Fewer Americans Prioritize the Environment Over Economic Growth

Via Gallup

Maxwell Bernstein | April 9, 2021

A poll from Gallup found that half of Americans prioritize the environment over economic growth, a number that has decreased from the two-thirds of Americans that took prioritized the environment two years ago. Around 42% of Americans believe that strengthening the U.S. economy should be the greatest priority. 

The current attitudes match with the U.S. unemployment rate of 6%. Gallup found that when the unemployment rate is below 6%, the majority of Americans support the environment over economic growth, and the highest support occurred when the unemployment was at 5%. 

“While slightly more U.S. adults today prioritize the environment over economic growth, the 50% doing so is down from 60% in early 2020 (largely before the pandemic was declared) and 65% in 2019, and is the lowest recorded since 2015, when 46% held this view,” Gallup said. 

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

How Climate Change Impacts Iowa

Via Flickr

Maxwell Bernstein | April 7, 2021

Climate change will increase the damage from drought, flooding, air pollution, and toxic algae in the Midwest and also, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has found that the number of storms causing $1 billion or more are increasing Peter Thorne, the head of the University of Iowa’s Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, said in an interview with the Iowa Capital Dispatch.  

As the climate changes, Iowans’ health will be affected. Iowans with hay fever will have their symptoms increase and pests such as the Lone star tick will become more common in Iowa, which can increase the spread of tick-borne diseases.

When disasters increase, the toll of climate change will be the greatest on children, older adults, communities of color, and low-income communities, according to the American Public Health Association. “We must focus more specifically on equity issues, and what it means to involve communities that have been historically marginalized in this planning process,” Sylvia Secchi, associate professor in the University of Iowa’s Department of Geographical and Sustainable Sciences said in an interview with the Iowa Capital Dispatch. 

Biden Adds Climate Spending to $2 Trillion Infrastructure Package

Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | April 5, 2021

President Joe Biden’s new $2 trillion infrastructure and jobs package includes a multi-billion dollar plan to combat the climate crisis and promote a nature-based infrastructure.

The plan includes $16 billion for capping abandoned oil and gas wells and $10 billion for the Civilian Climate Corps, a program that would create employment opportunities through conservation and restoration projects. To help pay for this, the proposal would raise the corporate tax rate to 28% and close tax breaks for oil and gas development, according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

There are currently over 2.3 million abandoned gas and oil wells in the United States, and they are leaking large amounts of methane into the atmosphere. By putting money towards capping them, the federal government plans to create jobs for workers displaced by the transition to renewable energy. This plan to create climate-friendly jobs shares similarities with the New Deal that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt put into place in the 1930s to improve infrastructure and the economy.

While the plan has received a lot of support from climate scientists and activists, many conservative lawmakers have opposed the tax increase. House Transportation and Infrastructure ranking member Sam Graves said in a statement that it would kill jobs and hinder economic recovery after the pandemic. However, the plan’s supporters assure that the tax hike would not negatively impact working Americans.

“This $2.3 trillion is spread over eight years, and there’s a plan to try to pay for it,” Jerry Schnoor, co-director for the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, said on Iowa Public Radio’s River to River. “It has to do with taxing the income of the richest people, making more than $400,000 per year.”

PFAS Found near Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids

Via Flickr

Maxwell Bernstein | April 2, 2021

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been used in industry in the United States since the 1940s, and never break down, according to the EPA. Since they never break down, they accumulate in the body and in the environment.

According to the Iowa Capital Dispatch, these chemicals are found in, “airport firefighting foam, food packaging, carpet, dental floss, cookware, paints, cosmetics, cleaning products and waterproof clothing, and other products.”

Scientists from the University of Iowa have found PFAS in 20 rural wells near the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids and 14 wells south and east of the airport, according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

The health effects of PFAS include infant birth weights, effects on the immune system, cancer, and thyroid hormone disruption.

Increasing Temperatures will Affect Asthma and Seasonal Allergies

Via Flickr

Maxwell Bernstein | March 31, 2021

Asthma and seasonal allergies will become worse as temperatures increase from climate change according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. As temperatures warm, flowers and plants bloom earlier which increases the concentration of pollen and carbon dioxide. These higher concentrations of pollen exacerbate allergies and asthma.

Roughly 7.8% of Americans who are 18 and older have hay fever and 7.7% of adults have asthma. From 1995 to 2011, warmer temperatures have increased the U.S. pollen season from 11 to 27 days, a trend that will only increase the length and severity of seasonal allergies.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America reported that asthma disproportionately affects Black, Hispanic, and native populations, who all have higher asthma rates, hospitalizations, and death. Social determinants and structural inequities such as systemic racism, segregation, discriminatory policies, socioeconomic status, education, neighborhoods and physical environments, employment, social support structures, and access to healthcare largely drive asthma disparities.

Warmer Winters Likely To Expand Range For Tropical Species

Via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | March 30th, 2021

A recent review has highlighted that warming winters are likely to result in an expanded range for some tropical plants and animals across the United States.

