Tag Archives: state budget

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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Meeting clean water goals requires greater commitment to livestock facility inspections

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.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is poised to take on a major EPA-mandated inspection effort to ensure thousands of Iowa livestock facilities are not discharging manure into Iowa’s waters.  But as DNR prepares for this new responsibility, it does so with far fewer staff than necessary, said Ralph Rosenberg, the Iowa Environmental Council’s executive director.

Take action on this issue by telling your state representatives Iowa needs enough livestock inspectors to adequately protect our rivers and lakes.

“Since 2009, Iowa has substantially reduced the number of livestock facility inspectors protecting the state’s rivers and lakes to the point where we are already concerned about inadequate oversight,” Rosenberg said.  “Now, with this much-awaited round of new inspections set to begin, the under-staffing at DNR demands urgent attention.”

spill-map-for-blogThe Council has prepared a new fact sheet on the need for more livestock inspectors, and we offer an interactive map of the impact harmful manure spills have had in your county in the last decade.

The new inspection effort is necessary after the federal Environmental Protection Agency identified numerous shortcomings in Iowa’s Clean Water Act oversight of livestock facilities last summer.  A draft agreement between the EPA and DNR calls on the state agency to complete enhanced inspections of about 8,000 facilities, reaching 20% of the operations—almost 1,600—each year for five years.

Rosenberg said 13 inspectors, a number that restores past staff reductions and more closely matches DNR’s own initial assessment of its need, would better align the agency’s resources with the size of its task.

“This is not an effort where DNR can drop everything, catch up quickly, then move on,” said Rosenberg.  “Completing the new inspections requires a multi-year commitment from the DNR which will put substantial pressure on the department’s resources.  Providing adequate staff is critical so the department can still meet its other responsibilities.”

Rosenberg explained the DNR originally indicated it would seek 13 additional staff members; after the Governor’s budget provided lesser funding, DNR has suggested it will attempt to re-focus its priorities to move forward with fewer staff.  Rosenberg said the Council and its partners are concerned that without the 13 additional staff, DNR could be forced to weaken its efforts in other areas, such as responding to livestock producer questions and citizen complaints, to complete its new task.

“Protecting water quality in Iowa’s rivers and lakes is the responsibility of state government,” Rosenberg said.  “We have to provide our state agencies the resources they need to enforce existing laws.”

According to previous analysis by the Iowa Environmental Council, manure spills killed more than 1.2 million fish in Iowa waters in the last decade, including 24 spills that killed more than 10,000 fish in a single incident.  Findings from that analysis are summarized on the Council’s website, iaenvironment.org.

Two days, two top-notch clean water editorials in the Register

Image shows a thick mat of green algae with the text "Let's clean this up!"The Des Moines Register‘s editorial board is often a strong advocate for Iowa’s natural resources, and back-to-back editorials Sunday and Monday are no exception.

On February 26, Iowans are coming together at the statehouse to support adequate funding and real solutions for clean water and a healthy environment.  You can commit to attend in person at http://envirolobbyday.eventbrite.com.

On Sunday, the Register examined the Governor’s proposed cuts to lake and river restoration programs even as he celebrates “Iowa’s $1.6 billion tourism industry, which includes recreation on Iowa’s rivers and lakes.”

The Register gets it:

“If the Governor cannot find the money for these lakes, the Legislature should.  Meanwhile, the state must begin to take serious action to reduce the agricultural runoff that has fouled the lakes in the first place.  Otherwise, the state will be facing another cleanup effort in a few more years.”

Then Monday, the paper followed up with an equally strong piece discussing research into deteriorating water quality at Iowa’s lakes conducted by an Iowa State University team including Adam Heathcote, son of the Council’s own water program director, Susan Heathcote.  In that piece, the writers clarified what they mean by “serious action” on agricultural runoff.

“They say ‘one size fits all’ government regulations are not the answer, and they are right.  Mandatory regulation should be targeted only toward the most risky practices by farmers who aren’t voluntarily practicing smart conservation.  Farmers who are trying to do the right thing should get help implementing the most effective, science-based solutions.”

The Iowa Environmental Council believes Iowa’s waters should be clear and clean, not brown and green.  We’ve called on Iowans to share your clean water stories and come together in person at the statehouse Feb. 26 to speak out for protecting Iowa’s natural resources for future generations.