A Carbon Pipeline was Proposed in Iowa


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Josie Taylor | January 13, 2022

Another out-of-state company has announced a plan to build hundreds of miles of pipeline in Iowa to transport carbon dioxide from ethanol plants and pump it into the ground. 

Wolf Carbon Solutions said it has an agreement with Archer-Daniels-Midland Company (ADM) to take carbon dioxide from its facilities in Cedar Rapids and Clinton and transport it to an existing carbon sequestration site in Decatur, Illinois. The pipeline would run about 350 miles and would have additional capacity to accommodate captured carbon from other facilities.

The Iowa Utilities Board, which oversees the permit process for hazardous liquid pipelines, has not received formal word from Wolf that they would start the process, said Don Tormey, a spokesperson for the board.

It would be the third carbon pipeline proposed in recent months that would connect to ethanol and fertilizer plants in the state. Summit Carbon Solutions and Navigator CO2 Ventures filed requests to hold public informational meetings for their proposed pipelines in August and October, which is generally the first step in the permit process. 

To help limit greenhouse gas emissions, the federal government gives tax credits to companies that capture and sequester the carbon they would otherwise expel. The Navigator pipeline alone could net hundreds of millions of dollars in credits each year for the owners of ethanol and fertilizer plants connected to it.

Common Pesticides are More Harmful than We Once Thought


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Josie Taylor | November 28, 2021

A new study found that pesticides are even more harmful to pollinators than previously thought. 

A study by Stuligross and colleagues tallying the detrimental impacts of a key pesticide on reproduction of a bee species adds to growing evidence that such insects, which make up the vast majority of bee species, are vulnerable to the compounds. 

Their findings suggest the harm of pesticides can accumulate over multiple generations, which could exacerbate the loss of species that provide valuable pollination for farms and ecosystems. Pesticides can harm both larva and adult bees. 

The work demonstrates that chronic pesticide poisoning can cause “meaningful and significant impacts” on bees, says Nigel Raine, a bee ecologist at the University of Guelph who was not personally involved with the study. 

Neonicotinoids pesticides which are sprayed on soil and seeds were found to be the most harmful. They affect both the memory of most bees and the ability to reproduce. Pesticides like these were found to be more harmful to these aspects than scientists had once thought. 

Pollinators are necessary to plant and crop growth. A lack of pollination will ultimately lead to a lack of food and necessary plants. 

Biden Administration Plans to Cut Methane Emissions Without Reducing Livestock


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Josie Taylor | November 11, 2021

The Biden administration is seeking to drastically cut down on methane emission, and according to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, reducing the number of livestock will not be a priority. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “climate smart” initiatives will focus on new types of animal feed and manure management. 

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that, along with carbon dioxide, is believed to be a driving force of the planet’s warming climate. The new Global Methane Pledge seeks to cut methane emissions by 30 percent this decade.

Cattle are the top source of methane in agriculture. One cow can produce more than 200 pounds of methane each year, according to researchers at the University of California, Davis. Livestock waste also emits methane as it decomposes. There were about 3.7 million cattle and calves in Iowa as of January 2021. 

Earlier last week, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, was skeptical that agricultural methane emissions could be reduced without hurting farmers.

But Vilsack, who was Iowa’s governor for eight years, said specialized diets can reduce methane production in cattle stomachs. He said repeatedly that the administration does not have plans to shrink livestock populations, however they will still find ways to reduce methane in agriculture. 

Reducing methane, without hurting farmers, will ultimately help reduce climate change risks, and in turn will help everyone.

Iowa Group Turns the Water Pollution Issue into a Clickable Map


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Josie Taylor | September 2, 2021

The Environmental Working Group has developed a clickable map that describes some of Iowa’s most pressing pollution problems in fine detail. 

This map, called “water atlas” shows that Iowa is being polluted by manure and commercial fertilizers. This is something that affects every Iowan. These pollute Iowa’s waters, which makes tap water more expensive for residents. 

The Environmental Working Group map details fertilization statewide and the nitrate and phosphorus pollution associated with the practices in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin. As many already know, these states are agriculture hot spots. 

