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SARL Members and Alumni News

Iowa Senate bill could block group from using state loans to buy land for conservation, flood efforts

KCRG | Posted on March 28, 2019

The Iowa Senate has passed a bill, Senate File 548, that would prevent an organization from buying land using a state loan program for water quality and flood mitigation projects. Some Senate Republicans said Wednesday the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation has been using the low-interest loan program called the State Revolving Fund to buy land and then donate it to government conservation agencies. They argue that is not the intent of the loan program, which is to fund projects to improve water quality and enhance flood mitigation projects.“The money in that fund has a lot of good uses and the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation does good work," said Sen. Ken Rozenboom (R-Mahaska) who introduced the bill. "Land acquisition was not one of those uses.”

Land conservation helps local economies grow

Eureka Alert | Posted on March 28, 2019

Land conservation modestly increases employment rates, a traditional indicator of economic growth, according to an analysis of New England cities and towns, led by scientists at Amherst College, Harvard Forest, the Highstead Foundation, and Boston University. The study, published today in Conservation Biology, is the first of its kind, estimating the local net impacts of both private and public land conservation over 25 years (1990-2015) across 1500 cities and towns that are home to 99.97% of New England's population.The study shows that when land protection increased, employment increased over the next five-year period, even when controlling rigorously for other associated factors. "Employment gains were modest but significant across the region, and the effect was amplified in more rural areas," says Kate Sims, Chair of the Economics Department at Amherst College and a co-lead author of the study. To illustrate the study's results, she explained that if a town with 50,000 people employed increased its land protection by 50%, it saw, on average, 750 additional people employed in the next five years.

Colorado, Western states finalize landmark drought plan to voluntarily use less Colorado River water

Denver Post | Posted on March 27, 2019

Faced with reservoirs less than half full along the Colorado River, federal authorities and negotiators for Colorado and six other Western states finalized a landmark plan to share the burden of voluntarily using less water as growing cities and warming temperatures deplete the supply for 40 million people. This “drought contingency” plan completed by the seven Western states to meet an extended federal deadline is “meant to avoid a crisis on the river,” said U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman.After 2026, the feds will look at flows in what scientists project will be a more diminished Colorado River and, working with states, “we will negotiate our next step,” Burman said.This complex water plan hashed out since 2017 depends on all residents of the West using less water to deal with a 19-year shift toward aridity. Negotiators tinkered with fundamentals of the 1922 law that divvies up shares of Colorado River water for each state — an improvisation to try to address one of the planet’s toughest water problems caused by chronic overuse and climate change.

Lawmakers Look to Curb Foreign Influence in State Elections

Pew Trust | Posted on March 27, 2019

In an effort to stymie foreign influence in elections, several states are considering bills that would limit how businesses with some foreign ownership participate in elections.A long-standing federal statute bars noncitizens and foreign companies from donating directly to candidates or political parties at the federal, state and local levels. Another law prohibits businesses from directly donating to federal-level candidates or political parties.But the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case cleared the way for corporations and unions to pay for political ads made independently of candidates’ campaigns. The high court ruled that corporations and unions are associations of U.S. citizens with a First Amendment right to political expression.Hoping to take the decision a step further, proponents of bills under consideration in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Washington state would bar political spending by businesses in which non-U.S. citizens have a significant ownership stake.

Political Candidates Don’t Always Tell the Truth (And You Can’t Make Them)

Pew Trust | Posted on March 27, 2019

Say you’re a politician running for office, and you want to call out your opponent’s votes against education or guns. If you’re in Montana, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has a new demand: Prove it. Legislators in Big Sky Country want candidates or political groups who attack a voting record to back up the charge with specifics. Under legislation that has been filed repeatedly in recent years, ads would have to include the title and number of a bill or resolution referred to and the year when the vote was taken.But the bruising fight to impose a new law in Montana shows just how difficult it is for states to restrict political speech.Since 2011, Montana courts have struck down three similar attempts to require truth in political advertising, saying the laws were “unconstitutionally vague” and therefore infringed on the free speech rights of Montanans.Those crackdowns don’t come easy, though. The U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment protects free speech in most forms, and various courts have ruled that state laws restricting political speech infringed on those rights. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the landmark 2010 Citizens United case that corporations, too, had a right to free speech and campaign donations, making some state efforts even murkier.

New Mexico governor signs landmark clean energy bill

AP News | Posted on March 26, 2019

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed landmark legislation that will mandate more solar panels and wind turbines as the state sets ambitious new renewable energy goals. The measure requires that investor-owned utilities and rural electric cooperatives get at least half of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030. That would jump to 80 percent by 2040.A 100 percent carbon-free mandate would kick in five years later for utilities. Electric co-ops would have until 2050 to meet that goal.

Maine says sludge must be tested for ‘forever chemicals’ before

Portland Press Herald | Posted on March 26, 2019

State environmental regulators announced Friday that all sludge will have to be tested for the presence of an industrial chemical before being used as fertilizer or applied to land. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection announced the new testing requirement in response to growing concerns about contamination from PFAS, a group of chemicals widely used to create non-stick coatings on cookware, food packaging and fabrics, as well as in firefighting foam. An Arundel dairy farmer has blamed PFAS contamination on his farm on the treated municipal sludge he used to fertilize his hay fields for years.The per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals collectively known as PFAS degrade slowly and linger in the environment for long periods, leading critics to dub them “forever chemicals.” The subject of increasing scrutiny, some PFAS have been linked to cancer, liver damage, low birth weight and other health concerns.

Montana estimates GOP Medicaid expansion bill will halve number of people covered; add 84 state jobs

Missoulian | Posted on March 26, 2019

Legislators got a glimpse Friday of a state estimate showing the Republican version of a bill to continue Medicaid expansion with added work requirements would result in about half the 96,000 people on the program losing coverage.A Medicaid expansion bill must move to the state Senate by April 1 to meet transmittal deadlines.Montana expanded Medicaid to those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level four years ago and put in a sunset of this summer so lawmakers would come back and review the program.  In April, the 2019 federal poverty level will be $17,236 for an individual and $29,435 for a family of three.The estimate published Friday shows about 48,000 people would be covered under the Republican bill. The fiscal note for the Democrats' bill predicts about 100,000 would be covered under their proposal.Though half the number of people are covered, the Republican bill is estimated to cost the state only $2.2 million or so a year less than the Democrats' proposal. 

CA Animal Welfare Act Could Impact Farm Practices Nationwide

Texas Agricultural Law | Posted on March 25, 2019

On its face, Proposition 12 applies only to California businesses selling pork, veal, and eggs.  However, in practice, it has the potential to impact farmers and ranchers producing beef, pork and eggs nationwide.  If a farmer in Texas, for example, does not adopt these practices, then he or she will be unable to sell his or her products in California.  These types of ballot initiatives could certainly be expanded to additional products and could have major impacts on the farm level, requiring producers to invest in new or different facilities in order to continue producing the products.  This is an issue of which everyone involved in production agriculture should be aware.

Iowa Legislature Considers Sunshine Tax on Local Private Solar Power Systems

KIOW | Posted on March 25, 2019

Iowa’s largest investor-owned utility wants to make local owners of private solar power systems pay more for generating their own electricity, while opponents warn that could cause Iowa to lose its standing as a leader in promoting renewables. House Study Bill 185 would add a yearly “sunshine tax” on private solar generators, a move MidAmerican Energy says creates more fairness for all customers who use its electric grid. But Lee Tesdell, who has solar installed at his farm, says if the bill passes, the potential savings from solar would be greatly reduced, discouraging Iowans from using it.