Poll: Iowans support oil pipeline and wind project but reject using eminent domain for them


Turbines from a wind farm in northwest Iowa. (Jim Hammer/Flickr)
Turbines from a wind farm in northwest Iowa. (Jim Hammer/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | March 5, 2015

Des Moines Register poll conducted last month has found that the majority of Iowans support a proposed oil pipeline and wind electricity transmission line which would pass through the state but oppose using eminent domain to accomplish the projects.

The poll shows that 57 percent of those surveyed were in favor of the proposed Bakken oil pipeline which would cross through 17 counties diagonally across the state. Thirty-two percent opposed the project while 11 percent were not sure. The pipeline would transport crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois. Critics of the project cite that it is an unwise investment at a time when the nation should be divesting from its reliance on fossil fuels while proponents say that it is safer than current transport methods such as by rail.

Sixty-four percent those surveyed supported the Rock Island Clean Line which would cover approximately 375 miles in Iowa transporting electricity generated by wind turbines to Illinois. Twenty-four percent were against it and 12 percent were not sure. The $2 billion project aims to build 200 wind turbines in the Hawkeye State. Proponents say that it offers more benefits than the Bakken project while opponents question the use of eminent domain to make it happen.

The poll also found that 74 percent of survey respondents opposed the use of eminent domain for either project, while 19 percent favored it and 7 percent were unsure. Officials with both projects are asking the Iowa Utility Board for permission to use eminent domain to carry out the proposals. Both projects would cover large parts of rural Iowa and farmers have been divided on the use of eminent domain.

CGRER documentary shows need for statewide flood sensor network


A still from a documentary on the development of a flood sensor network in Iowa produced by the UI Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research.
A still from a documentary on the development of a flood sensor network in Iowa produced by the UI Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research.
KC McGinnis | March 4, 2015

A new documentary produced by the University of Iowa Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research shows how one technology developed by Iowa scientists could help Iowans prepare for floods better than ever before.

The video (below) includes interviews with Iowa landowners, scientists and watershed authorities who are taking advantage of experimental flood sensors being installed in locations around northeast Iowa. The new technology, which has been under development since the 1990s, is groundbreaking in both its arrangement and scope, and has influenced similar networks across the country.

The sensors, which can be installed on farms or other land, record rainfall on the ground, rather than from radar, resulting in more accurate readings. Each sensor is actually a set of two sensors, which can help explain discrepancies in data better than single sensors. Data from these sensors is sent to the Iowa Flood Information System, an interactive website that’s free to the public, and is an important resource for landowners and municipalities during heavy rainstorms and other flood events.

Since rainfall can vary over small distances, the Iowa Flood Center is currently seeking funding to install new flood sensors in each of Iowa’s 99 counties. To see the history of the technology and to learn more, watch the video below.

Proposed bill would tighten Iowa manure application laws


With over 60 million chickens, 20 million pigs, 9 million turkeys, and 4 million cows, Iowa farms and livestock operations produce large quantities of manure. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr)
With over 60 million chickens, 20 million pigs, 9 million turkeys, and 4 million cows, Iowa farms and livestock operations produce large quantities of manure each year. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr)

 

Nick Fetty | March 3, 2015

An Iowa Senate subcommittee has approved a bill it hopes will improve water quality by tightening manure application laws.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) from the Natural Resources and Environment Subcommittee introduced the bill last month. If passed, the bill would bar farmers from applying fertilizer when (1) the ground is frozen or snow-covered; (2) the ground is water-saturated; (3) the 24-hour weather forecast calls for a half-inch of rain or more; or (4) the ground is sloped at 20 percent or greater. The currently law – which was added to the Iowa Code in 2010 – states that farmers cannot apply fertilizer to their soil between December 21 and April 1.

The proposed bill is also supported by the non-profit Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. ICCI organizer Jess Mazour believes the proposed bill will be more effective at cleaning up Iowa’s waterways compared to the current voluntary system.

“It is very much needed because voluntary compliance is not working,” Mazour said in an interview with WNAX. “And if we just leave it up to farmers to pick and choose what they think is safe it’s showing us that our water is just going to keep getting dirtier. We have to be very specific about what we want.”

An identical bill was also introduced to the Iowa House by Rep. Dan Kelly (D-Newton). These proposals come on the heels of a recent measure drafted by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency which allows the DNR to inspect manure-handling practices by farmers and to issue fines for those not in compliance with current codes.

Approximately 76 manure spills were reported in 2013. In 2014, a dairy farm was fined $160,000 after improper manure disposal killed hundreds of thousands of fish.

On the Radio: State forest nursery future uncertain


The Iowa State Forest Nursery (Iowa DNR)
The Iowa State Forest Nursery (Iowa DNR)

This week’s On the Radio segment looks into recent reports that one of Iowa’s state nurseries may be nearing a shutdown. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: State Forest Nursery

The future of Iowa’s state-owned forest nurseries could be in jeopardy.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported that economic issues and changes in land-use patterns have forced the Department of Natural Resources to consider shutting down the state’s nearly 80-year old forest nursery. A sharp decline in seedling sales is costing the DNR about a half million dollars each year.

