Ethanol Bill Passes in the Iowa House and Senate


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Josie Taylor | April 28, 2022

Legislation that would require most Iowa gas stations to sell higher ethanol blends passed both the Iowa House and Senate on Tuesday. 

The bill, House File 2128, received bipartisan support in both chambers, passing 42-3 in the Senate and 78-13 in the House. It is expected that Gov. Kim Reynolds will sign it into law. Reynolds told reporters Tuesday morning that the bill would “sustain and grow” the ethanol industry while helping consumers. 

The bill requires most Iowa gas stations to begin offering 15% ethanol blended fuel (E15) in 2026. The final version of the proposal includes a waiver for Iowa’s smallest gas stations, and state grants to help upgrade infrastructure to support E15. As fueling stations expand and install new tanks, those have to be E15-compatible.

Some Senate Democrats raised concerns about the legislation, arguing it would be a “mandate” and may clash with federal law. 

President Joe Biden visited Iowa earlier this month to announce the temporary summertime sale of E15. Under federal law, E15 may not normally be sold from June to September due to pollution concerns. Reynolds said Iowa was pushing to change the federal law, especially as more gas stations will sell the higher blend.

Iowa Senate Votes to Allow Retailers to Stop Accepting Bottle and Can Returns


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Josie Taylor | March 31, 2022

Under a bill that was approved Tuesday by the Iowa Senate retailers would be allowed to opt out of accepting bottle and can returns starting in 2023. Redemption centers would get a raise, and beverage wholesalers would continue to keep unredeemed deposits. 

Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, floor manager of Senate File 2378, said it was “an attempt to save the bottle bill.” Democrats who opposed the legislation said it would do the opposite.

The bill increases the handling fee for redemption centers from 1 cent to 3 cents per container. Retailers that continue to accept containers will continue to receive a penny per container.

One of the main points of disagreement between the two sides is whether the increased handling fee will be enough to encourage new or expanded redemption centers to open. If retailers opt out of the program, more redemption centers will be needed so consumers can return their containers and collect their 5-cent deposit.

The bill passed with a vote of 31-18. Now it will move to the House, which is considering a separate bill that allows some retailers – grocers and some others – to opt out of accepting container returns.

Energy Regulators Support Federal Pipeline Standards


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Josie Taylor | January 20, 2022

The chairman of the federal commission overseeing energy and some U.S. House Democrats said that federal powers are needed to prevent major energy disruptions like the cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline that left the East Coast short of gas at the pumps for days in May. 

A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee discussed a proposal by Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., that would give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the power to impose basic standards for natural gas pipeline reliability and security. As of right now, standards like that do not exist. FERC can enforce reliability standards regarding electricity delivery and other matters, but lacks such authorities when it comes to regulating pipelines.

Members of the House panel aimed to address a joint report from FERC and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation following a devastating Texas winter storm in 2021 that also showed how pipelines can fail. The report recommended a single federal agency be responsible for ensuring pipeline reliability.

“Lack of mandatory reliability standards, especially for natural gas pipelines, poses a risk to the reliability of the bulk power system to the interdependency of our nation’s gas electric infrastructure,” FERC Chairman Richard Glick told the panel. Standards and regulation could potentially help many Americans.

Iowa is Receiving $110 Million for Water


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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 Pulitzer winner says ‘Welcome to climate change, Iowa-style’


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Cullen details the consequences of climate-fueled floods and heatwaves for Iowa farms (flickr).

Julia Poska | October 26, 2018

“Welcome to climate change, Iowa-style” -Art Cullen

Over the course the current midterm election campaigns, Iowan farm fields have faced high heatwaves, record-breaking rainfall, flooding and unseasonable cold. Experts say such extreme events are fueled by climate change.

Pulitzer Prize winner Art Cullen, editor of Storm Lake, Iowa’s Storm Lake Times, published a new editorial on The Guardian last week to share his thoughts on the matter.

“Few politicians in the five states around here are talking about regulating agriculture in an era of warmer and wetter nights and long droughts,” he wrote. “Yet farmers are paying attention.”

