Iowa Agriculture Secretary Calls American Rivers Endangered Rivers Report “Propaganda”


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Maxwell Bernstein | April 16, 2021

In a recording of Iowa PBS’s “Iowa Press” Mike Naig, the Iowa Agriculture Secretary, labeled the American Rivers choice for placing the Racoon River on the Endangered Rivers List as “propaganda,” according to Iowa Capital Dispatch.

“That so-called report was a bit of propaganda, I think,” Naig said. “It was obviously a Washington D.C.-based advocacy organization. They can go out and say what they want to, but what they talked about related to Iowa is not based in fact.”

In an interview with the Iowa Capital Dispatch, Des Moines Water Works CEO Ted Corrigan said that the designation for the Raccoon River should not have come as a surprise. “It is clear, given the ammonia, phosphorus, and thousands of pounds of nitrogen that flow past our treatment plant, that adding any more nutrients to our watershed without addressing the water quality issues is going to lead to catastrophe,” Ted Corrigan said. 

Vilsack focuses on nutrition, broadband access, and racial discrimination in USDA budget request


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Elizabeth Miglin | April 15, 2021

U.S. Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa Governor, Tom Vilsack announced the USDA’s goals with president Biden’s budget proposal to the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday. The USDA plans to expand food insecurity and nutrition programs alongside efforts to address racial discrimination and increase rural broadband access. 

Last week, Biden revealed his 2022 budget request to Congress which included $27.8 billion for USDA, a $3.8 billion increase from last year. The budget would provide nearly $7 billion for nutritional programs including the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). Additionally, the USDA plans to relaunch the “Strike Force” program which provided $23.8 billion for 380 countries with persistent poverty established under the Obama Administration, according to the Iowa Capitol Dispatch.

A notable change however, is the USDA will end the Farmers to Families Food Boxes program established by the Trump administration by May. The USDA plans to continue efforts to distribute produce and dairy products to food banks and other beneficiaries, however noting, the Farmers to Families program has shown “significant administrative costs and inadequate accounting of where boxes were delivered.” 

This budget request comes in conjunction with the American Jobs Plan and the American Rescue Plan. The former has a proposed budget of $2 trillion which will help supplement the costs of providing rural communities access to broadband, increase the manufacturing of biobased products and community level environmental protection efforts led by USDA. The American Rescue Plan has provided a 15% increase or $3.5 billion to expand the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by $100 per household of four.

Vilsack is the first Cabinet secretary to appear this year before a House appropriations panel. 

American Rivers Places Iowa Rivers on Endangered Rivers List


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Maxwell Bernstein | April 14, 2021

American Rivers, a D.C. environmental advocacy nonprofit, ranked the Racoon River ninth on their Most Endangered Rivers list, according to the Des Moines Register. The Racoon River runs from northwest Iowa to Des Moines and provides drinking water for 500,000 Des Moines metro residents. The river was placed on this list due to about 750 animal feeding operations in the watershed that contribute to animal manure runoff.

Second on the list is the Missouri River, which runs along Iowa’s western border. The Missouri River is on the list due to poor management, which raises the risk of extreme flooding for communities and residents that live next to the river.

Despite Iowa lawmakers investing $282 million in water quality initiatives over 12 years, researchers from the University of Iowa found that nitrogen levels from Iowa continued increasing over the past two decades.

Small Increases in Ambient Carbon Monoxide Levels Result in Daily Mortality Increases


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Thomas Robinson | April 13th, 2021

In a recent study, researchers demonstrated that small increases in carbon monoxide can increase number of mortalities the next day.

Scientists have observed a positive connection between daily mortality and ambient carbon monoxide (CO) exposure from 337 cities in 18 countries.  The level of exposure they measured was of a low concentration below current air quality regulations which suggests that current measures may not go far enough in preventing negative public health outcomes from ambient CO.  A major finding in the study was that there seems to be no threshold between CO exposure and mortality, which suggests there is no safe level of exposure to ambient CO.

Carbon monoxide is released into the air from the incomplete combustion of carbon based fuel sources used to run cars or generators for example.  The air pollutant takes the place of oxygen molecules which prevents essential organs from receiving the amount of oxygen they need to function.  At high concentrations carbon monoxide can be fatal, but at lower concentrations it can cause fatigue and chest pains in those with heart problems.

These findings suggest that the global community should revisit current air quality regulations with a focus for how low level exposure to ambient pollutants influences public health.

The Majority of Iowa’s Energy Now Comes from Wind


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Josie Taylor | April 12, 2021

The proportion of Iowa’s energy that comes from wind is at almost 60%, the highest in the United States. 

Iowa added around 540 wind turbines this past year, despite the global pandemic, bringing the total number of wind turbines in the state to almost 5,900, according to the American Clean Power Association.

Some parts of Iowa have already made it far above 60%. In the Des Moines metro area, wind supplies more than 80% of its energy, which is 19% higher than in 2019, according to Mid American Energy. 

Although wind is Iowa’s main energy source, solar energy is expected to increase dramatically in Iowa’s future. Seven large solar projects already under development in the state, and they will add roughly 1,740 megawatts to the grid once completed.

President Biden has set a goal for the nation to reach 100% sustainable energy use by 2050 through wind and solar energy. For Iowa, this is a very attainable goal. Sustainable energy has been on the rise in Iowa for the past decade. Coal supplied 71% of Iowa’s energy in 2010, and it now supplies only 22%. 

Iowa continues to lead the nation in sustainable energy production, and the increase in sustainability isn’t projected to stop any time soon. 

