A bill proposed this month in the Iowa House of Representatives would increase transparency around energy efficiency and utility costs in rental units.
The bill, HSB 635, states that landlords of properties containing at least 12 units would need to disclose average utility costs in writing to prospective tenants, prior to issuing a lease.
Properties with low rent are often older and may have structural issues–like leaky windows or dripping pipes— which can lead to wasted resources and higher utility bills for tenants. The Iowa Environmental Council is encouraging support of the bill, saying it would create incentives for more efficient rental properties.
A news story published last week featured an Iowa farmer who illegally built to un-permitted barns containing about 2,400 hogs. State officials were unaware of the concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) for years.
That farmer and others are fighting in what Associated Press correspondent John Flesher called a “battleground” in Iowa. Questions of pollution and regulation have inspired lawsuits, anti-CAFO alliances and neighborly tensions throughout the state, as animal feeding operations continue to proliferate.
Below are four key takeaways from Flesher’s in-depth report. Read the full-length story on apnews.com.
The federal government relies state data for animal feeding operation data. In many cases, states keep tabs on only the largest operations (in Iowa, a true “CAFO” has a minimum of 1,000 species-variable “animal units” per confinement). The EPA counted about 20,300 CAFOs nationwide in 2018. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates there are about 450,000 animal feeding operations–places animals are raised in confinement (of any size)– nationwide.
Under the 1972 Clean Water Act, especially large livestock operations need permits for discharging waste into waterways. Since such discharges are often unintended, however, state and federal environmental agencies can only mandate permits for operations caught discharging waste. In some cases, farmers have been able to make spill-proofing improvements instead of applying for permits.
Studies show that livestock operations and anaerobically decomposing waste release massive amounts of ammonia and greenhouse gases. Because such emissions are difficult to measure, though, they are unregulated by the Clear Air Act. Studies have additionally correlated these emissions to human health issues such as childhood asthma. Cause/effect is impossible to prove, however.
The National Science Foundation granted a group of mostly Iowa-based interdisciplinary researchers $2.5 million to explore potential scenarios for making greater Des Moines more sustainable.
The Sustainable Cities Research Team –12 researchers from Iowa State University, University of Northern Iowa and University of Texas at Arlington– received the grant this week. The group’s engineers, environmental scientists, psychologists and others will holistically study food, energy and water systems within a six-county area to develop and analyze “scenarios” for improved sustainability.
An ISU press release said the approach would include analysis of potential for increased local and urban food production as well as building and transportation energy efficiency. The researchers will survey and collaborate with local residents and stakeholders, including farmers and community leaders.
The research effort could inform not only the future of the Des Moines area, but planning and policy in other Midwestern cities, too.
As pollutants like particulates, PCB and pesticides filter out of the air, they often accumulate on surfaces like asphalt or building exteriors. When it rains, the pollutants can run off into water sources.
University of Iowa researchers recently published findings in Earth and Space Chemistry, revealing that a variety of bacteria and fungi live within the film of pollution on such surfaces. Some of those microorganisms are able to digest and break down the pollutants.
Researchers Scott Shaw (chemistry) and Timothy Mattes (civil and environmental engineering) intend to sequence the DNA of these organisms in the future. They will then be able to determine which could potentially be cultivated for fighting pollution in other areas, according to Iowa Now.
CGRER, the UI Center of Health Effects of Environmental Contamination, the U.S. Department of Defense Army Research Office and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission funded this research.
A new report from the Iowa Policy Project considers the roles equity should play when crafting policy for disaster response and mitigation.
“Frontline communities”–which feel the “first and often hardest” direct impact from a disaster like a flood or earthquake–have lower capacity to recover or mitigate, according to the report. This is in part because properties in these high-risk communities are cheaper, so residents are more likely to live below the poverty-line and belong to other disadvantaged socioeconomic groups.
“These communities are themselves set up for a disaster down the road and continuing downward spiral and being trapped where they are until the community can’t take it anymore and has scattered, or they’re just continually suffering over and over as these disasters strike,” the report’s author Joseph Wilensky told Iowa Public Radio.
Wilensky, a graduate student in the University of Iowa School of Urban and Regional Planning, reported that these “frontline” communities are less likely to receive full compensation for damages in as timely a manner as wealthier communities. He pointed to several examples from Iowa’s 2008 flood.
He also reported that allocation of Iowa’s watershed mitigation funds (both past and proposed projects) disproportionately benefits wealthier populations, as the cost-benefit method used favors protecting more expensive property, reducing economic damage.
Wilensky made several policy recommendations in the report as well. These include “rebalancing” the cost-benefit method to consider larger impact, considering whether mitigation efforts located outside of the frontline communities–which may qualify for less federal funding–could be helpful and hiring a state watershed coordinator to guide mitigation project applications.
Rising flood risk in Iowa and the Midwest due to climate change makes this report and its considerations especially pertinent.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released its 10th Emissions Gap Report Tuesday. Though more countries pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions every year, the report revealed that collectively, the “gap” between where emissions are and where they should be to minimize atmospheric warming is huge.
Some findings from the report include:
Global GHG emissions have risen about 1.5% annually in the last 10 years. The U.S. leads in per capita emissions, while China’s overall emissions are nearly double those of the U.S., the second highest emitter. Trends do not indicate a “peak” in global emissions occurring anytime soon.
G20 Summit members account for 78% of global emissions, and while as a whole the group of 20 countries and the E.U. is on track to exceed its 2020 emission reduction goals, several countries (including the U.S.) are actually behind on their goals.
If projections hold true, global emissions in 2030 will be 60 GtCO2e. To meet a 2 degree warming goal, emissions would need to be 41 GtCO2e. For a 1.5 degree goal, 25 GtCO2e.
We must triple or even quintuple reduction cuts to meet goals. The executive summary reads, “Had serious climate action begun in 2010, the cuts required per year to meet the projected emissions levels for 2°C and 1.5°C would only have been 0.7 per cent and 3.3 per cent per year on average. However, since this did not happen, the required cuts in emissions are now 2.7 per cent per year from 2020 for the 2°C goal and 7.6 per cent per year on average for the 1.5°C goal. “
The report suggests a number of potential “entry points” for transformational change required to implement solutions, as well as a discussion about the “potential for energy transition” and energy efficiency. Read more here.
Though the state of Iowa as a whole has focused on shifting to renewable forms of energy–wind in particular–for years, some localities feel the transition has not been speedy enough. A handful of “Energy Districts” have formed in recent years with intent to push their communities forward in the renewable energy adoption.
These districts are independent and non-partisan entities led by a small staff and a local board of directors, according to the Winneshiek Energy District website. Winneshiek’s was the first such district to form (in 2010) and has since has encouraged and aided others. A recent Energy News Network article said Iowa now has eight districts active or in planning, including two in Iowa City and Des Moines.
The Energy Districts are modeled after Soil and Water Conservation Districts, local authorities formed after the 1930s Dust Bowl to encourage local solutions to resource conservation. With the goal of empowering locals to transition to renewables on their own terms, Energy Districts provide services such as:
Energy auditing and planning assistance to homes, farms, businesses and institutions (often in partnership with Green Iowa AmeriCorps).
Advocacy for improved renewable energy policy
Guidance to other localities hoping to establish Energy Districts
A fact sheet provided by the Winneshiek County Energy District says the entity has helped create a $14 million investment in renewable energy, over 100 energy jobs and a 100,000 ton reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in Winneshiek County alone.