Congress to discuss banning mining near Minnesota’s Boundary Waters

Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 30, 2022

Members of Congress are divided over a recent proposal that could ban mining near the most popular wilderness area in the United States.

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-MN, reintroduced a bill to permanently protect nearly 250,000 acres of the Superior National Forest, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. The forest is near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a 1.1 million acre watershed located in Duluth, Minnesota. The bill aims to ensure the water in the area remains clean. Mining can cause pollution from nickel, cobalt, copper, and other minerals.

Earlier this year, President Joe Biden blocked the federal approval of a new mine on the property. The decision overturned approval from former President Donald Trump’s administration. Trump’s decision had reversed an Obama administration decision. As McCollum’s proposal is being discussed in Congress, former U.S. Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell said the bill provides needed certainty to protect the waters. Tidwell served under the Obama administration. He said the bill would ensure acid mine drainage did not degrade the value of the Boundary Waters area.

The waters is visited frequently, with U.S. Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-CA, saying it is the most-visited wilderness area in the country. The location drives the local economy, he said, providing thousands of jobs that could be at risk if mining is allowed in the area.

Congress eyes legislation to improve environmental justice

Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | August 24, 2021

Communities that have been devastated by environmental degradation might see some environmental justice soon if Congressional Democrats and the Biden administration get their way.

Democrats in Washington are eyeing a $3.5 trillion spending plan that will help these communities like never before. The plan is in early stages, but there are plans for the government to recognize the suffering of these communities — something activists have been fighting for years to receive.

Elizabeth Yeampierre, a co-chair of the Climate Justice Alliance said the bill does not go far enough. According to Iowa Capital Dispatch, she said the bill needs to be malleable because of the different circumstances across all 50 states. She also wants legislators to “be bold” in resetting the “legacy of environmental racism.”

Some of the plans for this legislation are to make investments in environmental justice by improving the affordability of water and access to clean drinking water, as well as climate equity.

There has been a recent push for environmental justice and equity to be a focus in Washington. CBS News reported that environmental justice allows congress to examine two important arenas of policy at the same time: combatting the climate crisis and fighting racial inequalities.

The bill has yet to be finalized and shared with the public.

Rep. Loebsack proposes National Flood Center during Iowa visit

Rep. Dave Loebsack proposed the National Flood Research and Education Act during a press conference at the University of Iowa’s Stanley Hydraulics Laboratory on June 6, 2016. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)

Nick Fetty | June 7, 2016

Iowa congressman Dave Loebsack introduced a legislative proposal for a National Flood Center during his stop Monday in Iowa City.

Loebsack made his announcement at the University of Iowa’s Stanley Hydraulics Laboratory on the eve of the anniversary of the 2008 flood which devastated much Loebsack’s district in Southeast Iowa. Loebsack plans to introduce The National Flood Research and Education Act (NFREA) to congress. NFREA would establish a consortium within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and include institutions of higher education “to advance the understanding of the causes of flooding, to conduct research on flooding, flood prevention and other flood-related issues,” according to a press release. NFREA would work closely with other governmental agencies including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and build off of research already conducted at the University of Iowa and other institutions.

“We still don’t have, to this day in America, a comprehensive national flood center. A place where we can do so much of the work I think is necessary,” said Loabsack.  “We have a great flood center here (at the University of Iowa). We can, I think, teach so much of the rest of the country what we’ve found here at this flood center.”

While Loabsack’s proposal does not directly call for the center to be established at the University of Iowa, he said he would welcome the idea of establishing it on the campus of Iowa’s oldest public university.

“I’d be more than happy if this is where it ended up being. I’d be totally delighted because there’s been more work done here than just about anywhere else in the country on these issues,” he said.

Rep. Dave Loebsack. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)
Rep. Dave Loebsack. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)

Bipartisan cooperation during flood events was a theme throughout Loebsack’s roughly 10-minute presentation. Loebsack – the lone Democrat in Iowa’s congressional delegation – discussed working with Republican Senator Chuck Grassley in 2008 to bring more than $4 billion in tax relief to residents and businesses following the historic flooding. The congressman also discussed how he gave former President George W. Bush an aerial tour of the disaster zone on Air Force One. He even worked with fellow congressman Steve King, who represents Loebsack’s hometown of Sioux City in Iowa’s fourth congressional district, when flooding occurred along the Missouri River.

“I called Steve King and talked to him for 25 minutes and I said ‘Steve, my office has institutional experience. We will do everything we can to help you in your congressional district,'” Loebsack said. “Steve and I don’t see eye-to-eye on very much as you all know politically and on policy, but this is something that could bring us together.”

Loebsack said the $10 million his legislation requested for funding the National Flood Center would be an investment that would save money in the future. The center would also build off of research and monitoring techniques that are already in place.

“I think we’ve got to look at flooding in a comprehensive way. I think we have to test new methods and build on promising methods and techniques so we can better predict and prevent flooding in the first place,” said Loebsack. “Having this national flood center, should we get this legislation through and get this established, I think will allow us to save lives and protect our families and our businesses and our homes and our communities. It would save us billions of dollars eventually down the road.”

Iowa Flood Center Director Witold Krajewski presents at Stanley Hydraulics Laboratory on June 6, 2016. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)

In addition to Loebsack, Monday’s event also featured presentations Iowa Flood Center Director Witold Krajewski and IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering Director Larry Weber. Weber, who also serves on the faculty of the UI’s College of Engineering, said that IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering has deployed about 230 stream-gauge sensors to monitor Iowa waterways not just for flooding but also water quality and other measures. He also discussed mapping models the center has developed to help the public better prepare for and mitigate future flood events.

“Today as we look forward to the work that we’re doing we continue to advance the technology and the flood forecasting system we have for the state but we’re also working toward creating better community resilience and how we better prepare our communities for the disasters that we haven’t yet seen,” Weber said.

These efforts led to the state of Iowa being award more than $96 million from Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as part of the National Disaster Resilience Competition. Much like Loebsack’s presentation focused on cooperation across political lines, Weber discussed collaboration between rural and urban Iowans on flood-related projects and research.

IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering Director Larry Weber presents at Stanley Hydraulics Laboratory on June 6, 2016. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)

“It’s becoming an example across the country for how rural residents work with urban communities to reduce flooding, to hold that water back on private lands for public benefit and really bringing that partnership together,” Weber said.

Based on the resources available and the infrastructure put in place by IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering, Weber said he is eager to do what he and his center can to make Loebsack’s proposal a reality.

“We stand ready to help, we stand ready to serve, and so we’re excited about this opportunity.”

Also check out coverage of Monday’s event from the Iowa City Press-Citizen and the Cedar Rapids Gazette.