Alaska Judge Blocks Oil Project


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Josie Taylor | August 19, 2021

On Wednesday, an Alaskan federal judge blocked construction permits for an oil drilling project that was supposed to produce more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day for the next 30 years. Judge Sharon L. Gleason cited climate dangers in her opinion for why the project should exist.

This massive oil drilling plan was proposed under the Trump administration and legally backed by the Biden administration. Environmental groups, such as Earthjustice sued, saying both the Trump and Biden administration had failed to take into account the effects that drilling would have on wildlife and climate change. Judge Gleason took their side.

The main reason why Judge Gleason sided with the environmental groups was because of the greenhouse gas emissions that would be released with the drilling. Greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere, which then warms Earth

Many places in the United States and the world are experiencing climate crises. Jeremy Lieb, lawyer with Earthjustice, stated that the federal government should recognize we are in a climate emergency. Lieb believes blocking this oil drilling project would be a good start. 

The Senate passes a major infrastructure bill, turning focus to anti-poverty and climate plans


Elizabeth Miglin | August 11, 2021

The U.S. Senate, on Tuesday, passed a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill which would provide funding for climate related infrastructure resiliency if passed by the House.  

After previous weeks of intense debate over one of the largest federal investments into the nation’s outdated public works system, the Senate voted 69 in favor with 30 opposed to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The legislation has the possibility of impacting nearly every aspect of the American economy with projects ensuring rural access to broadband and clean drinking water, modernizing roadways and environmental sustainability projects, according to the New York Times. Regarding the climate, the bill focuses on investmenting in clean energy, environmental clean-up projects and making infrastructure more resilient, according to The White House

Alongside the infrastructure bill, Senate Democrats agreed to an outline of an $3.5 trillion antipoverty and climate plan, on Monday. The climate legislation aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, fund research focused on climate change’s effect on agriculture, create a Civilian Climate Corps to enact climate-based public works projects and improve the durability of coastlines. Funding for both the antipoverty and the climate plan are expected to come from tax increases on wealthy individuals and corporations.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is expected to be debate by the House at the end of August, with the antipoverty and climate plan expected to be passed by the Senate by the end of this week.

Maine to ban “forever chemicals” by 2030


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Elizabeth Miglin | August 4, 2021

Maine is the first state in the nation to ban around 9,000 compounds known as “forever chemicals” by 2030.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl or PFAS are often used to make products water and stain resistant. The highly effective substances are used across dozens of industries and added to a range of products such as cosmetics, cookware, food packaging and floss. However, PFAS are unable to fully break down and instead accumulate in the environment and humans. Increasingly, studies have shown the chemicals are toxic to humans, even at low exposure levels, and are linked to a range of health problems such as cancer and liver disease. 

The new law requires manufacturers who intentionally add PFAS to products sold in Maine report their use beginning in 2023. The new law additionally provides a caveat of instances where PFAS usage is “currently unavoidable” such as items in medical devices according to The Guardian

Supporters hope other states follow suit in order pressure industries to stop using PFAS and encourage the federal government to enact a similar law. The European Union is also advancing its own plan to phase out the substances in all products by 2030,however it has yet to be adopted as binding. 

Drake Professor calls Iowa’s approach to water quality “magical thinking”


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Elizabeth Miglin | August 3, 2021

Iowa’s voluntary program to improve water quality and reduce farm runoff is called “magical thinking” designed to prevent farmers “from having to do something” by a Drake University law professor, on Thursday. 

Drake law professor and former director of the Drake Agricultural Law Center, Neil Hamilton recently spoke on the failures of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy to the Iowa Farmers Union, according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch. Hamilton highlighted how the lack of hard targets and requirements for state officials makes the strategy designed to “deny and defer any potential action.”

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is a series of environmental goals adopted in 2013 aimed at reducing the number of nutrients found in Iowa’s waters. The document provides ideas for actions farmers may voluntarily take as well as add a few requirements for sewage treatment plants. Regarding farm conservation and fertilizer regulations, however, “it doesn’t ask for or expect anyone to do anything” as they are suggestions, said Hamilton. 

Among the issues with the strategy, consistent funding has become a major point of contention for environmental groups and farmers. The original goals recommended $89.3 million to $1.4 billion a year when adjusted for inflation be directed towards sustainability costs. However, the Iowa Environmental Council reported findings that of $500 million spent in Iowa on federal conservation programs in years past, only $17 million was focused directly on the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. 

Carbon-Capturing Pipelines are Being Proposed in Iowa


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Josie Taylor | June 14, 2021

A Texas based company called Navigator CO2 plans to build pipelines across Iowa that can capture carbon dioxide emissions from ethanol, fertilizer and other industrial plants. Iowa’s Bruce Rastetter’s Summit Agricultural Group has also put out plans to capture carbon emission. CEO of Navigator Matt Vining, along with president of Summit Ag Investors, Justin Kirchhoff, did an interview with the Des Moines Register.

Both companies have the same goal of stopping carbon dioxide emissions from reaching the atmosphere. This would ideally stop carbon dioxide emissions from contributing to climate change. The companies will do this by liquefying the carbon dioxide, and then injecting it into a rock formation under the ground. 

Vining told the Des Moines Register that once the carbon dioxide is injected into the rock formation, it will be there permanently. Kirchhoff said their project can cut carbon emissions from ethanol plants in half. 

