Iowa Environmental Focus

University of Iowa announces it will be coal free by 2025

zero-coal-timelineInfographic of the University of Iowa’s path to zero coal. (Josh Brdicko, Marketing & Design, BFA ’18) Jake Slobe | February 22, 2017

University of Iowa President, Bruce Harreld, announced on Feb. 20 the UI will be coal-free by 2025.

“It’s the right choice for our students and our campus, and it’s the surest path to an energy-secure future,” said Harreld in the press release. “In 2025, we expect to have diminished our reliance on coal to the point it is no longer included in our fuel portfolio.”

The UI has taken steps to reduce its dependence on coal — in 2008, the university established seven “sustainability targets” to be achieved by 2020, according to the press release.

Since the 2020 vision’s inception, the UI has managed to reduce its use of coal by 60 percent.

This correlates with one of the sustainability targets, which seeks to derive 40 percent of the UI’s energy from renewable resources — a far cry from a university once dependent on fossil fuels, according to the UI sustainability website.

The coal-free goal builds on the the sustainability targets set by UI officials in 2012. At that time, UI officials pledged to work toward having 40 percent of its energy come from renewable sources by 2020. The idea, according to UI officials, was to help transition from the university’s dependency on fossil fuels — including coal — and to increase campus use of biomass and other renewable energy sources.

Over the past nine years, UI campus has reduced its use of coal by 60 percent, according to the release. In late 2016, UI achieved a single-day high of 52 percent energy generated from renewable fuels and averaged 50 percent that week.

In addition to the UI’s use of coal, the sustainability targets also deal with achieving net-negative energy growth and decreasing the amount of waste put into landfills.

The university’s current energy portfolio includes oat hulls, miscanthus grass, wood chips and green energy pellets.

UI partnered with Iowa State University in 2013 to develop a miscanthus grass with local farmers living within 50 miles of Iowa City. The university has already planted 550 acres of the miscanthus and will plant an additional 250 to 350 acres during the spring of 2017. The goal is to establish up to 2,500 acres locally by 2020, according to the release.

 


CGRER co-director delivers UI Presidential Lecture

dsc_0315Dr. Gregory Carmichael (left) and University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld (right) at the 34th Annual Presidential Lecture on Sunday. (Jake Slobe/CGRER) Jenna Ladd | February 21, 2017

UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research co-director Dr. Gregory Carmichael delivered the 34th Annual Presidential Lecture to a crowded assembly hall at the Levitt Center for University Advancement on Sunday.

The lecture, titled “What Goes Around, Comes Around: The Global Reach of Air Pollution” featured opening remarks from University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld. Quoting Dr. Jerry Schnoor, Carmichael’s co-director at CGRER, President Harreld joked, “Greg is now more traveled than George Clooney’s character in Up in the Air, four million miles and counting.” Carmichael’s extensive research of the long-range transport of air pollution has taken him to many parts of Eastern Asia, South America, Africa and Europe, among other locations.

Carmichael’s lecture was organized into three parts: the global reach of air pollution, the link between climate change and air pollution, and a finally, a discussion about the action necessary to curb air pollution worldwide. The lecturer made a strong case for air pollution research, citing that it is the root cause of 7 million avoidable deaths per year. Carmichael pointed out that air pollution has economic consequences too; each year, it leads to loss of 10 percent of U.S. soybean yields.

The lecture encouraged a sense of urgency when it comes to cleaning up the atmosphere. Carmichael warned, “That molecule that we put in the air today will stay in the air for a long time.” He went on to say that 20 percent of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere today will remain there for thousands of years. Professor Carmichael’s research focuses primarily on the utilization of comprehensive computer models and big data to simulate the interplay of air pollutants with weather and climate.

His work has been instrumental in understanding the way in which air pollutants from China move across the Pacific Ocean and affect the Western U.S. He said, “Fifteen to twenty percent of clean air policies in the Western U.S. are being offset by Chinese emissions.”

Above all, the Karl Kammermeyer professor of chemical and biochemical engineering emphasized his passion for instructing and advising students. Carmichael has supervised the research of 40 PhD and 35 Masters of Science students at the University of Iowa.

To learn more about Dr. Carmichael’s career, check out episode 5 of CGRER’s EnvIowa podcast.


Extreme Rain from Thunderstorms is Rising Due to Climate Change

precipitation_nca_1991-2012_lrgPrecipitation change in the U.S. from 1991 to 2012. (NASA) Jake Slobe | Febraury 20, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses a recent study linking climate change and an increase in heavy rain events.

https://iowaenvironmentalfocus.files.wordpress.com/2017/02/heavyrain_68sec.mp3

Transcript: An increase in extreme rain events could change the ways cities handle storm water management and flooding.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Rain is increasingly falling in the form of short, localized bursts associated with thunderstorms found a new study released in Science Advances late last month.

