Outgoing board member John Schmidt reflects on his time with IEC

posted by Guest Blogger on Monday, December 5, 2022

John SchmidtJohn Schmidt, a Des Moines resident and retired executive from Principal Financial Group, has served a number of roles on IEC's Board of Directors since 2015. John is a dedicated volunteer leader, asking important questions, making valuable connections, and giving supportive feedback to staff and others taking on challenging work with the Council.

John will explore new pursuits in January when his final term of board service to IEC comes to an end, but we know his interest and support of the Council's work and that of the environmental movement will continue.

We invited John to share some thoughts as he departs.  

How did you come to be involved with IEC as a board member?

I have been concerned about the destruction of the environment since I learned about it in high school, highlighted by the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. I read articles in the Register and Business Record about various environmental organizations operating in Iowa, such as Sierra Club, The Nature Conservancy, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and the Iowa Environmental Council and I had made gifts to some of them. I attended IEC's annual conference in 2014 and I was quite impressed by the presentations.

In 2015 I had time to allocate to one organization and I engaged in some research, leading me to conclude the Council was the strongest advocate for clean air, clean water and clean energy.  I emailed the executive director in March to inform him I was interested in joining the board of directors if there was an opening. He responded there was no opening, but I should send my resume and he would keep it on file. About a month later he invited me to join the chair of the nominating committee and him for lunch. Shortly thereafter I was elected to the board.  

Why do you care about IEC’s work in Iowa?

I care about the Council's work because my family and I live in Iowa, drink the water, breathe the air, and ride my bike on the trails. I want this state to be a good place in which to live.

What are some IEC activities, projects, or actions that have occurred during your tenure that you’re proud of?

I am very proud of a number of activities since I joined the board, including:

  • In March 2016 a district court ruled DNR had failed to enforce anti-degradation rules when it allowed the City of Clarion to complete a wastewater treatment plant that would increase pollution in the Des Moines River. The Council had brought this legal action as a last resort, but it demonstrated that litigation remained an important tool for the Council's advocacy.
  • In July 2016 the Iowa Utilities Board issued an order maintaining net metering. The legislature later approved a bill incorporating net metering into the Iowa Code.
  • On September 29, 2016, the Council issued a report on nitrates in drinking water. This was outstanding research and meta analysis of epidemiological studies in Iowa.  
  • In December 2017, DNR withdrew a proposed change to its rules that would have weakened water quality with respect to E. coli.
  • In October 2018 the Council joined many other organizations requesting state action to mitigate the effects of climate change.
  • In January 2019 the Council issued a report that the noise from wind turbines does not cause health issues.
  • In April 2019 the Council and Environmental Working Group issued a report regarding the pollution of private wells in Iowa.

All of the work done to support clean energy in the last seven years has been of critical importance to the progress we have seen!

What is something new you’ve learned during your time with the Council?

One thing I have learned since I joined the Board is that a majority of people in this state are reluctant to support legislative and regulatory changes that would cause them to incur any costs.  But they do not mind taking actions that cause other people (i.e., down river) to incur costs to clean the water. I thought the white paper on nitrates in 2016 would make a difference. I was wrong.

What is a challenge you see IEC facing in the future?

The biggest future challenge for the Council is growing its revenues, both grants and gifts. It appears the people of Iowa are growing more reluctant to address climate change and other environmental issues, making it more difficult to achieve fundraising goals.

What do you hope for IEC’s future?

I hope the Council is no longer needed in 25 years because it has achieved its mission and vision, in a state in which the DNR and Iowa Utilities Board are doing their jobs.

One of the best things about serving on the board has been the opportunity to work with a number of outstanding people on the board and staff. I have truly enjoyed collaborating with them to achieve our goals each year!

IEC staff, board leaders, and all our members and supporters wish to thank John for his dedication and service!

About The Author

IEC is pleased to welcome guest bloggers on a number of different topics throughout the year. If you are interested in submitting a blog piece to IEC, contact us at iecmail@iaenvironment.org.