Senate votes to preserve Obama-era methane gas regulation


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This methane gas collector near Tuscan, Arizona pipes methane from a landfill to Tuscan Electric Power where it is used to generate electricity. (Gene Spesard/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | May 12, 2017

The U.S. senate voted on Wednesday to uphold an Obama-era rule that limits the release of methane from oil and gas production on federal land.

The Republican-majority senate voted 51-49 to block the resolution. Three GOP senators, Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona voted with their democratic colleagues against the motion. Senate Republicans proposed  repealing the rule under the Congressional Review Act (CRA). So far in 2017, 14 regulations have been repealed under the CRA including a stream buffer rule aimed at keeping coal mining debris from entering waterways and another rule that gave the public some say about what happens to federal land.

President Obama updated the decades-old-rule that governs the venting and flaring of methane gas and regulates natural gas leaks. Upon the rule’s establishment, the Obama administration projected it could keep 41 billion cubic feet (BCF) of natural gas per year from going to waste. Methane, which is often released during the production of natural gas, is short-lived but 100 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Republican senator John McCain agreed with those hoping to keep the rule in place. He said, “Improving the control of methane emissions is an important public health and air quality issue, which is why some states are moving forward with their own regulations requiring greater investment in recapture technology.”

Opponents of the rule say that it discourages U.S. energy production and hurts state and county revenue streams. However, the Western Value Project estimates that the U.S treasury would have lost out on $800 million in royalties from oil and gas production over then next decade if the rule had been revoked.

Georgia wildfire inches closer to rural communities


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The Incident Information System regularly posts the latest developments in the West Mims Wildfire and other wildfires across the country. (InciWeb)
Jenna Ladd | May 9, 2017

The West Mims Wildfire near the Georgia-Florida state line has been burning for weeks and shows few signs of slowing down.

The wildfire was ignited on April 6th when a lightening strike touched down inside the swampy Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Since then, the fire has torched more than 133,000 acres and counting. Until this weekend, the wildfire did not pose a threat to humans in the area. After the fire crossed manmade fire breaks this weekend, an evacuation notice was sent out to residents of two small rural communities in Charlton county, St. George and Moniac.

By Monday, the fire had already burned about 37 square miles in Charlton county and 210 square miles total. Susan Heisey is supervisory ranger for the Okefenokee refuge. She said, “The accumulated moisture in the vegetation is at record-breaking lows right now. These fuels, they’re getting one little piece of ash and the fire’s just picking up and moving.”

A high pressure system in the southeast United States contributed to temperatures nearing 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the area on Monday, with humidity at just 20 percent. As temperatures remain high for the next few days and dry winds continue to blow across the West Mims fire, spokespeople for fire-fighting effort expect the fire to continue burning wherever fuel is available to it.

So far, there are 624 personnel working to keep the fire under control. A detailed incident report outlines predictions of the fire’s status over the next 72 hours. The report reads, “The drying trend will continue causing more fuels to become available to burn in the swamp. Fire activity will increase in areas that have not seen much heat over past few day. Re-burn potential remains very high.”

Climate change has lengthened the wildfire season in the U.S. by 78 days since the 1970’s. Rising temperatures and more frequent, intense droughts have contributed to more intense wildfires across the country.

Attorneys general, large businesses urge Trump administration to remain in Paris Climate Agreement


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The Eiffel Tower was illuminated in green during the Conference of the Parties 21 in an effort to raise money for reforestation efforts. (Yann Caradec/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | April 27, 2017

Fourteen attorneys general sent a letter to President Trump on Tuesday urging him not to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.

The United States agreed to the Paris accord along with 200 other nations during the Conference of the Parties 21 (COP21) in 2015. Each country that signed on agreed to take some action to improve environmental conditions, mostly by reducing fossil fuel emissions that cause climate change. For its part, the U.S. pledged to bring its emission levels 26 percent and 28 percent below 2005 levels before 2050.

