# Roger Lande

EPA tells Iowa DNR to act on small particulates

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is demanding that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources take steps to reduce fine particulate matter statewide and especially in the Muscatine area, which has long had some of Iowa’s worst air quality.

Particulates contribute to premature deaths and serious heart and lung diseases, not to mention acid rain and other environmental problems. So it’s disappointing to see state officials react to the EPA message with more concern about the polluters than the public’s health.  

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Friend of big ag gets number two Iowa DNR job

Environmental advocates were relieved when the Iowa legislature adjourned without passing any bill to move Iowa’s water quality and monitoring programs from the Department of Natural Resources to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. However, Plan B to accomplish the same goal without legislative action took another step forward yesterday, when Chuck Gipp was named deputy director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Governor Terry Branstad’s administration advocated moving water programs to IDALS earlier this year, around the same time he stacked the Environmental Protection Commission with friends of agribusiness. Critics pointed out that the DNR had been praised for its efficient use of federal water quality funding. Moreover, it is illogical to move Clean Water Act compliance from a department that exists to “conserve and enhance our natural resources” to a department that exists “to encourage, promote, market, and advance the interests of agriculture.” Iowa House Republicans (assisted by some Democrats) approved a bill transferring some water programs to the agriculture department, but the proposal never cleared the Iowa Senate.

In May, Branstad’s DNR director Roger Lande announced major staff cuts, including three full-time and three contract positions solely focused on water monitoring. (Lande didn’t cut full-time employees from any DNR division besides the Geological and Water Survey Bureau.) At that time, DNR stream monitoring coordinator Mary Skopec warned, “This is definitely going to impact our ability to do data management and lake monitoring.” The cuts serve the interests of industrial agriculture, because collecting fewer samples from lakes and streams makes it less likely that any polluted waterway will be labeled “impaired.”

Gipp’s appointment looks like part of the same strategy to give agribusiness more control over how, when and where the DNR monitors Iowa waters. The deputy director handles a lot of day-to-day management for the large department. Gipp is a longtime dairy farmer and member of the Iowa Farm Bureau. He served in the Iowa House for 18 years, rising to the position of majority leader under Republican Speaker Chris Rants. He chose not to seek re-election in 2008, and Republican Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey named him to head the IDALS Division of Soil Conservation. The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported,

Gipp, a lifelong dairy farmer who is respected in both production agriculture and environmental circles, said he hopes to foster understanding and cooperation between the two often-opposed groups.

“Both are important to Iowans, and we need to bring both sides together and strike a sustainable balance,” Gipp, 63, of Decorah, said.

It’s news to me that Gipp is respected in environmental circles. I can’t recall any instance of him using his authority as Iowa House majority leader to promote environmental protection. By all accounts Gipp did an adequate job overseeing soil conservation programs used by some farmers, but relying solely on voluntary measures (the Iowa Farm Bureau-approved method) hasn’t solved our water quality problems.

I recognize that Iowa state government will balance the DNR’s needs with those of the agriculture department, but that’s not what appears to be happening here. Having failed to move water programs to IDALS, the Branstad administration is giving IDALS substantial influence over DNR internal policies and practices. In a July 26 press release, Lande praised Gipp as “someone who is not only very dedicated and knowledgeable about conservation of our natural resources but also a very talented individual in working with our stakeholders and Legislature.” I hope Gipp proves me wrong, but I’m not encouraged to see him hired less than a week after the DNR’s top environmental regulator was pushed out the door.

UPDATE: Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement highlighted Gipp’s legislative votes against any meaningful regulation of factory farm pollution. Details are after the jump.

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Branstad pushed out top DNR environmental regulator

Governor Terry Branstad forced out a senior official in the Iowa Department of Natural Resources this week. The DNR on Monday announced Wayne Gieselman’s resignation as administrator of the department’s Environmental Protection Division. In that press release, which I’ve posted below, DNR Director Roger Lande thanked Gieselman “for his many years of dedicated service,” without indicating whether the resignation was voluntary. Perry Beeman reports in today’s Des Moines Register that Gieselman was told to pack his bags.

More details are after the jump.

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Iowa water monitoring to be crippled one way or another

Efforts to move Iowa’s water quality enforcement from the Department of Natural Resources to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship face an uncertain future in the Iowa Senate after clearing the Iowa House in March.

But even if the DNR retains authority over most of the state’s water programs, the agency will have more trouble assessing the state’s polluted waterways. That became clear yesterday when DNR Director Roger Lande announced more than 100 layoffs, citing anticipated funding shortfalls in the fiscal year that begins July 1. Iowa lawmakers have yet to agree on a 2012 budget, but appropriations for key natural resource programs are almost certain to decline. Lande axed three positions in the DNR’s bureau that monitors water pollution.

Looks like Governor Terry Branstad is getting the “change in attitude” he sought for the DNR. More background and details are after the jump.

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Iowa Senate may reject two Branstad appointees (updated)

The Iowa Senate confirmed six of Governor Terry Branstad’s appointees to state offices and boards yesterday, but Democratic senators indicated that two of the governor’s picks may not receive the two-thirds vote needed in the upper chamber. Meanwhile, Branstad suggested at his weekly press conference that race may be a factor in opposition to Isaiah McGee as director of the Iowa Department of Human Rights.

Follow me after the jump for more on who was confirmed yesterday and the battles coming later this week.

UPDATE: On April 12 the Senate rejected McGee as well as William Gustoff, one of Branstad’s appointees to the state Judicial Nominating Commission. Senators confirmed Teresa Wahlert with two votes to spare and three members of the Environmental Protection Commission. Details on the April 12 votes are below.

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Events coming up this week

Public hearings are scheduled today through Thursday in Council Bluffs, Bettendorf, Cedar Rapids, and Des Moines to discuss the Legislative Services Agency’s redistricting proposal. Citizens will be able to listen in to some of those hearings at other locations around Iowa. Times and places are after the jump, along with details on other events taking place around the state this week.

As always, post a comment or contact me by e-mail if you know if a public event worth adding to this calendar.

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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.

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