The study directly links this increase in heavy rain storms to the warming and moistening of the atmosphere caused by rising greenhouse levels.

The results fit with rainfall trends already observed in the U.S., as well as model predictions that massive rains associated with thunderstorms could become both more common and more intense in the U.S. as the world continues to heat up.

Extreme downpours have already been increasing in the U.S., most notably in the Northeast, where they have increased by 71 percent since mid-century, according to the 2014 National Climate Assessment.

Upon previous research which has also predicted an increase in extreme rain events due to climate change.

To learn more about this study, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

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


EnvIowa Podcast: Dr. Gregory Carmichael

2016_11_29-greg-carmichael-tschoon-013Dr. Gregory Carmichael has worked closely with scientists in East Asia since 1983 to address pressing air quality problems in that region. (Tim Schoon/University of Iowa) Jenna Ladd | February 17, 2017 https://iowaenvironmentalfocus.files.wordpress.com/2017/02/enviowa-season-1-episode-5.mp3

In Episode 5 of EnvIowa we speak with Dr. Gregory Carmichael, Karl Kammermeyer Professor of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering and Co-Director of the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, about his extensive research on global air pollution.

Dr. Carmichael shares his experiences collaborating with scientists in China, explains why air quality issues in East Asia should matter to Iowans and offers some perspective about what climate science research may look under the new federal administration.

This episode offers listeners the chance to learn more about Dr. Carmichael’s long and esteemed career in climate science prior to his delivery of the 34th Annual Presidential Lecture this weekend. His lecture, titled “What Goes Around, Comes Around: The Global Reach of Air Pollution,” will take place this Sunday, February 19th at 3:30 pm in the fourth-floor assembly hall of the Levitt Center for University Advancement. EnvIowa is also available on iTunes and Soundcloud, a complete archive of EnvIowa episodes can be found here.

More than 700 threatened animal species hit hard by climate change

31075313382_8226f666be_oTropical marsupials, such as the bushtail opossum, are most likely to be negatively impacted by climate change.  Jenna Ladd | February 16, 2017

The changing climate has had a significant negative impact on 700 mammal and bird species according to a recent study published in Nature Climate Change.

While the majority of existing research focuses on the impact climate change will likely have on animal species in the future, new research suggests that the future is now. Researchers performed a systematic review of published literature and found that 47 percent of land mammals and 23 percent of bird species on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list of threatened species have already been been negatively effected by climate change.

At present, the IUCN reports that only seven percent of mammals and four percent of bird species are threatened by the warming planet.

The study found that climate change is impacting animals on every continent. In general, animals that breed more slowly and live in high altitudes are suffering the greatest losses. Mammals with a more specialized diet are most profoundly effected due to regional vegetation change. For birds, species with small dispersal distances and longer generation lengths are most at risk.

The article read, “Our results suggest that populations of large numbers of threatened species are likely to be already affected by climate change, and that conservation managers, planners and policy makers must take this into account in efforts to safeguard the future of biodiversity.”

Those animals belonging to taxonomic orders which have been most extensively studied showed the most significant trend. Michela Pacifici of the Global Mammal Assessment program at Sapienza University of Rome is the report’s lead author. He said,

“We have seriously underestimated the effects of climate change on the most well-known groups, which means those other groups, reptiles, amphibians, fish, plants, the story is going to be much, much worse in terms of what we think the threat is from climate change already.”

Animals that live in tropical regions, like primates and marsupials, are at the highest risk because they have adapted to that biome’s climate, which has been relatively stable for thousands of years. The study said, “Many of these [animals] have evolved to live within restricted environmental tolerances and are likely to be most affected by rapid changes and extreme events.”

Just two orders of mammals, rodents and insect-eaters, were found to have benefited from climate change. Generally, these animals thrive in a variety of climates, breed quickly, and can burrow to protect themselves from changes in weather.

One of the study’s authors, James Watson, a researcher at the University of Queensland in Australia, said climate researchers should shift their focus to present-day.

“It’s a scientific problem in that we are not thinking about climate change as a present-day problem, we’re always forecasting into the future,” Watson added, “When you look at the evidence, there is a massive amount of impact right now.”


