Iowa

The 2014 Election Results: What They Mean for the Midwest’s Environmental and Clean Energy Policies

Plain and simple: Republicans achieved a wave of victories nationally and in the Midwest while, as the incumbent national party, Democrats bore the brunt of the public’s dissatisfaction with politicians. The public, however, did vote positively on various referenda issues in ways that aligned more closely to Democrat positions than Republican positions.

For environmental, clean energy and conservation advocates, the election results are mostly not promising, but it’s more complex than simple one-liners aimed at raising money or gearing up for 2016 battles.  We lost some strong environmental supporters in the November 4th elections, but some winning candidates, from both parties, have been good supporters of clean energy, passenger rail, and other environmental and conservation programs. As described below, there are some opportunities as well as obvious challenges.

Three trends worked against the incumbent party in 2014 – the first two of which will change in the 2016 elections: (1) Democrats defended an unusually larger number of Senate seats in 2014 than Republicans did. (2) Republicans were able to take advantage of the historic trend of voters electing candidates of the party opposing a sitting President in off-year elections. This is especially the case at the six-year mark in a President’s tenure. Voters are usually ready for change, and frustrations over domestic or foreign policy issues are often taken out on the President and his party. The 2014 voting results are mostly consistent with so-called “pendulum swings.” (3) Older voters continue to participate much more than younger ones, but among senior citizens, Roosevelt Democrats are dying off and being replaced by Reagan Republicans.

Looking at the Overall Results, Lessons Learned and Strategic Opportunities/Challenges:

1. People are completely, totally, overwhelmingly dissatisfied with “politics as usual.”

As the incumbent party, Democrats bore the brunt of this rampant dissatisfaction. Senator-elect Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Governor-elect Bruce Rauner (R-IL), for example, proudly ran on platforms of changing “business as usual” and successfully tapped this wave of public dissatisfaction in a way that parallels President Obama’s successful “change” message in his 2008 election campaign. Opportunity: Environmentalists should build on this “business as usual” concern in our challenges to the Illinois Department of Transportation’s proposed Illiana Tollway, which is a financial boondoggle “road to nowhere” that will harm the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. Likewise, Exelon’s, First Energy’s, AEP’s and other energy companies’ attempts to gain more public subsidies and taxpayer bailouts for their uneconomic nuclear and coal plants exemplify a distasteful “business as usual” to much of the public.

2. Opportunities for environmental progress will shift from Washington D.C. to the states.  Let’s seize opportunities to go on the offense in states where we can win on specific issues.

In the Midwest, we’ll have to thread the political needle, but there are some focused opportunities for progress. Midwest high-speed rail development enjoys bipartisan support in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Missouri. We expect Governor Rick Snyder (R-MI) to work together with Governor-elect Bruce Rauner (R-IL) on Chicago-Detroit high-speed rail, as he has with outgoing Governor Pat Quinn (D-IL).

Governors Terry Branstad (R-IA), Jack Dalrymple (R-ND), Mark Dayton (D-MN) and Dennis Daugaard (R-SD) are strong supporters of wind power development, as are most members of the Midwest/Great Plains Senate Delegation, including Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Al Franken (D-MN), Charles Grassley (R-IA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Thune (R-SD). A challenge: Can we effectively parlay that wind power support into solar energy policy support as the next clean technology opportunity? ELPC will soon be issuing updated renewable energy business supply chain reports, which identify specific companies in each state by legislative district, to underscore the economic value in their communities.

Energy efficiency – Because it saves money for residential and business consumers, it receives at least lip-service bipartisan support; it’s “motherhood and apple pie” in political terms. There seem to be serious opportunities for progress in Illinois and Michigan, although recent setbacks in Indiana and Ohio are disheartening.

Severe fiscal constraints in Illinois and some other states will help ELPC and other partners challenge boondoggles such as the proposed Illiana Tollway, which is opposed by environmental and conservation interests and widely seen as a billion-dollar boondoggle.  Environmentalists should consider mounting “green scissors” campaigns, which identify wasteful projects and programs, in the Midwest states that are facing serious budget shortfalls.

3. We’ll be playing climate change solutions defense in Washington D.C.

There’s no way to sugar-coat it: although environmental values historically transcended party lines, many key Republican Congressional leaders actively and ardently oppose environmental programs and climate change solutions in particular. With the U.S. Senate now controlled by Republicans, environmentalists will be on the defensive. Climate change denier Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) will chair the Environment and Public Works Committee, oil-industry friendly Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) will chair the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee, and Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will become the Senate Majority Leader. Our environmental protection and natural resources preservation values will be under assault in multiple ways. Challenges: (a) Assess when and where to compromise, and where to draw lines in the sand. (b) Build some bipartisan support in the Senate to hold off 60-vote majorities on climate change solutions backsliding and to enable the U.S. EPA Clean Power Plan to move forward. (c) Engage support for President Obama to wield his veto pen when necessary for defending core environmental values and clean energy solutions to our climate change problems.

