A New Analysis of City Greenhouse Gas Reduction Pledges

Screenshot from The Brookings Institution analysis.

Maxwell Bernstein | October 23, 2020

A new analysis from The Brookings Institution, a non-profit public-policy research institution, analyzed U.S. cities’ pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).  

Out of the 100 most populous cities in the U.S., only 45 cities have GHG reduction targets, and emission tallies to gauge how much emissions are produced. 

If these 45 cities achieve their emission goals, around 365 million metric tons of CO2e would be removed. This would be equal to 79 million passenger vehicles from the road. 

The Brookings Institution suggests that states, municipalities, the federal government, non-governmental organizations, and countries should, “improve the quality of pledges, emphasize the implementation of pledges, develop better models to estimate actual emissions changes, and encourage learning.” 

Virtual Event: “Called to Climate Action 2020: Uphold and Upheave!” With Keynote Speaker Harry Smith

Image Via pxfuel

Nicole Welle | October 22, 2020

Iowa Interfaith Power and Light is hosting a virtual event Saturday, October 24th at 10 a.m. that will feature keynote speaker Harry Smith, an NBC news correspondent.

“Called to Climate Action 2020: Uphold and Upheave!” is a faith-based program that will focus on climate awareness, action and leadership in Iowa. In his address, Harry Smith will speak on his call to climate action and talk about his career reporting on environmental stories in the United States and internationally. The event will also include various presentations by Iowa college students who have organized faith-based climate action on their campuses.

Click here to register for the event.

Harry Smith is a graduate of Central College in Pella and has strong ties to Iowa. He hosted morning shows at CBS news for 17 years before joining NBC in 2011, and he has hosted the A&E series “Biography.” He has interviewed world leaders, reported from disaster zones all over the world and reported from the ground during the Iraq War, the war in Bosnia and the Persian Gulf War. He has won an Edward R Murrow Award and several Emmy Awards, according to Iowa IPL’s page.

Smith also recently appeared on Iowa Public Radio where he talked about reporting in the Midwest and his dedication to environmental stewardship. You can listen to that interview here.

Wind Turbines Under Inspection After a Second Blade Broke on Thursday

Image via Flickr

Maxwell Bernstein | October 21, 2020

Around 46 MidAmerican Energy wind turbines have been put on idle for inspection after a second wind turbine blade broke in two months, according to the Des Moines Register and KCCI Des Moines

The most recent break occurred on Thursday near Paton in Greene County. The blade had a lightning protection system similar to a previous blade that broke off a turbine and fell into a cornfield last month in Adair County.  

The blades are 177 feet long and weigh 18,000 pounds, according to the Associated Press.

MidAmerica has more than 3,000 wind turbines in Iowa, with wind energy making up 42% of the total energy production in 2019. 

August’s Derecho Was The United States Most Expensive Thunderstorm In Recent History

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Thomas Robinson | October 20th, 2020

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has reported that August’s Derecho caused $7.5 billion worth of damages and that the number is still increasing.

The Derecho in August resulted in extensive damage to Iowa and has been identified as the most expensive thunderstorm to hit the US in recent history.  August’s storm comes second only to Hurricane Laura, which had a damage cost of $12 billion, for storm damages for this year.  Cedar Rapids was hit particularly hard, where it is estimated that 90% of all buildings sustained damages from the storm.

A factor for why the storm has cost so much is that the corn crop had grown enough in August to be damaged by the heavy winds.  That damage has resulted in around 850,000 acres of corn crop lost, around 50% more than previously thought.  Unfortunately, grain silos were also affected by the storm where it is estimated that 57 million bushels of stored grain were damaged.

Even now in October, Iowa is still working to recover from the storm.  Some Iowans remain unable to return home after the events and there was a spike in people filing for unemployment benefits after the storm.  Around $4 billion in federal help was asked for by Gov. Kim Reynolds to address the damages to Iowa’s farms.

How Trump’s and Biden’s Plans for the Environment Compare

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Nicole Welle | October 19, 2020

With election day drawing nearer, it is important to know where the two presidential candidates stand on environmental policy issues.

Joe Biden has spoken repeatedly about his comprehensive plan to combat climate change, but president Trump has not clearly outlined his plans for the environment if he is reelected. In order to see where exactly Trump stands, one must look at his past actions and brief comments on the issue.

