa Environmental Council. Submit your comments to Adam Schnieders, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Wallace State Office Building, 502 East 9th Street, Des Moines, Iowa 50319-0034, fax (515) 281-8895 or by E-mail to adam.schnieders@dnr.iowa.gov. Contact Adam Schnieders at (515) 281-7409 with questions.

While you’re on the Sierra Club Iowa page, look on the left-hand side for talking points about the draft air quality permit for the proposed coal-fired power plant near Marshalltown. As I wrote in this post, there are some big problems with the permit, and it’s important for as many Iowans to weigh in as possible with public comments. The DNR recently extended the comment period for that air quality permit until May 18, but it’s not too early to send in your letter.

Last week Blog for Iowa published an excellent letter on the draft permit by Paul Deaton, who chairs the Johnson County Board of Health. Read his letter as well as the Sierra Club talking points for some ideas, but remember to use your own words when writing to the DNR.

DNR extends comment period for Marshalltown coal plant air permit

Earlier this month, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources issued a draft air quality permit for the proposed coal-fired power plant near Marshalltown. There are big problems with the draft permit. For one thing, it does not regulate carbon-dioxide emissions, even though coal-fired power plants are a major source of greenhouse gases.

In addition, the draft permit does not regulate fine particulate matter (also known as particulate matter 2.5), which causes and exacerbates many respiratory illnesses. Fine particulate matter isn’t just a nuisance–it causes many premature deaths. You would think that an air quality permit would address an air pollution issue with major implications for human health.

The good news is that on Friday the DNR extended the public comment period for this air quality permit, thanks to numerous comments encouraged by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups. Mike Carberry of Green State Solutions forwarded the DNR’s press release to me:

Due to extensive interest, the public comment period for the draft air quality construction permits for the coal-fired power plant proposed by Interstate Power and Light for its Marshalltown facility-Sutherland Generating Station-has been extended to May 18. Public hearings will also be held in five additional cities.

Currently scheduled are four public hearings (two each at two locations):

March 16, 2:30 p.m. – 5 p.m., Iowa Veterans’ Home, Whitehill Chapel, 1501 Summit Street Marshalltown

March 16, 6:30 p.m. – 9 p.m., Iowa Veterans’ Home, Marshalltown

March 17, 3 p.m. – 5 p.m., Meskwaki Tribal Center, 346 Meskwaki Road, Tama

March 17, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m., Meskwaki Tribal Center, Tama

Due to the many comments received from particular areas of the state, additional public hearings have been scheduled in Council Bluffs, Davenport, Des Moines, Iowa City and the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area. Specific times and sites have not been determined at this point, but the hearings will likely be held in early May. As soon as that information is available it will be released to the public.

The public hearings are for the purpose of accepting comments only. Comments at the public hearings will be limited to five minutes. Presentations shall include a hard copy for inclusion into public record.

Comments may also be submitted in writing before 4:30 p.m., May 18, to Chris Roling, Air Quality Bureau, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 7900 Hickman Road Ste 1, Urbandale, IA 50322 or emailed to chris.roling@dnr.iowa.gov.

All documents for this project are available on the DNR Air Quality Bureau’s Web site at http://aq48.dnraq.state.ia.us:…

# # #

Please submit your comments on this draft air quality permit. Making this permit stronger in any way would reduce the adverse impact of this coal plant and might prompt the utility to abandon the project.

You can download a pdf file with talking points for your comments on the Iowa page of the Sierra Club’s website.

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Alliant may walk away from the Marshalltown coal plant

On Wednesday the Iowa Utilities Board delivered a long-awaited ruling on “ratemaking principles” for the coal-fired power plant that Interstate Power and Light (a subsidiary of Alliant Energy) wants to build near Marshalltown. The ratemaking principles determine how much of a return the investor-owned utility can make on its investment. A higher return for the utility means the company can pass more of the cost of building a new plant onto customers.

The Iowa Utilities Board’s decision was well below what Alliant requested and not far above what the Iowa Consumer Advocate’s Office was seeking. The Cedar Rapids Gazette quoted an energy industry analyst:

“We expect LNT (Alliant Energy) will not accept the ratemaking principles as approved by the Iowa Utilities Board, instead allowing the proposal to die,” said David Parker of Robert W. Baird in Milwaukee. He said Alliant will probably look instead to building more wind and natural-gas electric turbines.

At Century of the Common Iowan, noneed4thneed links to an article from the Marshalltown Times-Republican that similarly suggested the future of the project is in doubt.

Alliant’s official statement left options open but made clear that the company was not happy with the ratemaking ruling. Excerpt:

In its decision, the IUB established a return on equity of 10.1 percent and a cost cap of $2816.00 per kilowatt, excluding AFUDC. IPL had requested a return on equity of 12.55 percent and a cost cap of $3483.00 per kilowatt, excluding AFUDC. IPL has proposed to own 350 megawatts of the facility’s output, with the remaining output owned by other partners or included in purchased power agreements.

“We will need to review the IUB’s written order to determine our next steps,” states Tom Aller, president-IPL. “However, the conditions placed by the IUB on the proposed hybrid power plant present a number of challenges in today’s financial climate, and we are disappointed that this decision seemingly does not take that reality into account. We will continue to work with our partners to determine how today’s decision will impact our respective companies’ long-term generation plans. IPL remains committed to pursuing safe, reliable, environmentally responsible and cost effective energy supply options to meet Iowa’s future energy needs.”

I would not be surprised if Alliant follows the lead of LS Power, which opted last month not to pursue a proposed coal-fired power plant near Waterloo. Alliant’s subsidiary in Wisconsin may ask state regulators to allow an emergency rate hike because the economic slump has reduced demand for electricity:

Utility executives said the increase would be needed to offset a dramatic decline in power sales because of the recession.

With the closing of the Janesville General Motors plant and other factory cutbacks, the utility is forecasting power sales to drop 6% this year.

“It is understandable that our customers find it frustrating that the economic hardships many of them are experiencing could in turn compel us to increase their electric bills,” said Patricia Kampling, the utility’s chief financial officer, during a conference call Thursday.

Think about that for a minute. All along Alliant and their boosters in Marshalltown have been telling us that a new coal-fired power plant is needed to meet increased electricity needs. But future demand is almost surely going to be below what they have projected.

We could reduce our baseload needs further with an aggressive energy efficiency policy.

While several analysts interpreted Wednesday’s ratemaking ruling as bad news for Alliant, it’s worth noting that Plains Justice had a different take:

“The Iowa Utilities Board has missed an important opportunity to protect our state’s economy and shield  Iowa consumers from a significant electricity rate increase,” said Carrie La Seur, President of Plains Justice.

“New coal power plant proposals are being canceled across the country because they cost too much and pose too many financial risks. The IUB has really let Iowans down by opting for an expensive, polluting coal plant instead of the available cheaper alternative of aggressive energy efficiency programs,” she added.

I put the full text of the Plains Justice release after the jump.

On a related note, Plains Justice passed along this news via e-mail a few days ago:

Last week, the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) denied a petition to re-open the generating certificate proceedings for the proposed Marshalltown coal plant. The generating certificate grants permission for the power plant to be built.

