New Trump executive orders will take aim at protected public lands, offshore drilling bans


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National park sites without active wells, but where drilling could take place in the future. (National Parks Conservation Association)
Jake Slobe | April 26, 2017

After moving last month against Barack Obama’s efforts to limit fossil fuel exploration and combat climate change, President Trump will complete his effort to overturn environmental policy this week by signing two executive orders to expand offshore drilling and roll back conservation of public lands.

Today, Trump will sign an executive order directing his interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, to review national monuments designated by previous presidents under the Antiquities Act of 1906, aiming to roll back the borders of protected lands and open them to drilling, mining, and logging.

President Trump is then expected to follow up on Friday with another executive order that will aim to open up protected waters in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans to offshore drilling. If signed, the order would eliminate the Obama administration’s plan that would have put those waters off limits to drilling through 2022. Friday’s order is also expected to call for the lifting of a permanent ban on drilling in an area including many of those same waters — a measure Obama issued in December 2016 in a last-ditch effort to protect his environmental legacy.

These moves, according to the Trump administration, will begin to fulfill a central campaign promise to unleash a wave of new oil and gas drilling and create thousands of jobs in energy.

The reality is much more complicated say experts in the law, policy, and economics of energy. Legal experts say it will still be a heavy lift for the Trump administration to change the current laws. The orders are unlikely to lead to job creation in the near future or significant new energy development.

Iowa general assembly adjourns, still no water quality funding


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Iowa legislators have failed to approve long-term funding for water quality projects that were approved by voters in 2010. (Michael Leland/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | April 25, 2017

The Iowa Natural Resources and Outdoors Trust Fund remains empty after legislators adjourned the 86th General Assembly on Saturday without passing policy to fund water quality improvement in the state.

Long-term funding for water quality was not included in next year’s $7.2 billion state budget, even though the vast majority of Iowa voters supported establishing the fund more than seven years ago. The House and Senate each devised their own plans for funding, but neither plan garnered support from both houses.

Legislators in the Senate proposed an amendment that would have increased Iowa’s sales tax by three-eighths of one cent. The plan would have generated around $180 million dollars per year for the Iowa Natural Resources and Outdoors Trust Fund, 60 percent of which would have gone to water quality improvement projects. The proposal was championed by Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy, a coalition of environmentalists, political leaders and Iowa businesses dedicated to promoting water and land conservation measures. Although the sales tax increase had support on both sides of the aisle, it lost in the Senate vote 34 to 16.

The Iowa House of Representatives proposed a plan that would have redirected money from a sales tax Iowans already pay on tap water to water quality improvement projects. The 6 percent tax currently funds infrastructure projects for community school districts and other municipal projects. The plan was approved by the House, even though some Democrats criticized the it for cutting funds from other state programs.

Kirk Leeds is CEO of the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA). In an interview with CBC, he said, “This year’s legislative session was a missed opportunity to act boldly on improving Iowa’s water.” Leeds continued, “ISA will seek continued partnerships with farmers and cities to make real progress on conservation to the benefit of all Iowans.”

On The Radio – Huge crowds attend March for Science rallies in Iowa and worldwide


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Hundreds of scientists and supporters gathered at the Pentacrest for the March for Science in Iowa City on Saturday. The march was one of more than 500 others in communities around the nation.
Jake Slobe | April 24, 2017

This On The Radio segment discusses the March for Science rallies that took place worldwide on Saturday, April 22.

Transcript: On April 22, scientists and science advocates flooded the streets of over 500 cities around the globe to show their support for scientific research and evidence-based policy.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Following in the footsteps of the Women’s March on Washington, the March for Science was the biggest public demonstration against the Trump administration’s budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, National Institute of Health, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and more.

Since February, the momentum behind the March for Science grew quickly, with many organizations offering support. Over 100 science organizations including the American Association for the Advancement of Science supported the March for Science.

The initiative started as a scientists’ march on Washington, D.C., but has since spread to cities across the U.S. and the world.

Organizers of the march have recently announced they plan to transition from organizing marches to creating a global organization focused on science education, outreach, and advocacy.

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

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

Iowa leads midwest in clean energy momentum


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The recently released top ten list ranks states not only by current performance but also potential for clean energy development in the future. (Union of Concerned Scientists)
Jenna Ladd | April 21, 2017

The Union of Concerned Scientists recently published its list of top ten states demonstrating “clean energy momentum,” and Iowa led the Midwest.

States were ranked using twelve metrics that fit into three general categories: technical progress; direct, visible effects on our daily lives; and policies to build momentum for the future. Their publication pointed out that despite recent federal rollbacks of Obama-era climate policy, great strides have been made in renewable energy development. They note that wind farms nationwide produce enough electricity to power 20 million U.S. households. Additionally, they write, enough solar electric panels were added in 2016 to power another two million houses.

The usual suspects led the pack with California at the top of the list. The Golden State is among the top performing states in eight of the metrics and is in the number one position for electric vehicle adoption. Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Oregon, Maine, Washington, New York and Iowa complete the top ten list. Iowa is the first midwestern state to appear on the list, followed by Minnesota.

Wind energy has played a fundamental role in Iowa’ development as a clean energy leader. The Hawkeye state was the first to generate more than 30 percent of its energy from wind. Iowa has already seen $11.8 billion in wind project investment alongside the creation of 8,000 new jobs. Moving forward, Iowa is expected to generate 40 percent of its energy from wind by 2020.

“While the federal government can play important roles in making efficiency, renewable energy, and vehicle electrification a national priority, states can be a consistent, powerful, positive force as well,” the report read.

More information about the rankings and the full report can be found here.