Fewer Americans Prioritize the Environment Over Economic Growth


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Maxwell Bernstein | April 9, 2021

A poll from Gallup found that half of Americans prioritize the environment over economic growth, a number that has decreased from the two-thirds of Americans that took prioritized the environment two years ago. Around 42% of Americans believe that strengthening the U.S. economy should be the greatest priority. 

The current attitudes match with the U.S. unemployment rate of 6%. Gallup found that when the unemployment rate is below 6%, the majority of Americans support the environment over economic growth, and the highest support occurred when the unemployment was at 5%. 

“While slightly more U.S. adults today prioritize the environment over economic growth, the 50% doing so is down from 60% in early 2020 (largely before the pandemic was declared) and 65% in 2019, and is the lowest recorded since 2015, when 46% held this view,” Gallup said. 

Major Iowa City public transportation changes expected


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Elizabeth Miglin | April 8, 2021

Just as news was announced that Amtrack plans to expand its train service to Iowa City, it was decided that the Hawkeye Express will be shutting down. 

After 15 years of providing Coralville residents with transportation to Kinnick Stadium, the Iowa Northern Railway Company announced plans on Wednesday to end the Hawkeye Express. Although the service has not been operational in 2020 due to the pandemic, in 2019, the Hawkeye Express served an average of 3,700 fans, reported The Daily Iowan

“There is not a good time to close the book on this type of experience, but this decision made sense to both parties. We are grateful for all the fans who made the train part of their gameday, truly” said Josh Sabin, the Director of Administration for the Iowa Northern Railway. 

Alternatively, Amtrak announced plans to connect Iowa City to the Quad-Cities in a new long-range route. The announcement comes as President Biden released the American Jobs Plan which includes $80 billion in funding for rail transportation if passed by Congress. 

Iowa business leaders and planners have encouraged increased rail transportation for years however plans had been put on pause due to a lack of funding. These concerns over a lack of funding persist as the Iowa Department of Transportation’s freight and passenger policy coordinator, Amanda Martin, stated “the Iowa DOT has completed the planning portion of the effort, but as of right now there are no dedicated funds for construction and implementation of the service” reports the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

If the plan is fully funded, the Iowa City to Quad-Cities service could replace 1.4 million vehicle trips, 324,700 bus rides and 40,900 plane trips a year according to a 2013 Iowa DOT study

How Climate Change Impacts Iowa


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Maxwell Bernstein | April 7, 2021

Climate change will increase the damage from drought, flooding, air pollution, and toxic algae in the Midwest and also, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has found that the number of storms causing $1 billion or more are increasing Peter Thorne, the head of the University of Iowa’s Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, said in an interview with the Iowa Capital Dispatch.  

As the climate changes, Iowans’ health will be affected. Iowans with hay fever will have their symptoms increase and pests such as the Lone star tick will become more common in Iowa, which can increase the spread of tick-borne diseases.

When disasters increase, the toll of climate change will be the greatest on children, older adults, communities of color, and low-income communities, according to the American Public Health Association. “We must focus more specifically on equity issues, and what it means to involve communities that have been historically marginalized in this planning process,” Sylvia Secchi, associate professor in the University of Iowa’s Department of Geographical and Sustainable Sciences said in an interview with the Iowa Capital Dispatch. 

Controversial Manure Management Plan Approved By Iowa DNR


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Thomas Robinson | April 6th, 2021

Supreme Beef, a cattle operation stationed in northeastern Iowa, has had their proposed Manure Management Plan (MMP) approved by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The approval comes after a long series of hearings for the MMP that has faced scrutiny for the risk the plan poses to some of Iowa’s cleanest waters.  In particular, critics emphasized how unlikely it was that the cattle operation would evenly spread manure in the proposed 30 mile radius and that over application on farms closer to the feedlots could potentially pollute surface and groundwaters in the area. 

Northeastern Iowa is particularly susceptible to groundwater pollution from runoff and infiltration because of the porous karst topography found in the area.  Environmentalists who opposed the plan focused on Bloody Run Creek, a popular spot for fishing tourism because of the brown trout that can be found there, as an example of a pristine water that could be harmed by the IDNR’s decision. If the Creek was harmed Iowan’s could lose out on fishing tourism and the loss of one of the few “high quality” waters present in the state.

The Iowa Environmental Council has spoken out against the IDNR’s decision to approve the plan in a statement that took aim at the preferential treatment agriculture receives over environmental concerns.  

Biden Adds Climate Spending to $2 Trillion Infrastructure Package


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Nicole Welle | April 5, 2021

President Joe Biden’s new $2 trillion infrastructure and jobs package includes a multi-billion dollar plan to combat the climate crisis and promote a nature-based infrastructure.

The plan includes $16 billion for capping abandoned oil and gas wells and $10 billion for the Civilian Climate Corps, a program that would create employment opportunities through conservation and restoration projects. To help pay for this, the proposal would raise the corporate tax rate to 28% and close tax breaks for oil and gas development, according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

There are currently over 2.3 million abandoned gas and oil wells in the United States, and they are leaking large amounts of methane into the atmosphere. By putting money towards capping them, the federal government plans to create jobs for workers displaced by the transition to renewable energy. This plan to create climate-friendly jobs shares similarities with the New Deal that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt put into place in the 1930s to improve infrastructure and the economy.

While the plan has received a lot of support from climate scientists and activists, many conservative lawmakers have opposed the tax increase. House Transportation and Infrastructure ranking member Sam Graves said in a statement that it would kill jobs and hinder economic recovery after the pandemic. However, the plan’s supporters assure that the tax hike would not negatively impact working Americans.

“This $2.3 trillion is spread over eight years, and there’s a plan to try to pay for it,” Jerry Schnoor, co-director for the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, said on Iowa Public Radio’s River to River. “It has to do with taxing the income of the richest people, making more than $400,000 per year.”