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Grassley Lives His Message of Thrift, Conservation in D.C.

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) earned early recognition in the U.S. Senate for exposing purchases of $400 hammers and other wasteful spending at the Pentagon. After 34 years in the Senate, the new chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee still takes his job of oversight of the executive branch of government very seriously.

What most people may not know is that Grassley practices what he preaches on his own farm near New Hartford, Iowa. At a time when financial advisers counsel Midwest corn farmers to tighten their belts, Grassley is already conserving money and resources with practices used on his family’s farm and at his home.

Take his frequent trips back to Iowa, for example. Grassley flies into the airport at nearby Cedar Rapids and drives west to his farm. For the last .3 mile down the hill toward his house, he turns his car engine off to save fuel just before turning into his driveway and garage.

“It’s a little bit difficult with power steering when the engine’s not running, but it works,” he explains during a visit to his farm in the summer of 2014.

Saving on tillage, fertilizer

The farming operation, now run by his son, Robin, is a rotation of two-thirds corn and one-third soybeans. Soybeans planted after corn are no-tilled, and corn after beans is grown with minimum tillage. Nitrogen is applied in a split application, sidedressing 28% N in late May or June.

Grassley also cuts the grass on his farmstead with an unusual combination of mowers that saves time, if not energy (above).

The modest 1,200-square-foot ranch house where Grassley lives with his wife, Barbara, has ceiling fans that Grassley says keep the house comfortable with high thermostat settings in the summer and low ones in the winter.

“When I’m gone in the summertime, I always set the thermostat at 85, and when I’m here, I set it at 80,” he says. By running the fan to pull cool air up from the floor, it feels as comfortable as 76 degrees, he says. In winter, the fan runs the opposite direction to push warm air down from the ceiling.

He concedes that Barbara would like to keep the setting the same year-round, but in the summer, “I’m not going to set it down to 68,” he says.

Grassley is almost fanatic about recycling. When flashlight batteries are 90% dead, he puts them into one of several battery-powered wall clocks. “They’ll run these clocks almost a year,” he says, sitting at his dining room table as he pops AA batteries into a plastic clock shaped like a stack of gold coins. The clock was given to him after he spoke to a group of gold investors.

When the Grassleys return to Washington, he unplugs appliances to save electricity.

He recycles the beer and soda cans that the 81-year old picks up on 3-mile runs he that logs four times a week. “When I run in Washington, I don’t do it because they don’t have the 5¢ deposit,” he jokes.

In his fax machine he uses the blank back sides of letters and memos as paper. The Grassleys recycle enough paper and packaging that a burn barrel used weekly when they were first married is rarely full. “We don’t burn more than twice a year,” he says.

Grassley recycles water, collecting it from the roof for garden plants and using grey water in the bathroom to flush the toilet. It’s not a fancy water recycling system. Grassley just puts a bucket in his shower to collect water for the toilet.

“You can flush it with less than a gallon of water,” he says. “There’s millions of people in California in drought. Think of how much water that could save.”

Big-scale savings

Grassley’s resource conservation extends well beyond his farm. He is well-known for his advocacy in Congress for ethanol and biodiesel. He is also considered the father of wind energy. Grassley was the principal author of legislation that created the wind energy tax credit in 1992.

Today more than 27% of the electricity used in his state of Iowa comes from wind, the highest percentage in the nation, according to a 2014 report by the American Wind Energy Association. Iowa ranks third, behind Texas and California, in installed wind energy capacity. It generates $16 million in annual lease payments to farmland owners and saves more than 3.2 billion gallons of water each year compared to other sources of electricity that use water for cooling. Not a bad record for one recycler.

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