Democrats push Biden to take stronger action regarding gas, oil policies

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Eleanor Hildebrandt | December 7, 2021

U.S. House Democrats are asking President Joe Biden to take stronger action to restrict oil and gas production in the country.

Members of the House Natural Resources Committee are split with Democrats asking for limiting production and Republicans saying the reduction of U.S. emissions will only heighten global emissions from suppliers overseas. Biden has also been asked by environmental activists to permanently ban gas and oil leasing on federal lands, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch.

Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-California, chairs the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee. He said the proposals coming from the administration are welcome, but do not assess the entire situation regarding climate change. He said it’s a “missed opportunity” and a “critical issue” that has yet to be addressed.

The conversation in the committee came quickly after a report was released by the U.S. Interior Department asking for fiscal updates the federal gas and oil leasing programs. The recommendation from the November report was to increase fees for explorations on federal land. The report did not suggest limiting or halting leasing programs.

Biden’s policy currently is to increase the fee cost for such leases. According to the Associated Press, Biden recommended hiking up federal royalty rates for drilling. The current rate is 12.5 percent, and the rate has not changed in over a century. It is unclear if Biden will reassess his policy based on remarks from climate activists and fellow Democrats.

Iowa is Receiving $110 Million for Water

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Josie Taylor | December 6, 2021

Gov. Kim Reynold’s administration has a plan to spend the $110 million of federal funds allocated for water and wastewater that was included in the bipartisan infrastructure package President Joe Biden signed into law last month. Reynold’s said they plan to use it strategically and want to use it correctly. 

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources said it is waiting for further guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency on how the funding can be used. The DNR estimates that $46.4 million will be used to remove lead from drinking water.

National studies have found that nearly two percent of U.S. children and 3.6 percent of Iowa children had elevated levels of lead in their blood, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Exposure to lead in children can cause: behavior and learning problems, lower IQ and hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems and anemia. 

The DNR anticipates more than half the federal dollars going into the state revolving loans funds that provide low-interest loans to cities, counties and utilities for investments in water and sanitation infrastructure.

The DNR estimates $29.4 million will be used for improvements to drinking water infrastructure and $24.9 million for clean water. 

Scientists find coastal life on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

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Eleanor Hildebrandt | December 2, 2021

Coastal marine species are making new communities on the gloating Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The species included mussels, barnacles, and shrimp-like amphipods.

Plants and animals are developing and reproducing on a gyre of marine debris particles that sit in the Pacific Ocean. According to NBC News, scientists have discovered over 40 species growing on the floating mass. Most of the debris is plastic. Prior to this finding, researchers did not know plants and animals could live in such conditions.

The patch is 610,000 square miles and hosts 79,000 metric tons of bottles, buoys, microplastics, and nets, reported EcoWatch. The team of four researchers does not know how widespread the species are and if any have found homes in other garbage gyres.

The research shows the ocean provides enough food to sustain the species living on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The patch itself was brought together by ocean currents and was first found in 1997. Multiple generations of various species were found by scientists, indicating the species have survived on the patch for years.

Public input opportunities begin in Iowa on proposed carbon pipeline

Via Iowa Capital Dispatch.

By Eleanor Hildebrandt | December 1, 2021

Iowa residents voiced concerns at the Iowa Utilities Board held the first public meeting regarding the Navigator CO2 Venture’s pipeline plan on Nov. 30 in Lyon County.

Public meetings will continue to be held throughout the state to gage how Iowans feel about the potential pipeline that will go through Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Illinois if it’s approved. Within the state of Iowa, dozens of counties will be impacted by the proposed carbon capture and sequestration system. Navigator CO2 Venture’s looks to provide Midwest customers with carbon capture and storage.

Lyon County residents were unhappy with the proposal, according to Iowa Public Radio, and united against the company. In recent months, the Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club has come out against the plan alongside other environmental groups.

This proposal comes alongside a carbon sequestering pipeline idea from Heartland Greenway. The second proposal would be in similar state to Navigator’s, but Iowa would be impacted the most by the pipeline if approved, because it cuts diagonally across the state.

There will also be public meetings starting next week regarding the Heartland proposal as well. The meetings are in a variety of counties at different times. Residents can show up to as many as they’d like to voice concerns or support.

Albatrosses “divorce” due to climate change

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By Eleanor Hildebrandt | November 30, 2021

Albatrosses, large seabirds that are known for mating for life, are “divorcing” because of global warming according to a new study conducted by New Zealand’s Royal Society.

The study looked at thousands of breeding pairs. The findings discovered show birds are more likely to divorce when the oceans are warmest. When the ocean is at warmer temperatures in the summer, divorce rates jump nearly 5 percent. The overall rates still remain under 10 percent, but the increase of pairs separating limits fertility of the birds and their reproduction. With the oceans warming more due to climate change, these divorce rates are likely to continue increasing.

Regardless of divorce rates and fewer birds reproducing, albatrosses have been endangered for years. 22 subspecies of the bird are being threatened with extinction as of 2013. Other concerns include oil spills, loss of habitat, and climate change. The species has the largest wingspan of any bird, and they drink salt water. Many albatrosses feed on squid and other marine wildlife, according to the Pacific Beach Coalition. They are essential to the food chain.

According to the New Zealand’s Royal Society, the stress of these warmer waters is disrupting the balance of the species, which can lead to faster extinction. Another reason for potential extinction is the decline in fish populations, leaving the birds with fewer food sources.

Common Pesticides are More Harmful than We Once Thought

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Josie Taylor | November 28, 2021

A new study found that pesticides are even more harmful to pollinators than previously thought. 

