Des Moines

Des Moines Register: Rate Agreement Moves MidAmerican Closer to $3.6 Billion Wind Project

 

By Donnelle Eller

MidAmerican Energy, environmental groups and large tech companies reached a rate agreement over the Des Moines-based utility’s plan to invest $3.6 billion in wind energy.

The settlement, which goes to the Iowa Utilities Board for consideration, lowers from 11.5 percent to 11 percent the return MidAmerican would receive from its investment in 2,000 megawatts of wind energy generation.

Among other changes in the settlement, MidAmerican Energy agreed to not sell to other states, utilities or businesses renewable energy credits from the large project when customers choose to claim green energy use.

That’s important to companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook, all of which have large data centers in Iowa that are large energy users. Environmentalists have pushed big social media, software and internet search companies to reduce their reliance on power generated from fossil fuels.

“We are pleased that all of MidAmerican’s customers will benefit from this settlement,” said Doug Gross, a Des Moines attorney representing Google, Facebook and Microsoft. “We look forward to continuing to work with MidAmerican to ensure that customers have a voice in decisions that affect Iowa’s energy future.”

The project, MidAmerican said, “will bring significant environmental and economic benefits to our customers and the state of Iowa without the need to ask for a rate increase.”

Iowa Environmental Council and Environmental Law & Policy Center, also involved in settlement discussions, applauded the agreement as well.

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Business Record Daily: ELPC Wins Iowa Court Case to Better Protect State’s Waterways

By Perry Beeman, Business Record

A district court decision that overturned a sewage permit the Iowa Department of Natural Resources had issued to the city of Clarion reopens a long and heated fight over the protection of Iowa’s waterways.

The result, theoretically, could mean more expensive sewage projects at factories and at municipal sewage plants, although the exact ramifications aren’t clear yet.

District Judge Michael Huppert ruled that the DNR failed to properly consider how much pollution would go into the Des Moines River watershed, and instead focused primarily on the cost of the project. The Iowa Environmental Council, which brought the case and has long sought to force the state to enforce the so-called anti-degradation standards associated with the U.S. Clean Water Act, said the ruling is the first legal case addressing the enforcement of the anti-degradation standards since the Iowa Supreme Court upheld the standards in 2014.

Broadly, the rules are intended to prevent pollution in streams from getting worse. Often, that means limiting what can be emitted from sewage plants and other “point sources” of pollution through permit requirements.

“[E]conomic efficiency involves a comparison between costs and environmental benefit, [and] no such analysis appears in the final alternative analysis at even a rudimentary level,” Huppert stated in his opinion.

The ruling reverses the DNR’s approval of the permit and requires an accounting of the environmental benefits of less-polluting designs. DNR spokesman Kevin Baskins said state lawyers are still reviewing the case to determine next steps.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center represented the Iowa Environmental Council in the case.

“This ruling confirms that consideration of environmental benefits is not optional, and they need to be considered as part of the anti-degradation process,” Environmental Law & Policy Center attorney Josh Mandelbaum said in a statement. “The court’s ruling sends a strong message to the DNR that they can’t skirt the consideration of environmental benefits simply by relying on cost.”

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Cedar Rapids Gazette: ELPC Wins Iowa Case, DNR Failed to Follow Anti-degradation Standards

By Orlan Love, The Gazette

An Iowa District Court earlier this month found the Department of Natural Resources failed to appropriately enforce the state’s clean water anti-degradation standards when it approved a wastewater treatment project that would increase pollution in the Des Moines River watershed.

The ruling is the first legal case addressing the enforcement of the anti-degradation standards — which require consideration and implementation where appropriate of alternative treatments that reduce pollution — since the Iowa Supreme Court upheld them in 2014.

That year, the north-central Iowa city of Clarion submitted to the DNR a project design to expand its wastewater treatment plant that discharges into a tributary of the Boone River, which in turn empties into the Des Moines River.

The DNR allowed Clarion to choose the least expensive option without fully considering the environmental benefits of an alternative, pollution-reducing design that Clarion’s analysis deemed practical and affordable, according to Judge Michael Huppert’s ruling, issued March 17.

The alternative design would have reduced the amounts of nitrates and phosphorus discharged into a watershed that has been plagued with elevated levels of the pollutants targeted in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, said Josh Mandelbaum, an attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which filed a petition for judicial review on behalf of the Iowa Environmental Council.

