Major Iowa City public transportation changes expected


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Elizabeth Miglin | April 8, 2021

Just as news was announced that Amtrack plans to expand its train service to Iowa City, it was decided that the Hawkeye Express will be shutting down. 

After 15 years of providing Coralville residents with transportation to Kinnick Stadium, the Iowa Northern Railway Company announced plans on Wednesday to end the Hawkeye Express. Although the service has not been operational in 2020 due to the pandemic, in 2019, the Hawkeye Express served an average of 3,700 fans, reported The Daily Iowan

“There is not a good time to close the book on this type of experience, but this decision made sense to both parties. We are grateful for all the fans who made the train part of their gameday, truly” said Josh Sabin, the Director of Administration for the Iowa Northern Railway. 

Alternatively, Amtrak announced plans to connect Iowa City to the Quad-Cities in a new long-range route. The announcement comes as President Biden released the American Jobs Plan which includes $80 billion in funding for rail transportation if passed by Congress. 

Iowa business leaders and planners have encouraged increased rail transportation for years however plans had been put on pause due to a lack of funding. These concerns over a lack of funding persist as the Iowa Department of Transportation’s freight and passenger policy coordinator, Amanda Martin, stated “the Iowa DOT has completed the planning portion of the effort, but as of right now there are no dedicated funds for construction and implementation of the service” reports the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

If the plan is fully funded, the Iowa City to Quad-Cities service could replace 1.4 million vehicle trips, 324,700 bus rides and 40,900 plane trips a year according to a 2013 Iowa DOT study

Biden Adds Climate Spending to $2 Trillion Infrastructure Package


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Nicole Welle | April 5, 2021

President Joe Biden’s new $2 trillion infrastructure and jobs package includes a multi-billion dollar plan to combat the climate crisis and promote a nature-based infrastructure.

The plan includes $16 billion for capping abandoned oil and gas wells and $10 billion for the Civilian Climate Corps, a program that would create employment opportunities through conservation and restoration projects. To help pay for this, the proposal would raise the corporate tax rate to 28% and close tax breaks for oil and gas development, according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

There are currently over 2.3 million abandoned gas and oil wells in the United States, and they are leaking large amounts of methane into the atmosphere. By putting money towards capping them, the federal government plans to create jobs for workers displaced by the transition to renewable energy. This plan to create climate-friendly jobs shares similarities with the New Deal that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt put into place in the 1930s to improve infrastructure and the economy.

While the plan has received a lot of support from climate scientists and activists, many conservative lawmakers have opposed the tax increase. House Transportation and Infrastructure ranking member Sam Graves said in a statement that it would kill jobs and hinder economic recovery after the pandemic. However, the plan’s supporters assure that the tax hike would not negatively impact working Americans.

“This $2.3 trillion is spread over eight years, and there’s a plan to try to pay for it,” Jerry Schnoor, co-director for the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, said on Iowa Public Radio’s River to River. “It has to do with taxing the income of the richest people, making more than $400,000 per year.”

University of Iowa engineers receive $1 million to turn wastepaper into plastic


Folded paper
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Elizabeth Miglin | March 25, 2021

Earlier this month, University of Iowa engineers Xuan Song, Chao Wang, and H.S. Udaykumar, in partnership with Impossible Objects, Inc., received nearly $1 million from the REMADE Institute for their project to improve the speed and reduce the labor costs of remanufacturing recycled wastepaper. 

The project aims to use artificial intelligence (AI) and smart additive manufacturing (AM) technology to turn recycled paper and cardboard into high-value fiber reinforced plastic (FRP) composites. Aerospace, automotive, marine and construction industries use FRPs in most advanced engineering structures. Increasingly, FRPs have replaced heavier and more expensive infrastructure materials and systems, such as steel and concrete. 

The project is one of only 24 chosen in the latest round of funding by the REMADE Institute, a public-private partnership created by the United States Department of Energy. The institute provided a total of $43 million in research funding to support the development of new waste technologies in order to encourage a transition towards a circular economy.

Manufacturing currently makes up 22% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA. Song, Wang and Udaykumar hope to address this and that their research will encourage widespread adoption of recycling wastepaper into FRP plastic. 

