May 25, 2012 | by Perry Beeman | Des Moines Register

Iowa’s top environmental official has resigned, effective May 25, and apparently will be replaced by his top deputy. Iowa Department of Natural Resources director Roger Lande said he resigned to spend more time at his home in the Lake of the Woods, Ontario, Canada.

“I’m 75 years old,” said Lande, former chairman of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry. “When is it time?” Lande asked.

Aides to Gov. Terry Branstad could not be reached. But Lande implied his chief deputy, former Republican legislative leader Chuck Gipp, will become director.

“I think it’s an easy guess who will be the next director, but I don’t know who the next deputy will be,” Lande said. Gipp declined to comment. Lande said he hasn’t been told who will be appointed to replace him.

In a statement, Branstad thanked Lande and said he would name a successor later.

Gipp is former House Republican leader and led soil-conservation work at the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship before joining DNR. He has had a dairy operation in his native Decorah and is a graduate of Luther College.

Lande is preparing for a trip to China May 29 through June 5 to visit his friend, Chinese Vice President Chinese Xi Jinping, who visited Iowa earlier this year.

He said he’s concerned about the department’s ability to regulate hog confinements, and keep up parks, amid state budget cuts. “There’s only so long you can sustain that,” Lande said.

Marian Riggs Gelb, who left her job as executive director of the nonprofit Iowa Environmental Council on Friday following a health scare, said Lande’s departure was a surprise.

“I would wish Mr. Lande well,” Gelb said. “In terms of Chuck Gipp, he has good experience. His experience worth with ag and land stewardship would allow the two departments to work more closely together, which would be a good thing for the state of Iowa.”

“He has a good understanding of the department’s mission, and I would suspect he will carry out that mission,” Gelb added.

Michael Ralston, president of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, said Gipp’s state-government background and bipartisan approach will help address lingering issues at DNR, including working with businesses fairly.

“I’m surprised it happened now,” Ralston said, adding that neither Lande nor Gipp mentioned the change at a meeting earlier this week.

“ Roger has served this state in a lot of ways, and we thank him,” Ralston said. “ABI continues to think DNR has issues.

“We think very highly of Chuck Gipp and look forward to working with him if he’s the new director,” Ralston said. “Chuck is a bipartisan guy. He’s an honest and honorable guy.”
Rumors of his impending departure started months after he took the job running one of the state’s most diverse departments in December 2010. The department is one of the state’s most controversial. Its operations affect farmers, park users, hunters, fishing enthusiasts and many businesses. DNR regulates pollution, hunting and fishing, livestock confinements and landfills, for example. It runs energy efficiency and waste-reduction programs, too.

Lande has bachelor’s and law degrees from the University of Iowa. He has been a partner in a Muscatine law firm. At ABI, he ran a board that represented 1,400 business members that employ about a fifth of Iowa’s workers.

Lande caught heat from Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and a wary eye from environmental groups because of his work as a lawyer representing some of Iowa’s top polluters, including Grain Processing Corp. in Muscatine. Regulators continued to seek actions against GPC after Lande took over, and in recent months the state has twice sued the firm over alleged violations of state pollution regulations.

On Friday, Lande said he was not involved in the GPC case, which largely was investigated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The director drew praise from ABI for working toward common-sense enforcement actions and regulations that protect the environment while allowing economic development. Lande, a hunter and fisherman, worked with the Izaak Walton League to protect the environment before joining DNR, Branstad said. Lande’s wife, Sarah, serves as a board member of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit environmental group.

Gipp is a widely respected lawmaker and dairy farmer who got into politics in part to fight pollution in the Decorah area. CCI has claimed Gipp tried to dismantle DNR. Gipp has maintained he is committed to environmental protection, and he has worked easily with lawmakers from both parties.

As a lawmaker, Gipp was involved in legislation related to cleaning underground storage tank sites and tire piles, overseeing landfill operations, regulating confinements, and creating the Environment First fund to pay for major environmental programs.

“The fact is that I would never have run for office if our dairy farm would have been located somewhere other than next to a poorly run landfill” that was accepting waste oil at a site with fractured bedrock, which made underground waterways susceptible to pollution, Gipp said earlier this year.

The Decorah dairyman and former House majority leader shifted over to the DNR as environmental protection chief from the agriculture department, where he was director of the Division of Soil Conservation. Gipp, who served 17 years in the Legislature, has a bachelor of arts degree from Luther College.

Branstad, who previously served as governor from 1983 to 1999, created the Iowa DNR in a 1986 merger of state departments intended to save money. The department has received less than 1 percent of the state’s general tax appropriations ever since, routinely ranking among the lowest states in per capita spending on environmental protection