Pioneer of Sustainable Aquatic Foods Wins Des Moines-based World Food Prize


Via Finn Thilsted

Elizabeth Miglin May 13, 2021

Researcher Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted became the first woman of Asian heritage to win the $250,000 World Food Prize on Tuesday. Her research established the nutritional importance of commonly found fish and has improved the diets, health, and sustainable farming practices of millions across the Global South according to the Des Moines-based World Food Prize Foundation

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and United Nations Nutrition Chairwoman Naoko Yamamoto were all present at the virtual announcement. “As our global population grows, we will need diverse sources of low-emission, high-nutrition foods like aquaculture,” said Secretary Vilsack. “It is going to be crucial in feeding the world while reducing our impact on the climate…”  

Thilsted’s work resulted in breakthroughs in raising nutrient-rich small fish in an inexpensive and local way. By farming small and large fish species together in rice fields, fish consumption and production was able to be increased by as much as five times. This approach has helped Bangladesh become the fifth-largest aquaculture producer in the world and has supported 18 million people according to the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Her findings are helping lead the United Nations’ work to build equitable and sustainable food systems in order to address food security and nutrition. 

Biden Administration Announces Environmental Conservation Plan


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | May 10, 2021

On Thursday the Biden administration announced a conservation plan called “America the Beautiful” with the goal to conserve 30 percent of US land and water by 2030. They are calling it the nation’s first national conservation goal and made a warning about the bad effects climate change is having on the country’s land. 

This goal will be voluntary and locally-led, yet they hope everyone will participate. Officials in the Biden administration said that Earth is in a “catastrophic extinction crisis,” and warned that we need to protect our environment and biodiversity. 

Brenda Mallory, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality said that, “nature in America is in trouble and Americans across the country are seeing and feeling the impact.” She then said that this plan is a necessity, and that we need “all hands on deck.”

The federal government is working with US states and Tribal nations to protect wildlife both on land and water. They also are planning to protect public parks. 

Besides combatting the serious problem of climate change, the Biden administration says their plan will also promote racial equity and create new jobs. They will do this by making natural spaces more easily accessible to underprivileged and underserved areas of the country. 

EPA leader focused on water quality, biofuels and livestock in first Iowa visit


Via North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality

Elizabeth Miglin | May 6, 2021

The new Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael S. Regan visited Iowa on Tuesday to discuss agriculture’s impact on environmental issues. 

Regan’s first visit to Iowa, included a tour of the Lincolnway Energy ethanol plant near Nevada, followed by a group discussion with farmers and a meeting with Gov. Kim Reynolds in Des Moines. Later in the day, Regan met with state and city officials to announce plans for a superfund site near downtown Des Moines. Notably, no discussions occurred with environmental organizations during his trip. 

The focus of Regan’s visit surrounded water quality, biofuels, and livestock production. Iowa environmental advocates have long supported regulation of nitrogen and phosphorus, two of the main farm fertilizers polluting Iowa’s lakes and streams. However, Regan spoke in favor of a nutrient reduction strategy focused on individual farmers taking steps to address this issue, according to the Iowa Capitol Dispatch


Regan’s visit comes as the issue of waivers to the federal Renewable Fuel Standard are before the U.S. Supreme Court. The waivers, which are highly objected to by farmers, allow oil refiners to not blend biofuels into oil production per the Renewable Fuel Standard, according to Iowa Environmental Focus. Although the Biden Administration does not support the reinstatement of the waivers, concerns have arisen over the administration’s push for electric vehicles and lack of support for corn and soybean-based biofuels. Speaking to these concerns, Regan emphasized the necessity for the co-existence of biofuels and electric vehicles for the foreseeable future.

Biofuel Waivers For Oil Refineries Could Be Removed After EPA Files Motion


Via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | May 4th, 2021

The EPA has filed a motion to remove biofuel waivers granted to the Sinclair Oil Corp. over questions on whether the waivers were allowed under previous court rulings.

