Pioneer of Sustainable Aquatic Foods Wins Des Moines-based World Food Prize


Via Finn Thilsted

Elizabeth Miglin May 13, 2021

Researcher Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted became the first woman of Asian heritage to win the $250,000 World Food Prize on Tuesday. Her research established the nutritional importance of commonly found fish and has improved the diets, health, and sustainable farming practices of millions across the Global South according to the Des Moines-based World Food Prize Foundation

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and United Nations Nutrition Chairwoman Naoko Yamamoto were all present at the virtual announcement. “As our global population grows, we will need diverse sources of low-emission, high-nutrition foods like aquaculture,” said Secretary Vilsack. “It is going to be crucial in feeding the world while reducing our impact on the climate…”  

Thilsted’s work resulted in breakthroughs in raising nutrient-rich small fish in an inexpensive and local way. By farming small and large fish species together in rice fields, fish consumption and production was able to be increased by as much as five times. This approach has helped Bangladesh become the fifth-largest aquaculture producer in the world and has supported 18 million people according to the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Her findings are helping lead the United Nations’ work to build equitable and sustainable food systems in order to address food security and nutrition. 

Biden Administration Announces Environmental Conservation Plan


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | May 10, 2021

On Thursday the Biden administration announced a conservation plan called “America the Beautiful” with the goal to conserve 30 percent of US land and water by 2030. They are calling it the nation’s first national conservation goal and made a warning about the bad effects climate change is having on the country’s land. 

This goal will be voluntary and locally-led, yet they hope everyone will participate. Officials in the Biden administration said that Earth is in a “catastrophic extinction crisis,” and warned that we need to protect our environment and biodiversity. 

Brenda Mallory, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality said that, “nature in America is in trouble and Americans across the country are seeing and feeling the impact.” She then said that this plan is a necessity, and that we need “all hands on deck.”

The federal government is working with US states and Tribal nations to protect wildlife both on land and water. They also are planning to protect public parks. 

Besides combatting the serious problem of climate change, the Biden administration says their plan will also promote racial equity and create new jobs. They will do this by making natural spaces more easily accessible to underprivileged and underserved areas of the country. 

EPA leader focused on water quality, biofuels and livestock in first Iowa visit


Via North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality

Elizabeth Miglin | May 6, 2021

The new Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael S. Regan visited Iowa on Tuesday to discuss agriculture’s impact on environmental issues. 

Regan’s first visit to Iowa, included a tour of the Lincolnway Energy ethanol plant near Nevada, followed by a group discussion with farmers and a meeting with Gov. Kim Reynolds in Des Moines. Later in the day, Regan met with state and city officials to announce plans for a superfund site near downtown Des Moines. Notably, no discussions occurred with environmental organizations during his trip. 

The focus of Regan’s visit surrounded water quality, biofuels, and livestock production. Iowa environmental advocates have long supported regulation of nitrogen and phosphorus, two of the main farm fertilizers polluting Iowa’s lakes and streams. However, Regan spoke in favor of a nutrient reduction strategy focused on individual farmers taking steps to address this issue, according to the Iowa Capitol Dispatch


Regan’s visit comes as the issue of waivers to the federal Renewable Fuel Standard are before the U.S. Supreme Court. The waivers, which are highly objected to by farmers, allow oil refiners to not blend biofuels into oil production per the Renewable Fuel Standard, according to Iowa Environmental Focus. Although the Biden Administration does not support the reinstatement of the waivers, concerns have arisen over the administration’s push for electric vehicles and lack of support for corn and soybean-based biofuels. Speaking to these concerns, Regan emphasized the necessity for the co-existence of biofuels and electric vehicles for the foreseeable future.

SCOTUS Hears Biofuels Case, Could Impact Iowa


Via flickr

Eleanor Hildebrandt | April 30, 2021 

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments for a case that could exempt small refineries from the Renewable Fuel Standards Program on Tuesday.

The nine justices heard oral arguments in the Hollyfrontier Cheyenne Refining LLC v. Renewable Fuels Association case that questions if small refineries can request exemptions to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s standards that were created to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the country. The case was submitted for a later decision that will likely come in a few months.

Attorney General of Iowa Tom Miller submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court alongside Nebraska, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, South Dakota, and Virginia officials. The 29-page brief asks the highest court to side with the Renewable Fuels Association and deny exemptions for small refineries if exemptions are not in place continuously.

Miller and Attorney General of Nebraska Doug Peterson argue in the brief that the EPAs “recent trend of freely granting small-refinery exemptions has undermined” the Renewable Fuel Standard’s promises of environmental benefits and energy independence.

In the case, the Hollyfrontier Cheyenne Refining LLC argued that they face detrimental financial impacts when forced to buy ethanol and biodiesel at Congress’s demanded levels. Miller and his colleagues argue that the EPA’s willingness to grant exemptions has harmed the Iowa farming and biofuels industry.

In January 2020, a 10 Circuit Court of Appeals heard the case and sided with the Renewable Fuels Association, a decision the EPA supported. After hearing oral arguments on April 27th, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to present a decision in July 2021.

