Iowa farm groups concerned about new EPA water rules


The Raccoon River near Walnut Woods State Park in Des Moines. (Christine Warner Hawks/Flickr)
The Raccoon River near Walnut Woods State Park in Des Moines. (Christine Warner Hawks/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | May 29, 2015

Iowa farm groups have expressed concerns over new clean water rules unveiled Wednesday by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency.

Leaders of several Iowa farm groups have expressed concerns over the new rules – outlined in a nearly 300-page document – citing that would “infringe on their land rights and saddle them with higher costs.” Iowa Farm Bureau president Craig Hill said the new rules fail to address concerns farmers expressed when the first draft of the new Clean Water Act regulations was released last.

“The permitting process is very cumbersome, awkward and expensive,” Hill said in an interview with Radio Iowa. “And, according to what we read in this new rule, farmers will be required to get permits for things they’ve never been required to get permits for before.”

At the national level, the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, American Farm Bureau Federation, Dairy Farmers of America, and roughly 225 other organizations have teamed up to oppose the new rule. Some congressional republicans as well as farm state democrats have also voiced concerns about the new rule, including Iowa senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst.

Despite the criticism, the rule has been applauded by groups such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Sierra Club, Environment America,  and the Natural Resources Defense Council which called the rule “‘a significant fix’ for tens of millions of acres of wetlands and thousands of streams that contribute to the drinking water for 117 million Americans.”

The new rule is part of the 1972 Clean Water Act which gave the federal government authority to limit pollution in major major water bodies, such as the Mississippi River, as well as streams and rivers that drain into the larger water. The most revision to the rule applies to about 60 percent of the nation’s rivers, lakes, streams, and wetlands.

On the Radio: Power grid braces for climate change


Old power lines being fed by renewable wind turbines in Dexter, Minn. (Elvis Kennedy/Flickr)
Old power lines being fed by renewable wind turbines in Dexter, Minn. (Elvis Kennedy/Flickr)
May 26, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a U.S. Department of Energy effort to overhaul the current power grid in anticipation of future extreme weather events associated with climate change. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

IN APRIL, THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY RELEASED A REPORT CALLING FOR AN OVERHAUL OF THE CURRENT POWER GRID TO BETTER HANDLE EXTREME WEATHER EVENTS ASSOCIATED WITH CLIMATE CHANGE.

THIS IS THE IOWA ENVIRONMENTAL FOCUS.

THE REPORT STATED THAT SEVERE WEATHER HAS BEEN THE LEADING CAUSE OF POWER DISRUPTIONS IN THE U.S., CAUSING BETWEEN 18- AND 33-BILLION-DOLLARS IN DAMAGES EACH YEAR. THE REPORT’S AUTHORS EXPECT THAT THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE WILL CAUSE MORE SEVERE WEATHER AND WORSEN THESE DAMAGES. DURING THE UNVEILING OF THE PLAN IN PHILADELPHIA, VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN SAID THAT MORE ENERGY IS BEING PRODUCED FROM WIND AND SOLAR, WHICH PRESENTS PROBLEMS FOR THE GRID IN TIMES OF POWER OUTAGES, PARTICULARLY IN RURAL AREAS WHERE THE INFRASTRUCTURE LAGS BEHIND THE TECHNOLOGY.

THE REPORT RECOMMENDS SPENDING MORE THAN FIFTEEN-BILLION-DOLLARS OVER THE NEXT DECADE TO IMPROVE THE GRID AND MAKE ENERGY INFRASTRUCTURE MORE RESILIANT TO EXTREME WEATHER AND OTHER EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE REPORT, VISIT IOWA-ENVIRONMENTAL-FOCUS-DOT-ORG.

FROM THE UI CENTER FOR GLOBAL AND REGIONAL ENVIROINMENTAL RESEARCH, I’M JERRY SCHNOOR.

SOURCE: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-04-21/white-house-unveils-road-map-for-upgrading-energy-infrastructure

Bird flu damages estimated at $1 billion for Iowa, Minn


Iowa leads the nation in egg production. (Phil Roeder/Flickr)
Iowa leads the nation in egg production. (Phil Roeder/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | May 19, 2015

Estimates released Monday show that the recent bird flu outbreak is expected to cause a $1 billion loss in the economies of two of the countries biggest poultry producers: Iowa and Minnesota.

The Hawkeye State alone has lost about 20 million egg-laying chickens, more than one third of the state’s total, and economic losses are estimated around $600 million. These loses affect “feed suppliers, trucking companies, and processing plants.” Thus far the outbreak has been reported in 15 different states and cases reported in Iowa and Minnesota are expected to increase.

Poultry producers and landfill operators are now struggling with ways to dispose of the contaminated bird caucuses which number around 26 million. Landfill operators in northwest Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota – among the country’s hardest hit regions – have turned away the dead birds out of contamination fears. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Iowa governor Terry Branstad, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, and other top officials have urged landfills to begin accepting birds caucuses before improper disposal leads to odors, flies, and other problems. It may be a year or longer before poultry producers are able to fully recover from this setback.

“They are not going to come back all at once. It’s going to take one to two years for these layer facilities to be back into full production, it’s a gradual process,” said Maro Ibarburu, a business analyst at the Egg Industry Center at Iowa State University, during an interview with the Associated Press.

