September 14, 2020 - 2:26 pm - Posted in News

Statewide Iowa –Many oil refinery waivers are being rejected by the EPA, some dating back as far as 2011.

Federal law lets smaller oil refineries apply for an exemption from the requirement that ethanol is blended into gasoline. Early this year, a federal court ruled the EPA could only extend previously granted waivers and could not grant new ones.

This summer, the EPA has been considering 52 waiver requests for previous years that would have let oil refineries qualify for extensions. All 52 have been rejected.

In a written statement, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the decision “follows President Trump’s promise to promote domestic biofuel production and support our nation’s farmers.”

Monte Shaw of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association said today’s action by the EPA “short circuits a blatant attempt by some oil refiners to skirt federal ethanol requirements,”. The result will be the number of oil refineries eligible to receive an ethanol blending waiver has been “reduced to single digits,” according to Shaw.

Governor Kim Reynolds said this is a significant step forward for the state’s renewable fuel industry. Iowa Senator Joni Ernst said today’s announcement provides certainty to farmers who’ve been yanked around by the EPA.

On Saturday, Trump announced the EPA would not stand in the way of states that decide to let gas stations dispense E15 from pumps that now dispense E10.

September 14, 2020 - 10:47 am - Posted in News

Statewide Iowa — Former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad is leaving his diplomatic post. President Donald Trump spoke by phone with U.S. Senator Joni Ernst Saturday on another topic. As Ernst held the phone out so volunteers at GOP campaign headquarters could hear Trump.

The president concluded by mentioning Branstad, who has been Ambassador to China, as well as the former governor’s son, Eric, who is a senior advisor to Trump’s reelection campaign in Iowa.

(as said) “I just want to thank everybody there. I hear on the ground it’s fantastic. Eric Branstad’s fantastic and you know, Eric’s father is coming home from china because he wants to campaign,” Trump said, as Ernst and others in the room reacted as Trump concluded: “We have a real team.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted overnight, shortly before midnight Iowa time, thanking Branstad for his service in China. During a campaign rally in Sioux City just before the 2016 election, Trump said Branstad would make a good ambassador.

(as said) “I think there’s nobody that knows about trade than him. He’s one of the ones, an dealing with China,” Trump said. “You would be our prime candidate to take care of China.”

This is how Branstad recalled the moment six months later.

(as said)Branstad said. “He made some sort of off the cuff remark like, ‘Well, Governor Branstad can take care of China or something like that.”

That was Branstad in 2017, as he was still governor. Branstad described the meeting he and his wife, Chris, had in President-elect Trump’s office in New York.

(as said) “First thing he said is: ‘Your son, Eric. He did a great job. He was the state director for me in Iowa and I just love that guy. What’s his phone number? Let’s give him a call.’ And Chris and I looked at each other. We didn’t have our cell phones with us and we don’t have his number memorized, so that was kind of an embarrassing moment,” Branstad said with a laugh. “And then he looked at Chris and said: ‘Do you really want to do this?’ And she said: ‘Yes.” And that was it.”

Trump held a rally in Des Moines in December of 2016, shortly after announcing he’d appoint Branstad as ambassador to China.

(as said) “America’s longest-serving governor in the history of our country, 23 years,” Trump said as the crowd cheered.

Branstad hinted at his pending job during his final “Condition of the State” speech in January of 2017.

(as said) “Today, America and Iowa exist in a challenging world,” Branstad said. “We must seize the opportunity to make it a better place.”

In May of 2017 Branstad resigned as governor after being confirmed by the U.S. Senate as an ambassador. Pompeo, on Twitter, said Branstad had contributed to rebalancing U.S.-China relations so that it is results-oriented, reciprocal, and fair. Pompeo AND Branstad visited Des Moines in March of last year. Branstad told reporters then he could not talk about U.S. politics as a U.S. Ambassador. Branstad, who is 73, is a native of Lake Mills, Iowa. His wife, daughter, and his daughter’s family accompanied him to China in 2017, but Governor Kim Reynolds told reporters earlier this year that Branstad’s family returned to Iowa due to the coronavirus.

