EPA to set new standards for water pollutants from coal power plants


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | July 30, 2021

The Environmental Protection Agency is imposing new, more stringent standards on water pollution specifically from coal power plants.

The new standards are reinstating previous regulations that Former President Donald Trump’s administration rolled back. The agency announced the reinstatement on Monday, but it hopes the new rules will be finalized in 2023. Until then, coal power plants that are close to waterways still risk polluting them.

The EPA announced its intent to initiate the beginning of the new standard making process when it signed a Federal Register Notice. Public comment on the proposed rule changes will occur in fall 2022. The EPA first set federal limits on the levels of toxic metals discharged from power plants that entered waterways in 2015.

Some environmentalists are still disappointed that President Joe Biden’s administration is not taking quicker, immediate actions to prevent pollutants in waterways. The standards could take longer to enact even if they are finalized in 2023. Government Affairs Director for the Center for Biological Diversity, Brett Hartl told CNN earlier this week that new rules may not see implementation until 2026. He said waiting so long for implementation is not sufficient.

Companies propose carbon-capture pipelines, activists remain unsure


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | July 29, 2021

A new pipeline could be built across the Midwest.

Two companies are looking to build a pipeline from North Dakota to Illinois, but they plan yo utilize a carbon-capture technology at ethanol refineries and moving it to places it can be buried underground. Environmental activists are divided on the issue.

President Joe Biden and some Republican law makers support this type of pipeline. The federal government also has plans to solidify this option by offering tax credits for every metric ton of carbon dioxide sequestered by a company.

The Environmental Protection Agency said storing of carbon dioxide is safe if companies do it carefully. There have not been any fatalities or injuries of workers in the carbon sequestering process.

Brad Crabtree from the Great Plaines Institute told the Associated Press carbon-capture pipelines are a potential way to bridge partisan divides while helping with climate change mitigation.

The process works by injecting the carbon dioxide in its liquefied state, allowing it to become rock. Then, it eventually hardens into minerals or it can dissolve.

Environmentalists remain concerned, however. Director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, Carolyn Raffensperger, told the AP she doesn’t know if the technology can be trusted and denounced carbon-capture methods as a climate solution.

The proposed pipeline will go through South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska alongside North Dakota and Illinois if it’s approved.

Livestock may be reason for Lake Red Rock pollution


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | July 23, 2021

University of Iowa scientists are suggesting Lake Red Rock’s pollution is from livestock.

Des Moines Water Works saw a spike of E. coli bacteria in water in recent weeks, which is likely to be from the upstream Lake Red Rock. A spokesperson for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Chelsea Tyler, told KCCI that the outbreak was caused by geese in the area. However, Director of the University of Iowa’s Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination David Cwiertny said this is unlikely.

In an interview with Iowa Capital Dispatch, Cwiertny said the number of geese in Des Moines does not correlate to them being the main source of the E. coli in the water. Iowa livestock is more likely to be the culprit.

Research Engineer at the university, Chris Jones, agreed with Cwiertny. He said there are more than 25 million hogs, which are individually larger than the 100,000 geese in the state.

Within the past few weeks, Des Moines Water Works has seen an increase in fecal bacteria levels in the Des Moines River. The river runs into Lake Red Rock.

Issues in Iowa’s waterways are often blamed on geese, the Dispatch reported. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources have also said geese are at fault for pollution issues in lakes and other waterways in the past few years.

MIT study finds medical was is impacting the environment


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | July 22, 2021

After 16 months in the COVID-19 pandemic, disposable masks are taking their toll on the environment.

A new study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that 7,200 tons of medical waste has been generated every day during the pandemic. A significant amount of the waste is from disposable masks that are used by health care professionals to help mitigate the spread of novel coronavirus.

If reusable masks were adopted by more people—including health care workers—the waste could be decreased by 75 percent. An MIT Assistant Professor, Giovanni Traverso, developed a reusable N95 mask that can be sterilized and reused. If these masks were used by health care workers in the United States, it would cut down 84 million kilograms of waste alongside decreasing the financial cost to medical centers and hospitals across the country.

In May, Swansea University found harmful chemicals and pollutants that can be released if disposable masks are submerged in water. The researchers called the rise of single-use masks in today’s society a “new cause of pollution.” Mainly, the masks pose a plastic pollution problem.

In a March study from the University of Southern Denmark, researchers found that disposable masks are now on a similar production mass as plastic bottles. Since nonreusable masks cannot be recycled, their use is adding to a significant accumulation of waste across the globe. Some of these masks have plastic microfibers as well. No data on mask degradation in nature exists yet, so the long-term effects of theses fibers is unknown.

Des Moines sees rain, lifts voluntary water cutbacks


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | July 16, 2021

After several days of rain, Des Moines Water Works suspended its ask for voluntary cutbacks on water usage in central Iowa on Thursday.

Des Moines Water Works began asking people to cut their water usage on June 14. The voluntary cutbacks asked Iowans to limit lawn-watering by 25 percent. The ask came after high temperatures and a lack of rain across the state. With removal of these voluntary cutbacks, the utility continues to encourage customers to water on specific days of the week based on their address. It also asks residents to not water their lawn between 10 am and 5 pm.

As of July 1, 85 percent of Iowa was in a drought at multiple levels. Recent rains have lessened drought conditions, but the U.S. Drought Monitor showed the drought had only dropped by 12 percent. 32 percent of the state is still experiencing a severe drought, specifically in the northern counties of Iowa.

Alongside water conservation efforts, Des Moines Water Works is still concerned about water quality in central Iowa. Algae blooms from runoff in the area has led to unclean water around Saylorville Lake, which runs into the Des Moines River.