4. We need to energize environmental voters – especially younger voters – to turnout more.

Too many Democrats ran away from environmental and clean energy issues, and some preliminary data indicates fall-off in voting in some states, especially among younger voters who care about these issues.  For example, in Chicago, 2014 turnout was significantly below 2010 voting, and younger voters really did not turnout. That low turnout follows a coordinated campaign by Democrats to identify their hoped-for voters and get them to vote. ELPC plans to work with an analytics team to assess turnout of pro-environmental (especially younger) voters in several key cities and states. That analysis could provide important data in persuading elected officials to talk and act more favorably on pro-environmental and pro-clean energy issues if they want to turnout more voters. If candidates and the national parties want to increase turnout of pro-environmental votes – particularly younger voters – they need to speak to climate change solutions and take actions that “walk the talk.” More news to follow on this point.

5. We should engage and build support with Republican friends who are supportive on particular environmental, clean energy and climate change solutions.

Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) has been a strong supporter of Great Lakes protection and was one of the few House Republicans to vote for the Waxman-Markey climate change solutions legislation. We should urge Senator Kirk to exert leadership on key issues within the Republican Senate caucus. This opportunity is even more important given the close working relationship between Senator Kirk’s staff and Governor-elect Rauner’s staff. It is important to recognize that not all new Republicans entering the Congress are anti-environment. Midwestern environmentalists should be able to work with some new members, including Congressman-elect Robert Dold (R-IL), whose pro-environmental and pro-clean energy campaign ads and positions reflect his Chicago-Northern Suburban district. South Dakota Senator-elect Mike Rounds (R-SD) may be an opponent on many issues, but he also supports extending the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind power development. Across a broad range of issues, environmentalists should consider reframing some of their positions into language more consistent with Republican approaches and philosophy. We could see more increased interest, for example, in market-based solutions.

6. Some reality checks on Clean Power Plans in the Midwest states.

All of the Midwest and Great Plains states elected Republican Governors, with Minnesota as the lone exception. Several Republican Governors (e.g., Kasich, Pence, Walker) apparently look in the mirror and see themselves as possible Presidential and Vice-Presidential contenders. Let’s be realistic: their visions do not include supporting the U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan, and, at least until after the November 2016 elections, they will not likely support a “Midwest RGGI” (Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative) for political reasons regardless of asserted policy and economic rationales. Indeed, they are much more likely to be joining Congressional Republicans in bashing and suing to stop the U.S. EPA from implementing the Clean Power Plan than in joining together in a regional RGGI-type compact.  We should focus on actively engaging in each Midwest state to develop and shape their clean power compliance strategies and plans. We should leave doors open to a Midwest RGGI. We should not expend our limited political capital on a Midwest RGGI strategic initiative where we just don’t have support from the current Governors and, ultimately, their state EPAs/DNRs.  For those who hope or believe otherwise, to paraphrase Jerry McGuire: “show me the states” who will sign up (beyond maybe Minnesota and, perhaps, Illinois).

7. Relatively few Midwest/Great Plains Senate and House seats actually switched parties. 

Three House members in Illinois and Iowa switched from Ds to Rs, and one House seat in Nebraska switched from an R to a D. Two open Senate seats switched parties: in Iowa, Republican Joni Ernst was elected to follow long-time Democrat stalwart Tom Harkin, and, in South Dakota, Republican Mike Rounds was elected to succeed Democrat Tim Johnson. Democrats retained three contested Senate seats: Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Al Franken (D-MN) comfortably won re-election, and Gary Peters (D-MI) was elected to succeed Democrat Carl Levin. The Midwest Senate delegation, overall, is evenly balanced among Democrats and Republicans.

8. 2016 is a Presidential election year with key upcoming Senate Races in Iowa, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

The partisan tables turn in 2016 because there is much greater turnout in Presidential election years, which historically favor Democrats, and more Republican Senate seats are in play. Unlike in 2014, Republicans will be defending 24 seats as compared to 10 seats for the Democrats in 2016. The Midwest states are likely to be a key Presidential and Senate battleground, along with states such as Colorado and Florida. Republican Senate seats in Illinois (Kirk), Iowa (Grassley), Pennsylvania (Toomey) and Wisconsin (Johnson) are likely to be among the nation’s most hotly contested races whether the current incumbents run or retire. All of these seats, currently held by Republican incumbents, were carried by President Obama in 2008 and 2012. 

