The Iowa Environmental Protection Commission and the 2010 Election

Now that the dust has settled from the 2010 election it is time to consider the impact that the election will have on the makeup of the Environmental Protection Commission. The Commission has nine members. By statute, they must come from certain categories. Thus, we currently have three farmers, one from manufacturing, one from commerce/finance, and four citizens, though these are anything but “average” citizens – and I truly don’t mean that in a bad way. Of these sitting Commission members, we have four whose terms end on April 30, 2011 and five whose terms end on April 30, 2013. Of the four whose terms expire early next year, we have Susan Heathcote, Charlotte Hubble, Paul Johnson (farmer), and Gene Ver Steeg. I don’t know anybody who would disagree with me if I ventured to say that Susan Heathcote, Charlotte Hubble, and Paul Johnson are (usually) strongly supported by environmental groups.

With Republican Terry Branstad taking the oath of office in January, I suspect that he will lose little time identifying new Commission members. However, the Republicans did not regain control over the Senate, which remains under Democratic control. Keep in mind that the Senate is not altogether partisan when it comes to environmental matters. Iowa legislative Democrats have never adopted as strong a pro-environmental agenda in Iowa as, say, Minnesota or Wisconsin.

Politics being what it is, though, the Senate Democrats may in fact block appointments by then-Governor Branstad if it serves some political purpose or if they deem the appointee to be extreme. So, while the makeup will change, it will be a gradual – if certain — process. Whether that is good or bad depends on your political perspective.

Another issue related to the 2010 election is the appointment of a new DNR director. Most of the same political rules apply for this job as apply to a Commission appointment. I won’t speculate as to who is in the front running for this job. I frankly don’t know who would want the job. It will be an especially challenging and unenviable task for any Republican taking over this (or any other agency) when all of the senior management have come up through the ranks during 12 years of Democratic control over the governor’s office. Also, there is no funding to pursue any pet projects that a new DNR director or his or her Governor may want to pursue. The last DNR director left with an impassioned message that the DNR does not have adquate funding to do the job that it is supposed to do. I can’t imagine that the recent election and the current budget-cutting fervor gripping both the electorate and the elected officials that the DNR’s budget will get any better. It is likely to get even smaller. So, if you have a permit awaiting approval by DNR you may have to consider waiting even longer to get that permit.

About James Pray

Attorney with BrownWinick Law Firm in Des Moines, Iowa.
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