Decorah vs. Alliant Energy

Dear Friends,

When it comes to advancing solar power and handing control of a community’s energy future back to the people, big things are brewing in northeast Iowa. On May 1, Decorah residents will vote on whether to move forward toward establishing a publicly owned utility. “With a municipal electric utility we could enjoy one of the best economic and environmental opportunities available to us,” writes Larry Grimstad, President of Decorah Power.

Predictably, utility monopoly Alliant Energy is fighting back. It’s a classic David vs. Goliath situation, and all the good arguments are on the side of the intrepid core of volunteers leading Decorah Power.

Decorah, Iowa

For an excellent story about the power struggle, check out this Des Moines Register story by Donnelle Eller. Visit Decorah Power’s website, too.

There are 136 municipal electric utilities in Iowa. In 2008, Iowa City tried to become the 137th but was massively outspent and whomped badly by MidAmerican Energy. The last time a city in Iowa successfully established a public power authority was 1974 in Aurelia. Iowa’s two utility monopolies have only grown bigger and more powerful over the decades, and spend whatever it takes to defeat any effort to cut in to their market share.

What’s happening in Decorah is a big deal! If you live here, be sure to vote on May 1. If you don’t live in Decorah but know folks who do, please reach out to them and encourage them to support the initiative. If Decorah residents are successful, other communities will feel emboldened to take back the power from the utility Goliaths.

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Guests on this week’s Fallon Forum include Adam Mason with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Joseph Glazebrook of Glazebrook & Hurd, LLP, and State Representative Ako Abdul-Samad of Creative Visions. Here’s what we discussed:

– Wells Fargo under fire comes under fire
– Power for the people in Decorah, Iowa
– Trump Court appointee votes against Trump on key immigration ruling
– Philadelphia Starbucks boots two black customers
– Students walk-out as Waffle House hit by assault-weapon massacre
– Understanding ranked-choice voting

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My Endorsements in Iowa’s Democratic Primary

Dear Friends,

First, it should come as no surprise that Gov. Reynolds signed SF 2235 — the bill pushed by the pipeline company. Years ago as an elected official in Clarke County, Reynolds stood with big developers against farmers and landowners who were fighting to protect their land from eminent domain for a lake. By signing SF 2235, the Governor made it clear that her loyalty is to Big Oil — not farmers, landowners and our environment.

Thus, Bold Iowa’s work moves from lobbying to education, building awareness about the Landowner/Sierra Club lawsuit. Click these two links to learn what you can do to get involved:

Stop Eminent Domain Abuse Roadshow

2018 Climate Justice Unity March

And if you’re unclear about the urgency of the climate crisis check out this article and this article about the crazy warm temperatures in the Arctic and how that’s connected to the Upper Midwest’s coldest spring ever. SERIOUSLY! If you have any doubt about how important is this moment in history, please read at least one of these articles.

(These two screen shots were taken at the same moment last week. That’s North Pole, Alaska, not THE North Pole. But you get the point.)

Climate change isn’t the only factor I consider in deciding which political candidates to support, but it’s the most important. I’m encouraged to see so many good candidates running for office and talking about climate change. On a host of issues, we’re desperate for new blood, bold ideas, and progressive leadership.

With that in mind, here are the folks I’m endorsing in the June 5 Democratic Primary Election:

Cathy Glasson

GOVERNOR: In a crowded field, Cathy Glasson stands out. She’s worked in the trenches for years, standing up for everyday folks and fighting tirelessly for the best interest of working Iowans. I’m confident we’ll see the same kind of leadership from Cathy as governor.

I’m also confident Cathy can win. Establishment Democrats want you to believe we’ve got to nominate a “moderate” backed by big money. Really? Because that worked so well with Hillary Clinton, Bruce Braley, John Kerry, Staci Appel, etc, etc. As Bernie Sanders demonstrated in 2016, voters are hungry for leadership that puts people ahead of corporate interests and the entrenched forces of political stagnation.

Cathy’s got the right stuff going on in spades. And yeah, she’s got a solid statement on climate change, too. I hope you’ll join me in supporting her and getting involved in her campaign.

Deidre DeJear

SECRETARY OF STATE: Deidre DeJear is a breath of fresh air and will make a fantastic Secretary of State. She’s got a strong background in small business ownership and knows the importance of making sure the Secretary of State’s office is a welcoming place for people hoping to make their entrepreneurial dream a reality.