Let’s Now Look to the Election Results in Each of the Midwest/Upper Great Plains States:

Governorships – Republicans Dominate

Democrat Mark Dayton won re-election in Minnesota, but Illinois Governor Pat Quinn (D) lost to Governor-elect Bruce Rauner (R). Republicans retained the governorships in Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.  Republicans now control the governorships in all of the Midwest/Great Plains states, except for Minnesota and Missouri.

State Legislatures – Some Shifts

Although the compositions of the state legislatures were not expected to change dramatically, there were some shifts. Republicans achieved majority control in the Minnesota House through an 11-seat pickup largely by gaining seats in rural areas, and they solidified their control of both the Wisconsin Senate and House. Democrats kept control of the Iowa Senate and maintained veto-proof majorities in the Illinois Senate and House.

Here’s a State-by-State Review of the Election Returns:

Illinois

Illinois had a tight gubernatorial election, a not-close U.S. Senate race, and five hotly-contested Congressional races, which resulted in two seats switching from Democrats to Republicans.  The Illinois General Assembly remains overwhelmingly Democratic.

U.S. Senate: Three-term U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D) was opposed by State Senator (and ice cream baron) Jim Oberweis (R). The race was never close, and Senator Durbin won his fourth term 53%-43%. Senator Durbin has been a longstanding leader on important environmental, clean energy and high-speed rail funding issues. ELPC looks forward to continue working closely with Senator Durbin, who will likely be the Assistant Senate Minority Leader in the next Congress.

U.S. House of Representatives: Four years ago, Illinois was a battleground state in which several Democratic House seats fell to Republicans. Two years ago, following remapping, Democrats won five of the six contested House races. This year, Republicans made strong runs to retake those five seats and succeeded in switching two of Illinois’ 18 House seats:

  • 10th District: Former Congressman Robert Dold (R), who lost this seat in 2012, came back to defeat one-term incumbent Democrat Brad Schneider by a 3% margin. Historically, voters in this district had supported pro-environment, pro-choice Republicans such as Congressman John Porter and former Congressman, now-U.S. Senator Mark Kirk. Remapping put more Democratic-leaning voters in this district. Congressman Schneider (D) has been a good environmental supporter, but Congressman-elect Dold (R) ran stressing his strong pro-environmental values. We’ll want to work with Congressman-elect Dold to move from his campaign ads into positive legislative actions on climate change, clean energy and Great Lakes protection issues.
  • 11th District: Incumbent Democratic Congressman Bill Foster held this seat until 2010 when he lost, but then he won the seat back in 2012. He was opposed by State Representative Darlene Senger (R), but, following remapping, the district leans Democratic. It also includes many scientists and technicians from the Argonne and Fermi National Laboratories as well as related businesses and research centers. Congressman Foster won re-election by a comfortable 53% – 47% result.
  • 12th District: Incumbent Democratic Congressman Bill Enyart won this seat in Southern Illinois two years ago in a competitive race. In 2014, he was opposed by long-time Republican State Representative Mike Bost. Pre-election polls swung back and forth, but, ultimately, Bost defeated Enyart by an 11% margin. Because the 12th District is dominated by coal interests and other mineral extraction issues, neither Enyart nor Bost was considered particularly supportive of environmental issues.
  • 13th District: Incumbent Republican Congressman Rodney Davis originally won this seat in 2012. The 13th district includes university areas in Bloomington-Normal, Champaign-Urbana and Springfield and is considered to be a toss-up district. Democratic candidate Ann Callis, a retired judge, did not seem to gain electoral traction. Congressman Davis (R) won re-election handily with a 59% – 41% victory.
  • 17th District: Two years ago, Democratic Congresswoman Cheri Bustos upset Republican Congressman Bobby Schilling, who ran again this year in a rematch. This was another competitive race, but Congresswoman Bustos, who has been generally supportive of environmental and conservation interests, gained a strong 55% – 45% victory.

Governor: Incumbent Governor Pat Quinn (D) was running for a second full term following his ascension to the Governor’s office in January 2009 after the impeachment trial of the former governor.  He was successfully challenged by businessman Bruce Rauner (R), who won the hotly contested race by a 51% – 46% margin. Rauner won 101 of Illinois’ 102 counties; Quinn only won Cook County (Chicago area). The Quinn/Rauner race surpassed all previous spending records in Illinois, passing the $97 million mark (at least).

Governor Quinn supported many environmental and clean energy initiatives and was a champion of high-speed rail development. However, his Illinois Department of Transportation vociferously advocates the highly-controversial Illiana Tollway (as well as the proposed Peotone Airport), which is being challenged by ELPC, Openlands, Sierra Club and many other conservation organizations. Governor-elect Rauner was mostly silent on these issues during the campaign. He has been supportive of conservation organizations and has voiced support for clean energy. Let’s see.

