Iowa School Districts Receive $300,000 from the EPA to Replace Older School Busses and Reduce Diesel Emissions


(Image Via Flickr)

Nicole Welle | April 30th, 2020

The Environmental Protection Agency awarded $300,000 to 10 Iowa School districts April 23 to help replace old diesel buses with new, more efficient models that will decrease diesel emissions.

These funds were part of a $11.5 million plan to replace 580 buses in 48 states and Puerto Rico. The EPA hopes the new buses will reduce the emission of harmful pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, both being commonly associated with aggravated asthma, lung damage and other health issues.

The EPA’s Diesel Emission Reduction Act provides funding for the plan. Applicants receive rebates between $15,000 and $20,000 per bus when replacing engine models older than 2006. The amount awarded depends on the size of the bus. Buses made before 2006 were not required to meet certain emission standards, and the EPA hopes to phase out the use of those older buses still in operation. Newer models that meet EPA standards are up to 90% cleaner, according to the EPA’s news release.

The funds were distributed in conjunction with the 50th annual Earth Day celebration.

“Earth Day’s primary goal is to protect the environment for future generations. These rebates help to do just that by continuing to improve air quality across the country and providing children with a safe and healthy way to get to school,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in a statement on the EPA’s website.

The DERA program has funded more than 1,000 clean diesel projects and reduced emissions in over 70,000 engines since 2008.

Terrestrial Insect Populations Have Decreased Over The Past Couple of Decades


Via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | April 28th, 2020

Terrestrial insect populations are declining, according to a study released this month. 

Researchers analyzed over 150 insect surveys to clarify concerns about declining insect populations and found that terrestrial insect populations decreased by 9% per decade, while freshwater insect populations increased by 11% per decade.  The researchers placed emphasis on the fact that data were scarce from land areas with high urban and agricultural use, which suggests that the actual rate is higher than a 9% decline per decade.

Insect population decline has been the topic of recent research which warns of a catastrophic decrease in insect populations across the globe.  Since the 1970’s, it is estimated that the abundance of insects has declined by around 50%.  Insects are an essential component of our globe’s ecosystems and the decline in populations signals an unseen risk to the environment.

In Iowa, one trend that is likely to contribute to the decline in insect populations is the extensive use of pesticides such as neonicitinoids, which are a key suspect for the decline in many insect species such as bees.  Iowa has seen an increase in the amount of neonicitinoids applied since 2004 as they have been proven to be an effective insecticide if applied as a seed coating.  With the continuing trend of increased pesticide use in Iowa it is unlikely insect populations will halt their decrease in our state anytime soon.

Supreme Court ruling applies Clean Water Act to groundwater pollution


Image from Wikimedia Commons

Tyler Chalfant | April 27th, 2020

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Thursday against an interpretation of the Clean Water Act that excluded pollutants that travel through groundwater before reaching protected surface waters. Environmental groups have called the County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund decision “a huge victory for clean water.”

In a 6-3 ruling, the majority of the court rejected what Justice Stephen G. Breyer called the “extreme” positions of both sides. Under the Clean Water Act, facilities are required to obtain permits for point-source pollution, which originates from a single identifiable source, into navigable waters. The appellate court had ruled in favor of environmental groups arguing that this applied to pollution that “actually and foreseeably reach navigable surface waters,” a standard that Breyer said was too broad.

The Environmental Protection Agency, on the other hand, had sided with a wastewater plant on Maui, Hawaii, arguing that the law applied only to direct pollution into navigable waters. Earlier this year, the federal agency removed protections for smaller waterways, replacing an Obama-era rule. This decision limits the pollution allowed by that change as well, requiring permits for pollution into some smaller bodies of water if it functionally pollutes a larger, protected body as well. 

Water quality advocates warn that these permits are easy to obtain, but the decision means that facilities can face lawsuits over, and have limits placed on, their groundwater discharges.

Wind Energy Outpaces Coal in Iowa’s Energy Usage


(Image via Flickr)

Maxwell Bernstein | April 24, 2020

Wind energy is now the largest single source of electricity in Iowa, according to a press release from the American Wind Energy Association. Iowa generated at least 10,000 megawatts of wind energy, which accounted for at least 40% of Iowa’s total electricity in 2019. 

In 2018, coal was the primary fuel for Iowa’s electric grid and accounted for 45% of energy production in the state but was declining according to The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). The 2018 report showed that Iowa had the second highest share of wind turbines for any state, where 4,700 wind turbines produced 34% of the state’s total electricity.

Coal produced 33% of total U.S energy related CO2 emissions in 2018 according to an EIA report. Wind energy does not produce emissions but does have issues related to noise production according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. These noise issues do not affect health and can be mitigated by technological advances and community planning. 

The rising use of wind and solar energy in our power grid reduces cost, reduces heat trapping emissions that contribute to Earth’s warming climate and improves public health, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists

The Iowa Environmental Council Strives for 100% Renewable Energy in Iowa by 2050


Photo by Bill Devlin, Flickr

Nicole Welle | April 23rd, 2020

The Iowa Environmental Council released Tuesday a report called “Iowa’s Road to 100% Renewable“. The report lays out the steps necessary for Iowa to transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050, a goal that many other states across the U.S. have already set for themselves in recent years.

The IEC concluded that, by 2050, Iowa will need to generate 30,000 to 61,000 MW of wind and 5,000 to 46,000 MW of solar energy to fully transition to renewable sources. The state currently generates 10,000 MW of wind and 110 MW of solar energy.

