Contentious Bakken pipeline hearings begin

A map of the proposed Dakota Access pipeline (via Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition)
KC McGinnis | November 13, 2015

Hundreds of concerned citizens gathered outside the community building at the Boone County Fairgrounds yesterday for a public hearing on the proposed Bakken pipeline that would cut through 18 Iowa counties.

The three-member Iowa Utilities Board heard testimonies from people both for and against Texas company Dakota Access, LLC. using eminent domain to acquire the land needed for the pipeline, with those for the pipeline citing jobs it would generate and those against citing Americans’ need to reduce consumption of fossil fuels. Per the proposal a 30-inch diameter underground pipeline would carry more than half a million barrels of oil per day under Iowa farmland and other public and private lands. 37 percent of landowners approached by Dakota Access have rejected buyouts from the company to build the pipeline on their land, sometimes under intense and repeated pressure.

The Iowa Utilities Board will hear evidence for and against the pipeline starting November 16 and running into early December, with a decision coming by January. Dakota Access already has piping in storage in Iowa, in what some believe is an attempt to convey that the issue has already been settled.

The hearing comes just days after President Obama’s historic decision to strike down the Keystone XL pipeline. Unlike Keystone XL, the Bakken pipeline doesn’t need executive approval from President Obama because it doesn’t cross an international border. Once finished it’s likely developers would look for ways to expand the Bakken’s reach to the Alberta tar sands, just as pipeline companies agreed to expand a North Dakota natural gas pipeline to Alberta earlier this year. The next President may face even tougher opposition from pipeline companies wishing to expand a completed Bakken pipeline into other territories.

Study brings together researchers from Iowa and Nepal

A section of the Bagmati River between Lalitpur and Kathmandu. (Sundar1/WikiMedia)
A polluted section of the Bagmati River between Lalitpur and Kathmandu in Nepal. (Sundar1/Wikimedia Commons)

Nick Fetty | November 11, 2015

Researchers at the University of Northern Iowa are working with their counterparts at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, Nepal on a study that will examine the Bagmati River.

The Bagtami River is “the principal river of the Bagmati Basin in central Nepal.” Industrialization and urbanization in Nepal’s capital city of Kathmandu (pop. 1,003,000 [2011]) have contributed to ecological and environmental issues in the river. Through the study researchers hope to develop an “effective hydrologic assessment scheme for the polluted body of water.”

The project is led by UNI earth science professor Dr. Mohammad Iqbal.

“Students will learn about global environmental problems, particularly issues that are directly linked to human health,” Dr. Iqbal said in a press release. “This will be a great opportunity for our students to develop respect and understanding for people of a different culture, specifically for those people who are living in adverse environmental conditions.”

The researchers started on the project during May of this year when Dr. Iqbal and two of his students traveled to Nepal. The researchers conducted water and sentiment sampling, analyzed procedures, and implemented policy changes using scientific data. The team is expected to continue working on the project through the end of 2016. Funding for this project was made possible because of a $56,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The Bagmati River study is just one of the international research efforts in which UNI is participating. Last month NSF awarded UNI with nearly $750,000 to study environmental sustainability in the arctic. UNI will work with researchers from in Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden on the project.

List ranks Iowa as America’s 9th cleanest energy state


Nick Fetty | November 4, 2015

Iowa ranks ninth in the nation for renewable energy production, according to a recent article by the website Modernize.

The list points out that between 1960 and 2013 Iowa has generated nearly 80 percent of its energy from renewable sources. The Hawkeye State is the lone representative from the Midwest to crack the top 10.

“Maybe Washington, California, and Oregon come as no surprise – we associate them with environmental concern and the geographical variety to embrace multiple renewable technologies simultaneously. But the rest of the states that top the renewables ranking embody a striking mix of size, population, political preference, and socioeconomic standing. If this ranking indicates anything, it’s that success with renewables is possible in any combination of circumstances.”

