Here’s What Was Discussed in The First National Climate Task Force Meeting


Image of National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy
Via The White House on Flickr

Elizabeth Miglin | February 18, 2021

National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy virtually convened the first National Climate Task Force meeting on Thursday, February 11th. 

21 agencies and offices were present, including Vice-President Harris who greeted Task Force members as the meeting began. The task force convened to discuss implementing Biden’s “whole-of-government” approach to address climate change, achieving environmental justice and creating union-backed jobs.

McCarthy said the administration would focus on addressing methane emissions early on and will use Biden’s executive authority to roll out climate-related orders. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and international climate envoy John Kerry have joined McCarthy in stating support for establishing a carbon tax, a move that could be achieved through executive action. 

Because this meeting was the first of its kind, task force members focused on the role of the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, the National Climate Task Force Charter, early actions, and near-term priorities. The task force also announced $280 million in grant opportunities for the Energy and Transportation Department and created a new working group to address challenges like creating new affordable energy storage and developing sustainable fuel for aircraft and ships. 

The Biden administration hopes to announce aggressive new goals for reducing the United States’ global emissions on April 22

John Kerry Says Current Goals Under the Paris Climate Agreement Are Insufficient to Limit Earth’s Temperature


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | February 1, 2021

John Kerry, special presidential envoy for climate, said Sunday that the goals outlined under the Paris Climate Accord will not be enough to limit the Earth’s rising temperatures.

Kerry said that the goal of reaching a 1.5°C limitation on global warming is appropriate, but the promises countries have made to reach that goal are insufficient to achieve it. However, he added that there is still time to take more aggressive action to fight climate change if governments are willing to do so. Kerry has expressed personal approval of implementing a carbon tax to help combat the climate crisis, and President Joe Biden is likely to consider that move after saying that he would support it during the 2020 presidential campaign, according to a CNN article.

President Biden recently announced that the U.S. will rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and has set a goal for the country to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Climate experts have said that this aggressive goal is achievable. However, while Biden has already signed multiple executive orders aimed at combatting climate change, he may face pushback from congress as he pursues further climate legislation.

Biden will also have to incorporate climate change into his administration’s foreign policy if he hopes to address the issue on a global scale. That would mean introducing it into trade policies, foreign aid programs and bilateral discussions, a shift that would become Kerry’s responsibility as the new envoy for climate change, according to a New York Times article.

What Democratic Control of the Senate will Mean for Climate Change


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | January 7, 2021

Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock won the final two senate seats after the Georgia runoffs ended yesterday, narrowly securing democrats a senate majority for the first time in six years.

Now that the GOP has lost majority control of the Senate, President-elect Joe Biden will have the opportunity to pass climate change legislation once he takes office. Biden’s included a $2 trillion plan in his climate action pledge, and he hopes to use the funding to accelerate the clean energy transition and achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. His ambitious plan would also set targets similar to those already in place in countries like China and the European Union and will likely include tax incentives for clean energy, according to a CNBC article.

If the Senate had remained under republican control, republican senators would have blocked most of Biden’s climate legislation. But even now that democrats hold a majority and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s will have the tie-breaking vote when necessary, passing bold climate legislation could still be a challenge. Some environmentalists worry that enough democrats might prefer more modest bipartisan legislation that new policies will not meet climate activists’ demands or align with other countries’ progressive actions. However, Biden has said that he is dedicated to working with Republican lawmakers to rally bipartisan support of bold climate legislation, and he plans to rejoin the Paris Agreement and reverse many of Trump’s environmental rollbacks as soon as he takes office.

Democrats maintained a majority in the House of Representatives after the 2020 elections, and Joe Biden will take office on January 20th despite efforts by Donald Trump and his supporters to challenge the election results.

Lead in School Drinking Water: Opportunities for Improving Public Health in Iowa’s Schools


With permission from Amina Grant

Thomas Robinson | December 15th, 2020

In a legislative presentation Tuesday morning, David Cwiertny, Director of CHEEC, and Dr. Michelle Scherer, a professor at the University of Iowa, presented their work on lead in Iowa’s drinking water. 

CHEEC, the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination, has worked with schools around the state to assess the amount of lead in drinking water through their Grants to Schools program.  The program provides $10,000 for schools to sample every drinking water outlet, and then take steps to address any potential lead or copper contamination.  On average, they’ve found it only takes $2,800 for testing and remediation suggesting that more can be done for Iowa’s schools without breaking the bank.  Cwiertny emphasized the large cost to benefit ratio seen for lead interventions, where for every $1 invested there is around a $10 benefit.  Unfortunately, COVID-19 has created concerns about school drinking water as stagnation can increase lead and copper levels in drinking water. As schools begin to operate drinking fountains again there may be an increased chance for lead and copper exposure.

Dr. Michelle Scherer discussed her research group’s efforts to test drinking water from both municipal systems, as well as private wells in Iowa.  Recent work by graduate students Amina Grant, and Danielle Land has found that some Iowans are potentially being exposed to lead in their drinking water.  Shockingly, they found that potentially 65,000 Iowans had drinking water that exceeded the EPA action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb).  Dr. Scherer’s take-away message was that we need to know more about the challenge facing Iowa.  She emphasized that in home lead and copper testing needs to be more prevalent and available to properly evaluate the issue. Similarly to work being done in Illinois, Iowa needs to map lead service lines (LSLs) so that consumers can be made aware of potential exposures. Currently the Center for Disease Control (CDC) suggests that public health interventions need to happen at 5 microgram per deciliter blood lead levels in children and Dr. Scherer suggested that in the face of recent work these interventions should happen at lower blood lead levels. To better address the lead challenge facing Iowa both speakers stressed the importance of filter first legislation that could help reduce lead exposure in children.