Indiana

There was little in play in Indiana with no open Senate seats and Republican Governor Mike Pence in the middle of his first term. There were no changes or especially close races among Indiana’s Congressional seats: seven held by Republicans and two held by Democrats. Both houses of the Indiana Legislature are strongly Republican, and that did not change.

Iowa

Iowa was a battleground state with an open Senate seat, three hotly-contested Congressional seats, and control of both state legislative chambers potentially in play. Governor Terry Branstad (R) ran for a sixth term and was not closely challenged. Republicans gained a U.S. Senate seat and an additional Congressional seat. Republicans strengthened their majority in the Iowa House while Democrats maintained their slim State Senate majority.

U.S. Senate:  Five-term Senator Tom Harkin (D) announced his retirement, opening this seat for the competitive race between Democrat Bruce Braley, Iowa’s 1st District Congressman, and Republican Joni Ernst, an Iowa State Senator. Braley and Ernst appear to have very different views on environmental issues, especially implementation and enforcement of the Clean Water Act. Senator-elect Ernst won by an 8.5% margin after what had appeared to be a much closer race. Some preliminary post-election analysis suggests that Republicans effectively identified “low-propensity” Republican-leaning voters and encouraged them to cast ballots early, and even though Democrats spent millions more in 2014 than in 2010, their turnout was lower.

U.S. House of Representatives: Republicans captured seats in three out of Iowa’s four Congressional districts as two seats opened when Congressman Bruce Braley (D) ran for Senate and Congressman Tom Latham (R) retired:

  • 1st District: Democrats nominated former Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy for this Eastern Iowa Congressional seat opened up by Braley’s Senate candidacy. Republicans nominated Dubuque businessman Rod Blum. The voter registration is Democratic-leaning, but Blum defeated Murphy by 51.2% – 48.8% as part of the Republican wave and amid campaign missteps by Blum. This seat will likely be a top Democratic “pick-up” target in 2016.
  • 2nd District: Democratic incumbent Congressman Dave Loebsack won his race for a fifth term against Republican Dr. Mariannette Miller-Meeks by 52.5% – 47.5%.
  • 3rd District: Republicans had a five-candidate primary for long-time Congressman Tom Latham’s (R) seat in this Republican-leaning district. Because none of the candidates captured 35% of the primary vote, a GOP convention was convened, which nominated David Young who had run 4th in the primary. Young previously served as Senator Grassley’s Chief of Staff. Congressman-elect Young defeated Democratic candidate Staci Appel, the former Assistant Majority Leader in the Iowa Senate, by more than a 10% margin.
  • 4th District: Incumbent Republican Congressman Steve King ran for his seventh term in Iowa’s most conservative district. King was challenged by young Democrat Jim Mowrer, who spent $2 million on his campaign. Congressman King won re-election 61.7% – 38.3%.

Governor: Incumbent Republican Governor Terry Branstad was seeking his second consecutive and sixth overall term as Governor. He previously served four consecutive terms that were followed by two Democratic governors (Vilsack and Culver). Governor Branstad outspent his opponent Democratic State Senator Jack Hatch by a 10:1 margin, and he handily won re-election by a 22% margin. Branstad has been a national leader on wind power development issues and is promoting a new parks initiative in his new term as Governor.

State Legislature: The Iowa Legislature has been narrowly divided and remains so. The Senate is controlled by the Democrats with a narrow 26-24 majority. The House is controlled by Republicans who picked up four seats to strengthen their majority to 57-43.

Michigan

Michigan was also a battleground state with an open Senate seat and a hotly-contested gubernatorial race with first-term Republican Governor Rick Snyder up for re-election. Republicans gained ground in the state House and now have a super-majority in the state Senate.

U.S. Senate: Long-time Senator Carl Levin (D) announced his retirement, opening the seat for a contested race between Democratic Congressman Gary Peters and Republican former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land. This race was sometimes considered a possible Republican pickup, but Senator-elect Peters won by a large 13% margin, thus holding the Democratic seat. Senator-elect Peters supports action on climate change and expressed pro-environmental positions during the campaign while Land opposed to taking action on climate change.

U.S. House of Representatives: There were no especially close races for Michigan’s Congressional seats, which include nine Republicans and five Democrats.

Governor: Incumbent Republican Governor Rick Snyder was running for a second term and faced vigorous opposition by Democratic former Congressman Mark Schauer. Governor Snyder won re-election by a 4% margin. Governor Snyder has been a leader advancing high-speed rail development in Michigan and the Midwest, and he has indicated that renewable energy development and energy efficiency advances will be a focus of his second term.

Minnesota

Senator Al Franken and Governor Mark Dayton each won their elections for a second term in office. Democrats held control of the state Senate, but Republicans gained 11 seats and control of the state House.