Soren Rundquist, the organization’s director of spatial analysis, said the idea for this interactive map was to make data points easily accessible for Iowans, so they could understand what is going on. 

Des Moines Water Works CEO, Ted Corrigan has declared the Des Moines River “essentially unusable” for tap water at times due to algae toxins from farm runoff. 

Water Works drew national attention when it sued upstream drainage districts to force them to address pollution, but a federal judge threw the case out. A Des Moines Register Iowa Poll in 2015 found that almost two-thirds of Iowans supported the lawsuit. 

Iowans clearly want safe drinking, and the Iowa Environmental Working Group has made it easier to understand what is going on.

July was Earth’s Hottest Month Ever Recorded


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Elizabeth Miglin | August 18, 2021

In the latest report to sound the alarm about the climate crisis, July 2021 was the hottest month ever recorded, according to new data released by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. 

The data found combined land and ocean-surface temperature was 1.67 degrees F above the 20th-century average of 60.4 degrees F, making it the hottest July since records began in 1879. “July is typically the world’s warmest month of the year, but July 2021 outdid itself as the hottest July and month ever recorded,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, Ph.D. The previous record was set in July 2016, which was tied in 2019 and 2020. 

Regionally, Asia experienced its hottest July since the record was set in 2010; Europe had its second-hottest July – tying with July 2010; and North America, South America, Africa and Oceania all facing a top-10 warmest July. It is very likely 2021 will rank among the world’s 10 warmest years on record, according to the NCEI’s Global Annual Temperature Rankings Outlook

The report comes less than three months prior to “COP26,” a major climate summit held in Glasgow. Most members of the Paris Agreement will be at the summit and are expected to submit updated pledges as well as to set tougher targets for emission reductions by 2030. 

Millions in damages from 2020 Derecho coming out of farmers’ pockets


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Elizabeth Miglin | July 28, 2021

The derecho and drought last year destroyed $802 million in corn, soybeans and pastures with farmers absorbing nearly one-third of the losses, according to a new report.

The American Farm Bureau Federation is lobbying congress for additional disaster aid for US growers due to insurance being unable to total cover the cost of damages. Federal crop insurance covered $560 million in losses leaving $243 million in damages farmers were responsible to pay for out of pocket. 

Across the country, damages caused by natural disasters totaled $6.5 billion last year. Federal crop insurance is only able to cover around $2.9 billion in losses with $3.6 left to farmers. Farm Bureau crop damage estimates do not include other ag losses such as loss of livestock or additional equipment costs farmers experienced. Regardless, it was the fourth-most expensive year of natural disasters since 1980, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The derecho’s powerful winds reached 140 mph on August 10 as it traveled 770 miles across eight states. While most of the damages to homes, businesses and farmers centered in Iowa and Illinois, total damage reached $11.5 billion. 

U.S. Representatives Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, and Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa, voted in favor of an $8.5 billion disaster bill to provide coverage for the derecho and other high wind events which the House agriculture committee approved Tuesday according to the Des Moines Register. The bill would provide assistance to farmers and ranchers seeking natural disaster assistance for last year and 2021. 

Biden nominates former Iowa Governor Chet Culver to federal rural lending board


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Elizabeth Miglin | July 20, 2021

Former Iowa Governor Chet Culver has been nominated by President Joe Biden to the board of directors for the Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corporation, also known as Farmer Mac. 

Culver served as Governor of Iowa from 2007 to 2011. During his governorship Culver built up a large budget surplus and earned Iowa a ‘Triple A’ bond rating, which helped the renewable energy industry grow in Iowa. Culver also served as the Iowa Secretary of State from 1999 to 2007 and founded the Chet Culver group, a renewable energy consulting firm, in 2011. 

Farmer Mac is a federally chartered organization aimed at increasing access to capital in rural and agricultural communities. Created in response to the 1980’s farm crisis, the organization is now the largest secondary market investor of USDA loan guarantees in the U.S. and has provided over $63 billion in loans to rural borrowers. 

“Any rural-based business or industry can benefit from Farmer Mac. I want to make sure that continues into the future, and that’s another reason I’m privileged and honored to serve,” said Culver. 

