# Pollution

New Report: Iowa Losing Topsoil at Alarming Rate

(No worries, it's just priceless Iowa topsoil. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

A new report, which includes video images, shows that across wide swaths of Iowa our rich, dark agricultural soil is being swept away at alarming rates, which in some areas are 12 times higher than average soil loss estimates from national studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service.

More after the jump …

Continue Reading...

Iowa House Democrats afraid to stand up to Big Ag

Although the 60-40 Republican majority leaves Iowa House Democrats few opportunities to block legislation, the Democratic caucus has taken a high-profile stands against some GOP proposals this year. House Democrats spoke passionately against preschool cuts in the first major bill of the 2011 session. Democrats fought the GOP’s bill to restrict collective bargaining at public rallies, all night in the House Labor Committee and for days on the House floor. The ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee spoke out against the GOP’s income tax cut bill, and Democrats tried to redirect that proposal toward middle income Iowans.

In contrast, House Democrats have made little noise about bills that elevate the needs of agribusiness over the public interest. Earlier this month, nearly a quarter of the Democratic caucus voted to protect factory farms from undercover recordings to expose animal abuses. I saw no public comments from House minority leaders opposing that bill, which may well be unconstitutional.

Last week state representatives approved House File 643, which transfers several water quality responsibilities from the Department of Natural Resources to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. After minimal floor debate, seven Democrats voted with all the Republicans present for a bill that would impair efforts to limit water pollution. I saw no public comments or press releases from House minority leaders criticizing the bill or decrying its passage.

Follow me after the jump for more on House File 643 and its implications.

Continue Reading...

Branstad gives business more leverage against new regulations

Governor Terry Branstad’s latest executive order gives businesses and their advocates new opportunities to pre-empt government regulation of their activities. The governor’s spin on the new order presents it as a way to meet his administration’s job-creation goals:

“Executive Order Seventy-One will ensure that state government’s eyes are affixed on job creation, retention and development when issuing rules and regulations,” said Branstad. “This rule making process will assist in our administration’s goal of creating 200,000 new jobs and putting the roughly 106,000 unemployed Iowans back to work.”

The executive order will identify policies that hurt jobs before they impact job retention and development. […]

“As we travel the state we have heard Iowans voice their concerns over the burdens of bureaucracy that fails to understand the relationship between excessive regulation and job creation,” Branstad added. “Executive Order Seventy-One encourages a job-friendly environment as we build a strong foundation for the future.”

I’ve posted the full text of Executive Order 71 after the jump. It requires all government agencies to prepare a “jobs impact statement” before adopting any new rules and regulations, and to “minimize the adverse impact on jobs and the development of new employment opportunities before proposing a rule.” Furthermore,

Each Agency shall accept comments and information from stakeholders prior to the Jobs Impact Statement. Any concerned private sector employer or self-employed individual, potential employer, potential small business, or member of the public is entitled to submit information relating to Jobs Impact Statement upon a request for information or notice of intended action by a Department or Agency.

So, the governor is instructing agency employees to make “jobs impact” a greater consideration than other public-interest concerns (for example, reducing air pollution that causes life-threatening and costly illnesses, or restricting lending practices that trap consumers in cycles of debt). Furthermore, agency employees need to hear input from “stakeholders” (businesses and business owners) when drafting the jobs impact statements. Also, certain sectors receive privileged status:

The analysis in the Jobs Impact Statement should give particular weight to jobs in production sectors of the economy which includes the manufacturing, and agricultural sectors of the economy and include analysis, where applicable of the impact of the rule on expansion of existing businesses or facilities.

The likely outcome is that “doomsday scenario” analysis from advocacy groups like the Iowa Association of Business and Industry or the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation will now carry new credibility as part of the official “jobs impact statement” issued by state agencies. Any potential rule that manufacturers or agricultural operators view as too “burdensome” will be discarded, regardless of how many other Iowans might benefit.

For as long as I can remember, industry trade groups and lobbyists have exaggerated the potential jobs cost of regulations ranging from the Clean Air Act to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Meanwhile, no one is calculating the economic impact of, say, preventable respiratory illnesses in communities with high levels of particulate matter in the air, or making Des Moines Water Works customers pay to clean up pollution agricultural producers create in the Raccoon River Watershed.

Executive Order 71 dovetails with other recent Branstad efforts to increase business leverage against government regulations. All four of his appointees to the Environmental Protection Commission have close ties to agribusiness. The governor is also leaning toward moving Iowa’s water monitoring and water quality protection programs from the Department of Natural Resources to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

Continue Reading...

A simple way to make Iowa's bad water quality worse

Signs of Iowa’s poor water quality are not hard to come by. Our state has more than 400 “impaired waters.” The Des Moines Water Works has the largest nitrate removal system in the world, because “the Raccoon River has the highest average nitrate concentration of any of the 42 largest tributaries in the Mississippi River Basin.” Even so, the Water Works sometimes struggles to handle high levels of blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) in the Raccoon River, forcing the water treatment facility to draw from a secondary source. Iowa watersheds are also a major contributor to the "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico, and the nutrients from “Nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from commercial fertilizers and animal manure from farmland were the biggest contributing sources” of the excess nutrients that cause the dead zone.  

Despite those facts, Governor Terry Branstad and many state legislators have claimed the Iowa Department of Natural Resources takes too tough a stand in enforcing pollution rules. Branstad’s draft budget cut funding for the DNR. The department was a frequent punching bag at Republican-led forums around Iowa last month, designed to spotlight supposedly burdensome regulations on businesses.  

Branstad has expressed hope for a “change in attitude” at the DNR. He sent a strong signal by appointing Roger Lande as the new DNR director. Lande is a former head of the Association for Business and Industry and a partner in a Muscatine law firm that has represented the Iowa Farm Bureau as well as corporations like Monsanto.

Announcing Lande’s appointment, Branstad said,

“I can think of no one better to be a steward of Iowa’s precious natural resources than Roger Lande,” said Gov.-elect Branstad. “Roger and his family have long been champions of conservation of Iowa’s rivers, woodlands, greenways, prairies and trails and I am confident that Roger will excel in his new role as head of Iowa Department of Natural Resources.”

Apparently Branstad has now thought of someone better than Lande to handle water quality programs and Clean Water Act compliance: Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey. Yes, even though runoff from conventional agriculture is a leading cause of Iowa’s poor water quality, Branstad thinks the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) might be better-suited to handle water monitoring and protection than the DNR. Some Iowa House Republicans are pushing House Study Bill 180, which would transfer the same authority to IDALS. Unfortunately, it won’t be enough to stop this measure in the Iowa House or Senate, because Branstad has the power to transfer functions to Northey’s agency without enabling legislation.

After the jump I’ve posted background on this issue from Iowa Rivers Revival and the Iowa Environmental Council, as well as contact information for state legislators and the governor’s office. The Iowa Environmental Council posted a link to their action alert here.

Iowa already does too little to limit water pollution. If Northey is put in charge of protecting water quality, get ready for more impaired waters and major algae blooms. Northey marches in lockstep with the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, one of three plaintiffs in a state lawsuit seeking to nullify the most significant water quality rules adopted in Iowa during the past decade.

In related news, the American Farm Bureau Federation has filed a federal lawsuit to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from limiting water pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.

The farm lobby has made it clear it sees the cleanup effort as a harbinger of more far-reaching EPA requirements across the country, including in the Mississippi River basin, where chemical runoff from industrial farms is swept to the Gulf of Mexico. […]

“This new EPA approach will not end with the Chesapeake Bay,” Bob Stallman, the Farm Bureau’s president, said in an address early this month. “EPA has already revealed its plan to follow suit in other watersheds across the nation, including the Mississippi watershed. That is why our legal effort is essential to preserving the power of the states – not EPA – to decide whether and how to regulate farming practices in America’s watersheds.”

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

Continue Reading...

Environmental groups intervene in lawsuit on water quality rules

The Iowa Environmental Council, Sierra Club and the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center are intervening in a lawsuit seeking to throw out new water quality rules for Iowa. The State Environmental Protection Commission approved the “antidegradation” rules in December 2009, and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources adopted the rules last year. Immediately following the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of the rules, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Iowa Renewable Fuels Association and Iowa Water Environment Association sued, claiming two EPC members should not have been able to vote on the rules, and that the rules violate an Iowa ban on environmental regulations that are stricter than federal standards. The Iowa Attorney General’s Office is representing the Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Commission in the lawsuit.

The Iowa Environmental Council, Sierra Club and Environmental Law and Policy Center sought to intervene to ensure that the antidegradation standards will not be relaxed. On February 3, a Polk County district judge approved the groups’ request, saying “the applicants for intervention are environmental groups that have been active in the administrative process and it would be more than beneficial to have their input as intervenors in this case.” After the jump I’ve posted an IEC press release containing more background information.

UPDATE: From an IEC action alert on February 8:

Once again, groups that represent wastewater dischargers are urging legislators to take action to eliminate or weaken Iowa rules that protect water quality.

The Iowa League of Cities and the Rural Water Association are asking lawmakers, who serve on the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee, to repeal Iowa’s anti-degradation rules. Anti-degradation rules are required by the federal Clean Water Act and are designed to stop further degradation of the rivers, streams and lakes.

Please contact the Legislators who serve on this committee to let them know how important these rules are to protect Iowa’s waters.

Click here for a list of committee members and here for background information and a link to send a letter to lawmakers.

Continue Reading...

Events coming up during the next two weeks

A busy week at the Iowa legislature kicks off Monday evening with what’s sure to be a packed Iowa House hearing on a constitutional amendment to ban legal recognition for same-sex relationships. Groups supporting conservation of Iowa’s natural resources have several rallies and lobby days planned during the next two weeks. Those and other event details are after the jump. Please post a comment or send me an e-mail if you know of an event that should be included on this calendar.

Yet another winter storm is heading for Iowa this week, but spring rains aren’t too far off. Gardeners and anyone who cares about conserving water and reducing runoff may be interested in a sale of rain barrels (all repurposed to keep waste out of landfills). Proceeds benefit the non-profit 1000 Friends of Iowa, specifically to “support the development of an educational exhibit which focuses on land use and water as it relates to run-off from non-porous surfaces as well as to bring attention to the many uses for collected rain water.” Those uses include watering gardens, washing cars and general housecleaning. Click here for more information about the rain barrels and here to order by February 11.

Continue Reading...

New report documents groundwater contamination by coal ash sites in Iowa

The Environmental Integrity Project released a detailed report today on coal ash contamination in 21 states, including Iowa:

Days before the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) kicks off a series of regional hearings across the United States on whether and how to regulate toxic coal ash waste from coal-fired power plants, a major new study identifies 39 additional coal-ash dump sites in 21 states that are contaminating drinking water or surface water with arsenic and other heavy metals.  The report by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), Earthjustice and the Sierra Club documents the fact that state governments are not adequately monitoring the coal combustion waste (CCW) disposal sites and that the USEPA needs to enact strong new regulations to protect the public.   The  report shows that, at every one of the coal ash dump sites equipped with groundwater monitoring wells, concentrations of heavy metals such as arsenic or lead exceed federal health-based standards for drinking water, with concentrations at Hatfield’s Ferry site in Pennsylvania reaching as high as 341 times the federal standard for arsenic.

You can read the full report here (pdf file). It covers three coal ash disposal sites in Iowa: George Neal Station North (pages 26-31), George Neal Station South (pages 32-26), and Lansing Station Ash Ponds and Landfill (pages 37-40). Neal North and South are both in northwest Iowa’s Woodbury County. Lansing is in Allamakee County, in the far northeast corner of the state. The report notes that “there are at least five public water wells within a five-mile radius” of all three Iowa sites. There are “25 or more private drinking water wells at or within two miles” of the Lansing site, which also threatens surface waters in the Mississippi River.

I posted a lengthy excerpt from the press release accompanying today’s report (pdf file) after the jump.

The Iowa Independent blog has reported extensively on proposed coal ash regulations, as well as health problems caused when toxic substances leach from coal ash into groundwater.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Terry Branstad has said he would whole-heartedly support new coal-fired power plants in Iowa, and many Iowa politicians in both parties expressed regret last year when plans for new coal-fired power plants in Waterloo and Marshalltown were shelved. They should read this report and explain why a few dozen permanent jobs are worth creating more coal ash that will poison Iowans’ drinking water for decades. Coal combustion in power plants is also “one of the nation’s largest sources of air pollutants that damage cardiovascular and respiratory health and threaten healthy child development.”

Continue Reading...

So-called energy package a disgrace for Democrats

If the “energy package” about to emerge in the Senate looks anything like what Kate Sheppard is hearing, Senate Democrats should be ashamed. I threw in the towel on the climate bill a long time ago, because it was clear no serious attempt to address global warming could gain 60 votes in the Senate. Still, I thought some decent provisions might survive in a scaled-back energy bill.

Not so, according to Sheppard, who’s among the best reporters covering climate legislation. Sources from “several Senate offices” told her what’s likely to be in the new bill, and what will be conspicuously absent:

Obviously, there’s no carbon cap, that much we already knew. But there’s also no other major energy efficiency standards, and, perhaps most importantly, no renewable electricity standard -not even the weak one included in the energy bill last year. […]

Senate aides hoping to put a positive spin on the package note that it at least does not include any of the really bad measures that progressive senators were worried about, including major incentives for coal and nuclear power and the elimination of the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases.

Are we supposed to be impressed that the largest Democratic Senate majority in decades won’t press ahead with “really bad measures” for the environment?

For all of President Barack Obama’s talk about our clean energy future, we won’t even get a renewable electricity standard to boost wind and solar production. We won’t get new energy efficiency standards, even though reducing demand for electricity tends to be faster and cheaper than building new facilities to generate electricity.

The American Wind Energy Association put out an action alert urging people to contact their senators demanding a renewable electricity standard in the energy bill. If you are so inclined, you can contact your senators through this page. I will contact the offices of Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley, although doing so probably won’t accomplish anything.

