Following massive spill, Keystone XL gets go-ahead in Nebraska


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TransCanada tweeted a picture of the affected area around the recent oil spill in South Dakota. (TransCanada)
Jenna Ladd | November 22, 2017

More than 200,000 gallons of oil spilled from the Keystone Pipeline near Amherst, South Dakota late last week, yet further expansion of the pipeline’s bigger brother, Keystone XL, was approved by the state of Nebraska on Monday.

TransCanada, the company that owns both pipelines, shut down the Keystone Pipeline last Thursday morning at 6 am after detecting a drop in pressure, indicating a leak. About 5,000 barrels of oil spilled onto privately owned land roughly 200 miles north of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The company is still investigating the cause of the pipeline’s rupture.

Just three days after the oil spill, Nebraska’s Public Service Commission decided the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline’s route through Nebraska. Caving to pressure from Nebraska’s conservative legislators as well as industry and labor groups, the five-person commission agreed to allow the pipeline to cross through Nebraska. However, the pipeline must follow an alternative route. While the pipeline will enter and exit the state in the originally proposed locations, the commission will require its route to follow an existing pipeline’s path. This change will make responding to leaks more efficient according to regulators.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that 10-25 million gallons of oil spill each year. Not only do oil spills destroy habitat, kill plants and animals, and compromise agriculture, they also threaten public heath by contaminating drinking water and degrading air quality.

Thursday’s oil spill came exactly one year after Native American protesters were sprayed with water cannons in 23 degree weather as they attempted to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline through North Dakota, citing oil spills as a primary concern.

 

4th National Climate Assessment public draft released


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St. Paul, Minnesota, like many U.S. cities, has developed its own climate adaptation plan. (U.S. Global Change Research Program)
Jenna Ladd | November 21, 2017

The U.S. Global Change Research Program released the first public draft of the 4th National Climate Assessment this November.

The assessment, which is projected to be complete in late 2018, is required through the Global Change Research Act (GCRA) of 1990 to “analyze the effects of global change on the natural environment, agriculture, energy production and use, land and water resources, transportation, human health and welfare, human social systems, and biological diversity.”

Findings from the report are separated into several geographic regions of the United States, with Iowa included among the Midwestern states. Scientists say that Iowans and others in the Midwest region can expect longer growing seasons and increasing carbon dioxide levels to bump yields for some crops, but that positive effect will be reversed over time. As the climate continues to change, increased humidity, severity and frequency of heat waves along with poorer water and air quality are expected to endanger agricultural yields.

Gene Takle and Charles Stainer, both CGRER members, were recently interviewed on Iowa Public Radio’s River to River about the program’s findings. Takle said,

“Humidity has been going up for the last 30 years, and it continues to go up. This fields a number of different consequences, heavy rainfall, the 5, 6, or 7 inch rainfall events that we seem to be experiencing every year. We’re also experiencing a rise in both summertime and wintertime temperatures which are going to be bumping up against our crops.”

To drive home the economic impact of a changing climate, Takle added, “In 2013, we were not able to plant 700,000 acres in Northwest Iowa.”

Scientists point out that Midwesterners burn through 20 percent more carbon emissions per capita than the national average. That said, they argue, the region has incredible potential to take actions that reduce those emissions that cause climate change.

The current draft of the 4th National Climate Assessment can be found here.

UN Environment calls for action regarding mining pollution


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Pollution (eltpics/ flickr)
Kasey Dresser | November 17, 2017

On November 5th 2015, Germano mine, an iron-ore mine in southeast Brazil, collapsed killing 19 people and destroying 650 kilometers of fertile valley before spilling into the ocean. More than 33 cubic meters of tailing was released. This disaster was detrimental to the economy as the local fishing community was practically eliminated; meaning no fish for food and tourists became scarce as the water was no longer swimmable.

Joca Thome, a local resident who works for Brazil’s Chico Mendes Institute of Biodiversity Conservation, describes how these kind of incidences are too physically and psychologically severe for the victims. They need to be eliminated.  “As well as monitoring the impact in the estuary and the ocean, I am trying to help the community and the fishermen to understand what has happened to them,” Thomé says. “They are getting compensation from the mining company to keep them going. But thousands of people have had their lives upended and they do not know what their future will be.”

Mine tailing is a sludgy- mud like material leftover from mining facilities. There have been 40 tailing failures in the last decade alone. There is no exact statistic for the number of tailing dams in the world or the volume of each but there are 30,000 industrial mines worldwide. More mining failings could lead to long-term damage to the environment while destroying the surrounding cities.

The new Rapid Response Assessment was released a few days ago by UN Environment and GRID-Arenal. It calls for international action and a “safety-first” methodin regards to management and on the ground procedure. The report states, “safety attributes should be evaluated separately from economic considerations, and cost should not be the determining factor.”  This could create a mining database to develop the best technical methods for stopping failure completely. If regulations expand this might create an independent monitoring system of waste dams that could result in financial or criminal punishment for non-compliance. The report also mentions developing cleaner processes with new technology and re-using materials to reduce waste.

December 4-6, the UN Environmental Assembly will meet to discuss more effects of pollution on the environment. The report also recommends a specific stakeholder forum to put international policy in place to regulate mining tailings dams.

 

 

Climate change endangers World Heritage Sites


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Elephant populations at one Ivory Coast Natural Heritage Site have been replenished. (Guillaume Mignot/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | November 14, 2017

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) announced this week at the 23rd Conference of the Parties in Bonn, Germany that climate change now threatens one in four natural heritage sites.

