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.

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


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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


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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.

Climate change clearly linked to increased wildfire severity


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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.

Annual Report Shows Decreased Phosphorous Load And An Increased Nitrogen Load


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Thomas Robinson | August 25th, 2020

The 2018-2019 Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (INRS) report, released in late June, details that while phosphorus loads in Iowa’s waters has decreased, nitrogen loads have increased.

Within the past year, Iowa has seen phosphorus loads decrease by 18% because of land use change and conservation practices.  Unfortunately, nitrogen loads increased by 5% over the same time period suggesting that Iowa is not doing enough to reach the goals established by the INRS.  Additionally, the INRS reports that funding has increased by $48 million dollars for a total budget of $560 million.  That budget is used to educate communities and farmers about how best to reduce nutrient pollution such as cover crops or riparian buffer strips

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, adopted in 2013, is a collaborative effort by state agencies to evaluate and decrease the amount of nutrients that pollute Iowa’s waterways.  The overall goal established by the strategy was to reduce annual loads of nitrogen and phosphorus that leaves Iowa by 45%.  Iowa’s nutrients are a concern because Iowa contributes a significant amount of nitrogen and phosphorus to the Mississippi river.  These nutrients result in widespread hypoxia caused by algal growth spurred by the influx of nutrients.  

Arctic Circle Experiences Record Setting Temperatures Over the Weekend


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Thomas Robinson | June 23, 2020

The Arctic Circle likely experienced a record setting temperature of 100 °F over the weekend in Siberia during a historically unusual period of high heat for the region.

The Siberian town of Verkhoyansk measured a temperature of 38 °C (100 °F) on June 20th likely setting a new temperature record for the region.  The high temperature occurs as the Arctic Circle has been experiencing a heat wave that brought temperatures up to 10 °C above average throughout the months of March to May.  Unfortunately, the Copernicus Climate Change Service reports this past May was the warmest May on record, suggesting that more high heat events are likely for the Arctic in the future.

As higher average temperatures become common in the Arctic Circle, the surface albedo, an index that describes how reflective a surface is, will decrease because of snow and ice melt.  As the snow and ice continue to melt, a positive feedback loop is created which heats the Arctic further and will likely make record setting temperatures more common.

EPA releases FY 2019 Superfund Annual Accomplishments Report


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Thomas Robinson | June 16th, 2020

The EPA has released their annual accomplishment report for fiscal year 2019 and Iowa has two sites mentioned in the report. 

The Superfund Annual Accomplishment Report summarizes the work the EPA has done to clean up contaminated sites on the National Priorities List (NPL).  The report also details the efforts being taken to improve the Superfund program based on recommendations made by the Superfund Task Force.  In FY 2019, the EPA fully deleted 12 sites and partially deleted 15 sites across the country.  There were 6 less deleted sites and 11 more partially deleted sites in 2019 over 2018.

Iowa saw two Superfund sites deleted from the NPL in 2019, one completely deleted, and the other only partially deleted.  The Electro Coating Inc. site in Cedar Rapids was deleted, making it the first Superfund site in Iowa to be closed since 2005, while the Shaw Avenue Dump site in Charles City was partially closed.  A partial closure means that some portions of the site still require clean up, while other portions are no longer a hazard to human health.

Superfund is the informal name for the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) passed in 1980.  CERCLA allows the EPA to clean up contaminated sites across the country and to engage those responsible for the contamination.  Since CERCLA was passed, 424 sites have been removed from the list out of 1335 sites total.   

Global Heat Health Information Network Promotes New Information Series


Thomas Robinson | June 2nd, 2020

A new informational series has been released by the Global Heat Health Information Network (GHHIN), with input from experts around the world such as CGRER member Professor Gregory Carmichael, to inform decision makers on how to best address high heat events during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The series covers a diverse range of topics and highlights current issues facing healthcare workers, as well as individuals who might be facing COVID-19.  Global experts address challenges such as how best to mitigate the influence wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has on how hot workers become, and how vulnerable populations can work to protect themselves from the combined risk COVID-19 and high heat present.

Hot weather is a pressing risk during the pandemic because it can result in a worsening of COVID-19 health outcomes.  As temperatures rise over the summer, communities will need to face the challenges both high heat events and the COVID-19 pandemic introduce. The information provided by the GHHIN hopes to better inform essential decision makers, so that they will have a well researched, scientific reasoning for difficult decisions. 

EPA Suspends Enforcement of Environmental Compliance Reporting During COVID-19 Pandemic


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Nicole Welle | April 16th, 2020

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released an order on March 26 announcing the suspension of the enforcement of environmental compliance reporting in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before this change, businesses were required to report and limit all air emissions and water discharges, meet requirement for hazardous waste management and maintain standards for safe drinking water. Businesses that failed to meet these EPA-issued standards could face fines.

The recent order states that factories, power plants, and other facilities are encouraged to keep records of any instances of non-compliance with EPA instituted regulations. However, they will not face any fines for violations as long as the EPA agrees that the COVID-19 pandemic, rather than intentional disregard for the law, is the cause.

In its order, the EPA did not designate an end date for the suspension or address the potential ramifications this decision could have for public health and safety. Allowing industry to police itself could cause air and water pollution to go unchecked and put the safety of drinking water at risk, according to the Iowa Environmental Council.

Compromising access to clean water could make it more difficult for the U.S. healthcare system to provide the sanitary conditions necessary for fighting the COVID-19 pandemic according to the IEC. The Washington Post also reported that the wording of the EPA’s order is broad enough that companies could get away with practices that put public health at risk well into the future.