Cullen based his argument in the findings of regional climate researchers. An Iowa State scientist predicted Iowa’s recent floods 20 years ago. Someone at the University of Minnesota predicts Iowa’s corn yield will halve by 2070. An agronomist, also from Iowa State, said soil erosion is making corn starchier and less valuable.

To combat the change, farmers have historically increased drainage tile. Cullen cited the environmental consequences of that adaption, mainly low oxygen due to excess nutrients in the Gulf of Mexico, and water quality issues within the state.

As the situation has gotten worse and awareness has risen, farmers have started making positive changes, too, Cullen said.  They’re looking at sustainability reports, cover cropping to reduce erosion, and rotating diverse crops and livestock.

Cullen calls for policy makers to “catch up” and provide more financial aid to help farmers implement sustainable practices and even retire land.

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. residents increasingly divided on climate change


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A Gallup graph depicts how opinions about climate change have changed over time in the U.S. (Gallup)

Jenna Ladd | March 29, 2018

A recent poll found that Americans have become even more polarized about climate change in the last year. Gallup completed the poll during the first week of March using a random sample of 1,041 adults in the United States.

While concern about global warming is still at a record high, the difference in opinions between Republicans and Democrats is now more stark. The poll found that 69 percent of Republicans thought that the seriousness of climate change is generally exaggerated in the news, while just four percent of Democrats believed the same thing. Similarly, just over 40 percent of Republicans said that they believe the undisputed fact that nearly all scientists believe that global warming is taking place, while 86 percent on Democrats did.

Gallup hypothesized about the increased polarization in opinion between the parties. They wrote,

“President Donald Trump, who has called global warming a “hoax,” may have contributed to this widening divide by reversing a number of government actions to address the issue. These included the announcement that the U.S. will withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate accord, the removal of climate change from the list of top U.S. national security threats and the elimination of the terms “global warming” and “climate change” from U.S. government websites and lexicons.”

Despite evidence that the number of severe weather-related deaths has risen because of climate change, few members of the Republican party seemed to think that climate change would pose a serious in their lifetime. Just 18 percent said that there was any real risk to them.

This year, Gallup has categorized about 48 percent of U.S. citizens as concerned believers in climate change, which is similar to 2017’s 50 percent figure. About 32 percent have mixed opinions about the existence and cause of climate change, and 19 percent are categorized as climate change skeptics.

Commonwealth nations call for science based policy


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Carbon emissions must be net zero during the second half of the century to meet current climate goals. (Unalienable/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | March 14, 2017

Leaders from 22 countries representing thousands of scientists released a statement Monday calling on political leaders to more aggressively combat climate change.

Representatives from national scientific academies in the United Kingdom, Pakistan, Indian, Mozambique, Nigeria and many other countries that formerly were a part of the British empire authored and endorsed the document, titled, “Commonwealth Academies of Science Consensus Statement on Climate Change.”

They point out that even if all of the 160 countries that ratified the Paris Climate Accord in 2015 met their greenhouse emission goals, global temperatures will still rise by 3 degree Celsius before 2100. Not only do the scientists call for political action on climate change, but they asked that it be informed by data.

Looking forward to 2030 climate change talks, they write, “The Commonwealth academies of science call upon Commonwealth Heads of Government to use the best possible scientific evidence to guide action on their 2030 commitments under the Paris accord, and to take further action to achieve net-zero greenhouse gases emissions during the second half of the 21st Century.”

The Commonwealth’s message is similar a move in the U.S. for more scientists to run for positions in congress. At least 60 scientists are running at the federal level during this year’s mid-terms. Non-profit organizations like 314-Action are asking more scientists to join the race. 314-Action is “committed to electing more STEM candidates to office, advocating for evidence-based policy solutions to issues like climate change, and fighting the Trump administration’s attacks on science.”

Scientist or career politician, commonwealth representative or U.S. congressperson, policy makers worldwide must find a way to achieve net-zero carbon emissions during the second half of this century in order to meet the Paris Climate Accord goal to keep temperatures 2 degrees Celsius below pre-industrial levels.

 

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.