Report outlines economic benefits of clean water in Iowa


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Trees are reflected in a clear Iowa pond. (Richard Hermann/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | February 21, 2018

A recent report from Iowa State University argues that removing nutrient pollution from Iowa’s water would provide economic benefits for the state.

Economists with ISU’s Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) first summarize the cost of nutrient pollution in Iowa’s waterways. They write that forty-nine public water systems treat water for nitrate pollution either by using nitrate removal equipment or blending the water; these systems serve more than 10 percent of Iowa citizens. The report estimates that Iowa’s public water systems have paid $1.8 million to treat nitrate in the water since 2000.

Smaller communities and rural areas are disproportionately affected by the economic consequences of polluted water. Many small town public water systems do not have the resources to purchase costly nitrate removal equipment and as a result, may not be able to meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s water quality regulations. Private wells go largely unregulated, so consumers are responsible for picking up the water treatment costs. Findings suggest that as many as a quarter of Iowa’s wells have unsafe nitrate levels in them.

The report also comments on the lost revenue from water recreation income for the state. The number of beaches and waterways under advisory or closed each summer because of harmful algae blooms, which are fed by nitrate, continues to grow. Economists estimate that improving water quality in Iowa’s lakes by meeting Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals would increase recreational benefits for all Iowans by $30 million per year.

Iowa Legislators recently passed a bill that will allocate $282 million to water quality improvement projects in the state over the next 12 years. Critics recognize, however, that scientists with the Nutrient Reduction Strategy have estimated that it will cost billions of dollars to adequately remove nutrient runoff from waterways in Iowa.

To read CARD’s full report, click here.

Trump administration works to reverse over 65 environmental policies


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The federal government no longer requires new infrastructure projects to meet flood protection guidelines. (Melissa Galvez/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | February 7, 2018

Since taking office about a year ago, the Trump administration has moved to eliminate over 65 environmental regulations and policies, according to a report from the New York Times Climate Team.

The report aggregated data from climate deregulation policy trackers from the environmental law programs at Harvard University and Columbia University to come up with a total of 67 environmental regulations that the administration has sought to rollback. Reporters split the policies into three categories: those that have already been overturned, those that are on their way to being overturned and those whose fate is unclear due of court actions.  The largest category of 33 rules are those that have already been reversed.

There are a few among them that are most relevant for Iowans. First, the administration has reversed an Obama-era regulation that required federal buildings and infrastructure projects to be constructed in accordance with higher flood protection standards. Under this rule, new projects in flood plains would have had to be either elevated or flood proofed at a minimum of two feet above the 100-year floodplain. Recent research from the University of Iowa’s Flood Center found that as the climate continues to warm, the risk of flooding in Iowa and the northern U.S. is increasing.

The administration has also opted to reject the Environmental Projection Agency’s research on a particular pesticide and allow for its further use. Following the EPA’s study of the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which found to pose a risk for fetal brain and nervous system development, the Obama administration proposed a ban of the pesticide. Trump-appointed EPA administrator Scott Pruitt argued that further study of the chemical is needed prior to a ban.

The list of environmental policies reversed by the administration goes on, and just three have been successfully reinstated after environmental groups sued the Trump administration.

Environmental film festival benefits Indian Creek Nature Center


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The shrinking of the Bears Ears monument in Utah is just one example of the Trump administration rolling back public land protections. (Jeffrey Sullivan/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | January 26, 2018

A sold out environmental film festival is set to take place at Big Grove Brewery in Iowa City this evening.

The Backcountry Film Festival is hosting a screening in the new brewery as a part of its international tour. Founded by the Winter Wildlands Alliance, the film festival seeks to promote participation in human-powered snow sports on public lands. The festival collaborates with nonprofit organizations worldwide to raise funds for environmental causes. The Indian Creek Nature Center of Cedar Rapids will be the beneficiary of this event.

Lindsey Flannery is the marketing and development manager for Indian Creek Nature Center. She said, “[The festival] directly connects to our mission. This film festival encourages others to be outside, and that’s important to us,” according to the Daily Iowan.

The screening includes eight films featuring people enjoying winter sports on public lands and comes as public land agencies like the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service are facing extreme budget cuts.

Keili Bell is the director and producer of the festival. She said, “There has been a lot of national funding cuts to a lot of budgets that actually help a lot local environmental programs. [The festival] has gained a lot of public interest from people all over the world because we can share what is happening to public policy and environmental programs.”

All proceeds from ticket sales and raffle entries will go directly to the Indian Creek Nature Center.

States resist federal move to expand offshore drilling


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A 100 foot flame flares above the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010. (Jim McKinley/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | January 18, 2018

More states are lining up to be exempt from the Trump administration’s plan to expand offshore oil drilling in the United States.