A petition for re-hearing had been filed by the Iowa Office of Consumer Advocate and joined by Plains Justice on behalf of Community Energy Solutions, Iowa Environmental Council, Iowa Farmers Union, Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Iowa Renewable Energy Association (the Coalition). Now that the petition has been denied, the IUB’s decision to grant the generating certificate can be appealed in state court although it is not yet known whether anyone will appeal.

A lawsuit would only add to the delay and expense of building this power plant.

Meanwhile, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources is expected to issue a draft air permit for the Marshalltown plant very soon. Opponents of this 50-year investment in the wrong direction on energy will want to make their voices heard during the public comment period on that permit. Coal-fired power plants are a major source of fine-particulate matter pollution, which is linked to various respiratory illnesses.

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Norris to leave Iowa Utilities Board, work for Vilsack again

John Norris will become Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s chief of staff at the US Department of Agriculture, Iowa Independent reported today. Norris was Vilsack’s chief of staff early in his first term as governor.

In November, Norris’s wife, Jackie Norris, accepted an offer to become chief of staff for First Lady Michelle Obama.

Before Barack Obama announced his plan to nominate Vilsack to run the USDA, John Norris indicated that he was interested in being appointed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Norris’s departure means that Governor Chet Culver will need to make two appointments to the three-member Iowa Utilities Board this spring. Norris currently chairs the IUB. Someone will need to fill the remainder of his term, which expires in April 2011.

IUB member Krista Tanner has been serving out the remainder of a term that expires in April 2009. I do not know whether she will ask to be reappointed to a full six-year term on that body.

Last year Tanner and Norris cast the deciding votes to approve an application to build a new coal-fired power plant near Marshalltown. However, the IUB has yet to issue a ruling on ratemaking principles for that plant. Reuters reported last March,

Ratemaking principles define how construction costs will be recovered in utility rates throughout the life of the generating facility. [Interstate Power and Light] is requesting a 12.55 percent return on common equity as part of the filing.

Several environmental organizations have intervened with the IUB regarding the ratemaking for this proposed plant. The board’s decision could affect whether Interstate Power and Light proceeds with this project or abandons it as unprofitable. LS Power recently announced that it no longer plans to build a coal-fired power plant near Waterloo.

If you know any qualified candidates who are interested in serving on the Iowa Utilities Board, encourage them to submit their resumes and supporting materials to the governor’s office as soon as possible.  

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Action: Demand more public input on coal plant in Marshalltown

This e-mail came from the Sierra Club Iowa Chapter today:

Take Action for Clean Energy

The draft air permit for Alliant Energy’s massive proposed coal-fired plant in Marshalltown could be released any day now. It is critical that all Iowans have a chance to participate in the permitting process and express concerns about public health and the threat to Iowa’s energy future posed by dirty fuels of the past like coal.

Tell Governor Culver and Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Richard Leopold that more public hearings should be held, and the comment period should be extended to 90 days.

Click here to take action:  http://action.sierraclub.org/e…

Alliant’s proposed 642 megawatt coal plant would emit tons of harmful soot and smog forming pollution linked to serious respiratory and heart problems.  It would also spew roughly 6,000,000 tons per year of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  This is a statewide debate about the air we breathe and the energy choices we make-all concerned Iowans should have the opportunity to make their voices heard.

We need clean energy solutions in Iowa that will create jobs and foster the growth of our economy, not pollute our air for decades.

Please take action now and help us demand a cleaner energy future!

In hope and enthusiasm,

Neila Seaman


Sierra Club, Iowa Chapter

3839 Merle Hay Road, Suite 280

Des Moines, IA 50310




Clicking the above links will take you to a page where you can send a message to Governor Culver and DNR director Leopold. You can use the message the Sierra Club has drafted, or personalize your message as desired.

Click here to read a Sierra Club fact sheet on how burning coal adversely affects the environment and public health. Those facts and figures may be useful for your message to Culver and Leopold.

Extending the public comment period on an air quality permit may seem like no big deal, but the longer that this process takes, and the more Iowans who weigh in, the better the chance that Alliant will walk away from this project. Earlier this week LS Power announced that it would no longer try to build a coal-fired power plant near Waterloo, citing market conditions and lower future projected electricity demand.

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Yes, the Waterloo coal plant is dead

On Saturday I asked whether the proposed coal-fired power plant near Waterloo was dead now that Dynegy has pulled out of a joint venture with LS Power and Associates.

I am pleased to bring you the answer to the question:



WATERLOO, IOWA (January 6, 2009) – LS Power affiliate, Elk Run Energy Associates, LLC, announced today that it will forego further development of the Elk Run Energy Station in Waterloo, Iowa.

Given the slowing load growth in the region due to the current downturn in the U.S. economy, and the fact that LS Power has more advanced projects under development in the region that could serve the same need, the Company will redirect its development efforts to other projects.

“Elk Run Energy has been a proud member of the Greater Cedar Valley community, and appreciates the unwavering support of so many individuals and organizations throughout the development process,” said Mark Milburn, Assistant Vice President of LS Power.

LS Power continues to develop a portfolio of coal, natural gas, wind and solar generation facilities and transmission projects with ongoing development activities in Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, Texas, Virginia and other locations.

Did you catch that bit about “slowing load growth” in the region? That means that future electricity usage is projected to be lower than previously thought, because of the current recession. People are tightening their belts, and conserving energy is a good way to save money. We could do even more on this front with aggressive state or federal policies on energy efficiency.

Thanks again to all the environmental and community advocates who helped doom the Elk Run project. One coal-fired power plant down, one to go.

Will Alliant and its subsidiary IPL keep trying to build a new coal plant near Marshalltown? I don’t know, but it’s worth noting that Dynegy’s stock went up 19 percent the day they withdrew from the joint venture on developing new coal plants. Alliant’s stock price could use a shot in the arm right now.

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Is the Waterloo coal plant dead?

The Houston Chronicle reported on January 2:

Stingy credit markets and high regulatory hurdles have spurred Houston-based Dynegy to step back from new coal-fired power plant projects by ending a joint venture with LS Power Associates.

Dynegy will keep the right to expand its 27 existing coal, natural gas and oil-fired plants in 13 states, and it retains stakes in a pair of Texas and Arkansas coal projects.

But Dynegy will pay New York-based LS Power $19 million as part of the split and let it take full ownership of new projects under consideration in Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan and Nevada.

Shares of Dynegy closed up 38 cents, or 19 percent, to $2.38 on Friday.

Dynegy Chairman and CEO Bruce Williamson said the power plant development landscape has changed since the company entered into the joint venture with LS in the fall of 2006. Funding new projects is much more difficult given the worldwide credit crunch and the possibility of new climate change legislation under the Obama administration.

“In light of these market circumstances, Dynegy has elected to focus development activities and investments around our own portfolio where we control the option to develop and can manage the costs being incurred more closely,” Williamson said in a statement.

Here is the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier’s take on the story:

The future of a proposed coal-fired power plant near Waterloo became a little cloudier Friday when Texas-based Dynegy Inc. announced that it and New Jersey-based LS Power Associates were dissolving their joint venture to develop that plant and others in several states.

The move transfers to LS Power full ownership and developmental rights associated with various “greenfield” projects in several states, including the 750-megawatt Elk Run Energy Station proposed for construction northeast of Waterloo.


Separation from Dynegy puts the Elk Run plans in doubt, said Don Shatzer, a member of Community Energy Solutions, which opposes the Elk Run Energy project.

