Iowa GOP Lawmakers Push to Block Eminent Domain for Wind Farms


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Nicole Welle | August 3, 2020

Three GOP members of a legislative rules review committee are looking to block the Iowa Utilities Board’s move to allow developers to condemn property for wind and solar farms.

Sens. Waylon Brown, Zach Whiting and Mark Costello announced their opposition Friday. They believe that the rules giving the Iowa Utilities Board jurisdiction over the siting of renewable energy facilities and the state the ability to overrule local zoning to allow developers to condemn private property for approved projects are administrative overreach, according to an Iowa Capital Dispatch article.

Some wind companies raised concerns over changing policy that has enabled an economic surge in the past. They also worry that some projects already underway could be stalled. Midamerican Energy, however, testified that the rule should include eminent domain if the state is going to govern siting.

The controversial rule has split environmentalists. Some believe it will help to push renewable energy development forward, but others worry that it could increase development time and cost. If the committee approves a session delay, the Iowa legislature will have the chance to consider the rule before it takes effect.

212 Environmental Activists Killed in 2019


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Maxwell Bernstein | July 31, 2020

report from the environmental centered NGO Global Witness found that 212 environmental activists were killed in 2019, which averages to more than four per week.  

The findings from the organization found that half of all reported killings occurred in Colombia and the Philippines. In 2019, 64 activists were killed in Colombia while 43 were killed in the Philippines.

The report found that 40% of the victims belonged to indigenous communities, with over a third of all fatal attacks between 2015 and 2019 being targeted toward indigenous people. Over 1 in 10 environmental activists who were killed were women. 

“For years, land and environmental defenders have been the first line of defence against climate breakdown,” the report said. “Yet despite clearer evidence than ever of the crucial role they play, far too many businesses, financiers and governments fail to safeguard their vital and peaceful work.”

Connie Mutel Releases Article Comparing Climate Change to the COVID-19 Pandemic


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Author Connie Mutel released “COVID-19: Dress Rehearsal for a Climate in Crisis,” earlier this month.

Connie Mutel is a retired UI Senior Science Writer and climate change activist who recently began to research the parallels between responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. In the beginning of her article, she discusses the slow response administrations in the United States had to the early warning signs of both crises. She then goes on to explain the importance of taking direct measures to combat the issues sooner rather than later and the ways COVID-19 could help solve Climate Change.

“COVID has shown us what a runaway crisis looks like and feels like. It reveals a lack of predictability,” Mutel said in a Zoom conference Tuesday.

The talk revolved around the intersection of the two issues and potential paths forward. Mutel believes the crises are heavily intertwined and COVID-19 is providing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fast track efforts to combat climate change.

“One crisis magnifies the other. COVID is expressed more in areas with more air pollution.” Mutel said. “Like with COVID, we need global solidarity and collective action to solve climate change.”

Click here to read “COVID-19:Dress Rehearsal for a Climate in Crisis.”

$10 Million Dollar Grant will Fund Research to Turn Waste into Fuel


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Maxwell Bernstein | July 29, 2020

Dr. Lisa Schulte Moore, a professor in the Department of Natural Resource Ecology Management at Iowa State University along with researchers from Penn State and Roeslein Alternative Energy, received a $10 million grant to develop new ways to produce renewable natural gas from biomass and manure, according to a news release from Iowa State University. 

The five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture will help power an agricultural science initiative called the Consortium for Cultivating Human and natural regenerative Enterprise. 

Dr. Lisa Schulte Moore will lead the consortium with hopes that the research will improve water quality, wildlife habitats, soil erosion, nutrient runoff and flooding, according to the The Gazette

Drought Conditions Worsen in Western Iowa


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Nicole Welle | July 27, 2020

Western Iowa has been abnormally dry recently, and nearly 40% of the state is now experiencing moderate to severe drought.

7.62% of Iowa is currently in severe drought, and 54% is now considered abnormally dry. Precipitation deficits have been accumulating for the last four to six months, and the continued drought could put crops and livestock at risk. Crops in areas most heavily affected by drought are showing signs of moisture stress, according to an SF article.

“We’re seeing pineapple corn. Corn leaves are rolling, soybean leaves are flipping over. You start to see the lower leaves on the corn firing,” said Iowa climatologist Justin Glisan.

The state has also been experiencing above-average temperatures for the last month. Farmers in areas affected by both drought and high temperatures are likely to see diminished crop yields, and the heat and dryness could be dangerous for livestock.

Specialists with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship are offering a series of webinars starting July 30 that will help farmers plan ahead and manage their drought-stressed crops and livestock. The weekly webinars are meant to answer any questions participants may have, provide weather and drought updates and give updates on shortages and yield estimates.

American’s Views on Climate Changed After Spread of COVID-19 and the Killing of George Floyd


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Maxwell Bernstein | July 24, 2020

A poll from Gallup shows that 2% of Americans view climate change, pollution, and the environment as the most important issues facing the United States as of June 2020, wherein March 2020, about 5% of Americans viewed these issues as the most important issues facing the country. 