Vining commented on the controversial nature of pipelines. In the past, oil and gas pipelines have been opposed by many, including Indigious American communities. Vining this is different because, “Capturing CO2 from the environment is in the public’s best interest … it’s a public need”.

Neither company has an exact layout for where the pipelines will be. 

The Iowa Legislature Failed to Extend Solar Tax Credits for Homeowners


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Elizabeth Miglin | June 1, 2021

Despite multiple bills introduced to extend the tax credit last year, many died in committee when the Legislature decided to focus on other budget issues during the overtime session. 

The failure of the legislature to extend the solar tax credits will impact more than 750 Iowa homeowners who currently qualify for credit with an average of $3,200 each. This number does not include the 2,000 person and growing waitlist of credit requests by participants, many being farmers according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch. Businesses will continue to be eligible for credits, however the state has spent all of its money for residential projects.

The state has previously offered credits which offset 13% of project costs of under $5,000 for a residential project and $20,000 for commercial projects. Federal tax credits cover an additional 26% of project costs. Between 2012 and 2020, the incentive covered $36.6 million for 6,213 projects with combined costs of $291 million according to the Iowa Solar Energy Trade Association.  

Solar energy advocates were told by GOP senators the residential credits would be removed because the industry is “mature” and doesn’t need them. Iowa has become a national leader in renewable energy, predominantly via wind, however the solar industry has grown quickly in the state as well. Around 85 companies have placed their solar energy supply chains in Iowa. Additionally, in 2015 there were only 350 solar-related jobs in Iowa compared to 2019 which grew to 900, according to a trade group.

Multiple solar energy groups are expected to advocate for tax credit legislation next legislative session.

Biden Doubles FEMA Funding to Support Proactive Programs


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Elizabeth Miglin | May 26, 2021

On Monday, the Biden administration announced plans to provide $1 billion in additional funding for FEMA in order to prepare communities for the increasingly destructive hurricane season. 

The additional funding will double the current financial size of the Federal Emergency Management Agency program which gives states and local governments money to reduce vulnerability before a disaster occurs. The majority of the funds will go to FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program which seeks to shift federal funding from reactive spending to proactive investment in community resilience. Additionally, a small portion of the funding will directly support disadvantaged communities. 

After years of record storms and wildfires as well as recent assignments to administer coronavirus vaccinations, many FEMA staff members are worn out. Furthermore, the increased funding is expected to cause an even larger administrative burden for FEMA. Regardless, scientists anticipate this hurricane season to be “above-normal” with as many as 10 hurricanes expected, including three to five hurricanes reaching Category 3 or higher. Climate change has caused hurricanes to become more powerful and destructive, making FEMA’s capabilities of increased focus in Washington.

In Iowa, FEMA provided more than $33 million in aid to help communities recover from the derecho which struck in August 2020. Weather patterns such as derechos’ are expected to increase over the next few years in the Midwest, resulting in decreased agricultural productivity and increased flooding and drought

Iowa water quality program receives extra funding near end of legislative session


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Elizabeth Miglin | May 25, 2021

The Iowa state legislative session ended on Thursday with water quality bills taking center stage and receiving mixed responses. 

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig touted the 10-year extension of a state water quality program which will provide an additional $320 million in funding for water quality projects. Most of the funds will go to paying farmers for soil conservation and reducing chemical runoff projects; however, providing wildlife habitats and recreation will also be supported by these funds. 

As Naig emphasized, this funding upholds the Iowa environmental goals adopted in 2013 known as the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. The recommendations were expected to cost $89.3 million to $1.4 billion a year when adjusted for inflation. However, the Iowa Environmental Council noted that of the $500 million spent in Iowa on federal conservation programs in years past, only $17 million was focused directly on the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. 

The funding of Iowa water quality programs greatly impacts other national water quality issues such as the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, with Iowa farms being a main source of pollution. The gulf is one of the nation’s most important shrimping areas but seasonally becomes lifeless due to algae blooms fed by fertilizer. 

Questions have arisen if the additional funding for the state water quality program will be enough due to other state environmental programs being underfunded. This includes the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund which is currently penniless due to the expectation the fund would be filled by state tax increases. However, Gov. Kim Reynold’s 1-cent sales tax increase, known as the Invest in Iowa plan, was paused due to COVID-19’s economic impact on Iowa. 

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


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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. 

The Majority of Iowa’s Energy Now Comes from Wind


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Josie Taylor | April 12, 2021

The proportion of Iowa’s energy that comes from wind is at almost 60%, the highest in the United States. 

Iowa added around 540 wind turbines this past year, despite the global pandemic, bringing the total number of wind turbines in the state to almost 5,900, according to the American Clean Power Association.

Some parts of Iowa have already made it far above 60%. In the Des Moines metro area, wind supplies more than 80% of its energy, which is 19% higher than in 2019, according to Mid American Energy. 

Although wind is Iowa’s main energy source, solar energy is expected to increase dramatically in Iowa’s future. Seven large solar projects already under development in the state, and they will add roughly 1,740 megawatts to the grid once completed.

President Biden has set a goal for the nation to reach 100% sustainable energy use by 2050 through wind and solar energy. For Iowa, this is a very attainable goal. Sustainable energy has been on the rise in Iowa for the past decade. Coal supplied 71% of Iowa’s energy in 2010, and it now supplies only 22%. 

Iowa continues to lead the nation in sustainable energy production, and the increase in sustainability isn’t projected to stop any time soon.