Pipeline deliberations: Iowa regulators, not just federal, can uphold environmental standards


A map of the pipeline route proposed by Texas-based Dakota Access, LLC
A map of the pipeline route proposed by Texas-based Dakota Access, LLC
KC McGinnis | February 9, 2016

During the first of four days of deliberations, an attorney for the Iowa Utilities Board contested the claim that Iowa utility regulators are not authorized to enforce environmental regulations on the proposed Bakken pipeline beyond what the federal government requires, according to the Globe Gazette.

The Iowa Utilities Board began discussions Monday over the possibility of granting a pipeline permit to Texas-based Dakota Access LLC for the construction of an oil pipeline starting in North Dakota and terminating in Illinois. Dakota Access has claimed that the state’s environmental standards for the pipeline cannot exceed federal guidelines. Board general counsel David Lynch disagreed, arguing that state regulators can refuse a permit based on environmental concerns.

There is still disagreement on whether or not the Bakken pipeline meets environmental standards because Dakota Access has used a different organization to determine the environmental risks than the Iowa state archaeologist. According to the Sierra Club, only about 20% of the proposed pipeline route is sufficiently protected in environmental terms.

Board members are also being asked to consider the impacts of increased fossil fuel usage on the environment in Iowa and beyond. Studies have shown that more fossil fuels need to remain in the ground to prevent climate change reaching the 2 degree celsius threshold.

On The Radio – Iowa experienced unusually warm and wet conditions in 2015


Storm clouds roll through Polk County south of near Elkhart in November 2015. (Carl Wycoff/Flickr)
Storm clouds roll through Polk County south of near Elkhart in November 2015. (Carl Wycoff/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | February 1, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment looks at unusually high temperatures and precipitation levels that Iowa experienced at the end of 2015.

Transcript: Warm fall and winter

While global temperatures continued to set records, Iowa experienced an unusually warm and exceedingly wet winter in 2015.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The United States Department of Agriculture reports that between August 31 and December 31, only 25 days recorded below average temperatures in Iowa. Temps during that period were 5.8 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, the warmest for that period since 1931.

Iowa also experienced by far its wettest December ever in both rain and snow, with a single storm system in mid-December shattering the records set by most winter months since record keeping started in 1873. Grundy Center’s 8.2 inches of precipitation dwarfed its previous December record of 3.7 inches set in 1982, while Des Moines’ 5.4 inches broke its previous record of 3.7 inches set in 1931. This continued a trend of unpredictability in weather patterns – which even included the first ever recorded tornado warnings in December. The heavy precipitation contributed to devastating flooding downstream from Missouri to Texas.

For more information about Iowa weather, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Ahead of caucus, Iowans can vote for their preferred climate candidate


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KC McGinnis | January 21, 2016

Just days before Iowans kick off the 2016 presidential election by caucusing for Democratic and G.O.P. presidential candidates, an Iowa group will be hosting a model caucus focused on climate issues.

The Climate Emergency Caucus will take place on Friday, January 29 from 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. at Central Campus. There Iowans will participate in a mock caucus in which they will select the 2016 presidential candidate they believe is most committed to driving down greenhouse gas emissions to a net zero level and stopping the Bakken pipeline from gaining approval to stretch across Iowa.

The caucus is being organized by environment group The Climate Mobilization, which seeks to emphasize the urgency of climate action by framing the crisis as an international emergency that should be at the forefront of the next President’s policy agenda. Iowans are increasingly looking to climate-related policies when voting – 82 percent of registered Iowa voters said that they consider the energy policies of presidential hopefuls to be a major factor when selecting a candidate.

Warm and record wet winter reported in 2015


Storm clouds over Iowa during a November system that brought tornado warnings. (Carl Wycoff / Creative Commons)
Storm clouds over Iowa during a November system that brought tornado warnings. (Carl Wycoff / Creative Commons)
KC McGinnis | January 14, 2016

Iowa saw an unusually warm and exceedingly wet winter in 2015 according to a report by the United States Department of Agriculture.

The USDA reported that 2015 was characterized by a warm pattern stretching from August 31 to December 31. During those 123 days, only 25 recorded below average temperatures across the state. Iowa temperatures during that period were 5.8 degrees above normal, the warmest for that period since 1931.

