Guest Columnist

Governor, help Iowa stand up for our climate

Gay Mikelson and Deb Schoelerman of Iowa City, both members of 100 Grannies, a group of grandmothers uniting for climate preservation, attended the rally to support the League of Conservation Voters in Iowa City Thursday, September 10, 2015. The League of Conservation Voters held a rally to increase awareness about the EPA's Clean Power Plan and to urge Governor Branstad to implement the plan in Iowa. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
Gay Mikelson and Deb Schoelerman of Iowa City, both members of 100 Grannies, a group of grandmothers uniting for climate preservation, attended the rally to support the League of Conservation Voters in Iowa City Thursday, September 10, 2015. The League of Conservation Voters held a rally to increase awareness about the EPA's Clean Power Plan and to urge Governor Branstad to implement the plan in Iowa. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

New York and 21 other states are suing the Environmental Protection Agency’s for eliminating and replacing the Clean Power Plan, the signature national climate crisis response measure undertaken by the Barack Obama Administration.

The Clean Power Plan aimed to cut carbon emissions from the electricity sector by an estimated 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Under Gov. Terry Branstad’s administration, I participated in the multi-agency, public-private “111d stakeholder” meetings to implement the Clean Power Plan in Iowa, led by the Department of Natural Resources. The integrated plan that included provisions for renewable energy development and energy efficiency was abruptly put on hold by the Trump Administration, and the meetings ended in April, 2017.

Serious questions have been raised regarding whether the new “Affordable Clean Energy” rule adopted by the EPA in June meets the requirements of the federal Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide.

Many policymakers working with me in bi-partisan groups such as the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators doubt that the rule rises to the challenge facing the United States: Doing our part to “decarbonize” the atmosphere to counter climate change and curtail the turbulent weather events and associated impacts the nation and world now routinely experience.

Such an initiative is crucial, especially given the recent United Nations report that climate change threatens the world food supply. The projections should be red flags to agricultural states which have taken it upon themselves to “feed the world,” as we have.

The report confirms the concerns that Iowa’s own scientists have raised every year since 2011 in their annual climate statements: https://cgrer.uiowa.edu/climate-links

At the recent summit of the National Conference of State Legislatures, I participated in the work of the group’s Natural Resources and Infrastructure Committee. NCSL resolutions and policy directives set the agenda for the states’ interventions with federal lawmakers. I sponsored an amendment to the NCSL Climate Change resolution.

Among its provisions, the amendment urged the federal government to:

Join the Paris Agreement of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and work with the states to develop a national climate response (current language calls for a national climate response only if the federal government “chooses to do so”);

Identify the impacts of evolving atmospheric conditions and weather patterns and facilitate public and private stakeholder investment in preventing, mitigating, and adapting to their associated risks and impacts, including flood resilience measures;

Require climate risk assessments as part of all federal agency rule-makings;

Require maximum public disclosure and availability of public and publicly-financed climate research and climate assessments.

The amendment garnered majority support in the committee from members of both Democratic and Republican state legislatures. However, the proposal failed the 75 percent super-majority threshold required to become NCSL policy.

The defeat suggests that some state lawmakers wish to keep the federal government out of the climate crisis picture. We know from numerous floods over the years, and other severe weather resulting in repeated federal disaster declarations in Iowa, that coordinated national leadership, policy development and investment are essential.

Since state legislatures seem to shirk the responsibility to hold the federal government to higher expectations, then attorneys general and governors must step into the void. With that in mind, I wrote to Gov. Kim Reynolds requesting that she authorize Attorney General Tom Miller and the Iowa Department of Justice to participate in the New York attorney general’s August 13 federal court petition.

The lawsuit challenges EPA implementation and enforcement of the Clean Air Act. Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota have joined the suit. Iowa should, too.

Governors Branstad and Reynolds have never responded to my letters when I have approached them with requests as a state legislator. For example, I am still waiting to hear back on a recommendation that Iowa join the U.S. Climate Alliance – a bipartisan coalition of 25 governors committed to smart, coordinated state action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement. So I am not holding my breath.

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I encourage Iowa voters to make your views known by contacting the governor directly at (515) 281-5211, governor.iowa.gov/contact. Let me know what you hear: chuck.isenhart@legis.iowa.gov.

State Rep. Chuck Isenhart, D-Dubuque, is ranking member on the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection.

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