September 21, 2014

Iowa Fertilizer Plant the focus of tonight’s gubernatorial debate

The fertilizer plant under construction in southeast Iowa was a major point of contention during this evening’s debate between the two major party candidates for governor. The incumbent, Republican Terry Branstad, defended his administration’s decision to award $110 million worth of state incentives to the Egyptian company that’s building the plant near Wever.

“We’re very proud of it and the CEO of the company recently said they’re just getting warmed up,” Branstad said. “When they complete this, they’re looking at expanding it.”

Democratic challenger Jack Hatch said that’s $700,000 worth of state incentives per job and that’s a “bad deal” for taxpayers.

“The state has the responsibility to invest in our communities and our small businesses, not the big, undeserving corporations like we have,” Hatch said.

The debate was held in Burlington — about 14 miles away from the construction site in neighboring Lee County. Branstad called the development a “great deal” and, over time, Branstad said local southeast Iowa governments will reap millions.

“The net result is the Fort Madison School District and Lee County are going to get net plus of $2.9 million additional tax revenue every year and the State of Iowa is also going to gain revenue,” Branstad said. “If it hadn’t located here, we wouldn’t get those additional tax revenues.”

Hatch said rather than giving $110 million worth of incentives to one company, there would have been greater economic impact if that money had been spread out among businesses statewide.

“The top-down approach that Governor Branstad has been using, where Des Moines picks winner and losers, is the wrong approach to use when we’re recovering from a recession,” Hatch said.

The two candidates quarreled over Branstad’s job creation claims and each questioned the other’s commitment to raising the minimum wage. The conduct of the campaign was a simmering issue during Saturday’s debate as well, with Hatch complaining about Branstad’s ads that criticize Hatch’s property development business.

“Governor, I’d like to ask that you take the key from one of your political heroes, Ronald Reagan and he said…’You stop lying about me and I’ll stop telling the truth about you,’” Hatch said, to applause from his supporters in the crowd.

Branstad didn’t back down.

“If he wants to disprove our claim that he has gained substantially and made millions of dollars at the taxpayers’ expense, I would challenge Senator Hatch to release four more years of his taxes,” Branstad said. “He’s only done one. I’ve done 24. I’m willing to do another four of the previous four before I came back as governor if he’s willing to do that.”

Branstad served four years as Iowa’s lieutenant governor, then 16 years as Iowa’s governor and left office in January of 1999. In 2010 he won a fifth term as governor. The political culture of Illinois was cited during Saturday’s hour-long debate. Hatch listed a number of controversies that have popped up over the last four years, including Branstad’s order to close the Iowa Juvenile Home and the disclosure that some state employees were being paid extra to stay quiet about their exit settlements with the state.

“This is the kind of leadership you’d expect from the governor of Illinois, not the governor of Iowa,” Hatch said.

Branstad responded.

“This is Iowa, not Illinois. Most of the former governors of Illinois are in prison. I’m back in office ’cause the people of Iowa trust me,” Branstad said, drawing applause from his supporters in the room. “They know me. They can rely on me.”

Tonight’s debate was sponsored by the Greater Burlington Partnership — an alliance of local chambers of commerce and by the Burlington Hawk Eye and WQAD television. The third and final debate between Branstad and Hatch will be held in Sioux City on October 20.

USDA awards $15.7 million in grants for conservation exploration

The USDA has awarded new grants to universities and organizations in Iowa and 30 other states that are working to develop new conservation methods.

“Farmers want to know how to deal with the variations of weather that they’re beginning to see — the more intense storms, the longer droughts, the occasional flood or the tornado that’s very destructive,” U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “These are the kind of programs that will help us learn a little bit more about that.”

Vilsack made the announcement this past week at a farm near the Quad Cities, in Rock Island County, Illinois.

“Conservation has this extraordinary opportunity not only to preserve the soil which is critically important to this farming operation and every farming operation, but also to preserve the quality of the water and the quantity of the water available,” Vilsack said.

The USDA awarded nearly $16 million from the Conservation Innovation Grant program this week. Vilsack says half of those grants will focus on soil health.

“It’s a way of preserving this great topsoil that we’ve been blessed to have in the Midwest and also preserving and conserving our scarce water resources so that we continue to have not just an abundance of water, but the ability of that water to provide additional economic opportunity in the form of tourism,” Vilsack said.

One of the grants is going to the National Corn Growers Assocaition, to find new ways to increase productivity and increase farmer participation in conservation efforts. Since it started several years ago, the Conservation Innovation Grant program has handed out $126 million to finance more than 300 research project. Two of the grants handed out this week will be used to experiment with cover crops in Iowa to improve soil health.

Humane Society responds to ‘anti agriculture’ claim

An official with the Humane Society of the United States is responding to recent criticism that the animal rights organization is “anti-agriculture.” Joe Maxwell, the vice president for outreach with the HSUS, says they have many thousands of members in Iowa and across the region.

“The Humane Society of the United States is not trying to eliminate animal agriculture,” Maxwell says. “It does believe there are certain corporate industrialized ag policies and practices that are just inhumane.” Maxwell specifically makes reference to tight quarters for laying hens and small gestation crates for sows. A spokesman for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association calls the Humane Society of the United States an “extremist activist group” that is “against livestock producers and cattle producers.”

Other critics of the HSUS have blasted it for having an alleged goal of ending all livestock operations. “They try to take one piece of information and twist it to make it a negative and ignore the full truth and facts of who HSUS is and how we operate and what we’re for,” Maxwell says.