That sets a wide range, but the IEC analysis incorporated 12 studies on renewable energy growth with a variety of unknown variables. Electrification of fossil fuel sectors, like transportation, may increase exponentially by 2050, resulting in a higher demand for electricity. This, along with the current rate of general increase in electric demand, could alter the amount of renewable energy Iowa requires. The report also considers studies that incorporate the possible use of nuclear power and carbon capture and storage as additional renewable energy options.

Iowa is currently one of the country’s leading producers of wind energy. According to an article posted by T&DWorld, Iowa generated 41.9% of its electricity using wind in 2019. However, continued growth of wind energy necessary for the plan’s success will require increasing support from Iowa’s government and residents.

Some support has waned in recent years. Renewable energy tax credits have reached their capacity, according to The Iowa Utilities Board, and some Iowans have become wary of the number of wind turbines dotting the countryside across the state. Public concern over the land and resources required to expand wind energy production is a hurdle that must be faced before the goals outlined in “Iowa’s Road to 100% Renewable” can be reached.

Earth Day in the time of COVID-19: A Message from Co-Director Jerry Schnoor


Jerry Schnoor at Eawag
CGRER Co-Director Jerry Schnoor shares his reflections on the 50th annual Earth Day (contributed photo). 

Jerry Schnoor | April 22, 2020

April 22, 2020, is not just another Earth Day.  It is the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day – the one that changed my life forever.  Naive and over my head as student body president at Iowa State-1970, my world was on fire with righteous indignation against a compulsory draft for an unjust War in Vietnam.  At times I actually thought that it would tear the country apart.

The first Earth Day strangely diverted my immediate attention, and the diversion would last a lifetime.  Brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson and organized by Denis Hayes as a national Teach-In, Earth Da

 

y spawned immense bipartisan gatherings of 20 million people in the streets for one unifying goal – a healthy Planet Earth.  Earth Day ignited in me a realization that my chemical engineering education from ISU could morph into something green and more fascinating, that is, trying to understand water quality, biodiversity, and the biogeochemistry of Earth’s processes.  Discerning remedies for the massive disruptions that 7.7 billion people and an $80 trillion GWP can inflict on the earth has proven even more challenging.

This year we celebrate Earth Day with digital gatherings due to coronavirus.  It’s not the same, but perhaps the pandemic can teach us some valuable lessons.  Some people were slow to accept the dismal science of a spreading pandemic – they lacked trust in health professionals’ recommendations for social distancing, staying home, and closing businesses, sporting events, churches and social gatherings.  But the flattening curves of Wuhan, South Korea, Singapore, and even Italy, Spain, and New York bear testament to the wisdom of their call.

Our national plan for the pandemic Covid-19 was non-existent, like the Emperor’s new clothes, plain for all to see.  Pandemics are “global disease outbreaks” and they require national plans and concerted global action.  As recently as 2003-2004, WHO mitigated much more rapidly a similar virus, SARS, by careful messaging and international cooperation of 11 labs in 9 different countries.  U.S. and Chinese scientists together developed a vaccine within a year.  Far too little cooperation exists today, both at home and abroad.  Politics and hyper partisanship are disastrous in a time of global need.  We can do better.

Analogies between climate change and our pandemic response are obvious.  We have no national plan for either.  As a young egg-head professor at the University of Iowa, I published my first modeling paper on climate change and its consequences in 1994, many years after others had done so.  It projected (surprisingly accurately) the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today with business-as-usual.  That’s exactly what happened – business as usual.  If you had told me that the U.S. would still not have comprehensive climate change and energy legislation in 2020, I would have told you, “you’re crazy”.

But it’s in the history books.  We have failed to listen to the science and failed to reduce our gargantuan greenhouse gas emissions — the planet cannot take it anymore.  Now it really is a Climate Emergency.  What’s more, we are threatening to extinct 1 million species in the next generation as well – the Biodiversity Crisis.

Coronavirus humbles us all.  How can one not be moved by the sight of doctors, nurses, custodians, and admissions clerks risking their lives for the rest of us?  How can one not weep to see the miles of cars lined-up at food banks because families have nowhere else to turn?  Playing out in the richest country in the world gives great pause.

Yes, we need science-based decision making on coronavirus and on climate change, but we need compassion and understanding as well.  Noted columnist Sarah Van Gelder writes, “Changing hearts and opening minds begins when we listen”.  Imagine the world we want, where everyone is safe and healthy, where the air is clean and the water is pure. Then, let us celebrate the 50th Anniversary of that spontaneous, bipartisan, original Earth Day by speaking from the heart and listening to each other.

Jerry Schnoor is professor of civil and environmental engineering and co-director of the Center for Global and Regional Research at the University of Iowa.

 

Solar Jobs Census shows an Increase in American Solar Jobs for 2019


Photo via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | April 21, 2020

Almost 250,000 Americans worked in solar jobs as of 2019, a 2.3% increase since 2018 as reported in the 10th annual National Solar Jobs Census.  The solar industry is seeing an increase in employment after decreasing numbers the past two years.  The results of the census are summarized in an interactive website which provides data for each state down to the county scale.

Iowa employed over 800 people with solar jobs in 2019, ranking 39th in the country.  While not a leader in solar energy, Iowa is the state with the second highest wind energy capacity, with wind energy representing more than a third of the state’s electricity production as of 2016.  Renewable energy represents almost two-fifths of Iowa’s electricity generation, and the proportion is only expected to continue to increase.

Employment in solar nationally has increased by over 167% within the past decade alongside a 70% drop in cost within the same time frame.  To ensure the future of solar energy, an MIT study suggests that government policies are required to incentivize it’s use and to continue the growth caused by the continuing drop in prices.