Category Archives: General News

Soil is the foundation of a healthy state

This post was written by Agricultural Policy Specialist Jennifer Terry

The Midwest is known for being one of the friendliest regions in the country, and for the most part, the reputation is well-deserved. It’s not uncommon for strangers to exchange pleasantries as they pass each other on the street, or to see someone lend a hand to a neighbor in need, and we should apply the same care and consideration to the resources we share, including our land and water.

Today is World Soil Day and the start of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization International Year of Soil. Both events celebrate soil and aim to raise awareness of the importance of healthy soils for food systems, agriculture and the environment.

If Iowans care about their communities (and I think we do), we should care about out watersheds, because a watershed is just that – a community. Urban or rural, everyone is a watershed neighbor, and protecting our soil is an important part of being a good watershed neighbor.

Healthy soil is quite literally the foundation of a healthy state, and in Iowa where a large percentage of our land is used for agriculture, healthy soil plays a huge role in improving our water quality. This in turn improves our health, environment and economy.

Healthy soil is capable of holding water longer, helping mitigate flooding in towns and farms downstream, and aiding communities in combating washed-out roads, bridges and a myriad of other flood-related problems.

Additionally, because of its ability to hold water, healthy soil helps prevent water from washing away down the watershed, carrying with it excess nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. According to Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy – which aims to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in our lakes and rivers – 92% of nutrient runoff is from agricultural land. This runoff causes toxic algae blooms in our state’s lakes and rivers that can make our water unsafe for drinking, swimming and outdoor recreation.

To effectively protect our soils and prevent agricultural runoff, Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy must include clear local goals, timelines and water quality testing to measure progress, as well as sustained funding not subject to the Governor’s veto. All elements it is currently lacking.

A farmer once told me “My farm isn’t Las Vegas; I know what happens here doesn’t stay here.” He’s right, and when we neglect soil health we all lose.

So today, as we celebrate the many benefits soil provides to our state, let’s engage in bold discussions about how we can work together to create meaningful, measurable solutions that improve soil health and water quality.

Iowans advocate for Clean Power Plan

This post was written by Climate/Energy Policy Specialist Cindy Lane

Monday marked the closing date for public comments on what is arguably the single most important action the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken to address climate change to date: The Clean Power Plan.

The Iowa Environmental Council joined thousands of Iowans and millions of Americans who submitted comments in support of the proposal, and included recommendations to further strengthen the proposal to result in a higher reduction of carbon pollution from Iowa’s power plants.

Proposed in June, the EPA’s Clean Power Plan will combat climate change and its costly impacts on our health, environment and economy by requiring states to cut carbon pollution – a leading contributor to climate change – from their existing, fossil fuel-fired power plants.

Fossil fuel-fired power plants are our nation’s leading source of carbon pollution, but despite this fact, there are currently no federal standards limiting the amount of carbon pollution that power plants can emit.

The EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan will establish these necessary limits, and result in a 30% reduction in U.S. carbon pollution by 2030 (from 2005 levels).

Since 2012, EPA has received over 64,000 comments from Iowans and 8 million comments total in favor of the proposal, and widespread support for the plan is understandable. As currently proposed, the Clean Power Plan will result in estimated benefits of up to $95 billion per year by 2030, dramatically outweighing the plan’s projected costs ($7.3-8.8 billion per year in 2030).

The plan will also help to prevent the countless health threats posed by climate change (outlined in the Iowa Climate Statement 2014 and endorsed by 180 scientists, faculty and researchers from 38 Iowa colleges and universities) and help alleviate economic burdens from weather-related disasters. According to Iowa State University’s Climate Science Program, Iowan’s faced over $5.6 billion in economic losses from tornadoes, floods and damage to crops from 2008-2012 alone. The plan presents other economic opportunities for the state as well.

States can help meet their Clean Power Plan standards by adding more clean energy to their energy portfolios, such as wind.

Iowa already has a strong wind industry that stands ready to meet the potential increase in demand for renewables as a result of the proposed plan: According to AWEA, 15 facilities across Iowa manufacture wind turbine parts and the state’s wind industry employed 3,000-4,000 in 2013.

As we move into the New Year, the Council will continue its efforts to support the proposed Clean Power Plan by 1) urging EPA to finalize the rules by June 2015, 2) encouraging Iowa to begin preparing a strong state implementation plan that will detail how we will comply with the Clean Power Plan, and 3) promoting the growth of clean, renewable energy and expansion of energy efficiency measures.

Job opportunities with Conservation Corps Iowa

Conservation Corps Iowa, a cooperator of Iowa Environmental Council, is now hiring AmeriCorps Field Members & Leaders in Ames and Council Bluffs, and a Water Trails Specialist based out of Des Moines.

Field Crew Leader/Mentor

Crew Members and Crew Leaders receive training and complete habitat restoration projects such as tree planting, exotic species management and herbicide application, timber stand improvement, stream bank stabilization and erosion control, basic carpentry, prescribed burning, trail construction and maintenance, wildlife habitat improvement, wildland fire fighting and emergency response. Habitat restoration projects are performed outdoors in partnership with public land management organizations such as state and federal agencies, cities, counties, and trail associations.

