Biden administration to speed up environmental permits for infrastructure project approvals


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 16, 2022

The Biden-Harris administration vowed to speed up the construction of bridges, roads, and wind farms last week. Officials said they are looking to make permit approval easier without jeopardizing the necessary environmental standards for such projects.

The administration announced the goal during a press call on May 10. The new permitting plan officials are proposing would consolidate decision making to reduce the number of federal permits necessary to break ground. White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory also said the new system would establish stronger timelines and tracking for projects while engaging in “meaningful outreach and communication” with states, tribes and local governments before a project begins. Mallory said a goal of the adaption is to use existing agencies’ resources to prioritize permit reviews and approvals.

Samantha Silverberg, White House deputy infrastructure implementation coordinator, said the switch will encourage states, tribes, cities, and private companies to work on new infrastructure projects using the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law which passed in 2021. Permitting delays tend to deter projects in various communities across the U.S.

The administration said alterations in permitting from the federal government will not sacrifice any environmental standards. Jason Miller, the deputy director for management for the Office of Management and Budget, said the plan can and will speed up permitting without costing the environment.

“This plan explicitly rejects the tired view that there’s an inherent tradeoff between permitting efficiency — doing permitting in a timely and predictable manner — with permitting effectively, ensuring the best outcomes for the community and the environment,” he said.

Biden administration restores infrastructure regulations requiring rigorous environmental review


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | April 21, 2022

President Joe Biden and his administration restored federal regulations that ensure rigorous environmental reviews of infrastructure projects on Tuesday. Pipeline, highway, and oil projects all must complete the reviews.

The Trump administration previous scaled back the regulations to fast-track projects and generate jobs. The National Environmental Policy Act Implementing Regulations Revisions were finalized this week and take effect in May. White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory said restoring the community safeguards will reduce conflict and ensure projects are built properly the first time.

“Patching these holes in the environmental review process will help projects get built faster, be more resilient and provide greater benefits to people who live nearby,” she said.

Environmental activists are touting the rule change, according to the Associated Press, for its restoration of previous regulations and keeping the environment healthy for the foreseeable future. Leslie Fields, the Sierra Club’s national director of policy, advocacy and legal affairs, said the restoration of clear runes plays a critical role in protecting the environment. Critics say the new regulations will slow down major infrastructure projects and the jobs associated with them.

Superfund sites to see cleanup with funds from infrastructure bill


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | December 17, 2021

49 Superfund sites across the U.S. will see clean-up efforts after the passing of a $1 billion bipartisan infrastructure law.

Superfund sites are polluted areas with hazardous waste all over the country. The locations are designated under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act. There are sites in 24 states and Puerto Rico. The Environmental Protection Agency announced it would start clearing out a backlog of the contaminated sides after the passing of the infrastructure plan. The bill set aside $3.5 billion for environmental cleanup according to NBC News. This round is only the first installation of funds to clean up the sites, beginning with $1 billion.

The sites are disproportionately found in lower income communities where people of color live. EPA Administrator Michael Regan said one in four Black and Hispanic Americans live within three miles of a site. According to The Hill, this funding will go to almost 50 different sites in the U.S. to begin projects to better understand and clean up the hazardous waste. The project will only begin to chip away at the long backlog of Superfund sites that need cleaned up.

Iowa is Receiving $110 Million for Water


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | December 6, 2021

Gov. Kim Reynold’s administration has a plan to spend the $110 million of federal funds allocated for water and wastewater that was included in the bipartisan infrastructure package President Joe Biden signed into law last month. Reynold’s said they plan to use it strategically and want to use it correctly. 

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources said it is waiting for further guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency on how the funding can be used. The DNR estimates that $46.4 million will be used to remove lead from drinking water.

National studies have found that nearly two percent of U.S. children and 3.6 percent of Iowa children had elevated levels of lead in their blood, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Exposure to lead in children can cause: behavior and learning problems, lower IQ and hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems and anemia. 

The DNR anticipates more than half the federal dollars going into the state revolving loans funds that provide low-interest loans to cities, counties and utilities for investments in water and sanitation infrastructure.

The DNR estimates $29.4 million will be used for improvements to drinking water infrastructure and $24.9 million for clean water. 

Iowa Climate Statement 2021 press conference covers in-depth climate issues


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | October 15, 2021

Following the release of the 2021 Iowa Climate Statement, authors and signatories spoke with reporters to answers questions about climate issues in the state on Wednesday.

More than 200 professors and researchers signed the tenth annual statement. Chairman of Environmental Science and Sustainability at Drake University said the groups is “trying to identify the things we need to do to adapt to the climate regime,” at the press conference.