Tuesday’s letter was signed by top ranking prosecutors in Iowa, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, the District of Columbia and American Samoa. It read, “The Paris Agreement, by securing commitments from countries the world over, reflects this collective interdependency and constitutes an unprecedented global effort to address a problem threatening the well-being of everyone on Earth.”

The White House also received a letter from several major businesses in support of staying in the Paris agreement. On Wednesday, Apple, DuPont, General Mills, Google Intel, Shell and Walmart, among others, wrote to the President,

“Climate change presents U.S. companies with both business risks and business opportunities. U.S. business interests are best served by a stable and practical framework facilitating an effective and balanced global response. We believe the Paris Agreement provides such a framework.”

Trump Administration officials will meet today to discuss whether the U.S. should leave the Paris Agreement or stay the course. President Trump pledged to “cancel” the agreement during his campaign, but some of his top officials like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are in support of the accord.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a press conference that a decision will be made by “late May-ish, if not sooner.”

 

On The Radio – CLE4R project continues to improve air quality and educate Iowans


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In an effort to educate Iowans about particulate air pollution, CLE4R has made Air Beam air quality monitors available for check out at the Dubuque Public Library, Dubuque Community School Districts and at the University of Iowa. (Taking Space)
Jake Slobe | April 10, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses CLE4R, a collaborative project to improve air quality in the city of Dubuque and nearby communities.

Transcript: Clean Air in the River Valley, also known as CLE4R, has continued working to improve air quality in the Upper Mississippi River Valley.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The IIHR—Hydroscience and Engineering project, founded in October of 2015, is a collaborative effort between the University of Iowa, the city of Dubuque, and surrounding communities. Air pollution featuring particulate matter that is smaller than 2.5 microns leads to unhealthy air during at least part of the year for much of the Upper Mississippi River Valley.

Over the last two years, CLE4R has educated more than 1,000 Iowans about air quality. Notably, the project has made hand-held particulate pollution monitors available for checkout from the City of Dubuque and the Dubuque Community School District.

Dr. Charles Stanier, University of Iowa associate professor of chemical and biochemical engineering, is director of the program.

“Air quality is important in Iowa, especially air quality associated with fine particles or have that can get into the deep lung. When particles get into the deep lung they effect cardiovascular health and when air is clean people have better outcomes for cardiovascular diseases like emphysema and COPD as well as lower absenteeism and lower disability.”

CLE4R project representatives will be present at both the Dubuque STEM festival and the Iowa City STEAM festival the weekend of April 22nd.

For more information about the CLE4R project, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

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

 

Wind energy continues generating economic growth in Iowa


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Jenna Ladd | April 4, 2017

The state of Iowa is projected to source 40 percent of its energy from wind by the year 2020 according to a recent report.

Navigant Consulting released an analysis last week predicting wind-related economic development in the state. According to the report, wind power is expected to provide 17,000 additional jobs and $9 billion in economic activity over the next three years. The Hawkeye state has already benefited from $11.8 billion in project investment and more than 8,000 wind-related job placements.

Kathy Law is a real estate lawyer for wind developers and comes from a long line of Iowa farmers. In an interview with Yale’s Climate Connections, she said, “I think for the most part it’s helpful just that I’m a farmer that can talk the language with the farmers.” Law pointed out that wind can provide a steady income flow for landowners. She added, “It’s a product just like our corn and soybeans. Why not harness it and benefit from it?”

Wind development in Iowa also generates tax dollars for the state. Over the next four years, wind-related projects are expected to yield $370 million in property, income and sales tax. This money, which flows into counties, helps to pay educators, pave roads and provide rural medical care.

Nationwide, wind energy provides 5.5 percent of all electricity used. In Iowa, wind provides 36 percent of electricity used. In terms of wind-energy employment, Iowa is second only to Texas and is expected to continue leading the way in renewable energy through 2020.