Iowa State researchers receive grants to improve glacier flow models and sea level predictions

hologate                         Calving of the Aialik Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska. (Alaska National Park Service) Jake Slobe | February 15, 2017

Iowa State University’s Neal Iverson and a team of researchers are working on research that will predict how much glaciers will contribute to the rise of sea levels.

The research will focus on the extent to which glacier-flow to oceans is likely speed up over the next century as the climate warms.

Iverson, an Iowa State University professor of geological and atmospheric sciences who has studied glaciers in Iceland and Norway, and the rest of the research team will look to lab experiments and field work to build more realistic computer models of glacier flow.

Iverson said about the project:

“Glaciologists are trying to predict how fast glaciers will flow to the oceans. To do that, we need new lab and field data to include complexity in models that is usually neglected. These are complicated systems. Modeling them is hard. But we need to include how water in ice affects its flow resistance, and we need sliding laws that are based on the real topography of glacier beds and that include rock friction. Adding these things really matters.”

Two new grants will help Iverson and his team fund their research, both of which grants are from the National Science Foundation.  The research will also receive funding from the United Kingdom’s Natural Environment Research Council to support the work of applied mathematicians at the University of Oxford in England.

Iverson is the lead investigator on both grant proposals. The other researchers are Lucas Zoet, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a former postdoctoral research associate at Iowa State; Ian Hewitt, an associate professor and university lecturer at Oxford’s Mathematical Institute; and Richard Katz, a professor of geodynamics at Oxford.

The first project will look at temperate ice, or ice at its melting point, and how this soft, watery ice resists deformation. That’s important because the resistance to deformation of temperate ice at the edges of ice streams – areas of rapid ice flow within the Antarctic ice sheet that can be hundreds of miles long and tens of miles wide – holds back the flowing ice.

The second project will support development of better “sliding laws” to help predict the sliding speeds of glaciers and ice sheets. Sliding laws are the mathematical relationships between the glacier sliding speed and the factors that control it, such as the stresses below the glacier, the water pressure there, the topography of the glacier bed and the concentration of debris in glacier ice.

Both projects will use the glacier sliding simulator Iverson has been using since 2009 to study glacier movement.

The new projects will add complexity to Iverson’s lab experiments. Debris, for example, will be added to the ice ring to study friction between it and the rock bed during sliding. In other experiments, temperate ice will be sheared between rotating plates to study how its resistance to flow depends on its water content.


University of Iowa drinking water exceeds maximum contaminant levels for disinfectant by-products

dsc_0263Chlorine treatments react with organic matter in waterways to form Total Thihalomethanes, which have been linked to cancer and reproductive problems. (Jenna Ladd/CGRER) Jenna Ladd | February 14, 2017

University of Iowa facilities management received notice on February 1 that its drinking water system contains levels of Total Trihalomethanes (TTHM) that exceed the federal drinking water standard.

In an email sent out to University faculty, staff and students on February 9, it was reported that the drinking water tested on average between 0.081 and 0.110 mg/L over the last year. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contaminant level (MCL) for TTHM is 0.08 mg/L.

TTHM is a group of four chemicals: chloroform, bromodichloromethane, dibromochloromethane and bromoform. TTHM form when chlorine reacts with natural organic matter like leaves, algae and river weeds in drinking water. In its statement, the University said that more chlorination was necessary this year because higher than usual temperatures led to more organic waste in waterways.

The notice read, “You do not need to use an alternative (e.g., bottled) water supply. Disease prevention specialists with University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics say special precautions are not necessary.”

Chloroform and dibromochloromethane are Class B carcinogens, meaning they have been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals. TTHM has also been linked to heart, lung, kidney, liver, and central nervous system damage, according to a report by the University of West Virginia.

University officials cautioned, “However, some people who drink water-containing trihalomethanes in excess of the MCL over many years may experience problems with their liver, kidneys, or central nervous system, and may have an increased risk of getting cancer.”

A study by the California Department of Health suggests that even short-term exposure to high TTHM levels in drinking water can have serious consequences for pregnant women. Scientists monitored 5,144 women during their first trimester of pregnancy. Participants who drank five or more glasses of cold home tap water containing 0.075 mg/L or more of TTHM had a miscarriage rate of 15.9 percent. Women that drank less than five glasses per day or who had home tap water with less than 0.075 mg/L TTHM had a miscarriage rate of 9.5 percent.

A reverse osmosis filtration system for the University of Iowa drinking water supply is currently in its design phase. Facilities management expects to have the new system up and running within the next 18 months. Officials say it will help address Iowa’s nitrate problem and filter out naturally occurring organic matter, resulting in fewer TTHM.


