Klemme resigns from state committee after livestock debate

Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Ralph Klemme

Ralph Klemme, a member of the state's Environmental Protection Commission since April 2007, resigned his position effective Sept. 2, after serving just 1 1/2 years of an appointed our-year term.

The "final straw" he said was the commission's 6-2 decision to deny two livestock facility requests which had met all the matrix and Department of Natural Resources criteria. Klemme voted to approve the permits.

"I'm very comfortable with my decision (to resign)," Klemme said Monday.

According to the Iowa DNR website, the Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) is a panel of nine citizens who provide policy oversight over Iowa's environmental protection efforts. EPC members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by vote of the Senate for four year terms.

Klemme, a Le Mars area farmer who served 12 years as a representative in the Iowa Legislature, applied for an open position on the commission at the encouragement of several people.

"I felt the Environmental Protection Commission would fit me the best because of agriculture and the environmental issues," Klemme said.

He felt fortunate that Gov. Chet Culver looked with favor on his application, and he received support from legislators "on both sides of the aisle."

"I felt I would be forthright and honest, and do a good job," he said.

"I tried to go into it with an open mind. That's not always easy," Klemme explained.

"We need people to be open minded and do things to protect the environment," he continued.

He listened carefully at the first meetings.

"It got a little tougher as we were talking about the issues, with agriculture getting hit pretty hard, getting blamed for a lot of environment problems with air and water," Klemme said.

"Agriculture is a big business," he said, and admitted soil and fertilizers do wash out of fields.

"But I didn't like the blame that was put on agriculture," he said. "That made me upset and caused me to wonder why am I doing this?"

At that point Klemme considered leaving, but after talking with the director and the commission chair, he was encouraged to stay on.

"I believe in agriculture. I believe I'm doing a better job of protecting the environment than I was 10 years or even 20 years ago," Klemme said. "Can we do better? Yes. But don't make that a qualification to be a condition of my vote here (on the commission)."

Klemme, along with David Petty of Eldora, were the two farmers on the commission.

"He's doing an excellent job of protecting the environment with his river bottom land," Klemme said of Petty.

With long, and often tense meetings in the following months, Klemme again asked himself "Why am I putting myself through this?"

The last meeting he attended (in August) "was really the straw that broke the camel's back," Klemme said.

The board, on an 6-2 vote (Klemme and Petty voted no) turned down two requests to build livestock facilities in the Raccoon River watershed. That watershed drains 1.2 million acres into the Raccoon River, which runs through Des Moines.

"Mr. Petty and I voted no, to not deny the permit for two reasons," Klemme said. "One, we don't believe there are problems that will make it worse than what commercial fertilizer would do," he said.

The second reason for their no vote was that the livestock and building owners met the matrix passed by the 2002 Iowa Legislature (while Klemme was in office) and the plan was also already approved by the DNR.

"Here were are, a commission of eight people, denying (a project) above and beyond what the DNR has set," Klemme said.

Klemme also felt for the young farmer applying for the permits, who planned to farm and raise livestock on land left to him by his grandfather.

"That vote was pretty tough," Klemme said. "There's no common sense on why we did that, or some of the other decisions that we made as a commission. Now we've gone above and beyond what's in the Iowa Code, above and beyond the DNR recommendations, because we think we know better? The Legislature is elected, we are just appointed by the governor," he said.

Klemme submitted his letters of resignation to the governor, the director of the DNR and the commission chairperson Henry Marquard of Muscatine.

He has since learned that the decision to deny the two permits has been appealed and said he will watch the process carefully.

The Environmental Protection Commission is a tough commission to serve on, Klemme said.

"I will help and support someone who is interested in being a member of the commission," Klemme said. He feels agriculture needs representation on the commission.

"I believe in keeping the environment safe," he said, citing the blue bag recycling efforts in Plymouth County and the paper drives by area schools.

"We are very lucky here and I'm pleased with available opportunities for recycling in our community," Klemme said. "All these are ways to renew the environment."

He also knows that agriculture and business and industry remain in Iowa.

"We need the ag industry in Iowa," he said.

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