Sinclair Oil Corp. received three biofuel waivers for the years 2018 and 2019 shortly before the Trump administration left office which exempted their oil production from federal biofuel requirements. These waivers have been a contentious issue after a 10th circuit court ruling in 2020 that argued some of the recently granted waivers had been inappropriately issued by the EPA. That ruling declared that these biofuel waivers could only be applied as continuous extensions to waivers granted in 2010, not as stand alone waivers, which would greatly limit the number of oil refineries that would qualify.

Two oil refining companies challenged the court’s ruling, however, a U.S. federal court threw out the challenge just last month. Both companies had previously received waivers that would not have been issued under the new court order, and had petitioned for a rehearing over the decision. While biofuel blending is good for farmers, the requirement that billions of gallons of ethanol must be included in gasoline costs is very expensive for the oil industry.

Iowa benefits greatly from biofuel requirements, since the state is the number one producer of ethanol in the country, with a yearly total of approximately 4.5 billion gallons of ethanol, or around 27% of U.S. ethanol production.  Federal blending standards were introduced under the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard which spurred agricultural growth in Iowa and a surge in the price of corn that brought high profits for farmers.

The Majority of Iowa is Experiencing Abnormal Dryness


Josie Taylor | May 3, 2021

According to the Iowa drought monitor, 74.5 percent of Iowa is abnormally dry, with extreme drought conditions in northwest Iowa. Last week only 40.8 percent was in drought. Iowa is expected to be in a drought until the early part of crop season, but possibly longer. 

State climatologist Justin Glisan clarified in an interview that the majority of Iowa is not in what is classified as a drought, but it is something to keep an eye out for this summer. 

This drought is vastly different than last year, which had flooding and storms. Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig said that he has visited farms that are still recovering from heavy flooding from two years ago, and are now being affected by dryness. Much of Iowa is still recovering from last summer’s derecho as well. 

Glisan also warned that if moisture levels don’t improve, “we could see some physiological issues with corn and soybeans”. Iowa farmers continue to suffer during the crop season, and current predictions show northwest Iowa may not get the rain they need soon. 

SCOTUS Hears Biofuels Case, Could Impact Iowa


Via flickr

Eleanor Hildebrandt | April 30, 2021 

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments for a case that could exempt small refineries from the Renewable Fuel Standards Program on Tuesday.

The nine justices heard oral arguments in the Hollyfrontier Cheyenne Refining LLC v. Renewable Fuels Association case that questions if small refineries can request exemptions to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s standards that were created to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the country. The case was submitted for a later decision that will likely come in a few months.

Attorney General of Iowa Tom Miller submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court alongside Nebraska, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, South Dakota, and Virginia officials. The 29-page brief asks the highest court to side with the Renewable Fuels Association and deny exemptions for small refineries if exemptions are not in place continuously.

Miller and Attorney General of Nebraska Doug Peterson argue in the brief that the EPAs “recent trend of freely granting small-refinery exemptions has undermined” the Renewable Fuel Standard’s promises of environmental benefits and energy independence.

In the case, the Hollyfrontier Cheyenne Refining LLC argued that they face detrimental financial impacts when forced to buy ethanol and biodiesel at Congress’s demanded levels. Miller and his colleagues argue that the EPA’s willingness to grant exemptions has harmed the Iowa farming and biofuels industry.

In January 2020, a 10 Circuit Court of Appeals heard the case and sided with the Renewable Fuels Association, a decision the EPA supported. After hearing oral arguments on April 27th, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to present a decision in July 2021.

U.S. Interior Dept. Announces Plans to Restore Native American Land


Via Flickr

Elizabeth Miglin | April 29, 2021

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland issued an order to ease the process for Native American tribes to apply for ownership and management of tribal land on Tuesday. The order reverses steps taken by the Trump administration to slow the application process and will help the Biden administration’s environmental justice efforts. 

In 2017 the Trump administration moved the land-into-trust decisions to the Interior Department’s headquarters staff, resulting in delays in the decision-making process. During the Trump administration 75,000 acres of land were placed into trust, compared to 560,000 acres under the Obama administration according to Reuters.