With Iowa seeing more wet weather, the Western United States could see its severe drought lasting until October. The heat on the coast could lead to an extended wildfire season as well.

New solar projects proposed in Iowa


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | July 15, 2021

Two solar energy projects have been proposed this month in Iowa. One project will take place in Linn County, the other in Dubuque County.

Coggon Solar LLC filed an application last week for permission to build a 640-acre facility in Linn County. The planned acreage would meet the electricity needs of more than 16,000 households. The land is currently utilized for farming. The LLC is a partnership between the Clenera and Central Iowa Power Cooperative. If the application is approved, the county would receive nearly $4.8 million in property taxes. The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported that long-term leases have already been signed by Coggon Solar and property owners on the land where the project plans to be.

Linn County isn’t the only area in Iowa preparing for a new solar energy project. Dubuque’s city council approved funding for a pilot program to help install solar panels on a few residents’ homes. The program will select 10 residents to participate this year, and each will receive $3,285. The program aims to decrease the burden of energy costs on low- to moderate-income households in the city.

Both programs come months after solar tax credits were not renewed by the Iowa Legislature. Hundreds of Iowans lost an average of $3,200 after the credits failed to pass, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch.

Iowans, utility companies conserving less energy after 2018 law


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | July 9, 2021

Iowans are conserving less energy following the passing of a 2018 law that changed the state’s efficiency requirements.

Senate File 2311 capped spending on utility-sponsored energy efficiency programs in Iowa. The law was passed in the last few days of the 2018 Iowa legislative session with the support of most Republicans in the state House and Senate. The caps were below the amount utilities were already spending on programs. In 2018, the Iowa Environmental Council lobbied against the legislation, saying utility companies were the only winners, as businesses and citizens would “pay the price of this action.” 22 states have energy efficiency resource standards that serve as a target for citizens to meet.

In 2020, two years after the law’s passing, Iowa’s total kilowatt hour savings were more than 300 million lower than in 2018 according to the Energy News Network. The drop is more than 50 percent of the energy savings in Iowa’s recent history. A yearly state energy efficiency scorecard from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy dropped Iowa to 36 out of the 50 states. Iowa is beat by some of its midwestern counterparts—like Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois—but still placed higher than the Dakotas, and Nebraska. Iowa held 24th place in 2018. 

EPA increases funding for air quality, environmental justice initiatives


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | July 8, 2021

The Environmental Protection Agency is increasing its funding to monitor air pollution and improve air quality in low-income communities and communities of color.

On June 25, the agency announced an additional $50 million will be set aside for the department’s environmental justice initiatives. The funding comes from the American Rescue Plan, which was signed by President Joe Biden in March. The funding will be split between several projects, including environmental justice grants, expanding civil and criminal enforcement through monitoring, community assistance programs, and advancing environmental data analytics work.

Environmental justice—the promise of the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment—is a major focus for the Biden administration. People of color are more likely to die of environmental causes due to a variety of factors, including an increased likelihood of living in proximity to hazardous waste. According to a 2020 Princeton University study, low-income and African American communities are more likely to be affected by air pollution in the United States. The governmental response to air quality concerns is also disproportionate based on race, said the study, with white citizens’ complaints receiving more action and attention than people of color’s.

The funding will go to monitoring air in low-income communities, specifically looking for particles that have been linked to harmful illnesses. The agency hopes to ensure it is “adequately protecting all communities” regardless of who lives there, according to CNN.

Iowa Environmental Council reports lack of success with state’s water cleanup strategies


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | July 2, 2021

The current plan to clean Iowa’s polluted waterways would take up to 22,000 years to meet its goals according to the Iowa Environmental Council.

The council issued a new report based on its latest review of Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy—which the state originally adopted in 2013. The strategy is based on a science and technology framework that assesses the nutrients in Iowa’s waterways and attempts to reduce them. The report said the program, which has been the backbone of the state’s water quality efforts in recent years, is not working in the council’s view.

The strategy is failing to reduce nutrient pollution in Iowa’s water. The council criticized the state’s solution, calling it an immensely slow response to the serious water quality issues plaguing the state. One of the places the strategy is falling short is in funding, according to the report. Iowa lawmakers increased funding for the program by almost $300 million over the next 12 years, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch.

The Iowa Environmental Council also joined a group of 10 riverfront states in calling for a new federal initiative to improve the water quality in the Mississippi River. The group is advocating for a bill that would create a federal Mississippi River Restoration and Resilience Initiative that would restore the river that faces runoff, habitat loss, and intense flooding events annually.

Biden meets with Western states, plans for harsh wildfire season


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | July 1, 2021

President Joe Biden met with governors from Western states on Wednesday to discuss the record-breaking heat wave their states face this summer. He said climate change is what is driving the increased threat of wildfires on the coast.

Governors from California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming met with the president. Portland, Oregon, set a record-high temperature three days in a row this week. Seattle, Washington, also saw high temperatures, hitting 108 degrees, eight below Portland’s high. The heat is causing some medical emergencies and sudden deaths in states, according to CNN.

This was the first meeting of its kind, however, there are annual meetings between the Federal Emergency Management Agency officials and presidents to discuss the Atlantic hurricane season. The wildfire season this year is shaping up to be devastating. Biden said the states are “playing catch-up” when it comes to counteracting these fires and their root causes, calling the area “under-resourced.”

The National Interagency Fire Center estimated more than 1 million acres in Western states have burned already this year.

At the meeting, Biden announced his plans to create an incentive program for firefighters to improve recruitment and retention. The administration also plans to expand the federal government’s wildfire prevention and response.