Scientists have found that multiple tropical plant and animal species, such as mangrove trees and manatees, are already expanding northward resulting in what is called tropicalization.  The largest factor for northward expansion of tropical species is whether they will suffer from freezing conditions or not, and as winter’s have warmed the line where those conditions occur has moved northward.  Extreme cold events, like what happened recently in Texas, function to push back the advancement of tropical species, but these events are happening even less often than they already do which allows species that have expanded northward to become more tolerant of the cold.

Unfortunately, warmer conditions are also expected to allow invasive species such as certain tree beetles to move further north, as well as a few mosquito species.  The mosquitoes pose a threat to public health because they are known to carry diseases such as Zika and yellow fever.  Additionally, researchers are concerned about how the expansion of new species into northern habitats threatens the biodiversity of the invaded ecosystems. Insect populations have been declining across the globe, particularly in the U.S. Midwest, and it is likely that the addition of new and adaptable species will compromise existing insect populations.

Des Moines Water Works Detects Toxic PFAS in Drinking Water

Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | March 29, 2021

Des Moines Water Works recently detected low levels of PFOS, a toxic chemical found in multiple human-made products, in finished drinking water in Des Moines.

PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate) is part of a large list of compounds called PFAS (perfluoroalkyl substances), which are commonly found in products like popcorn bags, pizza boxes and clothing. These chemicals repel water and oil, and they are commonly called “forever chemicals” since they do not break down and stay in the environment for a long time. PFAS levels detected in Des Moines drinking water were at 6.5 parts per trillion, which is well below the EPA’s health advisory level of 70 ppt. However, even low levels are a concern and have triggered further investigation, according to a Des Moines Water Works announcement.

PFAS chemicals are known to pose threats to human health and the environment. The EPA has connected them to cancer, low birth weight, immune system problems and thyroid issues. While the levels detected in Des Moines’ drinking water are low, a lot more testing is required before specialists can fully understand how PFAS are affecting Iowa’s water supply.

Des Moines Water Works has reached out to the Iowa DNR, the Iowa Attorney General and Iowa’s Congressional delegation to ask for help in resolving the issue. The Iowa DNR plans to test 50 locations they consider highly vulnerable to pollution for PFAS contamination. The federal Department of Defense is also conducting tests to follow up on high PFAS contamination previously detected in groundwater near the Des Moines and Sioux City airports.

These car companies plan on producing electric-vehicles.

Image of Ford Mustang Mach-E Via Car and Driver

Maxwell Bernstein | March 26, 2021

As humans change the climate with the production of greenhouse gasses, car companies are shifting to electric vehicles to mitigate climate change disasters. According to the EPA, transportation accounts for about 28% of greenhouse gas emissions. Here are the car companies that plan on investing and working toward electric-vehicle production.

General Motors (GM): American company General Motors plans on having an all-electric lineup by 2035. Their plan for this all-electric lineup has begun with the release of two Chevy Bolt models and an all-electric GMC Hummer EV pickup truck, according to CNBC.

Ford: Ford said that their European cars will be fully electric or plug-in hybrid by mid-2026 and all-electric by 2030. Ford has plans to spend $22 billion in electrification through 2025, according to Reuters.    

Volvo: On Tuesday, the Chinese-owned automotive company said they will become a “fully electric car company” by 2030, with the complete removal of internal combustion engines, according to CNBC.

Tata Motors: Located in India, Tata motors who owns Jaguar and Land Rover will have Jaguar going all-electric from 2025 and Land Rover rolling out six electric vehicles over the next year.

Volkswagen: The German company Volkswagen plans on releasing 70 all-electric vehicles by 2030 and plans on investing around $42 billion in battery electric vehicles.

Kia: Located in South Korea, Kia will release 11 electric vehicles by 2026, and the all-electric Kia EV6 by the end of this month, according to Car and Driver.

As of March 18, 2021, shares for Ford Motor Co. were up 42%, GM was up 42%, and VW shares were up 46%. Investors are gaining confidence in these carmakers as they reinvent themselves as producers of electric-vehicles, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Expanding Livestock Confinements are Increasing Nitrate Levels in Watersheds

Via Flickr

Maxwell Bernstein | March 24, 2021

Numerous and expanding hog concentrations in Northwest Iowa’s watersheds are increasing nitrate pollution in Iowa, according to The Storm Lake Times.

In a Storm Lake Times interview with Chris Jones, a research engineer with the Iowa Institute of Hydraulic Research in Iowa City, Jones said, “We know for a certainty right now, watersheds that have the highest density of livestock tend to be the ones with the highest nutrient levels in the streams, like the Raccoon for example…there are areas with more hog confinements than square miles.”

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, a nitrate level of 10 milligrams per liter is unsafe to consume, which The Floyd Watershed exceeds. The Floyd River Watershed includes Plymouth and Sioux counties. According to The Storm Lake Times, in 2006, the Floyd watershed contained 189 livestock confinements, and in March 2021, contained 488 livestock confinements.

The watershed with the fifth highest levels of concentration is The North Raccoon River Watershed. This watershed contains Buena Vista, Sac, Calhoun, and Greene Counties. In 2006, this watershed had 261 livestock confinements and now contains 619.

These include a 158% increase and 137% increase of livestock confinements in the Floyd River Watershed and The North Raccoon River Watershed.