Iowa Farm Bureau Fed'n v. Envtl. Prot. Comm'n & Iowa Dep't of Natural Res.

Decision Date11 July 2014
Docket NumberNo. 12–0827.,12–0827.
Citation850 N.W.2d 403
PartiesIOWA FARM BUREAU FEDERATION, Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, and Iowa Water Environment Association, Appellants, and Agribusiness Association of Iowa, Association of Business and Industry, Iowa Cattlemen's Association, Iowa Institute for Cooperatives, Iowa Limestone Producers Association, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Poultry Association, Iowa Turkey Federation, and Iowa Corn Growers Association, Appellants, v. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION COMMISSION and Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Appellees, and Environmental Law & Policy Center of the Midwest, Iowa Environmental Council, and the Sierra Club, Appellees.
CourtIowa Supreme Court


Michael L. Mock and Karl T. Olson of Parker, Simons & McNeill, P.L.C., West Des Moines, and Julia L. Vyskocil and Eldon L. McAfee of Beving, Swanson & Forrest, P.C., Des Moines, for appellants.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, David R. Sheridan and David S. Steward, Assistant Attorneys General, for appellees Environmental Protection Commission and Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Bradley D. Klein, Chicago, Illinois, and Joshua T. Mandelbaum, Des Moines, for intervenor-appellee Environmental Law & Policy Center, and Wallace L. Taylor, Cedar Rapids, for appellee Sierra Club.

CADY, Chief Justice.

In this appeal, we decide two issues concerning the qualifications of persons who serve state government on commissions that engage in rulemaking. First, we must decide whether an Iowan who served on a commission was disqualified to vote on the adoption of a rule and regulation when she engaged in activities in her employment in support of the rule. Second, we must decide whether a rule adopted by a commission was invalid after it was discovered that a member who participated in the voting was not actually qualified to serve on the commission because she had lost her status as an elector in Iowa.

On our review of the decision by the district court, we conclude the nature of rulemaking does not disqualify a commission member from voting to adopt rules she personally and professionally supported. We also conclude that the disqualification of a commission member does not invalidate the action taken by the commission when the particular disqualification did not undermine the integrity of the process and when the public interest supports validating the rule despite the disqualification. We affirm the decision of the district court.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

The Environmental Protection Commission exists to protect Iowa's environment and conserve its natural resources. One of its primary duties is to establish policies and make rules governing the environment, including the adoption of rules to implement federal environmental programs. SeeIowa Code § 455A.6(6)( a) (2009). The Commission is composed of nine members appointed by the Governor subject to senate confirmation. Id. § 455A.6(1). The members serve staggered four-year terms. Id. The Commission meets at numerous times throughout the year, usually monthly, and the members receive per diem compensation in addition to reimbursement for expenses. Id. § 455A.6(3), (4). Membership on the Commission is not a full-time position. Members usually have other careers and employment, but join hundreds of other Iowans to participate in the operation of government by serving on various boards and commissions that assist in the operation of government.

In March 2007, Governor Chet Culver appointed Susan Heathcote to the Commission. The appointment was confirmed by the senate. Heathcote was employed by the Iowa Environmental Council. The Iowa Environmental Council is a nonprofit corporation located in Des Moines. Its function is to work to protect Iowa's natural environment. Heathcote held the position of Water Program Director and was responsible for researching environmental issues, advising the Environmental Council on policy, and representing it on advisory groups. Heathcote began working for the Council in 1996.

In May 2009, Governor Culver appointed Carrie La Seur to the Commission. Her appointment was also confirmed by the senate. She lived in Mount Vernon, Iowa, at the time of her appointment. La Seur is a lawyer and ran an organization called Plains Justice. She served as secretary of the Commission.

In July 2009, La Seur moved to Montana. Her husband was a professor at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, and she accompanied him when he left Iowa on a teaching sabbatical in Montana. La Seur, however, continued to own a home in Mount Vernon during the sabbatical and continued to serve on the Commission. She returned to Iowa for Commission meetings or appeared by telephone conference call.