March 2017 breaks temperature records, even without El Niño


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(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association)
Jenna Ladd | April 20, 2017

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, which is among the scientific organizations on the Trump Administration’s budget chopping block, has reported yet another global warming record.

March 2017 was the first time ever that a monthly average temperature was more than 1°C above average in the absence of an El Niño event. During El Niño episodes the ocean-atmosphere system in the Tropical Pacific moves in different ways that result in warmer than usual temperatures worldwide. Record warmth in the absence of El Niño suggests that human-induced climate change is to blame.

NOAA’s March 2017 report revealed that warmer and much-warmer-than-average temperatures were measured for much of Earth’s land and oceanic surfaces. The U.S. mainland, Europe, Russia, Mongolia, and Australia saw the hottest month, where departures from average temperatures were +3.0°C (+5.4°F) or more. Some regions such as western Canada and Alaska did experience a colder than usual year but no cool weather records were set.

According to a continental analysis by NOAA, four of the six continents experienced a top seven warm March since records began in 1910. Europe and Oceania had their second hottest March on record, despite the absence of an El Niño even this year.

 

The first three months of 2017, January through March, have already proven to be the second warmest on record. Only 2016 had higher average temperatures, but that was an El Niño year. Even more notably, the first three months of 2017 have been significantly warmer than January through March of 2015, which was also an El Niño year.

Zeke Hausfather is a climate scientist at University of California, Berkeley and commented on the report in an interview with the Associated Press. He said, “If El Niño were the main driver of record warmth, there is no way the last three months would have been as warm as they have been.”

Budget bill defunding ISU’s Leopold Center goes to Branstad


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Jake Slobe | April 19, 2017

The Iowa Legislature on Tuesday gave final approval to a budget bill that would zero out funding and dismantle Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable AgricultureSenate File 510 is now headed to Gov. Terry Branstad’s office.

The Legislature’s agriculture budget for 2018 directs $38.8 million to state programs through the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the Department of Natural Resources and the Board of Regents. That’s a reduction of about $4.3 million from the 2016 budget year.

Republican lawmakers said getting rid of the Leopold Center was part of difficult decisions necessitated by a tight budget and lagging revenue. They said other priorities took precedence.

Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, offered an amendment that would have kept the program open, but it was voted down by the House’s Republican majority.

Rep. Scott Ourth, D-Ackworth, also criticized a reduction in funding to the state’s Resource Enhancement And Protection program, which supports projects that enhance and protect the state’s natural and cultural resources. State money to that program will be reduced from $16 million this year to $12 million next year.

The budget bill represents a piece of the state’s broader $7.24 billion general fund budget. Lawmakers have begun finalizing multiple pieces of that budget, clearing the way for them to adjourn the session.

Republican leaders of the subcommittee said they had to cut the budget, and that K-12 education was the priority.

The move to defund  Leopold Center was one that caught many in the agricultural community off guard when proposed last week.

“This is a real blow to farmers,” said Aaron Heley Lehman, president of the Iowa Farmers Union and a member of the board of directors at the Leopold Center.

“A lot of people felt that the mission for sustainable agriculture that they (the Leopold Center) undertook, that they have completed that mission,” said Rep. Cecil Dolecheck, according to the Associated Press.

That couldn’t be further from the truth, said Ralph Rosenberg, executive director of the Iowa Environmental Council and a former legislator who helped write the law establishing the Leopold Center 30 years ago.

“I’m not sure people realize how valuable the Leopold Center is,” Rosenberg said.

 

Other advoactes of the center pointed out that the Leopold Center leverages significant federal research dollars and that it looks at items such as water quality.

The Des Moines Register had an opinion piece written by Jerry DeWitt, Iowa View contributor, about how most of the brunt from defunding the Leopold Center will fall on farmers.

“The continued support of the Leopold Center will better arm thousands of farmers as they struggle to protect water quality. Let’s make sure we fully understand the long-term ramifications of sending our farmers to the table with an empty hand. ”

 

U.S. energy flow chart reveals the good and the bad


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(Lawerence Livermore National Laboratory)
Jenna Ladd | April 18, 2017

Each year since 2010, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has released an energy flow chart that illustrates sources of U.S. energy, what it’s used for and how much of it goes to waste.

The 2016 energy flow chart quantifies energy use in British Thermal Unit “quads,” which is shorthand for quadrillion or one thousand trillion. A British Thermal Unit (BTU) is equal to the amount of energy required to raise one pound of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit. Americans used 97.3 quads of energy in 2016, which is about 0.1 quadrillion BTU more than last year.

The gray box on the upper right-hand corner of the graphic depicts just how much of that energy was wasted this year: 66.4 quadrillion BTU or 69 percent of all energy produced. It is important to remember that per the second law of thermodynamics, when raw materials are converted into energy, some energy is always lost to heat. In other words, no reaction is 100 percent efficient.

Since the 1970’s, wasted energy has surged in the United States due to a rapid increase in personal electricity consumption and private vehicular transportation, which are both extremely inefficient. Roughly 75 of the energy generated for private transportation and two-thirds of energy required for electricity goes to waste.

This year’s energy flow chart was not all bad news. Coal use fell by nine percent nationwide. That supply was replaced by rapid growth in wind, solar and natural gas energy production. Wind and solar energy did particularly well, with wind energy up 19 percent and solar energy up 38 percent.

Fossil fuel consumption for transportation rose by 2 percent this year, but residential, commercial and industrial energy use all decreased slightly. In all, the U.S. is slowly moving away from fuels that emit greenhouse gases. Total carbon dioxide emissions fell by 4.9 percent in 2016. It is uncertain, however, whether this trend will continue under the Trump administration.