Biden nominates former Iowa Governor Chet Culver to federal rural lending board


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Elizabeth Miglin | July 20, 2021

Former Iowa Governor Chet Culver has been nominated by President Joe Biden to the board of directors for the Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corporation, also known as Farmer Mac. 

Culver served as Governor of Iowa from 2007 to 2011. During his governorship Culver built up a large budget surplus and earned Iowa a ‘Triple A’ bond rating, which helped the renewable energy industry grow in Iowa. Culver also served as the Iowa Secretary of State from 1999 to 2007 and founded the Chet Culver group, a renewable energy consulting firm, in 2011. 

Farmer Mac is a federally chartered organization aimed at increasing access to capital in rural and agricultural communities. Created in response to the 1980’s farm crisis, the organization is now the largest secondary market investor of USDA loan guarantees in the U.S. and has provided over $63 billion in loans to rural borrowers. 

“Any rural-based business or industry can benefit from Farmer Mac. I want to make sure that continues into the future, and that’s another reason I’m privileged and honored to serve,” said Culver. 

The president is able to appoint five members to the board of fifteen as representatives for farmers, the Farm Credit System and commercial banks. If approved by Congress this will be Culver’s second term serving on Farmer Mac. 

Biden to Suspend Oil and Gas Leases in Alaskan Wildlife Refuge


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Elizabeth Miglin | June 2, 2021

The Biden administration is suspending all oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in order to take a deeper look at the environmental impacts of drilling in the region, the Interior Department announced on Tuesday. 

The Refuge is a 1.6 million-acre stretch of tundra on Alaska’s North Slope and is home to endangered polar bears whose population have been in dramatic decline due to diminishing sea ice. The region also provides important calving habitat for the Porcupine caribou herd.

Under the Trump administration, the Bureau of Land Management began administering an oil and gas program in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge. The opening of the coast to drilling signified the culmination of a four-decade-long effort by the oil industry to gain access to the refuge. The lease sale on January 6, 2021 resulted in 10-year leases on nine tracts covering more than 430,000 acres according to the Department of the Interior. Imposing more restrictions on development in the region or ending the leases altogether would undo a signature policy of the Trump administration. 

The suspension of the leases follows the Biden Administrations official review of the activity in the Refuge. The review found multiple defects in the Record of Decision supporting the leases, such as the lack of analysis of a reasonable range of alternatives and other legal deficiencies. The suspensions, notably, do not go as far as environmental groups might hope as they do not void the leases all together. However, the initial executive order to review the leases left open the possibility the department would establish a new environmental review process to address legal flaws in the program itself. 

Biden Doubles FEMA Funding to Support Proactive Programs


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Elizabeth Miglin | May 26, 2021

On Monday, the Biden administration announced plans to provide $1 billion in additional funding for FEMA in order to prepare communities for the increasingly destructive hurricane season. 

The additional funding will double the current financial size of the Federal Emergency Management Agency program which gives states and local governments money to reduce vulnerability before a disaster occurs. The majority of the funds will go to FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program which seeks to shift federal funding from reactive spending to proactive investment in community resilience. Additionally, a small portion of the funding will directly support disadvantaged communities. 

After years of record storms and wildfires as well as recent assignments to administer coronavirus vaccinations, many FEMA staff members are worn out. Furthermore, the increased funding is expected to cause an even larger administrative burden for FEMA. Regardless, scientists anticipate this hurricane season to be “above-normal” with as many as 10 hurricanes expected, including three to five hurricanes reaching Category 3 or higher. Climate change has caused hurricanes to become more powerful and destructive, making FEMA’s capabilities of increased focus in Washington.

In Iowa, FEMA provided more than $33 million in aid to help communities recover from the derecho which struck in August 2020. Weather patterns such as derechos’ are expected to increase over the next few years in the Midwest, resulting in decreased agricultural productivity and increased flooding and drought

U.S. Interior Dept. Announces Plans to Restore Native American Land


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Elizabeth Miglin | April 29, 2021

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland issued an order to ease the process for Native American tribes to apply for ownership and management of tribal land on Tuesday. The order reverses steps taken by the Trump administration to slow the application process and will help the Biden administration’s environmental justice efforts. 

In 2017 the Trump administration moved the land-into-trust decisions to the Interior Department’s headquarters staff, resulting in delays in the decision-making process. During the Trump administration 75,000 acres of land were placed into trust, compared to 560,000 acres under the Obama administration according to Reuters.

Under the Secretary’s Order 3400, the authority to review and approve land applicants has been re-delegated to the Bureau of Indian Affairs regional directors. The slowing of the approval process has resulted in increased costs and delays for tribes to develop housing projects, manage law enforcement agencies and develop local economies.

Native populations are at a higher risk of vulnerability to climate change due to a lack of food security, ability to adapt to climate change, and tribal control of resources. Researchers increasingly argue in favor of tribes gaining greater control in the resource management decision making process due to contemporary environmental inequalities which exacerbate the impact of climate change.  

The Interior Department estimates there are 1,000 pending applications by tribes to put land into trust, most of which are lands located within existing reservation boundaries. 