September 14, 2020 - 10:36 am - Posted in News

Statewide Iowa — Jury trials resume this week in Iowa after a couple of pilot trials to try out social distancing and COVID-19 prevention measures.

Supreme Court Justice Matthew McDermott co-chaired the committee which reviewed and made recommendations on the issue — and says they surveyed the judges.

(as said)”For the most part, all of the judges that we talked to that had these trials seem to indicate there were nears as many issues as they perhaps thought there might be and by and large the trials went a little faster,” McDermott says.

He says they’d like to think the months of preparation and planning made the pilot trials go well. The recommendations call for clear shields to be worn in the courtrooms so jurors can both see and hear witnesses in the trials. McDermott says that was one issue they had to be sure worked.

(as said)”They had to space people apart pretty far to get their physical distancing there. So with masks and with that distance, we had to focus very hard on making sure that everyone could see and hear everything that is going on,” McDermott explains. “And so, we are really trying to work hard to ensure sight lines and audio magnification.”

Jurors in the pilot gave an average score of four-point-eight-eight out on a scale where five was the best in how well they could see the proceedings. Some attorneys noted that instantaneous communication with their clients was made more challenging because of the face coverings. There was a concern that more jurors would not show up because of the pandemic — but McDermott says that was not the case.

(as said)”It was about the expected number that you would see for people asking to defer or for whatever other reason they might have for being able to not serve on that day,” according to McDermott. “And so we were pretty encouraged by that. That at least at this point with three trials at this point — and granted that was a fairly small sample size — we didn’t see a whole lot of people saying they weren’t comfortable with serving.”

McDermott says they will watch for outbreaks in particular counties as part of the monitoring as the jury trials resume. He says the judges in each trial will make the decisions on proceeding.

(as said)”District courts have pretty broad discretion, and they had that even prior to COVID. They can look at all the issues going on in their case and they are the ones who will make that call whether a case ultimately moves forward,” McDermott says.

He says it is hard to tell when each court may be caught up.

(as said) “The case backups differ among the 99 counties, with some having more than others to work through.”

There is a protocol for which cases will be heard.

(as said)”Some counties they are going to be dealing with criminal cases — because that’s kind of the first priority of case that needs to be dealt with — they will be dealing with those for some time,” McDermot says. “And other counties where they maybe aren’t quite the backlog on criminal cases, they’ll be moving to civil cases.”

McDermott points out that a lot has been going on in the courts and with cases while the jury trials were put on hold. He says there have been filings, and motions and depositions being taken as everyone prepared to return.

September 14, 2020 - 10:35 am - Posted in News

Statewide Iowa — President Trump made an ethanol announcement via twitter this weekend. Trump indicated EPA rules will be changed so states may choose to let gas pumps dispense a 15 percent blend of ethanol, called E15, from pumps currently used for E10.

Trump called Iowa Senator Joni Ernst Saturday as she was meeting with campaign volunteers.

(as said) “I’m just putting out an order that…our important ethanol industry will be allowed to use the 10% pumps for the 15% blend. That saves tremendous amounts of money for the people in the ethanol industry, like hundreds of millions of dollars I hear is the conversion, and there’s no reason to do it,” Trump said.

Farm groups said the news will help promote consumer acceptance of the higher blend of ethanol and suggested it will increase demand for corn and corn prices. Critics called Trump’s announcement an election-year gambit that depends upon state approval and faulted Trump for failing to deny waivers the oil industry seeks to get out of the requirement that ethanol is blended into gasoline.

Statewide Iowa — Iowans are being encouraged to get their flu shots early this season as the upcoming flu season, coupled with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, could put a bigger strain on health care systems.

Shelly Jensen is an immunization nurse clinician with the Iowa Department of Public Health.

(As above) “Health care systems could be overwhelmed treating both patients with flu and patients with COVID,” Jensen says, “so getting that flu vaccine this year is more important than ever.” 

