Tag Archives: REAP

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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A historic victory for REAP: What happened, what comes next?

Council Executive Director Ralph Rosenberg, center, addresses the assembled crowd at Environmental Lobby Day, March 18.

Nearly 150 Iowans participated in a clean water and conservation statehouse day held on March 18 with $25 million for REAP ranked high on the list of priorities.

The last day of April brought exciting news to Iowa’s conservation community as a sequence of bills adopted by the general assembly appropriated a record $25 million to Iowa’s Resource Enhancement and Protection program.  In a flurry of activity leading up to adjournment of the 85th General Assembly, the final vote on REAP funding did not take place until after 3:00 a.m. on May 1.

This is the first time in 25 years REAP has been “fully funded” by the Iowa legislature, meaning approved funds meet or exceed the authorized level, currently $20 million.  In all, funding approved will come from three sources:

  • $16 million through HF2458, the appropriations bill for the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Department of Natural Resources.  This money comes from Iowa’s Environment First Fund.  It is noteworthy that controversial proposals in this bill to violate the spirit of the REAP funding formula and divert funds from the open spaces account were removed from the final bill.
  • $4 million through SF2349, appropriations from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund.
  • $5 million through SF2363, a bill making various one-time appropriations to a variety of programs, including REAP and several other conservation programs.

All three of these bills will require the Governor’s signature for $25 million in REAP funding to become law.  The Governor will have approximately 30 days to act on each bill, and appropriations bills are usually subject to strong review by the Governor’s office prior to being signed.

In addition to leadership shown by numerous conservation-minded legislators, Iowa’s REAP Program is supported by approximately 37,000 Iowans who have purchased natural resource license plates.  Last year and this year, hundreds of Iowans took part in a public participation process to make recommendations for the program’s future.

In March, the Iowa Environmental Council and Iowa REAP Alliance partnered with over 30 organizations to host a clean water and conservation rally at the statehouse.  An untold number of Iowans, through conservation organizations or acting independently, spoke out in favor of providing the program this historic funding level.

Thank you to all Iowans who spoke out to help make this progress.  We do know the work of protecting clean water and a healthy environment is not finished.  Together, we will continue to push for similar funding of REAP year after year.

Editor’s note:  Many environmental issues, including controversial provisions concerning confidentiality of water quality data in Iowa’s pollution reduction efforts, have seen action in the closing hours of the legislative session.  The Council will continue to summarize legislative action on a variety of issues in the coming days.

Your calls are needed to close the deal for conservation funding

Your action is needed to close the deal for an important Iowa conservation program.

Your action is needed to close the deal for an important Iowa conservation program.

For much of the last year, Iowans have been working to support providing Iowa’s Resource Enhancement and Protection Program, $25 million in support of its 25th anniversary year.  Despite having provided approximately $300 million in conservation funding to communities in all 99 counties, the legislature has never met is obligation to fully fund the program, meaning many more community-enhancing projects have been left unfunded.


We’ve removed the instructions for taking action here, because

Thanks to the quick action of Iowans like you, reap received funding at historic levels.  learn more >>


 

Want to be ready to protect clean water and Iowa’s environment right when it matters most?  Sign up for Iowa Environmental Council e-News and action alerts now.

Important public participation opportunities approaching for key Iowa conservation program

The REAP logo with the text "It's time: Fully Fund REAP!"

The Iowa Environmental Council strongly supports providing full funding to the REAP program.

The Iowa Environmental Council is a strong supporter of REAP and is a member of the Iowa REAP Alliance, a coalition of organizations who support the program.  The following is from a press release by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The public will have a chance to shape the future of Iowa’s conservation and outdoor recreation at any of the 18 Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) assemblies this fall.

REAP is a program that provides grants for and encourages enhancing and protecting Iowa’s natural and cultural resources. The assemblies will show local impacts of REAP.

“We get the opportunity to go out to the public to talk about REAP’s local impact,” said Tammie Krausman, REAP coordinator.

The assemblies will also allow attendees to voice ideas for changes and modifications to REAP and its programs.

“People who are passionate about conservation and outdoor recreation should get involved to make decisions on what’s happening locally,” said Krausman.

The assemblies will also allow participants to elect five members for REAP Congress. REAP Congress will meet Jan. 4 at the state capitol to talk about a variety of conservation topics such as soil conservation, water quality and outdoor recreation.

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At mid-term, a time to assess progress in the legislature

Our supporters across Iowa consistently tell us that timely, accurate information about activity in Iowa’s legislature is one of the Council’s services they value most.

The Council provides a free weekly summary of current environmental legislation, the Legislative News Bulletin, via e-mail, which this year has reported information on more than 70 bills so far.  By reviewing that publication closely, many of the Council’s members and supporters have provided us valuable feedback to refine and focus our positions on issues.

The Council and our members devote considerable resources to monitoring and speaking out on environmental legislation.  Through our action alert system, you can speak out yourself by offering your thoughts on legislation to your elected officials when important decisions are being made.

We consider all the bills we track to be important, but below, we have summarized information about some of the bills of greatest concern to our members.

Bills related to spending on environmental programs

The Council is working to ensure Iowa’s investments in natural resources produce the results for clean water and a healthy environment that Iowans want.

SSB1245: Proposed Agriculture & Natural Resources Budget

Two people stand by a creek being protected as part of a federal conservation program.The Senate’s proposed budget for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources contains significant advances for natural resource protection:

The proposal would

Image shows a thick mat of green algae with the text "Let's clean this up!"The bill also includes additional funding for conservation action on Iowa farms following the release of Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy by Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and other state officials late last year. The Council and partners support additional funding to increase soil and water conservation on Iowa’s farms, yet have consistently called for more accountability and transparency, establishment of timelines and deadlines, and clearer goals in this pollution reduction effort.