U.S. Senate: Senator Al Franken (DFL) was opposed by businessman Mike McFadden (R), but it was a very different race than six years ago when Senator Franken won election by defeating an incumbent Republican Senator by an exceedingly close 312-vote margin. This election, clean energy supporter Senator Franken won re-election by more than a 10% margin.

U.S. House of Representatives: Minnesota has eight Congressional seats, which include five Democrats and three Republicans. None of the seats changed hands. Following tough and expensive campaigns, Congressman Rick Nolan (D) won by a 1.5% margin, Congressman Collin Peterson (D) won by a 9.5% margin, and Congressman Tim Walz (D) won by an 8.5% margin.

Governor: Incumbent Democratic Governor Mark Dayton faced challenger Republican former state legislator Jeff Johnson, and he won by 6% margin. Dayton has been supportive on environmental and clean energy issues. He is now the Midwest’s sole Democratic governor.

State Legislature: Despite losing every other statewide race to Democrats, Minnesota Republicans succeeding in flipping the Minnesota House in their favor. Their 11-seat pickup reflected a strategy of contending that Democratic-controlled state government is out-of-touch with rural Minnesotans. Republicans gained 10 seats in greater Minnesota to come away with a 72-62 advantage in the House. Democrats retained their Senate majority.

North Dakota

There was little in play in North Dakota with no open Senate seats and Republican Governor Jack Dalrymple mid-term. Congressman Kevin Cramer (R) easily won re-election to North Dakota’s sole Congressional seat. The state legislature continues to be heavily Republican; however, State Senators Connie Triplett and Tim Mathern, who have been supportive of ELPC’s efforts to require capturing of flared natural gases, were re-elected. Governor Dalrymple has also recently expressed concerns about flared gases in Bakken oil drilling. Unfortunately, a ballot measure designed to provide more state conservation funding suffered a crushing defeat after the oil industry’s heavily-financed ad campaign in opposition.

Ohio

Ohio did not have a Senate race, and incumbent Republican Governor John Kasich was not effectively challenged for a second term by Democrat Ed Fitzgerald, the County Executive of Cuyahoga County.  The race was never close, and Governor Kasich was re-elected by a 31% margin.  Ohio has 16 Congressional seats – 12 Republicans and four Democrats. None of the seats changed hands, and no races were close following the remapping that advanced Republicans and packed Democrats in a few districts. All of Ohio’s state-wide elected officials are Republicans, and both houses of the legislature are controlled by Republicans with veto-proof margins that did not change.

South Dakota

Incumbent Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard, who has chaired the bipartisan Governors’ Wind Energy Coalition, easily won re-election over Democratic candidate Susan Wismer, a South Dakota House member. Likewise, incumbent Republican Congresswoman Kristi Noem easily won re-election over Democrat Corrina Robinson by 66.5%-33.5%. She supports extending the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind power development and has supported the Farm Bill’s clean energy programs. Both South Dakota legislative chambers are overwhelmingly Republican, and that did not change. The U.S. Senate race, however, was more interesting.

U.S. Senate Race: There is an open Senate seat due to the retirement of Democratic Senator Tim Johnson. Former two-term Republican Governor Mike Rounds was a strong candidate, but the election became complicated because of a scandal dating from the Rounds gubernatorial administration and due to the entry of third-party candidate Larry Pressler, who had previously served as a Republican U.S. Senator, and fourth-party candidate Gordon Howie. The final election returns show Republican Senator-elect Mike Rounds winning with 50.4% over Democratic candidate Rick Weiland (29.5%), Independent candidate Larry Pressler (17%) and Independent candidate Gordon Howie (3.0%). We will likely differ with Senator-elect Rounds on many environmental issues, but expect to work with him to advance some renewable energy policies and to extend the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) to encourage more wind power development.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin had no U.S. Senate Race and no close U.S. House races in the gerrymandered districts, but it held its third hotly-contested gubernatorial election in four years, which Republican Governor Scott Walker won. The state House is controlled by Republicans, who also have a narrowed majority in the state Senate. Both chambers are expected to be hostile on many key environmental issues and supportive of Governor Scott Walker’s policies. Their victories give Republicans almost complete control of Wisconsin state government for another two-year legislative session. Environmentalists will be greatly on the defensive.

Governor: There’s little to be said here that’s not well-known by most readers. Incumbent Republican Governor Scott Walker, whose anti-environmental record is clear, faced Democratic challenger Mary Burke, a former executive at Trek Bicycle Corporation and Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Commerce. The gubernatorial race was close from the beginning, and Burke gained endorsements from several state papers, including the moderately conservative Wisconsin State Journal. On Election Day, Governor Walker won by a 5.7% margin. Environmentalists and many others will be analyzing this race particularly because Wisconsin is likely to be a key Presidential election battleground state with a targeted Senate race.

