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.

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.

Coffee grounds to carbon-neutral fuels


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Coffee by Rudolf Vlček
Kasey Dresser | November 10, 2017

In the U.S, 1.5 million tons of coffee grounds are wasted each year. Bio-Bean is a company founded in 2013 by Arthur Kay, a London based entrepreneur. His idea takes excess coffee grounds and turns it into clean fuel to power buildings, vehicles, appliances and more. Coffee grounds are not only carbon neutral but they burn hotter and slower than wood.

To begin the process, bags of coffee ground waste are gathered from businesses, transportation stations, factories, stores, etc. The bags are shredded and separated. Next they’re dried to extract the water and put under a high pressure system to create “Coffee Logs.” Right now, “Coffee logs” are the most popular for hearth fires and stove top cooking. The company already recycles thousands of tons of coffee grounds annually and plans to keep going. According to National Geographic research every ton of coffee grounds Bio-beans keeps out of landfills, saves 200 trees. Not only is this an effective environmental protection plan but it saves coffee shops and instant coffee factories a lot of money that would have gone to disposing of the excess waste.

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.”

Iowa City Climate Action and Adaptation Plan in the works


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A complete timeline of Iowa City’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan development. (City of Iowa City)
Jenna Ladd | November 7, 2017

There was standing room only at the Iowa City Climate Action Community Meeting on Thursday night.

The community meeting was organized by the city of Iowa City’s Climate Action Steering Committee, which was formed in June 2017 following President Trumps’ announcement that the U.S. would withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. Since then, city council and the steering committee have committed Iowa City to the same goals outlined by the Paris Climate Accord: community-wide greenhouse gas reduction goals of 26-28% by the year 2025 and 80% by 2050, where 2005 emissions levels serve as a baseline.

Representatives from the environmental consulting firm Elevate Energy presented attendees with possible climate adaptation and mitigation strategies in five categories: energy, waste, transportation, adaptation, and other, at five stations around the Iowa City Public Library’s meeting room A. Residents were invited to visit each station and vote for those strategies they thought would be useful to Iowa City and those strategies they felt they could help to implement.

Brenda Nations, Sustainability Coordinator for the city, opened the community meeting. She said, “We want to ensure the benefits for all members of our community, and we want to be sure to have equitable solutions to these problems.”

To that end, the steering committee plans to send a city-wide survey by mail in December to residents that are unable to attend any of the initiative’s community meetings.

In partnership with Elevate Energy, the steering committee will put together a concise report of community input and cost-benefit analysis that will inform the first draft of Iowa City’s climate action plan, due out in February. After a final community input meeting planned for April 26, the steering community will present their completed Climate Action and Adaptation Plan to city council in May 2018.