Iowa City Climate Fest – Day Four: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – and Repair


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Nicole Welle | September 24, 2020

The Iowa City Climate Fest kicks off day four today with activities that focus on keeping non-recyclable materials out of recycling bins and repairable items out of landfills.

One in four items sent to recycling centers aren’t recyclable, according to the Iowa City Climate Fest page. To help combat this problem, today’s personal challenge asks people to try out a DIY Home Recycling Audit to check their recycling for misplaced items that frequent Iowa City’s recycling bins. Once people know which materials to look for, they can let their friends and family know to help stop misplaced materials from ending up in local recycling centers.

For today’s community event, locals are encouraged to check out a map of repair resources in and around Iowa City that shows where they can take their damaged goods and appliances that could otherwise end up in the local landfill. Opting to repair damaged items rather than throwing away and replacing them is both good for the environment and a great way to save money. For those who would rather fix their broken items themselves, there is also a virtual Fit-It Fair with instructions on how to do it and a map showing area resources where tools and equipment are available to borrow or rent.

Check out the Iowa City Climate Fest page to learn more about how you can get involved and help celebrate the ways the Iowa City community is doing their part to address climate change.

Iowa City Climate Fest Kicks off This Week


GCRER Co-director Jerry Schnoor discusses the importance of climate action.

Nicole Welle|September 21, 2020

The Iowa City Climate Fest begins today and will celebrate the different ways that our community is coming together to address climate change throughout the week.

There will be no in-person activities this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the organizers have planned daily personal challenges and virtual community events to keep the celebration going. Details can be accessed through their website. Today’s activities center around celebrating better transportation options, and there will be a knew theme each day.

Local businesses, organizations, and individuals can also get involved by printing off coloring sheets to decorate and hang in windows or submit videos, pictures or posts telling their personal climate action story. Anyone who is interested in taking alternative actions for reducing emissions in Iowa City is also encouraged to check out their Climate Action Toolkit.

Iowa DNR Issued Water Quality Warnings for Half of State Park Beaches This Summer


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Nicole Welle | September 17, 2020

The Iowa DNR issued advisories for over half of state park beaches this summer due to unsafe levels of E. Coli bacteria or microcystins in the water.

DNR conducted weekly tests Memorial Day through Labor day, and 39 state park beaches had at least one week during the summer where toxin levels were high enough to trigger a warning. They reported a total of 118 advisories over the summer, an increase from the 79 advisories issued in 2019, according to a Cedar Rapids Gazette article.

E. Coli, which indicates the presence of feces in the water, was responsible for most of the warnings. However, elevated levels of microcystins, which caused 12 advisories, can lead to a range of health problems in people exposed to them. These include gastroenteritis, allergic reactions and potentially life-threatening liver damage. Microcystins are produced by certain types of freshwater blue-green algae.

Studies have shown that much of the bacteria and toxins causing the warnings come from manure runoff and contaminates from nearby fields. Sandy beaches also tend to have higher levels of bacteria from manure from geese and other animals. Higher levels of toxic algae blooms, however, can have a variety of causes. Weather, temperature, nutrient availability and other environmental stressors are all factors, according to Dan Kendall, and environmental specialist in charge of the beach monitoring program.

The DNR’s Lake Restoration Program has plans to begin reducing bacteria in some of Iowa’s lakes that have been most heavily affected and continue testing each summer to monitor toxin levels.

Iowa DNR Proposes Budget Increase for Lake Restoration and Water Trails


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Nicole Welle | September 14, 2020

The Iowa Natural Resource Commission endorsed a budget for the DNR with increases for lake water quality projects, water trails and park infrastructure.

The Department of Management ordered the Iowa DNR to use the current budget as a baseline for the 2021-2022 proposal. DNR complied by doubling the budget in those three areas while keeping spending the same elsewhere. Most of the money in the budget comes from fees and grants rather than the state’s general fund, according to a DesMoines Register article.

All of the budget increases will come from the state’s gambling tax receipts if it is approved by the legislature. If the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission approves the current proposal, it will become a baseline for Gov. Kim Reynolds’ next proposal for the department.

Some raised questions about how an increase in the budget would affect possible cuts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. DNR Director Kayla Lyon said that she has not heard of any across-the-board cuts at this time, but it is possible that departments will have to consider reductions in spending later on.

The new budget will be submitted to the Department of Management by Oct. 1.

Trump Administration’s Plan to Deny Pending Biofuel Waivers Could Appeal to Iowa Farmers


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Nicole Welle | September 10, 2020

President Trump directed the EPA to deny dozens of retroactive biofuel waivers from oil refiners over concerns that the waivers could reduce his support in the corn belt.

Under the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), oil refiners are required to either blend biofuels into their products or buy credits from the refiners that do. However, refiners also have the option to submit requests for waivers that exempt them from those requirements if they can prove that adhering to the requirements will cause them great financial harm, according to a Reuters report.

In recent years, the Trump administration has increased the number of waivers given out to refiners, a move that did not sit well with farm states since it could hurt demand for corn-based ethanol. An appeals court in January said that many of the waivers should not have been issued and decided that waivers granted after 2010 must only be approved as extensions to existing waivers. This led to an increase in waiver applications from refiners attempting to comply with the court ruling.

President Trump’s request to deny the pending retroactive waivers is likely to draw him some support in Iowa and other Midwest swing states where his support has waned somewhat since the 2016 elections. The EPA could reject dozens of waiver requests as soon as this week, and shares have already increased for Pacific Ethanol Inc., Green Plains Inc. and Renewable Energy Group Inc, according to a Bloomberg article.