On the elections side, in 2012 Deidre “developed and implemented a program to educate, motivate, and mobilize low-propensity voters, which resulted in over 5,000 new registrants and more than doubled African American turnout.” That’s from her website. And in terms of being accessible, Deidre has always responded to my calls and inquiries with enthusiasm.

Thomas Heckroth

CONGRESS (IA-1): Thomas Heckroth‘s opponent in the Democratic Primary, Abby Finkenauer, is a big supporter of the Dakota Access Pipeline, so this endorsement is easy. Heckroth’s stand on climate is solid. He writes, “Climate Change is also a threat to global security and must be a factor in United States foreign policy. Whether it is forced migration due to rising sea levels or whole cities running out of water, global security challenges will continue to crop up due to climate change.”

Thomas also writes, “As we transition away from fossil fuels, we must finally end the unnecessary and unaffordable subsidies that we provide to major fossil fuel companies. There is no reason why we should continue to incentivize coal, gas, and oil companies when we have the tools to move forward with clean, renewable sources of energy.”

Eddie Mauro

CONGRESS (IA-3): Eddie Mauro received my endorsement early this year and I’m doing everything I can to help him win the nomination. Eddie and I go way back, meeting at a homeless camp where he was providing food and supplies.

Besides his deep compassion for those in need, Eddie has one of the strongest positions on climate change of any congressional candidate in the country. He writes, “Decades of delay have allowed global warming to become a global emergency. Climate is impacting all our continents. Time is now of the absolute essence, and we have a small window to revolutionize the global economy before our basic life-support systems collapse.”

Not only is Eddie solid on climate change, but he’s got the best chance of beating David Young. We can’t risk another two years of a Republican Congress, nor two years of a do-nothing Democratic Congress. Eddie will work hard and for the right stuff.

JD Scholten

CONGRESS (IA-4): JD Scholten is vocal on issues that matter and his campaign is resonating beyond Democratic voters. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s raised more money than incumbent Congressman Steve King.

On climate change, JD writes, “The burning of fossil fuels is creating more carbon dioxide than the atmosphere can handle. This is scary stuff. I wish this was an issue we could deal with in 20 years, but it’s not. There are a number of things we need to do to combat climate change. Carbon farming is one that hasn’t been talked about enough, and Iowa is uniquely positioned to lead the way. This takes excess carbon out of the air and puts it into our soil. In each acre of land, there’s about an elephant-sized amount of organisms that use this carbon. This benefits and strengthens the soil by creating organic matter. Carbon farming is a win-win.”

Connie Ryan

IOWA SENATE (DISTRICT 21): Through her work with the Iowa Interfaith Alliance, Connie Ryan has been a leader in advancing LGBT equality, religious tolerance, and the fight against racism. Connie also helped create Justice Not Politics to protect our courts. Her advocacy hasn’t focused much on climate, but we’ve talked and she understands the urgent nature of the crisis.

Beyond that, her opponent, Claire Celsi, is difficult to work with. I offer that based on experience spanning nearly twenty years. Connie might have a learning curve on climate and environmental issues, but I’m confident that as a lawmaker she’ll be accessible and responsive.

John Mauro

POLK COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS (DISTRICT 5): John Mauro is a quiet, behind-the-scenes guy. He’s done a heck of a lot as a Supervisor to make Polk County government a leader in providing critical services to people in need. John’s opponent, Matt McCoy, is running an aggressive campaign to unseat Mauro. But my experience with Matt over the years has not been favorable. In fact, just two weeks ago, Matt promised he would offer an amendment to SF 2235 to remove the Dakota Access Pipeline from the definition of “critical infrastructure.” He drafted the amendment, then mysteriously withdrew it. I twice asked for an explanation and didn’t get a response.

That’s been my experience with Matt over the years: cordial when you run into him, but unresponsive when the rubber meets the road. I’ve heard that from others, too. With John Mauro, I know I’ll always get my phone calls returned and questions answered. That counts for a lot.

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And now, a mea culpa: In my blog last week, I referenced a story about the Standing Rock court ruling. I thought it had just happened, yet it was from last year. Ouch. Note to self: check sources more carefully, even when they appear to be reliable.

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This week’s Fallon Forum was hosted by Charles Goldman and Ed Fallon, with special guest David Houston of Homes 4 My Peeps. Here are the segment titles:

– When I grow up, I want to be compost
– It’s not “if,” but “when” will Trump be impeached
– What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic
– Kansas’s failed tax-cut scam catches fire in Iowa
– Latest U.S. bombing in Syria gets mixed reviews
– Pushing back against banks that finance pipelines

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“Stop Eminent Domain Abuse” Roadshow

Dear Friends,

Every time someone says to me, “Too bad we weren’t able to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline,” I say, “Not so fast!”

