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November 15, 2011

Partnership with AARP Helps Stop Pro-Nuclear Bill in Iowa Legislature


Earlier this year, when the Sierra Club's Iowa Chapter wanted to stop a bill in the state legislature with nuclear incentives for an investor-owned utility, they found common cause with the AARP and successfully stalled the bill in the state Senate.

"A group of environmental lobbyists was talking one day at the Capitol about what other grassroots organization would be a good ally to oppose this particular bill," says Iowa Sierra Club Director Neila Seaman, pictured at left. "One of the lobbyists at the table approached AARP's lobbyist and he agreed to participate."

Polls showed that three-quarters of Iowa were opposed to the nuclear energy bill. But AARP's involvement was due to the immediate rate increases that were included in the bill, not because the organization was opposed to nuclear power. Still, the Sierra Club had a powerful and motivated ally.

The Iowa Chapter developed a nuclear power Web page, and the Sierra Club sent out three action alerts, each of which garnered 300+ responses. AARP members consistently took action by contacting legislators. "About 4,000 AARP members called the Legislature within two or three days of each action alert," says Seaman. "There were so many telephone calls the switchboard was overwhelmed."

The Sierra Club, AARP, and other organizations turned out at public hearings to present their positions, and they doggedly persisted in contacting and lobbying legislators—particularly senators because a similar bill had easily passed the House. Below, Iowa senators listen to public comments at a committee hearing on the bill that would have provided incentives for MidAmerican Energy to begin charging ratepayers for a proposed 540-megawatt nuclear power plant.


"While the bill's sponsors envisioned quick passage in both chambers, the grassroots put so much pressure on senators that two versions of the bill stalled in Senate committees," Seaman says. "We expect we'll have to work even harder during the next session, but if we can prevent passage in 2012, then we will have succeeded."

Persistence, says Seaman, was a huge contributing factor in stopping the legislation from passing this time around. "None of the organizations opposed to the nuclear bills let up. We continued to distribute action alerts, to prepare informational resources and make them available to the public, and to provide speakers at every public meeting."

Once lobbyists educated senators about what was actually in the bill, several of the senators changed their support to opposition and pushed in their caucus to keep the bills off the debate calendar.

"As exhausting as this fight was, we never gave up," says Seaman. "We knew the state's energy future for the next 50 years could depend on our success or failure in opposing this legislation. One nuclear plant could open the door for others. We were concerned that a new nuclear plant would stifle any additional opportunities for renewable energy in Iowa."

To be an effective environmental watchdog, Seaman says, it's important to check every day for new bills that are introduced, the bill history, committee meetings scheduled to discuss problematic bills, and the debate calendar. "And continue to communicate with legislators—they often have information that isn't available to the general public."

Have a success story to share? We'd like to hear about it. Go to the Success Stories project on the Sierra Club's Activist Network and let others learn from your experience. And get involved with the Sierra Club's Nuclear Issues Activist Team.


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