Iowa elected officials support mandatory stream buffers


Photo by Adam Sondel, Pexels

Tyler Chalfant | September 17th, 2019

The Conservation Districts of Iowa passed a resolution earlier this month calling for mandatory buffers to protect the state’s water by prohibiting crops from being planted within 30 feet of a stream. These buffers protect waterways from erosion and nutrient pollution, and also promote biodiversity by preserving habitats. 

The Conservation Districts of Iowa, or CDI, is made up of 500 soil and water conservation district commissioners, elected from each of the soil and water conservation districts in the state. The group’s purpose is to promote conservation practices and policy, and they now plan to lobby the Iowa Legislature on this issue, hoping to pass a law to make buffers mandatory. Minnesota passed a law requiring buffers of 50 feet, and now has a 96% compliance rate.

A similar resolution failed to pass the CDI last year. Laura Krouse, one of the commissioners who proposed the resolution, credits the change in opinion to the heavy precipitation and flooding that the state has experienced over the past year, which hurt farmers across the state. Many farmers already plant perennials around streams, but others don’t, and farmland regulations are expected to meet resistance. 

Opposition Secretary Mike Naig of the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources said that he opposes making buffers mandatory, preferring voluntary, incentive-driven programs. Krouse responded that Iowa has, “relied on the voluntary approach for 70 years. It’s not working in some areas.” 

2019 Iowa Climate Statement released this Wednesday!


Kasey Dresser| September 16, 2019

Just weeks after July 2019 became the hottest month on record, 212 faculty and researchers from 38 Iowa colleges and universities endorsed the 2019 Iowa Climate Statement: Dangerous Heat Events to Become More Frequent and Severe

The statement released this Wednesday, September 18th, warns Iowans and Midwesterners of formidable extreme heat projections for the region. Tune in for the release of this year’s statement on The UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research Facebook Page at 2pm. 

The UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research has released annual climate statements since 2011. These statements, vetted by hundreds of Iowa’s top experts, place pivotal climate change research into an Iowa-specific context, encouraging preparedness and resilience in the face of the climate crisis.

 

Symposium on extreme weather in Iowa


Tyler Chalfant | September 12th, 2019

The UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, the UI Center for the Health Effects of Environmental Contamination and UI Public Policy Center will host a symposium on extreme weather in Iowa. The event, “Extreme Weather in Iowa: Paths to Equitable Response, Recovery, and Resilience,” will be held in the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines on Wednesday, October 2nd from 9:30 p.m. to 4:30 a.m.

The goal of the symposium is to bring together constituencies affected by extreme weather events in Iowa. Researchers, policy makers, and emergency responders will get together to discuss prevention, monitoring, response, and long-term recovery. The event will feature panels on the increase of heat and flooding, with an embedded theme of addressing equity in ensuring all Iowans are prepared and able to recover from natural disasters There will also be a panel of state-level policymakers and a keynote address from Eric Tate, a University of Iowa professor of Geographical and Sustainability Services. 

The Public Policy Center is an interdisciplinary research center focused on conducting research and informing policymakers and the public on a variety of issues affecting Iowan communities. Since 2008, the Forkenbrock Series on Public Policy has sponsored symposiums and lectures on the most pressing issues of our time as a part of the Center’s engagement mission. 

To register for the symposium, click here. The fee is $25, or $10 for students showing valid university I.D.

Iowa environmental groups say proposed Alliant rate hike is uneconomical


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Two Iowa environmental non-profits are concerned about proposed cost increases for Alliant Energy customers(via flickr).

Julia Poska | September 11, 2019

The Iowa Environmental Council and Environmental Law and Policy Center last month submitted testimony  from five “expert witnesses” to the Iowa Utilities Board regarding Alliant Energy’s proposed base rate increases, currently under review.

The environmental groups disapprove of the proposal overall and said they believe they have identified alternative “solutions that will save customers money while cleaning up Alliant’s generation mix.”

Below are summaries of Alliant’s proposal and the environmental groups’ critique.

About Alliant’s proposal

On April 1, 2019, Alliant customers began seeing an interim base rate increase (about $8 for the typical residential customer) on their energy bills.

The company plans to further raise the rate beginning January 1, 2020. The total increase of $20 (24.45%) for typical  residential customers would bring about $203.6 million in revenue into the company annually.

In a proposal to customers, Alliant said the company is “investing in new wind farms, energy grid technologies including advanced metering infrastructure, and environmental controls that reduce emissions.”

The company has also said that the additional cost to customers would be offset over time by reductions in other costs like energy efficiency.

 The proposed increases are awaiting a hearing in November from the Iowa Utility Board. If the increases are not approved, Alliant would have to refund customers for excess paid during the interim increase. 

The IEC/ELPC perspective 

The IEC and ELPC have both economic and socioeconomic concerns about the proposal, as outlined in their testimony to the IUB. The testimony also provided economic analysis of the utility’s current coal power generation. 