U.S. Interior Dept. Announces Plans to Restore Native American Land


Via Flickr

Elizabeth Miglin | April 29, 2021

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland issued an order to ease the process for Native American tribes to apply for ownership and management of tribal land on Tuesday. The order reverses steps taken by the Trump administration to slow the application process and will help the Biden administration’s environmental justice efforts. 

In 2017 the Trump administration moved the land-into-trust decisions to the Interior Department’s headquarters staff, resulting in delays in the decision-making process. During the Trump administration 75,000 acres of land were placed into trust, compared to 560,000 acres under the Obama administration according to Reuters.

Under the Secretary’s Order 3400, the authority to review and approve land applicants has been re-delegated to the Bureau of Indian Affairs regional directors. The slowing of the approval process has resulted in increased costs and delays for tribes to develop housing projects, manage law enforcement agencies and develop local economies.

Native populations are at a higher risk of vulnerability to climate change due to a lack of food security, ability to adapt to climate change, and tribal control of resources. Researchers increasingly argue in favor of tribes gaining greater control in the resource management decision making process due to contemporary environmental inequalities which exacerbate the impact of climate change.  

The Interior Department estimates there are 1,000 pending applications by tribes to put land into trust, most of which are lands located within existing reservation boundaries. 

Learn more about the University of Iowa’s acknowledgment of land and sovereignty here

Biden Begins Earth Day Climate Summit with World Leaders


Via Flickr

Elizabeth Miglin | April 22, 2021

President Biden’s Leaders Summit on Climate begins today, on Earth Day, and will conclude on Friday. The summit will be attended by 40 world leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, alongside business leaders. The summit intends to rally public and private sector finance to reach net-zero emissions, according to the New York Times

To begin the summit, Biden announced goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in half from 2005 levels by 2030 and net-zero by 2050. Although specific plans are undisclosed, the administration is focusing on establishing union jobs in the climate industry and U.S. economic competitiveness in a government-wide approach. The administration hopes to encourage world leaders to adopt similar ambitious policies. 

The summit comes as climate scientists warn ambitious proactive action is necessary in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Indian Prime Minister Naraendra Modi, and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa all noted the need to better coordinate equitable efforts with developing countries in their opening speeches.

The Leaders Summit on Climate is one of several world leader meetings held in anticipation of the 26th session of the United Nations’ Climate Conference of the Parties (COP26), scheduled for November. 

Vilsack focuses on nutrition, broadband access, and racial discrimination in USDA budget request


Via Flickr

Elizabeth Miglin | April 15, 2021

U.S. Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa Governor, Tom Vilsack announced the USDA’s goals with president Biden’s budget proposal to the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday. The USDA plans to expand food insecurity and nutrition programs alongside efforts to address racial discrimination and increase rural broadband access. 

Last week, Biden revealed his 2022 budget request to Congress which included $27.8 billion for USDA, a $3.8 billion increase from last year. The budget would provide nearly $7 billion for nutritional programs including the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). Additionally, the USDA plans to relaunch the “Strike Force” program which provided $23.8 billion for 380 countries with persistent poverty established under the Obama Administration, according to the Iowa Capitol Dispatch.

A notable change however, is the USDA will end the Farmers to Families Food Boxes program established by the Trump administration by May. The USDA plans to continue efforts to distribute produce and dairy products to food banks and other beneficiaries, however noting, the Farmers to Families program has shown “significant administrative costs and inadequate accounting of where boxes were delivered.” 

This budget request comes in conjunction with the American Jobs Plan and the American Rescue Plan. The former has a proposed budget of $2 trillion which will help supplement the costs of providing rural communities access to broadband, increase the manufacturing of biobased products and community level environmental protection efforts led by USDA. The American Rescue Plan has provided a 15% increase or $3.5 billion to expand the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by $100 per household of four.

Vilsack is the first Cabinet secretary to appear this year before a House appropriations panel. 

Major Iowa City public transportation changes expected


Via Flickr

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

Idle Nuclear Plant in Eastern Iowa Will Become a Solar Farm


Image shows a row of solar panels in a field
Via Flickr

Elizabeth Miglin | April 1, 2021

NextEra Energy Resources of Florida plans to convert the idle Duane Arnold Energy Center in Palo, Linn County into a new solar farm. Previously, the 615-MW nuclear power plant powered 600,000 homes and the new solar farm is expected to surpass that with a capacity of 690-MW.

The solar farm will span 3,500 acres around the energy center and will include 60-megawatts (MW) of AC-coupled batteries for power storage. NextEra plans to invest $700 million over 30 years into the project resulting in $41.6 million in tax revenue and 300 construction jobs. The company hires as many workers from the local area as possible for these projects. 

The Duane Arnold nuclear power plant began operating 45 years ago and was expected to be decommissioned at the end of October 2020, however, by 2019 it was clear the plant no longer fit Iowa’s energy needs. 

NextEra has the largest renewable energy production portfolio in the United States. The company operates solar projects in 27 states and Canada with around 2,600 MW of universal and small-scale solar operating assets. This will be NextEra’s first solar project in Iowa. 

The project is expected to begin construction in winter 2022 and be operational by the end of 2023. 

Iowa City School District Surpasses Emission Goals


Via Wiki Commons

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.