This disgrace gives me yet another reason not to donate to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in the future. I don’t plan to waste my money or volunteer time on Organizing for America either. Obama failed to use his bully pulpit to produce a good climate bill and made stupid concessions to polluting industries along the way. He’s so afraid of losing a legislative battle that he didn’t even fight the good fight. But when he signs this worthless energy bill, he’ll probably declare victory in a very inspiring speech.

UPDATE: How pathetic–a White House official provides a blind quote to Politico blaming environmental groups for the Senate’s failure to pass a broad climate bill:

“They didn’t deliver a single Republican,” the official told POLITICO. “They spent like $100 million and they weren’t able to get a single Republican convert on the bill.”

Poor Mr. President. He could have delivered on one of his major campaign promises if the environmentalists hadn’t let him down.

SECOND UPDATE: I couldn’t agree more with Transportation 4 America: “With the Senate backing down on a real climate bill, it’s more important than ever that next transport bill helps make climate progress.”

Continue Reading...

Francis Thicke's "New Vision for Food and Agriculture" in Iowa

Democratic candidate for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Francis Thicke is touring the state to talk about his just-published book, “A New Vision for Food and Agriculture.” He’s scheduled to speak in Oskaloosa on June 29, Marion on June 30, Storm Lake on July 1, Dubuque on July 6 and Mason City on July 13. All events are at 6:30 pm; click here for location details.

Thicke provides a brief outline of his vision on his campaign website:

   * Encourage the installation of farmer-owned, mid-size wind turbines on farms all across Iowa, to power farms, and help to power the rest of Iowa. I will lead in advocating feed-in tariffs, which are agreements with power companies that will allow farmers to sell their excess power, finance their turbines, and make a profit from their power generation.

   * Make Iowa farms more energy self-sufficient and put more biofuel profits in farmers’ pockets by refocusing Iowa’s biofuel investment on new technologies that will allow farmers to produce biofuels on the farm to power farm equipment, and sell the excess for consumer use.

   * Create more jobs and economic development by supporting local food production. We can grow more of what we eat in Iowa. Locally-grown food can be fresher, safer and healthier for consumers, and will provide jobs to produce it. I will reestablish the Iowa Food Policy Council to provide guidance on how to connect farmers to state institutional food purchases and greater access to consumer demand for fresh, locally-grown produce.

   * Expose predatory practices by corporate monopolies. We need Teddy Roosevelt-style trust busting to restore competition to agricultural markets. I will work with Iowa’s Attorney General and the Justice Department to ensure fair treatment for farmers.

   * Reestablish local control over CAFOs, and regulate them to keep dangerous pollutants out of our air and water, and protect the health, quality of life, and property values of our citizens.

   * Promote wider use of perennial and cover crops to keep Iowa’s rich soils and fertilizer nutrients from washing into our rivers.

Not only is Thicke highly qualified to implement this vision, he walks the walk, as you can see from a brief video tour of his dairy farm.

Near the beginning of that clip, Thicke observes, “Energy is a big issue in agriculture. We are highly dependent upon cheap oil if you look at agriculture almost anywhere in this country. And that’s one of the big issues in my campaign: how we can make agriculture more energy self-sufficient, make our landscape more resilient, and make our agriculture more efficient as well.” It’s sad that our current secretary of agriculture has shown no leadership on making this state’s farm economy more self-sufficient. Using renewable energy to power Iowa farm operations isn’t pie in the sky stuff: it’s technologically feasible and is a “common-sense way” to cut input costs.

I highly recommend going to hear Thicke speak in person, but you can listen online in some of the videos available on Thicke’s YouTube channel. The campaign is on Facebook here and on the web at Thickeforagriculture.com. If you want to volunteer for or help his campaign in any way, e-mail Thicketeam AT gmail.com. Here’s his ActBlue page for those who can make a financial contribution.

Continue Reading...

Weekend open thread: Catching up on the news edition

Who else is watching the World Cup? I am surprised by how much my kids are enjoying the games, even though they don’t play soccer and it’s such a low-scoring sport. Des Moines business owner Tanya Keith and her husband have gone to every World Cup since 1994, and Tanya is blogging here about her family’s trip in South Africa. What I want to know is, how are her two young kids coping with the vuvuzela noise at the games? It sounds deafening even on tv.

I wasn’t around last weekend to write up the Iowa Democratic Party’s state convention in Des Moines. Radio Iowa’s blog covered most of the highlights here. Sue Dvorsky of Iowa City is the new IDP chair, replacing Michael Kiernan, who needs to have surgery on a tumor near his salivary gland. Iowa Democrats nominated Jon Murphy as our candidate against State Auditor David Vaudt. Read more about Murphy at Radio Iowa or at Iowa Independent. I am so glad we’re not giving Vaudt a pass.  

Convention delegates also voted to change party rules so that the gubernatorial nominee can choose the lieutenant governor candidate. The move was intended to undermine Barb Kalbach’s efforts to replace Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge on the Democratic ticket, and will make it impossible for an activist to do something similar in the future.

John Deeth has been pretty harsh on Kalbach, suggesting it’s a waste of time for her to run against Judge when her own Republican state representative and senator don’t have Democratic opponents. I see things differently. Kalbach said in announcing her candidacy, “I am taking this opportunity to represent the progressive, grassroots base of the Democratic Party who feels the issues that they have put forward have been ignored at the state level.” Kalbach wouldn’t have run if the Culver administration and Democratic legislative leaders had done anything to limit factory farm pollution during the past four years. She wouldn’t have run if the governor had done anything to advance the cause of local control (agricultural zoning), which he claimed to support during the 2006 campaign. Kalbach wouldn’t be able to draw attention to those failures as a candidate for the Iowa House or Senate in a conservative district. By the way, Culver would have an army of grassroots volunteers now if he had listened less to Patty Judge. He would also have a great campaign issue to use against Terry Branstad, on whose watch factory farm pollution became a much bigger problem in our state.

Moving to Iowa’s U.S. Senate race, while I was away a group called Americans United for Change started running this television commercial against Senator Chuck Grassley. The ad mentions campaign contributions Grassley has received from oil interests and draws a line between the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico and Grassley’s vote for a “resolution of disapproval” that would have limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a poor ad, because as Grassley’s office noted, that particular vote had little to do with big oil or offshore drilling (click here for more background). In voting for the Murkowski amendment, Grassley was carrying water for big coal, utilities that rely on fossil fuels, corporate agriculture interests and major industrial polluters.

Grassley has done plenty throughout his career to represent corporate interests rather than the public interest. There’s no excuse for such a sloppy attack ad.

The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder interviewed Grassley’s opponent Roxanne Conlin yesterday, and the Cedar Rapids Gazette tried to make a big deal out of her misspeaking on when Grassley won his first election. Rasmussen’s latest Iowa poll of 500 likely voters on June 14 found Grassley ahead of Conlin by 54 percent to 37 percent. The previous Rasmussen survey, taken in late April, had Grassley leading Conlin 53-40. I would like to see other polling of this race. The Washington Post published a feature on Scott Rasmussen this week, including some criticism of his methods.

This thread is for anything on your mind this weekend. Also feel free to post any links to good reads. I am working my way through this article by a self-described Tea Party consultant.

Iowa & Mississippi: Not the connection some have been talking about

A lot of discussion has been centering on Roxanne Conlin's historic bid to become Iowa's first female elected to the U.S. Senate.  Iowa has never elected a woman to Congress and we share that distinction with just one other state – Mississippi.

Yet, this isn't the only connection between Iowa and our friends to the south in Mississippi.  The other is water, and the issue that is beginning to get more attention as people focus on the Gulf oil spill is hypoxia.

Hypoxia or oxygen depletion is a phenomenon that occurs in aquatic environments as dissolved oxygen (DO; molecular oxygen dissolved in the water) becomes reduced in concentration to a point detrimental to aquatic organisms living in the system. Dissolved oxygen is typically expressed as a percentage of the oxygen that would dissolve in the water at the prevailing temperature and salinity (both of which affect the solubility of oxygen in water; see oxygen saturation and underwater). An aquatic system lacking dissolved oxygen (0% saturation) is termed anaerobic, reducing, or anoxic; a system with low concentration—in the range between 1 and 30% saturation—is called hypoxic or dysoxic. Most fish cannot live below 30% saturation. A “healthy” aquatic environment should seldom experience less than 80%. The exaerobic zone is found at the boundary of anoxic and hypoxic zones

Continue Reading...

Just what the Gulf of Mexico needs: another oil well

Oil from BP’s blown-out Deepwater Horizon well continues to gush into the Gulf of Mexico and will do so until August at the earliest. In response, the Obama administration extended a moratorium on deepwater drilling for six months last week. However, the president also “quietly allowed a three-week-old ban on drilling in shallow water to expire” last week (hat tip Open Left). As a result,

Federal regulators approved Wednesday the first new Gulf of Mexico oil well since President Barack Obama lifted a brief ban on drilling in shallow water, even while deepwater projects remain frozen after the massive BP spill.

The Minerals Management Service granted a new drilling permit sought by Bandon Oil and Gas for a site about 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana and 115 feet below the ocean’s surface. It’s south of Rockefeller State Wildlife Refuge and Game Preserve, far to the west of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that triggered the BP spill.

Chris Bowers put it mildly when he described the Obama administration’s action here as “difficult to fathom.” The president gave a speech on the economy today and talked about investing in alternative energy, but like all my parenting books say, actions speak louder than words. The greatest environmental disaster in U.S. history is unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico, and BP doesn’t know how to stop it, but it’s business as usual at the Minerals Management Service. Nor is today’s permit approval an isolated case:

In the days since President Obama announced a moratorium on permits for drilling new offshore oil wells and a halt to a controversial type of environmental waiver that was given to the Deepwater Horizon rig, at least seven new permits for various types of drilling and five environmental waivers have been granted, according to records.

The records also indicate that since the April 20 explosion on the rig, federal regulators have granted at least 19 environmental waivers for gulf drilling projects and at least 17 drilling permits, most of which were for types of work like that on the Deepwater Horizon shortly before it exploded, pouring a ceaseless current of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Words fail me, so you’ll have to share your thoughts in this thread.

UPDATE: In 1979 it took nine months to stop oil gushing from a shallow well in the Gulf of Mexico.

Continue Reading...

Group names Cedar River fifth most endangered in U.S.

For 25 years, American Rivers has released annual reports on “America’s Most Endangered Rivers.” Only one waterway in the Midwest made the group’s top ten list for 2010: Iowa’s Cedar River, which came in at number 5. American Rivers comments:

The Cedar River harbors globally rare plant communities, provides critical habitat for fish and wildlife, and is a popular destination for paddlers and anglers. However, outdated flood management and poor watershed planning are impacting public health and safety by causing pollution and increasing the risk of flood damage. The Army Corps of Engineers must prioritize lower cost, non-structural flood management solutions on the Cedar River. These natural solutions will help reduce flood damage, improve water quality, restore fish and wildlife habitat, and provide recreational opportunities and economic benefits while saving taxpayer dollars.

Go here to download a factsheet with more information about the Cedar River and why it’s “endangered.”

Perry Beeman posted the full press release from American Rivers at the Des Moines Register’s blog. Excerpt:

“We have an opportunity to learn from the devastating floods of 1993 and 2008 and rebuild smarter and stronger. We need to incorporate non-structural, natural solutions that provide flood protection, improve water quality, enhance fish and wildlife habitat, and provide recreational opportunities and economic benefits to local communities,” said Sean McMahon, state director of The Nature Conservancy in Iowa.

“It is time for Iowans to insist that state and federal flood protection policies work to reduce flood damage by moving people and structures out of harms way, allowing the flood plain to perform its natural function to absorb and slow the river’s flow during future floods,” said Susan Heathcote with Iowa Environmental Council.

“The newly-organized Cedar River Watershed Coalition has recognized the need to take a holistic approach to watershed management by reaching across city and county jurisdictions to take a whole watershed approach to flood mitigation and river restoration.  This innovative group of concerned individuals and communities is committed to working together to reduce the impacts of flooding in the watershed and to improve water quality in the Cedar River,” said Rosalyn Lehman with Iowa Rivers Revival.

By 2008, the Cedar River had had two 500-year floods within 15 years. Rain falls on a radically changed landscape: plowed fields have replaced tall grass prairies; streams and creeks have been straightened; 90 percent of wetlands have been destroyed; floodplains have been filled and developed; and flows have doubled in just the last half century. Even without factoring in possible effects of climate change, which would exacerbate the problems, the landscape changes will bring more frequent and severe floods. The communities along the Cedar River deserve better, 21st century flood protection solutions to ensure public safety and river health.

The Cedar River, a tributary to the Mississippi River, provides drinking water to more than 120,000 residents, and roughly 530,000 people live and work in the Cedar River watershed. The primary land use in the watershed is agriculture and the river is a popular place for boating and fishing. The river is home to globally rare plant communities and fish and wildlife, including two species of endangered mussels.

In response to the devastating floods of 2008, the Iowa legislature passed a bill in 2009 requiring the Water Resources Coordinating Council to draft recommendations on “a watershed management approach to reduce the adverse impact of future flooding on this state’s residents, businesses, communities, and soil and water quality.” The WRCC submitted those recommendations in November 2009.

Unfortunately, Iowa legislators proved unwilling during the 2010 session to take even baby steps on floodplain management. A bill much weaker than the WRCC recommendations passed the Iowa Senate but never made it out of subcommittee in the Iowa House. The League of Cities, among others, lobbied against the measure. But don’t worry, if any of those cities experience a catastrophic flood, their lobbyists will urge legislators to send plenty of state taxpayer money their way.

I would like to see more cities adopt Davenport’s model for co-existing with a river:

In a nation that spends billions annually on structural flood protection (and billions more when the levees fail) Davenport is the national model for a more cost effective and environmentally responsible approach. We are the largest city in the nation on a major river without a system of levees and pumps for “flood control”. We’ve never had them.  And we don’t want them. Instead of viewing the grand Mississippi as just another storm sewer, we treat it appropriately, with a broad floodplain in (99%) City ownership, now the focal point of our “River Vision” plan. The River Vision plan, developed in conjunction with our southern shore partner, Rock Island, Illinois, is the only bi-state riverfront brownfield redevelopment plan of its kind in the nation. Developed with the extraordinary public input of more than a thousand citizens, the plan is guiding the riverfront revitalization of the historic core of the Quad Cities, and has garnered the nation’s “Most Livable Small City” award from the US Conference of Mayors.  In the historic 2008 Iowa floods, Davenport outperformed every city in the state. We even continued to play baseball at our riverfront ballpark as it became an island in the river. In 2009, our unique approach to floodplain management merited review by the National Academy of Science.  A nine minute video of Davenport’s resilience through the 2008 floods is accessible online.