Proponents of the state’s forest nursery have proposed reaching a new agreement with Iowa Prison Industries to keep the nursery open. Currently as many as 65 minimum security inmates work on a seasonal basis at the state nurseries. A final decision is expected to be reached in time for the spring planting season.

When Iowa was first settled in the middle of the 19th century more than seven million acres of forests covered the land. Today Iowa has just under three million acres of forests.

For more information about Iowa’s state-owned forest nursery visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

http://thegazette.com/subject/news/future-of-iowas-state-forest-nursery-uncertain-20150121

USDA announces funds for biomass research and production


Switchgrass is an example of a biomass source grown and harvested in Iowa. (Noble Foundation/Flickr)
Switchgrass is an example of a biomass material grown and harvested in Iowa. (Noble Foundation/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | February 27, 2015

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Thursday that up to $8.7 million in funding will be available for bioenergy research and education efforts. The announcement was made during the Growth Energy Executive Leadership Conference in Phoenix, Ariz.

Additionally, funding will go toward publishing the final rule for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) which aims to provide incentives for farmers and forest landowners interested in growing and harvesting biomass to be used as renewable energy. The final rule is expected to be published in today’s edition of the Federal Register. BCAP provides up to $25 million annually in financial assistance for owners and operators of agricultural and non-industrial private forest land.

“USDA’s support for innovative bioenergy research and education supports rural economic development, reduces carbon pollution and helps decrease our dependence on foreign energy,” Vilsack said in a press release. “These investments will keep America moving toward a clean energy economy and offer new jobs and opportunities in rural communities.”

Those interested in grants for research and education can apply through the USDA’s Biomass Research and Development Initiative. Past organizations and agencies to receive funding through this grant include Quad County Corn Cooperative in Galva, Iowa; Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. in Findlay, Ohio; and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Materials that can be used as biomass include wood chips, corn, corn stalks, soybeans, switchgrass, straw, animal waste and food-processing by-products. Research examining the potential of biomass in Iowa and abroad dates back to the mid-1990s.

Hydro power system generates energy using underground pipes


The LucidPipe Power System uses similar a similar model to hydroelectric dams without the environmental concerns. (Lucid Energy)
The LucidPipe Power System generates energy similarly to hydroelectric dams without affecting fish migration patterns or causing other environmental concerns. (Lucid Energy)

Nick Fetty | February 26, 2015

While wind turbines dot the landscape in Iowa and other places around the world, an innovative new system of underground turbines could be the next big thing in energy technology.

Parts of Portland, Oregon recently installed the LucidPipe Power System which uses hydroeletric turbines to generate energy through the city’s network of water pipes. This system allows energy to be generated every time someone turns on a faucet or flushes a toilet, however it only works “in places where water is naturally flowing downward with gravity (if water is being pumped, the system would waste energy).” The system is expected to generate 1,100 megawatt hours of energy each year which is enough to power roughly 150 homes. This is expected to translate to $2 million worth of renewable energy capacity over a 20-year span.

“Different from traditional renewable energy systems, like solar and wind, it’s really not dependent on the weather. It’s not dependent upon the sun shining or the wind blowing to produce electricity,” Lucid Energy President and CEO Gregg Semler said in an interview. “What LucidPipe is doing is we’re taking the best of hydro – low cost, base load – and we’re doing it with no environmental impact.”

A similar system has existed in Riverside, California since 2011 and another project has been planned for Texas. Officials with Lucid Energy hope the network will eventually expand and become worldwide.

Water polluters spent millions on lobbying efforts in 2014, report finds


The United States Capitol building in Washington, D.C. (Stacy / Flickr)
The United States Capitol building in Washington, D.C. (Stacy / Flickr)
KC McGinnis | February 25, 2015

As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers look to restore Clean Water Act  protections to smaller waterways around the country, industries and trade groups are putting millions of dollars into lobbying efforts to prevent such a move.

Using publicly available data, environmental advocacy group Environment Iowa found that some of the biggest industrial water polluters also contributed large monetary amounts to lobbying efforts in 2014. The ten companies that dumped the most toxic chemicals into the nation’s waterways in 2012 – a combined 95 million pounds of material – spent more than $53 million on lobbying last year, as well as nearly $10 million in campaign contributions.

At stake is a broader definition of terms like “navigable waters” which are offered protection under the Clean Water Act (CWA). This would include more than two million miles of streams and 20 million acres wetlands which feed into much of America’s drinking water supply. The EPA is currently limited in its enforcement of CWA offenses over the thousands of miles of pipelines stretched over wetlands and waste dumped into smaller streams because of the provisions of current definitions.

The millions spent by companies like Tyson Foods and Kock Industries were used to fund campaign contributions, corporate lobbying and the formation of influential industry groups. Through the hiring of full-time lobbying staff who are able to secure multiple meetings with lawmakers, these companies have an unbalanced level of influence compared to everyday citizens. In 2014, one of these groups, The Waters Advocacy Coalition, sent a letter urging members of the House of Representatives to block the Clean Water Act rule affecting smaller waterways.

Environment Iowa is urging federal officials to “restore Clean Water Act protections to America’s streams and wetlands.” Click here for the full report.