Jensen says it’s still too soon to predict how severe this flu season could be. She says it’s especially important for people with underlying conditions like diabetes, asthma or cancer to get vaccinated. Jensen says the vaccine is widely available, but distribution might look a little different this year because of the pandemic.

(As above) “There may be more drive-thru clinics,” she says. “It may look a little different at your doctor’s office. They may not have as many walk-in appointments.” 

The flu vaccine is recommended for anyone over the age of six months.

September 12, 2020 - 6:06 pm - Posted in News

Statewide Iowa — Hunters shouldn’t have much problem finding game birds when the seasons open next month. Iowa Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Biologist, Todd Bogenschutz has already indicated the surveys show good numbers for pheasants. He says the same is true for partridge.

(As above) “Partridge numbers were up statewide. Better numbers came up in north-central and northeast Iowa,” Bogenschutz says.

Quail are the only birds that didn’t make a big jump up.

(As above) “Our quail numbers were more or less unchanged from last year,” according to Bogenschutz. “They had tumbled down, the winter of 8-19 was a pretty tough one on quail. And so we took a pretty good tumble there.” 

Bogenschutz says conditions in parts of the state may’ve influenced the August survey.

(As above) He says west of I-35 in the drought areas he is not sure the roadside survey gave a good count for quail and pheasants — as he says his staff is predicting a better year there.

Even with no change in quail numbers there’s expected to be a lot available.

(As above) He says hunters shot 20-thousand last year after being up into the 40 and 50-thousand range. Bogenschutz thinks 20-thousand is possible, but probably not back up to 40.

The pheasant and quail seasons open on October 31st and run into January. The partridge season opens October 10th.

Statewide Iowa — Iowa State University students and dozens of 4-H and F-F-A members are part of a project to boost the amount of meat available through Iowa food banks and food pantries.

Iowa Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg says the state’s “Pass the Pork” and “Beef Up, Iowa” campaigns were launched to address the increased demand Iowa food banks have seen during the pandemic.

(As above) “We anticipate that when all is said and done that 100,000 pounds of ground pork will be delivered to Iowa food banks. That’s 400,000 servings. Well over 50,000 pounds of that has already been delivered, with more coming throughout the fall,” Gregg says. “On the beef side, 14,500 pounds of ground beef have already distributed to the Iowa food banks. We believe when all is said and done, we will have processed 110 cattle, resulting in 55,000 pounds of ground beef, which is over 200,000 servings.”

Governor Reynolds authorized the use of federal coronavirus relief money to pay for the processing, which is being done at the Meat Lab at Iowa State University.

(As above) “It allows the students to gain a learning experience while also impacting their community in a positive way,” Gregg says. “The other thing to note about that is the cattle and the hogs that are being purchaed and processed are livestock that were raised and shown by 4H and FFA kids that showed their livestock at the various scaled back county fairs and the State Fair this year, so that provided a market for their animals and also gave us a way to support youth in agriculture while also helping food insecure Iowans.”

Gregg is chair of the Feeding Iowans Task Force. Governor Reynolds created the task force in April after thousands of Iowans lost their jobs and food banks and food pantries in Iowa saw a 65 percent increase in applications for food assistance. The governor has approved 400-thousand dollars worth of grants to food banks in 51 counties — for the purchase of refrigeration units. Gregg says this is helping food banks accept increased donations from Iowa’s egg industry.

(As above) “Typically the Iowa Egg Council and Iowa egg farmers donate 35,000 dozen eggs per month and during the pandemic they’ve increased that to 45,000 dozen eggs per month,” Gregg says. “That’s over half a million eggs per month.”

The governor also has approved the purchase of 100-thousand dollars worth of turkey for distribution to Iowa food banks. The turkey was processed at West Liberty Foods.

Sioux Center, Iowa — A free walk for mental health awareness, which was to have been in Sioux Center on Saturday has been canceled — but you’re still encouraged to walk on your own.

The Maurice Reformed Church and Seasons Center for Behavioral Health were hosting the WALK for Mental Health Awareness. Organizers tell us it was to be a free, family-friendly event to recognize the importance of mental health and to share resources on where to seek help.