The University of Iowa’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, in cooperation with other groups, has organized a series of seminars on “The Anatomy of Iowa Floods: Preparing for the Future.” The first of the free seminar series took place in Des Moines in March. After the jump I’ve posted the schedule and agenda for future seminars in Burlington, Cedar Rapids, and Waverly this month, and in Mason City and Ames in July.

If you care about protecting Iowa waterways, please consider joining any or all of the following groups: Iowa Environmental Council, Iowa Rivers Revival, Nature Conservancy in Iowa, and the Sierra Club Iowa chapter.

Continue Reading...

Obama having second thoughts on new offshore drilling?

A few weeks ago, President Barack Obama advocated expanding offshore oil drilling in a misguided attempt to reach out to Republicans on energy legislation. The president told a town-hall meeting audience on April 2, “It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills. They are technologically very advanced.” Think Progress exposed the inaccuracies in the president’s comments at the time, and the April 20 explosion at British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig was a tragic reminder of how much can go wrong with offshore drilling. Eleven workers were killed in the accident, and the resulting oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico still has not been contained. If it hits the Gulf Coast, the environmental and economic damage will be immense.

Last week, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs insisted that the tragedy had not given the president second thoughts about offshore drilling:

Obama still believes that “we have to have a comprehensive solution to our energy problems,” and the spill did not open up new questions about his drilling plan, [Gibbs] said. […]

“We need the increased production. The president still continues to believe the great majority of that can be done safely, securely and without any harm to the environment,” he said.

However, presidential adviser David Axelrod announced on ABC’s Good Morning America program today that

there’s a moratorium on the expansion until the recent spill can be controlled and investigated.

“No additional drilling has been authorized and none will until we find out what happened here,” he said.

Mike Lillis is absolutely right:

For the White House, the timing of the spill couldn’t have been worse. If Obama had stuck with his guns in opposing new drilling, he’d be seen as a prophet in the wake of this week’s Gulf disaster. Instead, by trying to make concessions to Republicans – most of whom won’t support a climate bill in any event – he’s simply alienated his conservation-minded supporters to no tangible benefit.

Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, says that any climate change bill including more offshore drilling will be “dead on arrival” in Congress. Let’s hope that message will resonates with the president. I also hope the administration will follow through on promises to make BP pay the full cost of cleaning up the oil spill.

On a related note, Mike Soraghan reports in the New York Times that BP “joined with other oil companies last year to oppose stricter safety and environmental rules” for oil rigs. I’m not surprised, and I’m not optimistic that the current disaster will lead to significantly stronger regulations on existing rigs.

UPDATE: I posted the Sierra Club’s statement after the jump. It’s worth a read.

Continue Reading...

Public comments needed to protect hundreds of Iowa streams

The Iowa Environmental Council sent out an action alert on water quality last Friday. Excerpt:

As you know, the 2010 legislative session ended this past Tuesday.  Thanks to your emails to your elected officials,

   * we were able to stop a dirty water bill, which would have exempted many farmers from having to have adequate storage for animal manure over the winter months, and

   * final Iowa rules protecting Iowa lakes and rivers from further degradation (Antidegradation Rules) survived their final hurdle in the legislative ARRC committee.

Also, your emails also stopped the Iowa DNR from omitting hundreds of lakes, and the people swimming and recreating in them, from protection from excess nutrient pollution.

Your emails regarding these issues made a big impact on decision makers!

But our work is not over. The third round of stream assessments has been completed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. As a result, they are proposing to downgrade protections for 408 streams or stream segments!

Please go to our website at http://www.iaenvironment.org/w… to learn how you can help maintain water quality protections for hundreds of Iowa streams and stream segments.

It’s frustrating that even though Democrats control of the Iowa legislature, environmental advocates needed to mobilize against that “dirty water” bill and lobby hard to get Iowa’s new anti-degradation rules through the legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee. Now we have to worry about the DNR under a Democratic administration downgrading protection for streams when Iowa is already one of the worst states for water quality.

Please take two minutes to submit a public comment on this issue. The Iowa Environmental Council has more background information here, including public hearing dates and times, a link to a map of the affected stream segments, as well as the mailing address, fax number and e-mail of the relevant DNR official. Comments must be received by April 30.

Continue Reading...

I wish this were an April Fool's joke

As you probably heard yesterday, President Barack Obama announced plans to expand drilling for oil off the Atlantic coast of the U.S.. Not only that, he insulted environmental advocates and their “tired” arguments against drilling.

I have nothing profound to say about this decision, but when even a big Obama fan like Oliver Willis says the administration “Clearly Took Stupid Pills Today,” that ought to tell you something. Increasing our offshore extraction of oil won’t reduce our reliance on imports from the Middle East, and Obama knows it won’t. This is just a political ploy to win some votes in the Senate while making the president look like he holds the reasonable middle ground.

Once again, Obama makes a big concession to the corporate/Republican position at the beginning of the negotiating process, without gaining anything concrete in return. A good negotiator would make that kind of concession to close the deal, and only in exchange for something significant (like a hugely ambitious renewable electricity standard).

The Senate energy bill (let’s not even pretend it’s a “climate change” bill anymore) will probably allow more offshore drilling that the president announced, and that will probably be fine with the White House. Environmentalists will be asked to clap louder at “progress” or be grateful that Obama didn’t sell us out in a more egregious way.

I am tired of having to fight this kind of battle when the Democrats control Washington. It’s another reason I probably will never again give to Democratic committees at the levels I did from 2004 through 2007.

UPDATE: I recommend reading this post at EnviroKnow: “Dems More Trusted on Energy than Any Other Issue, Yet they Continue Pursuing Polluter-Friendly GOP Ideas.”

Massive Iowa Legislature linkfest (post-funnel edition)

The Iowa Legislature has been moving at an unusually fast pace during the shortened 2010 session. It’s time to catch up on what’s happened at the statehouse over the past three weeks. From here on out I will try to post a legislative roundup at the end of every week.

February 12 was the first “funnel” deadline. In order to have a chance of moving forward in 2010, all legislation except for tax and appropriations bills must have cleared at least one Iowa House or Senate committee by the end of last Friday.

After the jump I’ve included links on lots of bills that have passed or are still under consideration, as well as bills I took an interest in that failed to clear the funnel. I have grouped bills by subject area. This post is not an exhaustive list; way too many bills are under consideration for me to discuss them all. I recommend this funnel day roundup by Rod Boshart for the Mason City Globe-Gazette.

Note: the Iowa legislature’s second funnel deadline is coming up on March 5. To remain alive after that point, all bills except tax and appropriations bills must have been approved by either the full House or Senate and by a committee in the opposite chamber. Many bills that cleared the first funnel week will die in the second.  

Continue Reading...

Open thread with events coming up this week

I didn’t have time to pull this together yesterday, but here’s a late weekend open thread. Share whatever’s on your mind.

(UPDATE: If you think you know American history, see how well you do on Charles Lemos’ Presidents’ Day trivia quiz. Each president is the correct answer to only one question.)

After the jump I’ve posted details on many events coming up this week. I hope to attend the screening of the “Big River” documentary in Des Moines on February 18. It’s a sequel to the must-watch “King Corn,” and the screening is a joint benefit for the Iowa Environmental Council and Practical Farmers of Iowa.

If you are a Democratic candidate in Iowa, please e-mail me your list of upcoming events so I can include them in these threads. (desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com)

Oxfam America “is seeking Des Moines area volunteers to lend 5-8 hours of time per week to help them raise awareness of the impacts of climate change on global communities and encourage action to alleviate it.” If you’re interested, you need to contact them by February 15 (information below).

Have a laugh at this from the Onion: New law would ban marriages between people who don’t love each other.

New Law Would Ban Marriages Between People Who Don’t Love Each Other

Continue Reading...

Another study finds link between atrazine and birth defects

Yet another study has found that exposure to the weed-killer atrazine is associated with a higher rate of a birth defect:

Living near farms that use the weed killer atrazine may up the risk of a rare birth defect, according to a study presented this past Friday [February 5] at the annual meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine in Chicago.

About 1 in 5000 babies born in the U.S. each year suffers from gastroschisis, in which part of the intestines bulges through a separation in the belly, according to the March of Dimes. The rate of gastroschisis has risen 2- to 4-fold over the last three decades, according to Dr. Sarah Waller, of the University of Washington, Seattle, and colleagues. […]

The researchers looked at more than 4,400 birth certificates from 1987-2006 – including more than 800 cases of gastroschisis — and U.S. Geological Survey databases of agricultural spraying between 2001 and 2006.

Using Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards to define high chemical exposure levels in surface water, they found that the closer a mother lived to a site of high surface water contamination by atrazine, the more likely she was to deliver an infant with gastroschisis.

The birth defect occurred more often among infants who lived less than 25 km (about 15 miles) from one of these sites, and it occurred more often among babies conceived between March and May, when agricultural spraying is common.

A separate study published last year in the medical journal Acta Paediatrica compared monthly concentrations of “nitrates, atrazine and other pesticides” in the U.S. water supply with birth defect rates over a seven-year period. The researchers found, “Elevated concentrations of agrichemicals in surface water in April-July coincided with higher risk of birth defects in live births with [last menstrual periods in] April-July.” The association was found for “eleven of 22 birth defect subcategories” as well as for birth defects as a whole.

The European Union banned atrazine in 2003 because of groundwater contamination, but tens of millions of pounds of the chemical are still sprayed on American farms. It has been proven to enter the water supply and is correlated with increased rates of breast and prostate cancers.

During the Bush administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maintained that atrazine had no detrimental effects in humans. But in a policy shift last October, the EPA announced that it would ask the independent Scientific Advisory Panel to conduct a thorough scientific review of atrazine’s “potential cancer and non-cancer effects on humans,” including “its potential association with birth defects, low birth weight, and premature births.” The panel will also evaluate research on “atrazine’s potential effects on amphibians and aquatic ecosystems.” Conventional agriculture groups aren’t waiting for the results of the review; they are already lobbying the EPA not to restrict or ban the use of atrazine.

I’d have more respect for the “pro-life” movement if they supported restrictions on chemicals that threaten babies in the womb. I don’t think I have ever heard an anti-abortion activist railing against atrazine or pesticides that can cause spontaneous abortions, though.

Continue Reading...

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.  

Continue Reading...

Good news for Iowa water quality (for once)

State legislators have allowed clean water “anti-degradation” rules to stand, a step toward filling a significant hole in Iowa’s water quality regulations. A last-ditch effort by Republicans failed to win enough votes on the Iowa legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee (ARRC) to set aside rules adopted by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

I’ve joked that the ARRC’s unofficial motto is “Where good rules go to die,” because on several occasions the committee has rejected rules oriented toward environmental protection. Today Republican Senator Merlin Bartz tried to keep that tradition going with a motion to object to the new water quality rules. However, only Bartz’s three fellow Republicans on the committee (Senator James Seymour and State Representatives Dave Heaton and Linda Upmeyer) voted for rejecting the DNR’s rules. The six Democrats on the ARRC (Senators Wally Horn, Jack Kibbie and Tom Courtney, and State Representatives Marcella Frevert, Tyler Olson and Nathan Reichert) all voted against Bartz’s resolution.

Governor Chet Culver’s chief legal counsel, Jim Larew, spoke in favor of the rules at today’s ARRC hearing, saying they would help Iowa reverse the trend of declining water quality. Unfortunately, we’ve got a long way to go on this front. Further regulation of pollution is warranted, but the political will to accomplish that is currently absent in the state legislature.

Several non-profit organizations deserve special recognition today. Without their efforts, the DNR might not have moved forward to adopt the anti-degradation rules, as required by the Clean Water Act. The Iowa Environmental Council issued a release today with more background and details about the anti-degradation rules. Excerpt:

With the passage of the federal Clean Water Act in 1972 states were required to enact Antidegradation rules to prevent the further pollution of lakes, rivers and streams in the nation by 1985.  Iowa adopted rules but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency informed Iowa that its rules violated federal law as early as 1997.  

Repeated delays in rewriting the rules led a coalition of environmental organizations – Iowa Environmental Council, Hawkeye Fly Fishing Association, the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Environmental Law & Policy Center – to file a Petition for Rulemaking with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources in 2007 requesting that the State act immediately to adopt antidegradation implementation rules.  This action initiated a rule-making process that included several opportunities for public comment and a hearing before the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission, which approved the revised rules in December of last year. Monday’s meeting of the legislative Administrative Rules and Review Committee marked the final step in the decades-long process.

The full text of the press release is after the jump.

Thanks again to the Iowa Environmental Council, the Hawkeye Fly Fishing Association, the Sierra Club Iowa chapter, and the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

UPDATE: I’ve added the press release from the Sierra Club’s Iowa chapter after the jump.

Continue Reading...

Weekend open thread with events coming up this week

The Iowa caucuses take place this Saturday, January 23, beginning at 1 pm. Democrats can click here and enter your zip code to find your caucus location. If you’ve never attended an off-year caucus, I recommend the experience as a way to meet some of the most committed activists in your precinct and have input on the party platform and party machinery. Polk County Democratic Party executive director Tamyra Harrison explained the benefits of attending an off-year caucus in more detail here. The level of energy and excitement won’t match the 2008 caucus, but on the plus side, you won’t be packed like sardines into a stuffy room.

Some non-profit advocacy organizations have drafted resolutions for supporters to offer at their precinct caucuses. If adopted, these resolutions will be forwarded to the county platform committee. For example, 1000 Friends of Iowa is encouraging supporters to offer this resolution on responsible land use.

