Author Archives: ralphrosenberg

2015 Iowa Legislative Session in Review

Iowa State Capitol
After several weeks of back and forth negotiations, the 2015 Iowa Legislature reached a budget agreement and adjourned earlier this month.

In all, modest but important legislation that supports a more sustainable future was advanced – much of which now awaits the Governor’s signature –but funding and legislative action to support clean water initiatives and expand clean energy left much unfinished business.

Clean Energy

This session, energy staff focused on continuing to build momentum for growth and expanded access to clean energy in Iowa. This work culminated in the passage HF645. This modest but important bill, which currently awaits the Governor’s signature, would increase available solar energy tax incentive funds from $4.5M to $5M and make improvements to the 476C production tax credit for solar energy, which can be used to support community solar energy projects. If signed into law, HF645 will improve access to solar energy for businesses, farmers, homeowners and utilities.

>>Ask Gov. Branstad to expand access to solar energy by signing HF645<<

The Council supported legislation that would expand and improve tax incentives for wind energy. While these bills did not pass, key bills remain alive for the 2016 session. There were successes for wind energy however, as bills designed to stop critical infrastructure improvements for expanding wind energy – new transmission lines intended for wind – also did not pass.

Finally, the Council helped improve a bill, HF 548, that would have imposed expensive and unnecessary requirements on customers installing solar or other forms of distributed generation. A less burdensome version of the bill did pass that requires the Iowa Utilities Board to initiate a rulemaking. The Council will be actively involved in the rulemaking to reduce potential new barriers to distributed renewable energy.

Clean Water

This session, water program staff focused on strengthening and securing sustainable funding for initiatives to improve water quality and reduce pollutants. We joined other conservation-focused groups to push for funding the Iowa Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. Although we were not able to get a bill passed, both chambers filed bills – SF504 and HSB256. Both bills remain alive for the 2016 session.

We continued to convey the need to fully fund the state’s Resource Enhancement and Protection program at $20 million. However, the Legislature ultimately voted to maintain a three-year status quo and funded REAP at $16 million.

We also advocated for increased oversight, transparency and funding for water quality monitoring in the Nutrient Reduction Strategy’s (NRS) Water Quality Initiative (WQI) projects. Funding for WQI projects was allocated at $9.6M, a $2.1M increase from last year, and $450,000 is designated for water quality monitoring equipment and testing. However, the NRS suggests initial investments ranging from $1.2 to $4B, and annual ongoing investments ranging from $756M to $1.2B are needed to meet the 45 percent reduction goal. Iowans are still waiting for substantial, sustainable funding needed to have a meaningful impact on water quality across the state.

We share many of Iowans’ growing and urgent concerns about the state of our land, water and climate, and recognize the importance of that which we were able to accomplish thanks to Iowans that advocated for the environment this session. We are disappointed that more was not accomplished this session to protect and preserve Iowa’s natural resources, but know the work done on behalf of the environment this session lays the foundation for progress in the future.

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Des Moines Water Works’ concerns are legitimate

By Executive Director Ralph Rosenberg

Yesterday, the Des Moines Water Works Board of Trustees voted unanimously to pursue a lawsuit against the Board of Supervisors in Sac, Buena Vista and Calhoun counties in their role as governing authority for 10 drainage districts that are discharging pollution into the Raccoon River, threatening Des Moines’ drinking water. This decision comes at the expiration of the issuance of a mandatory 60 day notice of intent to sue and unsuccessful efforts to address the issue under the current voluntary strategy.

Des Moines Waterworks (DMWW) has legitimate concerns about the operations of the drainage districts in the three counties in northern Iowa named in the lawsuit. These drainage districts contribute to high nitrate concentrations in the Raccoon River which create a significant treatment challenge for DMWW to provide safe drinking water to their customers. We share DMWW’s concern about the lack of urgency and measurable progress to reduce the nitrate pollution these drainage districts are sending downstream.

A Des Moines Register poll conducted last month found 63 percent of Iowans believe DMWW should pursue a lawsuit against drainage districts in northwest Iowa. It’s clear that Iowans want to see increased action on achieving measurably cleaner water in the state, and the lawsuit raises important questions about the effectiveness of Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy in achieving measurably cleaner water.

For the past two years, the Council has called for improvements to strengthen the all-voluntary strategy to address Iowans’ concerns about the lack of local goals, timelines with benchmarks, consistent water quality testing and assessment to gauge progress, and sustainable funding for implementation. Perhaps DMWW would not have found it necessary to file suit against the three counties in northern Iowa had the state’s leaders taken meaningful action to address these concerns.

While the lawsuit works its way through the courts, we will continue to call for these improvements, and work collaboratively with elected officials, agricultural groups, individual farmers and landowners, environmental groups and other diverse stakeholders to ensure Iowa’s water quality is improving.

Council seeking Office Manager/Bookkeeper

Position Description — Office Manager/Bookkeeper
Reports to: Executive Director
Salary Range: $14-$18/hour
Status: Permanent part-time position, 20+ hours/week (flexible hours)

Application Process: Email resume and cover letter to: rosenberg@iaenvironment.org. No phone calls.