Nearly 50,000 gallons of oil spill from Iowa pipeline

4756076879_5740830004_oHeavy snowfall in northern Iowa early this week complicated diesel oil clean-up efforts in Worth County, Iowa. (echoroo/flickr) Jake Slobe | Febraury 13, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses a  oil spill onto a Worth County farm that took place last month.

https://iowaenvironmentalfocus.files.wordpress.com/2017/02/worhtcountyoilspill_87sec.mp3

Transcript: An underground pipeline recently leaked 47,000 gallons of diesel fuel onto a Worth County, Iowa farm.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The pipeline, which is owned by Magellan Midstream Partners, was first discovered to have ruptured last month. Situated twelve inches underground, the pipeline stretches across Iowa, Illionois Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

Clean-up crews worked to vacuum the diesel fuel from the soil despite high winds and heavy snow. The spilled diesel fuel was transported to a facility in Minnesota while the remaining contaminated soil went to a landfill near Clear Lake. The spill did not reach the nearby Willow Creek and wildlife reserve.

Transnational oil pipelines remain a controversial issue in the United States. Following President Trump’s executive orders reviving the construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, opponents expressed concerns about the environmental and human health impacts associated with refined oil pipelines. Since 2010, 807 spills have been reported, causing an estimated $342 million in property damages.

The spill in Worth County is the largest diesel oil spill since 2010, its cause is still under investigation.

For more information about the oil spill in Worth county, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

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


Iowa Falls family honored with sustainable agriculture award

4611670959_3e73f1bf30_oWetlands can improve water quality and create habitat for wildlife on Iowa farms. (Scott Smithson/flickr) Jenna Ladd | February 10, 2017

John and Beverly Gilbert were honored with the 2017 Practical Farmers of Iowa Sustainable Agriculture Achievement Award at last month’s Practical Farmers of Iowa Conference.

Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) is a non-profit organization dedicated to “strengthening Iowa farms and communities through farmer-led investigation and information sharing.” Each year PFI offers the Sustainable Agricultural Achievement Award to an individual or couple that demonstrates a strong commitment to practicing sustainable agriculture and sharing that knowledge with others, all while fostering community.

John and Beverly Gilbert of Iowa Falls keep a 770-acre farm featuring corn, soybeans, oats, hay, and some annual crops for forage. The family also milks 50 to 60 Brown Swiss cattle and keeps pastured-raised, antibiotic-free pigs that are sold to Niman Ranch.

The Gilberts’ farm borders Southfork stream, a tributary of the Iowa River. They have taken many measures to improve water and soil quality on their land including stream buffers, extensive grass headlands and waterways, and terraces. The farm also features woodland areas, a prairie marsh remnant, and a restored shallow wetland, all a part of the Gilberts’ conservation efforts.

John said, “The mindset has gotten so focused on raising corn and beans that not many understand the potential of this landscape to support people. I have long thought that if we can’t replace the number of people we have farming, there are serious problems ahead for society.”

Wendy Johnson, PFI board member and farmer near Charles City, commended the recognition of the family. She said,

“Their farming system, management and decision-making encompass all that is or should be good about Iowa: its air, water and soil. They protect these elements alongside creating a viable farming business for multiple families. Their farm is what PFI means to me: a sustainable farm on all levels.”


Hy-Vee supermarkets take on U.S. food waste problem

2743987735_6bf948a588_bHy-Vee stores have announced a program offering “ugly” produce in order to combat food waste in the United States. (Sarah R/flickr) Jenna Ladd | February 9, 2017

Iowa’s Hy-Vee supermarket chain announced a new initiative to reduce food waste last month.

The employee-owned corporation began offering “ugly” produce in nearly all of its 242 stores in mid-January. “Ugly” produce are those vegetables and fruits that typically are not sold at market due to industry size and shape preferences. Hy-Vee partnered with Robinson Fresh to offer its original line of Misfits® produce. Depending on what is available seasonally, four to six Misfits® produce items are delivered to Hy-Vee stores where shoppers can purchase them at a discounted price. The program’s produce offerings include peppers, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes and apples, among other fruits and vegetables. On average, consumers can expect to pay 30 percent less for the “ugly” items.

John Griesenbrock is Hy-Vee’s vice president of produce/HealthMarkets. He said, “As a company with several focused environmental efforts, we feel it’s our responsibility to help educate consumers and dispel any misperceptions about produce that is not cosmetically perfect.”

The company’s press release notes that a movement to reduce food waste through the purchase of less-than-perfect produce has spread across Europe and is picking up steam in the U.S. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that 30 to 40 percent of the U.S. food supply goes to waste. Food waste makes up the vast majority of waste found in municipal land fills and quickly generates methane, which is a greenhouse gas that is 84 times more potent than CO2 during its first two decades in the atmosphere.