This thread is for discussing anything on your mind this weekend.

There are Martin Luther King Jr. remembrances going on in many Iowa cities today and tomorrow; check your local news outlet for details. To mark King’s birthday, Democratic Senate candidate Bob Krause pledged to develop “a comprehensive strategy for alleviating the Iowa incarceration disparity,” in light of the fact that “Iowa has a per capita incarceration rate for blacks that is fourteen times the incarceration rate for whites.”

I appreciated this letter to the editor by Frank McCammond of Redfield, which the Des Moines Register published on January 15:

Marian Riggs Gelb’s Jan. 3 guest column (“Protect Iowa’s Liquid Gems”) calls for thank-you notes to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources for designating a few streams in northeast Iowa for protection as “outstanding waters.”

It was a nice suggestion. However, where do I write the note about letting the rest of the state’s river systems be turned into open sewers by the farm and livestock interests and by towns that won’t fix their sewage systems?

(Gelb’s guest column is here, and the Iowa Environmental Council has more information on the “outstanding Iowa waters” designation here.)

After the jump I’ve posted more about events coming up this week. Roxanne Conlin began her 99-county tour last week, but I couldn’t find any event details or calendar on her campaign website.

UPDATE: Duh! Forgot Johnson County’s special election on Tuesday. Go vote for Janelle Rettig for county supervisor. John Deeth has been providing great coverage of the race at his blog. Lori Cardella is like school in the summertime–no class.

Continue Reading...

Obama's "five worst nominees"

Over at the Mother Jones blog, Kate Sheppard, David Corn and Daniel Schulman compiled a list of “Obama’s Five Worst Nominees.” Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner doesn’t make the cut, which surprised me until I read the short bios of appointees who are likely to put corporate interests ahead of the public interest. In alphabetical order:

William Lynn, for whom the president made an exception to his policy on lobbyists in government. Lynn was the chief lobbyist for defense contractor Raytheon before becoming deputy secretary of defense in the Obama administration.

William Magwood, a “cheerleader for nuclear power” who has “worked for reactor maker Westinghouse and has run two firms that advise companies on nuclear projects.” Obama nominated him for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Scott O’Malia, who was apparently suggested by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. O’Malia “was a lobbyist for Mirant, an Enron-like energy-trading firm” and lobbied for weakening the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, to which Obama appointed him.

Joseph Pizarchik, who helped form policies in Pennsylvania to allow disposal of toxic coal ash in unlined pits. Obama named him director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

Islam Siddiqui, whom Obama appointed to be the chief agricultural negotiator for the U.S. trade representative. Jill Richardson has been on this case at La Vida Locavore; see here and here on why Siddiqui is the wrong person for this job.

I wouldn’t suggest that this rogue’s gallery is representative of Obama appointees, but it’s depressing to see any of them in this administration.

In the good news column, Obama has decided to renominate Dawn Johnsen to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, along with five other nominees who didn’t receive a confirmation vote in the Senate last year.

Year in review: national politics in 2009 (part 1)

It took me a week longer than I anticipated, but I finally finished compiling links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage from last year. This post and part 2, coming later today, include stories on national politics, mostly relating to Congress and Barack Obama’s administration. Diaries reviewing Iowa politics in 2009 will come soon.

One thing struck me while compiling this post: on all of the House bills I covered here during 2009, Democrats Leonard Boswell, Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack voted the same way. That was a big change from 2007 and 2008, when Blue Dog Boswell voted with Republicans and against the majority of the Democratic caucus on many key bills.

No federal policy issue inspired more posts last year than health care reform. Rereading my earlier, guardedly hopeful pieces was depressing in light of the mess the health care reform bill has become. I was never optimistic about getting a strong public health insurance option through Congress, but I thought we had a chance to pass a very good bill. If I had anticipated the magnitude of the Democratic sellout on so many aspects of reform in addition to the public option, I wouldn’t have spent so many hours writing about this issue. I can’t say I wasn’t warned (and warned), though.

Links to stories from January through June 2009 are after the jump. Any thoughts about last year’s political events are welcome in this thread.

Continue Reading...

EPA's Climate Announcement is Most Significant Yet

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today finalized its proposed finding that carbon dioxide and other global warming pollutants threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations, setting the stage for regulating the pollutants under the Clean Air Act.  The landmark announcement comes as world leaders kick off two weeks of negotiations in Copenhagen on a global climate treaty.

“This is the most significant step the federal government has taken on global warming.  The Clean Air Act is tried and true.  It has a nearly 40-year track record of cost-effectively cutting dangerous pollution to protect our health and environment.  EPA can now put this proven law to work as one critical tool in the fight against global warming,” said Eric Nost, fellow at Environment Iowa.

More than two and a half years ago, the Supreme Court ordered the EPA to determine if global warming pollution threatens public health or welfare – a conclusion supported by a worldwide scientific consensus.  Today’s action puts EPA on track to take long-overdue steps to reduce global warming pollution from cars, coal-fired power plants, and other large pollution sources under the Clean Air Act.

The announcement comes nearly a year after proposals to build new coal-fired power plants in Marshalltown and Waterloo were canceled.  The plants would have emitted millions of tons of carbon dioxide each year.

“The EPA's decision is definitely the next step in confronting Iowa's contribution to global warming. The Senate also must act to set overall pollution-reduction goals and to accelerate the move to clean energy, but it’s up to EPA to crack down on pollution from cars and mega industrial polluters like the state's fleet of aging and inefficient coal-plants.  By improving energy efficiency and transitioning to clean, renewable energy sources like wind and solar, the U.S. and Iowa can both cut pollution and create new jobs,” said Nost.

“We applaud President Obama and EPA Administrator Jackson for complying with the Supreme Court’s 2007 decision and embracing the basic facts on global warming that scientists around the world have acknowledged for years,” concluded Nost.

The following is the timeline leading up to today’s decision:

  • 1999: EPA was first petitioned to regulate global warming pollutants from new cars and light trucks under the Clean Air Act.
  • 2003: The Bush EPA denied the petition.
  • April 2007: The Supreme Court found, in Massachusetts v. EPA, that global warming pollutants are pollutants as defined by the Clean Air Act, and held that EPA mustdetermine whether these pollutants from new motor vehicles cause or contribute to air pollution that may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.
  • December 2007: The EPA prepared a proposal finding that global warming pollutants endanger public welfare, but the Bush White House did not allow the proposal to be released.
  • April 2009: The EPA released its proposed finding, which the agency is finalizing today.


Environment Iowa is a citizen-funded environmental advocacy organization that works to protect the state's clean air, clean water, and open spaces.

Events coming up during the next two weeks

Last month was so busy that I didn’t manage to post any event calendars here, but I am back on duty now. The highlight of this month for Democrats is the Iowa Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner on Saturday, November 21, featuring Vice President Joe Biden. You can buy tickets online.

Please note that November 10 is the deadline for public comments to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources about protecting our Outstanding Iowa Waters. The Farm Bureau is mobilizing public comments against these regulations. The DNR needs to hear from Iowans committed to preserving our highest-quality waterways. Click here for background and an easy to use comment form.

State Senator Staci Appel will officially announce her re-election campaign on November 12, and I’ve posted details about a fundraiser for her campaign below the fold. Appel’s Republican opponent, State Representative Kent Sorenson, is already gearing up for next year’s election. He spent the weekend in Texas attending the WallBuilders ProFamily Legislators Conference. Here’s some background on David Barton’s vision for America, chock full of Biblical interpretations supporting right-wing public policies. Barton spoke to the Iowa Christian Alliance not long ago (click that link to watch videos). Former presidential candidate Ron Paul is headlining a fundraiser for Sorenson on November 14, by the way.

Many more event details are after the jump. As always, please post a comment about anything I’ve left out, or send me an e-mail (desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com).

Continue Reading...

Strong Energy Efficiency Policies Would Save Iowa Families $282 per Year, Create 6,200 Jobs

(I would also like to see energy efficiency programs target low-income households, which spend a higher proportion of their income on utility bills. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

For Immediate Release: September 10, 2009

Contact: Eric Nost, Environment Iowa, 515-243-5835, enost@environmentiowa.org

New Report: Strong Energy Efficiency Policies in Energy/Climate Legislation Would Save Iowa Families $282 per Year, Create 6,200 Jobs

Des Moines, IA – A new national report finds that Iowa households would save an average of $282 per year and 6,200 sustainable jobs would be created in the state over the next ten years if Congress acts now to include strong energy efficiency improvements in energy and climate legislation. The report, entitled Energy Efficiency in the American Clean Energy Security Act of 2009: Impacts of Current Provisions and Opportunities to Enhance the Legislation, was released by Environment Iowa and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. The efficiency provisions would prevent 5 million metric tons of global warming emissions from being released here in 2020 alone, the equivalent of taking over 900,000 cars off the road for a year. (The report is publicly available at http://www.environmentiowa.org)

(continues after the jump) 

Continue Reading...

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.

Continue Reading...

The joy of letting native plants take over your yard

Richard Doak wrote a great piece in last Sunday’s Des Moines Register urging readers to “plant the seeds of a more eco-thoughtful Iowa.” Seeding native plants along roadsides has helped the state Department of Transportation save money and labor while user fewer chemicals.

Highway officials cite a long list of other benefits, such as controlling blowing snow, improving air quality, reducing erosion, filtering pollutants and providing wildlife habitat. They’re even said to improve safety by reducing the effects of highway hypnosis, delineating upcoming curves and screening headlight glare.

Doak wants to see much more native landscaping in Iowa:

To set the example, let’s have every school, every courthouse, every park, every hospital, every library set aside at least a patch of space for wild indigo, prairie sage, golden Alexanders, blackeyed Susan, pale-purple coneflower, butterfly milkweed, prairie larkspur, shooting star, compass plant, partridge pea, spiderwort, ironweed, blazing star, smooth blue aster or any of hundreds of other flowering plants that were native to the tallgrass prairie. […]

It’s estimated that up to one-third of residential water use goes to lawn watering, and lawn mowing uses 800 million gallons of gasoline per year, including 17 million gallons spilled while refueling. Some 5 percent of air pollution is attributed to lawn mowers.

Native plants require no fertilizer or herbicide, no watering and only enough mowing to mimic the effects of the occasional wildfires that kept the prairie clean of trees.

Interest in reducing pollution and conserving water and energy should be reason enough to switch to native landscaping.

About ten years ago, our family stopped trying to grow a grassy lawn in our shady yard. After the jump I’ve listed some of the benefits of going native.

Continue Reading...

Help keep Iowa streams safe for swimming and playing

I received this action alert from the Sierra Club’s Iowa chapter on Friday:

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wants to lower recreational use protections on 119 stream segments that protect for swimming, children’s play and other full body contact recreational uses (A1 and A3) to a less protective secondary contact recreational standard that only protects for incidental contact with the water (A2) – click here to see the streams listed.

If the streams’ protections are reduced or eliminated, sewage treatment plants and other facilities will be allowed to continue releasing wastewater into them with harmful levels of bacteria and other pollutants.

It is important for everyone who knows what types of recreational activities occur on any of these 119 streams to provide comments to the DNR if they are aware of any primary contact recreational activities on these streams including swimming, children’s play (including wading), canoeing or kayaking.

Your personalized comments are critical to ensure the recreational standards will not be lowered for waters used for recreation and children’s play.

Sewage that has not been disinfected may contain viruses, parasites, and other pathogens that can make people sick with ear infections, typhoid fever, hepatitis, gastroenteritis, dysentery, and other illnesses.  Pathogens such as fecal coliform and E. coli bacteria are indicators of poor water quality and possible contamination with human or animal waste.  Waters with elevated levels of fecal coliform and E. coli bacteria are considered unsafe to swim in or for children and adolescents to play in.

Tell the DNR your experience recreating on these stream segments and that you do not want protections downgraded.

Here’s a complete list of the threatened streams. Please take a moment to submit a public comment on this issue, especially if you’ve ever played or taken your family to play in any of those waters.

Water pollution is already a huge problem in Iowa. DNR head Rich Leopold knows this, because he gave the state a C- for water quality in his first annual Environmental Report Card last month. Even that grade was too generous, according to the environmental advocates I know.

The DNR should be striving on every front to make Iowa waters cleaner, not downgrading the level of protection for any rivers, lakes or streams. I would like to be able to let my kids wade in a creek during the summer.

Continue Reading...

Events coming up this week

It’s been a week since same-sex marriage became legal in Iowa, and I’m happy to report that my hetero marriage has not yet collapsed under the strain of sharing rights with gays and lesbians.

Click “there’s more” to read about events coming up this week. As always, post a comment or send me an e-mail (desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com) if you know of something I’ve left out.

Advance warning: May 11-15 is Bike to Work week.

Registration is FREE. Over 500 Bike to Work Socks have been ordered from the Sock Guy. This year’s socks are green. Socks will be available at events throughout the week on a first come, first serve basis. (One pair per pre-registered rider.) Everyone who registers and takes the pledge is eligible for $1,000 in Bike Bucks for use in any sponsoring bike shop and many other prizes! Registration closes at Noon on Thursday May 14th. Questions? Check out Bike to Work Week events and businesses around Iowa at www.bikeiowa.com.

Continue Reading...

Culver appoints Elderkin to Power Fund, La Seur to Environmental Protection Commission

I love it! Governor Chet Culver announced four appointments today: Shearon Elderkin for the Iowa Power Fund board; Carrie La Seur for the Environmental Protection Commission; John Mathes as the Interim Commandant of the Iowa Veterans Home; and Tomas Rodriguez as Iowa’s State Public Defender. A press release containing some biographical information about the nominees is after the jump.

Earlier this month Iowa Senate Republicans blocked Elderkin’s appointment to the EPC and La Seur’s appointment to the Power Fund board, despite both women’s strong qualifications. I appreciate the governor’s commitment to giving these women the chance to continue their volunteer public service.

Republicans also rejected Gene Gessow, Culver’s nominee to head the state Department of Health and Human Services. It will be interesting to see where Gessow lands.

