Dems: Natural Resources & Environment Committee – All-Bill Summary 2018

May 31, 2018
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All bills passed by the Legislature and sent to the Governor for her signature during the 2018 session. 

SF 512 – Water-quality funding for watershed improvement and infrastructure
HF 2303 – Updates to various programs administered by DNR
HF 2365– DNR conservation and recreation policies
HF 2440 – Water-quality clean-up bill
HF 2464 – Fees allowed under Land Recycling Program administered by DNR

 

SF 512 is based on a Branstad proposal to provide additional water quality funding. It was favored by Farm Bureau, Corn Growers, Pork Producers and other predominantly agricultural groups. Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey also advocated for this legislation, seeing it as the proposal most likely to become law. Key elements of the bill include:

Water Service Excise tax and Water Quality Financial Assistance Fund – The Water Quality Financial Assistance Fund (WQFAF) will receive money from a water service excise tax, which replaces Iowa’s sales tax on water service that is deposited into the state’s general fund. The excise tax is 6 percent. Transfers to the WQFAF are being phased-in over three years, with half of the money going to water-quality assistance and the remainder staying in the general fund. The excise tax will be repealed on January 1, 2030. It is projected to generate approximately $130 million for the WQFAF.

Funding from the RIIF for water quality infrastructure – $15 million will come from the Rebuild Iowa’s Infrastructure Fund beginning in FY21. This money is currently being used to repay Vision Iowa bonds. It will be deposited into the Water Quality Infrastructure Fund (WQIF) to provide financial assistance for landowners to install in-field and edge-of-field structures through the Water Quality Infrastructure Program (WQIP). Diversion of RIIF funds will end July 1, 2029, or the date the sales tax is increased (thus triggering funding of the natural resources trust fund), whichever comes first. If the sales tax doesn’t increase before the sunset, RIIF will generate $135 million for projects.

Issues not included in the bill

  • No timeline for achieving the goals outlined in the Nutrient Reduction Strategy.
  • No monitoring requirements or benchmarks for projects that receive funding.
  • No requirement that projects be part of a qualified watershed improvement plan, which would include watershed assessments, timelines for implementation, prioritizing projects and measuring progress to meet goals.
  • No targeted funding to address issues within a watershed. Governor Reynolds highlighted this “watershed approach” at her weekly news conference May 29. Iowa Agriculture Secretary Naig and Sean McMahon of the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance joined her to highlight the importance of this approach: “The watershed approach enables farmers and other stakeholders to target the best conservation practices where they will be most effective,” McMahon said. “This helps us make the best use of taxpayer dollars while meeting local needs and improving water quality in accordance with the goals of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.”
  • No assessment strategies or best management practices to ensure funded projects and water quality efforts adhere to proven successful approaches.

 

HF 2303 updates programs administered by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), including:

  • Transferring the duties for the state’s Geological Survey program to the University of Iowa. The university has operated the program through its center for Hydroscience and Engineering under contract for the last few years. This aligns the duties of the Geological Survey with the areas of expertise within the center.
  • Removing a “random inspection” requirement for DNR oversight of delegated permitting programs for sanitary sewer and water supply systems. DNR reviews every permit issued by the delegated authority, making random inspections unnecessary. The requirement was noted in the state auditor’s review of DNR programs.
  • Clarifying DNR’s enforcement authority over recycling businesses to ensure they’re engaged in legitimate recycling and not causing environmental contamination by stockpiling solid waste at an unapproved site.
  • Aligning reporting requirements for the Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) with those for DNR. DNR reports have been required on a biennial basis, while the EPC has reported annually.
  • Removing references to the redemption center grant program, which received a one-time appropriation in 2009. If the program were to receive funding in the future, the associated rules must be updated to account for changes since 2009.
  • Clarifying that the new requirements on recycling facilities did not apply to scrap metal dealers.

 

HF 2365 clarifies that Iowa Department of Natural Resources can enter into agreements by giving the department explicit authority to do so, instead of implied authority. The bill also dissolves the Mississippi River Partnership Council and the Brushy Creek Recreation Trails Advisory Board. The Mississippi River Partnership Council had not met since 2010, and the council’s functions can be handled by other entities. The Brushy Creek Trails Board had not been active and there was a shortage of interest in membership.

 

HF 2440 addresses problems with SF 512 (the water-quality bill). The House made changes to SF 512 through separate legislation rather the original bill. This allowed SF 512 to more quickly reach the Governor for her signature.

Highlights of HF 2440 include:

  • Providing access to funding for a portion of the costs associated with monitoring discharge to industries required to reduce nutrient discharge from their wastewater treatment facilities.
  • Removing a provision that required drainage districts to use money from the Water Quality Infrastructure Fund to install edge-of-field infrastructure to improve water quality. The language could be construed as a mandate to install edge-of-field structures. That was not intended, since the bill deals with voluntary measures to improve water quality.
  • Ensuring consistency for references to the Iowa Nutrient Research Strategy. SF 512 created a code section with a definition of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, but that definition was not used consistently in the bill.
  • Allowing rural improvement zones to be among the government entities that are members of a watershed management authority.
  • Giving priority funding to projects that improve surface water that are on the impaired waters list and are used for drinking water.
  • Authorizing an additional two years to use money appropriated in 2015 for a data-collection project administered by Iowa State University. The funds can be used for education and outreach on in-field agricultural practices to encourage adoption of the practices.
  • Updating dates in the bill to reflect that the bill passed the Legislature in 2018, instead of 2017.

 

HF 2464 increases fees the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) can collect under the Land Recycling Program (LRP) from up to $7,500 to up to $25,000. Site developers who voluntarily enroll in the LRP pay the fees. The increase will allow DNR to recoup more of the costs they incur from the program. Almost half of the sites issued certificates through the LRP program exceed the existing fee cap, so approximately $30,000 per year must be covered by the DNR’s Hazardous Waste Remedial Fund. Very few projects would exceed the new fee cap level.

The Land Recycling Program allows site developers to receive the state “signoff” when they complete a site cleanup. Upon DNR review and verification, the developer is issued a “No Further Action” certificate, which helps them prove that known environmental contamination has been addressed. This adds value to the site for future development opportunities. Fees collected by the DNR in association with site development are limited to actual costs incurred for services rendered, and are a small part of the overall costs of environmental cleanup. This increase is unlikely to impact a company’s decision to participate in the program.

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