Hy-Vee’s Misfit® program supports the USDA and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency effort to achieve a 50 percent food waste reduction nationwide by 2030.

“We understand that there is product left in the field because farmers don’t think there’s a market for it,” said Robinson Fresh general manager Hunter Winton. He added, “With the Misfits program, farmers have an outlet to sell more produce and customers have an opportunity to save money and help reduce waste.”


Risk of extreme wildfires to increase as climate warms ​finds study

0-42030000_1486555214_forest-fire-3The US experienced a much higher proportion of fire events turning into disasters than any other country in the study. (Lotus R/ Flicker) Jake Slobe | February 8, 2017

The likelihood of extreme wildfires, or “megafires,” across the world is expected to increase as global temperatures continue to rise, a new study says.

The research, published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, uses satellite data to identify the 500 most extreme wildfires in recent years. Almost a third of these mega-fires caused deaths, burned down homes, or were declared a disaster by a national government.

Using climate change projections for the middle of this century, the study predicts there will be a 35% increase in the days with a high danger of fire across the world. Some regions will see even larger increases, say the researchers, including western states in the US, southeastern Australia, the Mediterranean and southern Africa.

The study uses satellite data collected by imaging instruments aboard two NASA satellites, Terra and Aqua. Using this data, the researchers identified more than 23 million wildfires globally between 2002 and 2013. While the most severe fires are often loosely dubbed “megafires”, the researchers went a step further by identifying the 500 most extreme wildfires to carry forward for their analysis.si

Of the 500, 22 were ruled out as they were caused by volcanic eruptions or industrial fires. With the remaining 478, the researchers assessed which ones could be classed as “disasters.” There are many definitions of wildfire disasters, the researchers note, many of which focus on the economic impacts – but there is no consistent global database for this. So the researchers based their definition on whether an emergency was declared or the fires caused death or loss of property. For this, they used national disaster databases, news reports and internet searches.

96%  of these disastrous mega fires occurred during periods of unusually hot and/or dry weather, the researchers say.

 

The study projects how the Fire Weather Index (FWI) – an estimate of wildfire risk based on weather conditions and how dry the landscape is – will change the world in future. They look specifically at the changes in “high” fire danger under a climate change scenario where global CO2 emissions aren’t curbed.

 


Study finds Iowa groundwater is extracted at unsustainable rate

jordan-aquiferThe Jordan Aquifer lies beneath most of Iowa; locations with water use permits for tapping into the aquifer are shown above. (Iowa DNR) Jenna Ladd | February 7, 2017

A recent study found the groundwater in Iowa’s Jordan Aquifer to be much older than previously known, and scientists say that could have implications for water use in the state.

Researchers from the Iowa Geological Survey at the University of Iowa in collaboration with Grinnell College, the UI Geology Department and Iowa Department of Natural Resources used isotopic age dating to estimate the age of groundwater in the Jordan Aquifer. The study measured major and minor ions, stable isotopes (d18O and dD) and
the radioactive isotope Chlorine 36 in eight wells scattered across the aquifer. The peer-reviewed journal article explains that the groundwater in northern and central Iowa is somewhere between 70,000 to nearly 180,000 years old.

The study points out that ethanol production in the state relies heavily on groundwater from the Jordan aquifer, which also provides roughly 300,000 residents with drinking water. From 2003 to 2013, annual use of groundwater from the aquifer for ethanol production increased by 7.4 billion liters per year.

Keith Schilling is a research scientist at the Iowa Geological Survey at the University of Iowa and the study’s leading author. He said,

“The implications for biofuel refineries and any water use of the aquifer is the realization that the groundwater is very old. It is not going to be recharged in any human timeframes so we should make sure that water from the aquifer is being managed appropriately.”

Beyond the lagging groundwater regeneration rate, the study also notes that increased groundwater pumping can result in detrimental water quality changes such as radium contamination. The authors conclude with a call for new ethanol refineries to steer clear of the Jordan Aquifer and utilize more sustainable groundwater sources instead.


Iowa Supreme Court issues ruling in Des Moines Water Works case

Des Moines Water WorksThe Des Moines Water Works building in Des Monies, Iowa. Jake Slobe | February 6, 2017 https://iowaenvironmentalfocus.files.wordpress.com/2017/02/waterworkslawsuit_92sec.mp3

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses the Iowa State Supreme Court ruling that ruled against Des Moines Water Works.

