Trish Nelson, regular editor of Blog for Iowa, posted this photo on the Internet, reminding us that there is a world outside the confines of what Al Gore described as “the worldwide digital communications, Internet, and computer revolutions (which) have led to the emergence of ‘the Global Mind,’ which links the thoughts and feelings of billions of people and connects intelligent machines, robots, ubiquitous sensors, and databases.” That is, outside blogs, Facebook, twitter, the World Wide Web and cable TV.
On the real world front, while Governor Branstad was participating in RAGBRAI, his staff was meeting behind closed doors with regional Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) staff regarding Iowa’s compliance with the Clean Water Act. Read the community organizing group Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) article here.
Putting the best face on it, the governor is managing mandatory compliance with the EPA on a number of fronts, including the Clean Water Act. Elections matter, and Iowa chose Terry Branstad, along with his views on EPA compliance, in 2010. To put the Iowa CCI face on it, they recirculated their frequent meme, “…the Farm Bureau does not run this state,” and demanded transparency. Both points have some validity, and there is no surprise by any of this as both party’s positions regarding concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are well known and have been.
Here’s the rub. In the May 31 letter from EPA staffer Karl Brooks to governor Branstad, Brooks wrote, “I respectfully suggest that those regulated parties with the most interest in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation Clean Water Act permitting and evaluation should be invited to this conversation.” While some members of Iowa CCI may be “regulated parties,” the governor was under no obligation to hold public hearings on the matter and didn’t. The Iowa Farm Bureau response, with recommended revisions to the CAFO program work plan, was not only expected, it was, for the most part, the purpose of the meeting. The Iowa CCI response to the meeting was, like so many of their news releases, a red herring that gained some press coverage but diluted their effectiveness. I appreciate Iowa CCI making the information readily available, but there is no news here for anyone who follows water and air quality issues in Iowa. This meeting was predictable, and consistent with the Branstad administration outlook on EPA compliance.
For most Iowans who participate in RAGBRAI, it is a chance to get away from the daily grind for a while. The governor and thousands of others are participating in RAGBRAI, and for Branstad, as a politician, it was a photo opportunity. For Iowa CCI, RAGBRAI was a news hook to beat the drum on one of their core issues, one they know well. One of my groups, Veterans for Peace, uses RAGBRAI to publicize the true cost of our wars, as do a host of groups with their pet issues. All of it is good in what remains of our democracy.
The point is that involvement in a specific cause, regardless of how vocal one is, does not equate political change. There is a lot to hate about the Branstad’s approach to clean water, clean air and compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency. To effect political change means getting involved and working for political candidates, most of whom are subject to influence by moneyed interests like the Iowa Farm Bureau. Any candidate who dismisses as irrelevant the Farm Bureau, the livestock producers and row crop associations won’t be elected to statewide office in Iowa. It’s not going to happen in 2014.
Groups like Iowa CCI make political results more difficult when they throw out red meat as bait for their members and supporters, when most people are tuned out. For one, I’d like to see Iowa CCI less divisive and more involved with electing candidates that support progressive views, as many of their members are, and less focused on braggadocio after hammering the same nail once again.
RAGBRAI is happening, the summer weather has been unusually nice, and most people I know are unplugged from the global mind and living in the real world under Branstad until we can do better. For me, I prefer not to dip even a bicycle in the contaminated Mississippi River, long bike ride or not. Whether we as a state will do better on water quality and compliance with EPA depends a lot on whether people get together to elect a new governor in 2014. The work of doing so should begin now.