Kim Scorza, CEO/President of Seasons Center says that right now is an especially vulnerable time for our communities, as we face new challenges and stressors due to the pandemic. She says, “We need to be a support to our family, friends, and neighbors. We need to know where to turn for help. We need to understand how the impacts of this virus – financially, emotionally, and otherwise – can take a toll on each of us and we need to have a plan for getting the support we may need.”

Organizers tell us the event was canceled due to recent COVID-19 outbreaks in the area. But in place of the event, they are asking people to help them raise awareness by walking independently through September 18th. They are suggesting you go for a walk with your family members or other individuals within your unit, take pictures, and post them and tag Seasons OR send them to Seasons via messenger. They tell us they will post them on their page, acknowledging you and the other individuals pictured.

They are also encouraging folks to consider donating to the Camp Autumn Scholarship Fund via their Facebook page, Camp Autumn, or at https://seasonscenter.org/donate.php.
They say, “Though we are apart, we can still make a difference.”

Pastor Ross Hoekstra of Maurice Reformed Church says “Staying connected in this time is vital. We need each other and we need to know that we are not alone. Now is the time to care for each other and seek the help that we need.”

For more information you can visit www.seasonscenter.org or call 1-800-242-5101.

Des Moines, Iowa — The number of ongoing unemployment claims have dropped for the eighth straight week.

Iowa Workforce Development reports ongoing claims dropped by four-thousand-233 in the last week. Continuing claims are now just under 72-thousand — which is well below the 189-thousand peak 19 weeks ago in May. The drop came despite an increase of nearly 57-hundred first-time unemployment claims last week.

As far as the unemployment rate, the four northwest Iowa counties continue to have among the lowest unemployment in the state. The latest figures available are for July, and that month, Lyon County had the lowest unemployment in the state at 3.1 percent. Sioux was next at 3.3 percent. Next was Mitchell County in northeast Iowa at 3.4. Osceola was next at 3.8. Shelby County was next at 4.0. O’Brien County was tied with Sac County for sixth place at 4.1 percent.

The statewide rate was 6.6 percent in July, which, after an expected high spike in the first few months of the year up to 10.8 percent, is already lower again than the unemployment rate at the height of the recession in March of 2009, when it was 7.0 percent.

Northwest Iowa — The number of COVID-19 tests coming back positive and the elevated number of cases being reported each day in the last couple of weeks has some businesses, organizations, and government subdivisions clamping down on precautions. But some local experts say while social distancing, handwashing, and mask-wearing protocols should continue to be followed, there is not a big reason for concern.

According to recent statistics from the Iowa Department of Public Health, a month ago, our four northwest Iowa counties were averaging about 11 new cases per day. In a recent five-day period, we’ve averaged 23 cases per day.

At the Rock Valley Community Schools, some students were recently sent home, causing concern from the community. But Rock Valley Schools superintendent, Chad Janzen says while the district did send some kids home, it was due to contact tracing — not that the students were actually sick, according to Janzen. He says the number of kids that were ACTUALLY sick was so low, that if he gave us the actual number — because Rock Valley is such a small community — it would reveal who they were.

We also asked Sanford Sheldon CEO Rick Nordahl if they have seen an uptick in cases or an uptick in positive tests. He says the number of tests that they do has risen slightly, but only by a few. And the percentage coming back positive for COVID remains steady for the past month or more at just under 10 percent. In O’Brien County as a whole, he says it’s just over 10 percent of the tests ordered coming back positive. But Nordahl says people are more aware of the symptoms and if they think they might be sick, a few more of them are coming in to get tested. But he says it’s not a huge increase like going from 10 per week to 25 or anything like that. He says it’s a small increase.

Sanford Sheldon officials say that if you even think you MIGHT have COVID, they ask you to please not just show up at the clinic and possibly infect others in the waiting room. They say you should call ahead, tell them you wonder if you might have COVID, and they will direct you what to do to get you in to see your provider with the least potential exposure to others.