Children are particularly vulnerable to lead as there is no safe level of exposure without potential health risks.  In Iowa, 1 in 5 newborns have elevated blood lead levels, and there is no difference between rural and urban populations.  Traditionally, lead is thought to come from paints, air, and soils, however, it is becoming more apparent that drinking water is a prevalent source for lead exposure.  Lead in drinking water is difficult to control and regulate since most contamination comes from the distribution system and not providers.  Currently, there are many different guidelines and regulations for lead contamination. Unfortunately, Iowa is on the back end where water outlets are taken out of service only if lead levels exceed 20 ppb, which is 4 times the level accepted for bottled water (5 ppb).  Iowa needs a health based lead regulation that can be used by consumers to evaluate whether their drinking water is safe, and it isn’t unreasonable for a low level like 1 ppb to be the goal.

TODAY Virtual Event: Erin Brockovich to Discuss Her New Book on Combatting America’s Water Crisis


Image by Gage Skidmore, Via Wikimedia Commons

Nicole Welle | December 7, 2020

Prairie Lights is hosting a virtual event today at 7 p.m. with Erin Brockovich for a special reading of her new book, Superman’s Not Coming: Our National Water Crisis and What We the People Can Do About It. Journalist and co-author, Suzanne Boothby, and the UI Director of Graduate Studies in Civil and Environmental Engineering, David Cwiertny will join her in the discussion.

Brockovich is an environmental activist and public speaker. She founded the Erin Brockovich Foundation, a non-profit organization that educates and empowers communities fighting for access to clean water, and is known for leading a successful lawsuit against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company on behalf of hundreds of Californians who were unknowingly exposed to toxic waste in their drinking water. Her efforts became the subject of the 2000 Oscar-wining film, Erin Brockovich, starring Julia Roberts. Brockovich is also the co-author of Take It from Me: Life’s a Struggle but You Can Win and hosts a show on PodcastOne.

Register here to join this free event.

Johnson Clean Energy District 2020 Virtual Clean Energy Tour


Via Flickr

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.

United States Formally Withdraws from Paris Agreement


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Nicole Welle | November 5, 2020

The United States became the first nation to formally withdraw from the Paris agreement on Wednesday, the day after election day.

Trump announced the plan to withdraw back in June of 2017, but there are UN regulations in place that prevented the decision from taking effect until this week. Previous attempts to create a global pact for climate change failed because of internal U.S. politics, so President Obama’s negotiators worked with the UN to agree on a set of regulations that would prevent the U.S. from withdrawing too early in the case of a change in leadership. The rules stated that no country could leave the agreement until three years had passed since the date it was ratified. Once those three years had passed, countries needed to submit a 12-month notice to the UN. Because of these rules, Trump could not submit a formal notice until November of 2019, according to a BBC News article.

The Paris agreement requires participating nations to set their own targets for reducing greenhouse gases, and they must increase those goals every few years. The accord does not determine what those goals have to be, but countries are required to accurately report on their efforts. The overall goal is to keep rising average temperatures globally below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, according to a euronews article.

While Donald Trump made leaving the Paris agreement part of his election platform in 2016 and many of his supporters agree with the move, a large percentage of Americans are deeply disappointed by the decision. The U.S. currently represents about 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The decision to leave the agreement has hurt the country’s reputation globally, and Many Americans believe that the U.S. should be leading the fight against climate change because it is such a large contributor.

The results of the 2020 presidential election are not yet decided, but Joe Biden vowed to rejoin the Paris agreement on his first day in office if he is elected.

“Today, the Trump Administration officially left the Paris Climate Agreement. And in exactly 77 days, a Biden Administration will rejoin it,” Biden said in a Tweet on Wednesday.

August’s Derecho Was The United States Most Expensive Thunderstorm In Recent History


Via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | October 20th, 2020

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has reported that August’s Derecho caused $7.5 billion worth of damages and that the number is still increasing.

The Derecho in August resulted in extensive damage to Iowa and has been identified as the most expensive thunderstorm to hit the US in recent history.  August’s storm comes second only to Hurricane Laura, which had a damage cost of $12 billion, for storm damages for this year.  Cedar Rapids was hit particularly hard, where it is estimated that 90% of all buildings sustained damages from the storm.

A factor for why the storm has cost so much is that the corn crop had grown enough in August to be damaged by the heavy winds.  That damage has resulted in around 850,000 acres of corn crop lost, around 50% more than previously thought.  Unfortunately, grain silos were also affected by the storm where it is estimated that 57 million bushels of stored grain were damaged.

Even now in October, Iowa is still working to recover from the storm.  Some Iowans remain unable to return home after the events and there was a spike in people filing for unemployment benefits after the storm.  Around $4 billion in federal help was asked for by Gov. Kim Reynolds to address the damages to Iowa’s farms.

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


Via Flickr

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.

Climate change clearly linked to increased wildfire severity


Via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | September 29th, 2020

In a review of recent climate science, researchers have demonstrated that climate change increases the risk of wildfires across the globe.

Their review makes it clear that the influence of anthropogenic climate change on fire weather is moving beyond what can be accounted for by normal climate variations. Locations around the world have seen an increase in the severity and extent of fires, such as Australia or the Amazon and fire trends are only worsening. Models suggest that the length of fire season in the higher latitudes may increase by more than 20 days per year by 2100.

An unsurprising finding from the report is that fire weather only results in fires if natural or human sources of ignition occur. One way for humans to influence the frequency of wildfires is to manage burnable areas and address potential ignition sources.

These observations come as California is facing the worst fire season in the state’s history that is currently threatening the wine country. Climate conditions have led to drier vegetation and longer periods of drought that have resulted in these severe wildfires that have burnt more than a million of acres and displaced around 200,000 people.