Not so long ago, Iowa’s leaders of all stripes took pride in coming up with Iowa solutions to problems. They talked often of the state being a model for the nation. Divided government controlled by both parties, in many cases, spawned creative friction. Everybody was at the table.
In recent years, with Republicans in control of the Legislature and governor’s office, we’ve seen the state become a repository for an array of cookie cutter conservative policies baked by think tanks and various right wing organizations. Instead of Iowa ideas we get Wisconsin’s collective bargaining law. Legislators look longingly at tax policies in South Dakota and Kansas. Our abortion laws come straight from the Bible Belt. Voting barriers popping up across the country are enacted here.
We’re checking all the boxes in a prepackaged red-state freedom dream kit. Help for the vulnerable, well-funded public education and other priorities not included.
And you never really know what’s coming next. Watching our Legislature has become like standing on a gravel road, squinting at a cloud of dust approaching from the distance. By the time you’re able to identify exactly what’s coming, you’re about to be run over.
The next cloud is likely to be a vigorous effort to slash more regulations, billed as “reform, and using the coronavirus pandemic and the sharp economic downturn it’s spawned as a pretext. Although certainly there are regulatory relief measures that would be appropriate, at least temporarily, this is unlikely to be an operation performed with a cautious scalpel. A chain saw is more likely.
We can look to the Trump administration for big, flashing clues of what’s to come. In March the federal government temporarily stopped enforcing most environmental regulations, but with no end date. That’s on top of the nearly 100 environmental regulations the administration has scrapped or is scrapping, including protections for scores of the nation’s wetlands and tributary streams.
“Clean air and water are critical to public health. A health crisis is no time for the EPA to allow a pollution free-for-all that results in further environmental health threats,” said Kerri Johannsen, energy program director with the Iowa Environmental Council, in a statement back in March.
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Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller also weighed in against the moves, but objections fell on deaf ears.
The regulatory rollback push hasn’t slowed for the pandemic, when the public’s attention is elsewhere and even those paying attention find it far more difficult to weigh in. While we take shelter, the environment has nowhere to hide.
For example, the Environmental Protection Agency currently is pursuing a rule change that would issue permits for federal projects, including pipelines and other fossil fuel facilities, over the objections raised by state and local governments under the Clean Water Act.
“A presidential call for a wide-scale policy of non-enforcement would send a very strong signal to businesses that the government is not going to come down hard on them as they try to get back up and running,” the passage in the Heritage recovery plan argues.
And it’s a strong signal to polluters. Also known as a green light.
So what’s that mean for Iowa, where Republicans’ loyalty to the president and his agenda is deeper than an impaired waterway?
Well, our legislators return to the Statehouse on June 3 and are expected to debate budget bills and potentially other measures the following week. With one party in control, legislation is likely to move at light speed. What’s being cooked up behind the scenes before June 3 is anyone’s guess. Maybe they pass a budget and skedaddle. Or maybe they have other plans.
It’s also possible Gov. Kim Reynolds will simply extend the pandemic regulatory rollbacks she’s already put in place, easing environmental rules on large-scale hog confinements and other permit holders. She may also go further, following the president’s lead just as she has in reopening the state during the pandemic.
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It bears watching. What’s certain is not everybody will be at the table. All most of us can do is check the horizon for oncoming dust clouds.
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