Iowa Democrats, Clean Air and Socializing

GPC in Muscatine

At the Kirsten Running-Marquardt fundraiser last night, I sat in a row of chairs with a group of long-time Democratic party activists. Most local Democrats know them by name, Jean and Jix Lloyd-Jones, Dick and Doris Myers and Bill and Pat Sueppel. I don’t intentionally seek out septuagenarians and octogenarians when I go places, but admittedly they are among the best conversationalists, so the chance meeting and discussions are always welcome. A lot of people attended the fundraiser and the home of the hosts Dave Leshtz and Sondra Smith was packed. The food was from Leaf Kitchen and there was plenty of it. Elected officials present were Iowa State Senators Bolkcom and Dvorsky, County Supervisor Terrence Neuzil, County Recorder Kim Painter and Coralville City Council Member Mitch Gross, in addition to Running-Marquardt.

Representative Running-Marquardt’s father had represented us when we lived on the Southwest side of Cedar Rapids back in the 1980s. He is the first politician I met who was willing to come to our home after I asked him a question about what was going on in Des Moines. His daughter Kirsten is one of the youngest, if not the youngest house member, but then who asks a person’s age?

Of note was that she confirmed she had been a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). She and three other Democrats belonged to ALEC, which has a conservative, some say right wing, agenda. All Iowa Republican house members belong to ALEC. When a group of us contacted each of the Democratic legislators who were members, Running-Marquardt, Representative Deborah Berry and Representative Dan Kelley decided to opt out. Among Democrats, only Representative Herman Quirmbach remains an ALEC member and we are waiting to hear back from him. Why is it that legislators are enrolled in ALEC automatically unless they opt out and taxpayers pay the membership fees? What if we were to enroll them in membership with the Sierra Club automatically instead? Just sayin’.

Another discussion at the fundraiser was about the nuclear power bill, HF 561/SF390, which is on the Senate’s unfinished business calendar. It is expected to be subject of discussions in the Democratic Senate caucus early in the 2012 session. Our discussion last night was inconclusive, but one of those participating said he had read my post on advocacy writing. I had thought that was a pretty obscure post, but live and learn. The work of advocacy is so often done in settings like last night’s fundraiser.

Finally, there was some news. It looks like another Democratic candidate is circulating nominating petitions for the seat in Iowa House District 73, potentially making for a Democratic primary with announced candidate David Johnson of West Branch. The winner of a Democratic primary would face incumbent Jeff Kaufmann (R-Wilton) in 2012.

Next, it was over to the Iowa City Public Library for a forum sponsored by a group called I Support Clean Air. The panelists were, Jordan Oster of the Midwest Advocacy Group; Ferman Milster, Associate Director of Utilities and Energy Management at the University of Iowa; Meredith Place of the Sierra Club Student Coalition; Dr. Maureen McCue, Chapter Coordinator for Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility and Leland Searles of the Iowa Environmental Council. Dr. McCue read a letter of support from Clean Air Muscatine (CLAM) who could not be present. Each panelist made a brief statement, then took questions during the hour long event. Iowa State Senator Rob Hogg was present.

Perhaps the most interesting speaker was Milster, who managed operations at the University of Iowa power plant until being transferred to the office of sustainability. He expressed his frustration with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He knows toxic emissions from the power plant, like fine particulate matter, sulfur dioxide and mercury can and should be reduced. However, the EPA has promulgated three different iterations of new rules without finalizing them. For a plant operator to reduce emissions, the government standards must be understood, and that means they must be finalized before making a significant capital expense in equipment to meet those standards. The take away from this is that while the debate in Washington over particulate matter and mercury continues, the electric utilities can do nothing but complain about the EPA and wait. All the while the pollution keeps coming.

In the short session, there was a discussion of Muscatine air quality. Most people on the panel seemed to be in the camp that vilifies the most significant polluter there, Grain Processing Corporation (GPC). While I believe solving Muscatine’s air quality problems is important to the health of the community, it is more complex than regulating a single polluter. Taking action against GPC, as Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has done, is a step. Focusing on that one step is a game with stakes that are too high. No panelist was forthcoming about a solution other than go after GPC.

As I drove home, I felt glad to be alive, and engaged with issues and friends that matter. Socializing in Iowa City for an evening is part of a life worth living.

~ Paul Deaton is a regular contributor to Blog for Iowa.

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