EPA creates waiver for E15 fuel sale in in May


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 6, 2022

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a fuel waiver last week allowing heightened levels of ethanol in gasoline to be sold later into the summer.

The waiver is an attempt by the Biden-Harris administration to lower fuel prices as they continue to increase. The waiver allows gas stations to sell cheaper blends with 15 percent ethanol, also known as E15 fuel, to address the fuel supply gaps created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The waiver only extends until May 20, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch, but the EPA can extend the waiver if they see fit.

The waiver affects a small percentage of gas stations across the country that sell corn-based ethanol fuel. Only 2,300 gas stations nationwide offer a 15 percent ethanol blend, compared to the more than 140,000 gas stations across the U.S.

During a stop in Iowa in April, President Joe Biden said the waiver would continue into the summer. There are not any current projections as to when the waiver would be extended nor for how long. Iowa’s delegation in Washington D.C. have pushed for year-round use of E15. Currently, the fuel cannot be sold from June to September because of air pollution concerns.

Iowa City passes Iowa DNR drinking water analysis


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | December 29, 2021

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources found negligible amounts of per- and polyfluoroalkyl, commonly known as PFAS, in Iowa City’s drinking water.

The department released their findings on Wednesday. The tests were conducted following the Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory regarding two PFAS: Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid. If the two chemicals combined to have a concentration of 70 parts per trillion, it would exceed the EPA’s health advisory. According to a City of Iowa City release, the Iowa DNR did not detect either chemical in Iowa City’s samples.

While looking for other PFAS, Perfluorobutanoic acid was detected in Iowa City’s drinking water at 3 parts per trillion. In the release, Water Superintendent for Iowa City Jonathan Durst said the results were low and expected.

“The City will continue to work with the Iowa DNR to monitor PFAS and conduct additional on-site testing,” he said. “We are committed to providing the highest quality drinking water to our community.”

This water analysis came a month after Iowa City was found to have high levels of zinc in its water. The city reduced its daily zinc intake in early November.

Tougher vehicle emissions requirements finalized by EPA


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | December 28, 2021

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalized tougher vehicle emissions requirements, reversing former President Donald Trump-era policies.

The new requirements shift the country to look towards electric vehicles and reducing pollution significantly over the next five years. The rules will decrease carbon dioxide emissions from vehicle by 3.1 billion tons through 2050, according to Reuters. The EPA’s guidelines coincide with the goals of President Joe Biden’s administration. Biden wants to increase the number of electric vehicles on the road in the U.S. to around 50 percent by 2030. He also has been pushing for stricter fuel efficiency standards, like former President Barack Obama did in the early 2010s.

In 2020, Trump rolled back Obama’s efficiency standards by 3.5 percent. The switch made is so vehicles in the U.S. only had to average 40.4 miles per gallon rather than nearly 47 miles per gallon by 2026 under Obama’s regulations.

The new EPA standards will take effect in the 2023 model year. The Alliances for Automotive Innovation, an auto trade association, said the new requirements will result in an increase in electrical vehicles and incentives from the government for consumers to switch to purchasing those cars. When announcing the finalization, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the standards were “doable” even if they are tough. He said he wants to move ahead to the next round of requirements soon.

“We are setting robust and rigorous standards that will aggressively reduce the pollution that is harming people and our planet,” Regan said.

Newly passed infrastructure bill invests in climate action


Via Flickr.

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.

Iowa to see PFAS water testing


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | October 19, 2021

Iowans could will soon see testing for “forever chemicals” in their water supply.

State officials are preparing to begin testing specific water sources for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly referred to at PFAS. The chemicals can lead to cancer and other health problems. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources intends to start testing in the next few weeks, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. The water monitoring will begin in central Iowa.

PFAS regulation has increased in recent months. In mid-June, the Environmental Protection Agency established a council on the chemicals. The council is specifically tasked with reducing the potential risks caused by these chemicals. Before the creation of the council, U.S. Representatives and Senators were pushing to reclassify PFAS.

The risk of PFAS is low, Supervisor of the Department’s Water Quality Program Roger Bruner said. He said a team from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources will go to municipal water sources to sample the drinking water.

Iowa previously tested drinking water for PFAS during a federal monitoring system from 2013 until 2015. The original tests did not show any significant levels of contamination. There is no definitive date for when the results of the 2021 tests will be released to the public.

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


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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.