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Iowa environmental groups ask court to review MidAmerican Energy's emission and budget plan approval

Valeriy Kryukov
The Environmental Law And Policy Center, Iowa Environmental Council and Sierra Club petitioned for a judicial review of the Iowa Utilities Board's approval of MidAmerican Energy's emissions plan and budget.

Iowa Code requires public utility companies that own coal plants turn in a plan every two years to analyze their pollution emissions and cost-effectiveness.

The plan, referred to as the emissions plan and budget (EPB), refers to how it addresses listed factors in the statute. They include balancing cost, environmental requirements, economic development and the reliability of the system.

The Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) approved MidAmerican's 2020 EPB and determined there was enough evidence in its plan to determine the four factors were balanced.

Three environmental groups, The Environmental Law And Policy Center, Iowa Environmental Council and Sierra Club, said the IUB should not have approved MidAmerican's plan without taking into account other factors, which include retiring coal plants, specifically in Sioux City. They then filed for the IUB to reconsider the approval, to which IUB declined.

The environmental organizations have now taken IUB to court to ask for a judicial review of IUB's decision to approve MidAmerican's EPB.

Josh Mandelbaum, who is representing the environmental parties, said the board couldn’t make a decision without weighing all evidence. And they did not consider all evidence in determining cost-effectiveness, which included expert statements around saving money through shutting down coal plants.

“[IUB] has gone beyond that and created an arbitrary gatekeeping and excluded evidence from consideration all together," he said.

Mandelbaum added whatever the court's decision, it will set a precedent for necessary evidence analyzed in future emissions plans.

The Iowa Utilities Board and MidAmerican Energy said they followed state law, and that there was enough substantial evidence in their emissions plan to approve it. The IUB said Iowa law allows the board authority to interpret the law as it's clearly written. And it found MidAmerican's EPB matched what the law says is necessary.

The plan includes retiring coal plants in the future, but for now producing energy from diverse sources, with a mix of coal and renewable energy. Mid American says 60 percent of its energy is produced by wind power, with coal generation making up 23 percent.

"When the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine, it is essential that we maintain a diverse generating portfolio so we can provide our customers with a reliable energy source," MidAmerican spokesperson Geoff Greenwood said in a previous statement to IPR.

The petitioners, the environmental groups, say the coal plants should be shut down earlier than what MidAmerican has stated in its plans.

Bret Dublinske, who is representing MidAmerican, said the environmental organizations are asking for more than what Iowa law requires.

“Interveners want more. More from MidAmerican, more from the board. Ultimately more from the statute. More as a policy matter. That’s a discussion that needs to be had at the legislature, not with this court," he said.

District Court Judge Samantha Gronewald said it will take her time to come to a decision, and will do so as quickly as possible.

Kassidy was a reporter based in Des Moines