Joe Biden proposed a $2 trillion clean energy plan. This plan sets a number of research and development goals, the primary one being reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. He believes these goals will ultimately increase job opportunities and reduce the negative effects of climate change on communities according to an Iowa Public Radio article. Here are some of the main goals Biden has pledged to address:

  • Allocate 40% of clean energy plan investments toward low-income and minority communities more heavily affected by pollution and climate change.
  • Seek to rejoin the Paris climate accords.
  • Increase climate-focussed investments in the auto and transportation industries to cut emissions and create jobs.
  • Implement energy upgrades in 4 million buildings, weatherize two million homes in the U.S. and build 1.5 million sustainable homes and housing units.
  • Create a division within the Justice Department that regulates and penalizes companies for environmental effects on communities.

President Trump has denied the validity of climate science in the past and has made a number of statements about his stance on climate change that often contradict each other. Here are some of Trump’s past actions and statements that could reflect his plans if reelected:

  • The president’s website lists partnering “with other nations to clean up our planet’s oceans” as one of his innovation goals for the future. He has also supported legislation to remove garbage from the oceans.
  • He put $38 billion toward “clean water infrastructure.”
  • He allocated additional funding for national parks and public lands.
  • He pulled the U.S. out of the international Paris climate deal and has tried to push policies that back the coal industry.
  • He has supported boosting production of oil and natural gas in the U.S.
  • Trump has called man-made climate change a “hoax,” and reversed multiple climate policies put in place during the Obama administration.

Some Republican lawmakers have begun to separate themselves from the outright denial of climate change, and they are pushing for a “clean energy mix” that involves multiple energy sources. This makes it unclear what Trump’s reelection could mean for energy policy in the next congress, according to an article in Market Watch.

A Guide for Voting in Iowa

Maxwell Bernstein | October 16, 2020

The 2020 election will occur on Nov. 3 and is only 18 days away. Here is what voters need to know if they want to cast their ballot in Iowa. 

Registering to vote through the online portal must occur by Oct. 24, mail-in registrations must be postmarked by Oct. 19 and received by Oct. 24, and in-person registration must occur by Oct. 24 at 5:00 pm. This link can help people find where their polling place is located. Double check and make sure you are registered to vote in Iowa.

If people want to vote by mail, they must provide name, date of birth, Iowa residential address, Voter Verification Number (ID Number), or four-digit Voter Pin on the Iowa Voter ID Card on the absentee ballot request form. Click this hyperlink to the absentee ballot request form to get a printable version of the request form with instructions, and click this hyperlink to find your country auditor to send your ballot request form to. 

In order to vote early, voters can vote through a process called absentee in-person voting until Nov. 2. Voters must bring a proper ID such as an Iowa driver’s license, out-of-state driver’s license or non-operator ID, employer-issued ID, or student ID issued by an Iowa high school or college. 

Bring proof of residence if you need to register after the pre-registration deadline or at the polls on election day. Pre-registration is for people who have moved to Iowa from out of the state or to another county within Iowa. Proof of residency includes a document that has a voter’s name and address that is current and within 45 days of registering to vote. 

Voters who are unable to provide an ID may have their identity/residence attested by another registered voter. 


Make sure to wear a mask and social distance if you decide to vote in person before, or on Nov. 3 to prevent contracting and spreading COVID-19. 

Click this link to track your absentee ballot

Inform yourself on which candidates will be on your local ballot at Ballotpedia.org. Inform yourself on current issues and the stance that each candidate takes on them to participate in our democracy in a way that is productive and healthy for our communities. 

Environmental Group Moves to Block Proposal to Privately Export Iowa Water to Dry Western States

Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | October 15, 2020

The Sierra Club opposed the Pattinson Sand Co’s. permit application to export water from part of the Jordan Aquifer in Clayton County, Iowa by train to Western states.

The state rejected the permit application previously, but Pattinson Sand Co. continued to appeal. The Sierra Club filed an intervention with the Iowa Department of Inspection and Appeals, which will hold a hearing Nov. 9-10, and the DNR has already denied the request three times, saying that Pattinson did not provide enough information on where and how the water would be used, according to an article in the Telegraph Harold.