“LS Power has no experience developing/operating coal plants and so is unlikely to proceed (without) a new partner,” Shatzer said in an e-mail note.

Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club’s National Coal Campaign, shares Shatzer’s opinion, according to The Houston Chronicle.

This sounds quite promising, although neither the Houston Chronicle nor the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier were able to get a comment from LS Power on whether it will continue to pursue this project.

Incidentally, the Waterloo plant is not needed to meet Iowa’s energy demand; most of the electricity the plant would have generated would have gone out of state.

Many thanks to all those who have worked hard to prevent this plant from being built, notably the Waterloo-based grassroots organization Community Energy Solutions, the Sierra Club Iowa chapter, Plains Justice of Cedar Rapids, and the Iowa Environmental Council (with which I am involved).

Well-organized activists helped prevented LS Power from annexing some farmland for the coal-fired plant.

In March 2008, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources denied a construction permit for the project. Apparently the county zoning for that land was not in order, so the DNR concluded that LS Power “hadn’t met our requirement to have the full ability to put the power plant on that property.”

These small victories were not themselves enough to kill the project. However, the setbacks delayed the process until “external credit and regulatory factors that make development much more uncertain” prompted Dynegy to walk away.

Lesson for environmental activists: it is worth exercising every legal option to put up obstacles to a bad project.

Lesson for Alliant, which wants to build a new coal-fired power plant near Marshalltown: Dynegy’s stock shot up 19 percent in one day after they pulled out of the joint venture with LS Power. The market favors abandoning new coal projects. Dropping your plans to build a power plant near Marshalltown would not only be good for public health and the environment, it could boost your stock price.

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Yet another reason to oppose new coal-fired power plants in Iowa

I thought I was well-informed about the environmental hazards of coal-fired power plants until I read about

a massive flood of toxic coal sludge from a dam that burst at a local coal company’s processing plant in Tennessee yesterday.

The spill covered as many as 400 acres of land with toxic ash as high as six feet deep.

Click the link to see footage of the disaster, and think about sludge containing mercury, arsenic and lead covering hundreds of acres of land and seeping into the water supply.

Matt Stoller called  it an “environmental 9/11 in Tennessee” and noted that waters in eastern Kentucky where a similar spill occurred in October 2000 are still unable to support aquatic life. Years later, people in the area do not drink the tap water.

We do not need to build any new coal-fired power plants. On the contrary, we should aggressively promote clean, renewable energy production and conservation measures to reduce future demand for electricity.

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DNR should strictly limit pollutants from proposed coal plant

Ever since the Iowa Utilities Board voted 2-1 to approve Alliant’s application to build a new coal-fired power plant outside Marshalltown, environmentalists have been hoping the Iowa Department of Natural Resources would be strict when issuing a draft air permit for the plant.

Coal-fired power plants are not only a major source of carbon-dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming, they are also one of the leading sources of fine particulate matter linked to asthma and other respiratory problems.

Neila Seaman, director of the Sierra Club’s Iowa Chapter, wrote an op-ed column published in the Des Moines Register on Monday, and she doesn’t sound optimistic about the DNR’s likely action in this case:

To regulate greenhouse gases and particulate matter 2.5, the DNR should require Alliant to perform a “best available control technology” analysis, known as a BACT analysis. The analysis considers all control technologies available on the market, evaluates what would control the pollutants for this type of facility and takes into account the technology already installed to control the pollutant. With that information, the best technology installed is used to set limits. The limits that are set in the permit would result in the best control of that pollutant. Without this analysis, the permits will not control the pollution from particulate matter 2.5 and greenhouse gases at all.

In other words, without the best-available-control-technology analysis, there will be no regulation of the pollutant in the air permit. With no regulation in the air permit, Alliant will be able to spew unlimited amounts of greenhouse gases and particulate matter 2.5 into the atmosphere.

Currently, the DNR appears to be unwilling to require a best-available-control-technology analysis, asserting rules specifically regulating these pollutants are not in place. The Iowa Chapter of Sierra Club respectfully disagrees. The DNR also maintains that particulate matter 10 – a larger soot particle – is being regulated and, therefore, there is no need to regulate particulate matter 2.5. Although the DNR does control limits on particulate matter 10, particulate matter 2.5 is much smaller in size and a more serious health hazard, but will not necessarily be controlled by the particulate matter 10 limits.

Federal regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency, recent court decisions, and even DNR’s own regulations require regulation of particulate matter 2.5 and greenhouse gases. And yet, it appears the DNR is not going to require a best-available-control-technology analysis for particulate matter 2.5 and for greenhouse gases.

I don’t understand why the DNR would decide against regulating the fine particulate matter produced by this plant, given the proven impact of emissions from coal facilities on public health.

Let’s hope Seaman’s pessimism turns out to be unfounded.

Speaking of the coal plant, I contacted the Iowa Utilities Board to find out whether its chairman, John Norris, plans to serve out his term, which expires in 2011. (His wife Jackie Norris recently accepted an offer to become First Lady Michelle Obama’s chief of staff.) Staff at the Iowa Utilities Board told me Norris has not announced a decision. I will write a separate post for this blog once I hear whether he plans to stay or go.

UPDATE: Thanks to Bleeding Heartland user RF for pointing me to this Des Moines Register article:

Iowa Utilities Board Chairman John Norris, whose wife has been named chief of staff to incoming first lady Michelle Obama, said Monday he is interested in an appointment to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Norris, a veteran Democratic campaign operative, said he would consider serving on the commission or as chairman of the agency with jurisdiction over electricity sales, wholesale electric rates and other energy sales regulation. […]

“It would be fair to say I’m interested in either FERC chairmanship or a commissioner spot,” Norris said. “There are other things I’m interested in and the transition team is rightly focused on filling Cabinet posts and putting together an administration. I’m respecting their timetable and would consider whatever position in the administration where I can be most helpful.”

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Cost of Postville raid: $5.2 million and rising

Congressman Bruce Braley has been trying for months to find out how much the May 12 immigration raid in Postville cost the government. Today his office released this statement:

Braley Gets Answers from ICE on Cost of Postville Raid, Receives Full Accounting of Initial Costs

Washington,  DC -In response to his formal request, Rep. Bruce Braley (D, Iowa) received a full accounting of the initial costs incurred by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) during the May 12, 2008 raid at the Agriprocessors Plant in Postville, Iowa.  Braley has sent repeated letters to ICE requesting a full accounting of the costs to taxpayers associated with the raid at the Agriprocessors plant in  Postville , Iowa .

“It’s important that my constituents in  Iowa and all  U.S. taxpayers know how their tax dollars are being spent,” Braley said.  “I’m glad that ICE has begun to share information with taxpayers, so they can see for themselves how their tax dollars are being used to enforce our immigration laws.  I’ll continue pushing to ensure that taxpayers know how every dollar is being spent.”

The costs associated with ICE’s initial enforcement action are below.  The official document from ICE is attached to this message.

I’m not able to get that chart properly formatted, but here’s how the costs of “Operation Cedar Valley Junction” break down.

The Office of Investigation costs (which relate to the initial enforcement action) are $2,803,265. Line items:

$1,578,004 for Temporary Duty Assignment Cost for 750 ICE Office of Investigations Personnel

$60,117 for Transportation of Equipment, etc.

