Democrats push Biden to take stronger action regarding gas, oil policies


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | December 7, 2021

U.S. House Democrats are asking President Joe Biden to take stronger action to restrict oil and gas production in the country.

Members of the House Natural Resources Committee are split with Democrats asking for limiting production and Republicans saying the reduction of U.S. emissions will only heighten global emissions from suppliers overseas. Biden has also been asked by environmental activists to permanently ban gas and oil leasing on federal lands, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch.

Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-California, chairs the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee. He said the proposals coming from the administration are welcome, but do not assess the entire situation regarding climate change. He said it’s a “missed opportunity” and a “critical issue” that has yet to be addressed.

The conversation in the committee came quickly after a report was released by the U.S. Interior Department asking for fiscal updates the federal gas and oil leasing programs. The recommendation from the November report was to increase fees for explorations on federal land. The report did not suggest limiting or halting leasing programs.

Biden’s policy currently is to increase the fee cost for such leases. According to the Associated Press, Biden recommended hiking up federal royalty rates for drilling. The current rate is 12.5 percent, and the rate has not changed in over a century. It is unclear if Biden will reassess his policy based on remarks from climate activists and fellow Democrats.

Newly passed infrastructure bill invests in climate action


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By Eleanor Hildebrandt | November 9, 2021

With the passing of the $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in the U.S. Congress, the largest environmental spending package ever is waiting on President Joe Biden’s signature.

$47 billion is designated by the federal government to invest in climate resistance within the country, starting with helping multiple communities prepare for extreme floods, fire, natural disasters, and droughts. The bill passed with bipartisan support. According to The New York Times, the bill’s passing is an indication that at least some Republicans in the federal government believe in human-caused climate change and its economic impacts.

A second bill looking to fund climate change mitigation in the United States is still waiting on a congressional vote. The legislation would give an additional $555 billion to global warming mitigation.

The House of Representatives passed the infrastructure bill on Friday, but it has yet to be signed by the president. The portion of the legislation focusing on climate change mitigation was partially written by Republican lawmakers, including Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy. Louisiana will see more funding regarding hurricanes.

In 2020 alone, 22 climate disasters struck the U.S. that cost over $1 billion. This broke a 2011 and 2017 tie at 16. These events included the derecho that hit Iowa in August 2020, wildfires on the west coast, tornados across Tornado Alley, and six hurricanes hitting the southeastern coast.

The legislation also looks to reduce emissions, according to Forbes, alongside backing clean energy provisions. The bill provides more than $200 million to tribal nations who have disproportionately been impacted by climate change.

Bill in Congress has Four Important Climate Aspects


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Josie Taylor | September 13, 2021

The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee approved its first piece of Democrats’ sweeping $3.5 trillion spending blueprint on a party-line 24-13 vote last week. Among the highest priorities for President Joe Biden in the plan was addressing climate change. 

The climate items are key for progressives in the House, dozens of whom have pledged not to support the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill unless a more robust climate bill also passes. 

One of the massive climate bills is the Natural Resources bill. This would make changes to oil and gas that climate activists have been advocating for. For example, this would raise rates on oil and gas developers operating on public lands and waters. 

The bill would also direct the Interior Department to hold lease sales for offshore windmills in U.S. territories.

$9.5 trillion would be used for Great Lakes restoration and coastal resilience. The projects would aim to increase protection from sea-level rise, flooding and storms, while also adding carbon sinks like seagrass.

The last climate aspect of the bill would be putting $3.5 billion towards climate jobs programs. Of this money, $3 billion would be for the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps and $500 million for a program focused only on tribal lands.

US House Looks to Include $1 Billion for Biofuels in Budget


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Josie Taylor | September 9, 2021

The U.S. House will include $1 billion in biofuels funding in its initial draft of the budget bill, according to U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne.

The proposed funding is part of a $3.5 trillion bill currently working through The House. If passed, $1 billion would go to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be used as grants to expand and upgrade biofuel infrastructure and to increase the usage of higher ethanol and diesel blends.

“To fight climate change, we can’t just keep arguing over what one policy is best to cut emissions. We need to use every tool in our toolbelt — both renewables and electric — to meet the challenge we’re facing,” Axne said. 

President Joe Biden has set an agenda centered primarily around electric vehicles, including a goal that half of all new cars in 2030 be electric. Iowa’s representatives have pushed back against those goals, arguing that biofuels are a near-term solution for cleaner energy. Iowa is the nation’s top producer of ethanol.

Over the next month, House and Senate Republicans will work on an agreement for this bill, however this is not a bipartisan bill. Representative Axne has said that she will not make her decision about supporting the bill until after negotiations end. 

Congress eyes legislation to improve environmental justice


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | August 24, 2021

Communities that have been devastated by environmental degradation might see some environmental justice soon if Congressional Democrats and the Biden administration get their way.

Democrats in Washington are eyeing a $3.5 trillion spending plan that will help these communities like never before. The plan is in early stages, but there are plans for the government to recognize the suffering of these communities — something activists have been fighting for years to receive.

Elizabeth Yeampierre, a co-chair of the Climate Justice Alliance said the bill does not go far enough. According to Iowa Capital Dispatch, she said the bill needs to be malleable because of the different circumstances across all 50 states. She also wants legislators to “be bold” in resetting the “legacy of environmental racism.”

