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It is expected to remain the status quo in Iowa Legislature’s environmental policy.

It is expected to remain the status quo in Iowa Legislature’s environmental policy.

On Nov. 18, 2020, a rural Linn County farm field that was not cultivated has been seeded by a cover crop. Iowa House last year considered legislation to add soil health to the list for projects that could receive grants from soil or water conservation districts. The bill was unable to be passed. (The Gazette)

Iowans waited for 12 years for funding of the Natural Resources & Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. It is a sales-tax-supported fund that provides clean water and productive agricultural soil for thriving wildlife habitat.

Despite a vote of 63 per cent in favor, the Iowa Legislature still hasn’t voted to raise the sales taxes by three-eighths a penny to fill the gap. Trust fund. It is unlikely that it will happen again next week, when the next legislative session begins.

No one is against a sales tax. Rep. Robert BaconR-Slater is the House Natural Resources Committee Chair.

The Republican-led state Senate has set as its goal to eliminate state income tax. It is possible to replace the revenue lost through higher fees or an increase of the sales tax if that happens this year or in a future session.

My opinion is that we will need to increase the sales taxes if we remove income tax. Bacon stated that if we do, three-eighths of cent would go towards iWill. Iowas Water and Land LegacyA coalition working towards filling the trust funds.

Bacon says he doesn’t want to increase sales tax because itdisproportionately harms low income people. But he also knows that many Republicans want the end of income tax and to return some of the $1.2 billion surplus states to Iowans.

Bacon explained that there are many other options for Iowa’s support of its environment.

Soil health

He said, “I know we need to pay attention to soil quality.”

Healthy soil retains more water which reduces flooding risk, has more microbes to feed plants, and is less likely to be eroded. Cover crops and reducing tillage can improve soil quality and soil health.

Last year, the Iowa House considered legislation that would have added soil health as a project that could receive grants from soil and water conservation district.

House File 646Original legislation also included a tax at 6.75 cents per $1,000 for water quality projects. This was in accordance with Iowa’s goal to reduce nitrates and phosphorus from Iowa farm fields into streams and lakes, groundwater, and groundwater. Capitol Dispatch reported.This language was removed and the Bill stalled.

The 2022 Legislative sessionThe meeting, which starts Monday in Des Moines begins Monday, may revisit the bill or other issues related to soil, said Ingrid Gronstal (water program director for Water Programs). Iowa Environmental Council.

Gronstal stated that there are opportunities to move smaller pieces forward. The bipartisan interest in soil health is evident.

Concerns among environmental groups are that soil health legislation could be used to channel federal or state money to update underground drainage tiles, which can transport polluted water to streams and lakes.

State parks

IowaWatch reported that despite a record 16.6million visits to Iowa’s state parks in 2020 the state park system lost its park rangers and that state funding remains flat.

The 1995 ratio of 1 to 217,000.700 was reduced to 1 to 35 rangers.

Park rangers help campers and lead hikes, but they are also sworn law enforcement officers that deal with hunting, fishing, trapping violations, and the operation of boats, all terrain vehicles, and snowmobiles.

Eastern Iowa park rangers helped to clear debris after the August 2020 desecho. Parks were reopened to the public.

Nick Rocca is a Lake Macbride State Park park ranger who moves debris to a burn pile at Palisades Kepler State Park in Mount Vernon on Nov. 19, 2020. Eastern Iowa park rangers such as him helped clear debris after the August 2020 derecho to make parks open again to the public. (The Gazette)

Bacon stated that he will lobby for four to five more rangers.

Bacon stated that we need more law enforcement officers in parks.

Enforcement

Gronstal stated that she would like to see the Iowa Department of Natural Resources spend more money on enforcement, permitting, and monitoring to ensure that animal-feeding operations are not allowing manure or chemicals to enter lakes, streams, and groundwater.

Iowa DNR investigated eight fish killsThrough August, a $270,000 penalty was imposed for a 2020 fertilizer leak that caused hundreds of deaths in a creek near Dubuque.

Gronstal stated that the regulatory agency should have sufficient resources to ensure public safety as well as environment health.

Coal plants

Iowa has nine coal plants that are still in operation. They are major contributors of greenhouse gases that cause climate changes. The Environmental Council would like the Legislature to require utility companies to create an integrated resource plan showing how they plan on supplying energy over the next 10, 20, or 50 years.

They need to inform their customers, regulators, and other stakeholders about their plans to deal with their remaining coal fleet. Kerri Johannsen, director of the Environmental Councils energy program, stated that they must do so.

Bacon stated utilities are welcome to develop long-term plans, but he does not believe the Legislature will require it.

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He said that the Legislature isn’t in favor of mandating legislation at this time. That would be a mandate.

Renewable energy

Iowa gets 58 per cent of its electricity from wind, which is the highest percentage in the country. Some utility-scale solar projectsAlso, there have been constructions in Iowa. However, there has been conflict over the future of other projects.

The Linn County Planning & Zoning Commission recommended a veto of a 750-acre solar park west of Coggon. This decision was partly based on neighbors’ opposition. The Linn County Board of Supervisors will review the project in January.

The Environmental Council opposes state laws that prohibit solar project siting. Johannsen stated that they don’t want to see any blanket prohibitions making it harder to build renewable energy in Iowa.

Bacon also supports local control over solar.

Just next to the funeral home that I used to own, (U.S. Department of Agriculture), a huge building with solar panel was built. Bacon said that it does not interfere. Local control is fine.

Digesters

May’s legislature passed a bill allowing animal-feeding facilities to exceed animal capacity by installing an anaerobic digester that processes manure. Nine Iowa dairies have now applied for digester permits.

Gronstal and Johannsen anticipate more bills in 2022 to make opening digesters, multimillion-dollar systems that convert manure, food waste, and methane into methane, easier and more affordable for farmers. This allows them to turn the methane into heat and electricity.

The digestate can be used to fertilize farm fields.

Gronstal stated that digesters could potentially provide water quality benefits. This technology is not going to be widely used. Water quality can be improved with other technology.

One of two large, sealed digester tank is seen at Sievers Family Farms, Stockton, April 26, 2021. (The Gazette)

Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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