Strong Public Support in the Hawkeye State for Limits on Carbon Pollution

Iowans are used to the giant turbines towering over fields and highways. Wind energy already generates over a quarter of the state’s electricity, which means the state is ready for the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. The state is also ready because it is already experiencing climate change in the form of floods, droughts, and algae blooms. In limiting carbon pollution from existing power plants for the first time, the Clean Power Plan would gradually reduce the carbon intensity of the U.S. electricity sector, the largest source of the carbon pollution that contributes to climate change, and would result in a 16% reduction in the carbon intensity of electricity generated in Iowa by 2030.  The public comment period for the proposed rule ends today[KM1] . At last count, at least 17,634 Iowans have weighed in to support the rules, including dozens of elected officials, scientists, business leaders, and community leaders. 

When you read through the comments out there, a few notable narratives emerge:

Iowa clean energy businesses recognize the benefits to their industries.  The Clean Power Plan promises growth for large and small businesses alike around the state.

  • For example, Troy and Amy Van Beek, owners of Ideal Energy in Fairfield, Iowa, expressed support for the Clean Power Plan in an op-ed to the Des Moines Register because of the economic development it promises: “My company, Ideal Energy, is one of many solar and energy-efficiency companies across the state that are helping consumers and businesses generate made-in-Iowa energy – clean, renewable energy that reduces monthly power bills, creates good, local jobs and helps make both our environment and our economy stronger… We now have an unprecedented plan – the Environmental Protection Agency’s new Clean Power Plan – that puts us on the right track to continue growing.”

  • Similarly, Steve Lockard, the CEO of TPI Composites, points out that wind can help reach Iowa’s target. “The draft EPA proposal leaves it up to individual states as to how they want to reduce emissions, and Iowa is well positioned to protect existing jobs, create new ones and make the state more competitive by expanding wind energy as a central feature of its plan.”

The Clean Power Plan is not just a pocketbook issue – it promises serious benefits for the health of Iowans:

  • In a letter to Governor Branstad, the Iowa Public Health Association and the Iowa Environmental Health Association note, “Given the important environmental and public health benefits that will be realized by the Clean Power Plan, we ask you to support the proposed rule and a strong implementation plan for Iowa. The opportunity that the Clean Power Plan affords Iowa to continue growing its clean energy portfolio and its economy -- all while helping to advance our Healthiest State Initiative -- is one that should not be missed.”
  • The risks of climate change for health are clear, according to the Iowa Climate Statement of 2014, a statement by 180 scientists from 38 academic institutions around the state.

Some Iowa utilities – the regulated power producers themselves – have also expressed support for the Clean Power Plan.

For instance, Berkshire Hathaway Energy owns the largest utility in Iowa, MidAmerican Energy Co., which serves 739,000 Iowa households and businesses. Jonathan Weisgall, Berkshire Hathaway Energy’s vice president of legislative and regulatory affairs, called the plan “a good framework and a workable framework.”

Legislators around the state also approve of this step toward carbon reductions.

Senator Rob Hogg of the Cedar Rapids area lauded the Plan as a first step in addressing the climate change that threatens his district: “In Iowa, for example, we have now suffered 20 major Presidential disaster declarations just since March, 2007.  Last month, June 29-30, Cedar Rapids suffered another flash flood and severe storm which has not yet been declared a Presidential disaster, but one teenager was killed, infrastructure was damaged, houses were ruined, and hundreds of vehicles were destroyed.  Over the last 25 years, our state has suffered over $20 billion in damage from floods alone…These types of disasters cause real costs and real consequences for real people, including both emotional heartache and economic hardship…The carbon pollution rules are an essential step to begin to limit the future costs of climate-related disasters.”

The religious community sees the disproportionate impacts of climate change on vulnerable populations and that it worsens other problems around the globe.

Ninety-six religious leaders from across Iowa released a statement supporting action on carbon pollution. “Climate change significantly exacerbates issues on which our congregations and faith communities are already working: issues like hunger, clean water, disaster relief, refugee services, and conflict resolution. It is the role of faith leaders to help others connect the dots between climate change and its impacts, and to advocate for meaningful solutions. We believe that limiting carbon pollution from power plants is a key part of that solution.” Reverend Susan Guy, the Executive Director of Iowa Interfaith Power & Light, commented to EPA that compliance with the Clean Power Plan can reap economic benefits for Iowa while addressing problems that face the U.S. and our neighbors around the world.

Farmers all over the state are feeling the impacts of the changing climate—and support climate action.

Matt Russell, a fifth generation Iowa farmer and university professor from Lacona, calls global climate change the most important human problem of his lifetime. “The proposed EPA standard on carbon emissions is a positive step toward both reducing the impacts of climate change on agriculture and creating a dynamic where farmers use their land and know how to develop clean energy producing technologies and to develop practices that can pull increasing amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere. As farmers, our business is to respond to very basic human needs, growing the feed, fiber, and fuel the world demands. We don’t do this in offices or factories; we farm in nature.”

The State of Iowa also submitted technical comments thanking EPA for their extensive outreach and the flexibility provided by the rule.

With more than 17,634 citizen comments in favor of regulating carbon emissions, it is clear that this is an issue resonating across the state. 

This show of support is consistent with recent polling data showing that Iowans support clean energy investment over dirty fossil fuels by a wide margin.  A poll from Hart Research Associates in October 2014 found that 70% of Iowans favor regulations that would set limits on the amount of carbon pollution that power plants can release into the air. Another poll by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3) and Public Opinion Strategies found that 80% of Iowans support limiting carbon pollution from power plants and 78% would be willing to pay $1-4 extra on their electricity bills to promote clean energy. Almost four out of every five Iowans believe that increasing the use of renewable energy projects will create jobs, and more than three quarters reject the assertion that clean energy and energy efficiency will increase energy costs. Moreover a whopping 97% support investing in energy efficiency, while 93% support wind and 91% support solar energy solutions.

U.S. EPA is set to finalize the rule by June of 2015, after which each state will be charged with developing a compliance plan.  NRDC looks forward to working with Iowa regulators, legislative leaders, and all interested stakeholders to develop a plan to build an innovative, diverse, and clean electricity system that costs less, delivers reliable power and creates thousands of good paying jobs.