UPDATE: Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement issued a press release on April 30 welcoming the appointments of Elderkin and La Seur. Excerpt:

“We are pleased Gov. Culver is appointing these two individuals who are dedicated to working towards a cleaner environment in Iowa,” said CCI board president Barb Kalbach, “We have full confidence that they have the capacity and leadership to stand up for policies that protect our air and water and serve the common good.”

Continue Reading...

Final results from the Iowa Legislature's 2009 session

The Iowa House adjourned for the year a little after 5 am today, and the Iowa Senate adjourned a few minutes before 6 am. I’ll write more about what happened and didn’t happen in the next day or two, but I wanted to put up this thread right away so people can share their opinions.

Several major bills passed during the final marathon days in which legislators were in the statehouse chambers nearly all night on Friday and Saturday. The most important were the 2010 budget and an infrastructure bonding proposal. Legislators also approved new restrictions on the application of manure on frozen or snow-covered ground. Another high-profile bill that made it through changes restrictions on convicted sex offenders.

Several controversial bills did not pass for lack of a 51st vote in the Iowa House, namely a tax reform plan that would have ended federal deductibility and key legislative priorities for organized labor.

Not surprisingly, last-minute Republican efforts to debate a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage also failed.

More details and some preliminary analysis are after the jump.

Continue Reading...

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.

Continue Reading...

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.

Continue Reading...

Iowa has 42 of the 150 watersheds that create the Gulf of Mexico's "Dead Zone"

I just received a press release from the Iowa Environmental Council about new data released this week by the U.S. Geological Survey. The USGS identified “the top 150 polluting watersheds in the Mississippi River Basin that cause the annual 8,000 square-mile ‘Dead Zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico” and found that 42 of those watersheds are in Iowa. I’ve posted the whole press release after the jump, but here is an excerpt:

Marine dead zones can be caused by too many nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) in the water. Excess nutrients cause excess algae growth which, in turn, causes oxygen levels to drop too low to support marine life. […]

This is not the first time that Iowa nutrient problems in Iowa waters have been linked to problems downstream. In January of 2008, USGS identified 9* states, including Iowa, as the source of over 70 percent of the Gulf Dead Zone pollution. Nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from commercial fertilizers and animal manure from farmland were the biggest contributing sources in these states.

“It is ironic that our legislature is currently considering a bill that would weaken new rules proposed by the Iowa DNR to reduce runoff of manure applied to frozen or snow covered cropland during the winter,” said Marian Riggs Gelb, executive director for the Iowa Environmental Council.

I wrote about the “manure in water” bill, which passed the Iowa Senate as SF 432, earlier this week. Organizations opposing that bill include the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the Iowa Environmental Council, the Sierra Club’s Iowa chapter, Iowa Farmers Union, Raccoon River Watershed Association, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, and the Izaak Walton League.

In fact, I received an action alert about this bill from the Sierra Club today. Excerpt:

SF 432 is the Manure Bill, with the first Division of the bill being the Liquid Manure on Frozen Ground issue. It allows the spread of liquid manure on snow or ice covered frozen ground under certain conditions. Sierra Club, and many Iowans, are absolutely opposed to the spread of liquid manure on top of snow, ice or frozen ground. The risk of runoff into Iowa’s streams and lakes is quite high from such activity, especially upon thawing. Fundamentally this bill limits State implementation of Clean Water Act rules.

The Sierra Club wants Iowans to contact House representatives and ask them to remove the Liquid Manure division of SF 432. The floor manager of this bill in Iowa House is Representative Ray Zirkelbach (district 31). Other key Democratic legislators to contact about this bill, according to the Sierra Club, are House Speaker Pat Murphy (district 28), Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (district 67), Representative Mike Reasoner (district 95), Representative Donovan Olson (district 48), and Representative Polly Bukta (district 26).

If you live in any of the above districts, please contact them in the next few days regarding the manure in water bill. You can find contact information at the Iowa House Democrats’ site.

Getting back to the U.S. Geological Survey findings, the Iowa Environmental Council’s water program director, Susan Heathcote, pointed out that Iowans would also benefit from cleaning up our watersheds that contribute to the Gulf of Mexico’s “Dead Zone.” By way of example, she cited the Cedar, Iowa and Des Moines Rivers, which are on the USGS list and also provide drinking water for major population centers in Iowa.

Click “there’s more” to read the rest of the IEC’s press release on this issue.

Continue Reading...

Why don't Iowa leaders do more to protect the environment? (updated)

David Yepsen published his final column in the Des Moines Register before starting his new job as director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. It reprises some themes from many previous columns, such as the need to create a world-class education system and thriving economy in Iowa, with fewer layers of government.

As often happens when I read one of Yepsen’s columns, I wonder why he ignores some obvious paths to achieving his admirable goals. For instance, he wants Iowa to “set the goal of having one of the highest per-capita incomes in the country within 10 years.” Is this the same columnist who never met a labor union he liked? It reminded me of how Yepsen periodically slams the excessive influence of big money in politics, but won’t get behind a voluntary public financing system for clean elections.

In Yepsen’s final column, one passage in particular caught my eye:

Let’s set a goal to have the cleanest environment in the country within 10 years. The cleanest air. The cleanest water. The best soil- and energy-conservation practices.

We’ve had education governors. We’ve had sporadic focus on growing the economy. For some reason, we’ve lacked a similar focus on the environment. Creating a clean environment will create green jobs, but it will also make Iowa more attractive as a place to live and do business.

“For some reason”? I think most of us have a pretty good idea why improving air and water quality has never been a high priority for Iowa leaders. Follow me after the jump for more on this problem.

Continue Reading...

Events coming up this weekend and next week

I was downtown today helping set up a couple of booths for the Natural Living Expo tomorrow, which has been taking up a lot of my time lately. Maybe I’ll see some of you there, but I won’t have my “desmoinesdem” hat on, so won’t be talking about partisan politics.

As always, please post a comment or send me an e-mail (desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com) if you know of an event I’ve left out.

The calendar is after the jump.

Continue Reading...

Events coming up during the next two weeks

There’s a lot going on in the next couple of weeks for those who haven’t split Iowa for spring break. Event details are after the jump.

Please post a comment or send me an e-mail (desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com) if you know of an event I’ve left out.

FYI, the Iowa Environmental Council has a job opportunity:

The Iowa Environmental Council is in the process of establishing an air quality program area. The Council is seeking an individual to conduct research, engage in coalition building and public education and advise the Council on policy opportunities available to protect Iowa’s air quality. For job requirements, description, salary information and how to apply, go to: www.iaenvironment.org, and click on “job opening” on the gold sidebar.

Continue Reading...

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.

Continue Reading...

Iowa House and Senate approve sustainable funding amendment

The Iowa Senate approved the Natural Resources Trust Fund constitutional amendment today by 49 to 1, with Senator Pam Jochum (D) casting the only no vote.

The Iowa House approved the same bill yesterday by 82 to 14, with 4 not voting. Although the measure passed with strong bipartisan support, 11 Democrats and 3 Republicans voted no.

This is a huge victory for the Sustainable Funding Coalition, which includes the following organizations:

Conservation Districts of Iowa

Ducks Unlimited

Environment Iowa

Environmental Law & Policy Center

Iowa Association of County Conservation Boards

Iowa Conservation Alliance

Iowa Environmental Council

Iowa Farmers Union

Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation

Iowa Rivers Revival

Izaak Walton League

The Nature Conservancy

Pheasants Forever

Sierra Club, Iowa Chapter

Here is some background on the bill from the Iowa Environmental Council’s website:

This bill will …

Establish a constitutionally protected state fund for protecting and enhancing water quality, conserving Iowa’s precious agricultural soils, and much more.  Minnesota and other states have established similar trust funds.

This bill will NOT raise taxes

In Iowa, taxes cannot be raised by a constitutional amendment. However, constitutional amendments can dedicate a portion of tax revenue to certain activities. If this bill (currently numbered as SJR1 in the Senate and HJR1 in the House) becomes law, and WHEN sales taxes are increased in Iowa in the future, the first 3/8 cent of the new tax must be earmarked or dedicated to this new Trust.

Why sustainable funding?

Increased and protected state funding is essential to provide key benefits across Iowa:

* Cleaner water

* Positive economic impacts

* Sustainable agriculture and soils

* Outdoor recreation opportunities close to home where Iowans can enjoy and appreciate healthy activities, nature, and Iowa’s beauty.

Why a constitutional amendment?

Sales tax revenues are much more stable than the state budget. With a constitutional amendment that guarantees 3/8 cent of sales tax revenue to conservation, there will be predictable and steady funding for important long-term programs for a healthier environment.

What’s the process to establish the sustainable funding?

A vote of the people, as well as a vote of two different legislative bodies, is needed.

1. The 2008 Iowa Legislature passes the joint resolution to place the issue on public ballot.

2. The 2009 Iowa Legislature passes the same joint resolution.

3. Iowans would vote on the resolution in a statewide election. A simple majority is needed for its passage.

4. The Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund begins accumulating when Iowa sales tax is increased.

The Iowa Environmental Council has also prepared this fact sheet (pdf file) on the sustainable funding initiative.

Although I would have voted for this bill, I have mixed feelings about it. I recognize the importance of securing a reliable funding stream for these programs, and this approach seems to work well for other states.

At the same time, I know California got into trouble by adopting too many constitutional amendments on funding this or that program. I also question why adequate funding for the environment should depend on raising the sales tax, which is regressive.

People involved with the Sustainable Funding Coalition have told me that they are working with the Iowa Policy Project to come up with a way to mitigate the impact that a sales tax hike would have on lower-income Iowans. (One option would be to increase the earned-income tax credit at the same time that the sales tax is increased.)

The Des Moines Register quoted four representatives explaining their votes, and I felt all raised valid points:

Rep. Paul Bell, D-Newton: “It is only right that we protect and maintain our natural resources for our children and godchildren.”

Rep. Mike May, R-Spirit Lake: “This is not a political issue. This is an environmental issue. A vibrant environment is incredibly important to our future. I’m concerned that we may supplant the funds that are now dedicated to DNR with this money. It behooves the Legislature to be vigilant and committed that we are going to protect this money.”

OPPONENTS: Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport: “We are elected to make decisions every day. Calling for a constitutional amendment allows us to put off our decision about our valuable natural resources. I do not think we need permission from our voters to make this important decision.”

Rep. Greg Forristall, R-Macedonia: “I support many causes that are mentioned in this resolution. Here’s my problem. What’s to prevent a future legislature from stripping all the money we currently spend (on natural resources) and switch to the money in this special fund?”

I put the full roll call from the Iowa House after the jump.

Continue Reading...

Good advice for state legislators

I was down at the capitol today for the Iowa Environmental Council’s annual “lobby day.” I am active with several groups that had tables there.

If you’ve never attended one of these events, I highly recommend the experience. It is easy to introduce yourself to legislators and talk about your group or the policies you’re supporting.

Some organizations, such as the Iowa Policy Project, had detailed reports to hand out today. Those are quite useful, and I hope they find a receptive audience at the statehouse, but you don’t always need that much detail for a conversation with a state representative or senator.

It helps to have a concise document (a page or two) making your case for specific policies or bills. These “wish lists” are not only for legislators, but also for anyone who wants to know more about your group.

The Iowa Environmental Council’s press release sums up the key points of that organization’s message today:

February 10, 2009

Iowa Environmental Council Asks Legislators for Burn Ban, More Energy Efficiency Programs

DES MOINES – Advocates for clean water and air, clean renewable energy, and sustainable funding for natural resources filled the Statehouse rotunda today to offer lawmakers suggestions for protecting Iowa’s precious natural resources in lean economic times.

Marian Riggs Gelb, executive director for the Iowa Environmental Council, encouraged legislators to act quickly to support policy options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as outlined in a recent report by the Iowa Climate Change Advisory Council. Gelb, who served on the Iowa Climate Change Advisory Council, stressed that the energy efficiency project options provide significant cost savings to energy consumers and expand upon the programs already provided by utilities. Another option Gelb pointed to in the report was land use planning that incorporates sustainable community design and reduces vehicle miles traveled and expanded passenger rail and transit choices.

Gelb also called for legislators to request a new comprehensive state water plan and accurate, up-to-date floodplain maps from the Department of Natural Resources.

“We need a better understanding of the hydrology of our state. The last time the state made a comprehensive assessment of its water resources was 1978,” said Gelb.

Amy Broadmoore, the Council’s air quality program director, said the Council supports proposed legislation that would enact a statewide ban on burning within city limits.

“Asthma, bronchitis and heart attacks are all linked to high levels of fine particulate matter concentrations. These concentrations, in much of Eastern Iowa, are near to or exceeding the Clean Air Act’s standards. A burn ban would help protect Iowans, especially young children and the elderly,” said Broadmoore.

Other speakers included Representative Paul Bell, from Newton, and Senator David Johnson, from Ocheyedan. Like Gelb, they called for legislators to pass the measure currently eligible for debate by the Iowa House and Senate, which would allow Iowans to vote, in 2010, on a constitutionally protected trust fund for programs to protect and enhance Iowa’s natural areas, farmland and sources of drinking water. Gelb noted that Iowa ranks near the bottom in spending for protection of its natural resources.

Iowa Environmental Council member organizations and partners represented at the Statehouse today included 1000 Friends of Iowa; American Institute of Architects-Iowa Chapter; Center for Energy and Environmental Education; Iowa Conservation Education Coalition; Iowa Farmers Union; Iowa Global Warming; Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation; Iowa Policy Project; Iowa Renewable Energy Association; Iowa Rivers Revival; Raccoon River Watershed Association; Trees Forever; University Hygienic Lab; Women, Food and Agriculture Network.


This is a great “wish list” because it advocates for both specific policies that would improve air and water quality as well as broader recommendations of the Iowa Climate Change Advisory Council.

If you want to receive updates and action alerts from the Iowa Environmental Council during the legislative session, click here to sign up for their I-CALL list.

Please share your experiences lobbying state, local or federal officials in this thread.

Continue Reading...

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.

Continue Reading...

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.

Continue Reading...

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.

Continue Reading...