$268,483 for Lease of Cattle Congress Facility and Modspace Trailers

$744,747 for Leased Services (Security Work Authorization with Federal Protective Service, electrician)

$65,389 for Supplies (electrical, office, operational, ID, custody)

$74,481 for Misc. Equipment (computer switch)

$12,044 Document Exploitation (DocEx), Under Cover

The Office of Detention and Removal Costs so far have been $2,441,642. Line items:

$495,697 for Temporary Duty Assignment Cost for 281 ICE Detention and Removal Personnel

$1,905,750 for Leased Services, KBR (formerly Kellogg Brown & Root), shower trailers, latrines, detainment at Cattle Congress, processing, physical security, detainee meals

$40,195 for Supplies (cuffs / custody, property)

The official document from Immigration and Customs Enforcement concludes:

These are the known Office of Investigations costs as of October 1, 2008.  This investigation is still ongoing and incurring additional expenses.

These are the known Office of Detention and Removal costs as of October 6, 2008.  This investigation is still ongoing and incurring additional expenses.

The Des Moines Register noted that the $5.2 million figure does not include costs incurred to the U.S. Department of Labor or the U.S. attorney’s office in Cedar Rapids. The Register report included this as well:

Scott Frotman, a spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers, a union that has attempted to organize Agriprocessors’ workers, was critical of the Postville raid. He said it covers up the fact that the Bush administration has done nothing to fix what he called a broken immigration system.

“The Agriprocessors’ raid cost taxpayers millions of dollars, it raised serious due process issues, and it may have compromised federal investigations into labor abuses by the company’s management,” Frotman said.

U.S. Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican, disagreed. He said immigration laws must be enforced, regardless of the expense to taxpayers.

“If we start saying, ‘Well, it costs too much money to enforce the law,’ then we will see more and more of these radical, pro-illegal immigration activists drive more wedges between us and make it harder to enforce the law,” King said.

I see no evidence that large-scale raids such as that in Postville or earlier at the Swift plant in Marshalltown do anything to reduce illegal immigration. But I’m not surprised that King is for heavy-handed actions that punish immigrants without changing much about corporate hiring practices.

Meanwhile, Lynda Waddington just wrote this piece for Iowa Independent about how the raid adversely affected life in Postville.

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Make utilities do more to save energy

Alliant Energy, which has an Iowa branch called Interstate Power and Light, wants to build a coal-fired power plant in Marshalltown. The utility claims the new plant will be needed to meet energy demand.

However, expert testimony submitted to the Iowa Utilities Board suggests that Alliant/Interstate Power and Light could be doing much more to promote energy efficiency, which is more cost-effective than building new power plants.

Last Friday,

the Iowa Environmental Council, the Sierra Club and the Environmental Law and Policy Center submitted testimony to the Iowa Utilities Board, by expert witness, Geoff Crandall of MSB Energy Associates, detailing ways to improve the Alliant Energy Efficiency plan.

The details are in the full text of the press release from the Iowa Environmental Council, which I have posted after the jump.

The big problem, according to Nathaniel Baer, energy program director for the Iowa Environmental Council, is this: “Alliant significantly underutilizes energy efficiency measures, as the plan proposes to achieve less than half of the cost-effective potential they, themselves identified as available.”

At this blog I’ve focused on environmental and health reasons not to build more coal-fired power plants, but Baer points out that consumers will also pay more for electricity from new sources of generation. Energy-saving measures are more economical.

The expert testimony submitted by the Iowa Environmental Council, the Sierra Club and the Environmental Law and Policy Center complements expert testimony filed with the Iowa Utilities Board the same day by Plains Justice on behalf of several grassroots groups. That testimony concluded that “IPL has exaggerated costs and underestimated potential for its efficiency programs.”

I am grateful to all of the non-profit groups that are making this case to the Iowa Utilities Board.

At the same time, I wish the Iowa Utilities Board had rejected the application to build the Marshalltown plant. If that had happened, these worthy non-profits could be spending their staff time and resources on other environmental and health problems facing Iowans.

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One more time: we don't need new coal-fired plants

This came in from Plains Justice yesterday:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – August 29, 2008      


Carrie La Seur, Plains Justice (Cedar Rapids), 319-560-4729, claseur AT plainsjustice.org

Chris James, Synapse Energy Economics (Cambridge, MA), 617-861-7484, cjames AT synapse-energy.com


DES MOINES – Today Plains Justice, a Cedar Rapids-based environmental justice law center, filed expert testimony in Interstate Power and Light’s energy efficiency planning docket before the Iowa Utilities Board, on behalf of a coalition of Iowa grassroots groups.  The testimony by Synapse Energy Economics concludes that IPL has exaggerated costs and underestimated potential for its efficiency programs.

Expert witness Christopher James, a former air regulator who helped develop EPA’s National Action Plan for Energy Efficiency, testifies that “IPL overestimates the costs of energy efficiency, and underestimates the amount of energy efficiency that can be achieved by 2013.”  IPL has told the IUB that energy savings of 1.5% annually, the level requested by IUB, would be difficult to achieve.  James concludes that this scenario is “very achievable” and should be pursued.

IPL’s energy efficiency planning is the subject of heightened interest because IPL claims that it cannot avoid the need for its proposed 649 MW Marshalltown plant through improved efficiency programming.  According to today’s intervenor testimony, IPL’s flawed approach to efficiency has led to the conclusion that a new coal plant is needed.  James testifies that IPL could achieve even more than 1.5% annual energy savings by including opportunities IPL has ignored, including combined heat and power at industrial sites like ethanol refineries.

The testimony states that “IPL has ignored some of the benefits of energy efficiency to Iowa’s consumers and businesses. These benefits include: deferring the need to construct new or upgrade existing generation, deferring the need to construct new or upgrade existing transmission lines and distribution system, reducing ratepayer bills, reducing emissions of criteria air pollutants (such as those which contribute to acid rain, smog and haze) and greenhouse gas emissions, and reducing public health costs (from reduced number of asthma cases, visits to emergency rooms, lost productivity at work, etc.).” James recommends that IUB require a revised and more ambitious plan from IPL.

Plains Justice argues that IUB must ensure that IPL has optimized efficiency programming before allowing a new coal plant to be built at a cost of up to $2 billion.  “Approving a coal plant before we’ve completed an aggressive efficiency planning process is putting the cart before the horse, at ratepayer expense,” says Plains Justice President and Founder Carrie La Seur.

Intervenors represented by Plains Justice in this docket are Community Energy Solutions, Iowa Farmers Union and Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility.  The intervenors are advocates for clean, community-based energy solutions that minimize the health and environmental impacts of energy production and support local and rural economies.  This intervention is one of a series brought by Plains Justice to promote better energy policy for Iowa on behalf of grassroots Iowa organizations.

The only low point of Barack Obama’s acceptance speech on Thursday was this:

As president, as president, I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power.

There is no such thing as “clean coal.” Every new coal-fired power plant is a 50-year investment in the wrong direction. It is unfortunate that our Democratic leaders lack the political courage to embrace an energy policy committed to meeting our needs without expanding our use of coal and nuclear power.

Al Gore laid out how this can be done in a major speech last month. Click the link to find an annotated version of the full transcript.

We can do much more with conservation and energy efficiency measures than the major utility companies acknowledge.

Thanks to Plains Justice and the other non-profit groups that are continuing to push the Iowa Utilities Board in the right direction.

