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Norwood says Iowa is 'out of balance' with water quality, soil loss and rural population decline

Katie Peikes
Polk County Soil and Water Commissioner is the Democrat running for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. He spoke at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair on Thursday.

The Democrat running for Iowa agriculture secretary said he’ll represent farmers and consumers if he’s elected.

Polk County Soil and Water Commissioner John Norwood spoke to a small crowd at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox on Thursday afternoon. He said the position of Iowa Secretary of Agriculture must have a strong focus on food, land and water.

“It's a mission that's very broad,” Norwood said. “It includes promotion of agriculture. It includes protection of land and water resources. It includes promotion of looking at farming as an economic development strategy, which is especially important in rural Iowa. And also it includes protection of public health.”

Norwood said Iowa is “out of balance," pointing to the state’s water quality and impaired waters, soil loss, and population decline in rural communities. The state, Norwood said, needs to do things differently.

“I want to add resiliency,” Norwood said. “I want to add diversity, I want to add inclusivity, I want to add flexibility to our system.”

Norwood said that means fighting climate change, building a “resilient system” that can overcome future drought and flooding. He added he also wants to support both large- and small-scale farmers, make new opportunities for minority farmers, build markets, and diversify the kinds of crops grown in Iowa.

“We should be thinking about how do we feed 3.2 million Iowans and the 80 million people within a day's drive of Iowa,” Norwood said, adding that California, which produces a large portion of U.S. fruits and vegetables, is in a drought.

Norwood faces incumbent agriculture secretary Mike Naig, a Republican, in the November election. Naig was elected Iowa agriculture secretary in 2018.

Naig’s campaign website says his top issues are expanding markets and trade, improving water quality and soil health, and helping rural communities thrive.

Naig declined an invitation to speak at the soapbox, according to The Des Moines Register.

Norwood opposes eminent domain for carbon dioxide pipelines

Three companies want to build large pipelines that would capture carbon dioxide emissions from ethanol and fertilizer plants in Iowa and other Midwest states and transport those emissions to be stored deep underground.

The companies – Summit Carbon Solutions, Navigator CO2 Ventures and Archer Daniels Midland partnered with Wolf Carbon Solutions – say the pipelines would help curb greenhouse gas emissions.

The pipeline proposals have united environmentalists and many farmers in opposition. They worry about the safety of the pipelines and oppose the use of eminent domain, the power of the government to seize private property for public use. In the case of the pipelines, the Iowa Utilities Board could grant the companies the right to seize private land for their projects. Landowners would be compensated for the use of their properties.

Iowa company Summit Carbon Solutions has sent lists to the Iowa Utilities Board of the properties it intends to seize for its project. Norwood said eminent domain shouldn’t be used.

“I think they need to be done voluntarily,” Norwood said. “They need to be done fairly. They need to be done safely. Fairly means annual payments to landowners. Fairly means annual payments to counties that are impacted to help upgrade their EMS systems.”

Norwood added the companies need to be “careful” and ensure the pipelines aren’t built next to schools, and be able to shut them off quickly if there’s a problem.

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.