BP Discusses Expansion, Fenceline Monitoring for Chicago-area Oil Refinery

Whiting, Indiana Refinery
Photo by David Wilson, Flickr

BP representatives met with community groups in Whiting, Indiana on Wednesday to discuss new air pollution monitoring at its nearby oil refinery. The Whiting refinery recently completed a $3.8 billion expansion to accommodate increased production of North American oil.

The system will monitor volatile organic compounds (VOCs), hydrogen sulfide, and sulfur dioxide at the property boundary of the plant, as required by consent decree, and will display the results on a public web page.

Read more about the Whiting community hearing here and the refinery expansion here.


Long-Awaited Farm Bill Passes Senate, Awaits Obama’s Signature

Photo by eutrophication&hypoxia, Flickr.
Photo by eutrophication&hypoxia, Flickr.

After two years of extensions, U.S. Congress has passed a full farm bill that governs crop insurance programs, conservation measures, biofuel funding, food stamps, and other areas.

The $596 billion bill was cheered for cutting a $5 billion direct subsidy for farmers and replacing it with a partially-subsidized crop insurance program. More controversial cuts included $8 billion from food stamp funding and $6 billion from the Conservation Reserve Program.

Read more about the Farm Bill in the New York Times or at USDA’s web site.


NTSB Recommends Rerouting Oil-Carrying Trains Away from Major Cities

An oil-carrying train rolls through a snowy landscape
Photo by Roy Luck; Flickr

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued recommendations for oil-carrying trains on Thursday to prevent “major loss of life, property damage and environmental consequences” resulting from train accidents in populated areas.

In July, an oil train crash in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec killed 47 people. Two subsequent crashes in Alabama and North Dakota have raised concerns that increased oil-train traffic could lead to loss of life in the U.S.

Transportation of oil by train has increased in recent years due to the development of the land-locked Bakken Formation in North Dakota and Montana.

Read more about the NTSB recommendations through the NTSB press release or an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

FDA Attempts to Decrease Antibiotic Use for Livestock

Baby pigs mill about a farm
Photo by Sean Svadilfari, Flickr

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a new policy aimed at restricting unnecessary antiobiotic use in livestock. In their final guidance document, released on Wednesday, December 11, the FDA requested that pharmaceutical companies create labels that would make it more difficult for livestock owners to use antibiotics as growth enhancers.

The two largest makers of such drugs have indicated they are willing to participate. As a part of the voluntary policy, the companies would also change the marketing status of these products, requiring them to would be sold with veterinarian oversight, rather over the counter.

Some public health advocates praised the decision, while others suggested it didn’t go far enough to restrict other, non-therapeutic uses of antibiotics.

Read more about the policy at FDA’s web site, or in a New York Times article.


Branstad Testifies against EPA Proposal to Reduce Biofuel Production Requirements

Governor Terry Branstad
Photo by General Frank Grass; Flickr

Governor Terry Branstad spoke at an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hearing yesterday to oppose an EPA rule that would decrease the amount of biofuels required as part of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA).

EPA’s proposed rule would reduce biofuel production requirements for 2014 to 15.21 billion gallons, 8% less than what was required in 2013. The reduction is based on decreased gasoline demand in the U.S. and a 10% limit on gasoline ethanol content for most vehicle engines.

Iowa was the largest producer of ethanol in 2011 and is home to 45 ethanol and 13 biodiesel plants. Read more about the proposed rule here and about Governor Branstad’s testimony here.

EPA Grants Available to Replace Diesel Engines in 9 Iowa Counties

A diesel engine is removed from a construction vehicle
Photo by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Norfolk District, Flickr

Individuals in nine Iowa counties may apply for funds to help replace diesel engines in construction vehicles. $2 million is available in Black Hawk, Harrison, Johnson, Linn, Mills, Polk, Pottawattamie, Scott, and Woodbury Counties, each of has faced challenges in meeting air quality standards.

The grant program is administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), who estimates health benefits of the program will total up to $8.2 billion, while the costs of the program will be capped at $500 million nationally.

Read more about the grant program through EPA’s press release or here. Applications will be accepted until January 15, 2014.

Iowa Receives $1.03 Million Grant to Reduce Costs of Rooftop Solar

A solar panel stretches across the roof of a single family home
Photo by rob.rudloff; Flickr

The Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) announced that it will receive a $1.03 million federal grant to make it easier to install rooftop solar panels in the state.

The funds will be used by the Iowa Statewide Readiness Initiative to cut the “soft costs” of rooftop solar installations. These costs can account for up to 60% of the total expense of rooftop solar projects, and are associated with zoning, acquiring permits, and connecting to the electricity grid.

Read more about the announcement at the IEDA web site.

Emerald Ash Borer Found in Cedar County, Iowa

A sign on a hiking trail describes the negative effects of emerald ash borer beetles.
Photo by Mo Kaiwen; Flickr

Officials have identified emerald ash borer (EAB) larvae in multiple trees in Cedar County, Iowa. The invasive beetle has been implicated in widespread death of ash trees in the Northeastern U.S.

In recent years, EAB infestations have been identified in Missouri, Kansas, Minnesota, and Colorado. This is the 4th confirmed EAB infestation in Iowa.

Continue reading

Federal Audits Identify Shortcomings in Iowa Flood Relief Management

2008 Flooding in Downtown Waterloo, Iowa
Photo by Don Becker, USGS; Flickr

Three recent audits opened by the U.S. Office of the Inspector General cited errors in Iowa’s management of federal funds provided for 2008 flood relief. Most significantly, the state failed to verify that disaster assistance funds for businesses were not being duplicated by other federal grants. Continue reading

Polk County Receives $7 Million Flood Hazard Mitigation Grant from FEMA

Winter flooding in Dolliver State Park, Iowa.
Photo by Iowa Spirit Walker, Flickr

Polk County, Iowa has received a $7 million flood hazard mitigation grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The grant is designed to fund long-term projects that provide protection from floods in Iowa’s most populous county, including the construction of four regional water retention basins and upgrades to the stormwater sewer system in Northeast Des Moines.

Read more here.