If only the IUB had done the right thing back in April, these worthy non-profits could be spending their staff time and resources on other environmental and health problems facing Iowans.

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Sierra Club and Steelworkers jointly endorse Obama

The leaders of the Sierra Club and United Steelworkers appeared in Cleveland on Friday with Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown to endorse Barack Obama for president.

The joint endorsement and accompanying press release emphasized Obama’s support for “a clean energy economy,” which would create jobs while protecting the environment.

It’s a welcome contrast to John McCain’s energy policy, which calls for investing $2 billion in so-called “clean coal” and constructing 45 new nuclear reactors by 2030.

The Sierra Club and United Steelworkers created the Blue Green Alliance in June 2006. The alliance has sought to draw attention to “economic opportunities that could come from a serious investment in renewable energy.”

This work is very important for the progressive movement. Too often the labor and environmental communities have found themselves on opposite sides of controversial issues. We saw that in Iowa earlier this year, when key labor groups backed plans to build a new coal-fired power plant near Marshalltown.

The full text of the Sierra Club’s press release on the Obama endorsement is after the jump. In addition to Obama’s energy policy, Sierra Club drew attention to:

-his opposition to further oil drilling in the Arctic Naitonal Wildlife Refuge;

-his opposition to storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada;

-his promise to undo many of George Bush’s bad executive orders on the environment;

-his support for more regulation of confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs); and

-his efforts to reduce children’s exposure to lead.

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Don't overlook conservation as a way to meet electricity needs

The Des Moines Register published a long interview with the three members of the Iowa Utilities Board on Monday.

As you may recall, Democrats John Norris and Krista Tanner recently voted to approve an application to build a new coal-fired power plan near Marshalltown. Republican Darrell Hanson opposed the coal plant.

The whole piece is worth your time, but this was the key passage for me:

Q: For base-load power, it seems as if there aren’t many other options for Iowa than coal right now. Longer term, what’s on the horizon for base-load power?

Tanner: That is why I ultimately ended up voting for [the plant]. Even if all these things end up happening, the most aggressive standards we’re talking about are 30 by 30 [30 percent of electricity generated by renewable sources by 2030], and I’m really concerned about what does that other 70 percent look like. In my opinion, it’s coal or nuclear. [Nuclear is] not without its problems, because it is expensive. I am on the [Iowa] Climate Change Advisory Council, and we put that as an option to study. There’s a lot of resistance to it in the public, more so than coal, even though it’s a lower carbon-generating source.

They are pursuing ways to store the carbon to make coal more viable. I don’t think that will happen in the next five to 10 years. I saw this plant as almost a bridge technology, because it is more efficient. My thought is that if we’re going to have coal, it better be the most efficient plant we can have and have a potential for biomass. While it may be an incremental step in carbon reduction, it’s a step that we can take today.

Norris: At least for the foreseeable future, it’s going to be nuclear or coal. My preference certainly is to reduce greenhouse gases. For the long term, that’s nuclear, but it’s extremely expensive to build right now and an extremely lengthy process to build.

Q: Is there anything the state can do to encourage construction of nuclear plants or is that solely a federal responsibility?

Norris: We’re certainly open to a nuclear application, but still don’t expect it tomorrow. I know Mid-American looked closely at it, but decided costs, the time and the building issues are just prohibitive. Mid-American is a very progressive company in looking at new alternatives. It makes me a little concerned about how the country as a whole is going to solve our base-load problems. Nuclear certainly will help reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Some people have suggested to me that John Norris would prefer for the coal plant not to be built, but his comments to the Des Moines Register do not support that speculation. It sounds as if he is resigned to expanding our use of coal because the utilities are not currently pursuing the alternative he prefers, nuclear power.

I believe that renewable energy technologies like wind and solar power can meet more of our electricity needs than IUB members expect.

But we also need to aggressively pursue conservation through government regulations, incentives and public-education campaigns. Conservation measures can dramatically reduce the demand for electricity, and do it quickly.

Residents of Juneau, Alaska cut their electricity use by about 30 percent in a week this spring. Click the link to read about how Brazilians reduced their use of electricity by 20 percent in two months in 2001.

The IUB is not in charge of our state’s energy policy, but maybe its members would not be inclined to approve new coal-fired power plants if they believed that future demand for electricity would be lower than currently projected.

State legislators and officials should take more steps to promote energy efficiency and conservation, as well as increasing our use of wind and solar power.

Here are some easy ways for individuals to reduce their own use of electricity. Simple things like unplugging appliances you are not using can save a lot.

P.S.–I cannot agree with Norris’s implication that expanding nuclear power would be the best way to meet demand for electricity while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Here is a link to a 74-page report from the Union of Concerned Scientists on nuclear power. But if you’re too busy to read it, here is the key finding in less than 30 words:

The life cycle of nuclear power results in relatively little global warming pollution, but building a new fleet of plants could increase threats to public safety and national security.

A position paper on nuclear power and global warming notes that

Prudence dictates that we develop as many options to reduce global warming emissions as possible, and begin by deploying those that achieve the largest reductions most quickly and with the lowest costs and risk. Nuclear power today does not meet these criteria.

Friends of the Earth makes even stronger arguments against expanding nuclear power as a response to global warming:

It Would Set Back the Fight Against Global Warming: Experts suggest that we must triple the number of nuclear reactors in the U.S. in order to make a dent in global warming.  With a price tag of $5 billion per reactor and a historic construction timeline around 10 years, we’re not likely to see the 200-300 needed new reactors anytime soon.  (We currently have just over 100 reactors and many of those would have to be replaced as they reach retirement age.)  Alternatives, like wind, solar and conservation programs can produce results more quickly and affordably.

That was a long post-script, but we need to get out of the mindset that nuclear power is a solution to global warming, especially since both John McCain and Barack Obama are open to expanding nuclear power in this country.

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Federal agencies should investigate Agriprocessors

I agree with Congressman Bruce Braley that federal agencies need to investigate Agriprocessors, the company operating the meatpacking plant in Postville where nearly 400 workers were detained during an immigration raid on Monday.

It is hard to believe that a company could be unaware that some 40 percent of its workforce may consist of illegal immigrants.

Click the link about to read Lynda Waddington’s whole report for Iowa Independent. Here is a particularly important passage:

“Until we enforce our immigration laws equally against both employers and employees who break the law, we will continue to have a problem with illegal immigration,” Braley said.

According to Braley, just three employers were fined for breaking immigration laws in 2004. Last year, following Bush administration promises “to make employer enforcement a priority,” Braley says 92 employers were arrested, but only 17 fined out of the six million employers in the U.S.

“Naturally, the sheer number of arrests made by ICE during Monday’s raid raises questions about Agriprocessors, Inc.’s knowledge of possible violations of employment and immigration law.”

For his efforts, Braley received the same answer as members of the media have received when asked about a possible or ongoing investigation. “Federal officials would not comment on the possibility of an investigation into Agriprocessors for possible violations of the law,” he said Wednesday evening.

An official at the Iowa Labor Commission has confirmed that Agriprocessors was under investigation for possible child labor and wage law violations at the time of the raid. No one would comment on the possible impact the raid would have that investigation.

