Iowa Rideshare program to cut costs and emissions

Iowa Rideshare allows users to match with other commuters using various modes of transportation. (Iowa Rideshare)
Jenna Ladd | October 27, 2016

Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) recently launched a statewide rideshare program.

Iowa DOT partnered with several agencies to consolidate existing rideshare programs across the state into one state-of-the art system. Among those agencies are Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority, Metropolitan Area Planning Agency, East Central Iowa Council of Governments, and the University of Iowa. University of Iowa (UI) staff, students, and faculty can login to the system using their HawkID and password in order to be matched with other commuters on similar transportation routes. Iowa Rideshare has the capacity to detect matches for carpooling, biking, public transit, and walking, and officials say it has the potential to cut travel costs in half for users.

According to a survey done in 2012, a little more than half of UI employees drive to work alone, and 57 percent of commuters in the Iowa City area do the same. UI Parking and Transportation professionals say that Iowa City is among the most congested urban areas in Iowa, despite the fact that the state ranks seventh for shortest commute distance. Additionally, solo commutes by car can add up over time. Depending on the vehicle type and driving style, the Iowa DOT says that driving a car can cost between 60 cents and $1.20 per mile. After tacking on parking costs, which range from $27 to $110 per month, a person commuting just ten miles to work could pay an additional $555 to $1,500 per year in transportation costs. Consistently commuting alone by car has environmental impacts as well. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, about 19.64 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) are emitted per gallon of gasoline burned by automobile. The administration estimates that burning motor gasoline resulted in about 1,105 million metric tons of CO2 emissions in 2015.

Michelle Ribble is the commuter programs manager for the UI Office of Parking and Transportation. She said, “The UI is an extremely busy place and parking infrastructure is expensive. Each person using UI RideShare reduces pollution and frees resources that can more directly benefit everyone.”

The system, designed by a company called Rideshark, allows users to calculate miles traveled, emissions curbed, and money saved. Iowa DOT partnered with institutions like the UI to launch the rideshare program in each of Iowa’s 99 counties. A link to sign up for Iowa Rideshare in the Corridor area can be found here, or check out CorridorRide’s Facebook page to get news and updates about the service.

Human activity, El Niño contribute to record-setting CO2 levels

Former CGRER graduate outreach assistant, Nick Fetty, interviews Dubuque mayor Roy Buol at the COP21 conference in Paris last December. (KC McGinnis/CGRER)
Jenna Ladd | October 25, 2016

With carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reaching 400 parts per million (ppm), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) recently announced that a new era of “climate change reality” has begun.

Earth’s atmosphere contained 400 molecules of CO2 for every one million molecules for the first time in globally recorded history in 2015, and 2016 is likely to be the first year where global averages exceed this threshold.

Even though human outputs of CO2 remained steady from 2014 through 2015, a particularly strong El Niño in 2015 caused a dramatic increase in greenhouse gas levels. El Niño is a weather phenomenon characterized by especially warm temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific Ocean that have far-reaching weather effects. In 2015, the phenomenon caused drought in tropical regions around the globe, which negatively affected the amount of gases that forests, vegetation, and oceans were able to absorb.

While El Niño heightened the spike of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere last year, human activities like agriculture and industry caused 37 percent of the warming effect due to methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide increase from 1990 through 2015. Petteri Taalas, WMO secretary-general, said, “The El Niño event has disappeared. Climate change has not.” Scientists at the longest-running greenhouse gas monitoring station in the world in Hawaii say that CO2 levels will not drop below 400 ppm for several generations. Carbon dioxide is responsible for around two-thirds of the warming effect that long-lived greenhouse gases have on the atmosphere.

WMO released this report just before the next round of climate talks associated with the Paris Agreement, a climate change mitigation plan signed by 200 nations last December. Participating countries committed to limiting temperature increases to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Taalas said, “The year 2015 ushered in a new era of optimism and climate action with the Paris climate change agreement. But it will also make history as marking a new era of climate change reality with record high greenhouse gas concentrations.”

The 200 nations will meet in Morocco next month to forge a path forward.