The top four problems facing the country today according to Americans are: (Percentage of Americans as of March 2020, Percentage of Americans as of June 2020)

  • The government/Poor leadership (27%, 21%)
  • Coronavirus/Diseases (13%, 20%)
  • Economic problems (13%, 19%)
  • Race relations/Racism (3%, 19%)

The rise of some of these issues comes after the spread of COVID-19 and the killing of George Floyd. Despite American’s views on environmental issues, 73% of rural western voters said that conservation issues were very or pretty important to them personally, as reported by Iowa Environmental Focus

Iowa Soybean Association Receives 2020 U.S. Water Prize


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Nicole Welle | July 23, 2020

The Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) received the U.S. Water Alliance 2020 U.S. Water Prize.

The U.S. Water Alliance selected ISA for its solutions that benefit both farmers and the environment. ISA promotes farming practices that help build stronger soils and achieve cleaner water, and the ISA Center for Farming Innovation conducts watershed analyses to help find solutions, according to a KIWAradio article.

Agricultural runoff is the leading source of pollutants in Iowa’s lakes and waterways. Agricultural activities that cause non-point source pollution include plowing too often or at the wrong time, and the improper application of pesticides, irrigation water and fertilizer, according to the EPA. ISA works to educate Iowa farmers about these issues and help them switch to more sustainable practices.

“A special thank you goes out to our farmers leaders who provide oversight and guidance in these efforts,” said Roger Wolf, ISA director of innovation and integrated solutions. “And, of course, our farmer champions and participants in these water quality initiatives. We are unable to do this work without your participation and engagement.”

Inspector General sets Environmental Justice as a Priority for the EPA


Screenshot of EJSCREEN map of Iowa wastewater discharge.

Maxwell Bernstein | July 22, 2020

The Environmental Agency’s Office of Inspector General set the integration of environmental justice into the agency as a priority, according to a letter from the inspector general. 

“Across the country, communities of low-income and people of color live adjacent to heavily polluted industries or “hot spots” of chemical pollution,” the inspector general said. “For example, studies show that 70 percent of hazardous waste sites officially listed on the National Priorities List under Superfund are located within one mile of federally assisted housing.”

The inspector general addressed gaps in environmental justice when it came to air quality management, drinking water, toxic releases to surface waters, Superfund sites, emergency response, and environmental education. The EPA laid out a plan to improve environmental justice through:

  • Setting standards and regulations
  • Facility permitting decisions
  • Grant awards
  • Reviews of proposed federal agency actions 
  • Enforcement decisions

The EPA’s map tool Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool (EJSCREEN) provides maps of environmental hazards and demographics to help inform the public when it comes to environmental justice concerns. 

Researchers Use Honeybees to Test Environmental Contamination Levels


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Nicole Welle | July 20, 2020

Researchers created a non-invasive tool to sample environmental contaminates in honeybee hives.

Bees are good bioindicators of environmental contamination because they get coated with everything in their surroundings, including pollutants. Because they have a wide flight range and sample from a range of spaces, they can pick up build-up from the air, water, ground and trees. They also spread the nectar they collect to other bees and throughout the hive.

Researchers have used honeybee hives to understand the environmental contamination in their area in the past, but the process was often harmful. It involved capturing bees and extracting whatever they had ingested or transported on the surface of their bodies. Sampling could also be done with pollen reserves, larvae and honey. Not only was this often very difficult and time-consuming, it also often disrupted the normal functioning of hives, according to a PHYS.ORG article.

Professor José Manuel Flores, from the Department of Zoology at the University of Cordoba, collaborated with researchers at the University of Almeria to put a new device into operation. APIStrip (Absorb Pesticide In-Hive Strip) is a non-invasive polystyrene strip that is placed in a hive and can absorb a variety of pesticides and other pollutants for testing. This device will allow researchers to continue to use honeybees as sample collectors and improve environmental health without jeopardizing the safety of honeybee colonies.

President Trump Overhauls the National Environmental Policy Act


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Maxwell Bernstein | July 17, 2020

President Trump overhauled the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in an announcement in Atlanta on Wednesday to speed up permitting of federal infrastructure programs, according to the Associated Press.

NEPA requires federal agencies to assess the harm done to air, land, water, and wildlife and allows for public review and input when it comes to environmental effects on communities affected by federal infrastructure projects.

Critics say that limiting NEPA will contribute to climate change and will silence predominantly minority communities impacted by federal projects; over 1-million African American’s living within half-mile of natural gas facilities face higher risks of cancer from emitted toxins.

This move comes after district courts ordered for the Dakota Access Pipeline to be emptied to let the Army Corps of Engineers conduct an environmental review, as reported by Iowa Environmental Focus. While this does not have any effect on the shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline, it will create environmental consequences for future projects to come.