Transcript: The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled against Des Moines Water Works in its attempt to pursue damage payments from northwest Iowa county drainage districts.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Supreme Court ruling was a blow to the Des Moines utility’s lawsuit claiming that underground drainage tiles in Sac, Calhoun and Buena Vista counties funnel high amounts of nitrate from farm fields into the Raccoon River.

Water Works hoped to reverse nearly a century of legal precedent that’s given the districts immunity from being sued for damages.

Water Works also wants to force drainage districts to seek permits under the federal Clean Water Act. It’s a move that would increase regulation for about 3,000 districts statewide. That portion of the lawsuit will still move forward toward a trial which will take place in June.

Farm groups celebrated the court’s decision to uphold the longstanding precedent. They said the lawsuit has been a distraction from their work to improve water quality.

Clean water advocates worried the decision would reduce pressure on lawmakers to create a substantial new funding source for water quality improvements and would decrease efforts to set goals for reducing nitrogen levels in Iowa rivers.

The lawsuit has added pressure to implement the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, a voluntary plan to cut nitrogen and phosphorus levels by 45 percent from rural and urban areas.

To learn more about the lawsuit, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

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

 


Congressman Chaffetz to kill House Bill 621 following public opposition

32674826325_926b611735_oThe Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2017 proposed selling off an area of public lands equal to the size of Connecticut across ten western states. (Bureau of Land Management/flickr) Jenna Ladd | February 3, 2017

House Republicans are expected to throw out a bill on Friday that would have sold off more than 3 million acres of federal public lands.

Environmental conservationists and hunters joined forces to oppose House Bill 621 after Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz announced it last week. The bill would have ordered the Department of Interior to immediately sell off 3.3 million acres of “disposable” land across ten western states, claiming that the land served “no purpose for taxpayers.”

Jason Amaro is a sportsman with the south-west chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. He said, “Last I checked, hunters and fishermen were taxpayers. That word ‘disposal’ is scary. It’s not ‘disposable’ for an outdoorsman.” Public lands in the Western U.S. provide habitat for elk, gray wolves, and grizzly bears, a vast playground for outdoor enthusiasts, and can be leased out for timber, oil, and gas extraction. The Wilderness Society values the national outdoor recreation economy at just over $646 billion.

Chaffetz said he feared the bill “sent the wrong message” on Thursday and pledged to rescind it on Friday. The Tea Party Republican commented below an Instagram photo of himself wearing hunting gear outdoors. He said, “I’m a proud gun owner, hunter and love our public lands. I hear you and HR 621 dies tomorrow.” Chaffetz’s comment came after many opponents of the bill overwhelmed his Instagram account with comments asking him to “#keepitpublic” and “say no to HR 621.”

Although President Trump is in favor of utilizing more public lands for oil and gas extraction, he has stated that he is opposed to selling off federally owned lands. In an interview with Field & Stream, he said, “I don’t think it’s something that should be sold.” The President is also opposed to giving states ownership of public lands. He added, “I don’t like the idea because I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do.”


Flint residents sue EPA for $722 million in damages

flint-water-crisis-lead-michiganTap water samples used by Virginia Tech University researchers during the Flint Water Study. (Science-based Medicine) Jenna Ladd | February 2, 2017

Residents of Flint, Michigan are suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for allegedly mishandling the city’s lead contamination issue.

The more than 1,700 citizen are seeking $722 million dollars in damages. The plaintiffs argue that the EPA “failed to follow several specific agency mandates and directives” and neglected to determine whether local and state officials were immediately taking steps to address the issue.

The 30-page lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Michigan on Monday. It reads, “This case involves a major failure on all levels of government to protect the health and safety of the public…Local, state and federal agencies and employees, working individually and at times in concert with each other, mismanaged this environmental catastrophe.”

According to the EPA’s own website, lead contamination of drinking water can cause behavior and learning problems, lower IQ and hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems and anemia among children. Lead from drinking water can also pass through the placenta resulting in reduced growth of the fetus and premature birth.

The city of Flint, population of 100,000, switched its water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River in 2014, causing lead to leach from the city’s old pipes. A year later, children from Flint were found to have high levels of lead in their blood samples. Researchers from Virginia Tech University concluded that 40 percent of the homes in the predominantly African American city had drinking water that exceeded federal safety limits in September of 2015.

On January 24, 2017, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality announced that the city’s drinking water tested below the federal limit. Ninety percent of the samples taken contained lead levels of 12 parts per billion or less, well below the federal limit of 15 parts per billion. Still, public health officials recommend that residents continue to use filtered water for cooking and drinking as the city continues to replace its pipes.