La Seur obtained a Montana drivers' license after moving and registered to vote in Montana in July 2009. She was previously registered to vote in Iowa. The sabbatical turned into a permanent move after La Seur's husband accepted a job offer to work in Montana in January 2010.

Heathcote and La Seur served on the Commission during a critical period of time when it considered the adoption of rules to prevent the degradation of existing water quality of Iowa's water resources. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promulgated a regulation in 1983, which required states to adopt policies aimed at preventing degradation of existing water quality and consistent with federal criteria. See48 Fed.Reg. 51,400–01 (Nov. 8, 1983) (codified at 40 C.F.R. § 131.6 (2010)). The EPA promulgated the regulation pursuant to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, which is better known as the Clean Water Act (CWA). See33 U.S.C. § 1313(a)(3)(A) (2006) (requiring states to establish water quality standards). One component of a state's water quality standards submission is [a]n antidegradation policy consistent with § 131.12.” 40 C.F.R. § 131.6(d). For an antidegradation policy to be consistent with federal criteria, it must, at a minimum, maintain and protect certain existing uses of waterways. Id. § 131.12(a)(1). Iowa law similarly requires the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), through the Commission, to [e]stablish, modify, or repeal water quality standards, pretreatment standards, and effluent standards.” Iowa Code § 455B.173(2).

Iowa was slow to respond to the federal regulation, despite efforts by federal authorities over the years to spur Iowa to begin the implementation process. In July 2007, the IDNR finally initiated what ultimately would be a three-year process of adopting rules to implement the federal antidegradation program. The process began with a meeting between the individuals from the IDNR, Iowa Environmental Council, Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club, Hawkeye Fly Fishing Association, and the Environmental Law & Policy Center. Two petitions for rulemaking with recommended antidegradation rules were subsequently submitted to the IDNR in support of the development of appropriate antidegradation standards. The first petition was submitted in October 2007 by a coalition of water quality groups consisting of the Iowa Environmental Council, Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club, and Hawkeye Fly Fishing Association. In June 2008, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and other agribusiness and industrial interests filed a second petition for rulemaking that sought a different set of antidegradation standards. The antidegradation rules advocated in the first petition were generally more stringent than the rules advocated in the second petition.

Heathcote played an active role in her employment with the Iowa Environmental Council in developing the proposed rules submitted to the IDNR in the October petition by her employer and the other coalition groups. She was also active in pushing the IDNR to initiate the rulemaking process, and she remained involved in the process the IDNR followed after the petitions for rulemaking were filed. Heathcote was recognized as a lead person among the environmental groups advocating for the first petition.

The IDNR held numerous workshops and meetings with various stakeholders after the petitions were filed. It also solicited public comments and held various public hearings. Heathcote advocated in support of the first petition at all stages of the process.

After considering the petitions and the input provided by the rulemaking process, the IDNR drafted a proposed antidegradation rule for the state, as well as proposed implementation procedures. The proposed rules and procedures would eventually be submitted to the Commission for approval. The rules drafted by the IDNR differed from the rules proposed by the two petitions, but they were more closely aligned to the proposals in the first petition.

In December 2009, the Commission approved the final antidegradation rules and procedures by a vote of six to two. Heathcote and La Seur voted to approve the rules, and one member of the Commission abstained.

The rules and procedures approved by the Commission were then approved by a legislative committee and submitted to the EPA for review and approval. Iowa's antidegradation rules and procedures were approved by the EPA in September 2010.

In October 2010, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and two other associations filed a petition for judicial review under section 17A.19 of the Iowa Administrative Procedure Act (IAPA).1 The petition sought to overturn the Iowa Antidegradation Standards and Implementation Procedures. They allege the action taken by the Commission was invalid because Heathcote was disqualified to vote due to a conflict of interest, and La Seur was disqualified to serve on the Commission at the time she voted because she did not satisfy the requirement for Commission members to be eligible Iowa electors.

In April 2011, the Commission filed a motion for summary judgment in response to the petition for judicial review. It claimed neither Heathcote nor La Seur was disqualified from voting as a matter of law. Farm Bureau responded to the motion by...

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