Democrats look to tax big polluters


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | August 5, 2021

Democrats in Washington D.C. are looking to tax a handful of major gas and oil companies who are causing harm to the environment.

Senator Chris Van Hollen from Maryland has drafted legislation in recent days that would have the U.S. Department of Treasury and the Environmental Protection Agency identify companies that have released large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in recent years. After determining the biggest polluters, the bill would assess a fee for companies based on what kind and the amount of emissions they’ve released since 2000.

The collected fees would go to research and development of clean energy solutions as well as to the communities across the county suffering from climate crises, like flooding and wildfires. The proposal comes on the heels of a $1 trillion infrastructure bill that allocates billions of dollars to prepare and recover from climate change events. The infrastructure legislation has yet to be passed, but shows a commitment to funding initiatives that address climate change.

Scientists have linked increased flooding, more frequent wildfires, and other prominent disasters to the burning of fossil fuels. The drafted bill would attempt to holds fossil fuel companies accountable for the cost of such weather events.

Van Hollen told The New York Times on Wednesday that the drafted bill would collect $500 billion in the next decade. He is optimistic that the draft would have support from his Democratic colleagues if he introduced it in the U.S. Senate. Some of the companies that would be fined would be Exxon Mobil and Chevron.

EPA begins demolition at Des Moines Superfund Site


Via Flickr

Elizabeth Miglin | July 21, 2021

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began tearing down contaminated buildings at the Des Moines Superfund site, on Monday. 

The 43-acre site has been chosen for the development of a professional soccer stadium, hotel, businesses and residential areas. At the site, groundwater pollution with the cancer-causing solvent TCE had prompted the EPA to begin removing hazardous substances and update the 35-year-old groundwater treatment system in June 2021. 

The project is one in a series that were approved to receive a portion of $100 million in state aid aimed at creating jobs and infrastructure development, according to the Iowa Economic Development Authority

Previously owned by Dico Inc. and Titan Tire Company, the site was used to manufacture pesticides, steel wheels, and tires. Operations resulted in the release of trichloroethene (TCE), 1,2-dichloroethene (1,2-DCE) and vinyl chloride into the groundwater before remaining vacant for over 25 years. 

In February, a court approved a settlement between Dico Inc. and Titan Tire Co. resulting in the city taking over the property. With the Superfund law used in the settlement, the EPA is able to enforce a “polluter pays” principle which holds Dico and Titan accountable for cleanup and oversight costs. $3 million of the $11.5 million in settlement funds will pay for the EPA’s demolition of the buildings and replacement of the water treatment system. 

Demolition is expected to take a month.

U.S. House Will Vote on PFAS Regulation


Via Flickr

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.

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.

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.

Michael Regan Confirmed to Run EPA


Image from The Progressive Pulse

Maxwell Bernstein | March 12, 2021

In a 66-34 vote, the Senate confirmed Michael Regan, North Carolina’s top environmental leader, to run the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) according to Politico. Regan is the first Black man to head the EPA and the second African American person to manage this organization since Lisa P. Jackson, President Obama’s pick for the EPA in 2008.

According to Iowa Environmental Focus, the Biden administration vowed to eliminate fossil fuel from the power grid by 2035 and to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, which Regan will push these efforts. The administration promised to address environmental justice by protecting poor and minority communities who are more exposed to pollution than wealthier communities.

In the Senate, 16 Republicans joined all 50 Democrats in Regan’s confirmation.

Environmentalists Hope Biden’s Win will Improve Iowa’s Renewable Energy Industries


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | November 12, 2020

Iowa environmental advocates are celebrating President-elect Joe Biden’s win and say that his presidency could boost Iowa’s renewable energy industry and environmental protection efforts.

The Iowa Environmental Council is interested in seeing the Biden administration increase federal opportunities that expand solar and wind development, promote the construction of transmission lines to deliver clean energy from Iowa to the rest of the U.S., and push policies that promote sustainable farming practices. Iowa has been heavily impacted by storms and flooding events in recent years, so the council also hopes to see policies that will encourage the adoption of a more resilient infrastructure, according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

Angelisa Belden, a council spokesperson, says that she expects the Biden administration to reverse the Donald Trump’s environmental deregulation efforts from the last four years. The council is also focussing closely on who Biden will appoint as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They disapprove of Andrew Wheeler, the current head of the EPA, because of his close ties to the coal and oil industries.

The Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club also endorsed Biden during the presidential race. They, along with other environmentalists across the state, believe Biden’s bold plans to address climate change will aid them in their own efforts to transition the state to clean energy and protect natural resources, and they look forward to his first days in office.

EPA Rolls Back Effluent Limits for Coal Power Plants


Graphic of a coal power plant
Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | September 7, 2020

EPA recently announced it was finalizing the “Steam Electric Consideration Rule,” a rule that will roll back requirements limiting toxic discharge from coal power plants

EPA adopted standards to limit this discharge in 2015, but they extended the compliance date to the completion of this new rule. Now, the new rule is set to adopt weaker standards, provide a further extension for compliance and exempt facilities that will switch fuel sources or are scheduled to retire within a set time period, according to an article published by the Iowa Environmental Council (IEC).

The rule outlines new “effluent limit guidelines” under the Clean Water Act for nitrogen and toxic metals like mercury, arsenic and selenium. These guidelines set water quality standards for industrial discharges based on “the best technology that is economically achievable” for power plants. Instead of setting a strict technology-based standard, this allows facilities to determine what treatment to install that will meet discharge limitations.

“Regulations are meant to be protective of the environment, not the industries that cause pollution,” said IEC Water Program Director Ingrid Gronstal Anderson in an IEC article. “Over the last several years, EPA has been rolling back environmental standards in favor of economic interests. This abdication of regulatory responsibility is a clear danger to public health and the environment.”

EPA claims the new rule will do a better job of reducing pollution than the 2015 rule. However, they base their calculations off of the assumption that facilities will instal better technology and achieve more reductions than the rule actually requires.

Inspector General sets Environmental Justice as a Priority for the EPA


Screenshot of EJSCREEN map of Iowa wastewater discharge.

Maxwell Bernstein | July 22, 2020

The Environmental Agency’s Office of Inspector General set the integration of environmental justice into the agency as a priority, according to a letter from the inspector general. 

“Across the country, communities of low-income and people of color live adjacent to heavily polluted industries or “hot spots” of chemical pollution,” the inspector general said. “For example, studies show that 70 percent of hazardous waste sites officially listed on the National Priorities List under Superfund are located within one mile of federally assisted housing.”

The inspector general addressed gaps in environmental justice when it came to air quality management, drinking water, toxic releases to surface waters, Superfund sites, emergency response, and environmental education. The EPA laid out a plan to improve environmental justice through:

  • Setting standards and regulations
  • Facility permitting decisions
  • Grant awards
  • Reviews of proposed federal agency actions 
  • Enforcement decisions

The EPA’s map tool Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool (EJSCREEN) provides maps of environmental hazards and demographics to help inform the public when it comes to environmental justice concerns. 

DNR Sets Stricter Water Quality Thresholds for Iowa Beaches


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Nicole Welle | June 15, 2020

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) decided to follow stricter standards this summer for the amount of toxins found in the water at public beaches.

Microcystin is a toxin produced by cyanobacteria in algae blooms in Iowa’s lakes. It poses health threats to humans and animals that swim at beaches with high levels of the toxin and can cause abdominal pain, blistering, pneumonia and vomiting if ingested. Dogs have also died from being exposed to it, according to an Iowa Environmental Council news release.

In 2006, Iowa DNR began using a threshold of 20 micrograms per liter to issue beach advisories. However, they decided to lower it to 8 micrograms per litre this year after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommended it.

The DNR currently monitors only a small percentage of Iowa’s recreational beaches, but they were able to issue a number of advisories and temporarily close beaches on Lake Macbride, Spirit Lake and Lake Rathbun last year when microcystin levels exceeded the threshold. The number of advisories issued this year is likely to be much higher than past years under the new guidelines.