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The Environmental Law & Policy Center sees both strategic opportunities for progress and major challenges with the federal government’s and many states’ fiscally constrained budgets. We look forward to discussing both paths with our colleagues and diverse potential allies. As the views of these newly-elected public officials become clearer and they move from campaigning toward governance, ELPC will continue to assess both ways of seizing opportunities and responding effectively to the challenges. ELPC looks forward to working together with our colleagues and diverse coalition partners to achieve environmental progress and economic development together. We will keep you informed going forward.  Please let us know if you have any questions or suggestions.

Des Moines Register: Iowa water assessment criticized

A new report says Iowa and other Midwestern states need to better monitor and assess efforts to reduce nutrient pollution that contributes to the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone.

Twelve states have been charged with reducing nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus that contribute to the hypoxic zone in the Gulf — an area roughly the size of Connecticut that cannot support aquatic life during parts of the summer.

The inspector general for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said few states involved in the national effort have committed to specific reduction targets or timelines for cleaning up waterways that feed the Mississippi River basin.

“Reducing the size of the hypoxic zone poses a significant challenge,” the report said. While the “states are in the process of developing and implementing nutrient reduction strategies, there is no requirement for states to ensure that they will fully implement them and that the practices implemented will achieve the intended watershed-level environmental goal.”

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Howard Learner’s New Comment in Environmental Law Reporter: “Emerging Clarity in Climate Change Law: EPA Empowered and State Common Law Remedies Enabled”

Please see ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner’s new Comment in the Environmental Law Reporter (September 2014):  “Emerging Clarity in Climate Change Law:  EPA Empowered and State Common Law Remedies Enabled” (pdf).  This legal analysis addresses: (1) How the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decisions in EPA v. EME Homer City and UARG v. EPA fill out the climate change law framework of Mass. v. EPA and AEP v. Connecticut; and (2) The recent Third Circuit decision and the Iowa Supreme Court decision that allow state common law actions to address carbon and other air pollutants.  Here’s a brief summary of Howard’s Comment on this timely and important set of issues:

The emerging law of climate change is becoming clearer. The U.S. Supreme Court’s series of climate change and other Clean Air Act decisions authorize the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency to advance its standards-setting process, and provide general deference to EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act and other statutory programs. The Court is sending a clear message to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which reviews most of EPA’s final standards, and to other courts, to restrain judicial activism.  Likewise, federal and state courts are opening the door for plaintiffs to assert state common law tort remedies.

The Court’s majority has made clear its solid support for the landmark Massachusetts v. EPA decision authorizing EPA to regulate greenhouse gases. The partisan political attacks and the novel theories of the cottage industry of appellate attorneys representing certain polluting industries have not deterred the Court. The Court’s recent decisions in EPA v. EME Homer City Generation and Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, which strongly, although not entirely, uphold EPA’s CAA implementation discretion, should reduce confusion and bring much-needed increased certainty for both state policymakers and energy industry executives to move forward in making business decisions.  At the same time, both federal and state courts are beginning to fill in the blanks left by the Court in its American Electric Power v. Connecticut decision, which held that the Clean Air Act displaces federal common law injunction actions brought by states and other plaintiffs seeking to limit carbon dioxide pollution from coal plants, by preserving citizens’ traditional rights under state common law.

Wall Street Journal: Ohio Regulators Aim to Help Water Problem With Fertilizer Licenses

The drinking-water crisis in one of Ohio’s largest cities is drawing attention to a new requirement for farmers in the state: a license to fertilize.

The certification is the biggest step Ohio has taken to control nutrient runoff from farms, seen as a key cause of algae blooms in Lake Erie. Those blooms are blamed for a two-day “do-not-drink” advisory in Toledo and its suburbs that ended Monday.

Regulators say the new licenses that become mandatory in 2017 will require farmers to take a one-day class. They say it will help cut fertilizer use by showing farmers how they can apply less nutrients without negatively affecting their crop yields. The law also allows regulators to revoke such certifications if problems are found on a farm.

State officials and farm leaders point to the certification as a sign of the growing steps Ohio is taking to tackle the blooms, with such efforts expected to increase in the years ahead. But environmentalists argue much more aggressive steps are needed to prevent repeat occurrences of what happened in Toledo.

“This isn’t a matter of farmers fine-tuning what they’re doing,” said Howard Learner, president of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, a Midwest advocacy group. “This requires a substantial rethinking of how nitrogen and phosphorus is used in the agriculture sector.”

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Des Moines Register: Iowa’s largest solar farm in operation

A half dozen years ago, little solar energy was generated in southeast Iowa, said Warren McKenna, CEO of Farmers Electric Cooperative.