UI researchers take part in “Lake Michigan Ozone Study”

2013-2015 graph of ozone in the Midwest showing high ozone levels along the coast of Lake Michigan. Ozone levels above 70ppb violate the new ozone standard established by the EPA. (Rob Kaleel / SSEC)
Jake Slobe | October 17, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses the Lake Michigan Ozone Study.

Transcript: Researchers at the University of Iowa are taking part in a collaborative field campaign to better understand the sources and transport of ozone near Lake Michigan.

This is the Environmental Focus.

The Lake Michigan Ozone Study is a joint effort of scientists at the University of Iowa, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and other research institutions to gain useful information about the concentration of ozone along all sides of the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Commissioned by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Lake Michigan Air Directors Consortium, the study’s objectives include an evaluation of current regional ozone models and the effect of Lake Michigan’s breeze circulation on ozone transport.

Communities with little industrial activity on all sides of Lake Michigan have consistently experienced ozone levels higher than the EPA’s limit of 70 parts per billion.

Project organizers are still seeking additional  funding in order to install high tech, real-time monitors at various ground measurement sites in the region.

For  more information about the Lake Michigan Ozone Study, visit

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

Plan to curb air-pollution in India released last week

Haze and particulate matter are visible in this photo taken west of New Delhi. (Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | October 11, 2016

Ten solutions for breathable air in India were presented at the The Energy and Resource Institute’s World Sustainable Development Summit last week in New Delhi.

The National Clean Air Mission follows a recently released World Bank report which announced that air pollution led to 1.4 million deaths in 2013. The report, which was presented by The Energy and Resource Institute (TERI) along with University of California-San Diego, is a part of a larger governmental initiative called Swachh Bharat Abhiyan or Clean India Mission. Seventeen authors from institutions around the world including the University of Iowa, IIT-Kanpur, Stockholm University, University of Maryland, Max Plank Institute, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the California Air Resource Board contributed to the report.

The report said, “This Clean Air Mission should…mandate…government policies for air pollution mitigation across several ministries dealing with transport, power, construction, agriculture, rural development and environment as well as across city and state jurisdiction.” The document also emphasized the need to address the burning of agricultural residue as a major source of air-pollution. It said, “This strategy aims at reducing open burning of agricultural residue and instead of using them as a source of energy.”

Beyond agriculture, the report noted that transportation is a main contributor to air-pollution in the country. Sumit Sharma from TERI said, “Shifting freight transport from road to lower-emission modes like rail and inland waterways and coastal shipping is required.” It also suggested that India scale up its emission trading schemes (ETS), which are government-mandated, market-based systems of controlling pollution. The report read, “The government is already working with ETS in three industrial clusters in Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, which needs to be scaled up.”

The report’s authors also suggested the development cleaner fuel options while focusing on larger particulate matter and ozone in the air.

Media receptive to 2016 Iowa Climate Statement

This year’s climate statement emphasized the many benefits of climate-smart agriculture. (Carl Wycoff/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | October 7, 2016

The 2016 Iowa Climate Statement was released on Wednesday with the endorsement of 187 scientists from institutions across the state and local media took notice.

A conference call was held on the morning of October 5th to announce the document’s release and to take questions from interested parties. Iowa Climate Statement 2016: The Multiple Benefits of Climate-Smart Agriculture explains why sustainable farming practices such as reduced tillage, buffer zones, and cover crops are necessary and how they can benefit farmers.

Agriculture makes up about 27 percent of Iowa’s greenhouse gas emissions. The wider implementation of practices like those outlined in the document would not only reduce emissions but store additional carbon in healthier soils, scientists say. The statement asks policymakers to further incentivize farmers to participate in conservation practices. Kamyar Enshayan, director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Education at the University of Northern Iowa, said, “You can’t just say, ‘Do it when you want to or whenever you can.’ Policymakers need to provide incentives for beneficial action.”

The release marks the sixth annual Iowa Climate Statement, a complete record of previous climate statements can be found here.

Additional press coverage of the 2016 Iowa Climate Statement is available below:

Iowa ranks among top 20 states for air pollution

Three of the national top 100 toxic chemical producing companies are located in Iowa. (Cliff/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | September 30, 2016

A recent analysis by the Center for Public Integrity found that Iowa is ranked among the top 20 states in the union for both toxic chemicals and greenhouse gases in the air.

