No environmental damage caused by northwest Iowa train derailment


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 21, 2021

Following a freight train derailment in Sibley, Iowa on Sunday afternoon, the Environmental Protection Agency said there was no environmental harm caused by the chemicals that were being transported by the train.

More than 40 train cars were derailed, including some carrying hazardous chemicals. The railroad, Union Pacific, confirmed the train was carrying hydrochloric acid, asphalt, potassium hydroxide, and highly explosive ammonium nitrate. EPA officials said the chemicals were captured on site and secured. The reason for the derailment is still under investigation.

The derailed train caught fire on Sunday, causing an evacuation order for the northwest Iowa town until Monday night. The fire was contained by local firefighters and burned itself out by Tuesday afternoon.

Some acid was spilled at the derailment site, but the EPA said the land impacted by the acid will be sampled and cleaned up in remediation efforts, according to Radio Iowa. Some land was also burned by the fire and no injuries were reported in connection to the derailment.

Osceola County Emergency Management Director Dan Bechler told KIWA Radio he was initially concerned about the derailment’s proximity to Otter Creek. The EPA and the Department of Natural Resources verified that the creek was clean, and no hazardous chemicals reached the water. Bechler said none of the spilled chemicals pose a threat to the public.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is now focusing on overseeing the clean-up process to remove the train cars safely.

National Park Service shifts mission due to climate change


Via Flickr

Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 20, 2021

The National Park Service is shifting its focus to protect more land because climate change is creating new environmental concerns. With the planet warming, the service’s goal of absolute conservation of land is no longer viable in many cases.

In late April, the National Park Service updated its guidance for park managers in the 21st century. The new research and guidelines the service released this spring explains how to plan for worst-case scenarios and how to decide what species or landscapes to prioritize when necessary.

The report includes two peer-reviewed papers that focus on different tools park managers and ecologists can look towards as the environmental transformation continues.

As the New York Times reported, the new report asks park managers to consider transformation as “the prevailing theme” of their approach to protecting federally owned land. Park ecologists and managers are asked to actively choose what to save and what to shepherd through an environmental transition due to climate change. They are also tasked with choosing what will vanish from national parks forever.

One of the main focuses of the document is forests due to the rising number of wildfires in the United States.

The report looked at various future scenarios to ensure different parks with diverse species adapt to future changes. It also focuses on the National Park Service’s resources, stewardship responsibilities, and how they can be beneficial to the transition.

State environmental panel approves controversial new water rule


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Elizabeth Miglin | May 19, 2021

The state environmental panel approved a controversial new water quality rule which could take away important protections for Iowa’s waterways. 

The governor-appointed Environmental Protection Commission approved rules on Tuesday related to water quality certifications and permits. The Iowa Environmental Council, a nonprofit coalition of 80 environmental groups, said the new rules would immediately remove multiple protections for Iowa’s waterways as well as cause other protections to regress. The new water quality rule would specifically require projects near outstanding waters receive individual certification, allow for heavy equipment in the area, and would remove wetland loss restrictions. 

The EPA requires any changes to the water quality rules be tied to specific water quality standards, including the following of other code sections pertaining to water quality and pollution standards. However, the environmental council argues the conditions set by the commission are not enough and could lead to further water quality standard violations if they remain the standard for water quality protection. Iowa Department of Natural Resources water quality monitoring staff supervisor Roger Bruner said the suggested changes by the environmental council were “outside the scope” of federal rules by not being directly related to a specific water quality standard, according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch

More than 60% of Iowa’s rivers, streams, lakes and reservoirs are considered impaired due to harmful levels of bacteria and algae fueled by runoff of manure and fertilizers according to the Iowa DNR

Iowa farmer leads class-action lawsuit against herbicide manufacturers


Via Flickr

Elizabeth Miglin | May 18, 2021

An Iowa farmer is leading a nationwide class-action lawsuit against the creators of a commonly used herbicide linked to Parkinson’s disease. 

The Iowa case was filed May 3rd in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa on behalf of Doug Holliday, a farmer who works near Greenfield in Adair County. Holliday has been using Paraquat on his crops since the 1990s and alleges the manufacturers of Paraquat have failed to adequately warn users that exposure increases their risk of developing Parkinson’s. This is one of many class-action claims filed against the manufacturers of Paraquat during the past two weeks. 

This herbicide has been sold under the name Gramoxone since 1962; Paraquat which is owned by the US-based Chevron and Switzerland-based Syngenta has been sold in the US since 1964. The weed killer is banned by countries around the world, including the European Union nations and China for its connections to Parkinson’s disease and its highly poisonous nature. Both Chevron and Syngenta have defended Paraquat and have questioned the studies connecting it to Parkinson’s disease.

The federal government estimates in 2017 alone, over 15 million pounds of Paraquat was applied to American croplands according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch. This estimate is expected to increase as Paraquat is increasingly used as an alternative herbicide to Roundup, a herbicide under increased scrutiny as a possible carcinogen. 

Climate Change Predictions from the Past are Coming True


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | May 17, 2021

For many years climate scientists have been warning us about climate change and more specifically, global warming. Were they right? To simply put it, yes. 

In 2012, a 108 page study was released written by scientists all around the world, including the US. They have so many predictions about what the next 20 years will hold for the environment. One section predicted more intense storms over the next two decades. Although it has only been nine years, that can already be seen. 2020 had a record number of severe storms, one of them being the derecho that hurt so many in Iowa.

In that same study, scientists predicted extreme changes in water cycles. They said that can mean that some places will have extreme increases in precipitation, where in other places will see an extreme decrease. That is already being seen here in Iowa. In 2020 there were floods, and in 2021 there is a drought.