On a related note, I completely agree with this letter to the editor, which the Des Moines Register published on Thursday:

From the May 13 paper, “Orthodox Jews…gather across from the Postville plant.” “Ari Berkowitz, a 15-year-old Hasidic Jew, was hanging out with a handful of friends.”

I trust that we will also be seeing captions such as “Southern Baptists watch a baseball game,” and “Jane Doe, a Pentecostalist from West Des Moines, was at the mall yesterday.”

– Sondra Krueger Feldstein, Bondurant

When the Swift plant was raided in Marshalltown last year, media reports didn’t go out of their way to identify the owners and operators of the plant as Methodist, Catholic, or whatever.

Calling attention to the religion of the Agriprocessors’ owners may give the misleading impression that their faith was related to possible legal violations.

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The Democrats on the Iowa Utilities Board let us down

I held back this diary for several days so as not to publish something written hastily in anger.

But five days after the fact, I remain disgusted that the only member of the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) to vote against the construction of a new coal-fired power plant in Marshalltown was Darrell Hanson, the lone Republican on the panel.

Putting Democrats in positions of power is supposed to be good for the environment. Unfortunately, John Norris and Krista Tanner failed to deliver “the change we need” when they voted to approve the application of the Interstate Power and Light Company (a subsidiary of Alliant Energy).

Here are few things you should know:

1. The IUB punted instead of seizing an opportunity to kill this proposal, and thousands of Iowans may suffer the consequences.

2. The conditions the IUB put on the plant’s construction may have been well-intended, but they do not eliminate the harm that would be done by burning more coal near Marshalltown.

3. It is still possible that the plant will never be built. However, that in no way excuses the IUB’s action, which prolonged this process and harmed environmental and public-health advocates, as I will explain below.

Join me after the jump for more on why IUB chairman Norris will never get my support in any Democratic primary for any office he may seek in the future.

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Iowa Utilities Board approves coal plant (with conditions)

I’ll have more to say on this later tonight, but for now I’m posting the press release I just got from the Iowa Environmental Council.

For Immediate Release: April 30, 2008

IUB Approves Dirty Coal Plant for Marshalltown

The Iowa Utilities Board said “yes,” with conditions, Wednesday to a proposal by Alliant Energy to build a 630 to 660 megawatt coal-fired power plant in Marshalltown, Iowa.

“We are disappointed that the Iowa Utilities Board and Alliant Energy are moving Iowa’s energy policy backwards with a dirty coal plant. This coal plant is simply the wrong choice for Iowa’s economy and our environment. When other states are saying no to coal plants, Iowa is risking its future as a renewable energy leader by betting on this imported and outdated energy source,” said Nathaniel Baer, energy program director for the Iowa Environmental Council.

Clean air advocates say mercury, carbon and other air pollutants still don’t have to be Iowa’s legacy as today’s IUB decision is only a first step in a decision-making process over this proposal, which includes additional decisions by the Board and by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The Iowa Environmental Council, Community Energy Solutions, Iowa Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, Iowa Farmers Union and Iowa Renewable Energy Association were represented by the public interest law firm Plains Justice in a proceeding at the Iowa Utilities Board regarding approval of the proposal. In briefs and in testimony before the IUB, Plains Justice maintained that clean energy sources like wind and energy efficiency could meet the energy needs of Iowa consumers at a lower cost, and with considerably less environmental impact, than the proposed coal plant.

The IUB approval was conditional: Three conditions must be met as follows…

1.      The coal plant must co-fire five percent biomass within the first two years of the plant’s operation, and 10 percent biomass must be co-fired by the fifth year of operation.

2.      Alliant’s energy mix must include 10 percent renewable energy by 2013 and increase one percent each year for the following 15 years, to reach a total renewable energy portfolio of  25 percent by 2028.

3.      The Iowa Utilities Board will have authority to require Alliant to install carbon capture and sequestration technology at the plant when it becomes feasible.

“Despite the final decision, we appreciate the Board’s thorough consideration of the many risks that this proposal brings. The Board’s three conditions for use of biomass, renewable energy, and future carbon capture technology may help to offset some of these significant risks, but we’ll need to look at these conditions in more detail. We look forward to being engaged in the coming steps of this process,” said Baer.

n  End

For interviews, call Nathaniel Baer, 515-244-1194, extension 206.

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Iowa Utilities Board to decide today on Marshalltown coal plant

The Iowa Utilities Board meets this morning to decide whether to approve a new coal-fired power plant in Marshalltown.

I’ve written before about how our state should focus on energy efficiency, conservation and new electricity generation through renewable sources, rather than expanding the use of coal, which has to be imported into Iowa and carries with it huge environmental and public-health costs.

The websites of the Iowa Environmental Council and the Union of Concerned Scientists explain why we should not increase our dependence on fossil fuels, especially coal.

The Iowa Medical Society and other public-health advocates have also made a strong case against the proposed coal-fired plants in Marshalltown and Waterloo. This op-ed piece by Maureen McCue explains why:

Each proposed coal plant would likely emit around 100 pounds of mercury a year, much of which would end up in our lakes and streams, and eventually, our bodies. The Environmental Protection Agency states that “on balance, mercury from coal-fired utilities is the hazardous air pollutant of greatest potential public-health concern.”

In expressing their concern about coal-fired power plants, Texas’ Catholic bishops noted that mercury poses a particular risk to “unborn life.” Thousands of women of child-bearing age have elevated levels of toxic mercury in their blood, which could lead to reduced IQ and neurologic impairment in their children.

Many of Iowa’s waterways, including parts of the Cedar, Upper Iowa and Mississippi rivers have fish-consumption advisories warning Iowans not to eat more than one meal a week because of elevated mercury levels. The Idaho governor, a Republican, banned coal plants in his state because “the health implications of mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants far outweigh any economic benefits.”


The EPA’s own scientific advisory board, the American Medical Association, the American Lung Association and other health organizations have challenged current air-quality standards, such as those for fine-particulate matter, as insufficient to protect public health. Coal plants, which contribute to ozone and smog, are responsible for hundreds of premature deaths a year, increasing asthma hospitalizations, other respiratory ailments and cardiac disease.

The American Academy of Pediatrics noted that young children are particularly susceptible because their lungs aren’t fully formed and they spend a greater percentage of time outdoors.

The Des Moines Register’s editorial board came out against the coal-fired plant in Marshalltown but has been printing guest opinion pieces and letters to the editor on both sides.

Links to many of the Des Moines Register’s editorials and op-ed pieces for or against the Marshalltown plant can be found by clicking here (there’s a “related stories” bar on the right-hand side of the screen).

I’ve noticed that supporters of this project are trying to have it both ways. On the one hand, local supporters and representatives of organized labor talk about how many jobs will be created by the construction and operation of the new plant.

On the other hand, supporters say not to worry about increased greenhouse gas emissions from the new plant, because once it is built, Alliant will take offline or renovate older, less efficient facilities. If economic gains in Marshalltown come at the expense of other communities where Allliant facilities are located, doesn’t that suggest that Iowa’s economy on the whole would not benefit from this plant?

Here’s hoping the Iowa Utilities Board will reject the proposal. The rumor mill says it will be a 2-1 decision, with John Norris casting the decisive vote one way or another.

