Tag Archives: climate change

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.

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Iowa Climate Prize offers $5k cash prize for top climate video

Iowa Climate Prize logo

A committee of Ames-area residents has announced a $5,000 cash prize for the top video submission in a contest focused on raising awareness of global climate change.  Anyone can enter, but act fast, as the submission deadline is approaching quickly.

The Iowa Climate Prize contest aims to raise awareness of the impact of humans on climate change and create a sense of urgency to act to control global warming. The Iowa Climate Prize Committee (ICPC) solicits the development of short, compelling videos on climate change that encourage immediate action to reduce greenhouse gases. The videos will be posted on YouTube and the video receiving the most views during the contest will be awarded $5000.

The deadline to submit your video is January 15, 2014, and contest rules and submission guidelines are available on the Iowa Climate Prize website, iowaclimateprize.org.

The Iowa Climate Prize is managed independently of the Iowa Environmental Council by a committee of Ames-area residents.  The Council serves as fiscal agent for the prize.

With heavy spring rain, Iowa’s need for conservation preparedness becomes evident

Extreme levels of runoff stream from a farm field following a heavy rain May 29. (Iowa Environmental Council photo; click to view larger)

Extreme levels of runoff stream from a farm field following a heavy rain May 29. (Iowa Environmental Council photo; click to view larger)

This has been yet another extraordinary spring for Iowa.  After a record drought in 2012, spring 2013 is the wettest ever in 141 years of state records.  According to National Weather Service estimates over the last sixty days, some portions of eastern Iowa have received between 200 and 300% of normal rainfall.  As a result, river levels around the state are on the rise, especially in eastern Iowa, where fears of a repeat of the record 2008 floods continue to loom.

Estimated rainfall received in the 60 days ending June 2 show parts of Iowa have received greater than twice normal precipitation.  This heavy rainfall has placed Iowa's natural resources under considerable stress. (Source:  National Weather Service)

Estimated rainfall received in the 60 days ending June 2 show parts of Iowa (shown in dark blue) have received greater than twice normal precipitation. This heavy rainfall has placed Iowa’s natural resources under considerable stress. (Source: National Weather Service)

According to the DNR, heavy rains caused numerous municipal waste treatment systems to release raw sewage into waterways, and “a number” of open feedlots have also overflowed.  In a release, the agency urged Iowans to avoid contact with floodwaters:

“People are urged to avoid ingesting or directly contacting flood waters, especially if they have cuts or abrasions that may be susceptible to infections from contact with bacteria. People with weakened immune systems should also avoid contact with flood water due to the potential contact with bacteria. Swimmers and anglers should thoroughly wash after coming in contact with water during flooding conditions.”

Heavy rainfall has placed Iowa’s natural resources under considerable strain.  Removal of needed soil conservation efforts, like buffer strips, as well as the conversion of pasture and grassland to cropland, has accelerated the impact of recent rains.  As was the case during last year’s drought, when Iowans encountered prolific algae blooms across the state, extreme weather conditions made Iowa’s lack of conservation preparedness especially clear.

Climate change appears likely to increase the number of major rain events occurring in our state over time.  It is not possible for Iowans to control the amount of rainfall we receive; therefore, it is essential  to use good conservation practices and other measures to limit the harmful effects of heavy rain. Many of these practices also maintain clean water for drinking, recreation and swimming in times of fair weather.

WASHING AWAY PRECIOUS TOPSOIL

With delayed planting on the state’s roughly 23 million acres of land used for row crops, a significant portion of the state’s land was at its most vulnerable to erosion last month.  We have received numerous reports of extreme runoff from agricultural fields similar to what our own Nathaniel Baer witnessed traveling northeast of Des Moines on May 29:

In the last two months, parts of east central and northwest Iowa have suffered soil erosion at rates several times greater than so-called “tolerable” soil losses of 5 tons per acre in a whole year.  As the map below from the Iowa Daily Erosion Project shows, some townships in Iowa suffered as much as 24 tons of erosion in the last two months alone–nearly 5 times the rate considered “tolerable” in a year.

(Source:  Iowa Daily Erosion Project, Iowa State University)

In the last 60 days, portions of Iowa have suffered erosion at levels multiple times greater than what is considered “tolerable” for an entire year.  (Source: Iowa Daily Erosion Project, Iowa State University)

These erosion impacts are not inevitable, even during heavy rains.  According to the National Resource Conservation Service, many practices exist that can improve the ability of Iowa farmland to withstand major storms.  For example, after 6-8 inches of rain fell on southeast Iowa April 17, Shawn Dettmann, an NRCS conservationist in Fairfield, made this observation:

“In fields where soil was disturbed through tillage, there are some rough areas with a lot of soil erosion,” said Dettmann. “In fields with high amounts of crop residue and little to no tillage, there was significantly less erosion, and in fields with these practices plus cover crops, there was little to no erosion.”

Extreme nitrate losses

Nitrogen and phosphorous pollution is always a serious problem in Iowa, even without heavy rains.  According to the EPA’s 2008-2009 National Rivers and Streams Assessment, in the region including most of Iowa and Illinois, 72% of rivers and streams are rated “fair” or “poor” for total nitrogen.

