Staff Insights: Michael Schmidt on Iowa's Sustainable Future
by Michael Schmidt on Monday, June 20, 2022
After working in Minnesota for almost ten years, I felt a pull to go back to Iowa, where I grew up and where my family still lived. One of the first jobs I came across was a staff attorney opening with IEC to work on water and renewable energy.
My early memories of playing outside include visits to Aldrich Creek in Ida County, where I would build rock dams to make it easier to catch minnows, chubs, crayfish, frogs, and macroinvertebrates (though I just called them bugs). Going to the creek was a highlight of every trip to my aunt and uncle’s farm and taught me about the wildlife native to Iowa. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was also a lesson in water quality. I learned that big storms between visits altered the creek’s cross-section. I saw how different geomorphology transformed the character of the creek from a wide pool to a swift, narrow channel downstream. I heard how the activities on farms upstream would affect the clarity and quality of the water where I tried to fish. The creek provided endless entertainment and many lessons in conservation.
Those experiences planted a seed that sprouted into a stronger environmental interest in college, where I took classes on environmental impact analysis and environmental politics. A sustainable systems class made me suspect I would have enjoyed engineering, but instead I ventured out of Iowa to law school at the University of Minnesota. In my first year of law school, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Massachusetts v. EPA that the EPA should regulate greenhouse gases and the possibilities of environmental law to make large-scale progress on climate change expanded.
After law school, I worked on water quality for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, where veteran water expert Kris Sigford taught me how to apply my legal training to policy efforts. I researched water laws, wrote stern comment letters, and lobbied for cleaner water. After five years, I moved to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, where I saw the difficult role regulators play as decision-makers on enforcement efforts and the controversies that can engulf the permitting process.
Coming to IEC in 2019 allowed me to work on water close to home. I also started working on climate change, which I see as an urgent issue demanding worldwide attention: as a parent, I’m committed to doing all I can to reduce carbon emissions and preserve a habitable planet for my kids and future generations. I remember driving past a wind farm as a kid – not too far from the creek – and marveling at what my aunt called “The Land of the Giants.” In my work at IEC, I’ve relished the opportunity to advance renewable energy development, learn a new area of law, and participate in cases before the Iowa Utilities Board. And now my kids have been able to play in the creek, too.
IEC plays a vital role by connecting individual Iowans to resources and issues that they won’t find anywhere else and building coalitions to support a more sustainable future. I love having coworkers who are experts in their fields and who consider how to solve issues holistically so Iowa becomes a better place to live. I’m excited to protect and restore places like Aldrich Creek where I spent so many happy hours, and to encourage more renewable energy like I saw near Storm Lake, so other kids can have the same appreciation for our world.
- iec intros