The U.S. Supreme Court curbed the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to restrict pollution coming from greenhouse gases. But, not all its power was stripped. The EPA and the Biden Administration have new plans in place to reach President Biden’s goal of cutting emissions in half by 2030.
Joseph Goffman, Biden’s nominee for EPA’s air chief, told the New York Times the ruling against the EPA didn’t alter any current plans that the agency has. Next year, the agency plans to implement more restraints on greenhouse gas emissions from coal-powered plants. The EPA also plans to propose a regulation that cuts emissions from new gas-powered plants.
Now that the Supreme Court created a setback for action against climate change, the role of state and local level efforts increases. Colorado has passed about 50 climate laws over the last four years and is working to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2030, as well as New York.
Although the state of Iowa doesn’t have a statewide climate plan, an Iowa City plan, which has about 35 actions, includes decreasing greenhouse gases in the community by 80 percent by 2050. In addition, Cedar Rapids’ plan to combat climate change seeks zero net carbon emissions by 2050.
Cedar Rapids leaders recently presented plans to put millions of federal dollars toward the city’s ongoing flood control plans. The extra resources will be targeted at the west side.
The city has plans for a large flood control system along the Cedar River. This is a response to the 2008 flood that caused $6 billion in damage on downtown businesses and neighborhoods on the westside of Cedar Rapids.
A smaller but still serious flood in 2016 — which reached 22 feet, compared to 31 in 2008 — was a reminder of the need for a flood control system.
This round of federal funding is specifically intended to benefit vulnerable communities who were most severely impacted by the pandemic and to promote community resilience. Cedar Rapids’ use of more than $10 million for west side flood protection is this kind of mission.
Residents in flood-impacted areas are more likely to be impoverished, elderly, disabled, renters and in women-headed households. They are the kinds of people who historically in the United States have not been well served by city planning, housing and infrastructure policy. Creating a flood plan that targets the west side would be a way for city officials to correct national injustices in their city.
The city of Cedar Rapids is hosting an event Tuesday to unveil a community climate action plan. City staff, Community Climate Advisory Committee members and community organizations who are seen as leaders in sustainability will attend the event, according to the city.
The plan, which will be unveiled at Cedar Rapids Public Library, aims to lead the city toward reducing carbon emissions. They will begin transitioning to mostly or entirely renewable energy by 2050, and the city hopes this will better the health of the residences as well.
The Community Climate Advisory Committee and city staff worked with Cedar Rapids to center equity in drafting the plan. They did this through its survey outreach and in-person meetings to address and understand how climate change disproportionately burdens some residents based on their socioeconomic status, access to transportation and language barriers.
The plan will set strategies such as funding, partnerships and programs in order to reach long-term climate goals.
The council will consider approving the draft plan and making it final at its Sept. 28 meeting.
One year after the derecho devastated many Iowa communities, the state is still recovering.
The storm ripped through nearly 800 miles of the Midwestern United States and crossed eight states within 14 hours. Winds reached higher than 60 miles per hour across the region. With Tuesday marking the anniversary of the natural disaster, Iowans are looking forward after a year of rebuilding.
One of the hardest hit areas of Iowa, Cedar Rapids, is looking to replant some of the trees that were uprooted in the storm. Several trees in the area were removed by contractors because they were damaged, including early 20 percent of the city-owned trees. This led to a smaller diversity of species in the municipality. The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported on Tuesday that the city is still taking inventory of what trees were lost in the derecho. The city is hoping to finish the project by the end of 2021.
Cedar Rapids is currently looking to replant several species of trees, including the swamp white oak and Western catalpa trees. Post-derecho planting has officially begun in the city to continue recovering the landscape.
Alongside strides to return to pre-derecho Iowa, some elected officials from the state are looking to continue investing funds in recovery initiatives. The storm is the most costly inland weather disaster in the history of the United States, with an $11 million price tag. Iowa’s delegation in Washington are pushing for more funding to go to programs like Cedar Rapids’s tree planting.
Aug. 10, 2020 will go down as a significant weather date in state history. A derecho, which is a convectively (thunderstorm) initiated straight-line windstorm, propagated through Iowa’s central west-to-east corridor. The term “derecho” was coined by Dr. Gustavus Hinrichs at the University of Iowa in the late 1800s and is derived from a Spanish word that can be interpreted as “direct” or “straight-ahead.” Formed in the early morning hours in southeast South Dakota, the line of thunderstorms moved across the Nebraska border into Iowa where it significantly strengthened east of Carroll, Iowa, as downbursts formed. Downbursts are key for the formation of low-level, strong straight-line winds; moist air high up in a thunderstorm interacts with surrounding drier air, forcing atmospheric water vapor to evaporate fast. Rapid evaporation cools the air producing a relatively large volume of cold, dense air. These bubbles of dense air drop rapidly, hit the surface and spread out, creating straight-line winds that can produce widespread damage. As the derecho entered central Iowa, the center of the line pushed out creating a bow echo; this feature indicated rapid strengthening as downburst clusters became more numerous. The system expanded north and south as it moved through east-central Iowa where a broadening swath of damage was found in satellite images. The derecho held together for 770 miles and over 14 hours before losing strength as it entered western Ohio.