Today, the rural utility, along with local, state and federal leaders, will celebrate the operation of the state’s largest solar farm near Kalona, just south of Iowa City.

“In 2008, there was just one little bitty array in Johnson, Washington and Iowa counties. There were four modules. I don’t know how many modules there are now, but it’s in the thousands” — on homes, businesses, and pig and cattle operations, McKenna said. “It’s really grown here.”

Farmers Electric’s new farm adds 2,900 solar panels to the region’s growing base of sun-powered energy. Eagle Point Solar of Dubuque built and owns the farm; the cooperative will buy the power and take possession after a decade.

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SustainableBusiness.com: Solar Wins Big In Iowa, Next Battle is Wisconsin

Solar just won big in Iowa in the latest battle with utilities.

Iowa’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of solar leasing, rejecting the utility’s (and state regulators) claim that only it can sell energy. In a typical leasing arrangement, the city of Dubuque signed a long-term power purchase agreement with Eagle Point Solar, which installed and owns the solar system.

Alliant Energy Corp insists that Eagle Point acted like a public utility in signing a third party power purchase agreement, infringing on its monopoly in the service area. Iowa’s regulatory board agreed.

If the case ended there, solar installers would be subject to a gamut of regulations, increasing costs and complexity for the industry, says the Environmental Law and Policy Center, which represented a coalition of solar businesses and environmental groups in the appeal.

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The (Iowa) Daily Reporter: Storm Lake steps into carbon footprint spotlight

STORM LAKE — The few, the passionate.

Monday night, Storm Lake hosted one of only two field hearings in the state on a newly-announced Environmental Protection Agency proposal to cut carbon emissions from power plants, thought to be a key cause of climate change.

Only 10 people showed up. But those 10 weren’t shy about sharing their opinions — and on a few occasions, arguing their viewpoints about the future of the energy industry with some steam.

The comments from the Storm Lake meeting were videotaped to be shared directly with the EPA.

No one at the hearing questioned the validity of climate change.

“We continue to see the dangerous effects of climate change every day in Iowa, with communities across the state going from drought conditions to severe flooding in a matter of weeks,” said Susan Guy, representing Iowa Interfaith Power & Light. She said her goal is to equip “people of faith” to address the issues of climate change.

When they EPA announced its new proposal in June, no citizen hearings were scheduled for the Iowa region, and her organization felt people in the state should have a chance to be heard. After Storm Lake, a second citizen hearing was to be held in Des Moines.

“Climate change is already posing a risk to health and lifestyle in Iowa,” added Steve Falck of the Environmental Law and Policy Center which is active across the midwest.

While many are claiming the EPA initiative could cost jobs in Iowa, he is of the opinion that it can help create new ones.

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Des Moines Register: Ruling is victory for solar energy

A nationally watched Iowa Supreme Court ruling in favor of a solar energy company could spur growth of the solar industry throughout the state, advocates said Friday.

A split Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday that Eagle Point Solar would not violate Iowa law by selling electricity to the city of Dubuque that the company generates through a solar panel installation on the roof of a city building. Industry leaders praise such arrangements, called power purchase agreements, as a key to developing more solar energy.

Earlier this year, the Iowa Environmental Council issued a report finding that the state could supply approximately 20 percent of its energy needs each year through rooftop solar installations. Though solar still lags behind wind energy in Iowa, decreases in costs for solar equipment combined with tax credits are creating a ripe environment for growth, the report said.

The ruling will help tip the scales for solar by legalizing another way for people and governments to pay for solar projects, said Barry Shear, president and CEO of Eagle Point Solar.

“This ruling now makes other solar projects like this viable,” he said in a statement. “We can go to any municipality, any university, any wastewater treatment plant, churches … and we can put solar on their roof or on their property — and they have to come up with zero dollars to do this.”

Iowa’s main public utility companies, Alliant Energy and MidAmerican Energy, have fought power purchase agreements, arguing that state regulations give them exclusive rights to sell energy in defined territories.

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Two Iowa Supreme Court Victories Advance Clean Energy and Clean Water

This morning, ELPC and our clients and colleagues achieved two big victories before the Iowa Supreme Court on very important solar energy development and clean water protection issues. The first-rate new legal firepower that ELPC has brought to Iowa was key to achieving these legal breakthroughs for the future of clean energy and clean water in Iowa and for setting national precedents. Here are the results:

Iowa Supreme Court Victory #1 – Removing Barriers to Solar Energy Development. ELPC attorneys Brad Klein and Josh Mandelbaum represented a coalition of solar businesses and environmental groups in a case appealing an Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) decision that made solar energy much more expensive and difficult to develop. The original IUB ruling essentially labeled solar installers “public utilities,” subject to a wide gamut of regulatory requirements, if they financed their solar projects through power-purchase agreements with their clients. The Board’s ruling would have increased solar costs and complexity for Iowa businesses like Dubuque-based Eagle Point Solar, which was represented in our suit.

