Iowa Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds last Thursday met with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy and urged the EPA chief to "maintain a strong and robust" Renewable Fuel Standard. Reynolds was in Washington D.C. attending the National Lieutenant Governor's Association meeting.
Reynolds also talked with McCarthy about Iowa's efforts to get more farmers to use the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, a plan which aims to cut by 45% the nitrogen and phosphorus that enter the state's waterways and contribute to the dead zone each summer in the Gulf of Mexico. In efforts to reduce the size of the dead zone, the federal EPA is working with states in the Mississippi River Basin where nitrates are leaving farm fields, making their way to the river and eventually the Gulf.
The biennial budget proposed by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and Reynolds recommends $57 million for water quality efforts. After discussing Iowa's efforts with McCarthy, Reynolds said, "The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is an innovative, science-based collaborative effort to advance Iowa's quality water. There are no better stewards of the land than Iowa farmers, and with support from the state, industry and producers, we believe Iowa can be a model for the states in terms of improving water quality."
Water quality has become a hot issue in Iowa, with lawsuit filed
Reynolds talked with McCarthy about the lawsuit filed March 16 by the Des Moines Water Works, which is suing three counties in northwest Iowa over nitrate pollution in the Raccoon River, which the utility uses for its water supply. About 500,000 people in central Iowa are customers of the Des Moines Water Works.
The utility is suing the county boards of supervisors in Sac, Calhoun and Buena Vista counties, alleging they aren't doing enough to prevent nutrients from leaving fields and entering streams and rivers. The supervisors are in charge of 10 drainage districts in those counties. The Des Moines Water Works lawsuit says field tiles used in the drainage districts act as funnels for nitrate to enter streams and rivers. Farm leaders in Iowa say efforts to significantly improve water quality will require more time, and to reach the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy's ultimate goals may take decades.
Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy has only been in place 2 years
The strategy has only been in place since 2013. It is voluntary and there is no deadline set to reach its goals. The plan calls for farmers to adopt conservation practices on a widespread basis across the state—such as cover crops, grass waterways and saturated buffers to help keep nitrogen and phosphorus from leaving fields.
Reynolds emphasized to McCarthy that the nutrient reduction strategy is a collaborative effort, and agencies and farmers working together in cooperation will achieve more water quality improvement and do it faster than lawsuits and court cases will. The Des Moines Water Works lawsuit could drag on for years.
Renewable Fuel Standard was also discussed at meeting
Reynolds also told McCarthy the Renewable Fuel Standard is creating jobs and increasing family incomes in Iowa, while reducing transportation emissions and decreasing U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Iowa is the nation's largest producer of ethanol and biodiesel, and state officials have strongly backed the RFS, a federal mandate that requires ethanol and biodiesel to be blended into the nation's fuel supply.
McCarthy said EPA is expected to announce this spring how much renewable fuel it will require to be blended into the nation's fuel supply this year and next. EPA is supposed to set the amounts for the Renewable Fuel Standard each year.
Reynolds has been a vocal proponent of the RFS in her time in office. When the EPA proposed gutting the RFS last year, she attended events and helped organize the "Hearing in the Heartland" after the EPA declined to hold a public meeting on the matter in the Midwest – the region that would have been affected the most.
"I was pleased to be able to share the successes of a robust Renewable Fuel Standard with administrator McCarthy," said Reynolds. "We Iowans have seen first-hand that a strong Renewable Fuel Standard creates jobs, increases family incomes, reduces transportation emissions and our dependence on foreign oil, provides consumers more choices at the pump and opens new market opportunities for agricultural products."