Damage to crops, grain bins and structures was catastrophic. The derecho also moved over the D3 (Extreme Drought) region in west-central Iowa, producing agricultural damage to already stressed corn and soybeans. USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) data indicated that around 8.2 million acres of corn and 5.6 million acres of soybeans across 57 counties may have been impacted by the derecho. Urban areas from Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and the Quad Cities reported substantial and long-lasting power outages along with severe damage to trees and structures from extremely strong, sustained winds. Recorded wind gusts along the derecho’s path ranged from 58 mph to well over 100 mph; according to the National Weather Service, “maximum recorded wind speeds were around 110 mph over portions of Benton and Linn Counties in eastern Iowa.” A personal weather station in Atkins (Benton County) reported a gust of 126 mph.
Cedar Rapids residents were devastated after the August derecho swept through and destroyed most of the city’s trees. But in the months following the disaster, their efforts to replant smarter and ensure that the city’s trees will return for future generations has captured national interest and become the topic of news stories across the country.
Freelance journalist Dustin Renwick took interest in the fate of Cedar Rapids’ trees shortly after the derecho hit and chose to write an article for National Geographic. In it, he highlighted personal stories from community members and local arborists and discussed both the role urban trees played in the community and how the city will replant to ensure the resiliency of its trees in the future.
Click here to read Renwick’s National Geographic article and learn more about Cedar Rapids’ fight to restore its urban forest.
Cedar Rapids residents are still facing extensive property damage and power outages after last week’s derecho tore through Iowa.
A storm system with hurricane-force winds left a path of destruction through Cedar Rapids and surrounding communities on August 10th. A week later, thousands are still without power and the community is dealing with damage to structures, power lines, vehicles and trees. A Cedar Rapids city arborist estimates that Cedar Rapids lost half of its tree canopy in the storm and, while Alliant Energy vowed to restore power to all customers by Tuesday, it could still be a few days before power is returned to 100% of the population.
The storm also had a large agricultural toll. Up to 43 percent of Iowa’s corn and soybean crop were damaged as high winds flattened millions of acres of crops. With agricultural and property damage combined, the derecho could be responsible for a multi-billion-dollar economic cost said Steve Bowen, a meteorologist and head of catastrophe insight for the reinsurer Anon.
Gov. Kim Reynolds mobilized the Iowa National Guard Thursday to assist the recovery effort and committed to applying for a federal disaster declaration this week. President Trump and Vice President Pence are ready to approve, and this would provide financial assistance to homeowners and cover repairs for infrastructure, according to the Washington Post.
Local non-profits and volunteers from surrounding communities continue to help provide food and aid for those affected by the storm and assist in the cleanup process.
Researchers from the University of Iowa spoke at a press conference last week about rising temperatures in the state. The models used in the 2019 Iowa Climate Statement indicate that the number of days over 90 degrees in Iowa will rise from 23 to 67 by 2050.
Jerry Schnoor, co-director of the University of Iowa’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, spoke at the Cedar Rapids Public Library on Wednesday, September 18th about the changes needed to decrease greenhouse gas emissions.
Those changes include solar farms and installing solar panels on homes, building wind turbines, improving energy efficiency and battery storage, along with carbon sequestration, regenerative agriculture practices, and reforestation. “All of these things take time. It takes time to change our infrastructure,” Schnoor said, but added that action is necessary in the next 16 months.
Peter Thorne, of the UI Environmental Health Sciences Research Center, also spoke at the press conference, warning of the health risks posed by extreme heat. Heat is responsible for more than 600 deaths in the U.S. every year, making it the leading cause of weather-related deaths, according to the Center for Disease Control.
Schnoor and Thorne also suggested infrastructure improvements to help prevent these deaths. This could include a program to cool homes during hotter months the way the Low-income Home Energy Assistance Program helps with heating costs during the winter.
On April 22, people around the world celebrate Earth Day, spending time cleaning, greening and appreciating the life-giving planet we too often take for granted.
Iowa, of course, will join in on the party. Read below about Earth Day events cities in Iowa will host next week, as well as some activities you can do individually to make a difference.
Des Moines: Festivities in the state capital will begin this weekend. On Friday, Des Moines Parks and Recreation will host an Earth Day Trash Bash, where registered teams will pick up trash around the city. Everyone is welcome to join in on the kick-off party and several other events hosted Friday and Saturday as part of the bash, including a Downtown Earth Day Tour through the science center, botanical garden and riverwalk. A number of other events on Saturday and Monday include wildlife restoration, crafting and stream cleanup.
Cedar Rapids: The city’s 10th annual EcoFest will be on Saturday, April 20. The day’s events include performances, presentations, hands-on activities, tours, awards and more. Last year over 4,000 people attended!
Dubuque: The Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium will participate in a nationwide Party for the Planet event Saturday. Visitors attend presentations, meet animals and do hands-on activities to learn about environmental conservation. Participation in the celebration will be included with general admission and free for children 3 and under.
Davenport: Visit the Freight House Farmer’s Market Saturday morning for speakers, demonstrations, music and activities to learn about problems facing the planet and how you can help fight them.
University of Iowa student organizations have been hosting Earth Month events for weeks, and still have more to come. Consider visiting the Student Garden Open House Saturday, April 27 for food and DIY Chia Pets with the UI Gardeners and attending an environmental benefit concert the following night with the UI Environmental Coalition.
If you’d like to celebrate on your own or with friends consider these activities:
Picking up trash in your neighborhood or at a local park
Alliant Energy has also recently transitioned from coal to natural gas at plants in Marshalltown, Dubuque, Council Bluffs, Bettendorf and Clinton. Prairie Creek Generation Station is expected to be coal free by 2025.
While coal still provides 47 percent of Iowa’s energy, that number has decreased significantly in recent years. Wind energy provides the second largest percentage of Iowa’s electricity, making up 36.6 percent of the total energy picture.
For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.
From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.