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.


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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.

Environmentalists Hope Biden’s Win will Improve Iowa’s Renewable Energy Industries


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Nicole Welle | November 12, 2020

Iowa environmental advocates are celebrating President-elect Joe Biden’s win and say that his presidency could boost Iowa’s renewable energy industry and environmental protection efforts.

The Iowa Environmental Council is interested in seeing the Biden administration increase federal opportunities that expand solar and wind development, promote the construction of transmission lines to deliver clean energy from Iowa to the rest of the U.S., and push policies that promote sustainable farming practices. Iowa has been heavily impacted by storms and flooding events in recent years, so the council also hopes to see policies that will encourage the adoption of a more resilient infrastructure, according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

Angelisa Belden, a council spokesperson, says that she expects the Biden administration to reverse the Donald Trump’s environmental deregulation efforts from the last four years. The council is also focussing closely on who Biden will appoint as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They disapprove of Andrew Wheeler, the current head of the EPA, because of his close ties to the coal and oil industries.

The Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club also endorsed Biden during the presidential race. They, along with other environmentalists across the state, believe Biden’s bold plans to address climate change will aid them in their own efforts to transition the state to clean energy and protect natural resources, and they look forward to his first days in office.

How Trump’s and Biden’s Plans for the Environment Compare


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Nicole Welle | October 19, 2020

With election day drawing nearer, it is important to know where the two presidential candidates stand on environmental policy issues.

Joe Biden has spoken repeatedly about his comprehensive plan to combat climate change, but president Trump has not clearly outlined his plans for the environment if he is reelected. In order to see where exactly Trump stands, one must look at his past actions and brief comments on the issue.

Joe Biden proposed a $2 trillion clean energy plan. This plan sets a number of research and development goals, the primary one being reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. He believes these goals will ultimately increase job opportunities and reduce the negative effects of climate change on communities according to an Iowa Public Radio article. Here are some of the main goals Biden has pledged to address:

  • Allocate 40% of clean energy plan investments toward low-income and minority communities more heavily affected by pollution and climate change.
  • Seek to rejoin the Paris climate accords.
  • Increase climate-focussed investments in the auto and transportation industries to cut emissions and create jobs.
  • Implement energy upgrades in 4 million buildings, weatherize two million homes in the U.S. and build 1.5 million sustainable homes and housing units.
  • Create a division within the Justice Department that regulates and penalizes companies for environmental effects on communities.

President Trump has denied the validity of climate science in the past and has made a number of statements about his stance on climate change that often contradict each other. Here are some of Trump’s past actions and statements that could reflect his plans if reelected:

  • The president’s website lists partnering “with other nations to clean up our planet’s oceans” as one of his innovation goals for the future. He has also supported legislation to remove garbage from the oceans.
  • He put $38 billion toward “clean water infrastructure.”
  • He allocated additional funding for national parks and public lands.
  • He pulled the U.S. out of the international Paris climate deal and has tried to push policies that back the coal industry.
  • He has supported boosting production of oil and natural gas in the U.S.
  • Trump has called man-made climate change a “hoax,” and reversed multiple climate policies put in place during the Obama administration.

Some Republican lawmakers have begun to separate themselves from the outright denial of climate change, and they are pushing for a “clean energy mix” that involves multiple energy sources. This makes it unclear what Trump’s reelection could mean for energy policy in the next congress, according to an article in Market Watch.

Areas Devastated by Wildfires Face Emerging Water Contamination Challenge


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Thomas Robinson | October 6th, 2020

Attention is being drawn to municipal water contamination in Californian towns after exposure to devastating wildfires.

After the Camp fires ravaged California in 2018, testing of municipal water systems revealed widespread contamination by volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  Unfortunately, it isn’t known exactly how VOCs infiltrate the water pipes, however, it is thought that potentially melted plastics, or contaminated air and broken pipes could be the cause. Another issue for the recovering areas is that many water pipes in California are polyethylene based, which can melt during fires.  These pipes can absorb VOCs flowing through them and release them over a longer time period at lower concentrations.

One chemical measured in water tests that could be absorbed and leeched over time is Benzene, a known human carcinogen.  Benzene showed up at levels over two thousand times the federal level in drinking water samples after the Tubbs fire in 2017.  Benzene is part of a family of contaminants called BTEX which are connected to petroleum products. 

Fire damaged drinking water systems pose another challenge for struggling families returning to their homes after wildfires.  Contamination at the levels observed after wildfire events can lead to acute and chronic health outcomes, which will leave their mark on the affected communities for years to come.

Heat Waves Should Be Named And Ranked Says Newly Formed Heat Resilience Group


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Thomas Robinson | August 18th, 2020

The Extreme Heat Resilience Alliance, a recently formed group of experts, is suggesting that heat waves should be named, similarly to how hurricanes are named, and ranked by severity as the first step towards increasing heat wave visibility.

Heat waves were the deadliest weather-related disaster in the US between 1986 and 2019 and were responsible for 4,257 deaths. The next deadliest weather-related disaster in the US was floods responsible for 2,907 deaths over the same time period.  The greatest challenge in making heat waves visible is that they don’t produce the same amount of physical damage that flooding or other severe weather like tornadoes do.  However, by naming and ranking the severity of heat waves the Alliance hopes that communities will be able to better prepare for extreme heat events.

Unfortunately, heat waves are expected to increase in frequency and will be affecting more than 3.5 billion people globally by 2050.  It is also expected that the urban poor and the disadvantaged will weather the worst of the effects caused by heat waves because of community vulnerability.

The Alliance’s formation is timely as just yesterday Death Valley, CA saw the hottest temperature on Earth since at least 1913 according to NPR.  As heat waves become more frequent and more intense, a failure to prepare communities for extreme heat events like the European heat wave of 2003 will result in the loss of human lives.