On the Radio: Bird flu leading to cleanup concerns


(Kusabi / Flickr)
(Kusabi / Flickr)
May 18, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at environmental concerns brought on by the massive bird flu cleanup across the state. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Bird flu cleanup

The recent bird flu outbreak is raising environmental questions about disposing of millions of dead birds.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Avian influenza has hit Iowa harder than any other state, with almost 25 million chickens and turkeys affected so far. The disease is known to claim a bird’s life within hours of showing symptoms, and is extremely pathogenic. The only way to stop the spread of the disease is to euthanize entire flocks, using a foam application that asphyxiates the birds.

This mass euthanization is leading to a disposal crisis in affected counties. While composting the dead birds is the quickest option, the process may pose risk for local health and water quality. The USDA has deployed hundreds of bio-bags capable of killing the virus until the birds can be moved to sanitary landfills, but concerns from nearby farmers have prevented movement of the birds so far. The only remaining option may be incineration.

For continued updates on the Iowa bird flu outbreak, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

http://www.agrinews.com/news/minnesota_news/bird-flu-shows-no-signs-of-abating/article_424c056f-7a0e-539f-a1e8-43edb1df49fc.html

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-04-23/bird-flu-scourge-means-two-month-cleanup-for-u-s-turkey-victims

Iowa partners with Chinese company for wind turbine project


Wind turbines in northern Iowa. (Brooke Raymond/Flickr)
Wind turbines in northern Iowa. (Brooke Raymond/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | May 15, 2015

Officials in Iowa and wind turbine manufacturer HZ Windpower have partnered for a project that will construct 14 new turbines in the Hawkeye State.

Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynold met with officials from the China-based company to commemorate the agreement in West Des Moines on Wednesday. The $45 million, 28-megawatt project will construct turbines in Creston, Dyersville, Mason City and Perry.

“We are proud to be a part of the celebration and I am proud to be a part of the relationship that has been developed over the years. ‘And we truly believe that this is just the beginning and there are tremendous opportunities to continue to build on the investment that we are signing on here today,” Reynolds said.

Each turbine produces about two megawatts of energy which is enough to power about 500 homes. Officials with both sides also expressed interest about working together on future projects. By the end of 2014 Iowa had 5,688 MW of installed wind energy, a figure that is expected to grow to 63,000 MW by the end of this year.

Earlier this month MidAmerican Energy announced plans for a $900 million, 552 MW expansion of wind energy which is expected to be completed by the end of 2016. Additionally, Alliant Energy recently announced plans for a 200 MW project.

As report released earlier this month shows that the state’s wind energy sector is on track to meet and likely exceed federal energy goals over the next fifteen years.

On the Radio: Gas tax may lead to increased biodiesel use


(Rob E / Flickr)
(Rob E / Flickr)
May 4, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a possible increase in biodiesel use due to recent changes in the Iowa gas tax. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Biodiesel

Iowa’s recently approved gas tax may lead to increasing use of biodiesel.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Last month, the Iowa legislature approved a ten cent increase in the gas tax, revenue which will go toward fixing our aging roads and bridges. While the increase applies to both gasoline and conventional diesel, biodiesel received a three cent exemption from the tax for certain blends. Biodiesel proponents hope this provision will lead to expanded use of the fuels.

Iowa’s ten operating biodiesel plants produced 227 million gallons of the biofuel last year, from soybeans and other oils. The Iowa Biodiesel Board estimates that Iowa has an annual capacity of more than 300 million gallons. The Department of Revenue projects 13 percent of Iowa’s petroleum to be replaced by biofuels by 2020, short of the legislative goal of 25 percent.

For more information about biofuels, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

http://www.biodieselmagazine.com/articles/318242/iowa-gas-tax-proposal-would-spur-growth-of-biodiesel-use

Iowa students compete in wind turbine design competition


Iowa leads the nation in percentage of electricity generated by wind energy at 28.5 percent. (Tom Corser/Wikimedia)
Iowa leads the nation in percentage of electricity generated by wind energy at 28.5 percent. (Tom Corser/Wikimedia)

Nick Fetty | May 1, 2015

Middle and high schools students in Iowa showed off their engineering skills during the Keystone Wind Energy Challenge last week.

Seventeen teams competed in this year’s challenge which took place in Elkader. Students designed and built wind turbines using their engineering skills and household materials such as snow shovels and PVC piping. Judges scored each design based on four criteria: (1) Energy Produced, (2) Turbine Design, (3) Written Documentation of Design, and (4) Knowledge of Wind Energy Subject Matter. Designs were tested in a 48″ X 48″ wind tunnel with wind speeds of approximately 3.5 meters/second.

“You can feel the excitement in the room as the turbines are being tested and the energy output numbers pop up on the big screen,” challenge coordinator Jason Martin-Hiner said in an article for the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald. “I think it’s great to see teams clapping, cheering and acknowledging the effort everyone has put into their projects just like you would in many extra-curricular activities. You even see teams talking afterwards and sharing ideas about how to improve designs and come back next year.”

This event is part of the Iowa STEM scale-up project in cooperation with KidWind, a Minneapolis-based organization which according to its website aims to “develop programs and resources to foster a generation of responsibly informed thinkers and involved doers for a brighter energy future.” KidWind sponsors competitions nationwide with more than 2,500 students taking part last year.

A recent report by the American Wind Energy Association shows that Iowa added more than 2,000 wind energy jobs in 2014 and more than 23,000 were added nationwide.