There are a total of 206 Natural World Heritage properties, or sites elected by UNESCO to have “outstanding universal value.” Sixty-two of these sites are now considered to be at risk due to climate change by the organization, up from 35 in 2014.

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) director general Inger Andersen said in a statement, “Climate change acts fast and is not sparing the finest treasures of our planet. The scale and pace at which it (climate change) is damaging our natural heritage underline the need for urgent and ambitious national commitments and actions to implement the Paris Agreement.”

Coral reefs, wetlands, deltas and glaciated areas are among the most threatened ecosystems. Rising sea temperatures have killed off colorful algae that used to adorn the Aldabra Atoll Reef in the Indian Ocean, the Belize Barrier Reef in the Atlantic, and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, resulting in a “devastating” bleaching effect. The Everglades are also threatened by climate change as sea level rise brings salt water into the wetland ecosystem.

Although countries are responsible for protecting and managing natural heritage sites within their boarders, the report noted that natural heritage site management has decreased since 2014, mostly due to decreased funding.

Proper management can reduce risk for some threatened sites. The report tells of replenished elephant and chimpanzee populations in Ivory Coast’s Comoé national park due to improved management and international support.

After 3 years, the Flint water crises is still happening


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Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | November 9, 2017

It has seemed like a while since the Flint water crises has hit news circuits. The small city in Michigan has reached an almost celebrity status as a beacon of misfortune, plagued by lead poisoning, poverty, and, famously, unemployment, as examined in Michael Moore’s 1989 documentary Roger and Me.

There are layers to the water crises that are slowly being revealed as time goes on. The public knows this: The water issues started when Flint changed water sources to the Flint River in 2014. The switch was meant to be a temporary one, a sort of placeholder while Flint officials waited to connect to the Karegnondi Water Authority pipeline, a move estimated to save the region millions of dollars.

What followed in the next few years was improper water treatment, corroded pipes, and government inaction, all of it cumulating into what has eventually become a massive nationwide discussion on ethics, the environment, and how the two intertwine.

On October 16th, 2015, the water supply was switched back to the Detroit River, but the level of corrosion in the pipes was still a major concern for Flint citizens, resulting in several declarations of urgency: a state of emergency order from Obama in January of 2016, and an emergency order from the EPA.

Recently, criminal charges have been filed against three Michigan Department of Health and Human Services employees, all of them found guilty of withholding a report on the unsafe levels of lead found in Flint children.

A paper detailing the possible effects of the water crises on fertility is currently being worked on by Daniel Grossman from West Virginia University and David Slusky from the University of Kansas. Both have released their comparisons of birth and miscarriage rates from before and after the water crises, and have found that birth rates in Flint have decreased by 12% while fetal death rates have increased by a staggering 58%.

Flint is a black-majority city with a poverty rate of around 40%, and while this doesn’t at first seem to have an effect on the crises at hand, studies have found that communities of color are hugely more disproportionately affected by lead poisoning and environmental health risks than white communities.

Clean Water-Livable Communities conference next month in Fairfield


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Jenna Ladd | October 24, 2017

A statewide conference titled “Clean Water-Livable Communities” is scheduled to take place in Fairfield, Iowa on Thursday, November 9th from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.

The conference will center around strategies to make clean water a top economic priority in Iowa. Four panel sessions are scheduled including: Iowa Water Overview; Robust, well-managed soils create clean water; Funding our clean water solutions; and Economic opportunities that result from clean water.

John Ikerd will be featured as the day’s keynote speaker. After receiving his PhD in Agricultural Economics from the University of Missouri, Ikerd worked in traditional agriculture for about a decade before he shifted his focus to sustainable agriculture during the farm crisis of the 1980’s. Since then, the Missouri-native has published six books about sustainable agriculture and economics, including Sustainable Capitalism: A Matter of Common Sense and Small Farms are Real Farms: Sustaining People Through Agriculture. Ikerd now lives in Fairfield, Iowa and co-teaches a Sustainable Economics course at Maharishi University of Management.

The conference is organized by the American Sustainable Business Council, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Southeast Iowa Food Hub and the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club. Tickets will be available soon at http://www.fairfieldacc.com/site/buy-tickets.html.

What: Statewide Conference Clean Water-Livable Communities

Where: Fairfield Arts and Convention Center, 200 N. Main Street, Fairfield, Iowa

When: Thursday, November 9th from  9:00 am to 4:00 pm

Cost: $35 for non-students, $20 for students (includes lunch)

Midwest drinking water quality symposium draws large crowd


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The symposium’s attendees included students, state legislators, water utility workers, environmental and public health representatives and farmers. (Jenna Ladd/CGRER)
Jenna Ladd | October 18, 2017

Approximately 150 people gathered at Drake University in Des Moines for the “Challenges to Providing Safe Drinking Water in the Midwest-A Symposium” on September 21 and 22. Sponsored by several University of Iowa centers including the Environmental Health Sciences Research Center (EHSRC), Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination (CHEEC), Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER), and the UI Public Policy Center, the event featured thirteen speakers.

Four plenary discussions about topics such as the health impacts of nitrate in drinking water, how to communicate with the public about water quality, unregulated contaminants in drinking water and more.

Complete PowerPoint presentations from the symposium’s presenters can be accessed here.