Learn more about the University of Iowa’s acknowledgment of land and sovereignty here

Biden Begins Earth Day Climate Summit with World Leaders


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Elizabeth Miglin | April 22, 2021

President Biden’s Leaders Summit on Climate begins today, on Earth Day, and will conclude on Friday. The summit will be attended by 40 world leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, alongside business leaders. The summit intends to rally public and private sector finance to reach net-zero emissions, according to the New York Times

To begin the summit, Biden announced goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in half from 2005 levels by 2030 and net-zero by 2050. Although specific plans are undisclosed, the administration is focusing on establishing union jobs in the climate industry and U.S. economic competitiveness in a government-wide approach. The administration hopes to encourage world leaders to adopt similar ambitious policies. 

The summit comes as climate scientists warn ambitious proactive action is necessary in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Indian Prime Minister Naraendra Modi, and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa all noted the need to better coordinate equitable efforts with developing countries in their opening speeches.

The Leaders Summit on Climate is one of several world leader meetings held in anticipation of the 26th session of the United Nations’ Climate Conference of the Parties (COP26), scheduled for November. 

Major Iowa City public transportation changes expected


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Elizabeth Miglin | April 8, 2021

Just as news was announced that Amtrack plans to expand its train service to Iowa City, it was decided that the Hawkeye Express will be shutting down. 

After 15 years of providing Coralville residents with transportation to Kinnick Stadium, the Iowa Northern Railway Company announced plans on Wednesday to end the Hawkeye Express. Although the service has not been operational in 2020 due to the pandemic, in 2019, the Hawkeye Express served an average of 3,700 fans, reported The Daily Iowan

“There is not a good time to close the book on this type of experience, but this decision made sense to both parties. We are grateful for all the fans who made the train part of their gameday, truly” said Josh Sabin, the Director of Administration for the Iowa Northern Railway. 

Alternatively, Amtrak announced plans to connect Iowa City to the Quad-Cities in a new long-range route. The announcement comes as President Biden released the American Jobs Plan which includes $80 billion in funding for rail transportation if passed by Congress. 

Iowa business leaders and planners have encouraged increased rail transportation for years however plans had been put on pause due to a lack of funding. These concerns over a lack of funding persist as the Iowa Department of Transportation’s freight and passenger policy coordinator, Amanda Martin, stated “the Iowa DOT has completed the planning portion of the effort, but as of right now there are no dedicated funds for construction and implementation of the service” reports the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

If the plan is fully funded, the Iowa City to Quad-Cities service could replace 1.4 million vehicle trips, 324,700 bus rides and 40,900 plane trips a year according to a 2013 Iowa DOT study

John Kerry Says Current Goals Under the Paris Climate Agreement Are Insufficient to Limit Earth’s Temperature


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Nicole Welle | February 1, 2021

John Kerry, special presidential envoy for climate, said Sunday that the goals outlined under the Paris Climate Accord will not be enough to limit the Earth’s rising temperatures.

Kerry said that the goal of reaching a 1.5°C limitation on global warming is appropriate, but the promises countries have made to reach that goal are insufficient to achieve it. However, he added that there is still time to take more aggressive action to fight climate change if governments are willing to do so. Kerry has expressed personal approval of implementing a carbon tax to help combat the climate crisis, and President Joe Biden is likely to consider that move after saying that he would support it during the 2020 presidential campaign, according to a CNN article.

President Biden recently announced that the U.S. will rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and has set a goal for the country to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Climate experts have said that this aggressive goal is achievable. However, while Biden has already signed multiple executive orders aimed at combatting climate change, he may face pushback from congress as he pursues further climate legislation.

Biden will also have to incorporate climate change into his administration’s foreign policy if he hopes to address the issue on a global scale. That would mean introducing it into trade policies, foreign aid programs and bilateral discussions, a shift that would become Kerry’s responsibility as the new envoy for climate change, according to a New York Times article.

President Biden Signs Orders to Address the Climate Crisis on His First Day in Office


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Nicole Welle | January 21, 2021

President Joseph R. Biden Jr. followed through on his promise to begin reversing Donald Trump’s environmental rollbacks on his first day in office yesterday by singing multiple executive orders and recommitting the United States to the Paris climate agreement.

In his inaugural address, Biden stressed the importance of rebuilding alliances and trust with other countries, and he hopes that rejoining the Paris agreement will help to move the country closer to that goal. Biden also used his first day to sign executive orders to halt construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, reverse the Trump administration’s rollbacks to vehicle emissions standards, place a temporary moratorium on oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and re-establish a working group tasked with evaluating the social cost of greenhouse gases, according to a New York Times article.

Biden has placed tackling climate issues at the top of his list of priorities along with combating racial inequality, improving the country’s pandemic response and restoring the economy. Environmentalists are celebrating the president’s urgency in addressing these issues, but analysts and Biden himself have stressed that his executive orders alone will not be enough to adequately address the climate crisis. Biden set a goal to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and congress will need to pass new environmental legislation soon to make reaching that goal possible. However, aggressive climate policies aimed at cutting the country’s emissions could face opposition from Republicans and moderate Democrats in congress.

Biden’s executive orders reversing some of the Trump administration’s harmful environmental rollbacks will set the country on a positive path towards addressing the harmful effects of climate change. However, it could take years to undo the rest of Trump’s actions and replace his rollbacks with new environmental regulations. Some Republicans and powerful business groups will likely oppose the process, so any future legislation will likely require some level of bipartisan support.