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Taking away local choice and control, again
Mar. 9, 2021 6:00 am
State legislators have a message for local leaders concerned about their community's carbon footprint: It's not your business. It's business' business.
Companion bills in the Iowa Senate and House (SF 455 and HF 555) would prohibit cities and counties from regulating the sale of natural gas or propane. They are among the latest examples of how state government has taken a heavy hand in curtailing policy choices by local elected officials.
School boards cannot decide on how to protect students and teachers from COVID-19. City leaders cannot limit how many unrelated tenants can live in apartments. County supervisors cannot set a higher minimum wage that fits the needs of the people who elected them. The list gets longer every year.
These bills would restrict cities and counties from choosing the type of energy used in their community. Similar new bills have emerged all over the nation as the fossil fuel industry has found friends in high places in many states including Iowa.
Oil and gas and coal interests are pushing back against climate responses at both the federal and state levels. They have attacked President Biden's action on Day One of his presidency to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, as well as his moratorium on new drilling for fossil fuels on federal land.
Fossil fuel apologists pollute the debate with distortions, as North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum did in calling the drilling moratorium 'a blow to our country's economy” and to budgets 'for schools, hospitals and other key services,” when in fact the order has little impact in his state.
Fossil fuel water-carriers in Iowa as well have joined the fight to keep America's energy dirty and the climate crisis growing - even as science tells us climate change will cause air pollution and health problems, not to mention a shift in corn production to Canada.
Are farmers watching? Do the biggest promoters of ethanol and wind electricity recognize this as a move to permit continued and expanded dominance of fossil fuels? If we want to help the Iowa economy with clean energy produced right here as a state and local priority - let alone make the world better - this bill would make it harder to change our mix of energy.
The new natural gas bill, requiring that we take dirty, imported energy, is so broad that it may prohibit programs to make homes and businesses more efficient and decrease gas imports. It takes away the rights of local officials for the benefit of out-of-state fossil fuel companies.
Climate change is real, and positive responses are needed before it is too late for the next generation. It is not only local leaders' responsibility to act, but state legislators as well. It's the people of Iowa's business.
David Osterberg, a former state representative from Mount Vernon, is lead environmental researcher at Common Good Iowa, an Iowa nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research and analysis organization with offices in Des Moines and Iowa City.
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