Much has been said since the Iowa Utilities Board approved the Bakken pipeline in Iowa this spring. Indeed, the project poses many environmental and health risks; it also illustrates how the opinions of a select few can override the concerns of many (including 40 percent of Iowans who are opposed to the pipeline).
Unfortunately, a similar phenomenon manifests itself among Iowa’s representatives in Washington, D.C., who come nowhere close to representing Iowans’ concerns for environmental issues. Eighty-one percent of Iowans believe climate change is caused by humans, but of the six government officials elected by Iowans to serve in Congress, five either completely deny or refuse to address humanity’s role in driving climate change.
Last August, the Environmental Protection Agency released its final version of the Clean Power Plan, a state-by-state approach to reducing carbon pollution from power plants. The plan provides commonsense public health protections while also reducing energy costs.
Given the health benefits it will provide, the Clean Power Plan is good for Iowans, made clear when Iowa joined 17 other states in legally supporting the EPA’s plan. And thanks to Iowa’s leadership in wind energy, our state is well on its way to meeting the EPA’s emission goal for 2030 — a 47 percent overall reduction in emissions.
Given the recent impact of climate change on Iowa (droughts, the 2008 floods in Cedar Rapids, and increasing uncertainty of crop yield due to extreme weather), many Iowans recognize the health and financial benefits of protecting the environment. Yet Iowa Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst have failed to do the same. In short, even though a majority of Iowans support limiting carbon emissions from power plants, their senators continue to side with polluters over people.
Grassley and Ernst have a long track record of climate denial. Ernst, while admitting she believes the climate is changing, refuses to concede the fact that humans play a role in climate change. Like Ernst, Grassley has continually cited his uncertainty about current scientific findings. And in 2014, Ernst called the Clean Water Act — which sets standards for the amount and type of harmful pollutants exposed to our drinking water — one of the most damaging laws ever passed.
In the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Rod Blum (R-1st) is a self-described skeptic, justifying his apathy with an apparent lack of knowledge on the issue. Rep. Steve King (R-4th) flatly denies the issue, saying climate change “is not proven, it’s not science. It’s more of a religion than a science.” Rep. David Young (R-3rd) has avoided the issue by placing the responsibility to act on Congress, a scapegoat approach that will prove inadequate given the current gridlock in Washington.
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The problem is that while Iowans care about environmental issues, our representatives refuse to do the same. They don’t accurately represent their constituents in Washington. For example, we care about our declining water quality, now more than ever, in light of the disastrous chain of events in Flint, Michigan. Not surprisingly, over 40 percent of Iowans consider their home drinking water quality to be “fair” or “poor” — an unacceptable reality.
We also care about finding new renewable energy sources. Iowans overwhelmingly approve of wind farms — an energy source that provides over 27 percent of our energy needs in Iowa.
Put simply, Iowans recognize the need to act responsibly when it comes to climate.
Unfortunately, our senators’ and representatives’ records speak for themselves, showing they are out of touch with their constituents. Now is the time for that to change. Let’s make our priorities clear — clean air, renewable energy, and a carbon-free future.
• Stephen Dykstra is a press intern at the Center for American Progress and Iowan native. He studies public relations and political science at Northwestern College in Orange City, and is planning to graduate this month.