The statement specifically pointed at the summer 2020 derecho, a long-lived wind and rain storm often referred to as an inland hurricane. On the Zoom call, Gene Takle, an Iowa State University agronomy professor, said since Iowans don’t know when, in what form, or where an extreme weather event could occur down the road, there is a strong likelihood of another widespread power outage.

In August, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimated the weather event caused more than $11 billion in damages across the Midwest region. In Iowa alone, power was knocked out for more than half a million households across the state. Some Iowans waited two weeks for power outages to end according to Iowa Public Radio. Another weather event like the derecho could cost Iowans even more if the strength of the state’s infrastructure does not improve.

Co-director of the Center for Global and Environmental Research Jerry Schnoor said “people do realize this is a serious issue and that we will need to act.” He said the pushes towards renewable energy and other climate goals in the state are not happening fast enough.


The 2021 statement and the recording of Wednesday’s press conference can be found here.

Iowa Climate Statement 2021: Strengthening Iowa’s Electric Infrastructure


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | October 13, 2021

Since 2011, researchers and educators at nearly every college and university in Iowa have produced annual statements to communicate in plain language the state of climate science and the impacts of climate change on Iowans. Today, the Climate Statement for 2021 was released. This year’s focus is on Iowa’s Electric Infrastructure.

Last year’s August derecho, the most destructive thunderstorm in US history, knocked out power to more than 500,000 Iowa households for as much as two weeks. “The loss of power left people in the dark without air conditioning, refrigeration, access to food, phone chargers and life sustaining medical equipment,” said Dave Courard-Hauri, Chair of Environmental Science and Sustainability Program, Drake University. “This was a potentially deadly combination for many vulnerable and low income Iowans.”

“Iowa’s power outages from the 2020 derecho resulted from extreme damage to transmission and distribution systems,” said Jim McCalley, Anson Marston Distinguished Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Iowa State University.

Climate disasters are not over. To prepare for future Iowa extreme weather events, it is recommended that industry, policy makers and stakeholders identify ways to strengthen Iowa’s electric infrastructure, protect vulnerable people, and consider enhanced risks from climate change while managing costs. Climate change is here. We need a resilient electric infrastructure as we curtail carbon emissions for a more sustainable future.

U.S. House Panel Divided Over Proposed Regulation of Abandoned Gas and Oil Wells


Image via Flickr

Nicole Welle | April 19, 2021

Members of the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee agreed to cap abandoned gas and oil wells, but the two parties disagreed on the federal government’s role in regulating the project.

The U.S. House subcommittee met last week to discuss a bill that would authorize $8 billion over 10 years to clean up gas and oil wells abandoned by defunct companies. The bill falls under President Biden’s new infrastructure and jobs plan, and it aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while creating jobs for oil and gas workers displaced by the transition to renewable energy, according to an Iowa Capital Dispatch article.

While subcommittee members agreed on the need to clean up the wells, Republican leaders took issue with a section of the bill that would require states to increase regulations to receive federal funding. The provision would increase bond rates for gas and oil companies to help cover cleanup costs if they were to go bankrupt.

Rep. Pete Stauber of Minnesota, the subcommittee’s ranking Republican, called the provision “another attempt at destroying the industry.” However, conservationists believe it would protect wells from being abandoned in the future and reduce the number of wells emitting harmful pollutants.

“Even after society transitions away from fossil fuels, abandoned and orphan wells may be emitting methane and impacting our water, air and ecosystem for many years, decades and possibly centuries,” said Mary Kang, an assistant professor of civil engineering at McGill University.

Biden Adds Climate Spending to $2 Trillion Infrastructure Package


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | April 5, 2021

President Joe Biden’s new $2 trillion infrastructure and jobs package includes a multi-billion dollar plan to combat the climate crisis and promote a nature-based infrastructure.

The plan includes $16 billion for capping abandoned oil and gas wells and $10 billion for the Civilian Climate Corps, a program that would create employment opportunities through conservation and restoration projects. To help pay for this, the proposal would raise the corporate tax rate to 28% and close tax breaks for oil and gas development, according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

There are currently over 2.3 million abandoned gas and oil wells in the United States, and they are leaking large amounts of methane into the atmosphere. By putting money towards capping them, the federal government plans to create jobs for workers displaced by the transition to renewable energy. This plan to create climate-friendly jobs shares similarities with the New Deal that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt put into place in the 1930s to improve infrastructure and the economy.

While the plan has received a lot of support from climate scientists and activists, many conservative lawmakers have opposed the tax increase. House Transportation and Infrastructure ranking member Sam Graves said in a statement that it would kill jobs and hinder economic recovery after the pandemic. However, the plan’s supporters assure that the tax hike would not negatively impact working Americans.

“This $2.3 trillion is spread over eight years, and there’s a plan to try to pay for it,” Jerry Schnoor, co-director for the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, said on Iowa Public Radio’s River to River. “It has to do with taxing the income of the richest people, making more than $400,000 per year.”