Immediate availability strongly preferred.

Qualifications Required:
• 3 years’ experience with QuickBooks
• 3 years’ experience with data bases
• 3 years’ experience in Office Administration with budget and finance
• 3 years’ experience with Microsoft Excel
• Strong analytical, verbal and written communications
• Associate or Bachelor’s degree in Accounting or Business Administration
Position Responsibilities:
• Financial accounting: accounts payable, accounts receivable, journal entries, monthly financial reports; payroll with benefits administration, quarterly and annual payroll filing; process deposits
• Manage office responsibilities: vendor relationships, scheduling with Microsoft Outlook, postal mail, telephone, track and order supplies
• Develop and maintain positive relations with individual member on behalf of the Council in verbal, written and electronic communications.
• Manage the office technology: telephone, fax, copier and computer systems
• Assist in event and meeting planning
• Other duties as assigned
Compensation and Benefits:
• $14-$17/hour, 20 hours/week (somewhat flexible hours)
• Vacation, holidays and sick leave
• Flex Savings Plan
• Retirement Plan

Clean Sweep for the Iowa Environmental Council— Back to back Iowa Supreme Court Victories

Victory #1 — Clean Water regulation and Citizen Participation in State Government  

The Iowa Supreme Court today ruled today in favor of clean water by upholding Iowa’s Clean Water Anti-Degradation Standards. In a well-reasoned, and thoughtful decision, the Court   upheld the rulemaking process that established the state’s clean water anti-degradation standards, keeping rules in place that are designed to protect some of Iowa’s most important lakes and waterways.

 The ruling ends the Farm Bureau’s lawsuit effort to delay or overturn the rules –which were enacted in an open and fair rulemaking process. As required by the federal Clean Water Act, Iowa’s common-sense anti-degradation standards will remain in place. Iowans are impatient on cleaning up impaired waters and preventing future pollution. Iowans can now focus on successfully implementing the rules and the ongoing work that will achieve clean water goals.

 “We are grateful to the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, the Department of Natural Resources and our environmental partners for standing up to the Farm Bureau’s efforts to throw out the rules,” said Ralph Rosenberg, executive director of the Iowa Environmental Council. “This issue is greater than clean water protection. This was an effort to shut out citizen participation in government by a powerful business interest like the Farm Bureau.”

 Four years ago, Iowa adopted strong “anti-degradation” standards – an important but often ignored part of the Clean Water Act designed to keep unnecessary pollution out of clean waterways. However, the Farm Bureau   challenged these important standards and even issued intrusive subpoenas to intimidate local environmentalists and challenge the Environmental Protection Commission by trying to disqualify one of its members, Susan Heathcote, water program director of the Iowa Environmental Council. Lower courts have since thrown out the Farm Bureau’s legal challenges.

 “This is a clear win for clean water and for open and fair government,” said Environmental Law & Policy Center Senior Attorney Brad Klein, who argued the case before the Supreme Court. “We’re grateful that the Court rejected the Farm Bureau’s attempts to harass and intimidate the Council and Susan Heathcote. This important ruling means that we can put the Farm Bureau’s attempts to delay and distract behind us and move on to protect some of Iowa’s most important lakes, rivers and streams.


 

Victory #2 Protecting Solar Energy Choice and Supporting Small Scale Renewable Energy

In the second of two victories for the Environmental Council, the Court ruled that Iowans can offer their roof space to solar energy developers and buy the power created from those panels. The Council, according to Ralph Rosenberg, “welcomes the decision which held that third party payer arrangements are an important option for expanding renewable energy, along with tax incentives, grants, loans and other financing mechanisms.”

“Today’s decision is a win for Iowans because it gives everyone the option to go solar affordably,” said Brad Klein, senior attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC), who argued the case last spring on behalf of a large coalition of solar energy and environmental advocates. “Across the country, families, businesses and communities have gone solar with third-party ownership. Now, that opportunity can come to Iowa, too.”

In 2011, Alliant Energy argued that an agreement between Dubuque-based Eagle Point Solar and the City of Dubuque violated the utility’s monopoly territory. Under the agreement, Eagle Point agreed to install and maintain solar panels on the Dubuque City Council building, the City would then pay Eagle Point for the energy created by those panels. The utility argued that the agreement, known as a third-party power purchase agreement (PPA) amounted to the creation of a utility. This claim was rejected by the court.

In his majority opinion, Justice Appel wrote that “Third-party PPAs like the one proposed by Eagle Point actually further one of the goals of regulated electric companies, namely, the use of energy efficient and renewable energy sources.”   

 Rosenberg, the Council director, noted that like the Farm Bureau case, this decision was thoughtful, well-reasoned and supported Iowa values and priorities of the Council—in this case, increasing the use of energy efficiency and renewable energy, while decreasing reliance on carbon based fuels.

 A recent report by the Iowa Environmental Council, Real Potential, Ready Today: Solar Energy in Iowa highlighted the significant potential for solar energy in Iowa. Iowa is already starting to see the rapid growth of solar–highlighted by the bi-partisan support for tripling of funding available for state tax credits for solar energy installation.

