Iowa Public Radio: “Ag-gag” bills failed in 2013


Photo by Liberation BC; Flickr

“Ag-gag” refers to laws that make it illegal to photograph or shoot videos of internal operations of farms where food animals are being raised.

Animal rights groups  say abuse happens regularly out of view of the public and the law, and to expose it, they have to send in activists posing as ordinary workers, armed with video cameras.

Three states signed ag-gag bill into law in 2011 and 2012, setting new legal precedents. This year,  15 ag-gag bills were introduced in 11 states, but not a single one passed. 

For the full story, head over to Iowa Public Radio. 

Study finds lower ozone levels lift farm worker productivity


Photo by Mike Houge, Flickr.

The National Bureau of Economic Research released a report earlier this month, detailing the positive impact that low ozone levels have on farm workers.

Read more from the New York Times here:

The study found that on average, when ozone levels declined by 10 parts per billion — approximately the level of tightening proposed by the E.P.A. — worker productivity climbed 4.2 percent. Extrapolating from that result, an across-the-board reduction of 10 parts per billion might yield a $1.1 billion annual increase in economic value in the nation’s agricultural sector. Continue reading

Pitfalls of organic food’s popularization


Photo by suzettesuzette, Flickr

The organic food market continues its boom, but does this rise in popularity come at the expense of “organic principles”? Eastern Iowa Health recently reported that organic food has become a mainstream industry:

Continue reading

Propane autogas looks to break into American auto industry


Photo by Steve Pollock, Flickr

Americans hear about electricity and natural gas powered vehicles almost everyday.  However, there is another fuel used to run cars that is getting a little less airtime in the United States.

Read more from the New York Times below:

Texas tycoon T. Boone Pickens has made himself the face of the natural gas industry. The flamboyant oil man has invested millions in his push to fuel cars with natural gas and is trailed by cameras and microphones during his frequent visits to Capitol Hill.

Pickens’ ability to grab attention for natural gas is much envied by its underdog rival, propane autogas.

Natural gas “is getting all the publicity, and we don’t want to be disadvantaged,” said Stuart Weidie, the leader of the industry group Autogas for America. “We’re not an experimental deal. We’re here, we’re available.”

But propane autogas — a popular fuel in the rest of the world — has yet to catch on in the United States. Weidie’s group is trying to change that but has made little headway with consumers and policymakers so far. Most Americans consider propane as a fuel for a barbecue, not a car, and the industry’s lobbying hasn’t been up to the task of changing that perception. Continue reading

Herbicide linked to damaged trees


Photo by IRRI Images, Flickr

A new herbicide may cause coniferous trees to die. The Quad-City Times reports that a chemical called Imprelis, created by DuPont, appears to cause damage to a few types of trees including the white pine and the Norway and Colorado blue spruce. Among the cities reporting damage are Iowa City and Cedar rapids:

The first damage reports came in late May/early June from the East Coast. Damage has now been reported in Chicago, Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, but there has been none in the Quad-Cities, Iowa State University/Scott County Extension horticulturist Duane Gissel said.

Symptoms include twisting and curling, followed by the browning of needles, shoots and branch tips.

Although university Extension horticulturists say it is too early to determine whether affected trees are dead or will die, several nurserymen quoted in a July 14 New York Times article said they know of trees that are dead. Continue reading

Climate change attributed to food shortage


Photo by Jos Dielis, Flickr

Worldwide increases in population and affluence have created a disparity between supply and demand of food in recent years. This in turn has caused grain prices to rise, and poor people to go hungry. The New York Times reports that these issues are worsened by climate change which is currently impeding food production, and promises to become an increasing problem over time:

Many of the failed harvests of the past decade were a consequence of weather disasters, like floods in the United States, drought in Australia and blistering heat waves in Europe and Russia. Scientists believe some, though not all, of those events were caused or worsened by human-induced global warming.

