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Views from across Iowa

Aug 23, 2013

Quad-City Times, Aug. 18

Diverse energy arises in Iowa



Just five months ago, anxious Muscatine County residents crowded the Wilton Community Center and heard a MidAmerican Energy executive outline the prospects for a new nuclear power plant. The company was assessing options for a nuclear plant in their backyard.

Fast forward to August when MidAmerican has dropped that nuclear assessment and earmarked $1.9 billion for wind energy generators in many backyards across Iowa.

Work commences in September on 448 turbines in Grundy, Madison, Marshall, O’Brien and Webster counties, creating 460 construction jobs, then 48 permanent jobs. Those turbines will churn out $12 million a year in property tax from those backyards and generate $3.2 million annually for their property owners. Call them YIMBYs: Yes in my backyard.

This comes in a state where the energy firm already spent $4 billion on 1,257 turbines since 2004.

Of course, that’s ratepayers’ money, invested with Iowa Utility Board approval on a form of energy that far surpasses every other type of electrical generation in Iowa. Wind generates more than coal, more than natural gas and four times more energy in Iowa than nuclear power.

This sustainable transformation comes as Iowa experiences tremendous growth in energy dependent industries, such as Google’s $1 billion Iowa data centers, which includes a $75 million stake in nearby wind turbine project.

And yes, this sustainable energy is subsidized with favorable tax treatment, incentives for turbine makers and incentives to MidAmerican. Those incentives give Iowa more choices than power plants with towering smokestacks or concrete cylinders of nuclear waste.

We’re glad MidAmerican chose to make a major stake in Iowa wind energy. And we’re thankful to Iowans willing to live in the shadow of these turbines in their backyards.

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Telegraph Herald, Aug. 16

Congress should find areas of

common ground


After years of partisan rancor in Washington, it’s hard to imagine members of Congress sitting down together and working out solutions.

Surely there would be fur flying and the discourse would spiral into an ugly debate with neither side really listening.

At least that’s how most Americans probably picture it, given that a paltry 16 percent think Congress is doing a good job. We tend to hear a lot more about what isn’t getting done than what is.

Funny thing, many more Americans tend to think their own representative is doing a pretty good job — about half say they approve of the job the representative from their own district is doing, and that belief is backed up by the fact that voters re-elect most members of Congress in every election.

Could it be that the American people are right on that count? That if you look at members of Congress as individuals, they really do want to make the country better? An Editorial Board visit with Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., lent credence to that school of thought.

Johnson was launched into politics by the Tea Party, winning his seat in 2010. He still subscribes to many of the Tea Party planks about smaller government and lower taxes. But when Johnson speaks earnestly about the debt and deficit problem the country is facing, he manages to find a position that’s hard for voters of any stripe to disagree with: Something has to be done.

Johnson was in the first group of 12 senators invited to dinner with President Obama to discuss the budget deficit earlier this year. Johnson said Americans would be heartened by the tone of those meetings. “There was no acrimony,” he said. “We were trying to find the places we agree.”

That’s what it comes to, really, finding the common ground. Johnson said he’d love to see a “grand bargain” achieved, to negotiate all the details of a plan to get the country’s spending back on track. But that’s not a very realistic goal. Instead, he said, he’ll settle for incremental steps.

That’s an approach we’d like to see more of in Washington. Let’s start with the areas in which we can agree. Like the fact that entitlement programs are not sustainable in the long-term. What steps can be taken — small ones now, bigger ones down the road — to fix that problem over the next three decades? Taking a longer view and finding areas of agreement might be ways to make incremental progress.

So many of the problems Washington faces involve trillions of dollars and seem impossible to break down and find solutions. But progress begins with small steps.

The Iowa Legislature did a good job of finding common ground and building from there in the last legislative session. Through bipartisan compromise — on which both sides made concessions — lawmakers were able to find accord on major policy issues like low-income health care, tax policy and education reform.

If it can happen in Des Moines, it can happen in Washington. If Wisconsin’s senators, Johnson and Sen. Tammy Baldwin, can find measures they agree on (and they did -- they worked together on judicial appointments) their colleagues in the Senate can find similar common ground.

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The Des Moines Register, Aug. 16

Why license for health but skip the inspections?


The Iowa Department of Public Health houses 19 job licensing boards overseeing thousands of workers, from barbers and athletic trainers to dietitians and funeral directors. The department is also responsible for regulating some of the businesses employing these individuals.