Of all the times to shelve coal ash disposal rules

I missed this Des Moines Register story last week:

Iowa state environmental regulators want to shelve for as long as three years new rules intended to keep toxic coal ash out of Iowa’s water supplies, largely because of industry protests.

Environmentalists say the state is caving in to industry pressure while putting Iowans’ drinking water supplies, and health, at risk.

The article quotes Carrie La Seur, founder of Plains Justice, as saying she learned on December 30

that Iowa regulators agreed to postpone action on their new rules after companies that handle ash waste questioned the true health risk and objected to potential costs associated with the changes that they said would be passed on to consumers.

Instead, the firms offered to install monitoring wells to check whether ash is polluting water around unlined former gravel pits and ravines where the material is used as fill.

Coal ash typically contains a variety of heavy metals that can cause cancer, neurological and developmental problems, and other illnesses. The pollutants include arsenic, lead, mercury and boron, which are concentrated at levels in the ash that are far above the amount found in coal.

In 2007 Plains Justice produced an Iowa Coal Combustion Waste Disposal Report. Click the link to download the report.

La Seur told the Des Moines Register that Plains Justice is particularly concerned about storing coal ash near rivers.

With good reason, because the recent billion-gallon coal ash spill in Tennessee may be even worse for the environment and for human health than it first appeared.

This Daily Kos diary discusses the contaminants that have already been found in the Emory River since that accident:

All water samples were found to contain elevated levels of arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, nickel and thallium. The samples were taken from the immediate area of the coal waste spill, in front of the Kingston Fossil plant intake canal just downstream from the spill site, and at a power line crossing two miles downstream from the spill.

These pollutants will flow downstream to larger rivers, and they are likely to remain in the environment for a long time. Water near a similar accident in Kentucky remained devoid of aquatic life for years.

Even worse, waste produced by coal plants contains radioactive compounds. Daily Kos diarist Hummingbird linked to a 2007 article from Scientific American: Coal Ash Is More Radioactive than Nuclear Waste. Click the link to read the very disturbing details.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources should not back off from requiring coal ash storage facilities to have liners. That is a reasonable precaution, given how many hazardous substances are concentrated in the coal ash.

The Register says companies have offered to install wells to monitor whether contaminants are leaching from unlined ravines and gravel pits into groundwater. I hope the DNR will have the resources and commitment to follow through on this monitoring and check compliance. I do not want to take corporations’ word for it that the water around their storage facilities is fine.

Unfortunately, the DNR is not always quick to investigate potential water quality problems.

The disaster in Tennessee should be a reminder to all that there is no such thing as clean coal, even if future technology were able to capture carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.

UPDATE: A commenter at Daily Kos pointed out that the timeline of the DNR’s decision is unclear. La Seur says she learned of plans to shelve the new disposal rules on December 30. But did the DNR make that decision before or after the Tennessee disaster occurred on December 22?

If you know the answer to this question, please e-mail me confidentially at desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com.

SECOND UPDATE: I got this reply from La Seur:

Plains Justice has been working with DNR on this rulemaking for most of the last year following our 2007 coal ash disposal report.  We filed comments on a draft rulemaking at the end of the summer.  DNR then announced that it would be issuing a second draft for comment in December.  We were waiting on that when the TN coal ash spill happened.  Because of TN we began to get press queries about Iowa’s status, so we called DNR to ask what was happening with the rulemaking.  DNR told us that the rulemaking was being shelved because of industry resistance and DNR would be changing the website soon to reflect that change.  To my knowledge there was no public notice or public hearing.

We’ve been publicizing this development and pursuing other actions in response.  If anyone needs more information, give me a call at 319-362-2120.

Continue Reading...

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.

Continue Reading...

What kind of politicians make history?

The Des Moines Register ran a piece on New Year’s Day called Culver resolves to leave as premier Iowa governor:

Gov. Chet Culver, who plans to run for re-election in 2010, gave himself overall high marks for his first two years in office during an exclusive, year-end interview with The Des Moines Register this week.

Some of the accomplishments he touted include improvements to health care coverage for children, expanded preschool, alternative energy incentives and efforts to help Iowa in flood recovery.

Culver has a picture of former Iowa Gov. Horace Boies on the wall of his office at the Capitol, which he uses as inspiration.

“Some people say he’s the best governor we ever had and that’s my goal: To try to be the best governor we ever had, and I’ve got a lot of work to do to achieve that goal,” Culver said.

I don’t know a thing about Horace Boies, but the piece got me thinking about what Culver would have to do to go down in history as the best governor Iowa ever had.

What makes a governor, or any elected official, memorable in a good way for decades after leaving office?

Some politicians make history instantly by being the first something-or-other to reach a particular position. Whether Barack Obama turns out to be a great president or achieves as little as Millard Fillmore, he’ll be remembered for centuries as the first black man elected president.

Culver’s not going to be remembered for being the first of anything.

Some politicians are good at winning elections but don’t leave much of a legacy. Terry Branstad never lost an election and served four terms as governor of Iowa, but he’s not going to make anybody’s “best governors ever” list.

Bob Ray was a good man and had a lot of crossover appeal. He was re-elected by big margins. (He was the only Republican who ever got my mother’s vote, as far as I know.) He was tolerant and even encouraged foreign immigrants to move here, which may be hard to believe if you’ve only ever known Republicans since 1990. I don’t know whether Ray had any big accomplishments historians will be talking about far into the future, though.

If Culver does an adequate job governing Iowa through a difficult economic stretch, he should be able to win re-election. But if he wants to be remembered 50 or 100 years from now, he’s going to have to do something big to change business as usual in this state.

On January 1 former Senator Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island passed away at age 90. He’s been out of the Senate for more than a decade, he represented a small state, and according to his obituary he was a weak chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Nevertheless, people remember him because Pell Grants have helped thousands and thousands of Americans go to college. Millions of Americans have a friend or relative who received a Pell Grant. The grants may not be large enough to meet the need and have not increased at the same rate as college tuition, but they have improved people’s lives in a tangible way.

Lots of people serve in Congress for decades without ever achieving anything as significant as establishing the Pell Grant program. They may be more politically skilled than Claiborne Pell, but they won’t be remembered in the same way. He was passionate about expanding opportunities for children of modest means, and he made lasting change toward that end.

I don’t know what issues are particularly important to Culver. From my perspective, he needs to be ambitious about achieving some goal that benefits large numbers of Iowans. He’s more fortunate than Tom Vilsack, because the Republicans are not in a position to block his agenda in the legislature. He may need to spend political capital to get the Democratic leaders in the statehouse to back him, but he’s got a better chance than Vilsack to make big changes.

I haven’t seen Culver take a lot of political risks during his first two years. He’s done good things, like raising the minimum wage, making health care accessible for more children and allocating more money to the Main Street program. He’s tried to do other good things, like expand the bottle bill to include juice, water and sports drinks (the legislature did not approve that measure).

But Culver is not out there on any controversial issue. He said he was for local control over siting of large hog lots (CAFOs) when he was running for governor, but he hasn’t done anything to get the legislature to pass agricultural zoning. I don’t expect that to change, even though the Iowa Democratic and Republican party platforms ostensibly support “local control.”

When the legislature debated the TIME-21 proposal to increase transportation funding, Culver did not get behind efforts to increase the share of funds devoted to freight and passenger rail, public transit or maintaining existing roads. As a result, it’s possible that new road construction will consume all of the extra money allocated to transportation.

Culver supports renewable energy, but he hasn’t taken a position on the new coal-fired power plants proposed for Waterloo and Marshalltown. Nor has he leaned on the legislature to pass an ambitious renewable electricity standard (for instance, requiring that 20 percent of electricity come from renewable sources by 2020). That kind of mandate would require utilities to ramp up clean energy production more quickly.

Faced with a major revenue shortfall, Culver took the relatively safe path of imposing a hiring freeze, reducing out-of-state travel, and then cutting spending across the board by 1.5 percent.

Perhaps the Popular Progressive blog was right, and Culver should have spared some state agencies from cuts while imposing deeper cuts on the agencies that are not performing as well.

Depending on what Culver cares about most, and what he views as achievable, he could secure his legacy in any number of ways.

He could become the governor who made sure Iowa’s water was cleaner when he left office than when he arrived. But that would require addressing some conventional agricultural practices that cause runoff problems. Obviously, the groups backing the status quo in agriculture are quite powerful.

Culver could become the governor who took the climate change problem seriously and put us on track to reduce our carbon-dioxide emissions. That means getting behind the recommendations of the Iowa Climate Change Advisory Council and making sure budget constraints don’t become an excuse for doing little to promote clean, renewable energy.

Culver could become the leader who helped solve our budget problems by restructuring government to save taxpayers money without reducing essential services. That might require treading on politically dangerous territory. Maybe Iowa needs to take radical steps to save money, like reducing the number of counties.

My list is not exhaustive, so feel free to add your ideas in the comments.

I’ll wager that anything big enough to put Culver on the all-time great governors list would be risky for him to pursue. He might fail to secure the legislature’s backing and come out looking ineffective. Also, some policies with long-term benefits may be unpopular in the short term, either with the public or with well-funded interest groups.

Playing it safe may give Culver a better chance of being re-elected, but at a cost to his potential legacy.

What do you think?

Continue Reading...

Bleeding Heartland Year in Review: Iowa politics in 2008

Last year at this time I was scrambling to make as many phone calls and knock on as many doors as I could before the Iowa caucuses on January 3.

This week I had a little more time to reflect on the year that just ended.

After the jump I’ve linked to Bleeding Heartland highlights in 2008. Most of the links relate to Iowa politics, but some also covered issues or strategy of national importance.

I only linked to a few posts about the presidential race. I’ll do a review of Bleeding Heartland’s 2008 presidential election coverage later this month.

You can use the search engine on the left side of the screen to look for past Bleeding Heartland diaries about any person or issue.

Continue Reading...

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.

Continue Reading...

EPA ruling is blow to new coal-fired power plants (updated)

It may become harder for utilities to gain permission to build new coal-fired power plants while promising to deal with carbon-dioxide emissions at some point in the future, when carbon sequestration technology becomes available.

From a press release circulated on the Sierra Club’s Iowa topics e-mail loop yesterday:

Ruling: Coal Plants Must Limit C02

In a move that signals the start of the our clean energy future, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) ruled today EPA had no valid reason for refusing to limit from new coal-fired power plants the carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming.  The decision means that all new and proposed coal plants nationwide must go back and address their carbon dioxide emissions.

“Today’s decision opens the way for meaningful action to fight global warming and is a major step in bringing about a clean energy economy,” said Joanne Spalding, Sierra Club Senior Attorney who argued the case. “This is one more sign that we must begin repowering, refueling and rebuilding America.”

“The EAB rejected every Bush Administration excuse for failing to regulate the largest source of greenhouse gases in the United States.  This decision gives the Obama Administration a clean slate to begin building our clean energy economy for the 21st century,” continued Spalding The decision follows a 2007 Supreme Court ruling recognizing carbon dioxide, the principle source of global warming, is a pollutant under the federal Clean Air Act.

“Coal plants emit 30% of our nation’s global warming pollution. Building new coal plants without controlling their carbon emissions could wipe out all of the other efforts being undertaken by cities, states and communities across the country,” said Bruce Nilles, Director of the Sierra Club’s National Coal Campaign. “Everyone has a role to play and it’s time that the

coal industry did its part and started living up to its clean coal rhetoric.”

The Sierra Club went before the Environmental Appeals Board in May of 2008 to request that the air permit for Deseret Power Electric Cooperative’s proposed waste coal-fired power plant be overturned because it failed to require any controls on carbon dioxide pollution. Deseret Power’s 110 MW Bonanza plant would have emitted 3.37 million tons of carbon dioxide each


“Instead of pouring good money after bad trying to fix old coal technology, investors should be looking to wind, solar and energy efficiency

technologies that are going to power the economy, create jobs, and help the climate recover,” said Nilles.

I don’t yet know how this ruling will affect the proposed coal-fired power plants for Waterloo and Marshalltown. I will update this post as more information becomes available.

UPDATE: Mark Kresowik, National Corporate Accountability Representative with the Sierra Club’s National Coal Campaign, provided this comment:

“The Environmental Appeals Board remanded Deseret’s air quality permit for the Bonanza coal plant, issued by the EPA under the PSD program, back to the EPA. They clearly stated that the EPA has the authority to regulate carbon dioxide and establish a “best available control technology” (BACT) limit for carbon dioxide pollution from significant new sources (like coal plants).

While they did not answer the question of whether or not the EPA MUST establish a limit, they did reject all of the previous excuses the Bush EPA has used to avoid regulating carbon dioxide.  So EPA must completely reopen the air quality permit, decide whether or not to limit CO2 from power plants (and how to limit CO2 if it chooses to), and justify that decision.

The EAB decision is formally binding on all air quality permits issued by the EPA.  However, most air quality permits are not issued by the EPA but rather by state authorities delegated that power by the EPA, for instance the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.  However, those authorities must enforce regulations at least as stringently as the EPA and all of them look to the EPA for guidance on issues such as this.  So it is probable that every coal plant air quality permit in the country from now on (including those issued but still being challenged on carbon dioxide grounds) must address CO2 limits directly, either establishing a limit or justifying their refusal in a new way that the EPA has not previously used.  It is likely a de-facto stay on all air quality permit decisions for approximately the next 6-12 months, including proposed coal plants in Waterloo and Marshalltown that have not been issued air quality permits.

This is an important opportunity for Iowa and the entire country to make significant investments in energy efficiency and clean energy that will lower energy costs, create millions of “green collar” jobs, and stimulate our economy.”

Looks like the DNR is our best hope for stopping new coal-fired power plants in Iowa.

Meanwhile, earlier this week Wisconsin became the latest state to reject an application to build a coal-fired power plant. The whole press release from the Iowa Environmental Council is after the jump. Here is an excerpt:

“Building coal-fired power plants has never made sense from an environmental perspective and no longer makes sense from an economic perspective,” said Katie Nekola, energy program director of Clean Wisconsin. “The transition toward a clean energy economy is beginning, and it’s important for other states not to lag behind the movement by building more coal plants.”