Under the Secretary’s Order 3400, the authority to review and approve land applicants has been re-delegated to the Bureau of Indian Affairs regional directors. The slowing of the approval process has resulted in increased costs and delays for tribes to develop housing projects, manage law enforcement agencies and develop local economies.

Native populations are at a higher risk of vulnerability to climate change due to a lack of food security, ability to adapt to climate change, and tribal control of resources. Researchers increasingly argue in favor of tribes gaining greater control in the resource management decision making process due to contemporary environmental inequalities which exacerbate the impact of climate change.  

The Interior Department estimates there are 1,000 pending applications by tribes to put land into trust, most of which are lands located within existing reservation boundaries. 

Learn more about the University of Iowa’s acknowledgment of land and sovereignty here

U.S. EPA and German Authorities Accuse Tesla of Violating Environmental Rules


Via Flickr

Maxwell Bernstein | April 28, 2021

In separate allegations, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and German authorities accused electric car maker Tesla of violating environmental rules according to CNBC.

The EPA accused Tesla of failing to comply with federal emissions standards for hazardous air pollutions, specifically, from the “surface coating” of their vehicles. Tesla’s car plant in Fremont, CA has a history of fires, improper cleaning, and maintenance. Tesla worked on improving their paint facilities in 2020.  

German authorities fined Tesla 12 million euros (roughly $14.5 million) for failing to make public notifications to fulfill their obligation to receive old batteries from customers. By law in Germany, electric car makers are required to take back batteries and dispose of them in an environmentally sustainable manner. Tesla wrote in a filing, “This is primarily relating to administrative requirements, but Tesla has continued to take back battery packs.”

ISU Poll Suggests Few Farmers Agree With Scientists That Climate Change is Mostly Caused By Humans


Via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | April 27th, 2021

In a 2020 poll conducted at Iowa State University (ISU), only a small percentage of respondents agreed with a statement saying that climate change is caused mostly by human actions.

The Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll surveys what issues farmers in Iowa and the Midwest find important.  Of all respondents, only 18% agreed with the statement that “climate change is occurring, and it is caused mostly by human activities.” In comparison, 40% of respondents agreed with the statement that “Climate change is occurring, and it is caused more or less equally by natural changes in the environment and human activities” which is an increase from 36% in 2013.  While there appears to be a difference between farmer’s opinions and the scientific consensus that climate change is mostly caused by human activity, the increase in those who think that humans are potentially influencing the climate is promising for changes to public perception.

Participants also agreed more that extreme weather events will become more frequent, and that they are concerned about the ways climate change may influence their farms.  Particularly after severe storm events, like last August’s derecho, and after prolonged periods of drought that have affected much of Iowa, an increased concern about severe storms or the effects of climate change on farms is unsurprising.

Climate change is expected to have a negative effect on agriculture because of reduced rainfall totals, and the increased frequency of weather extremes (colder cold weather, and warmer warm weather). Farms and farmers will be able to adapt to climate change, but there is more that can be done, whether by planting cover crops to prevent soil erosion, or by planting crops that will help fix carbon in our soils.

CGRER Co-Directors to Speak at Hawkeyes Give Back: Combatting Climate Change (Virtual Event)


University of Iowa professors and CGRER Co-directors Gregory Carmichael and Jerald Schnoor will speak at a virtual event on Thursday, April 29 from 4-5 pm as part of the Hawkeyes Give Back events. Carmichael and Schnoor will speak on their current efforts to combat climate change. 

Carmichael is a professor of chemical and biochemical engineering at UI. He has done intense research on air quality along with its environmental impacts. His research includes the “development of comprehensive air quality models and their application to regional and international air pollution problems”.

Schoor is a professor of civil and environmental engineering, as well as occupational and environmental health at the UI. His other environmental work includes hydroscience research and climate advocacy.

Both professors are experts in the field of environmental science. Students, alumni and friends have the opportunity to hear them speak by registering at this link