The Crew Leader is responsible for daily crew operations, leading a crew of 4 or 5 members to perform natural resource management projects safely, effectively, and efficiently. The Crew Leader assists with Crew Member training and development, provides on-site education, assists with equipment maintenance, and helps members improve technical skills. In addition, the Crew Leader serves as a liaison between project hosts and the crew, communicating with hosts to determine project priorities and equipment needs.

Water Trails Specialist

The Water Trails Specialist is stationed at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and will assist DNR River Programs staff in site reviews, project design, equipment and materials procurement, maintenance, repair, budget estimation, permitting, engineering submittals and other facets of project planning. The member will assist with field data collection using mobile units and process, edit, or analyze data using GIS and other software tools in the office; and design signage plans and native planting plans for river restoration and water trail projects using DNR guidelines.

During the construction field season, this position will serve as a liaison between Conservation Corps field crews and the DNR Construction Technician, providing Corpsmembers with training, leadership, and project management. The Water Trails Specialist must be able to safely operate power and hand tools, small equipment and trucks pulling trailers and must effectively read and implement landscape drawings and designs. Previous knowledge or experience of landscaping, design, or restoration projects is beneficial

To read the full position descriptions and apply, visit: http://conservationcorps.catsone.com/careers/index.php

Questions? Please connect with the individual listed as the contact for the position you are applying for. The Council cannot answer questions about individual positions.

Have an opening at your organization? Send information to iecmail [at] iaenvironment [dot] com

Act on Climate Change

act on climate
To meaningfully address climate change and its costly impacts on our health, environment and economy, we must confront the leading contributor to climate change: carbon pollution.

Fossil fuel power plants are currently the largest concentrated source of carbon pollution. However, despite accounting for nearly 40% of our nation’s carbon pollution, existing power plants have no federal limits on the amount they emit. The EPA’s recently proposed Clean Power Plan aims to change that.

Arguably the single most important action the EPA has taken to address climate change to date, the proposed Clean Power Plan will require states to cut carbon pollution from their existing power plants and result in an overall national reduction of 30% by 2030 (from 2005 levels). Individual state goals vary depending on local factors.

In addition to the environmental impacts, climate change poses a significant health threat to Iowa. In the recently released Iowa Climate Statement 2014, scientists from 38 Iowa colleges and universities recognized that climate change can contribute to a wide range of health factors including respiratory and cardiovascular problems, increased incidence of vectors (mosquitoes, ticks, etc.) and vector-borne diseases, increased mental health issues and exposure to toxic chemicals, and decreased water quality.

Powerful opponents of the proposal with an interest in maintaining our dependence on coal are determined to undermine it. Your voice is critical. Public comments on the proposal are being accepted through Dec. 1. Take action today and urge the EPA to finalize the strongest possible standards that reduce carbon pollution from power plants.

Iowa Environmental Council to Partake in National Discussion about the Future of Food

This blog post was written by Water Program Director Susan Heathcote.

Tomorrow, a diverse group of producers, environmentalists, businesses and academics concerned with the issues and opportunities currently facing U.S. agriculture – including the Iowa Environmental Council – will gather in Washington D.C. to discuss the future of farms and food.

The public forum, “A Better Path from Farm to Fork: Policy Solutions for the Future of Food,” is co-hosted by National Geographic and AGree, an initiative that seeks to drive positive change in the food and agriculture system by connecting and challenging leaders from diverse communities to catalyze action and elevate food and agriculture as a national priority.

Last Monday, Nov. 10, AGree released three new consensus recommendations on Working Landscapes, Food and Nutrition and International Development. These recommendations are intended to serve as roadmaps for action.

The public forum, which will discuss policy solutions, food and agriculture partnerships and AGree’s recommendations, will be held at National Geographic’s D.C. headquarters from 3:30 – 5 p.m. Central Time. AGree will be live streaming the event at http://www.foodandagpolicy.org/livestream.

A partners Forum that will include leaders from more than 100 organizations, will also be held on Wednesday, November 19.

I have been serving on the Advisory Committee for the AGree Initiative on Agriculture and Food Policy for the past three years. In my work with AGree, I have been most actively engaged in the AGree workgroup on Working Landscapes. This workgroup was tasked with providing policy recommendations on how the US can improve agricultural production to feed a growing world population while also improving environmental outcomes.

In Iowa, over 90% of our land area is dedicated to agricultural production. Agriculture has a big foot print on the Iowa landscape, so we have a big stake in the management of agricultural land to produce not just food, fiber and fuel, but also clean water, air and diverse habitat for plants, animals and people.

The AGree Initiative is an opportunity to work with a diverse coalition to find common ground on controversial issues and develop shared strategies for achieving transformative change. Our goal is to help advance a future that supports productive and profitable farms where soil, water and biodiversity are conserved and enhanced; and environmental quality is improved.

AGree differs from other initiatives seeking to address similar issues in two ways – it’s approach and long-term commitment.

AGree used an integrated approach to identify opportunities that will result in mutually beneficial outcomes for its various stakeholders, thus promoting cooperation and better positioning itself for long-term shared success.

Additionally, nine foundations made a long-term commitment to not only working together to create and make recommendations, but to then take the lead to implement and invest their own resources in these recommendations with the overarching goal of creating transformative change.

To learn more about AGree and Working Landscapes, visit their website.