Nathaniel Baer, energy program director for the Iowa Environmental Council, says Iowans need to follow the lead of neighboring states to the west, north, and now east, which have concluded that clean energy makes more economic sense than coal.

“Iowa simply cannot afford to be left behind sinking billions of dollars into monuments to 19th century dirty coal,” Baer said.

Continue Reading...

Bush's parting gifts

Today I am beginning an occasional series on what George W. Bush will do for corporate interests and major Republican donors during the final weeks of his presidency.

This comes from the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s e-mail newsletter:

EPA Administrator Signs Off on Final CAFO Rule:  Last Friday, as a “Halloween trick” for the environment and public health, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson signed a revised Clean Water Act final regulation for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) permits and effluent limitations.  EPA revised the CAFO regulations in response to legal challenges to a 2003 CAFO final regulation, brought in the case Waterkeeper Alliance Inc. v. EPA by both environmental organizations and the CAFO sector.  

The revision opens a gaping hole in the 2003 regulation by allowing a CAFO, no matter how large, to self-certify that the CAFO does not “intend” to discharge to the waters of the U.S.   EPA ignored the recommendation of the federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals to establish a regulatory presumption that large-scale CAFOs discharge pollutants.  The presumption would have required that a large-scale CAFO demonstrate to regulatory authorities that it is designed and can be operated to avoid all discharges of regulated pollutants.  

EPA also rejected making improvements in technology that reduce harmful bacteria and other pathogens that threaten public health, a problem aggravated by the development of antibiotic resistant pathogens in CAFOs.  The revised rule does include one improvement required in Waterkeeper — that a CAFO nutrient management plan must be included in a Clean Water Act permit for the CAFO and made available for public review and comment.

EPA is expected publish the revised final regulation in the Federal Register before the end of November. In the meantime, a copy of the unofficial version of the revised regulation is posted on the EPA website. You can also register on the website for a November 19 EPA webcast about the revised CAFO regulation.

SAC will be urging the new Administration to revisit this rulemaking on an expedited basis.

Why am I not surprised that industrial ag profits are a higher priority than the environment and public health?

I hope that the Obama administration will put this on the list of actions to be overturned.  

Continue Reading...

Rural development "got the very short end of the stick" in Farm Bill

cross-posted at La Vida Locavore

I learned today from the Public News Service that Jon Bailey of the Center for Rural Affairs

has done an analysis of the 2008 Farm Bill, and found 233 times more spending on commodity subsidies than on rural development.

“Initiatives that would help start businesses, create jobs, make communities attractive places for people to relocate to, were left out of the farm bill.”

In contrast, Bailey notes, the Farm Bill allocates $35 billion for commodity subsidies, which makes the amount for revitalizing rural areas seem paltry.

“There are only three programs totaling $150 million for rural development in the final Farm Bill. Rural development got the very short end of the stick.”

Bailey noted that the 2002 Farm Bill included “more than $1 billion in mandatory spending for rural development programs.”

If you go to this page at the Center for Rural Affairs, you can find a link to a pdf version of the full report.

As much as I admire Senator Tom Harkin, I was very disappointed by how the Farm Bill (officially known as the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008) turned out. I have no idea what can be done to get Congress to redirect government funding toward sustainable farming practices and programs that improve the quality of life in rural areas.

Meanwhile, Susan Heathcote, the water program director of the Iowa Environmental Council and a member of the state Environmental Protection Commission, wrote a good guest editorial for the Des Moines Register about the need for better monitoring of drinking-water sources.

She mentioned two recent incidents of conventional farming polluting drinking water in the Des Moines area. Farms 80 miles upstream contributed to high ammonia levels found in the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers last spring, and a cyanobacteria “algae bloom” prompted the Des Moines Water Works to stop drawing from the Raccoon River in August.

Continue Reading...

Read this before you accidentally eat melamine

Asinus Asinum Fricat is one of very few bloggers who teach you something in just about every piece they write. A trained chef, he writes lots of “food” diaries about various cuisines of the world and occasionally the food past generations ate.

Asinus Asinum Fricat also writes lots of pieces on environmental or health issues, such as this post on the massive “plastic soup” in the Pacific Ocean. Frankly, sometimes I dread clicking on his diaries, because I know he’s going to scare the hell out of me.

That said, I strongly recommend that everyone (especially parents) read a four-part series he recently completed about food products tainted with melamine. You may have heard of melamine last year in news reports about massive pet food recalls.

Unfortunately, melamine has shown up in the human food supply, and so far the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not been as aggressive in dealing with the danger as governmental agencies in some other countries.

Here are the four pieces by Asinus Asinum Fricat:

A Total Ban on Chinese Food Imports Should Be in Place. Now!

Must Read: Tainted Chinese Products Criminal Timeline

From China, with Love: Melamine (This one contains a long list of products that have been banned in other countries; many of them are brands you will recognize.)

Dem. Congresswoman Raps FDA On Melamine Risk Guidelines

The community blog on food issues, La Vida Locavore, is a good one to bookmark and check regularly for articles about food safety.

End Iowa's "don't ask, don't tell" approach to water quality

High levels of blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) in the Raccoon River forced the Des Moines Water Works to switch to a secondary source in August.

You would think that a problem affecting the state’s largest water treatment facility would grab the attention of the state Department of Natural Resources. The U.S. Department of Interior’s official definition of “natural resources” mentions “Land, fish, wildlife, biota, air, water, ground water, drinking water supplies and other such resources belonging to, managed by, held in trust by, appertaining to, or otherwise controlled by the U.S., any state or local government […].”

But you would be wrong, because the Iowa DNR didn’t bother to look into what caused the Raccoon River’s elevated levels of cyanobacteria. Instead, Des Moines Water Works staff, aided by the Iowa Soybean Association and Agriculture’s Clean Water Alliance, traced the algae bloom to Black Hawk Lake in Sac County:

Experts say the algae can cause rashes, intestinal illnesses, even death.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is charged with monitoring water quality throughout the state.

Agency officials said they believed that the waterworks operation had monitoring under control, and noted that no one asked them to investigate.

Why should the DNR wait for someone to ask them to investigate high bacteria levels affecting the drinking water of Iowa’s largest population center? The article goes on to say:

Susan Heathcote serves on a state commission overseeing the DNR and follows water quality issues for the nonprofit Iowa Environmental Council. She said the agency should have shown more interest in a problem that has become more common across Iowa.

“It’s kind of don’t ask, don’t tell,” Heathcote said. “We know there are issues, but we aren’t being proactive to warn the public. You need to investigate why it was occurring. It should have been an urgent issue.”

By the way, Des Moines area residents weren’t the only ones affected by the DNR’s failure to identify algae blooms at Black Hawk Lake:

Levels in the west-central Iowa lake near Lake View, recorded just after the Labor Day weekend, were seven times more than an internationally recognized benchmark for safe swimming.

State law charges the Iowa Department of Natural Resources with monitoring water quality and protecting Iowans from such outbreaks. Yet no one from the agency warned swimmers to stay out of the 925-acre Sac County lake, which has several beaches and campgrounds.

The Iowa News Service had more details in a story picked up by a lot of radio stations last Thursday:

Susan Heathcote, water program director for the Iowa Environmental Council, says, although the water in Des Moines is safe to drink when treated, that type of [blue-green] algae can make for smelly and bad-tasting water, even at low levels. Her biggest concern is that, at high levels, the toxins can cause serious health problems. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR), she says, currently has no state programs dealing with the sources of pollution in these large watersheds.

“That needs to become more of a priority, because these issues are not going away. They’re getting worse and new problems are surfacing every day. The department needs to partner with drinking water utilities in developing programs that will help address these sources of pollution within their watersheds, that are really outside of the control of the drinking water utilities way downstream.”

Randy Beavers, Des Moines Water Works interim CEO and general manager, says the cyanobacterial organism needs nutrients to survive, and right now the river’s source waters have plenty to feed it.

“In August, we were seeing cell counts of over 30,000 in the river and our experience has been that once cell counts get above 10,000, it becomes problematic for treatment. We always have the potential for taste and odor issues as well. It has just been within the last week that we’ve seen the cell counts fall below 10,000.”

Here’s the deal: those nutrients that Beavers cited as a food source for the bacteria get into the water because of runoff from conventional farms.

When Heathcote mentioned “these sources of pollution within their watersheds, that are really outside of the control of the drinking water utilities way downstream,” she was talking about conventional farms.

We will never significantly improve water quality in Iowa until we start regulating the agricultural methods that send too much pollution into our rivers and lakes.

I wish I could say that I’m optimistic about the DNR ending the “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to water quality. The Iowa Environmental Council wants the legislature to do more on this issue, but our elected officials don’t want to point the finger at the largest source of pollution in our water: the agricultural sector.

I am involved with the Iowa Environmental Council. If you are concerned about our natural resources, support this non-profit by becoming a member or attending the council’s upcoming annual meeting on October 17, which will focus on clean water.

Alternatively, Iowans could just stop whining and learn to love smelly drinking water and unswimmable lakes. After all, Iowa is an agricultural state and anyone who doesn’t like it can leave in any of four directions.

Continue Reading...

Good riddance

cross-posted at La Vida Locavore

Sometimes one small step against confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) leads to another.

Over at Iowa Independent, Jason Hancock reports that

A member of the state’s Environmental Protection Commission who has been labeled by critics as “pro-factory farms” has stepped down.

Ralph Klemme, a former Republican state representative from LeMars, resigned from the nine-person oversight panel, which is part of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, late last week. He told the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers that the commission’s “increasing tilt against agriculture” was his main reason to step down.

The commission’s recent vote to reject permits for two hog confinements in Dallas County appears to have been a major factor in Klemme’s decision.

I was against Klemme’s appointment to this commission in 2007 because of his involvement with corporate agriculture groups.

My suspicions were warranted. In a statement welcoming Klemme’s resignation, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement recounted his record of looking out for agribusiness instead of the environment:

Klemme voted in May to approve a large hog factory in Greene County that was overwhelmingly opposed by local residents, county officials and local business leaders. He also voted against a common-sense rule that would have limited the amount of manure that factory farm owners could be spread on soybean crops.

Governor Chet Culver should replace Klemme with someone committed to protecting the environment. Otherwise why call it an Environmental Protection Commission?

I am hopeful because several of Culver’s appointments to this body have been quite good.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t underestimate the clout of corporate agriculture groups that will lobby the governor to replace Klemme with a person who is equally sympathetic to their interests. We saw this summer that agriculture trumped the environment on the task forces associated with the Rebuild Iowa Commission.

Whoever takes Klemme’s place on the Environmental Protection Commission, I view his resignation as a healthy sign. The majority of commission members are not willing to look the other way regarding the environmental impacts of CAFOs.

Continue Reading...

Sign this petition against new coal-fired plants in Iowa

The Sierra Club has created an online petition for Iowans, urging energy providers to invest in clean sources for electricity generation, not coal:

Coal is keeping us from moving to a new clean energy economy. To keep our utility prices low, our local energy providers need to move beyond coal and start meeting our electricity needs via clean, renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and biomass.

Sign on to the online petition today to voice your support for an end to coal and the start of green jobs and better health. We will be delivering the petition directly to energy providers across the state.  

Petition to Energy Providers:

I urge my local power provider to reallocate any proposed investment in coal into clean, safe, renewable energy sources and efficiency measures that will provide real consumer relief and a clean environment for generations to come.

We need to break our addiction to fossil fuels and shift to clean energy and efficiency programs that can meet energy demand and stimulate our local economy.

An investment in coal is a large step backwards. I do not support investing in a dirty fuel source that will drive up costs and increase my utility bill.

We need sensible energy solutions now, and real investment in energy efficiency and clean, renewable energy to take our state smartly into the future.

Energy experts agree with Al Gore: we don’t need to build any new coal-fired power plants to meet demand for electricity. Not in Marshalltown or Waterloo or anywhere else in Iowa.

Utilities could be doing much more to implement energy-efficiency measures.

Not only is every new coal-fired power plant a 50-year investment in the wrong direction, consumers will end up paying more for electricity from new power plants.

Also, coal-fired plants are a leading source of deadly fine particulate pollution and mercury pollution.

You can read more reasons to support clean energy production over new investment in coal and other fossil fuels on the websites of the Iowa Environmental Council and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Please sign the petition and forward the link to your like-minded friends.

Continue Reading...

EPC moves to block two new CAFOs in Dallas County

cross-posted at La Vida Locavore

The Iowa legislature and state agencies have notoriously failed to do anything to address the pollution problems stemming from confined-animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

But the Environmental Protection Commission took one small step in the right direction:

The state Environmental Protection Commission today rejected previously approved permits for two large hog confinements in Dallas County.

The surprise move came after a two-hour meeting in Urbandale at which commissioners said rules drawn up to dictate approval of large-scale confinement permits leave out important environmental considerations and neighbors’ quality-of-life concerns.

“There are battle lines being drawn on this, and it creates a political situation that the Legislature cannot ignore,” commission chairman Henry Marquard said.

Only a handful of permits have been denied in Iowa, but rarely has one been turned down after it met approval from the Department of Natural Resources and passed a complicated scoring system adopted by counties, including Dallas.

The nine-member commission voted to block these permits on a strong 6-2 vote. I wouldn’t be surprised if the matter ends up in court, however.

Noneed4thneed wrote about the controversy over the new Dallas County CAFOs in late July:

The proposed hog confinements would have a total of 7,440 hogs in rural Dallas County, which is the fastest growing county in the state. These confinements will produce as much waste as a town of 30,000 people and it will go untreated.

Earlier this month, Dallas County Supervisors voted against allowing these proposed hog confinements, but in reality there isn’t much the local people can do about the hog confinements that will be owned by the out of state company, Cargill.

We need federal legislation to make CAFOs pay for the harm they cause, because our state legislature has shown itself to be unwilling to act to protect air and water quality in Iowa.

But in the absence of federal action, a state law giving counties “local control” (agricultural zoning rights) would at least offer some protection. Some county supervisors would rubber-stamp every proposed CAFO, but others would follow the lead of the Dallas County supervisors.