Tom Kiernan is CEO of the American Wind Energy Association. He said, “Wind does not provide just well-paying jobs either, many Iowans also know wind farms are the new ‘drought-resistant cash crop’ in Iowa, paying up to $20 million a year to Iowa farmers.”

China responds to Trump’s climate policy rollback


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China is among the world’s lead producers of both renewable energy and greenhouse gas emissions. (Jonathan Kos-Read/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | March 31, 2017

China has responded to Trump’s rollback of Obama-era climate change policy via state-run media publications.

A recent state-run tabloid read, “Western opinion should continue to pressure the Trump administration on climate change. Washington’s political selfishness must be discouraged.” It continued, “China will remain the world’s biggest developing country for a long time. How can it be expected to sacrifice its own development space for those developed western powerhouses?”

China consumes more energy from coal than the rest of the world’s nations combined and is also the global leader in greenhouse gas emissions; the U.S. is in second place. China’s population measures 3.4 billion people while the U.S. population is roughly 3.3 million. China also leads the world in the exportation of renewable energy.

The Trump administration discussed the possibility of withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement after the President referred to it as a “bad deal” for the U.S. Projections from the International Energy Agency reveal that if the U.S. backed out of the Paris Climate Agreement and all other countries stuck to emission reduction goals, 10 percent of emission decrease expected from the agreement would be lost.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said, “All signatories should stick to it instead of walking away from it, as this is a responsibility we must assume for future generations.”

Exxon Mobil, the largest oil company in the U.S., echoes Xi’s sentiment. “We welcomed the Paris Agreement when it was announced in December 2015, and again when it came into force in November 2016. We have reiterated our support on several occasions,” said Peter Trelenberg, the company’s environmental policy and planning manager, in a letter to the White House.

According to a report from the United Nations, Earth is expected to warm by about 3 degrees Celsius by the end of this century – even if all nations keep their end of the Paris Agreements.

Out of desperation, scientists consider manual climate engineering


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One geoengineering method is to release particulate matter into the air that reflects the sun’s rays and cools the Earth. (Flickr/Chris Harrison)
Jenna Ladd | March 30, 2017

In light of the Trump administration’s recent rollback of President Obama’s climate change policies, some scientists are exploring controversial ways to artificially cool Earth’s climate.

The process, known as geoengineering, can include manually sucking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or spraying particles up into the air that reflect the sun’s rays and cool the planet. The National Academy of Sciences called for more research on geoengineering back in 2015. Many reputable climate scientists are now searching for funding to conduct small, low-risk experiments to assess potential adverse effects of the intervention.

As Earth’s temperatures reach historic highs, some climate scientists view geoengineering as the best of many bad options, while others say artificially cooling the climate may discourage countries from reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

During the Obama administration, some researchers were hoping to receive government money for geoengineering research. Ted Parsons, an environmental law specialist at UCLA, said that the same researchers are weary of accepting money from Trump’s white house.

Parsons said, “To the extent you’re in a political setting where misinformation about climate change is being spread, efforts to cut emissions are being undermined or threatened, then that suggests the possibility that the risks of pursuing research of this kind might actually outweigh the benefits.”

Scientists gathered at the Forum on U.S. Solar Geoengineering Research last week in Washington D.C. Rose Cairns of the University of Sussex voiced her opposition to the practice. She said, “The very existence of significant research programs, whatever their impact on the physical environment, will fundamentally alter in unpredictable ways the social and political context in which climate governance of the future will be conducted.”

More plainly, Cairns said that she was concerned some countries may use geoengineering technology to set a “global temperature” that mets their needs and not the needs of other countries. She also questioned how the international community could ever decide on one “global temperature,” according to report from NPR.

Many of the researchers present expressed reluctance about the practice. Ted Halstead of the Climate Leadership Council said, “It’s with great reluctance that a lot of us are here.” But climate engineering must be discussed, he said, because “we live in a world where we’re heading towards 4 degrees of warming.”