A particularly notable storm system brought Iowa its wettest December ever. A precipitation event from December 12-14 brought an astounding statewide average of 2.8 inches of rainfall. For perspective, this single storm system brought more precipitation over three days than every other winter month in Iowa history except December 1982, February 1881 and February 1915. Combined with a  heavy Christmas Eve system that gave many Iowans an unexpected white Christmas, several Iowa cities shattered previous precipitation records. Grundy Center’s 8.2 inches of precipitation dwarfed its previous December record of 3.74 inches set in 1982, while Des Moines’ 5.44 inches broke its previous record of 3.72 inches set in 1931.

The heavy precipitation contributed to devastating flooding downstream from Missouri to Texas. This continued a trend of unpredictability in weather patterns – which even included tornado warnings in November – aided by higher atmospheric temperatures and increased moisture in the atmosphere, according to Iowa Flood Center Director Witold Krajewski.

Iowa National Guard called to help with flood efforts in Missouri


Flooding in St. Louis, one of the hardest-hit areas along the Mississippi (Team Saint Louis / Creative Commons)
Flooding in St. Louis, one of the hardest-hit areas along the Mississippi (Team Saint Louis / Creative Commons)
KC McGinnis | January 1, 2016

As residents of St. Louis and surrounding communities along the Mississippi River respond to unprecedented winter flooding caused by heavy winter rains in Iowa and Minnesota, members of the Iowa National Guard are preparing to help.

The Iowa National Guard is sending dozens of members and vehicles to communities like High Ridge, Mo., to help with water purification and transportation after the city’s water treatment plant was closed due to flooding and contamination of its water.

Mississippi River flooding has so far caused forced evacuations, interstate blockages, and multiple wastewater treatment closures like the one in High Ridge. The flooding is due in large part to heavy winter precipitation upstream that came in the form of rain instead of snow in December. The unusual rainstorms can be attributed to increased moisture in the atmosphere caused by human-induced warming of the planet.

Winter rainstorms contribute to near-record flooding along Mississippi River


Flooding in St. Louis, one of the hardest-hit areas along the Mississippi.
Flooding in St. Louis, one of the hardest-hit areas along the Mississippi. (TeamSaintLouis/Creative Commons)
KC McGinnis | December 31, 2015

Intense, unseasonal flooding along the Mississippi River this month is wreaking havoc on cities from Missouri and Illinois to Texas. The rise of the Mississippi River to near record levels has affected millions of people so far and has already been linked to 20 deaths. A major factor in the flooding is the wet winter in Iowa and Minnesota, where precipitation that would normally appear as snow has instead come down as rainfall in record amounts.

“When winter storms in December come as rain, the potential for flooding is high,” said Iowa Flood Center Director Witold Krajewski. “the ground is wet and saturated, often frozen, vegetation is dormant or absent, and the runoff goes to streams and rivers.”

The rainfall in Iowa this month has come in “mind blowing totals” according to the Iowa Environmental Mesonet, which reported that mid-December storms were likely the heaviest precipitation ever to hit Iowa during winter. With climate change as a major factor, these heavy and unpredictable storms are becoming the norm.

“While it is difficult to say how often we should expect significant rainfall in December,” said Krajewski, “we all are learning to expect the unexpected when it comes to weather.”

Contentious public forum discusses Bakken pipeline


A map of the pipeline route proposed by Texas-based Dakota Access, LLC
A map of the pipeline route proposed by Texas-based Dakota Access, LLC
KC McGinnis | December 18, 2015

Iowans were divided Wednesday during a public forum over a proposal that would help establish a pipeline across the state.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources organized the public meeting to gather input from Iowans regarding whether it should grant a permit to Texas-based Dakota Access, LLC to construct an oil pipeline under publicly-owned lands like the Big Sioux River Complex Wildlife Management Area and the Mississippi River. The meeting was contentious and sometimes heated, according to The Gazette.

While some, including union members, argued the pipeline would provide jobs and a safer way to transport oil than by rail, others expressed concern over the pipeline construction’s short-term effects on biodiversity and soil health and long-term effects on water quality and emissions. Science suggests that 80% of known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground in order to keep climate change under 2 degrees Celsius, well below the goal of 1.5 degrees agreed upon by world leaders at COP21 last week.

Debate over the Bakken pipeline is likely to continue well into next year, with the Iowa Utilities Board reaching a decision on eminent domain sometime in February and the DNR sometime this winter.