Iowa’s Rep. Loebsack encourages Hillary Clinton to focus on renewable energy


Rep. Dave Loebsack. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)
Rep. Dave Loebsack proposed legislation that would establish a national flood center, possibly at the University of Iowa, during an press conference in Iowa City on June 6, 2016. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)
Nick Fetty | July 29, 2016

Iowa congressman Dave Loebsack encouraged Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to make renewable energy a major part of her platform during an event earlier this week, as reported by the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Rep. Loebsack – who serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee – spoke at a forum Wednesday entitled POLITICO Caucus: Energy and the Election, sponsored by Vote4Energy. The forum was part of the events associated with the Democratic National Convention which took place in Philadelphia this week. Joining Loebsack on the panel was Reps. Boyle (D-PA) and Tonko (D-NY) as well as former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell.

Much of Loebsack’s emphasis was on energy issues important to Iowans such as biofuels, wind, and solar.

“Energy policy is exceedingly important in Iowa. The renewable fuel standard has been important in Iowa, not just for ethanol, not just for corn ethanol, but for cellulosic ethanol, for biofuels of other sorts as well. These are also good for the environment. They can bring together people as far as I’m concerned,” Loebsack said at the forum.

Loebsack – currently the lone Democrat in Iowa’s congressional delegation – represents Iowa’s 2nd District, the southeast corner of the state that includes Iowa City. The Sioux City native and former Cornell College political science professor has held his seat since 2006.

Full video of the panel discussion is available on politico.com.

Iowa lawmakers call for environmental review of Bakken oil pipeline project


Pump jacks on the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota (A.G. McCullian/Fickr).
Pump jacks on the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota (A.G. McCullian/Fickr)

Nick Fetty | March 12, 2015

Fifteen members of Iowa’s House of Representatives are asking the Iowa Utilities Board to conduct an independent environmental review of the proposed Bakken oil pipeline project which if approved would run approximately 1,100 miles through 17 Iowa counties.

The lawmakers requested the review among concerns about pipeline accidents that have occurred in several states including Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, and Texas. The letter outlined “eight concerns raised by citizens they feel should be investigated.”

1. Safety risks and hazards associated with the product(s) to be transported through the pipeline;

2. Potential damage to water, land, soil, water, air and wildlife/wildlife habitat during construction;

3. Threats to the environment, farmland, wildlife and public health as a result of spills or explosions;

4. Spill prevention and clean up provisions;

5. Liability for damages to both public and private property and sufficiency of resources to cover such liability;

6. Adequacy of inspection/monitoring/enforcement mechanisms and resources;

7. Responsibility for planning, training, and equipping for emergency response;

8. Indirect impacts of the oil extraction process facilitated by the pipeline that may affect public health and safety as well as environmental security.

Representatives who signed the letter include: Marti Anderson (D-Des Moines), Liz Bennett (D-Cedar Rapids), Ruth Ann Gaines (D-Des Moines), Mary Gaskill (D-Ottumwa), Curt Hanson (D-Fairfield), Greg Heartsill (R-Melcher-Dalls), Charles Isenhart (D-Dubuque), Bobby Kaufmann (R-Wilton), Jerry Kearns (D-Keokuk), Dan Kelley (D-Newton), Bob Kressig (D-Cedar Falls), Vicki Lensing (D-Iowa City), Zach Nunn (R-Altoona), Sharon Steckman (D-Mason City), and Beth Wessel-Kroeschell (D-Ames).

A recent Des Moines Register poll found that 57 percent of Iowans surveyed were in favor of the Bakken pipeline project.

Iowa’s Allamakee County looks to implement nation’s strictest frac sand mining ordinance


Nick Fetty | June 5, 2014
Photo via Erick Gustafson; Flickr
Photo via Erick Gustafson; Flickr

On Tuesday, the Allamakee County (Iowa) Board of Supervisors voted 3-0 to approve what looks to be “the most strict frac sand mining ordinance in the nation,” according to Robert Nehman, President of the Allamakee County Protectors.

The Board not only intends to protect environmental and agricultural interests with this ordinance but also aims to reduce the impact on county infrastructure – such as roads and bridges – that often see increases in heavy traffic due to frac sand mining operations. The ordinance is in response to the plethora of frac sand mining operations that have popped up all over Wisconsin since 2009.

In January, the Iowa Policy Project compiled a report about frac sand mining in northeast Iowa and the Cedar Rapids Gazette editorial board published an article about the implications of frac sand mining in northeast Iowa in February.

For more information, check out the draft of the ordinance.

EDIT: Post originally stated it was the nation’s strictest “fracking” ordinance.  The ordinance instead applies to “sand frac mining.”

Heat wave sweeps across the Midwest


It’s hot out there, folks.  And temperatures are hitting remarkable levels all over Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois. 

Check out this coverage from Weather Underground and a map of Thursday’s heat forecast below.

Map courtesy of Weather Underground

Continue reading

Wind power makes new home in Cedar Rapids


Photo by Jessica Wise, Flickr

Cedar Rapids new wind turbine ordinance went into effect nine months ago, and residents are finally starting to take advantage of the new opportunities it creates.

The Gazette reports:

Wind power is arriving inside the city limits here — where City Hall’s new wind turbine ordinance is now nine months old — in something softer than a gentle breeze.