The Sierra Club opposes the use of public resources like the Jordan Aquifer for private profits. The group also contends that the plan could hurt Iowans who get their water from the aquifer, and it could be harmful to pump extra water from a source that is so slow to refill. The state has already restricted use of certain parts of the aquifer where it is heavily used and slow to refill, and the Sierra club cites Iowa law that classifies water as a public resource, according to an Iowa Capital Dispatch article.

Pattinson Attorney James Pray argued that the company has rights to the parts of the aquifer that exist under the land it owns. He also stated that Pattinson wants to use the resource for purposes that will benefit both Iowa’s and people in other state’s who experience droughts and water shortages. In a statement earlier this year, he said that hiring a transportation company to ship the water by rail would also help to rehire workers needing job security during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pattinson has sent letters to both the DNR and the Governor’s office requesting a different outcome. If the appeal is approved in the future, it could open the door for other private companies to profit from water as well.

Prince William Revealed a New and Prestigious Environmental Prize

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Maxwell Bernstein | October 13, 2020

Prince William revealed The Earthshot Prize, a prestigious prize that provides an incentive for scientists, activists, economists, and community projects to tackle environment-related issues. 

The £1 million prize will be awarded to five winners each year from 2021 to 2030 to provide 50 solutions to environmental issues by 2030.

The five challenges that The Earshot Prize wants to tackle are, “protect and restore nature, clean our air, revive our oceans, build a waste-free world, and fix our climate.” 

The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge is running the prize until the end of 2021 where it will then become its own entity. 

Record Pesticide Complaints As Iowa Sees Excessive Dicamba Damage

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Thomas Robinson | October 13th, 2020

Crop damage from the weedkiller Dicamba is the “most excessive” it has been since the 1960s leading to a record 329 pesticide misuse complaints.

Dicamba damage was already being observed at high levels earlier this summer as agronomists raised awareness about the pesticide.  The record number of complaints comes as farmers across the state have experienced crop damage even after proper application of the pesticide.  Dicamba application has been made more difficult this year as poor weather conditions for the pesticide’s application covered Iowa, and a court decision created uncertainty about the future of the pesticide. 

Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, has a history of lawsuits for Dicamba damages.  In 2016, Monsanto settled a complaint for $265 million after the destruction of a Missouri peach farm was connected with Dicamba drift.  A class-action lawsuit against Monsanto in Missouri resulted in an additional $400 million settlement with other plaintiffs across the state. 

Iowa currently allows Dicamba to be applied up to 45 days after planting, a practice which has come under criticism with calls for stronger restrictions.  Dicamba use is fraught with difficulty and without serious changes it is unlikely that Iowa will see any changes in the number of pesticide misuse complaints moving forward.

Environmental Group Report Says Two Iowa Companies Have Escaped Enforcement Action for Multiple Clean Water Violations

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Nicole Welle | October 12, 2020

Two Iowa companies have repeatedly reported to state and federal governments that they have exceeded limits set for how much pollution they can discharge into Iowa’s rivers over the past three years, but environmental agencies have not taken action against them.

The Environmental Law and Policy Center blames this lack of enforcement on federal and statewide budget cuts that came as a result of President Trump’s decision to cut spending and staffing needed to enforce the Clean Water Act. Trump shifted responsibility to the states, but many states in the Midwest have also reduced their budgets, according to a Des Moines Register article.

The Environmental Law and Policy Center’s report says that ADM in Clinton and Gelita USA in Sergeant Bluff have violated permit limits dozens of times since 2017 by dumping pollution into the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. ADM spokeswoman Jackie Anderson said that their corn processing plant has struggled to meet requirements over the last few years, but that the company has worked with enforcement officials to resolve the problem. The Environmental Law and Policy Center was unable to find any formal public record of ADM solving the issue, however.

The center focussed on the two companies in Iowa that had the most violations, but they think it is likely that there are other companies in the state escaping enforcement as well. The report states that funding for pollution control in Iowa dropped 19% in 2018. A lack of funding for enforcement could lead to further increases in pollution levels in Iowa’s rivers, a scenario that could put wildlife and communities who use these rivers as sources of drinking water at risk. About 28 million people currently get their drinking water from the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.