He insists the organization isn’t against farmers, but it is against agricultural practices which treat animals cruelly. Maxwell farms in Missouri and is a former lieutenant governor in Missouri. He says people in Iowa and elsewhere need to know there are distortions of the truth and flat-out lies being told about the Humane Society of the United States. “It’s unfortunate but we are working hard every day for them know who we are, to get out into the countryside with our ag council members and have a dialogue with the farmers and ranchers,” he says.

The Humane Society of the United States has tangled with Iowa farming operations in recent years, including in 2012, threatening to sue 28 swine operations in Iowa over what it said were inhumane conditions. The National Pork Producers Council accuses what they refer to as “radical animal rights groups” of having the “goal of ending food-animal production in the U.S.”

After negative messages were made about the Nebraska State Fair last month, that state’s Governor Dave Heineman said: “The Humane Society of the United States is anti-agriculture and they’re out to destroy thousands of job opportunities for young people in this state.” A recent Purdue University study found many consumers get their view of farming from the HSUS or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA.

On effort to defeat Islamic State, Harkin asks: ‘Where are the Saudis?’

Senator Tom Harkin says his “yes” vote this week on a federal budget plan that included money for arming and training rebels inside Syria was mainly to keep the federal government operating ‘til December 11. Harkin says he needs to know more from President Obama about the mission against Islamic militants before he’d vote to provide more money to the effort.

“We’ve got at least two months anyway to see what the president does and how he fashions this and how he shapes it,” Harkin says. “I think that gives us some time to do a little bit more analyzing of just what he wants to do there.”

Harkin says Saudi Arabia should do more to help defeat the terrorists who’ve formed what they call an Islamic State in portions of Syria and Iraq.

“Saudi Arabia has, well I’m close, 225 F15s. They’ve got a whole bunch of Tornadoes — those are French jets. Where are they? Why aren’t they providing the air cover?” Harkin asks. “…Where are the Turks? The Turks have a long border there. They’re part of NATO. They have all kinds of aircraft. Where are the Turks in this? Hopefully some of these answers will be forthcoming in the next month or so.”

Officials in Saudi Arabia have offered to allow those who volunteer to fight ISIS in Syria to be trained in Saudi Arabia. Harkin says that’s not enough.

“We know, from intelligence and other things, that the Saudis have been funding for years jihadist movements from Pakistan to Algeria and Morocco,” Harkin says. “So it’s time for the Saudis to figure out whose side they really are on.”

Harkin says his “problem” with the Saudis dates date to 9/11, when 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. And Harkin says he’s concerned the U.S. may find itself back in a ground war in the Middle East. Harkin made his comments tonight during an appearance on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program.


Ethanol plant managers return from trip to U.S. capital

The leaders of four of Iowa’s ethanol plants have returned home from a trip to Washington, D.C. this week. Kelly Hanson, general manager of the Hanlontown POET Biorefinery facility, says they met with a host of policy makers in hopes of rejecting the EPA’s proposal to lower the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS).

The group also pushed for the implementation of E-15 into the nation’s fuel supply. Hanson says while lawmakers in many states support the ethanol industry, others have “misconceptions” about the RFS. “Truthfully, the RFS can benefit every state in the nation and we worked hard to make sure that message was clear,” Hanson says.

The Renewable Fuels Standard requires a set amount of corn-based ethanol fuel to be produced each year. Hanson says the RFS, first established in 2005, has been an “overwhelming” success. “It’s created over 400,000 American jobs, it has revitalized rural America, it’s clearly lowered the price of fuel at the pump, and one of the most important things is it’s helped our nation become more energy independent,” Hanson says.

The delegation in Washington this week included the general managers of POET facilities in Corning, Coon Rapids, Gowrie,Jewell and Hanlontown.

(Reporting by Pat Powers, KQWC, Webster City)


Rail interchange in Sioux City targeted by South Dakota board

South Dakota’s Rail Board approved a $450 million rail plan at its meeting this week and the top priority on the list is in Iowa. Board chairman Todd Yeaton says the rail interchange in Sioux City needs a major upgrade.

“What’s important about Sioux City is, especially with the state-owned rail, the lack of ability to interchange with other Class 1 railroads besides the BN (Burlington Northern),” Yeaton says. “There’s lacking the ability to interchange tracks to do that and that’s what the Sioux City interchange is.”

Yeaton says the interchange in northwest Iowa was included in the original core rail plan when the state bought the lines in the 1980s, but it’s still waiting. He says there will soon be more traffic heading through that interchange. Yeaton says, “It’s a bottleneck, especially with the development we have on the state-owned lines, this line west of Chamberlain going, looking at the new facility down at Tabor, it’s something that needs to be taken care of.”

Yeaton says despite the interchange being in Iowa, South Dakota will probably have to pay most of the cost of the upgrade. “It’ll end up probably being shouldered by the state of South Dakota, most likely,” Yeaton says. “That was what it originally amounted to be. It’s mainly the interchange with Union Pacific and then with the Canadian National as well.” The Sioux City project is expected to cost about three-and-a-half million dollars.

(Reporting by Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton)


Centerville nurse sentenced to prison in health care scam

A Centerville woman will serve time in prison and have to pay back thousands of dollars in a health care fraud scheme. Forty-seven-year-old Angela Shae Ellison, the former owner of the Cornerstone Counseling Center pled guilty to issuing more than $6,000 in fake claims to insurance providers using the names and identification numbers of various doctors who never did the work.

More then one-million dollars in fake bills were submitted and various insurance companies paid out more than $700,000 in claims. Ellison was sentenced to one year and one day in prison and ordered to pay more than $724,000 in restitution.