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Register comes out against Marshalltown coal plant

Last week was disappointing for Iowa environmentalists in several ways, which I’ll discuss in future posts. Thankfully, I opened the Des Moines Register today to find an editorial opposing plans to build a new coal-fired power plant in Marshalltown:

Five years ago, when MidAmerican started construction at Council Bluffs, a Register editorial made just one reference to global warming and declared that Iowa “is on the right course by encouraging development of modern, cleaner-burning coal plants while pursuing renewable fuels and rewarding consumers who use less energy.” The newspaper also praised Alliant’s plans for new generating capacity.

Today, the editorial board has concluded that building a coal-fired plant in Marshalltown is not now the right course for Iowa. The right course would place far greater emphasis on energy efficiency and renewable sources of generation, particularly wind. For power plants, it would encourage a harder look at natural gas, which emits much less carbon dioxide, and would specify that any new “cleaner-burning coal plants” must be able, at least on the near horizon, to capture and sequester carbon dioxide.

For background on strengthening energy efficiency and finding alternatives to coal in Iowa, check out this page on the Iowa Environmental Council’s website.

On the right side of the screen you can click on a pdf file, which is a position paper specifically about coal-fired power plants.

For much more information about coal, including the costs of coal and the impacts of coal-fired generation of electricity, the Union of Concerned Scientists website has comprehensive information.

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Latest news on the Boswell-Fallon race

Tom Harkin and Leonard Boswell are good people and good Democrats, so it’s disappointing to read in the Sunday Des Moines Register that they are unwilling to take a stand against building new coal-fired power plans in Marshalltown and Waterloo.

It could hardly be more clear that building new coal-fired plants is bad for the environment, bad for the public’s health, and a net loss for Iowa’s economy (since we would be importing all the coal used in the plants).

Ed Fallon categorically opposes building new coal-fired power plants in Iowa. In the article I linked above, Boswell said he hadn’t studied the issue closely, because the proposed plants are located outside Iowa’s third Congressional district. Fallon has the right response:

Fallon said even though the plants would be outside Boswell’s district, some central Iowa towns would be downwind from the Marshalltown facility.

“It clearly affects our district, and because of concerns about greenhouse gas, it concerns our whole planet,” said Fallon, a former state representative who opposes construction of any new coal-fired plants.

Jennifer Oredson of Des Moines, the Greenpeace member who asked about the plants, said she had mixed feelings about the answers from Harkin and Boswell. She said her group opposes the plants, but she appreciated that both men are pushing for more conservation and alternative sources of energy.

She particularly noted Boswell’s support of the Safe Climate Act, which aims to limit greenhouse gases. But she said her group would not endorse a candidate in the primary.

By the way, Representatives Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) signed onto the Safe Climate Act months earlier than Boswell. Boswell only took that position in December, when rumors of Fallon’s likely primary challenge were circulating.

In related news, Boswell was on Iowa Public Television this weekend saying he is more qualified than Fallon to represent the district. He also brought up Fallon’s support for Ralph Nader in 2000, which seems to be Boswell’s strongest card to play.

But Boswell’s comments on policy during that television program suggest that he is feeling the heat from Fallon’s criticism:

On other issues, Boswell said:

– Congress should consider repealing the North American Free Trade Agreement, which “hasn’t worked well.” Fallon opposes NAFTA and other free-trade agreements. Boswell supported a recent trade agreement with Peru.

– The country should look for ways to burn coal in efficient, environmentally friendly ways perhaps even “cleaning” Iowa’s high-sulfur coal. Fallon wants a moratorium on new coal plants, which are a chief source of greenhouse gases blamed for climate change.

Fallon has said Boswell supports greater use of coal and backed $14 billion in tax breaks and incentives for oil and gas companies.

– He supported tougher fuel efficiency standards for cars after voting against an earlier measure. “We recently raised the fuel-efficiency standard. If you don’t want to put people out of work, and not cause a new problem, you have to look at it carefully.”

– He supports removing troops from Iraq, but opposed a bill that would have led to immediate withdrawal, something that he believed would have cost too many lives. Boswell said he originally supported the war based on the administration’s statement that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, later disputed. Fallon has said he opposed the war all along.

I saw Fallon yesterday at the Natural Living Expo in Des Moines, and it looked like a lot of people were signing up to volunteer.

Also this weekend, the Des Moines Register reported that Fallon has raised about $130,000 for his campaign and has 16 paid staffers.

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Help stop the Marshalltown coal plant this week

As I posted a few days ago, this is the time to take action to stop a new coal-fired power plant from being built in Marshalltown. Coal not only contributes to global warming, it also increases the rate of asthma in nearby residents, as well as mercury levels in fish.

The Iowa Utility Board will hold hearings starting tomorrow, January 14, at 10 am. The hearings will take place at the Whitehall Auditorium on the grounds of the Iowa Veterans Home (1301 Summit St, Marshalltown).

The invaluable noneed4thneed has information on the testimony of Iowa native James Hansen, a climate scientist from NASA.

After the jump I’m putting information about events this week organized by the Cedar Rapids-based environmental law group Plains Justice. For more on that group, check out their website.

If you attend any of these events, or hearings at the IUB, please put up a diary with your impressions.

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Action: Help stop new coal-fired plant in Marshalltown

I got this e-mail from a fellow Sierra Club member:

Now that the caucuses are behind us, there is another way to get involved in energy and environmental issues.  We have a special treat for you this month – international global warming spokesman and Iowa native Dr. James Hansen of NASA will be returning to Iowa the week of January 14th to testify against the construction of a new coal burning power plant in Marshalltown.  We need your help today to convince Governor Culver and the Iowa Utilities Board to listen to the scientific experts, and the people of Iowa, and reject the construction of this major new source of pollution.  Our leaders should choose a clean, efficient energy future that will help Iowa’s economy grow.  They should put off any decision on dirty, expensive coal until we determine if efficiency and renewable power are sufficient to power the state.  Please take thirty seconds to contact the Iowa Utilities Board by clicking on the link below:


Then let us know you wrote the Iowa Utilities Board by just replying to this email (mark.kresowik AT sierraclub.org).  An even more powerful action would be writing a letter in hard copy and faxing it to the Governor’s Office at 515-281-6611 (fax) or sending it to:

Governor Chet Culver and Lt. Governor Patty Judge

State Capitol

Des Moines, IA 50319

515-281-5211 (phone)

Best yet, come testify in person to the Iowa Utilities Board starting at 10:00 AM on Monday, January 14th at the Whitehall Auditorium on the grounds of the Iowa Veterans Home (1301 Summit St, Marshalltown) .  

According to a recent survey nearly four out of five Iowans think that “Iowa should focus on increased (energy) conservation steps and more fuel efficiency to reduce demand for electricity before it constructs new coal-fired power plants” (http://plainsjustice.org/survey-iowa-voters-say-no-new-coal/). Coal burning power plants are the single largest source of global warming pollution in the United States and Iowa is over-dependent on this dirty form of energy.  The first step we need to take to combat global warming is to stop the construction of proposed coal plants in Marshalltown and Waterloo and invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy.  The Governor should continue his pledge to make Iowa the renewable energy capitol of the world and stop these plants.  Please contact the Iowa Utilities Board and the Governor today:


You can also hear Dr. Hansen and other expert witnesses for the Office of the Consumer Advocate and Plains Justice – who have concluded unanimously that the Marshalltown plant is unnecessary and will in fact put Iowa ratepayers at far greater risk than more prudent alternatives – in person on January 16th at 7:00 PM at the State Historical Building (600 East Locust) in Des Moines or January 17th at 7:00 PM at Old Brick (26 E. Market) in Iowa City.

