Linn County joins growing coalition still committed to Paris Climate Accord


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The Linn County Board of Supervisors recently voted to stay committed to the Paris Climate Agreement. (cedar-rapids.org)
Jenna Ladd | July 18, 2017

The Linn County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Monday to remain committed to the Paris Climate Accord, despite President Trump’s withdrawal at the federal level.

Linn County joins a group of more than 1,200 mayors, governors, college and university leaders, businesses, and investors that make up the We Are Still In coalition. An open letter from the coalition, which makes up more than $6 trillion of the U.S. economy, reads:

“In the absence of leadership from Washington, states, cities, colleges and universities, businesses and investors, representing a sizeable percentage of the U.S. economy will pursue ambitious climate goals, working together to take forceful action and to ensure that the U.S. remains a global leader in reducing emissions.”

Iowa City, Johnson County, Des Moines and Fairfield are also members of the coalition.

Following the board’s decision, businesses, local organizations and local leaders spoke during a news conference. Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker said, “Leadership on the tough issues can originate at the local level. One community can make a difference, this is our hope here today,” according to a report from The Gazette.

Local leaders emphasized that to keep the U.S.’s pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 28 percent before 2025, coalition members must walk-the-talk. Walker continued, “In absence of leadership in the federal government, the job is up to us locally.”

Iowa DNR dissolves Bureau of Forestry and other programs


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The State Forest Nursery and urban foresters program will stay in tact amid multiple program eliminations. (Joshua Mayer/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | July 7, 2017

Iowa legislators approved a $1.2 million cut to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) this year, resulting in the elimination of the Bureau of Forestry and several other positions.

The department announced on Wednesday that it terminated the Forest Bureau Chief Paul Tauke. All other foresters were reassigned to other divisions within the DNR. Alex Murphy is a spokesperson for the department. In an interview with Iowa Public Radio, he said, “We’ve moved these employees under different areas and actually eliminated the bureau itself, although all the functions of the bureau exist, just in different bureaus or divisions.” The changes saved the department around $277,000.

The DNR Trail Crew program was abolished along with two full-time program DNR employees. The Trail Crew team was comprised of 15 Americorps members that traveled around the state with DNR employees to develop and improve Iowa’s 500 miles of nature trails. Other Americorps programs within the department were eliminated as well.

State Geologist Bob Libra also lost his job. The state plans to contract UI geologists to take over geological research projects. Among the other positions eliminated are the department safety officer, animal feeding operations coordinator and art director for the DNR’s magazine.

UI environmental science program graduate Megan Henry warned that the elimination of positions in environmental sciences may drive more young people out of Iowa. Her letter to the editor in the Des Moines Register reads,

“Now the university will likely also equip natural science students in geology with even more hands-on experience, because “without a state geologist, the DNR will contract with the University of Iowa for geological research and technical assistance.” The only problem: How do you attract students to this vital work, if the jobs only exist while they are paying tuition?”

President Trump discusses wind energy, Paris agreement in Cedar Rapids


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President Trump and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt after the administration announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord. (Associated Press/Andrew Harnik)
Jenna Ladd | June 23, 2017

President Trump hosted a campaign-like rally at the U.S. Cellar Center in Cedar Rapids Wednesday night and made false claims related to renewable energy and climate policy.

With roughly 5,000 of his supporters in the audience, the president used his 70-minute speech to discuss his hatred for the media, the Republicans’ new health care plan, Georgia’s recent special election and more. President Trump is not known for his consistency, but he made two specific false statements related to renewable energy and climate policy which were later set straight by the Washington Post’s Energy 202.

First, the president mocked the use of wind energy in the state of Iowa. He said, “I don’t want to just hope the wind blows to light up your house and your factory as the birds fall to the ground.” This statement aligns with pre-election comments referring to wind turbines as “ugly” and claiming that they kill all the birds.

Energy 202 notes that according to the National Audubon Society, wind turbines are responsible for less than 0.01 percent of all human-related bird deaths. Far more birds are killed each year by vehicles and tall buildings. Second, the Hawkeye state generated 30 percent of its total energy from wind last year. The industry is also expected to provide 7,000 additional jobs and $9 billion in economic activity over the next three years.