But if wind power in Cedar Rapids needs a couple of pioneers, Dudley Fleck is happy to be one of them.

Fleck, president of Fleck Sales Co., has just erected two, 70-foot-tall wind turbines at his beer distribution office and warehouse, which is visible to all driving by on Interstate 380 at the far southern edge of the city limits.

“I had a good feeling we were first (in the city),” Fleck says about the particular kind of wind turbines he has put in place. “And we kind of wanted to be with our accessibility and visibility to I-380. We wanted to demonstrate that we’re good corporate citizens of this community, and also, to maybe encourage others to try to do the same thing.” Continue reading

University of Iowa to use methane from landfill for energy


Photo by Chris Davis, Flickr

One city’s decaying trash can be a university’s energy – or something like that.

The University of Iowa will use methane from Iowa City’s landfill to power its research campus – a project that will generate revenue for the city and limit emissions of a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide.  Continue reading

When extremes become the norm: this year in Iowa weather


Thanks partially to climate change, 2010 was the year the earth struck back. Weather watchers all over the world observed a series of extremes: scorching summers, bone-chilling winters, intense flooding and whiteout blizzards.

Iowans observed many of those conditions firsthand. In today’s Cedar Rapids Gazette, State Climatologist Harry Hillaker’s top ten weather stories of the year. Check it out.

Here are some pictures I shot in Iowa City during and after a heavy snowfall in early January. That week, swirling winds made temperatures in the teens feel even colder.

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Delaware County set for Wind Energy Boost


Delaware County is ready to be energized.

After an order of seventeen Nordex N100 wind turbines and a 10-minute groundbreaking ceremony, residents are growing excited about the arrival of the Elk Wind Farm just west of Greeley.

“This is a huge economic boon to Delaware County,” Supervisor Jerry Ries told the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald.

The farm is set to open next October and will generate up to 41 megawatts of power, reports the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

See more of our coverage of wind energy in Iowa.

Toxic waste may have flowed into Monticello Creek for years


Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Toxic waste from a dilapidated circuit boards manufacturing plant in Monticello flowed into Kitty Creek for up to a decade before anyone alerted the EPA, the Cedar Rapids Gazette reports today.

The plant, shuttered since 1991, stood just 400 feet from the creek and housed corroding drums of materials with toxicity levels ranging from harmful to potentially deadly: raw copper sulfate, copper with ferric sulfate, sulfuric acid with alcohol, nitric acid, sodium hydroxide, lead tin, cyanide and formaldehyde.

Officials determined that three feet of floodwater inside the building had moved the drums in 2009, but the flow of waste could have begun as early as 1993 or 2002 – the two previous times Kitty Creek flooded.

It’s not rare for floods to mobilize pollutants and toxic waste, according to a draft report from the Iowa Climate Change Advisory Group.

A section of the report, written by UI researchers David Osterberg and Peter S. Thorne and titled Climate Change Consequences for Public Health in Iowa, provides the details:

Floods mobilize chemical pollutants from contaminated soils, hazardous waste sites, storage basins, and other such reservoirs and introduce them into the moving waters. Pollutants include pesticides, fertilizers, gasoline, and industrial chemicals. Floodwaters on the Ohio River in Kentucky resurrected leaking 55-gallon drums of toxic waste that had been buried at a dumpsite for a generation. Some of these drums contained toxic chemicals that had been banned since the 1970s. Microbial pathogens from livestock production facilities and sewage treatment plants are also mobilized by floods. During Iowa’s 2008 flood, the Cedar Rapids wastewater treatment plant was discharging raw sewage into the floodwaters. When the floodwaters receded and residents returned to “muck out and gut”their homes, they were faced with everything the floodwaters had carried in, both chemical and microbial pollutants and mold that had begun to consume their homes.

Rural-Urban coalitions key to flood preparation


Nathan Young, an Iowa Flood Center researcher, shows off some off some recently-developed mapping technology. - Photo by Joe Bolkcom

On Tuesday, a group of flood researchers and policy makers stopped in Elkader for the first of four  seminars that will examine Iowa’s recent history of flooding, and what communities can do to better prepare for floods.

James Q. Lynch, reporter for the Cedar Rapids Gazette picked up on one key theme of the meeting: Rural-Urban Coalition building:

Flood prevention starts at the upper end of watersheds, but rural-urban coalitions will be needed to develop policies to reduce flood potential and damage, participants in a flood seminar agreed Sept. 7.

“This is not a case of ‘urban rules,'” Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, told about 40 people who attended a state-sponsored seminar on flood preparation in Elkader. “We all have to be in this together.”

A handful of northeast Iowa farmers agreed that practices on their land affect their downstream neighbors, so they should be a part of the solution.

In fact, said Richard Jensen of rural Elgin, that rural-urban partnership exists in the form of taxpayer-supported programs that help defray the cost of water conservation practices on his farmland.

“I’m just an old man with an audience here,” Jensen said, “but the real solution is to treat the cause – the upper end of the watershed.”

Right now, there are over 204 watershed projects completed or underway, according to Wayne Petersen, of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

For more information on the flood preparation, and to view the speakers’ presentations, check out CGRER’s post-event resource page.

On September 14, researchers will head west to Cherokee for a 4:00p.m. presentation. Late last June, Cherokee residents and business owners were forced to evacuate as heavy rains caused the Little Sioux River to spill over its banks.