Bottle Bill Will Decrease Bottle Redemption Centers


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Josie Taylor | June 28, 2022

There may be a significant reduction in the number of places that redeem cans and bottles in Iowa after changes to the state’s bottle bill go into effect in July. 

The Sierra Club of Iowa estimates that about 1,700 businesses that sell the beverages are required to take back those containers right now, but changes to the law that were signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds last week and will go into effect July 1 will exempt most of those businesses that prepare ready-to-eat food. That includes a large number of grocery stores and those within a certain distance of a redemption center.

According to an Iowa Department of Natural Resources list, there are 121 active redemption centers in the state, but the Sierra Club and the owner of the state’s largest redemption business estimate the true number is closer to 60 because many of the centers listed by the DNR have closed.

Can and bottle redemptions were halted for months at the beginning of the pandemic, and when they resumed there were huge backlogs of containers and long lines of people attempting to redeem them.

Many believe that the reduced number of places to redeem cans and bottles will likely propel new technologies to make the redemptions more convenient for residents. That might include drop sites where people leave bags of containers that are tagged in some way to connect them to the people, and the redemption centers later count the containers and compensate the customers.

New Ethanol Law Passed in Iowa on Tuesday


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Josie Taylor | May 19, 2022

A new state law in Iowa would require most fuel stations to sell a gasoline blend with 15% ethanol. This will rapidly expand the fuel’s availability, but the law’s long-term effects might be more potent, according to the executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association. 

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed House File 2128, which will boost the use of corn-based ethanol to fuel the state’s vehicles, into law on Tuesday. Her action capped a protracted and hard-fought legislative initiative that began last year.

The new law is also expected to boost the sales of diesel blends that contain 20% biodiesel, which is often made with soybean oil.

Monte Shaw, the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association’s executive director, predicts that E15 will be available at 1,000 more stations by 2026, when the ethanol requirement goes into effect. That would more than quadruple the current total, according to state data.

First, the law also requires new fuel station infrastructure — the tanks, fuel lines and pumps — to be compatible with higher blends of ethanol, which can degrade certain plastics and rubbers. That will help facilitate future increases in blend requirements, perhaps with gasoline blends of 30% or 40% ethanol, Shaw said.There are current federal rules that prohibit the summer sales of certain E15 blends because federal regulators have considered them more likely to evaporate in warmer temperatures and pollute the air. The Biden administration lifted that restriction for this summer to help reduce fuel prices.

Ethanol Bill Passes in the Iowa House and Senate


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Josie Taylor | April 28, 2022

Legislation that would require most Iowa gas stations to sell higher ethanol blends passed both the Iowa House and Senate on Tuesday. 

The bill, House File 2128, received bipartisan support in both chambers, passing 42-3 in the Senate and 78-13 in the House. It is expected that Gov. Kim Reynolds will sign it into law. Reynolds told reporters Tuesday morning that the bill would “sustain and grow” the ethanol industry while helping consumers. 

The bill requires most Iowa gas stations to begin offering 15% ethanol blended fuel (E15) in 2026. The final version of the proposal includes a waiver for Iowa’s smallest gas stations, and state grants to help upgrade infrastructure to support E15. As fueling stations expand and install new tanks, those have to be E15-compatible.

Some Senate Democrats raised concerns about the legislation, arguing it would be a “mandate” and may clash with federal law. 

President Joe Biden visited Iowa earlier this month to announce the temporary summertime sale of E15. Under federal law, E15 may not normally be sold from June to September due to pollution concerns. Reynolds said Iowa was pushing to change the federal law, especially as more gas stations will sell the higher blend.

The USDA Plans to Send $1.4 Billion Into Rural Communities


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Josie Taylor | February 3, 2022

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa Governor, Tom Vilsack, announced Wednesday that the USDA is investing $1.4 billion into rural economies. They are doing this through job training, business loans and the expansion of technical assistance.

Eight programs will give out 751 awards across 49 states. Vilsack believes these programs will help create wealth in rural communities.

“The rural economy, which plays an important role in our national economy, has historically lagged behind the urban and suburban counterparts,” he said, “That’s why it’s important for us to focus on building back that rural economy better.”

The grants and loans will assist with many needs such as housing, the expansion of small businesses and family farms, and providing capital for new small businesses owners. 

One of the programs, the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant Program, allocated $8.4 million in grant awards and $1.7 million in loans.  In Iowa, the Pella Cooperative Electric Association received a $300,000 grant from that program to replenish the association’s revolving loan fund. That money will help fund the construction of a women’s housing and health care facility. 

Several universities also received those grants, such as The Ohio State University, which received nearly $200,000, and the governing body at the University of Nebraska, which was awarded $200,000. 

Energy Regulators Support Federal Pipeline Standards


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Josie Taylor | January 20, 2022

The chairman of the federal commission overseeing energy and some U.S. House Democrats said that federal powers are needed to prevent major energy disruptions like the cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline that left the East Coast short of gas at the pumps for days in May. 

A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee discussed a proposal by Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., that would give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the power to impose basic standards for natural gas pipeline reliability and security. As of right now, standards like that do not exist. FERC can enforce reliability standards regarding electricity delivery and other matters, but lacks such authorities when it comes to regulating pipelines.