The president is able to appoint five members to the board of fifteen as representatives for farmers, the Farm Credit System and commercial banks. If approved by Congress this will be Culver’s second term serving on Farmer Mac. 

Lake Darling Faces Continuing Bacteria Problems Despite $12 Million Restoration


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Elizabeth Miglin | July 6, 2021

Once the pinnacle of Iowa perennial lake improvement, Lake Darling now reports one of the highest amounts of swimming advisories in Iowa. 

Despite a $12 million restoration concluded in 2014, Lake Darling has had problems maintaining its renewed water quality. A study by the Iowa Environmental Council found Darling had 30 beach advisories for fecal bacteria and nine for algae toxins between 2014 and 2020. In a rare discovery for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Darling was found to have violated three state swimming standards in a single round of tests last week. Only seven other lakes received “swimming not recommended” warnings.

The restoration of Lake Darling began in the early 2000’s after Iowa DNR tests for bacteria found high levels of animal waste due to the local area’s high concentration of hog confinements. Animal bacteria and algae toxins can result in intestinal and other illnesses in humans, especially those with weakened immune systems. However, many of these concerns seemed to be put to rest due to the restoration. In 2007, the Iowa DNR even published an article titled “Lake Darling: A snapshot of success.

In an interview with the Iowa Capital Dispatch, Alicia Vasto, the associate water program director for the Iowa Environmental Council, said the increase in algae toxin microcystin has been a major concern. Vasto noted the beginning of July is very early in the season for microcystin advisories, however the precipitation patterns and drought increases the difficulty to draw conclusions. 

Carbon-Capturing Pipelines are Being Proposed in Iowa


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Josie Taylor | June 14, 2021

A Texas based company called Navigator CO2 plans to build pipelines across Iowa that can capture carbon dioxide emissions from ethanol, fertilizer and other industrial plants. Iowa’s Bruce Rastetter’s Summit Agricultural Group has also put out plans to capture carbon emission. CEO of Navigator Matt Vining, along with president of Summit Ag Investors, Justin Kirchhoff, did an interview with the Des Moines Register.

Both companies have the same goal of stopping carbon dioxide emissions from reaching the atmosphere. This would ideally stop carbon dioxide emissions from contributing to climate change. The companies will do this by liquefying the carbon dioxide, and then injecting it into a rock formation under the ground. 

Vining told the Des Moines Register that once the carbon dioxide is injected into the rock formation, it will be there permanently. Kirchhoff said their project can cut carbon emissions from ethanol plants in half. 

Vining commented on the controversial nature of pipelines. In the past, oil and gas pipelines have been opposed by many, including Indigious American communities. Vining this is different because, “Capturing CO2 from the environment is in the public’s best interest … it’s a public need”.

Neither company has an exact layout for where the pipelines will be. 

UI Researchers Develop a New Model to Measure Air Pollution from Soil By Using Satellites


Elizabeth Miglin | June 9, 2021

Researchers at the University of Iowa Technology Institute (ITI) have developed a new model to measure air pollution from soil using satellite data. 

Led by visiting ITI scholar Tong Sha, the study focused on nitrogen oxides (NOx) derived from soil (SNOx). Traditionally, NOx are thought of as emissions from combustion of fossil fuels however, scientists suspect SNOx may be increasingly responsible for poor ozone air quality, especially in agricultural areas. Although existing data to support this belief is lacking, the research started at the University of Iowa has led to a new assessment model which may yield more accurate estimates of SNOx. 

The new model updated the Weather Research and Forecasting simulator and chemistry, known as WRF-Chem, in order to improve an SNOx estimate scheme. With this, the researchers used an array of satellite sensors including the Global Precipitation Measurement to measure precipitation, Soil Moisture Active Passive to measure soil moisture and temperature, and others to show for the first time from space the increase of SNOx right after the fall of rain on dry soil. 

Although the research focused on rural California, its findings apply to rural cropland areas in Iowa and elsewhere. The study found around 40% of California’s NOx emissions are from soil and in the cropland areas SNOx emissions exceeded human-source emissions. Furthermore, the team found SNOx emissions are responsible for an additional 23% surface ozone concentration in California as a whole. 

The study was published on May 18th in the scientific journal Environmental Science & Technology.