EPA Rolls Back Effluent Limits for Coal Power Plants


Graphic of a coal power plant
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Nicole Welle | September 7, 2020

EPA recently announced it was finalizing the “Steam Electric Consideration Rule,” a rule that will roll back requirements limiting toxic discharge from coal power plants

EPA adopted standards to limit this discharge in 2015, but they extended the compliance date to the completion of this new rule. Now, the new rule is set to adopt weaker standards, provide a further extension for compliance and exempt facilities that will switch fuel sources or are scheduled to retire within a set time period, according to an article published by the Iowa Environmental Council (IEC).

The rule outlines new “effluent limit guidelines” under the Clean Water Act for nitrogen and toxic metals like mercury, arsenic and selenium. These guidelines set water quality standards for industrial discharges based on “the best technology that is economically achievable” for power plants. Instead of setting a strict technology-based standard, this allows facilities to determine what treatment to install that will meet discharge limitations.

“Regulations are meant to be protective of the environment, not the industries that cause pollution,” said IEC Water Program Director Ingrid Gronstal Anderson in an IEC article. “Over the last several years, EPA has been rolling back environmental standards in favor of economic interests. This abdication of regulatory responsibility is a clear danger to public health and the environment.”

EPA claims the new rule will do a better job of reducing pollution than the 2015 rule. However, they base their calculations off of the assumption that facilities will instal better technology and achieve more reductions than the rule actually requires.

New Study Highlights Environmental and Financial Benefits of Diversifying Crop Rotations


Graphic of an Iowa corn field
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Nicole Welle | September 3, 2020

A new study from researchers at Iowa State University and the University of Minnesota found that diversifying crop rotations keep farms profitable while greatly reducing the negative environmental and health impacts of farming.

Farmers have practiced corn and soybean crop rotation for a long time. However, this new research found that adding more crops, like oat and alfalfa, to the rotation can improve soil quality and the productivity of farmland. It also benefits the environment and human health by reducing the need for synthetic fertilizers.

The study used data from a long-term field experiment at Iowa State University’s Marsden Farm. This experiment began in 2001 and compared performance characteristics of a two-year corn-soy rotation with a three-year corn-soy-oat rotation and a four-year corn-soy-oat-alfalfa rotation. They used this information to better understand the amount of pollution and fossil fuel use associated with each cropping system, according to a Phys.org article.

By looking at pollution from both farming and the supply chain, researchers found that the production of synthetic fertilizer requires a lot of fossil fuel. Its application also produces poor air quality by emitting greenhouse gases and pollution. Less fertilizer is required when small grains and forages are added into rotations, and the addition of just one small grain crop can reduce fossil fuel use and pollution by half, according to the study.

While it may take time for farmers to further diversify their crop rotations, this information could provide long-term success for farmers, the public and the environment.

Drought Conditions Worsen in Iowa After Another Dry Week


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Nicole Welle | August 31, 2020

Roughly 96% of Iowa is now considered at least abnormally dry as drought conditions worsen across the state.

That is an 8% increase since last week. 61% of Iowa is now in at least moderate drought, with 29% in severe drought and roughly 7% in extreme drought. These could be the driest conditions recorded since the drought of 2012, according to a Siouxland Proud article.

Every county in Iowa is now experiencing drought conditions, but the western part of the state has been hit the hardest. Crops in west-central Iowa are suffering under extreme drought conditions and a recent wave of high temperatures, and crop yields will likely be affected. This comes as an extra blow to farmers who have already experienced crop damage after the derecho swept through earlier this month.

21% of Iowa corn is now in “poor or very poor” condition according to the USDA. There are a few chances of rain across the state in the 10 day forecast, but drought conditions are likely to persist.

Gov. Reynolds Directs CARES Acts Funds to Iowa Biofuel Producers and Renewable Fuel Retailers


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Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Tuesday that $100 million of CARES Act funds will go to several agricultural sectors in Iowa.

Iowa is directing $15.5 million in grants to biofuel producers and $7 million to renewable fuel retailers. Both sectors suffered during the early stages of the pandemic when demand for gasoline dropped, and renewable fuel producers did not receive any funds directly through the CARES Act at that time, according to Iowa Public Radio.

Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, says that he is grateful for the funds since as much as half of Iowa’s ethanol production came to a halt during the worst stages of the pandemic. He hopes that the money will give producers more time to recover and help prevent plants from being permanently closed. As of this week, production has resumed to around 85 to 95 percent of capacity.

Reynolds directed the remaining funds to livestock programs, new farmers, meat processors, fruit and vegetable growers and the schools that buy their produce from local growers.

Unhealthy Levels of Pollution Spread Across Western U.S. as California Wildfires Burn On


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Nicole Welle | August 24, 2020

More than 600 individual fires and some of the largest wildfire complexes in California’s history are still burning after thousands of lightning strikes triggered them last week.

Unhealthy levels of pollution have been reported across the state in the last few days. The large number of individual fires and the size of the fire complexes has caused an unusually high amount of of smoke to enter the atmosphere, and the smoke has spread across parts of the western United States and the Pacific Ocean. Atmospheric testing showed that Northern California had the worst air quality in the world on August 19.

Extremely hot and dry conditions in California could cause the smoke to stay in the air longer. The black carbon particulates in the air will cause health problems for humans and animals as they enter the lungs and bloodstream, and they play a role in global warming, according to an article published by NASA. The National Weather Service issued a poor air quality alert for California’s Central Valley until the fires are extinguished.