Temperatures are rising rapidly during the growing season in some of the most important agricultural countries, and a paper published several weeks ago found that this had shaved several percentage points off potential yields, adding to the price gyrations. Continue reading

Farm runoff may cause largest Dead Zone yet


Photo by Joe Germuska, Flickr

Iowa is one of nine states along the Mississippi River implicated in contributing to what is expected to be the largest dead zone ever in the Gulf of Mexico.

The New York Times reports that phosphorous and nitrogen from fertilizers and animal waste runoff are largely to blame for the dead zones. The recent flooding along the Mississippi has exacerbated this runoff. With this impending damage to the Gulf, environmentalists are calling for stricter regulations of farms near the Mississippi:

For years, environmentalists and advocates for a cleaner gulf have been calling for federal action in the form of regulation. Since 1998, the Environmental Protection Agency has been encouraging all states to place hard and fast numerical limits on the amount of those chemicals allowed in local waterways. Yet of the nine key farm states that feed the dead zone, only two, Illinois and Indiana, have acted, and only to cover lakes, not the rivers or streams that merge into the Mississippi.

Many of the farmers along the Mississippi fear that the EPA will indeed heed the call and set chemical limits.

Don Parish, senior director of regulatory relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, a trade group, says behind that policy is the faulty assumption that farmers fertilize too much or too casually. Since 1980, he said, farmers have increased corn yields by 80 percent while at the same time reducing their nitrate use by 4 percent through precision farming.

“We are on the razor’s edge,” Mr. Parish said. “When you get to the point where you are taking more from the soil than you are putting in, then you have to worry about productivity.” Continue reading

Chicago prepares for climate change


Photo by Gravitywave, Flickr

The New York Times is reporting that the Windy City is gearing up for a hotter, wetter climate.

Climate scientists found that current trends will eventually lead Chicago toward weather that is more commonly found down south.  The city is responding by repaving using pereable pavement, changing up the trees being planted and considering installing air conditions in all of its public schools.

Read part of the Times‘ coverage below:

The Windy City is preparing for a heat wave — a permanent one.

Climate scientists have told city planners that based on current trends, Chicago will feel more like Baton Rouge than a Northern metropolis before the end of this century.

So, Chicago is getting ready for a wetter, steamier future. Public alleyways are being repaved with materials that are permeable to water. The white oak, the state tree of Illinois, has been banned from city planting lists, and swamp oaks and sweet gum trees from the South have been given new priority. Thermal radar is being used to map the city’s hottest spots, which are then targets for pavement removal and the addition of vegetation to roofs. And air-conditioners are being considered for all 750 public schools, which until now have been heated but rarely cooled.

“Cities adapt or they go away,” said Aaron N. Durnbaugh, deputy commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Environment. “Climate change is happening in both real and dramatic ways, but also in slow, pervasive ways. We can handle it, but we do need to acknowledge it. We are on a 50-year cycle, but we need to get going.” Continue reading

Iowa EnviroLinks – December 31, 2010


Here’s a look at some more environmental headlines from around Iowa and the United States: Continue reading

Marion set to burn trash for energy


Photo credit: Ashley Felton, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s a huge project – over $100 million dollars huge.

But it’s a go.

The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported yesterday that the city of Marion may be ready as early as this spring to begin construction on a waste-burning plasma arc that once built, should generate enough energy to power 47,000 – 62,000 homes.

How green and economically feasible in incineration? That’s still up for debate.

In April the New York Times published this great in-depth report about how the technology is catching on in Europe but not the US. It followed up by soliciting opinions on the matter from a broad range of experts. The results were mixed, but the pieces are certainly worth a read.

Unfortunately my feeble, unscientific brain can’t enlighten you any further, except to say it it will be an exciting project to watch. And at this point, most energy plans sound better than the filthy coal we keep burning.

But as planning continues in Marion (and perhaps one day at the UI as the Gazette reported in June) I’m sure we’ll hear more opinions and see more research. I’ll keep an eye out for it.

For those of you reading this who actually are experts on energy, what do you think?