Except it doesn’t.

A few months ago, The Des Moines Register’s opinion staff reported the department had not conducted routine inspections of beauty salons, even though Iowa law requires it to do so. The failure to inspect exposes an obvious hypocrisy: The state decides it’s important to regulate these businesses for public health reasons but then never bothers to inspect them to see if those public health concerns are being properly addressed.

The state auditor criticized the agency for this failure to inspect beauty salons, as well as for its failure to inspect funeral homes and mortuaries, which is also required by law. The auditor recommended the agency “take the necessary steps to comply with the Code of Iowa or should seek repeal of the Code sections.”

The health department is already working on doing the latter. In fact, both state licensing boards overseeing these businesses have been moving toward getting the law changed to read that it “may” inspect, rather than it “shall” inspect.

Perhaps it is a waste of public money and state workers’ time to conduct regular inspections of more than 4,000 hair salons and nearly 600 funeral homes in Iowa. The agency doesn’t seem to have the resources to do such a job. It already compensates the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals to conduct investigations of salons. But the state should not have simply ignored the law all these years.

This is just another example of Iowa’s convoluted statutes related to job licensing — and another reason why Iowa lawmakers need to revisit those laws.

– – –

Iowa City Press-Citizen, Aug. 14

Animal rights message gets lost in stupidity


It doesn’t really matter what broader message members of the “Iowans for Animal Liberation” were trying to convey when they decided to hide in the Agriculture Building of the Iowa State Fairgrounds and, after closing time, come out and deface the iconic Butter Cow.

Their actions are likely to do much more harm than good for the actual organizations and activists that work directly (not just symbolically) to improve the quality of life for livestock in Iowa and across the U.S.

“Freedom for All” were the words the vandals — using the same red paint they poured on the butter sculpture — scrawled on the window of the refrigerated display case. But their attempted moral indictment of the dairy/beef industry was scraped away as easily as removing splattered paint from butter.

The activists tried to amplify their message in an email the group sent to news organizations soon after. They claimed the “paint represents the blood of 11 billion animals murdered each year in slaughterhouses, egg farms and dairies.” But that explanation just makes the vandalism seem more like a failed attempt at performance art rather than any persuasive act of political protest.

And even the efforts of the North American Animal Liberation Press Office to express solidarity with the unknown vandals fail to show any worthwhile justification for what seems to be little more than a bone-headed prank.

Jerry Vlasak, the founder and spokesman for the office, told The Des Moines Register that such high-profile protests were necessary, in part, because of the state laws that “make it illegal to video tape the cruelties and horrors of animal rendering or take pictures of the things that are being done to animals — legal or illegal.”

It is true that, last year, the Iowa Legislature passed a measure making it illegal for people to misrepresent why they want to work in businesses such as a slaughterhouse or a factory farm. But as unnecessary and harmful as we continue to think that particular law is, the final version was not nearly as bad as the earlier versions of the bill — which would have made it illegal for anyone even to broadcast (let alone record) video from such a site if the video was recorded without the business owner’s permission

Unfortunately, the vandals’ actions are likely to make it all the more difficult to persuade state lawmakers that they should reverse such a free-speech-stifling trend. The statewide lobbyists arguing for strengthening “Ag Gag” bills like the one passed last year often say such laws are necessary because activists seem more interested in making a media splash than in actually protecting any animals. Iowans for Animal Liberation now provided the law’s supporters with Exhibit A in making such a case to lawmakers in the future.

Other animal welfare groups, both locally and nationally, have been fairly consistent in their denunciation of this failed attempt to deface a sacred cow.

“Quite frankly, . situations like this — attacking beloved Iowa traditions like the butter cow — are not going to get the general public on your side,” Tom Colvin, executive director of the Animal Rescue League in Des Moines, told The Register. “They have a reverse effect.”

And in a blog post Wednesday, Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, offered a list of suggestions for more productive ways in which Iowans can demonstrate their concern about animal welfare.

“When our movement is trying to conduct a serious discussion about issues, and seeking to drive major reform, we do not need tactical approaches that come out of the playbook of a fraternity,” Pacelle concludes.

“We condemn the illegal conduct, and we hope that the good people of Iowa know that The HSUS and other serious-minded animal welfare groups think this person is as dumb as you do.”

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