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Consumer Advocate opposes Marshalltown coal plant

Good news for opponents of the proposed Interstate Power & Light (Alliant) coal-fired power plant in Marshalltown: 


Office of Consumer Advocate
  John R. Perkins, Consumer Advocate


Consumer Advocate Opposes Interstate Power & Light Co. Proposed Coal Plant


Consumer Advocate urges company to evaluate more cost-effective and environmentally sound supply resources.


The Iowa Consumer Advocate has filed testimony with the Iowa Utilities Board, recommending that the IUB reject Interstate Power and Light’s application for authority to site a 630-megawatt coal-fired generating unit (SGS Unit 4) adjacent to Interstate’s existing Sutherland Generating Station in Marshalltown, Iowa. Interstate is a subsidiary of Alliant Energy of Madison, Wisconsin.


“When the risks to consumers and the public associated with building a new coal-fired power plant are properly taken into account, the advantages are clearly demonstrated of Interstate Power meeting its supply needs through lower-cost and environmentally-friendly energy efficiency and renewable energy generation resources,” said Consumer Advocate John R. Perkins.


The Office of Consumer Advocate filed the testimony with the IUB late Monday. The OCA represents gas, electric and telephone utility consumers generally and the public generally in all proceedings before the Iowa Utilities Board.


Expert testimony submitted by the Consumer Advocate interpreting current scientific analysis and consensus argues that the proposed coal plant would inject enormous amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for 50 years or more, contributing to a worsening of the dangerous buildup of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere and to accelerated global climate change for centuries to come.


According to the testimony, emissions from the proposed plant would be equivalent to the CO2 emissions from about 740,000 additional cars – an additional 40% of current emissions today from all of the cars registered in the state in 2005.


Human-induced climate change presents a grave and increasing threat to the environment and to human societies around the world, according to the testimony. The primary source of increasing atmospheric CO2 is the combustion of fossil fuels by industrialized societies. Unless squarely addressed by effective public policy, the increasing buildup of atmospheric greenhouse gases will likely cause dramatic environmental and economic harm to societies around the world, including communities in Iowa. Policymakers within and beyond Iowa are evaluating policies to achieve electricity production by less carbon-intensive or zero-carbon means, the testimony said.


“The proposed coal plant stands in stark contrast to this goal,” Perkins said. “Undertaking construction of a coal plant in these circumstances presents an enormous risk for IPL’s customers and the environment – a risk that is unnecessary. Moreover, our recommendations would allow for the potential development of cleaner energy sources which may occur over the next decade and eliminate the need for a baseload coal plant in the future.”


Perkins said that in the course of the OCA’s detailed analysis of Interstate’s electric resource planning model, OCA’s experts determined that IPL failed to properly model the costs of CO2 regulation and other energy resource potentials. Adjusting for these errors, the OCA experts concluded, IPL can defer the need for the base load coal plant beyond the planned 2013 in-service date of SGS-Unit 4. Energy efficiency and wind generation would be a more cost-effective means of meeting Interstate’s energy needs, and with little to no adverse environmental impact, Perkins said.

  “Energy efficiency and renewable energy resources actually deliver greater and more evenly distributed economic benefits to the State of Iowa than the proposed coal plant,” Perkins said. “Removing IPL’s modeling constraints that limited Interstate’s wind generation capacity to 9.1 % of its projected retail energy needs in 2022, and allowing the model to increase wind generation to 25 percent of IPL’s retail energy needs, would result in 1,657 MW of wind in 2022, or 1,039 megawatts more than IPL assumes in its base resource plan. Similar environmentally sound results will accrue from increased investment in energy efficiency.”

According to someone posting on the Iowa Renewable Energy Association e-mail loop, “(The OCA is part of the Iowa Attorney General's Office.  The OCA is a party to all cases before the Iowa Utilities Board, representing the public interest).”

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Non-profit groups intervene to stop Marshalltown coal plant

Just got this on the I-Renew e-mail list:

September 20, 2007       

Carrie La Seur, Plains Justice (Cedar Rapids), 319-560-4729, claseur@plainsjusti ce.org


Nathaniel Baer, Iowa Environmental Council (Des Moines), 515-244-1194, Baer@iaenvironment. org

Maureen McCue, Physicians for Social Responsibility (Iowa City), 319-828-4789


Sally Wilson, Community Energy Solutions (Marshalltown) , 641-751-2852, saynotocoal@ yahoo.com 

Des Moines – Today a coalition of five public interest organizations filed a Petition to Intervene in the application by Interstate Power and Light Company (Alliant Energy) to the Iowa Utilities Board to construct a 660 megawatt pulverized coal plant in Marshalltown.  The coalition will present expert witness testimony on the public health and global warming impacts, the increase in electrical rates, and the displacement of renewable energy that will result from this old-fashioned coal plant. 


The public interest coalition that intervened today includes Community Energy Solutions, Iowa Environmental Council, Iowa Farmers Union, Iowa Renewable Energy Association and Iowa Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.  Coalition members represent Marshalltown residents as well as tens of thousands of Iowans.  Coal-fired power plants contribute 40% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activities.  Iowa gets up to 85% of its electricity from coal, while the national average is 50%.  


Coal combustion emissions contribute to respiratory and cardiac ailments because of increases in particulate matter, or soot, a pollutant regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency.  As epidemiologists expand studies of the smallest particulate matter, its harmful health impacts become increasingly apparent.  Coal plants emit heavy metals into the atmosphere, including mercury, which settles into surface waters and bioaccumulates in fish, which can in turn cause neurological damage if eaten.  Illinois has mercury advisories on 100% of its surface waters, but Iowa does not track mercury contamination.  Finally, Iowa allows use of coal ash for fill in unlined quarries without groundwater monitoring, a practice that has led to groundwater contamination in dozens of sites around the U.S. 


The intervenors are represented by Attorneys Carrie La Seur and Jana Linderman of Plains Justice, a public interest environmental law firm based in Cedar Rapids.  Says La Seur, “Utility regulators across the country are denying permits for new coal plants, and investors are pulling out.  This is a very risky time to propose a coal plant.”  Dr. Maureen McCue of Physicians for Social Responsibility emphasizes: “The harmful health impacts of coal plants are undisputed, and it's simply immoral to construct a giant new source of greenhouse gases.” 


Local Marshalltown residents express concerns about impacts on local health care services, and particularly the health impacts on vulnerable elderly residents of the Iowa Veterans Home.  Sally Wilson, Associate Professor of Biology at Marshalltown Community College, worries that Marshalltown has been chosen for the plant because the community is perceived as lacking the resources to fight a large corporation.  “We deserve clean air and water as much as any other town in Iowa,” says Wilson.  “It is critical that we protect our environment for the health of our community.  It makes no sense to build a coal plant when much better alternatives are now available.”


 The IUB has scheduled the administrative hearing in this docket to begin January 14, 2008, in the auditorium of the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown.

Someone correct me if I am wrong, but I think there is a vacancy on the Iowa Utilities Board right now. Let's hope that whoever gets that job before January 2008 is not favorably disposed to coal.

Incidentally, the Iowa Farmers Union represents family farmers, unlike the Farm Bureau which represents corporate ag interests. 

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