Trump also mentioned his administration’s recent decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. He said, “They all say it’s non-binding. Like hell it’s non-binding.”

The problem here, Energy 202 points out, is that the agreement is non-binding. The accord called on each country to set their own goals for limiting greenhouse gases, which is likely the reason President Obama was able to get nearly all of the Earth’s nations to sign on.

Iowa City and Johnson County stick by Paris Agreement


Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton reaffirmed the city’s commitment to climate action by signing two letters backing the Paris agreement. (flickr/Steve Shupe)

Katelyn Weisbrod | June 13, 2017

Local governments continue to stand up against President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Iowa City mayor Jim Throgmorton recently signed two letters stating the city’s intention to uphold the principles of the Paris Accord — one from the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, and the other by the Climate Mayors, which was signed by 292 other mayors in the U.S. The Johnson County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution stating a similar objective at their meeting last week.

“We hope other counties will sign on as well,” Mike Carberry, vice chair of the supervisors, said to The Daily Iowan. “Since the president and the country aren’t going to show leadership, then local governments have to do it — cities, counties, maybe even states.”

Earlier this month, Trump announced his intent to ditch the agreement between 195 countries to reduce emissions to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels.

Both Iowa City and Johnson County have a reputation of being particularly progressive, especially in terms of environmental action. Johnson County has built several Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified buildings, increased its dependence on solar power, and implemented recycling and waste reduction practices. Iowa City set a goal to reduce its greenhouse gas output by 80 percent by 2050, established a committee aimed at climate action, and improved access to recycling and composting.

“In terms of the U.S. as a whole does, does it matter what Iowa City does?” Throgmorton said to The Daily Iowan. “No, I don’t think it matters, but if you combine all these cities in the United States … that adds up. It feels very powerful to me to know that what we’re doing is being done in affiliation with so many cities and mayors around the world … It gives me a sense of working for the common good together with millions of people.”

The mayors of Des Moines and Dubuque signed similar statements earlier this month.

Two Iowa mayors join 1,200 U.S. leaders committed to the Paris Climate Agreement


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Dubuque Mayor Roy D. Buol is one of 1,200 signatories on a recent climate action statement titled “We Are Still In.” (flickr/S.D. Dirk)
Jenna Ladd | June 6, 2017

More than 1,200 United States governors, mayors, businesses, investors, and colleges and universities released a statement yesterday titled “We Are Still In,” declaring their continued support of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The climate declaration serves as a response to President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord last week. The declaration reads, The Trump administration’s announcement undermines a key pillar in the fight against climate change out of step with what is happening in the United States.”

The businesses and investors speaking out for climate action include 20 Fortune 500 companies that generate $1.4 trillion in revenue annually. Participating city and state leaders collectively represent 120 million Americans ranging from New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio to Palo Alto Mayor Greg Scarff.

Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie and Dubuque Mayor Roy D. Buol are among the signatories. Cownie said in a written statement, “The recent action by the White House to withdraw from the Paris Agreement does not stop Des Moines’ efforts in advancing our own efforts on climate change. Cities like Des Moines will continue to work to make our communities more sustainable places to live.” Other statement endorsers from Iowa include state Attorney General Tom Miller; J. Bruce Harreld, president of the University of Iowa; Raynard Kington, president of Grinnell College; Paula Carlson, president of Luther College.

The City of Des Moines adopted a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050 in 2016 as a part of the City Energy Project (CEP). CEP is a coalition of cities working to reduce energy use and curb emissions from buildings in urban areas. The city’s Parks and Recreation Department has been phasing in hybrid vehicles and utilizing alternative fuels like biodiesel to power its fleet as well. In an  interview with the Des Moines Register, Cownie said, “We’re trying to look at every part of our operation, including the work we do with business partners and neighborhood where they can afford it.”

Cownie is in good company. Since the White House withdrew from the Paris Agreement, 17 governors have released statements in support of the accord, 13 governors formed the U.S. Climate Alliance and 211 mayors have independently taken on the climate action goals outlined in the Paris Agreement for their communities.

