Archive for the ‘Energy & Environment’ category

Job 1 for Day 1 — putting Iowa families first

November 6, 2014

As election dust settles, priorities remain clear for Iowa families

Now that the votes are counted, the real work begins. Job 1? It could be any of a number of areas where solid research and analysis have shown better public policy could make a difference for a more prosperous, healthier Iowa. Take a step back from the TV ads and “gotcha” politics and these issues come clearly in focus.

In Iowa, research shows solid approaches to economic prosperity for working families include:

In Iowa, research shows a fiscally responsible approach to both find revenues and do better with what we have includes:

  • Stopping tax giveaways to companies that pay no income tax — which occurs at a cost of between $32 million and $45 million a year through one research subsidy program alone, even though there is nothing to show this spending boosts the Iowa economy or produces activity that would not occur anyway. http://www.iowafiscal.org/big-money-big-companies-whose-benefit/
  • Reining in unnecessary “tax expenditures” — tax breaks, tax credits and other spending done through the tax code — could bring in tens or hundreds of millions of dollars for public services. A five-year sunset on all tax credits would force lawmakers to review and formally pass renewals of this kind of spending, now on autopilot. The last attempt at real reform fell woefully short. http://www.iowafiscal.org/tax-credit-reform-glass-half-full-maybe-some-moisture/
  • Plugging tax loopholes — a $60 to $100 million problem — would pay for a 2 or 3 percent annual increase in state per-pupil funding of K-12 schools. Twenty-three states, including 4 of 6 Iowa neighbors, don’t permit multistate corporations to shift profits out of state to avoid Iowa income tax and contribute their fair share to local education and other state services. http://iowapolicypoints.org/2013/05/22/will-outrage-translate-into-policy/
  • Reforming TIF — tax-increment financing, which is overused and often abused by cities around the state, has caught lawmakers’ attention in the past and should again. Like many tools that provide subsidies to private companies and developers, it should be redesigned to assure subsidies only go to projects with a public benefit and only where the project could not otherwise occur. Further, it should be designed to assure that only the taxpayers who benefit are the ones footing the bill, which is a problem with current TIF practice. http://www.iowafiscal.org/category/research/taxes/tax-increment-financing-tif/

In Iowa, research shows a healthy environment and smart energy choices for Iowa’s future includes:

  • Putting teeth into pollution law — which means reforms in Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy to eliminate pollution in waterways. http://www.iowapolicyproject.org/2014Research/140717-nutrient.html
  • Allowing local government to regulate frac sand mining — When it comes to cigarettes, guns and large hog facilities the Iowa Legislature took away the right of local government to listen to citizen desires. The General Assembly and the Governor should let democracy thrive and not take away local control of sand mining.
  • Encouraging more use of solar electricity in Iowa — Jobs are created while we confront climate change if we build better solar policy in Iowa. http://www.iowapolicyproject.org/110325-solar-release.html
  • Promoting local food and good food choices with school gardens — and a pilot project to offer stipends to Iowa school districts could encourage both learning and better nutrition. http://www.iowapolicyproject.org/2014Research/140514-school_gardens.html

None of these issues are new and it’s not an exhaustive list. But these were big issues for our state before the election and remain so, no matter who is in charge.

Together, we can build on the solid research cited above and lay the foundation for better public policy to support those priorities.

Owen-2013-57   Posted by Mike Owen, Executive Director of the Iowa Policy Project

Climate change impacts showing up now

October 30, 2014

This month marks the fourth October in a row that scientists from across Iowa have penned an Iowa Climate Statement, a brief overview of climate change and its impacts to our state. Since I teach at the University of Iowa as well as work here as an environmental researcher, I am one of the 180 signers of the statement. The theme of this year’s statement was public health.

Health effects of climate change include:

  • The consequences of heavy rainfall — increased exposure to toxic chemicals and raw sewage mobilized and spread by flood waters and mold growing in flooded buildings.
  • Warmer temperatures and higher carbon dioxide levels cause plants to produce not only more pollen, but also pollen with a higher allergen content.
  • New species of mosquitos and ticks in Iowa capable of transmitting diseases have arrived and blue green algae capable of producing toxins has become a bigger problem.

These and other climate-related health effects are documented in the statement.

