Following massive spill, Keystone XL gets go-ahead in Nebraska


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TransCanada tweeted a picture of the affected area around the recent oil spill in South Dakota. (TransCanada)
Jenna Ladd | November 22, 2017

More than 200,000 gallons of oil spilled from the Keystone Pipeline near Amherst, South Dakota late last week, yet further expansion of the pipeline’s bigger brother, Keystone XL, was approved by the state of Nebraska on Monday.

TransCanada, the company that owns both pipelines, shut down the Keystone Pipeline last Thursday morning at 6 am after detecting a drop in pressure, indicating a leak. About 5,000 barrels of oil spilled onto privately owned land roughly 200 miles north of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The company is still investigating the cause of the pipeline’s rupture.

Just three days after the oil spill, Nebraska’s Public Service Commission decided the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline’s route through Nebraska. Caving to pressure from Nebraska’s conservative legislators as well as industry and labor groups, the five-person commission agreed to allow the pipeline to cross through Nebraska. However, the pipeline must follow an alternative route. While the pipeline will enter and exit the state in the originally proposed locations, the commission will require its route to follow an existing pipeline’s path. This change will make responding to leaks more efficient according to regulators.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that 10-25 million gallons of oil spill each year. Not only do oil spills destroy habitat, kill plants and animals, and compromise agriculture, they also threaten public heath by contaminating drinking water and degrading air quality.

Thursday’s oil spill came exactly one year after Native American protesters were sprayed with water cannons in 23 degree weather as they attempted to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline through North Dakota, citing oil spills as a primary concern.

 

4th National Climate Assessment public draft released


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St. Paul, Minnesota, like many U.S. cities, has developed its own climate adaptation plan. (U.S. Global Change Research Program)
Jenna Ladd | November 21, 2017

The U.S. Global Change Research Program released the first public draft of the 4th National Climate Assessment this November.

The assessment, which is projected to be complete in late 2018, is required through the Global Change Research Act (GCRA) of 1990 to “analyze the effects of global change on the natural environment, agriculture, energy production and use, land and water resources, transportation, human health and welfare, human social systems, and biological diversity.”

Findings from the report are separated into several geographic regions of the United States, with Iowa included among the Midwestern states. Scientists say that Iowans and others in the Midwest region can expect longer growing seasons and increasing carbon dioxide levels to bump yields for some crops, but that positive effect will be reversed over time. As the climate continues to change, increased humidity, severity and frequency of heat waves along with poorer water and air quality are expected to endanger agricultural yields.

Gene Takle and Charles Stainer, both CGRER members, were recently interviewed on Iowa Public Radio’s River to River about the program’s findings. Takle said,

“Humidity has been going up for the last 30 years, and it continues to go up. This fields a number of different consequences, heavy rainfall, the 5, 6, or 7 inch rainfall events that we seem to be experiencing every year. We’re also experiencing a rise in both summertime and wintertime temperatures which are going to be bumping up against our crops.”

To drive home the economic impact of a changing climate, Takle added, “In 2013, we were not able to plant 700,000 acres in Northwest Iowa.”

Scientists point out that Midwesterners burn through 20 percent more carbon emissions per capita than the national average. That said, they argue, the region has incredible potential to take actions that reduce those emissions that cause climate change.

The current draft of the 4th National Climate Assessment can be found here.

On The Radio – Cumulative CO2 levels reach record high


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Carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere when fossil fuels, like coal, are combusted. (Kym Farnik/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | November 20, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses how carbon dioxide levels soared to record highs in 2016. 

Transcript: Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels rose to a record-high during 2016 according to the World Meteorological Organization.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The organization measures carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases at 51 sites around the globe. Average accumulated CO2 levels in Earth’s atmosphere reached 403.3 parts per million last year due to human activity and an El Niño weather event, which brought drought to much of the world’s CO2-capturing vegetation. Last year’s increase of CO2 was 50 percent higher than average year-to-year increases over the last ten years.

Scientists say that Earth has not had the same concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere since about three to five million years ago, when temperatures were two to three degrees Celsius warmer and sea levels were several dozen feet higher.

World Meteorological Organization scientists warn that greenhouse gas emissions should be cut drastically and immediately to avoid “dangerous temperature increases” by the end of the century.

For more information, visit Iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Germany, Britain pledge $153 million to Amazon anti-deforestation program


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Much of the Amazon rainforest is located in Brazil. (Junaidrao/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | November 15, 2017

Germany and Great Britain have significantly increased their financial support to curb deforestation and expand environmental protection programs in Brazil.

Germany and Great Britain announced their pledges of $81 million and $72 million, respectively, to fight deforestation, much of it illegal, in the Amazon rainforest. The rainforest is recognized as a vital region for carbon absorption and a biodiversity hotspot.