Data on the list comes from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) which has been tracking stats since 1960. The article also included lists for other energy-related categories such as Top 10 by Renewable Energy Percentage, Bottom 10 by Renewable Energy Percentage, Top 10 Most-Improved CO2 Emitters Since 1990, and Top 10 CO2 Emitters. The article also points out that efforts to utilize renewable energy have been successful in traditionally industrial states such as Michigan, New York, and Ohio.

While Iowa generates approximately 27 percent of its electricity from wind power, nearly two-thirds of electricity production in the Hawkeye States still comes from coal-fired power plants, according to July 2015 data from the EIA. Nearly 10 percent of Iowa’s electricity comes from nuclear power at the state’s sole nuclear plant in Palo.

Iowa cellulosic ethanol plant will be world’s largest

Corn from a farm in Perkins, Iowa. (Don Graham/Flickr)
Corn from a farm in Perkins, Iowa. (Don Graham/Flickr)
KC McGinnis | November 3, 2015

A $225 million DuPont plant in Nevada will be the largest of its kind in the world, according to DuPont.

The plant, which opened Friday with appearances by both U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley and Rep. Steve King, will produce cellulosic ethanol, a biofuel that uses stover, the inedible parts of the plant, instead of the grain itself: stalks, cobs, leaves and perhaps even other plants like miscanthus. According to the Associated Press DuPont hopes to produce 30 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year at the plant.


The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 requires the use of cellulosic biomass increase to 16 billion gallons by 2022 as part of the Renewable Fuel Standard. The fuel, which has long involved a much more complex and difficult process than traditional ethanol, may benefit farmers by allowing them to sell additional byproducts from their fields. Most importantly, the fuel produces 90 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions over its life cycle than petroleum.

However, common criticisms to the Renewable Fuel Standard may still apply to the DuPont plant, as it is yet unclear if the plant will be completely reliant on corn stover, increasing Americans’ dependence on and expansion of corn to the detriment of biodiversity and water quality.

CGRER’s 25th anniversary reception highlights center’s inter-disciplinary emphasis

CGRER co-directors Jerry Schnoor (left) and Greg Carmichael. (CGRER)
CGRER co-directors Jerry Schnoor (left) and Greg Carmichael. (CGRER)

Nick Fetty | October 28, 2015

The University of Iowa’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER) celebrated its 25th anniversary with a reception earlier this month.

Roughly 30 students, professors, politicians, and others attended the event which included short speeches from CGRER co-founders Greg Carmichael and Jerry Schnoor, CGRER member and former state legislator David Osterberg, and UI Vice President of Research and Economic Development Dan Reed.

“One of the really powerful attributes of CGRER is that it exemplifies [a] multi-disciplinary [approach],” Reed said. “That’s one of the great strengths, I think, of an organization like CGRER is it has this broad cross-section of intellectual activity driven by diverse and disparate disciplines across campus.”

CGRER was established in 1990 with the help of then state legislators Paul Johnson, David Osterberg, and Ralph Rosenberg. The Center started with 25 members and today has 112 members from eight different institutions, including Iowa’s three regent universities. These members encompass a wide range of academic disciplines from anthropology to urban and regional planning.

In commemoration of the event, CGRER compiled a 12-page report which includes profiles of CGRER members, a timeline of international and local climate events since the 1980s, and a message about the center’s history written by Carmichael and Schnoor.

Iowa DNR, environmental group disagree on manure efforts

(Mark Evans / Flickr) A farmer sprays liquid manure onto a field.
(Mark Evans / Flickr) A farmer sprays liquid manure onto a field.
KC McGinnis | October 27, 2015

After stating that it has met its goals to improve manure management at Iowa farms, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources is facing criticism from an Iowa environmental group over its manure management efforts.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) says the DNR’s efforts since 2013 haven’t gone far enough in reducing nutrient pollution from manure spills in Iowa, where the number of impaired waterways listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has increased 15% in two years. The group is calling for the EPA to step in to provide stricter enforcement of Clean Water Act standards at factory farms.