A study by Stuligross and colleagues tallying the detrimental impacts of a key pesticide on reproduction of a bee species adds to growing evidence that such insects, which make up the vast majority of bee species, are vulnerable to the compounds. 

Their findings suggest the harm of pesticides can accumulate over multiple generations, which could exacerbate the loss of species that provide valuable pollination for farms and ecosystems. Pesticides can harm both larva and adult bees. 

The work demonstrates that chronic pesticide poisoning can cause “meaningful and significant impacts” on bees, says Nigel Raine, a bee ecologist at the University of Guelph who was not personally involved with the study. 

Neonicotinoids pesticides which are sprayed on soil and seeds were found to be the most harmful. They affect both the memory of most bees and the ability to reproduce. Pesticides like these were found to be more harmful to these aspects than scientists had once thought. 

Pollinators are necessary to plant and crop growth. A lack of pollination will ultimately lead to a lack of food and necessary plants. 

More monarch butterflies are migrating this year

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Eleanor Hildebrandt | November 26, 2021

More monarch butterflies are migrating to the western U.S. as wintery weather appears in other parts of the country, a sign of habitat loss slowing.

In the past 20 years there has been a more than 80 percent drop in the amount of monarchs that migrate, according to the National Wildlife Federation in 2018. Others speculate the numbers have fallen more than 99 percent. Over a million butterflies used to make the trip in the late 1900s, but now only thousands make the trek. The numbers are picking up significantly in 2021, NPR reported, with more than 100,000 monarchs hitting California already.

The endangerment of monarchs has occurred over the past few years. National Geographic charges humans and man-made climate change as the reason why this is happening. There are projections for monarch numbers to drop drastically in the next 20 years, leading to definite extinction.

Increases in carbon dioxide levels impacts the growth of milkweed plants—monarchs only food source as caterpillars. The plants are becoming too toxic for the caterpillars to consume, so the insects die off before metamorphosis. Planting milkweed is a way to help save monarch butterflies from extinction alongside decreasing carbon dioxide emissions.

Another reason for this is monarchs are being shaped differently because of climate change. The wing size of the butterflies is changing. The mutation helps monarchs travel longer, but the lack of food could kill off the butterflies before the increased wingspan could help or harm the species.

The increase in monarchs migrating this year is a good sign, but it doesn’t take monarchs off the endangered species list yet.

Biden Opens Oil Reserves to Relieve Gas Prices, Complicating Clean Energy Goals

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Josie Taylor | November 24, 2021

President Joe Biden on Tuesday authorized the release of 50 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which is complicating his administration’s goal to transition to cleaner energy sources.

Biden said he coordinated the release from the reserve, a complex of four sites along the Louisiana and Texas Gulf Coasts, with leaders in Japan, South Korea, India and the United Kingdom, which would also release their own reserves.

He clarified that this would not affect gas prices over night. 

The president said the release from the reserve was intended to relieve high prices in the short term, but a strategy to transition to other fuel sources would be more effective in the long term.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm echoed the president to reporters at a press briefing following Biden’s remarks. She said the administration was aiming to provide short-term relief from oil prices that are at a seven-year high.

She said the White House hoped to see domestic oil producers return to their pre-pandemic levels, even as Biden has made climate action a central part of his agenda, which would mean more reliance on clean energy rather than oil. 

Build Back Better bill with climate funding passes House, moves to senate

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Eleanor Hildebrandt | November 23, 2021

The House of Representatives passed the Build Back Better bill narrowly on Friday. The bill sets aside billions for fighting climate change across the U.S.

The legislation creates initiatives to combat climate change broadly, including the electrification of the U.S. Postal Service’s cars and the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps, according to USA Today. This bill passed after President Joe Biden signed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package on Nov. 15. The infrastructure bill gave $555 billion to global warming mitigation alone.

The Build Back Better bill invests money into renewable energy and electric vehicles alongside funding initiatives to clean up pollution. The pollution program specifically helps Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other communities of color that have been on the front lines of toxic pollution, according to The Center for American Progress. $160 billion is invested in looking at environmental injustice and inequity in these communities.

There are also a few climate-based tax credits created by the legislation, including a 10-year credit for clean electricity generating capacity and a transmission investment credit that looks to upgrade the U.S. power grid.

Alongside the Civilian Climate Corps, the act creates a Rural Partnership Program. The program will receive $1 billion to empower rural communities to build their economies to continue helping rural American become more climate-conscious.

The Build Back Better bill isn’t strictly investing in fighting climate change. The bill also invests in preschool education, an expansion of Medicare coverage, lowering prescription drug costs, and health care subsidies for low-income Americans among other initiatives.

Green Iowa AmeriCorps offers free home energy audits

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Eleanor Hildebrandt | November 19, 2021

Green Iowa AmeriCorps is offering energy audits and weatherization services to residents of six cities in the state.

The organization is a community service program based at the University of Northern Iowa focusing on environmental education and stewardship. Free audits are open to Iowans in Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Decorah, Des Moines, Dubuque, and Iowa City. According to Green Iowa AmeriCorps’ website, the audit process begins with an assessment of how much energy a home consumes. From there, home owners can learn about measures they can make to improve their home’s energy efficiency. Weatherization services specifically aims to seal drafts and prevent the loss of conditioned or heated air.

560 homes have been audited in Iowa City alone, according to The Daily Iowan. The program has operated in the city for five years. The audits can help lessen heating and air conditioning costs by offering home owners more insight on their residences. Alongside identifying potential problems, audits can also make corrections to a home to make residents more comfortable indoors.

Free audits can be signed up for via the Green Iowa AmeriCorps website or this Google Form. The audits do not have an end date yet.