This class-action lawsuit follows Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s felony charges against four government officials involved in the public health crisis. In all, 13 current and former government officials have been held accountable for the contamination of Flint’s water.


Climate change could dramatically alter mountain habitats

1240x515wyoming-grand-tetonsWyoming’s Grand Tetons south of Yellowstone near Jackson Hole. (flickr) Jake Slobe | February 1, 2017

Mountain regions of the world are under direct threat from human-induced climate change which could radically alter their fragile habitats, warn an international team of researchers.

The international study, which spanned seven major mountain regions of the world, revealed that decreasing elevation – descending a mountainside to warmer levels –consistently increased the availability of nitrogen from the soil for plant growth, meaning that future climate warming could disrupt the way that fragile mountain ecosystems function.

The researchers also found that the balance of nitrogen to phosphorus availability in plant leaves was very similar across the seven regions at high elevations, but diverged greatly across regions at lower elevations. This means that as temperatures become warmer with climate change, the crucial balance between these nutrients that sustain plant growth could be radically altered in higher mountain areas.

They also found that increasing temperature and its consequences for plant nutrition were linked to other changes in the soil, including amounts of organic matter and the make-up of the soil microbial community.

These changes were partly independent of any effect of the alpine tree line, meaning that effects of warming on ecosystem properties will occur irrespective of whatever shifts occur in the migration of trees up-slope due to higher temperatures.

Rather than use short-term experiments, the research team used gradients of elevation in each mountain region spanning both above and below the alpine tree line.


CGRER co-director Gregory Carmichael to deliver UI Presidential Lecture

2016_11_29-greg-carmichael-tschoon-013CGRER co-director Gregory Carmichael will give the 34th annual UI Presidential Lecture titled, “What Goes Around, Comes Around: The Global Reach of Air Pollution.” (Tim Schoon, University of Iowa) Jenna Ladd | January 31, 2017

Co-director of the University of Iowa Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER), Gregory Carmichael, will give this year’s University of Iowa Presidential Lecture.

Carmichael became faculty at the University of Iowa in 1978 after earning a BS in chemical engineering at Iowa State University and a PhD from the University of Kentucky. Nearly four decades later, the Karl Kammermeyer Professor of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering remains devoted to studying the global impact of pollution on air quality.

In an interview with IowaNow, Carmichael recounts how he initially became interested in air quality issues. He said, “At the time I was doing my graduate studies, acid rain was emerging as a big problem. That was really the first air pollution problem that demonstrated to people that we could have an impact beyond our local environment.”

Carmichael has won several awards including the Regents Faculty Recognition Award in 1998, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Lawrence K. Cecil Award in 2012, NASA Group Achievement Awards in 2005 and 2009. Over time, Carmichael’s research became increasingly international. In the most recent fifteen years, his research team has has conducted air quality forecasting field experiments in Chile, California, the Arctic, and Beijing.

Much of his research considers how air pollution travels intercontinentally. He said, “We have done a lot of work on this topic over time, and this long-range transport of pollution is now being taken into consideration in the management of U.S. air quality and in international discussions. Wherever the emissions are occurring, they have an impact not only locally but globally as well.”

Carmichael became co-director of CGRER in 1991, and currently serves alongside Dr. Jerry Schnoor, University of Iowa professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

“What Goes Around, Comes Around: The Global Reach of Air Pollution”

UI Presidential Lecture by Dr. Gregory Carmichael 

Where: Levitt Center for University Advancement

When: Sunday, Feb. 19 at 3:30 pm


Indian factory captures and utilizes carbon dioxide

2134213496-carbon_1024An Indian chemical plant has figured out how to turn its carbon emissions into baking soda. (Ramkumar/Flickr) Jake Slobe | January 30, 2017 https://iowaenvironmentalfocus.files.wordpress.com/2017/01/carbonclean_77sec.mp3

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses a chemical plant in India that has discovered how to capture and utilize carbon dioxide emissions.

Transcript: An industrial plant in India has become the first in the world to capture and utilize carbon dioxide emissions to turn a profit.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The factory, located at an industrial port in southern India, captures carbon dioxide emissions from its own coal-powered boiler which are then used to make baking soda, and other chemical compounds found in detergents, sweeteners and glass. Two young Indian chemists developed a new way to strip carbon dioxide from emissions using a form of salt that binds with carbon dioxide molecules in the boiler’s chimney. According to the inventors, the new approach is less corrosive and much cheaper than conventional carbon capturing methods.