A few highlights from the testimony include:

  1. Coal generation costs more than renewables. An analysis by Rocky Mountain Institute Principal Uday Varadarajan on behalf of the two organizations found that the cost of Alliant’s coal generation exceeds that of projected renewable energy costs. Retiring three Alliant coal plants and purchasing market energy or purchasing or generating wind energy could save customers $16 million in 2020, he found.  This was proposed as an alternative move for Alliant to make, increasing renewables while reducing rather than increasing cost to consumers. (Read more from U.S. Energy News).
  2. Revenue would be spent on wasteful initiatives. The groups call out one initiative Alliant has proposed — putting power lines underground — as a poor use of consumer funds.
  3. Proposed solar programs could undermine the industry. The groups believe Alliant’s new community solar program (implied to be funded in part by the rate increase) would compete with solar businesses and potentially create a monopoly. They said the proposal also includes measures similar to those proposed in the “Sunshine Tax” legislation earlier this year to increase cost for solar customers.

 

 

Iowa flooding will become more frequent and severe


Flood 2008
Photo of 2008 flood by Jon Fravel, Flickr

Tyler Chalfant | September 10th, 2019

Iowans across the state experienced severe flooding this year, and according to a report released Thursday by the Iowa Policy Project, flooding events like those of 2019 will likely become more frequent and severe as the climate changes. While temperatures and precipitation have been shown to be rising, flooding patterns are harder to predict, but this year’s “100-year flood” seems to be the fourth flooding event of its kind in only 30 years, following severe floods in 1993, 2008, and 2011.

Both the Mississippi and Missouri River Basins flooded this year, with the Mississippi breaching a levee in Davenport, and the Missouri breaching every levee south of Council Bluffs on the western side of the state. In addition to the damage caused to flooded roads, homes, and businesses, these floods have harmed agriculture. Farmers were forced by flooded fields to plant late or not at all this year. The floods spoiled stored crops, caused the deaths of livestock, and damaged farm infrastructure. Flooding and extreme heat also pose a threat to human health through contaminated water supplies, the spread of disease-carrying insects, and harm to mental health. 

The period from May 2018 to April 2019 set new records for precipitation in the Midwest, with Iowa exceeding the regional average with over 50 inches. Since the 1970s, Iowa’s average annual rainfall has been rising by 1.25 inches per decade – the highest rate of any state in the country – and snowfall this February reached three and a half times the recent average. Springtime rainfall in the upper Mississippi is projected to increase 20 to 40 percent. The report also covered temperature increases, which are projected to be the highest in the Midwest during the warm season. 

The world’s protein companies still failing to address their environmental impact


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(Mike Myers/flickr)

Kasey Dresser| September 9, 2019

The Coller FAIRR Protein Producer Index, in its second active year, just released their report analyzing the environmental, social, and governance risks of meat, dairy, and farmed fish producers. One large take away from this year’s study was the lack of attention given to environmental and animal welfare by some of the world’s largest protein producers.

The FAIRR Index looked at 60 different companies and found evidence of lacking sustainability efforts for greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, food waste, conditions for workers, antibiotic use, and animal welfare. Only 30% of the analyzed companies were able to give the researchers specific environmental strategy plans which focused only on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. One-quarter of the companies refused to even disclose their use of antibiotics on their animals.

As more research regarding climate change emerges, this isn’t just a problem for consumers. The conversation is shifting toward some of the financial consequences of severe weather for these large companies.

“What we’re seeing is that companies in the sector are contributing to many of the risks we discuss in the report, but they’re also deeply vulnerable…to the impacts of climate change,” says FAIRR’s Head of Research, Aarti Ramachandran. In an interview with Forbes, Ramachandran gave an example of an Australian Agricultural Company that lost over $100 million in damages due to extreme flooding.

Ramachandran does leave the report on a positive note acknowledging the increased investments in plant-based proteins by meat and dairy companies. He stated, “we think that, overall, there should be a rebalancing of protein so that animal protein consumption doesn’t continue to grow at the same trajectory, and so that there is a sustainable balance between plant-based and animal-based food.”

Invasive pests contributing to climate change


Image from mali maeder on Pexels.com

By Julia Shanahan | September 6th, 2019

A study from Purdue University says 15 different kinds of invasive bugs and insects kill so many trees each year, it’s equivalent to 5 million car emissions. 

The report said that while not all dead trees immediately release carbon, part of the dead biomass will eventually make its way into the atmosphere. It says that the large amount of dying trees suppresses the hope of those forests taking enough carbon out of the atmosphere to combat climate change.

Purdue professors and members of the U.S. Forest Service found that of the 15 invasive pests, “nine are pathogens, four are sap-feeders, one is a wood-borer and one is a foliage-feeder.”

The annual loss of biomass from invasive species is 0.04 percent, but the authors of the report warn that number has potential to grow. The report also says that the researchers did not account for losses in urban areas, so the percentage is likely higher.

It said that mitigating future invasions will also affect the changing climate, because currently, the invasive species are significantly contributing to the increase in greenhouse emissions.