Iowa City School District Surpasses Emission Goals


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Elizabeth Miglin | March 11, 2021

The Iowa City Community School District’s greenhouse gas emissions could be 48% lower this year than they were in 2018, according to a new report presented to the Iowa City school board by Design Engineers of Cedar Rapids. 

The emission reduction is mostly due to recent utilities improvements. 

This year’s rate is ahead of the school district’s previous goal of achieving 45%reduction by 2030, and the report estimates the district’s total emissions will be reduced by 62% by 2024 according to The Gazette

After many student-led climate protests in 2019, the district adopted a resolution to address climate change that involved establishing targets, providing annual updates, and conducting an inventory of emissions. 

Former Iowa City Climate Strike organizer and current University of Iowa student, Yardley Wayland was both surprised to hear how much the district accomplished and concerned the reduction was a result of limited in-class time due to COVID-19. She hopes during further renovations schools continue “…using sustainable measures and considering sustainable options.” 

The district is currently working with the Design Engineers of Cedar Rapids to create a timeline and budget for reaching net-zero emissions. Focus is on other ways to reduce emissions, such as providing electric buses, and energy-efficient equipment for nutrition service centers. A proposal to build a solar field is also gaining momentum. 

“The way to handle it is [to] work with utility companies and let them invest in the solar panels, and let us provide the land for them to put it on,” said Duane VanHermert, the Iowa City district’s director of facilities.

New Bill Would Give Iowa State Parks an Additional $3 Million Each Year


Image of lake in Pilot Knob State Park, Ellington, IA.
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Elizabeth Miglin | March 4, 2021

A plan to provide $3 million towards state park improvements passed a legislative subcommittee on Monday, March 1st.

Rep. Brent Siegrist, R-Council Bluffs, introduced the bill to provide additional funding to state parks in light of deferred maintenance. The bill would create a Restore the Outdoors program to fund vertical integration projects that focus on major repairs and renovations. 

Similar to legislation from 1997, House File 647 would provide the DNR with $3 million annually from gambling taxes over a three-year period. Despite concerns over budget restrictions caused by casino closures in 2020, GOP leaders are expected to give the bill a hearing in the Natural Resources and Appropriations committee. 

“I will continue to press this issue because I think it is very important to our quality of life in Iowa,” Siegrist said

The interest to improve state parks comes after a tumultuous year. Not only did Iowa’s state parks celebrate a centennial anniversary, but there was also a record 16.6 million visitations last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the impacts of the derecho left many state parks in need of renovation.  

“I think that, especially after last year when so many people used our state parks, it is just a good thing to keep them as maintained as we can,” subcommittee member Rep. Tom Jeneary, R-Le Mars, said to the Iowa Capitol Dispatch.

All three representatives on the House Natural Resources subcommittee approved the legislation.

Nuclear Energy Plant Closure Decreases Clean Energy In Iowa


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Thomas Robinson | January 5th, 2021

The Duane Arnold Energy Center (DAEC) near Palo, IA was decommissioned in August after incurring damage from the Derecho which decreases the amount of clean energy in Iowa.

The DAEC began commercial operation in February 1975 and served Iowa for 45 years before plans to decommission the plant in October, 2020 were sped up after the cooling towers were damaged by the Derecho.  Plans for the decommission will have all nuclear fuel in dry storage by 2023, and all building structures removed by 2080 once radioactivity has decreased. 

Approximately 10% of Iowa’s electricity came from the DAEC which means alternative energy sources such as natural gas and coal will be required to cover energy demand until alternative sources such as windmills are installed.  Other states, such as Illinois, are facing similar nuclear plant closures but have previously taken steps to prolong the lifespan their of nuclear power plants. Iowa has not taken steps to promote nuclear energy as a tool to combat climate change.

Approximately 20% of all U.S. energy has been reliably provided by nuclear energy since 1990, and nuclear energy has been deemed necessary to achieve global climate goals.  Energy produced by nuclear sources is commonly equated with energy produced by fossil fuels, however, they are not the same as carbon emissions are generally ignored in these types of comparisons.   Nuclear energy can be used to aid the transition from fossil fuels to cleaner sources of energy, but to meet our goals current nuclear capabilities must be increased.

The Fate of Cedar Rapids’ Trees Featured in National Geographic Article


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Nicole Welle | December 14, 2020

Cedar Rapids residents were devastated after the August derecho swept through and destroyed most of the city’s trees. But in the months following the disaster, their efforts to replant smarter and ensure that the city’s trees will return for future generations has captured national interest and become the topic of news stories across the country.