The center, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that performs analysis of government and ethics issues that affect the public, analyzed federal air quality data from 2010 to 2014, the most recent year for which complete data is public. The report showed that Iowa’s hazardous air emissions increased from 17.6 million pounds per year in 2010 to 18.7 million pounds per year in 2014. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), some common hazardous air pollutants include lead compounds, arsenic compounds, vinyl chloride, and chloroform. Iowa ranks 17th nationally for toxic air emissions.

Analysis reveals that most toxic air emissions can be attributed to a handful of power plants, factories, and other facilities. Three of the top 100 contributors are located in the state of Iowa. Climax Molybdenum Co. of Fort Madison ranks among the top ten and released 4.4 million pounds of hazardous chemicals such as ammonia into the air in 2014. Eric Schaeffer, Director of the Environmental Integrity Project called ammonia a “serious pollutant.” Schaeffer said, “It can cause significant health effects when people are exposed to it,” he added, “But it also can lead to water pollution when it falls back to Earth and gets transformed into nitrogen.” Eric Kinneberg, a spokesperson for the Phoenix-based company that owns Climax Molybdenum, said that the plant is working to curb emissions. While not yet fully operational, the company is installing an ammonia scrubber that is predicted to cut ammonia emissions by 90 percent. Kinneberg said, “We share the same goals of achieving and maintaining clean air for all Iowans.”

While the Hawkeye state still ranks 19th nationally for greenhouse gas emissions, emissions dropped by 11 percent from 2010 to 2014. Experts say that much of Iowa’s greenhouse gas emission decrease can be explained by a surge in wind and solar energy investments. Power plants owned by MidAmerican Energy and Berkshire Hathaway are responsible for a large portion of greenhouse gases in the air, but both companies are making strides to limit emissions. Berkshire Hathaway said that it has invested in technology that has significantly reduced emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, particulate matter and mercury. Perhaps more notably, MidAmerican Energy has retired four coal fueled units and switched a fifth over to natural gas, which also curbs emissions. The company has also invested over $10 billion in wind energy since 2014. MidAmerican most recently announced a $3.6 billion wind energy project that will be constructed on multiple sites around the state.

National Drive Electric Week events planned for three Iowa locations

Under the hood
The engine compartment of an all-electric Toyota Rav 4. (Jeff Youngstrom/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | September 13, 2016

National Drive Electric Week is hosting its fifth annual celebration and outreach effort this week at locations across the United States.

The week-long celebration is presented by Plug In America, the Sierra Club, and the Electric Auto Association. National Drive Electric Week is hosting 232 events during the week of September 10th through the 18th. At each event, electric vehicles provided by local owners and car dealerships will be available for public observation, test-drives, and rides.

The popularity of electric vehicles in Iowa is on the rise. According to the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, approximately 1,000 electric vehicles are already in use in the state, and that number has the potential to reach 100,000 by 2040. David Darrow of Grimes, Iowa will display his Tesla Model S P85D at the Drive Electric DSM Car Show. He said, “For daily driving, it’s just unbeatable. It just makes other cars feel kind of clumsy and rough. When you take out the delay of sucking air and fuel, and you take out the delay of a shifting transmission, it’s amazing the difference driving an electric car.”

Electric vehicles help to reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil and produce zero tailpipe emissions, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. While electric vehicles can have a much larger price tag initially, the cost can be offset by fuel cost savings, a federal tax credit, and state incentive programs. Also, as production volume goes up, prices are likely to go down.

National Drive Electric Week will host three events in Iowa this week:

Drive Electric DSM Car Show
When: Wednesday, Sept. 14 from 11:30 a.m-1:30 p.m.
Where: Western Gateway area of downtown Des Moines,
between Locust St. and Grand Ave.

Drive Electric Week Event West Des Moines
When: Thursday, Sept. 15 from 4:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m.
Where: Valley Junction Farmer’s Market
304 5th Street, West Des Moines, Iowa 50265

Drive Electric Week Event Cedar Rapids
When: Saturday, Sept. 17 from 8:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
Where: NewBo City Market
1100 3rd Street SE
Cedar Rapids, IA 52401