Going back further, in 1973 climate scientists almost perfectly predicted the increase in overall global temperature by the year 2000. They were only off by about 0.4ºC. This same model did overestimate the amount of carbon concentration however. 

Climate scientists have been studying and adjusting their predictions for decades, and so far their predictions are fairly accurate. This makes climate projections happening right now seem more likely to be true. Right now climate scientists are predicting a much warmer world overall by 2050, and are expecting to see even more intense and deadly storms. In the US alone, it is predicted to hurt places that count on tourism from skiing to have warmer weather, and places like Florida may have more hurricanes. It is time to take projections seriously. 

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


Via Finn Thilsted

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. 

Biden Administration Announces Environmental Conservation Plan


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | May 10, 2021

On Thursday the Biden administration announced a conservation plan called “America the Beautiful” with the goal to conserve 30 percent of US land and water by 2030. They are calling it the nation’s first national conservation goal and made a warning about the bad effects climate change is having on the country’s land. 

This goal will be voluntary and locally-led, yet they hope everyone will participate. Officials in the Biden administration said that Earth is in a “catastrophic extinction crisis,” and warned that we need to protect our environment and biodiversity. 

Brenda Mallory, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality said that, “nature in America is in trouble and Americans across the country are seeing and feeling the impact.” She then said that this plan is a necessity, and that we need “all hands on deck.”

The federal government is working with US states and Tribal nations to protect wildlife both on land and water. They also are planning to protect public parks. 

Besides combatting the serious problem of climate change, the Biden administration says their plan will also promote racial equity and create new jobs. They will do this by making natural spaces more easily accessible to underprivileged and underserved areas of the country. 

EPA leader focused on water quality, biofuels and livestock in first Iowa visit


Via North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality

Elizabeth Miglin | May 6, 2021

The new Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael S. Regan visited Iowa on Tuesday to discuss agriculture’s impact on environmental issues. 

Regan’s first visit to Iowa, included a tour of the Lincolnway Energy ethanol plant near Nevada, followed by a group discussion with farmers and a meeting with Gov. Kim Reynolds in Des Moines. Later in the day, Regan met with state and city officials to announce plans for a superfund site near downtown Des Moines. Notably, no discussions occurred with environmental organizations during his trip. 

The focus of Regan’s visit surrounded water quality, biofuels, and livestock production. Iowa environmental advocates have long supported regulation of nitrogen and phosphorus, two of the main farm fertilizers polluting Iowa’s lakes and streams. However, Regan spoke in favor of a nutrient reduction strategy focused on individual farmers taking steps to address this issue, according to the Iowa Capitol Dispatch


Regan’s visit comes as the issue of waivers to the federal Renewable Fuel Standard are before the U.S. Supreme Court. The waivers, which are highly objected to by farmers, allow oil refiners to not blend biofuels into oil production per the Renewable Fuel Standard, according to Iowa Environmental Focus. Although the Biden Administration does not support the reinstatement of the waivers, concerns have arisen over the administration’s push for electric vehicles and lack of support for corn and soybean-based biofuels. Speaking to these concerns, Regan emphasized the necessity for the co-existence of biofuels and electric vehicles for the foreseeable future.

Biofuel Waivers For Oil Refineries Could Be Removed After EPA Files Motion


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Thomas Robinson | May 4th, 2021

The EPA has filed a motion to remove biofuel waivers granted to the Sinclair Oil Corp. over questions on whether the waivers were allowed under previous court rulings.

Sinclair Oil Corp. received three biofuel waivers for the years 2018 and 2019 shortly before the Trump administration left office which exempted their oil production from federal biofuel requirements. These waivers have been a contentious issue after a 10th circuit court ruling in 2020 that argued some of the recently granted waivers had been inappropriately issued by the EPA. That ruling declared that these biofuel waivers could only be applied as continuous extensions to waivers granted in 2010, not as stand alone waivers, which would greatly limit the number of oil refineries that would qualify.

Two oil refining companies challenged the court’s ruling, however, a U.S. federal court threw out the challenge just last month. Both companies had previously received waivers that would not have been issued under the new court order, and had petitioned for a rehearing over the decision. While biofuel blending is good for farmers, the requirement that billions of gallons of ethanol must be included in gasoline costs is very expensive for the oil industry.

Iowa benefits greatly from biofuel requirements, since the state is the number one producer of ethanol in the country, with a yearly total of approximately 4.5 billion gallons of ethanol, or around 27% of U.S. ethanol production.  Federal blending standards were introduced under the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard which spurred agricultural growth in Iowa and a surge in the price of corn that brought high profits for farmers.

The Majority of Iowa is Experiencing Abnormal Dryness


Josie Taylor | May 3, 2021

According to the Iowa drought monitor, 74.5 percent of Iowa is abnormally dry, with extreme drought conditions in northwest Iowa. Last week only 40.8 percent was in drought. Iowa is expected to be in a drought until the early part of crop season, but possibly longer. 

State climatologist Justin Glisan clarified in an interview that the majority of Iowa is not in what is classified as a drought, but it is something to keep an eye out for this summer. 

This drought is vastly different than last year, which had flooding and storms. Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig said that he has visited farms that are still recovering from heavy flooding from two years ago, and are now being affected by dryness. Much of Iowa is still recovering from last summer’s derecho as well. 

Glisan also warned that if moisture levels don’t improve, “we could see some physiological issues with corn and soybeans”. Iowa farmers continue to suffer during the crop season, and current predictions show northwest Iowa may not get the rain they need soon.