The DNR’s current work plan required it to increase oversight to 20% of Iowa’s livestock farms being inspected every year. The DNR met that goal over two years, managing a 41% inspection rate. CCI wants the DNR to require permits requiring farmers to maintain manure-related equipment and pay fines for spills. The DNR claims that issuing such permits is actually forbidden for states under EPA rules.

CCI and DNR members will meet November 3 to talk about Iowa’s manure management plan in more depth.

3rd annual Iowa Climate Science Educators Forum

Photos by KC McGinnis

Nick Fetty | October 9, 2015

More than thirty scientists, students, and educators attended the third annual Iowa Climate Science Educators Forum at Des Moines University on Friday.

Iowa State University agronomy professor Brian Hornbuckle was the first to present, discussing ways to teach about the effects of greenhouse gas.

“The greenhouse effect is such an essential part of climate change [and] we need to make sure we teach about it correctly,” said Hornbuckle.

Hornbuckle teaches Introduction to Weather and Climate at Iowa State, a roughly 300-student lecture consisting mostly of freshmen. He said his focus is to dispel incorrect notions that his students may have about the greenhouse effect.

“The greenhouse effect is both a good and a bad thing,” he said. “We wouldn’t be able to live here if we didn’t have the greenhouse effect and I think it’s surprising for students to hear that. It’s a good thing and it’s essential for life but too much of a good thing can be bad.”

One of Horkbuckle’s teaching techniques is through the use of song. He changed the lyrics of Journey’s “Wheel in the Sky” to “The radiators in the sky keep on burning” as a catchy way to get through to his students.

David Courard-Hauri, an associate professor of environmental science and policy, discussed his Science and Policy of Climate course at Drake University. The course focuses on the intersection of science, social, and political issues in regard to climate.

“The question is how do we teach scale and feasibility?” asked Courard-Hauri.

One component of the course is a role-playing exercise in which students take on the role of a different country or interest group and how they would approach climate-related policy. Students use quantitative data to come up with policy suggestions which helps them to identify the scale of certain measures as well as the potential costs and costs savings of such measures.

“The idea is to encourage them to look for win-win scenarios,” said Courard-Hauri. “I feel they get a better sense of just doing a little good isn’t enough to get us where we want to go and that’s the main idea I try to get across.”

Grinnell College political science professor Wayne Moyer discussed his Applied Policy Analysis Climate Change course, which is composed of about 20 undergraduates. Students are required to read two books: Why We Disagree About Climate Change by Mike Hulme and Global Warming Gridlock by David G. Victor. The courses focuses on the intersection of science, economics, and politics. Moyer emphasized that scientific research is crucial for policy change.

“When you don’t know things exactly that creates policy problems,” he said.

The course also focuses on obstacles for implementing policies to address climate change, such as reasons for why people disagree about the issue usually involving their values, beliefs, and fears. One assignment requires students to persuade a skeptic that climate change is real. Moyer said that one of his students, who now serves on a republican congressional staff in Washington D.C., was the lone skeptic in his class and that this student brought an interesting perspective to the course.

“He listened to people on the other side and contributed lot. It was real asset,” said Moyer.

The morning part of the forum was rounded out with a series of shorter presentations. University of Iowa chemical engineering professor Charlie Stainer discussed his upper-level undergrad course, Green Chemical and Energy Technologies. University of Dubuque environmental chemistry professor Adam Hoffman discussed carbon dioxide and ocean acidification and effective techniques for teaching these concepts to students. The morning session concluded with a presentation from DMACC representatives who discussed ways in which their campuses have taken measures to reduce their carbon footprint.

Representatives from eight different Iowa colleges and universities attended the event including University of Iowa, Iowa State University, University of Northern Iowa, Drake University, University of Dubuque, Grinnell College, Des Moines Area Community College, and Southwest Community College.