Freelance journalist Dustin Renwick took interest in the fate of Cedar Rapids’ trees shortly after the derecho hit and chose to write an article for National Geographic. In it, he highlighted personal stories from community members and local arborists and discussed both the role urban trees played in the community and how the city will replant to ensure the resiliency of its trees in the future.

Click here to read Renwick’s National Geographic article and learn more about Cedar Rapids’ fight to restore its urban forest.

‘Waste’ Activist Fights Sanitation Crisis Affecting the Rural Poor in the U.S.


Image from Wikimedia Commons

Nicole Welle | November 26, 2020

Activist and author Catherine Coleman Flowers’ work spurred a study in 2017 that revealed environmental and sanitation problems in rural America.

The 2017 study discovered that more than one in three people in Lowndes County, a rural county in Alabama, had tested positive for hookworm. This parasite was previously thought to have been eradicated in the United States because it usually only infects people in areas without access to proper waste management and sanitation, but this study revealed that it is not an issue confined to “developing” countries. The large number of infections in rural America revealed significant gaps in access to basic sanitation and led activists to look further into the cause of the issue, according to an Iowa Public Radio article.

When looking at rural areas in Alabama, Flowers found that many families lacked access to an on-site septic system and were sometimes facing fines and jail time when they could not afford to have one installed. Lowndes County has dense clay soils and a high water table, so families living there need access to a special, more expensive septic system that can cost around $28,000. Most families, both poor and middle-class, do not have the resources to have one installed and are forced to deal with improper sanitation and legal action.

The current septic system technology was designed before climate change caused sea levels and water tables to rapidly rise and changed rainfall patterns. Flowers says that the next steps toward solving the sanitation problem in Lowndes County and elsewhere will require people to acknowledge climate change and work towards developing new, more affordable technologies that will account for rising sea levels.

Johnson Clean Energy District 2020 Virtual Clean Energy Tour


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Thomas Robinson | November 24th, 2020

The Johnson Clean Energy District (JCED) held a virtual tour of solar energy installations across Johnson County this past Friday.

The event was held to celebrate and discuss clean energy transitions occurring within the county.  The tour included the Prairie Hill Cohousing site, the Johnson County solar power installation by the county building, and an installation at Herbet Farms.  Attendees included state legislators and community members who are involved in the district.

Clean energy districts are local groups that strive to speed up transitions to clean energy. These organizations have been styled after the soil and water conservation districts that emerged in the 1930s following the Dust Bowl.  The first district formed in Iowa was the Winneshiek Energy District and the idea has spread to surrounding states like Illinois and Wisconsin.  The JCED works for homeowners and businesses alike, through education on available energy incentives, as well as their STEP program that installs energy efficiency measures directly in homes.

In a recent brief, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has confirmed that solar energy is the cheapest electricity in history.  Their report emphasizes the importance of a clean energy transition, and the potential cost reductions it could bring for consumers around the world and right here in Iowa.

New Research Estimates Lead Exposure In Iowa’s Drinking Water


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Thomas Robinson | November 17th, 2020

Researchers at the University of Iowa have reported that between 51,000 and 79,000 Iowans may be exposed to unsafe lead levels in their drinking water

In a recent paper, Iowa researchers have used data collected for compliance with the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) to estimate how many Iowans might be at risk for lead exposure from their drinking water.  Their findings demonstrate that current in home water testing measures fail to adequately capture lead exceedances, and that water systems serving smaller populations were more likely to exceed accepted limit. From their estimates, around 65,000 Iowans are likely at risk for lead exposure above the EPA’s maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 15 parts per billion (ppb).

There is no safe level of lead in drinking water, particularly for young children.  Low levels of lead exposure can have a large influence on children’s development resulting in behavioral and learning problems as well as slowed growth. Surprisingly, most lead in drinking water comes from pipes in individual homes meaning that enforcement of lead limits for water utilities likely misses lead exposure at the point of consumption.

While Iowa is not facing a lead crisis like those in Flint, MI or Washington D.C., the testing for lead in drinking water opens the door for consumers to be unknowingly exposed in their homes.  The findings of Iowa researchers suggests that changes are needed in how we ensure public protection from legacy toxins in our drinking water.