Today’s favorable 4-2 ruling from the Iowa Supreme Court removed regulatory barriers that Iowa utilities were seeking to impose on solar energy development. The decision will result in reduced up-front costs, opening up the solar market to a larger audience. Furthermore, the court noted that companies like Eagle Point Solar “…further one of the goals of regulated electric companies, namely, the use of energy efficient and renewable energy sources.” The fact that the court agrees with ELPC’s legal analysis means good things for the future of solar in Iowa and across the Midwest. Learn more.

Iowa Supreme Court Victory #2 – Protecting Clean Water. In 2010, ELPC and our allies at the Iowa Environmental Council (IEC) celebrated Iowa’s adoption of strong “anti-degradation” standards – an important but often ignored part of the Clean Water Act designed to keep unnecessary pollution out of clean waterways. But since then, naysayers have been challenging this important standard and even issuing intrusive subpoenas to intimidate local environmentalists. ELPC and IEC have been steadfast in our defense of both the standards and environmentalists’ First Amendment rights to engage in public participation, achieving courtroom victories in both October 2011 and March 2012, when the courts dismissed groundless subpoenas and threw out a lawsuit challenging the clean water standard.

The Iowa Farm Bureau appealed these decisions, but today the Iowa Supreme Court had the final say when it upheld the fair and open rule-making process that established Iowa’s common-sense water protection standards. This is a clear win for clean water and open and fair government. Now we can put the Farm Bureau’s attempts to delay and distract behind us and move on to protect some of Iowa’s most important lakes, rivers and streams. Learn more.

These cases represent what ELPC does best: We advance environmental solutions that make good economic sense, we hold our ground as powerful forces attempt to dismantle important environmental and public health successes, and we achieve progress on long-term challenges that require effective, steady and innovative advocacy. ELPC has brought new public interest legal advocacy capacity to Iowa, which is producing results and achieving clean energy and clean water progress.

Thank you for your continued engagement with ELPC in achieving successes. Working together, we are making a difference for a healthier society, growing economy and better environment for all.

Iowa Supreme Court Opens Door for Solar Energy Choice

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

July 11, 2014

Contact:

Manny Gonzales

312.795.3706

MGonzales@elpc.org

 

Josh Mandelbaum

515-244-0253

jmandelbaum@elpc.org

 

Iowa Supreme Court Opens Door for Solar Energy Choice

Ruling Affords Iowans Same Options Offered Families in Other States

 

DES MOINES –Iowans can offer their roof space to solar energy developers and buy the power created from those panels according to an Iowa Supreme Court decision released Friday.

“Today’s decision is a win for Iowans because it gives everyone the option to go solar affordably,” said Brad Klein, senior attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC), who argued the case last spring on behalf of a large coalition of solar energy and environmental advocates. “Across the country, families, businesses and communities have gone solar with third-party ownership. Now, that opportunity can come to Iowa, too.”

In 2011, Alliant Energy argued that an agreement between Dubuque-based Eagle Point Solar and the City of Dubuque violated the utility’s monopoly territory. Under the agreement, Eagle Point agreed to install and maintain solar panels on the Dubuque City Council building, the City would then pay Eagle Point for the energy created by those panels. The utility argued that the agreement, known as a third-party power purchase agreement (PPA) amounted to the creation of a utility. This claim was rejected by the court.

In his majority opinion, Justice Appel wrote that “Third-party PPAs like the one proposed by Eagle Point actually further one of the goals of regulated electric companies, namely, the use of energy efficient and renewable energy sources.”

“We are pleased that the court agreed with us that agreements that take place behind the meter cannot be considered utility deals,” said Josh Mandelbaum, staff attorney with ELPC’s Des Moines office.  “The fact that the court agrees with our analysis of the law means good things for the future of solar in Iowa.”

A recent report by the Iowa Environmental Council, Real Potential, Ready Today: Solar Energy in Iowa highlighted the significant potential for solar energy in Iowa. Mandelbaum said that Iowa is already starting to see the rapid growth of solar, which most recently was highlighted by the tripling of funding available for state tax credits for solar energy installation.

“This ruling opens up solar to a larger audience by bringing down up-front costs. This decision will make solar more affordable for Iowa families and businesses, and it also helps cities, churches and other non-profits to get the whole value of clean energy,” Mandelbaum added.

Friday’s ruling upholds an April 2013 ruling by the Iowa District Court.

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ELPC’s Founding Vision is Becoming Today’s Sustainability Reality

Support ELPC’s Next 20 Years of Successful Advocacy

Donate Now