HF92 (House)/SF268 (Senate): Legislation to increase the sales tax to fund conservation

Legislation has been introduced this year to raise Iowa’s sales tax by 3/8 of a cent to provide Iowa’s Natural Resource and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund more than $120 million annually to support clean water and natural resource conservation. Sponsors of this legislation are Rep. Chuck Isenhart (D-Dubuque) and Sen. Dick Dearden (D-Des Moines). The Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy coalition, of which the Council is a member, has additional information about this effort on its website.

More to come soon

Legislation to provide funding for public access and enjoyment of Iowa’s rivers as well as the state’s public lake restoration program has not yet been introduced. Appropriations bills that discuss these programs’ budgets are expected soon.

Environmental roll-back bills

These bills risk weakening existing environmental protections in Iowa. For two of them, beneficial amendments have reduced the Council’s concerns.

HF512 (House)/SF418 (Senate): Potential rollback of livestock manure storage standards

Two fish in an Iowa waterway died during a manure spill.

Manure spills can wreak havoc on aquatic ecosystems. According to the Council’s analysis, illegal manure spills killed more than 1.2 million fish in Iowa in the last ten years.

In the legislature, SF418/HF512 would allow certain livestock facilities to reclassify themselves as “small operations” by idling livestock production in one or more buildings. Once reclassified, an operation would be exempt from paying annual compliance fees and submitting regular manure management plans.

The House version of this bill passed the full House by a vote of 83-16 on April 1. Before passage, the House rejected a beneficial amendment by Rep. Chuck Isenhart (D-Dubuque) that would have would have barred livestock producers from storing manure in idled buildings “from a location outside the confinement feeding operation.”

The Council is concerned the bill would permit unregulated manure storage in supposedly idle buildings, which could raise the risk of a harmful spill. Several of the Council’s concerns could be addressed through an amendment to this bill that would limit manure storage in the idle building to “emergencies only” and require notification of the DNR when such actions take place. After House passage, that amendment would need to come from the Senate.

HF311: Reducing public notification for certain environmental permits, including for livestock facilities

HF311 would have eliminated a requirement that DNR provide public notice for certain stormwater permits in two local newspapers, but an amendment has reduced that risk. The public notifications in question are important because they are the only way for members of a local community to find out about potential development projects—including development of certain new animal feeding operations—that will disturb more than one acre of land and potentially have other environmental impacts. Rep. Jason Schultz (R-Schleswig) offered an amendment in the House that recognized the need for public notification by keeping the requirement but reducing it to publication in one local paper. The House also removed the potentially harmful automatic approval of DNR permits in the event application is not acted upon within 90 days. The Senate sub-committee appears to be supportive of the maintenance of a public notice requirement, and the Council is continuing to monitor the bill.

SF272: Eliminating a needed protection for Iowa wetlands

Restored wetland in Iowa.

Restored wetland in Iowa. (Photo: Lynn Betts/NRCS)

Historically, Iowa had as many as 4-6 million acres of wetlands, more than 90% of which have been drained. Because Iowa’s remaining acres are so critical for habitat, filtering water, and holding back floods, the Council supports Iowa leadership for protecting what remains. Iowa law currently contains a wetland permitting program which includes protections for isolated wetlands that are not otherwise protected by the Clean Water Act and “Swampbuster” portions of the Farm Bill. The Council sees maintaining this state permit program as a way of keeping these wetlands from falling through the cracks between other programs; similar state-based protections exist in other states. The Iowa Senate’s version of the bill (SF272) originally proposed to eliminate the state permit program until the bill was amended by Sen. Chris Brase (D-Muscatine). The Council will continue to monitor the bill.

Advancing clean energy in Iowa

The following bills advance Iowa’s transition toward cleaner sources of energy, such as wind and solar.

SF372: Ensuring Iowa farmers and land owners receive a fair price for electricity they generate

A small wind turbine. Photo courtesy Flickr/Creative Commons/User: tswindAn Iowa wind energy incentive (feed-in tariff) bill that recently passed the Iowa Senate Agriculture Committee has received national attention as a way to ensure Iowa farmers and rural landowners who install a wind turbine receive a fair price from utilities for electricity they generate. The bill faces stiff opposition from utilities, but the Council supports this policy as a way to continue to expand and diversify wind energy’s role in Iowa.

SSB1175/SSB1136/SF414: Tax incentives, grants and loans for wind and solar

Three bills are pending that would improve tax incentive programs and establish new grant and loan programs for wind and solar. Last year, the Iowa Legislature created a tax credit program for solar power in Iowa that could support a dramatic expansion of solar energy in Iowa. The Iowa Department of Revenue reported in January that in 2012, 64 solar projects have been granted the credit, including 50 projects by individuals and 14 by Iowa businesses. SSB 1175 would ensure that unused credits are reserved for future years and would allow businesses to install multiple projects and receive multiple credits in a single year. Both SSB 1136 and SF 414 provide incentives for wind projects in Iowa’s Small Wind Innovation Zones, which are local communities that adopt wind-friendly policies that the Council helped develop. SSB 1136 also extends Iowa’s wind energy tax incentives while SF 414 primarily establishes new grant and loan programs for wind and solar.

Want more legislative information?

The Iowa Environmental Council tracks dozens of environmental bills, and provides a weekly Legislative News Bulletin that summarizes our positions.  You can sign up to receive this e-mail on the Council’s website.

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