A free seminar by several Iowa authors of the statement will take place on Friday, October 31, 2014, from 9:15 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the state Hygienic Laboratory in Coralville.

As the Iowa Climate Statement 2014 states, action is required:

“ Adopting strong climate‐change policies will play a vital role in diminishing human suffering and illness now and for generations to come.”

IPP-osterberg-75   Posted by David Osterberg, co-founder of the Iowa Policy Project. Osterberg is a professor of environmental health in the University of Iowa College of Public Health. dosterberg@iowapolicyproject.org

Stop politicizing water quality

August 26, 2014

Water quality in Iowa is so bad that any new initiative to improve our waters is probably a good thing. That said, Iowa farm groups’ new initiative to take action on agricultural pollution of our waters comes with a troubling rollout.

Making the announcement with Governor Branstad not only politicizes water quality, something that should be above politics, but masks the governor’s own decision this year to delay action.

The Governor’s veto of $11 million for water quality — funding passed by a divided legislature — makes an important statement about water quality. In addition, the governor also vetoed $9 million in funding for the REAP program, which is used by counties and cities to acquire and protect natural areas and to preserve Iowa’s environment.

Twenty percent of REAP goes to farmers to improve soil and water practices. If you are promoting a voluntary system to reduce nutrient runoff, shouldn’t you make sure farmers have resources to put sensible measures into practice?

The new group established to improve water quality needs to be taken seriously by the environmental community and by all Iowans. But this rollout does not engender trust.

The Iowa Policy Project recently released a report on water quality in Iowa. [See A Threat Unmet: Why Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy Falls Short Against Water Pollution] We showed that the addition of six new policies to the state’s new Nutrient Reduction Strategy would make it possible for the strategy to succeed.

One of those policies is the kind of effort the new farm group plans to push — bringing attention to the problem. A second policy is more funding, and farm group muscle could improve the chances in the Legislature. However, even if the Legislature acts, as in the 2014 session, legislation still has to get by a governor’s veto.

Maybe the best starting place to build broad support would be to invite an environmental group to the table, rather than a politician in the middle of a heated campaign. We know plenty who could help.

IPP-osterberg-75 Posted by David Osterberg, co-founder of the Iowa Policy Project

What I learned on the Great March for Climate Action

August 13, 2014
photo of Ed Fallon, turbine

Climate March organizer Ed Fallon in wind country.

After a hard day of marching along gravel roads in Iowa, I set up my tent in the city park in Cumberland and walked a few more blocks to see what the small town had to offer.

I met a guy in the town bar with a Siemens logo stitched on his shirt and cap. That company makes wind turbine blades in Fort Madison, Iowa, and also does maintenance on some of the wind farms in the state.

Not only did I find out the size of the turbines in the nearby 193-turbine wind farm (2.3 Megawatts each) and how high they stood from the ground (260 feet up), but also the salary of guys who have to climb nearly 30 stories up inside the steel tubular towers to do maintenance. A technician salary starts at $24.50 per hour, which is very good money in rural Iowa. Crew members work hard and they get pretty well compensated.

Wind energy is helping to mitigate climate disruption. Close to 30 percent of all electricity generated in the state comes from wind power plants like the ones we passed by. The industry also supports a number of families in rural Iowa.

[To learn more about the Great March for Climate Action, click here]

IPP-osterberg-75Posted by David Osterberg, founder of the Iowa Policy Project

 

[See Des Moines Register story, August 8]

osterberg-walk-01

On the Climate March, other lessons

August 7, 2014

140807-DO-walk-222640IPP co-founder David Osterberg this week is on the Great March for Climate Action.

On the March, which is currently proceeding through western Iowa, Osterberg is seeing good examples of another issue he’s passionate about: care for the land, and controlling water pollution. Or not, as in the photos in this post.

140807-walk-195651

Whether it’s a dirty stream, as at left, or crops planted where a stream should be, above, the picture is one of what happens when our public policy expectations are low. We can see examples around us, if we just look.

For more about issues of water pollution caused by ag runoff, and better approaches to reduce it, see several reports on our Iowa Policy Project website.

In particular, see our recent report on Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy, which relies heavily on voluntary measures instead of enforcement of public standards.