This week, federal judge James Boasberg ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers’ authorization of the pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation “did not adequately consider the impacts of an oil spill on fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice.” (Check out the story here.)

This is significant. The federal court is expected to rule soon whether oil will continue to flow under the Missouri River in North Dakota. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile in Iowa, landowners and the Iowa Sierra Club press ahead with their own lawsuit, alleging that the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) illegally granted Dakota Access the power of eminent domain. This lawsuit has potentially historic significance beyond the Dakota Access Pipeline.

This case is a really big deal. Yet the mainstream media is mostly ignoring it. It’s up to us to let people know about the case. So, here’s my big ask:

WILL YOU HELP US ORGANIZE A PRESENTATION IN YOUR COMMUNITY?

Working with Climate March and Indigenous Iowa, Bold Iowa has launched the “Stop Eminent Domain Abuse” Roadshow.

Our first community forum will be Saturday, April 21 at the Public Library in Montezuma from 10:00 – 11:30 a.m. Here’s the program:

  • Overview of the lawsuit (Wally Taylor)
  • The pipeline’s impact on farmers and landowners (Steve Hickenbottom and Keith Puntenney)
  • Indigenous concerns (Christine Nobiss)
  • Other eminent domain conflicts (Invited: folks working against the Mahaska County airport)
  • Presentation of “Crossing the Divide” by Ralph King, filmed last spring as the Climate Justice Unity March walked 85 miles from Little Creek Camp to Des Moines. This 15-minute film shows the power of building coalitions and the value of establishing trust and unity across political, cultural and geographic lines.
  • Climate Justice Unity March 2018 (Sarah Spain)
  • Discussion, Q & A, and next steps

Please join us on Saturday, April 21 in Montezuma. And let me know if you’re interested in working with our team to pull together a roadshow stop in your community. Thanks! Ed

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Industry’s New Colonial Outpost: Rural Iowa

Dear Friends,

Two things before I explain why Iowa is becoming a colonial outpost:

First, I’m sad to say that the pro-DAPL bill (SF 2235) passed this week despite hundreds of Iowans contacting their lawmakers. Visit the Fallon Forum and Bold Iowa websites for news coverage and to learn how your senator and representative voted. The silver lining is that Bold Iowa’s coalition of environmentalists, landowners, farmers and Native allies worked with labor unions on a common cause. Let’s build on that!

Second, check out this week’s Fallon Forum. Among other topics, we talk with two of the five climate warriors who shut down the flow of tar sands oil in 2016. If you missed the previous week’s program, check out our conversation about gun violence, sustainable farming, and why the job of Secretary of State is important.

Janna Swanson with Ed Fallon at the Blue Daisy Cafe in Ruthven.

Colonization never goes well for the colonized. It went badly for the Indigenous peoples of this continent. It’s gone badly for people in “third world” countries we’ve pillaged. And it’s going badly for rural Iowa.

Yup. A new wave of colonization is in full swing. Perhaps in the twittering storm of political scandals and legislative hubris you haven’t noticed. But rural Iowans can’t help but notice as the forces of colonization steamroll their farms and communities.

Here are the most egregious examples (and yeah, the acronym spells “PLOW,” for what that’s worth):

PORK. There are 15,000 hog confinements (CAFOs) in Iowa. Given the soaring foreign demand for pork, state officials say that number could jump to 45,000! America’s largest pork producer, Smithfield Foods, is now owned by a Chinese corporation. Smithfield will get rich exporting pork to China while rural Iowans are stuck with foul air, lower property values, contaminated water, a decline in quality of life, and continued depopulation.

LAND. Foreign ownership of farmland in the US is rising. Foreign entities now control an area larger than Tennessee! Fortunately for Iowa, our law prevents foreign ownership of farmland — but powerful forces want to change that.

Some new turbines are as tall as two football fields.

OIL. The Dakota Access Pipeline carved a 350-mile scar across Iowa, damaging topsoil and threatening our water for a Texas corporation’s export crude oil pipeline. As I’ve warned, don’t be surprised if Big Oil tries to build a second pipeline through Iowa.

WIND. Industrial Wind Installations (IWIs) are meeting greater and greater local resistance. More are in the works and problems associated with the turbines are fomenting extensive and impassioned local resistance.