The state’s nutrient reduction strategy specifically directs, in situations such as that prevailing in Clarion, that “evaluation of nutrient removal feasibility will be conducted as part of the construction permitting process through current anti-degradation rules and procedures” and that “nutrient removal will be encouraged any time construction is proposed.”

The court found that under Iowa’s anti-degradation standards, a higher-cost project design could be implemented if it would have a substantial environmental benefit. The ruling reverses DNR’s decision and requires the agency to revisit the analysis and appropriately account for environmental benefits of less polluting project designs.

Economic efficiency “involves a comparison between costs and environmental benefit, (and) no such analysis appears in the final alternative analysis,” Huppert said in his opinion.

He said Clarion’s alternatives analysis was “incomplete as measured against the anti-degradation implementation procedure, and the (DNR) erred by approving it.”

“This ruling confirms that consideration of environmental benefits is not optional, and they need to be considered as part of the anti-degradation process,” Mandelbaum said.

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Des Moines Register: Iowa Court Sides with ELPC on Implementation of Anti-degradation Standards

By Donnelle Eller, Des Moines Register

The state of Iowa failed to adequately weigh the environmental benefits that would have come with a more expensive wastewater treatment system for a north-central community, a district court judge ruled last week.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center, representing the Iowa Environmental Council, said the Iowa Department of Natural Resources allowed Clarion to choose a wastewater treatment design based on cost alone.

“They chose the cheapest alternative, but there were other reasonable and practical options that would have reduced pollution,” said Josh Mandelbaum, an attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “The department didn’t consider the environmental benefits of those alternatives.”

The court found that under Iowa’s anti-degradation standards, a higher-cost project design could be implemented if it would have a substantial environmental benefit, the groups said.

Mandelbaum said Clarion’s $5 million wastewater treatment expansion would have cost about $100,000 more to build — and about $215,000 more annually to operate and maintain the plant. But the more environmentally friendly plant would have met the state’s goals on reducing nitrogen and phosphorus levels. The plant feeds into the Des Moines River watershed.

“Nutrient pollution is a priority (in the) state, and we assume that would be reflected in the way the state enforces its environmental laws,” Mandelbaum said.

An Iowa DNR official said the state would review the case. A city of Clarion official wasn’t available to comment Friday.

Mandelbaum said the court order requires the state and city to re-evaluate the plant’s environmental impact. The Clarion project is under construction.

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Smart Blog of the Week from ELPC’s Colleagues

DesMoinesDem’s Bleeding Heartland Blog

DesMoinesDem is a suburban mom writing about Iowa politics and encouraging community discussion to hold public officials more accountable.  In her “Iowa faith leaders call for action to limit climate change” blog this week, DesMoinesDem discusses 56 religious leaders having signed an appeal for Iowans to take actions to limit global climate change and prepare for the consequences of the damage to the global climate that has already been done:

“The faith leaders mention a recent warning to Iowa legislators from 44 scientists representing 28 Iowa colleges and universities. Unfortunately, even when Democrats controlled the state House and Senate, lawmakers did almost nothing to implement the Iowa Climate Change Advisory Council’s recommendations.

. . . On a related note, the 2011 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll indicated that 68 percent of Iowa farmers believe climate change is happening, 5 percent do not believe it is happening, and 28 percent are not sure. About 45 percent of that survey’s respondents said human activities are partly or mostly responsible for changing climate patterns.”

The Scoop:  DesMoinesDem’s post discusses how faith leaders are speaking out in Iowa about climate change and calling for solutions-oriented actions by Iowa’s political leaders, who are not yet stepping up.  Thanks DesMoinesDem for your post and your call to action directed to state legislators.

Read the whole story here: http://www.bleedingheartland.com/diary/5458/iowa-faith-leaders-call-for-action-to-limit-climate-change

Iowa Judge Upholds Clean Water Standards

An Iowa Judge has tossed out a case challenging clean water standards  intended to stop pollution from entering the state’s unpolluted waterways. In their story about the case, the Associated Press caught up with Josh Mandelbaum, Staff Attorney in ELPC’s Des Moines office.

 “‘It’s a major victory for water quality in Iowa,” said Josh Mandelbaum, an attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Center, an environmental advocacy group. “These rules are designed to protect public health and to protect our waterways and the uses of those waterways whether it’s making them safe for outdoor recreation or safe for drinking water.'”

 

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