 “The fact that the court agrees with our analysis of the law means good things for the future of solar in Iowa,”   Josh Mandelbaum, staff attorney with ELPC’s Des Moines office added.

 

 The Iowa Supreme Court‘s full opinions are available on the Iowa Judicial Branch website.

 http://www.iowacourts.gov/About_the_Courts/Supreme_Court/Supreme_Court_Opinions/Recent_Opinions/20140711/index.asp

 

Public support for a strong Clean Water Act is needed to ensure Iowa’s clean water future

By Susan Heathcote, Water Program Director, Iowa Environmental Council

Iowans value clean water. From the small creeks, ponds and wetlands on the farm and the edge of town where our children play and explore nature to the larger rivers and lakes where our families head on the weekends to fish, swim and boat – clean water is important to our quality of life and a healthier Iowa.

In response to our members’ concerns, improving the quality of Iowa’s rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands has been a top priority for the Iowa Environmental Council since the Council was founded nearly 20 years ago. One of our most important tools for cleaning up polluted waters and preventing new pollution is the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) that was passed by Congress in 1972.

The purpose of the CWA is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters. Over the past 40 years, the CWA has resulted in dramatic improvements in the Nation’s water quality through the construction of modern wastewater treatment facilities to reduce sewage and industrial waste that had previously been discharged directly to waterways.

Over the past 10 years, the Iowa Environmental Council and our partners, working with state agencies and the legislature, have further strengthened Iowa’s implementation and enforcement of the CWA. Two examples are rules adopted in 2006 that significantly increase protection of rivers and streams for recreation and aquatic life; and rules adopted in 2010 to protect high quality waters from new pollution.

The result has been significant new investment in cleaner water that benefits our communities, businesses, public health and quality of life.

While Iowa has made progress, we still have much work to do to meet the clean water expectations of the public.
Last year, for example, nitrate pollution coming mostly from fertilizer applied to farm fields in the watersheds of the Cedar, Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers made its way from small headwater streams in Northern Iowa and Southern Minnesota downstream to the Cities of Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. The result was record high nitrate levels that threatened the safety of the drinking water supply in Iowa’s two largest cities.

In addition, Iowans traveling to their local lakes for a weekend retreat too often find a sign warning them to stay out of the water due to the presence of cyano-toxins from algae blooms or dangerous bacteria that make the water unsafe for swimming. Last summer, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources posted 106 warnings for dangerous levels of bacteria and 24 warnings of cyano-toxins at public beaches in Iowa.

Many of the pollutants that affect the quality of our drinking water and swimming beaches come from far upstream, in some cases even crossing state borders. Therefore a strong CWA that protects the quality of small headwater streams that feed downstream rivers and lakes is needed for us to continue to make progress toward our clean water goals.

Prior to 2001, virtually all streams, rivers, lakes, and wetlands were considered “Waters of the U.S.” and were therefore covered under the Clean Water Act. However, in recent years, two U. S. Supreme Court rulings have resulted in confusion over whether some intermittent headwater streams and certain wetlands should be protected.
To end this confusion, and restore CWA protections to these critical water bodies, the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers have proposed new rules that clarify existing law and ensure the “Waters of the U.S.” designation extends to headwater streams that flow into larger rivers and to wetlands within the floodplain adjacent to these rivers.
The proposed rules also clarify which waters are not considered “Waters of the U.S.”, including streams that do not contribute flow to downstream waters, agricultural drainage tiles, irrigation ditches, waste treatment lagoons, groundwater, and agricultural stormwater discharges.
Prior to releasing the proposed rule, EPA and the Army Corps worked closely with the agricultural community and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to understand and address farmer concerns. The proposed rules leave in place the current exemptions from CWA permits for normal farming, ranching and forestry practices; including plowing, seeding, cultivation, minor drainage, harvesting, drainage ditch maintenance and upland soil and water conservation practices.

Further, in response to agriculture’s concern about the regulatory burden when permits are needed for some conservation practices, EPA is specifying 56 agricultural conservation practices that will be specifically exempted from CWA permitting requirements.

Iowans who drink from or swim in Iowa waters; parents whose children play in the local creek; sportsmen and anglers who hunt and fish; and nature lovers who paddle, hike and bike along or in Iowa waters need to publically support these new rules. Iowans who care about clean water can’t afford to sit on the sidelines and let some interest groups misstate the purpose and effect of this rule and determine which waters are protected and which waters can be destroyed or polluted.

With strong public support and action, the proposed rule will strengthen the Clean Water Act’s legal and scientific foundation and protect the quality and integrity of the critically important streams and wetlands that feed into our rivers and lakes – thus helping to ensure a clean water future for Iowa.

Additional information on the Waters of the US Rule can be found on the EPA webpage: http://www.epa.gov/uswaters
Comments on the Waters of the US Proposed Rule can be submitted at the Federal Register via the e-Rulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. The direct link to the comment page for this rule is http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=EPA-HQ-OW-2011-0880. Comments must be submitted by Oct. 20, 2014. (note: today the website still has the July 21st deadline, but EPA has announced a 91 day extension till Oct. 20th.)