Perhaps that last item took you by surprise, coming from someone who cites climate change as the gravest threat to life on Earth. I’ve always been disturbed by any concentration of economic power, though in the past I’ve grudgingly given wind energy a pass because of the urgency of the climate crisis.

Janna Swanson with the Coalition for Rural Property Rights

To be clear, we absolutely need to move beyond fossil-fuel consumption as quickly as possible. Energy conservation, reducing consumption, and sequestering carbon are three of the most important actions we can take.

We also need a robust and rapidly expanding renewable energy portfolio. The backbone of that portfolio must be solar — and solar must be controlled by individuals, communities, family farmers, and small business owners. There’s room in that portfolio for wind, too, but not the centralized industrial model that increasingly dominates more and more Iowa counties.

While a handful of landowners are making money leasing their land for turbines, monopoly control of wind is wreaking havoc on rural landscapes and the people who live and farm there. In February, I traveled to Palo Alto County to visit Janna Swanson, a leader with the Coalition for Rural Property Rights. Palo Alto residents are suing MidAmerican Energy and Invenergy over a massive 340-megawatt project near Emmetsburg. There are 268 residences in the target area — yet only 24 have signed a contract to allow turbines on their land!

IWI opponents cite visual blight, shadow flicker, noise, flashing lights, pressure, turbulence, the impact on farming, and the risk to bats and birds. A separate blog could be written about each of these concerns.

While the scientific and medical impacts of IWI’s continue to be hotly debated, one thing is clear: the vast majority of people who live nearby don’t want them. That needs to be respected. When proposing an IWI, decision makers must give far greater consideration to local concerns than they do at present.

“Some people live next to a turbine and don’t have a problem,” Janna told me. “For others, there’s a cumulative effect. Take the intense pressure and turbulence. You can feel it when you’re standing nearby, almost like it’s grabbing at your heart.”

Janna says many Iowans complain that they can hear the turbines inside their home at night, even with a white-noise machine cranking away. It’s affecting their health. In some places, long-time residents have had to sell their home and move because of health problems attributed to the turbines.

A group of Palo Alto residents is suing to have the Palo County wind project stopped. Plaintiffs are preparing for an April 27 court date. The case is likely to end up before the Iowa Supreme Court.

Right now, 37% of Iowa’s electrical generation comes from wind. From the perspective of reducing fossil fuel consumption, that’s encouraging. But it comes at a heavy price for rural Iowa. It’s a price we shouldn’t have to pay given the more sustainable and less invasive options available.

As I said earlier, with Iowa’s land protected from foreign ownership, we effectively have a moratorium on that element of colonization. Perhaps it’s time for moratoriums on CAFOs, IWIs, and crude oil pipelines, too. That would carve out some space for us to have a deep, democratic conversation about what Iowa should look like in 50, 100 or even 500 years. Perhaps the original victims of this land’s colonization, Native Americans, could lead and direct that conversation.

One thing is emphatically clear to me: eminent domain should NEVER be used to condemn land for transmission lines to ship Iowa’s wind to Chicago or the East coast. An effort to use eminent domain by the Rock Island Clean Line (another Texas corporation) was defeated last year. Given the money and political power behind IWI, don’t be surprised if another proposal surfaces.

Regardless of where one stands on pork, oil, or wind, we should all agree that it’s wrong to ignore the voices of rural Iowans in order to export our resources to distant ports — whether those ports lie on Lake Michigan, the Atlantic Ocean, or the China Sea.

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Pipeline bill passes despite strong grassroots opposition

Check out coverage of SF 2235’s passage and write a letter-to-the-editor in response. Contact Ed Fallon if you need to know more about what’s involved with submitting your letter. If you know of other news outlets that picked up the story, let us know. As of April 5, here’s the coverage we’ve seen so far:

Cedar Rapids Gazette
Des Moines Register
Mason City Globe Gazette
Quad-City Times
Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier

To see how your State Senator voted, scroll down to page 852 of the Senate Journal for April 3. To see how your State Rep. voted, scroll to page 685 of the House Journal for March 27. Special thanks to Sen. Rob Hogg and Rep. Rick Olson for offering amendments to assure that severe penalties for sabotage don’t apply to peaceful, non-violent protestors.

We’re deeply disappointed that no Senator or Representative offered an amendment to eliminate a crude oil pipeline from the definition of “critical infrastructure.” We’re grateful for the strong coalition of organizations that opposed the bill, especially some of Iowa’s leading labor unions, who worked tirelessly in opposition to the anti-free-speech provisions of the bill.

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