 

Free-range concerns with hog confinements

June 19, 2014

A funny thing happened at the public meeting to consider the expansion of a hog operation in eastern Johnson County near West Branch. The operator withdrew his request for a permit.

Residents had been expressing their concerns because of quality-of-life conflicts they see coming if an existing large farm operation is permitted to create a second 2,500-head hog confinement, expanding the operation to nearly 4,900 hogs at that location.

Iowa law has always been most friendly to those who want to locate and operate Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), rather than to the people who live near them. The state has largely limited county authority over the siting of these operations to just comments, and then only if a proposed confinement is large enough and does not meet enough specific standards for protecting soil, water and air cited in what is termed the Master Matrix.

As a 2008 IPP report showed, the current CAFO permitting process allows scant protection from spreading manure near drinking water sources — in a Dallas County case, near an already impaired river. Even worse as pointed out by Johnson County Supervisor Janelle Rettig at the hearing, if this operator chooses to move his second planned building by a thousand feet, he would not be required to even ask for a permit.

The Master Matrix process is in its second decade and its deficiencies have not been corrected. Even operating normally, CAFOs can create significant water-quality and air quality problems — and when there are spills, as is historically the case, fish kills are one of the impacts.

As our 2008 report recommended, Iowa law should include:

  • Stronger minimum requirements for approval of new construction permits and manure management plans;
  • Real local decision-making authority by allowing counties to set rules to protect air and water quality, public health and community well-being; and
  • Requiring construction permits for smaller facilities — for hogs, half of the current requirement of permits for operations with 2,500 hogs or more.

Most in attendance cheered when, at the beginning of the meeting, it was announced that the request for a permit was withdrawn. However, it might still be built if moved less than a quarter mile. The state needs to change the law to allow for real local control over hog operations.

IPP-osterberg-75  Posted by David Osterberg, Founding Director of IPP

Policy choices are about quality, not quantity

May 28, 2014

The headline on my doorstep today says, “Legislature continues trend of passing fewer bills.” That lead story in the Cedar Rapids Gazette notes that for the fourth straight year, a divided Iowa Legislature has passed fewer than 150 pieces of legislation.

Ah, numbers. Can’t live with ’em. Can’t live without ’em. But in this case, they don’t make a lot of difference.

What matters are the words and the policies embodied in those 150 or fewer bills. It’s about quality, not quantity.

What have those bills included in recent years? Here are some key points:

  • A commercial property tax overhaul that is tainted by big benefits to huge out-of-state retailers that need no help and pay too little in Iowa tax as it is.
  • An expanded Earned Income Tax Credit that improves tax fairness for low- and moderate-income working families across Iowa.
  • Funding to assure a tuition freeze remains for a second year in regents institutions.
  • A small boost in child care assistance for working students, making them eligible for the benefit so they can get skills for better paying jobs to sustain their families.

What have those bills not included in recent years? Here are some noteworthy omissions:

  • No overhaul of the personal income-tax system to better balance tax responsibilities for all taxpayers regardless of income, or to assure revenues are kept adequate to meet costs of critical services.
  • No greater accountability on spending that is done through the corporate tax code, outside the budget process.
  • No increase in the minimum wage, stagnant at $7.25 for over six years now.
  • No broad expansion of child care access for struggling families who don’t make enough to cover costs, but make too much to receive assistance.
  • No move to battle wage theft, which we have estimated to be a $600 million annual problem in Iowa’s economy — not including the $60 million lost in uncollected taxes and unemployment insurance.
  • No long-term answers for funding of education at all levels, violating the promise of law for K-12 schools, and leaving a legacy of debt for many college students and their families.

Those are not exhaustive lists, but a statement of priorities established by agreement, stalemate or inertia. We covered some of these points in our end of session statement. Some will like the overall product of recent years, some will not. Few will ask how many bills were passed.

At least one theme weaved by this record cannot be disputed: Iowa is on record that we will not ask the wealthy and well-connected to do more. We pretend more often than not that we can meet our obligations to the citizens of Iowa without investing in the public services they require, that if we just keep cutting taxes all will be well. Every now and then we’ll say something about opportunity for all and mean it, but we’re not ready to make that a long-term commitment.

Sometimes, not passing something says as much about legislative priorities as passing it.

Owen-2013-57   Posted by Mike Owen, Executive Director


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