This year, however, nitrogen pollution has been of particular concern.  Earlier in May, levels in the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers reached record levels, prompting the Des Moines Water Works to temporarily stop using water from the rivers to serve its customers for fear of violating the federal safe drinking water standard.  Water Works data shows nitrogen and phosphorous levels in the Des Moines and Raccoon have been creeping upward for 30 years.  The City of Cedar Rapids also expressed concern over drinking water when it detected high nitrate levels in the Cedar River.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources estimated the commercial value of nitrates lost from these watersheds at nearly $93 million--and climbing--since April 1. (Source:  Iowa DNR)

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources estimated the commercial value of nitrates lost from these watersheds at nearly $93 million–and climbing–since April 1. (Source: Iowa DNR)

These losses also represent a major financial loss for Iowa’s farmers who apply nitrogen as a fertilizer.  A recent analysis of initial real-time nitrogen monitoring data between April 1 and June 2 shows the commercial value of nitrate flowing past 9 monitoring sites has been nearly $93 million–so far.  According to the Department of Natural Resources, 186 million pounds of nitrate from nitrogen fertilizer, manure, and other sources has been lost downstream during the last two months alone.  The amount of nitrate being lost continues to climb.

Recently, state agencies released a final version of Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy which relies on extensive research by Iowa State University to suggest ways in which Iowa could significantly reduce nitrogen and phosphorous pollution, including from agricultural ground.

Unfortunately, the plan to implement that research relies on the same all-voluntary approach to conservation that has not prepared Iowa for the soil erosion and runoff challenges we face today.  As a result, drinking water, the health of aquatic life, and Iowa’s agricultural soils remain at risk.

A CALL TO ACT

In order to resolve these problems, Iowa must successfully utilize additional conservation practices all across the landscape to hold heavy rains where they fall, prevent soil erosion, and keep polluted runoff from reaching rivers and lakes.

The Council’s executive director, Ralph Rosenberg, described Iowa’s challenge in a recent op-ed in the Cedar Rapids Gazette:

“It is time for us to embrace policies that move people and structures out of harm’s way, allowing wetlands and floodplains to slow and absorb excess water during spring floods. Wetland preservation and restoration, cover crops, grass waterways, buffer strips and other soil-conservation practices help the land act like a sponge, recharge groundwaters, and slow soil and nutrient loss from farmlands and urban areas.”

The Iowa Environmental Council supports the conservation action necessary to meet this challenge, and many of our member and cooperator organizations work actively in the area as well.  However, recent evidence suggests Iowa has a long way to go before we can endure heavy rains without major human and environmental consequences.  We need your support to help Iowa build healthier natural systems and be better prepared for the storms (or droughts) that lie ahead.

Iowa scientists: 2012 drought consistent with climate change

Previously, the Iowa Environmental Council reported on a letter signed by a substantial number of Iowa scientists stating that climate change is real.  Now, an even larger number of scientists–138 in total, representing 27 Iowa colleges and universities–signed released a statement arguing this year’s drought conditions are consistent with climate change.  The Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research at the University of Iowa held a press conference announcing the new statement, the text of which is below:

Text of the statement:

As science faculty and research staff at Iowa universities and colleges, we have confidence in recent findings that climate change is real and having an impact on the economy and natural resources of Iowa. We feel that it is important for citizens of Iowa to understand its implications. Iowans are living with climate change now and it is costing us money already. The drought that we are  currently experiencing is consistent with an observed warmer climate, although science cannot say with certainty that the drought of 2012 was caused directly by human activities. The following observations support the case that more droughts and floods are likely in the future.

1. Globally over the past 30 years, there is clear statistical evidence that extreme high temperatures are occurring disproportionately more than extreme low temperatures. The climate likely will continue to warm due to increasing global emissions and accumulation of greenhouse gases.

2. In a warmer climate, wet years get wetter and dry years get dryer. And dry years get hotter ‐ that is precisely what happened in Iowa this year. We can expect Iowa to experience higher temperatures when dry weather patterns predominate. The latest science, based on overwhelming lines of physical
evidence, indicates we can expect dry periods to be more frequent as soon as the 2020s.

3. Iowa also has experienced an increasing frequency of intense rains over the past 50 years (Iowa Climate Change Impacts 2010, http://www.dnr.gov), likely due to a higher surface evaporation in a warmer world. Because of these extremes in precipitation (drought and flood), Iowans will increasingly need infrastructure investments to adapt to climate fluctuations while developing and implementing
mitigation.

As global citizens, Iowans should be a part of the solution. We can prosper, create jobs, and provide an engine for economic growth in the process (Iowa Climate Change Advisory Committee 2008 report, http://www.iaclimatechange.us). Iowa should lead innovation in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improve
resilience in agriculture and communities, and move towards greater energy efficiency and increased use of renewable energy.

For more information:

See the names of scientists signing the document (.pdf), read more about the statement, or visit the website of the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research at the University of Iowa.