For all I know, Cargill will sue to reinstate their permits to open these hog confinements. But however this story ends, it’s good to see the majority of the Environmental Protection Commission’s members doing something to protect the environment.

UPDATE: I learned from the online newsletter of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources recently denied a permit for a different proposed CAFO.

Because of the efforts of CCI members and other local residents, the DNR recently denied a 4,900-head hog factory proposed for southern Appanoose County. The permit application did not meet legal requirements, nor did their master matrix pass muster. Although the applicant for this proposed confinement is a local resident, the 4,900 hogs would have been owned by Cargill. Cargill, one of the largest privately-held corporations in the world, has been behind a number of proposed factory farms around the state, including two proposed 7,440-head hog factories in northwest Dallas County.

Continue Reading...

I remember when lying to Congress was a big deal

It’s hard to keep up with all the misconduct in the Bush administration. This week four Democratic senators called for the resignation of  Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson. Evidence emerged that Johnson lied to Congress about why he denied California’s request for a waiver of the Clean Air Act last December. Two senators are also asking for a perjury investigation of Johnson. Click the link for more details and background.

California has adopted tougher emissions standards for cars and trucks, and other states have followed suit, but the standards cannot be implemented unless the EPA approves the waiver request. Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and at least 18 other state attorneys general have joined California in suing the EPA over this issue.

I always laugh when Republicans who claim to be for states’ rights object when states try to impose stronger environmental standards than the federal government. But what Johnson did was worse than hypocrisy. In denying California’s waiver request, Johnson blocked state efforts to deal with pollution from motor vehicles, even though surface transportation is the second-largest contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

You would think this scandal would warrant some media coverage, but I’d never have heard of this story if I hadn’t read about it on political blogs.

Drink tap water, but not from plastic bottles

The Des Moines Register published an editorial on Thursday urging readers not to buy bottled water:

“Iowa’s capital city ranked best on our list of U.S. cities with the cleanest drinking water. The insurance industry center and home of the Iowa Caucus had the second-lowest level of bacteria in its drinking water” and was among the best for the lowest levels of lead,” according to the report.

As summer approaches, this is yet another reason to avoid purchasing bottled water. A better option is getting a sturdy plastic bottle and refilling it at the tap – which is probably cleaner anyway. While bottled water may sit on the shelves for ages, the Des Moines Water Works conducts performance tests several times a day, according to interim general manager Randy Beavers. Bottled water is an environmental and financial hazard. The bottles are shipped thousands of miles across the country in gas-guzzling trucks. Most aren’t recycled or reused, but end up in landfills. While it’s nothing to drop a dollar or two on a bottle of water, tap water averages a fraction of a penny per gallon.

I agree with the general point about not buying bottled water.

However, it’s a very bad idea to keep refilling plastic bottles from the tap. I used to do that before I learned that chemicals can leach from the plastic to the water:

Reused Plastic Bottles Can Leach Toxic Chemicals

The same studies found that repeated re-use of such bottles-which get dinged up through normal wear and tear and while being washed-increases the chance that chemicals will leak out of the tiny cracks and crevices that develop over time. According to the Environment California Research & Policy Center, which reviewed 130 studies on the topic, BPA has been linked to breast and uterine cancer, an increased risk of miscarriage, and decreased testosterone levels.

BPA can also wreak havoc on children’s developing systems. (Parents beware: Most baby bottles and sippy cups are made with plastics containing BPA.) Most experts agree that the amount of BPA that could leach into food and drinks through normal handling is probably very small, but there are concerns about the cumulative effect of small doses.

Even Plastic Water and Soda Bottles Should Not Be Reused

Health advocates also recommend not reusing bottles made from plastic #1 (polyethylene terephthalate, also known as PET or PETE), including most disposable water, soda and juice bottles. According to The Green Guide, such bottles may be safe for one-time use, but re-use should be avoided because studies indicate they may leach DEHP-another probable human carcinogen-when they are in less-than-perfect condition.


Safe Reusable Bottles Do Exist

Safer choices include bottles crafted from safer HDPE (plastic #2), low-density polyethylene (LDPE, AKA plastic #4) or polypropylene (PP, or plastic #5). Aluminum bottles, such as those made by SIGG and sold in many natural food and natural product markets, and stainless steel water bottles are also safe choices and can be reused repeatedly and eventually recycled.

If you live in the Des Moines area, you can buy reusable SIGG bottles at Campbell’s (there is a coating on the inside so that the aluminum does not come into contact with what you are drinking). Otherwise, you can order SIGG bottles or other brands of safe reusable bottles at ReusableBags.com.

If you’ve got small children, I highly recommend getting non-plastic reusable sippy cups and water bottles for lunch bags. SIGG is a brand we’ve been happy with. They are not dishwasher-safe, which is a little inconvenient, but we feel better knowing that chemicals are not leaching into our children’s water.

Continue Reading...

McCain shameful behavior roundup

It’s hard to keep up with all the reasons to oppose John McCain. Last night I wrote about his opposition to a bill that would make it easier for victims of job discrimination to seek legal redress.

If you care about that issue, you can sign the petition on “Equal Pay for Equal Work” at Momsrising.org.

Meanwhile, I learned from this diary by TomP that Friends of the Earth Action is running an ad against McCain on CNN. The ad highlights McCain’s support for the nuclear power industry:

TomP’s diary also includes this great quote from Friends of the Earth Action president Dr. Brent Blackwalder:

You know how self righteous John McCain can be when he talks about corporate pork and earmarks, but do you know why he opposes the Lieberman-Warner global warming bill?  He plans to vote against it not because it could lavish $1 trillion on the profitable oil, gas and coal industries, but because he wants to add hundreds of billions of dollars more in earmarks for the nuclear industry!

On a related note, I got an e-mail today from the Sierra Club slamming McCain’s proposal to suspend the federal gas tax between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The Sierra Club notes that the real effect of that policy would be to

[r]aise oil company profits by another 18 cents per gallon — by eliminating the federal gas tax without guaranteeing that Big Oil won’t just keep prices high and take the difference to grow their record profits even more.

The Sierra Club also has an online petition you can sign, which sends this message to McCain:

The best way to deal with high gas prices is to cut, not expand, giveaways to Big Oil. Please vote to end taxpayer-funded subsidies and tax breaks for Big Oil and use that money to invest in clean, renewable energy.

Earlier this week, I got the latest newsletter from Smart Growth America, which also blasted McCain’s proposal to declare a summer holiday from the federal gas tax:

An artificial and temporary reduction of gas prices will simply guarantee that absolutely no money goes towards having suitable roads and bridges for those filled-up cars to drive on – not to mention alternatives to congestion, like commuter rail and transit. Instead, we can send the full price of gasoline directly into the pockets of oil companies. (An estimated $10 billion in transportation revenue would be lost, or enough to fully fund Amtrak rail service for 6 years or so.) Meanwhile, we fall farther behind in maintaining our infrastructure: Rust doesn’t take the summer off.

But that’s not all. To coincide with McCain’s photo-op in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward today, Moveon.org Political Action launched its own online petition calling on McCain to reject the endorsement of right-wing pastor John Hagee. I knew about Hagee’s anti-Catholic bigotry, but I wasn’t aware that Hagee once said, “Hurricane Katrina was, in fact, the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans.”

Surely there couldn’t be any more shameful news about McCain to emerge within this 24-hour period, right? Wrong. I learned from Natasha Chart’s post at MyDD today that during a recent visit to Alabama, McCain’s campaign used free prison labor to get out of paying to set up for a private fundraiser.

I guess a campaign that is way behind its Democratic rivals in fundraising has to save money wherever it can.

But it would be more honest for McCain to curtail all campaign spending between now and the Republican National Convention this summer, because he is not complying with limits imposed by his decision to take public financing last year.

If I’ve missed any recent disgraceful behavior coming from the McCain camp, please let me know in the comments section.

Continue Reading...

Governor Culver, please veto the odor-study bill

Our “effective” Democratic leaders in the Iowa House and Senate have pushed through the Livestock Odor Research and Air Modeling Study. The Senate passed the bill late last night.

Leigh Adcock of the Iowa Farmers Union explains why this is a “seriously flawed piece of legislation”:

Research has already been done on cost effective ways to mitigate odor.  Included are better siting methods, and the use of biofilters and covers on lagoons.  Iowa’s taxpayers should not be required to fund another round of studies on proven technologies when the legislature has not shown any willingness to act on the information already gathered from previous studies.  Instead we should require producers to implement what we already know.

Minnesota has enacted ambient air quality standards that limit hydrogen sulfide to 0.05 parts per million and is working on limiting ammonia emissions.   Missouri, Nebraska, and Colorado regulate sulfur emissions and emissions of other types.


Ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, two odor causing gases emitted from confined feedlot operations, are known to cause serious respiratory problems.

The bacteria found within particulates emitted from livestock operations create lung inflammation that leads to non-allergic asthma.  Twenty-five percent of those who work in confined feedlot operations have some form of respiratory disease, 10% higher than the United States working population as a whole.

Rekha Basu’s latest column for the Des Moines Register showed how many times the Iowa legislature has blocked action to alleviate the pollution caused by CAFOs.

Most of her examples come from the years when Republicans controlled both chambers of the legislature. It is discouraging to see that the livestock industry continues to trump public-health and environmental concerns even under Democratic control.

In the Iowa Senate, some lawmakers including Joe Bolkcom (D, Iowa City) offered good amendments, but those were rejected on a voice vote, so that we don’t even have a record of how individuals voted.

I do have the breakdown of how senators voted on the final version of the odor-study bill, and I’ve put that after the jump. It was not a party-line vote. If your senator voted against this waste of taxpayer money, please give him or her a call to say thanks.

I’m trying to dig up the final vote for the Iowa House as well and will update this diary with that information when I find it.

If I were an adviser to Governor Culver, I’d tell him to veto this bill. It’s the right thing to do on the merits. We simply don’t need more study of this problem. Spending $23 million over five years on more study wastes our money and kicks the can down the road. Using state funds to implement the measures that are working in other states would be a wiser use of taxpayer dollars.

The odor-study bill is a far cry from what the governor proposed to the legislature concerning this issue in January.

Finally, a veto would be cheered by environmentalists who are disappointed that the governor hasn’t made it a priority to push for local control over the siting of CAFOs (also known as agricultural zoning at the county level). Culver has said he is for local control, but he didn’t put much muscle behind that during the 2007 or 2008 legislative sessions.

Continue Reading...

Action: Urge your senator to vote NO on odor-control bill

An action alert went out on the Iowa Sierra Club list this morning:

From: Lyle Krewson

Subject: HF2688 up for Senate debate

The Senate Majority Leader  gave the list of bills for today. It includes HF

2688, the Odor Control Bill–please contact your State Senator now!

We do have amendments being offered but no amendments were included during

House debate last week.


We need you to contact your State Senator to vote NO on HF2688. Below is a

sample email that you may personalize–always be sure to include your name

and mailing address on an email to a Legislator.

You may find your Iowa State Senator by going to this weblink and using your

address or 9-digit ZIP code: http://www.legis.state.ia.us/F…

If you wish to call your State Senator, the switchboard # is: 515-281-3371.

The rest of the alert, which includes more details about this bill and some talking points for you to use, is after the jump.

Continue Reading...

Register notes concern about Ankeny development on Superfund site

You couldn’t miss this front-page story in the Des Moines Register on Monday:

Plan to reshape Ankeny tackles troubled spots

City officials and developer DRA Properties are transforming a 1,031-acre World War II munitions plant site into a live-work-play development called Prairie Trail. They expect 10,000 people to move there by 2020.

To realize their new urbanist dream, however, the developer and others are working to eliminate concerns about the land, some of which has been designated as a Superfund site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It’s a designation the EPA gives to uncontrolled hazardous waste sites identified as risks to human health.


There are two primary environmental concerns within the development, said Iowa DNR and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials.

The most critical is the 38-acre parcel to be converted into a city park. The land was used as a landfill and industrial lagoon decades ago by the Army, John Deere and the city. The area is where production waste of mainly metal particles and oils was disposed. Spots within the site, including toxic sludge left in the old industrial lagoons, contain unsafe levels of metals such as lead, chromium, copper, arsenic, manganese and antimony, according to the EPA.

EPA officials said the metals will have to be put out of human contact. Under a proposed plan, that would be done by a combination of removing soil and sealing the ground with a thick plastic barrier and clay cap.

Today, one in 10,000 people has a chance of getting cancer from a lifetime’s worth of exposure at the site, EPA toxicologist Jeremy Johnson said. After the cleanup, he said, those odds will be one in 1 million. “Those cancer risks won’t be there,” he said.

The landfill and lagoon area is a Superfund site. It is not on the Superfund national priority list, which identifies the country’s worst hazards.

However, it is not known whether the site would qualify for the national priority list, said Gene Gunn, a branch chief in the EPA Superfund program. It is not being considered for the list, which is largely a designation for projects to receive federal money, because the parties responsible for the contamination have voluntarily agreed to pay for the cleanup.

“I wouldn’t be very concerned with it,” Gunn said of the site as it would be after the cleanup. “The action that’s going to take place there will leave it in a protective state.”

Under a draft proposal, a covenant on the land would prevent houses from being built on the lagoon and landfill site, and the groundwater near there would be monitored for 30 years.

The Prairie Trail development is a great concept: a mix of residential, retail and public space in the center of town, easily navigated by foot or bicycle for those who choose not to drive.

However, community activists were raising concerns two years ago about the potential for schools, parks and houses to be placed on contaminated ground. I wish the Register had given the story prominent coverage at that time.

I hope they do a good job cleaning up this site, but frankly, I would hesitate to buy a home anywhere near that lagoon or landfill.

Continue Reading...

Iowa a major contributor to Gulf of Mexico "dead zone"

To our state’s shame, Iowa and other corn belt states are still the largest contributors to the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, according to a new study.

The logical thing would be to impose more regulations on the use of fertilizers and other farming practices that contribute to the problem. But don’t hold your breath for any movement on those issues at the statehouse. After all, Iowa is an agricultural state and anyone who doesn’t like it can leave in any of four directions.  

Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 6