Days after President Obama delivered his 2012 State of the Union Address, the Iowa Environmental Council was pleased to host Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and advisor to the President, as she visited Des Moines while touring Iowa to promote themes from the President’s address to the nation.
While Sutley sought to advance the President’s agenda, other participants in the session, who represented a variety of environmental and conservation groups in Iowa, had an opportunity to share their own views of how federal policy could better protect the environment.
Sutley used her introduction to reiterate key points from the President’s State of the Union address, describing the administrations mission to create a U.S. economy that is “built to last.” She said the President is committed to restoring America’s manufacturing sector and described his commitment to an “all of the above” energy strategy which will focus on utilizing more of America’s domestic natural gas supply as well as renewable technologies like wind and solar.
In his address, President Obama described his goal of moving America toward renewable sources of energy. “We’ve subsidized oil companies for a century,” he said. “That’s long enough. It’s time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that rarely has been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that never has been more promising.”
Much of the discussion among the assembled group focused on ways the federal government can better adopt a systems approach when promoting environmental quality. Sutley pointed out that the federal Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have learned a lot about working together effectively through their partnership with states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed . She said the administration is focused on applying those lessons to support water quality improvements in other states.
Federal farm conservation programs were a priority for those attending, who told Sutley Iowa needs a strong slate of voluntary conservation programs, but that also having minimum standards for environmental protection is necessary.
The discussion included a call for Congress to connect crop insurance subsidies to requirements that farmers follow conservation plans for protecting highly sensitive land, and Sutley recognized the challenge of promoting conservation programs while high prices of corn and soybeans are pressuring farmers to plant more land in crops. She pointed out that the USDA is currently focused on getting as many program dollars out the door as possible.
A range of other issues also received attention. Among the issues participants raised, it was noted that
- the administration should help increase the amount of distributed renewable energy production (wind turbines and solar panels) that farmers and other Iowans could install and own themselves.
- the US needs to pursue policies to shift energy production away from old and unnecessarily polluting coal plants.
- biofuels from perennial grasses—which provide ecosystem services like absorbing excessive rainfall and reducing soil erosion—should receive additional federal support.
- stakeholders in the environmental community need to work hard to explain the benefits of sensible environmental regulations and push back against misleading claims made by those who oppose such protections.
To learn more about Sutley or the White House Council on Environmental Quality, visit http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ceq.