Much of the Amazon rainforest is located in Brazil. Some $88 million of the new funds will go to provide financial incentives for landowners in two Brazilian states to maintain forest cover. The new program will also include the state of Mato Grosso, in an effort to curb ramped deforestation making way for the region’s busy soybean and livestock industries, according to a report from Reuters.

Although deforestation of the Amazon in Brazil decreased by 16 percent in the last year, it has not slowed to rates that would allow the country to meet the goals it set as a part of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The two European countries announced their plans to increase financial support on Tuesday at the United Nations climate change summit taking place in Bonn, Germany.

Climate change endangers World Heritage Sites


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Elephant populations at one Ivory Coast Natural Heritage Site have been replenished. (Guillaume Mignot/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | November 14, 2017

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) announced this week at the 23rd Conference of the Parties in Bonn, Germany that climate change now threatens one in four natural heritage sites.

There are a total of 206 Natural World Heritage properties, or sites elected by UNESCO to have “outstanding universal value.” Sixty-two of these sites are now considered to be at risk due to climate change by the organization, up from 35 in 2014.

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) director general Inger Andersen said in a statement, “Climate change acts fast and is not sparing the finest treasures of our planet. The scale and pace at which it (climate change) is damaging our natural heritage underline the need for urgent and ambitious national commitments and actions to implement the Paris Agreement.”

Coral reefs, wetlands, deltas and glaciated areas are among the most threatened ecosystems. Rising sea temperatures have killed off colorful algae that used to adorn the Aldabra Atoll Reef in the Indian Ocean, the Belize Barrier Reef in the Atlantic, and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, resulting in a “devastating” bleaching effect. The Everglades are also threatened by climate change as sea level rise brings salt water into the wetland ecosystem.

Although countries are responsible for protecting and managing natural heritage sites within their boarders, the report noted that natural heritage site management has decreased since 2014, mostly due to decreased funding.

Proper management can reduce risk for some threatened sites. The report tells of replenished elephant and chimpanzee populations in Ivory Coast’s Comoé national park due to improved management and international support.

On The Radio – Cedar Rapids power plant retires coal burning unit


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A view of industrial Cedar Rapids in 2013. (Arlen Breiholz/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | November 13, 2017

This On The Radio segment discusses how Alliant Energy recently added Cedar Rapids to its list of Iowa cities moving away from coal and toward natural gas.

Transcript: Alliant Energy began burning natural gas instead of coal in one of its largest energy units in Cedar Rapids last month.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Crews converted one of four coal-burning units at Prairie Creek Generation Station so that it could operate using natural gas last month. Upgrades to the more than 100 megawatt unit are expected to reduce the plant’s carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent and sulfur dioxide, mercury, and particulate matter pollution by 50 percent.

Alliant Energy has also recently transitioned from coal to natural gas at plants in Marshalltown, Dubuque, Council Bluffs, Bettendorf and Clinton. Prairie Creek Generation Station is expected to be coal free by 2025.

While coal still provides 47 percent of Iowa’s energy, that number has decreased significantly in recent years. Wind energy provides the second largest percentage of Iowa’s electricity, making up 36.6 percent of the total energy picture.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Syria joins climate agreement, U.S. only country not participating


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The 23rd United Nations Conference of the Parties on Climate Change is taking place November 6 through 17 in Bonn, Germany. (Bonn International)
Jenna Ladd | November 8, 2017

Syria recently announced at the international climate conference in Bonn, Germany that it will join the Paris Climate Accord.

Syria’s decision to join the international agreement makes the United States the only country in the world that is not honoring the 2015 climate change mitigation goals. President Trump announced that the U.S. would leave the agreement, which aims to keep global temperatures from rising more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels, in June.

Nicaragua was the second-to-last country to ratify the agreement. The central American country initially voiced concerns that the Paris climate agreement did not go far enough to address climate change but decided to join in September.

The Sierra Club published a response to Syria’s joining, “As if it wasn’t already crystal clear, every single other country in the world is moving forward together to tackle the climate crisis, while Donald Trump has isolated the United States on the world stage in an embarrassing and dangerous position.”

Given that the U.S. is the second-largest producer of greenhouse gases, some experts wonder if the international climate goals can be reached without U.S. government support. More than 1,300 U.S Mayors, Governors, State Attorneys, businesses, investors and other prominent climate actors have communicated their continued commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement goals in the We Are Still In movement. The group, which makes up $6.2 trillion of the U.S. economy, will send numerous delegates to the the Conference of the Parties 23 to “show [ing] the world that U.S. leadership on climate change extends well beyond federal policy.”