Members of the House panel aimed to address a joint report from FERC and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation following a devastating Texas winter storm in 2021 that also showed how pipelines can fail. The report recommended a single federal agency be responsible for ensuring pipeline reliability.

“Lack of mandatory reliability standards, especially for natural gas pipelines, poses a risk to the reliability of the bulk power system to the interdependency of our nation’s gas electric infrastructure,” FERC Chairman Richard Glick told the panel. Standards and regulation could potentially help many Americans.

Iowa is Receiving $110 Million for Water


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Josie Taylor | December 6, 2021

Gov. Kim Reynold’s administration has a plan to spend the $110 million of federal funds allocated for water and wastewater that was included in the bipartisan infrastructure package President Joe Biden signed into law last month. Reynold’s said they plan to use it strategically and want to use it correctly. 

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources said it is waiting for further guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency on how the funding can be used. The DNR estimates that $46.4 million will be used to remove lead from drinking water.

National studies have found that nearly two percent of U.S. children and 3.6 percent of Iowa children had elevated levels of lead in their blood, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Exposure to lead in children can cause: behavior and learning problems, lower IQ and hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems and anemia. 

The DNR anticipates more than half the federal dollars going into the state revolving loans funds that provide low-interest loans to cities, counties and utilities for investments in water and sanitation infrastructure.

The DNR estimates $29.4 million will be used for improvements to drinking water infrastructure and $24.9 million for clean water. 

Biden Administration Plans to Cut Methane Emissions Without Reducing Livestock


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Josie Taylor | November 11, 2021

The Biden administration is seeking to drastically cut down on methane emission, and according to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, reducing the number of livestock will not be a priority. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “climate smart” initiatives will focus on new types of animal feed and manure management. 

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that, along with carbon dioxide, is believed to be a driving force of the planet’s warming climate. The new Global Methane Pledge seeks to cut methane emissions by 30 percent this decade.

Cattle are the top source of methane in agriculture. One cow can produce more than 200 pounds of methane each year, according to researchers at the University of California, Davis. Livestock waste also emits methane as it decomposes. There were about 3.7 million cattle and calves in Iowa as of January 2021. 

Earlier last week, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, was skeptical that agricultural methane emissions could be reduced without hurting farmers.

But Vilsack, who was Iowa’s governor for eight years, said specialized diets can reduce methane production in cattle stomachs. He said repeatedly that the administration does not have plans to shrink livestock populations, however they will still find ways to reduce methane in agriculture. 

Reducing methane, without hurting farmers, will ultimately help reduce climate change risks, and in turn will help everyone.

Cedar Rapids is Considering a Flood Control System


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Josie Taylor | October 25, 2021

Cedar Rapids leaders recently presented plans to put millions of federal dollars toward the city’s ongoing flood control plans. The extra resources will be targeted at the west side.

The city has plans for a large flood control system along the Cedar River. This is a response to the 2008 flood that caused $6 billion in damage on downtown businesses and neighborhoods on the westside of Cedar Rapids. 

A smaller but still serious flood in 2016 — which reached 22 feet, compared to 31 in 2008 — was a reminder of the need for a flood control system.

This round of federal funding is specifically intended to benefit vulnerable communities who were most severely impacted by the pandemic and to promote community resilience. Cedar Rapids’ use of more than $10 million for west side flood protection is this kind of mission. 

Residents in flood-impacted areas are more likely to be impoverished, elderly, disabled, renters and in women-headed households. They are the kinds of people who historically in the United States have not been well served by city planning, housing and infrastructure policy. Creating a flood plan that targets the west side would be a way for city officials to correct national injustices in their city. 

Biden Administration Proposes New Environmental Law


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Josie Taylor | October 7, 2021

The Biden administration on Wednesday, October 6,  announced that it would restore climate change protections to the nation’s bedrock environmental law. The proposed changes would require the federal government to evaluate the climate change impacts of major new projects as part of the permitting process. 

Under the Biden administration’s proposed changes, agencies will have to consider the direct and indirect impacts that their projects may have on the climate, specifically how it pollutes American neighborhoods.

The goal of this proposed goal is to protect Americans from the harmful effects of pollution. Air polliution is the biggest environmental risk for early death. World wide, 9 in every 10 people breathe unclean air. 

If an agency’s project was not approved, they could work with local communities to figure out how to make it safer. The federal agenencies and local communities would work together to find a solution that would result in less pollution. 

The Biden administration is expected to publish its proposed rule in the Federal Register on Thursday and will take public comments on its plans for 45 days before issuing a final policy.

Joe Biden has a New Goal of Cutting Down Methane Emissions


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Josie Taylor | September 27, 2021

The United States and European Union are working on a pledge to cut methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030, President Joe Biden announced on Sept. 17, 2021. He urged countries around the world to join before the U.N. climate summit later this year. 

Cutting out methane would be beneficial for both slowing climate change and for the health of every citizen. There is less methane in the atmosphere than there is carbon dioxide, however it is a much more potent greenhouse gas when it comes to warming the planet. Methane also causes unhealthy air pollution. 

Methane emissions have been going up very quickly recently, and research shows they need to drop by almost half by 2030 to meet the Paris climate agreement goals. This means that the entire world needs to cut methane emissions. 

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, but it also contributes to surface ozone, which is a toxic air pollutant. Reducing methane improves air quality, while reducing the effects of climate change. Another benefit is that the results are almost immediate.