Carbon Capture and Utilization at the 3.1 million dollar plant is projected to keep 60,000 tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere each year. Carbonclean, the London-based group that invested in the project, predicts that capturing and utilizing carbon dioxide could offset five to ten percent of the world’s total emissions from burning coal.

For more information about this breakthrough system, visit iowaEnvironmentalfocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.


Nearly 140,000 gallons of oil spill from Iowa pipeline

4756076879_5740830004_oHeavy snowfall in northern Iowa early this week complicated diesel oil clean-up efforts in Worth County, Iowa. (echoroo/flickr) Jenna Ladd | January 27, 2017

Nearly 140,000 gallons of diesel fuel erupted from a broken pipeline onto an Iowa farm earlier this week.

The pipeline, located in north-central Worth County, was first discovered to have ruptured on Wednesday morning. Since then, clean up crews have managed to remove roughly 18 percent of the petroleum product despite high winds and heavy snowfall, according to a Thursday morning interview with Iowa Department of Natural Resources spokesperson Jeff Vansteenburg. Vansteenburg said that the diesel fuel and contaminated snow are being taken to a facility in Minneapolis, Minnesota while the remaining contaminated soil will be moved to a landfill near Clear Lake, Iowa.

Vansteenburg reported that the diesel fuel did not reach the nearby Willow Creek and wildlife reserve. The cause of the leak is still under investigation.

Magellan Midstream Partners, an Oklahoma-based company, owns the pipeline, which stretches through Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Last October, another pipeline operated by Magellen Midstream Partners ruptured and released anhydrous ammonia, resulting in the evacuation of 23 homes and the death of one person near Decatur, Nebraska. The company was also fined over $45,000 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2010 after roughly 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel leaked into a Milford, Iowa creek.

The Worth County spill is the largest diesel fuel spill since 2010 according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Since 2010, 807 spills have been reported to the administration causing an estimated $342 million in property damages and spewing 3 million gallons of refined oil products into the environment.

President Trump signed executive actions on Tuesday reviving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. Ed Fallon is the director of Bold Iowa, an organization fighting the Dakota Access and Keystone XL oil pipeline projects. Fallon said, “We’ve been saying all along it’s not a question of if a pipeline will leak, it’s a question of when and where and how bad it will be.”

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is charged with regulating pipelines in the U.S. Inside Energy reported last year that the agency is underfunded and understaffed. It read,

“According to PHMSA, the agency has 533 inspectors on its payroll. That works out to around one inspector for every 5,000 miles of pipe. A government audit in October [2016] found that that PHMSA is behind on implementing new rules. It has 41 mandates and recommendations related to pipeline safety that await rulemaking.”

A 2016 report by Inside Energy provides a map of all the oil pipeline spills reported since 2010.


New administration stifles publication of climate change science

9440758789_f41b7ae0b7_oThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Haydn Blackey/flickr) Jenna Ladd | January 26, 2017

Since his inauguration, President Donald Trump has worked to eliminate climate science from the public arena.

Hours after swearing in, the new administration removed climate-related information from the White House website. The only reference to climate change now visible on the site is a promise to throw out “harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan.”

The Trump administration also ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to remove its climate change webpage on Tuesday, according to reports from two anonymous EPA employees. The sources say the page could go down as early as Wednesday. The agency has also been banned from making press releases, writing blog posts and communicating via social media while the Trump administration make its transition into power.

In a recent interview with NPR, Doug Ericksen, the head of communication for the Trump administration’s EPA transition team, said that throughout the transition period, scientists will be subject to an internal vetting process before they can make their conclusions public.

Ericksen said, “We’ll take a look at what’s happening so that the voice coming from the EPA is one that’s going to reflect the new administration.”

He did not say whether the review process would become a permanent hurdle for EPA scientists. Ericksen said, “We’re on day two here…You’ve got to give us a few days to get our feet underneath us.”

Any internal vetting at the EPA directly contradicts its scientific integrity policy. The policy, established in 2012, “Prohibits all EPA employees, including scientists, managers, and other Agency leadership, from suppressing, altering, or otherwise impeding the timely release of scientific findings or conclusions.”

It is not unusual for new administrations to curb public outreach while its agencies adjust to the transition of power but government vetting of scientific work is uncommon.

Andrew Light, a senior fellow in the Global Climate Program at the nonpartisan World Resources Institute, said, “It’s certainly the case that every administration tries to control information, but I think that what we’re seeing here is much more sweeping than has ever been done before.” Light added, “And in particular, it’s noteworthy that it seems to be aimed at a cluster of science-driven agencies that primarily work on the environment and climate change.”


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