Some of the plans for this legislation are to make investments in environmental justice by improving the affordability of water and access to clean drinking water, as well as climate equity.

There has been a recent push for environmental justice and equity to be a focus in Washington. CBS News reported that environmental justice allows congress to examine two important arenas of policy at the same time: combatting the climate crisis and fighting racial inequalities.

The bill has yet to be finalized and shared with the public.

U.S. House Will Vote on PFAS Regulation


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Josie Taylor | July 19, 2021

PFAS chemicals, often referred to as forever chemicals, which have been found in many places in Iowa, are not currently regulated federally. Members of Congress, along with Biden administration officials at a conference on Wednesday explained that they are trying to start regulation for toxic chemicals found in water, like PFAS, starting with a vote in the U.S. House this week. 

Two representatives from Michigan, Reps. Debbie Dingell and Dan Kildee, said that House Democratic leaders will introduce the PFAS Action Act of 2021. This has the goal of reducing Americans’ exposure to the toxic chemicals in air, water and consumer products.

Rep. Dingell’s bill would define PFOA and PFOS chemicals as hazardous substances, which would make it so federal cleanup would have to occur. This clean up would likely start on military bases. 

There are currently no EPA regulations that restrict manufacturers and companies from releasing PFAS chemicals into the environment.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the agency is currently in the process of regulating PFOS and PFOA.

“We recognize PFAS is an urgent health challenge,” Regan said. “We’re committed to working with all stakeholders to protect the health and safety of all of our communities.”

The bill introduced this week would also identify nine industries for which EPA must set standards. These industries are: organic chemicals, plastics and synthetic fibers; pulp, paper, and paperboard; textile mills; electroplating; metal finishing; leather tanning and finishing; paint formulating; electrical and electrical components; and plastics molding and forming.

Local leaders urge Congress to reclassify PFAS


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | June 10, 2021

Local and community leaders are asking Congress to designate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, as hazardous materials this legislative session. This classification would trigger federal cleanup standards when the chemical is in drinking water.

PFAS can be found all over the United States in drinking water, soil, and air because they are commonly used in nonstick cookware and waterproof clothing. These chemicals are part of a family of persistent synthetic chemicals that can cause adverse health issues. Exposure to PFAS can lead to liver damage, obesity, high cholesterol, and cancer.

The two most well studied PFAs are perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, and perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS. Des Moines, Davenport, and Bettendorf all have high levels of these two chemicals.

The Environmental Protection Agency has taken steps since February to act on PFAS by creating a council on the “forever chemical”. PFAS are also found in the Department of Defense’s firefighting foam that is used at many airports.

Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters introduced legislation that would hold the Pentagon accountable for its use of the chemicals and oblige it to initiate clean up programs on military bases. New Mexico is currently suing the Department of Defense after PFAS spread to several farms in the state.

Congressional leaders are advocating for specific deadlines to ensure the legislation is effective and the Department of Defense follows through with the clean-up.

Iowa’s biodiesel and wind energy sectors expected to benefit from recently passed tax breaks


Iowa generated 27 percent of its electricity from wind energy last year which ranked highest in the country. (Samir Luther/Flickr)
Iowa generated 27 percent of its electricity from wind energy last year which ranked highest in the country. (Samir Luther/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | December 18, 2014

A $41-billion package of tax breaks passed by the U.S. Senate earlier this week is expected to benefit Iowa’s biodiesel and wind energy industries.

The House passed the legislation (378 to 46) earlier this month with bipartisan support and after the Senate’s approval (76 to 16) it now awaits President Obama’s signature. Congress was unable to agree upon a two-year deal so the Tax Increase Prevention Act will extend 55 different tax credits and extensions through 2015.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) – who also serves as chairman for Senate Finance Committee – was critical of Congress for not passing the legislation sooner citing it does not provide “nearly enough time for the important provisions in this package to catalyze growth among businesses or to support families in a meaningful way. It’s not enough time to put a dent in veterans’ unemployment, to start a clean energy project and hire new workers, or to help a student who’s on the fence about whether to enroll in college next semester.”

Both of Iowa’s senator’s – Chuck Grassley (R) and the retiring Tom Harkin (D) – signed the legislation though Grassley also expressed disapproval with its “last minute approach.” With Republicans taking control of the senate for the upcoming session, Grassley said “My only hope is that in the new Congress we can make strides toward putting some certainty back in the tax code.”

President Obama is expected to sign the legislation later this week.

On the Radio: Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act


James Palinsad, via Flickr
James Palinsad, via Flickr

This week’s On the Radio segment covers the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, a bill recently introduced in Congress which would put the federal government in charge of labeling foods with genetically modified ingredients. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

 

A new bill introduced in Congress could put the federal government in charge of labeling foods with genetically modified ingredients, or GMOs.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The bill, known as the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, would prevent states from enacting their own requirements on GMO labeling.

It will also make it difficult for states to prevent food companies from putting a “natural” label on any product that does contain GMOs.

While more than two-dozen states are considering bills that would mandate some form of labeling, Vermont, Maine and Connecticut have passed measures into law.

In July 2013, a New York Times survey found that 93% of Americans feel that foods with GMOs should be labeled.

However, the debate on GMO labeling will continue as interest groups debate the merits of this legislation.

For more information on the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.