The administration released a proposal earlier in January to make nearly all U.S. coasts available for drilling over the next five years. Last week, the U.S. Interior Department’s Ryan Zinke granted Florida’s coasts exempt from the deal after a short meeting with Gov. Rick Perry, citing concern for the state’s tourist economy. Shortly after, requests to be excluded from the proposal from other coastal states rolled in. Governors and state officials from Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and Delaware have asked for meetings with Zinke to discuss the plan’s threat to tourism industries.

Governor John Carney of Delaware posted a Tweet last week, “Tourism and recreation along the Delaware coastline account for billions in economic activity each year, and support tens of thousands of jobs.”

The only states in support of the plan are Alaska and Maine.

Aside from repelling tourists, offshore drilling has serious implications for ocean life and human health. One drilling platform typically releases 90,000 metric tons of drilling fluids and metal cuttings into the sea. Drilling fluids, or drilling muds, which lubricate wells and cool drill pipes, contain toxic chemicals that harm aquatic life. When oil is pumped, water from underground surfaces along with it. Called “produced water,” it contains anywhere from 30 to 40 parts per million of oil. For example, each year in Alaska’ Cook Inlet, 2 billion gallons of produced water contaminates the area with 70,000 gallons of oil.

This new plans marks another rollback of Obama’s environmental legacy, which prohibited offshore drilling in 94 percent of U.S.’s coastal waters.

On The Radio – Iowa City Climate Action and Adaptation Plan underway


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This timeline depicts the steering committee’s timeline for a citywide climate action plan. (City of Iowa City)
Jenna Ladd | December 4, 2017

This segment discusses what Iowa City’s citizens are doing to mitigate and adapt to a changing climate. 

Transcript: There was standing room only at the Iowa City Climate Action and Adaption community meeting last month.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The community meeting was organized by Iowa City’s Climate Action Steering Committee, which was formed in June 2017 following President Trump’s announcement that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. Since then, city council and the steering committee have committed Iowa City to the same goals outlined by the Paris Climate Accord: community-wide greenhouse gas reduction goals of 26-28 percent by the year 2025 and 80 percent by 2050, where 2005 emissions levels serve as a baseline.

Attendees were invited to vote for climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies for Iowa City in five categories, including energy, waste, transportation, adaptation, and other. The steering committee plans to send a city-wide survey by mail in December to residents that are unable to attend the initiative’s community meetings.

After a final community input meeting on April 26th, the steering committee will present their completed Climate Action and Adaptation Plan to city council in May 2018.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

EPA moves to repeal Clean Power Plan


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The Sutton coal plant in Wilmington, North Carolina closed its doors in 2013. Despite the Trump administration’s pro-coal policy, coal plants are shutting down around the U.S. (Duke Energy/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | October 11, 2017

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head administrator Scott Pruitt announced on Monday that the Trump administration would begin the process of rescinding the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.

President Obama’s 2015 Clean Power Plan was designed to reduce the power industry’s carbon dioxide pollution levels by 32 percent below 2005 levels before 2030. The plan was a part of a larger effort to meet the U.S. commitment to the Paris Climate Accord, from which President Trump decided to withdraw shortly after taking office.

Gina McCarthy served as EPA administrator during Obama’s second term in office. She said in a statement, “They’re adding more pollution into our air and threatening public health at a time when the threats of climate change are growing and the costs are growing immeasurably higher on our children and their future.”

Pruitt is said to have filed his proposal to rescind the climate policy on Tuesday, but the proposal is subject to public comment for months before it is finalized. Attorneys general in New York and Massachusetts have said they will sue the administration after the repeal goes through. California and New York state have both adopted their own climate smart polices, which include emission-cutting regulations that exceed those outlined by the Clean Power Plan.

Trump eliminates climate change advisory panel


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The White House has moved to dissolve its panel on climate change, despite the fact that temperatures in recent decades were higher than they have been in 1,500 years. (Michael Vadon/flickr)
Jenna Ladd| August 22, 2017

The Trump administration announced on Friday that it will terminate the U.S. climate change advisory panel.

The panel, called the Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment, was established two years ago by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The group is tasked with producing a National Climate Assessment every four years and working with policymakers and business leaders to interpret the report’s findings and act accordingly. Its fifteen members included scientists, local officials and business representatives.

The charter for the panel expired Sunday after NOAA administrator Ben Friedman announced that the Trump administration had decided to dissolve the group. The next National Climate Assessment was due to be released this spring.

A major component of the spring 2018 assessment called the Climate Science Special Report is currently under review at the White House. The report, which was written by scientists from thirteen separate institutions, states that human activity is responsible for steadily rising global temperatures from 1951 to 2010.

This report has not yet been approved by the Trump administration.