Environmental group unites businesses, local governments

Brian Campbell is executive director with the Iowa Environmental Council, a nonprofit, nonpartisan alliance of various organization and individuals including county solid waste agencies and conservation boards, the Iowa Farmers Union, hunting organizations and businesses.

Campbell grew up on the Alabama Gulf Coast and in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Since 2014, he and his wife Gina and two sons, Ian and Elliot, have called Des Moines home.

IFT: Please tell us about the IEC and its mission? How long has it been active?

CAMPBELL: IEC was founded in 1995 by a group of motivated Iowans including environmentalists, natural resource advocates, business leaders and lawmakers. They saw the opportunity for these groups to work together on shared interests and priorities to achieve real wins. One of the first successes was action to close ag drainage wells across Iowa. In the 25-plus years since our founding, the council has made gains in advancing improvements in water quality, sustainable land use, renewable energy growth, and much more in Iowa.

As the largest environmental coalition in the state, comprised of 100-plus member organizations, hundreds of supporters, and thousands of engaged followers and action takers, we do our work differently than many environmental organizations. While we are engaged and active in supporting work on the ground, IEC focuses on federal, state, and local policy to ensure a just, healthy environment and a sustainable future for all Iowans.

IFT: What are current priorities?

CAMPBELL: IEC remains engaged in work to improve water quality and sustainable land use and grow renewable energy development and use across the state. In our water and land use work, we continue to focus on improving and strengthening rules and regulations to protect drinking and recreational waters; to protect communities by implementing natural infrastructure solutions to flooding and addressing water quality concerns; and to advocate for land use practices that improve soil and water quality across the state.

On the energy side, we’re looking to accelerate the transition to clean energy by expanding, improving, and maintaining access to renewable energy and using energy as efficiently as possible.

Additionally, this work is now guided by an organization-wide focus on climate change adaptation and mitigation, as well as environmental justice efforts to ensure all Iowans are protected from the dangers of climate change and benefit from a healthy, sustainable future.

IFT: Do you think agriculture is more aware of the changing climate than maybe it was a decade ago?

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CAMPBELL: The agriculture industry is more aware of climate change than ever before. Farmers know that weather patterns and the intensity of storms have changed over the past few decades. The severe drought we’ve experienced over the past two years with no signs of relief heading in 2023 is just more evidence that the climate is changing, and agriculture cannot ignore it.

Many in the ag industry see opportunity in carbon-smart farming, renewable energy and other climate solutions. Not only is carbon sequestration a big area of research for agriculture, with industry trying to develop markets, but agriculture has to consider other adaptations to a new climate regime. Incorporating resilience into farming operations, like developing soil health and retaining water for reuse, are becoming more common practices. Ag is certainly paying attention to the growing electric vehicle market and anticipating how it might affect commodity markets, and wind and solar development is presenting opportunities and sparking debates across the state.

IFT: How do you see the role of IEC evolving?

CAMPBELL: IEC has long been a voice for Iowans that care about our water and land. That role remains the same but has evolved to include a wider range of issues, a more holistic vision of the future, and a greater understanding of the intersectionality of economic, social and environmental issues.

This more holistic, intersectional approach has also challenged us to think creatively about the ways we approach our policy and advocacy work. We continue to be active at the state legislature, but we are also increasingly active working with local communities and working to connect Iowans with federal resources. We continue to serve as a watchdog, holding state agencies accountable, but we are also increasingly focused on accountability for corporations that impact Iowa’s climate, land and water. Finally, we recognize that our coalition must evolve, so we are committed to building a more diverse, inclusive environmental movement in Iowa.

We believe Iowa can be a leader in mitigating the effects of climate change and becoming a carbon neutral state. Measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change can and should also create new economic markets, increase community resiliency, reduce pollution, protect public health and improve habitat.

IFT: Are there issues that you believe will move more to the forefront in the coming years?

CAMPBELL: Clean, affordable drinking water will always be an issue, but the impact of climate change on our water resources will change the context of the conversation. As we’ve seen over the last few years of drought, protecting water quality and ensuring adequate supply of clean, safe water for drinking will become more of a priority with more urgency.

IFT: If you could send farmers one message, what would it be?

CAMPBELL: As Iowans that care about our state and as a state with an ag-centered economy, we need to proactively envision and advance the future of farming in the face of climate change. Farmers deserve a just, thoughtful transition to the crops and land use of the future. Continuing to prop up corn and soy markets is not sustainable as markets naturally shift away from carbon-based fuels.

Planning for the long-term of agriculture requires foresight, creativity and policy change. We won’t be able to do what we’ve done for the past 50 years in the next 50 years, and the ag community needs to be proactive and engaged in the transformation. Farmers should take back the reins on farm production decisions by supporting policy reforms that restructure the farm safety net, support diverse farming operations, and strengthen antitrust enforcement and fair competition.

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