The “We Are Still In” press release concludes, “Today’s statement embraces this rapidly growing movement of subnational and civil society leaders, by announcing that not only are these leaders stepping forward, they are stepping forward together.”

Below, CGRER co-director Jerry Scnhoor interviews Mayor Cownie at COP21 in 2015.

CGRER co-director Dr. Jerry Schnoor comments on U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement


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Jerry Schnoor speaks with Des Moines mayor Frank Cownie at the COP21 climate conference in 2015. (CGRER)
Jenna Ladd | June 2, 2017

President Trump is expected to back out of the Paris Climate Agreement, a 2015 climate accord that committed most of the world’s nations to limiting greenhouse gases. CGRER co-director, Dr. Jerry Schnoor, responded to the White House’s decision in a statement authored on May 31, 2017:

           “President Donald Trump expects to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement this week. It is a sad time for U.S. leadership in the world. We should remain in the Agreement that we faithfully signed for important environmental, political, and economic reasons.

Climate change is already here – even in Iowa – and it is going to get much worse if we do not reduce our greenhouse gas emissions that are accumulating in the atmosphere and heating the planet. We recognize climate change in the Cedar Rapids flood of 2008, from which we are still recovering, and the (extremely unusual) Cedar River Basin flood of September last year. Temperatures are warmer, especially at night and in the winter. Intense precipitation is more severe and frequent. It is a wetter/warmer Iowa with more humidity in the air and greater runoff in our rivers.

At the global scale, ice is breaking and melting – in the Arctic, Greenland, Antarctica and land-based continental glaciers everywhere. Animals, which depend on the ice for fishing and hunting, like polar bears, are in trouble. Oceans are 30% more acidic than 50 years ago due to carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, subsequently bleaching coral reefs and undermining fisheries. More frequent droughts and floods affect agriculture and food supplies. Sea level is rising and already influencing real estate prices and the number of days with “clear sky” flooding in the streets in Miami. Impacts on human health, heat stroke, air quality, pollen, emphysema and asthma, and the migration of mosquitoes and ticks as vectors of disease are especially worrisome.

Politically, the U.S. is losing its credibility in the world as a stable partner whether one speaks of the Paris Climate Agreement, NAFTA, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or NATO. Once broken, trust is hard to restore. America First means everyone else be damned, and friends can be difficult to find in times of need. Moral and ethical reasons would dictate that the richest country, which dumped more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than any other nation, should be the first to act. I stood in Paris with representatives from the most vulnerable nations like the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, and the Maldives, who are already losing whole islands to sea level rise and abandoning ancestral homes. I listened in Paris to coastal nations like Bangladesh, Senegal, Mozambique, and the Philippines, embattled by improbable storm surge and increasingly powerful storms. And my heart cries for the children of drought and famine in South Sudan, Somalia, and Ethiopia. These vulnerable countries profited the least from the fossil fuel age, but they suffer the most.

It is not often when 194 countries agree on anything. What makes the Paris Climate Agreement unique is that for the first time, nearly every nation (rich and poor alike) agreed on an equitable “bottom-up” plan to decrease emissions and to fund the most vulnerable nations. It is certainly not a perfect agreement, and it does not go far enough to stem the tide of climate change. More will be needed.

But the U.S. will not be a party to the agreement, and that is a major economic mistake. It is quite possible that China and President Xi Jinping will step into the limelight and lead the world forward. After all, China is already the world’s leading producer of solar photovoltaic panels and wind power. Interestingly, the Chinese written word for “crisis” has two characters. One character means “danger”, and there is certainly danger in the effects of climate change, both now and in the future. The other character stands for “opportunity”. It is the economic opportunity that the U.S. will miss, which China realizes fully. Transitioning from the fossil fuel age represents a great opportunity to create jobs, wealth, and prosperity for our children and for future generations. Iowa has already benefitted tremendously from wind power, turbine manufacturing, and energy efficiency. We stand to profit as well from solar photovoltaics, if we can but understand the crisis of climate change.”

Jerry Schnoor is Professor of Environmental Engineering and Co-Director of the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research at the University of Iowa. He attended the Paris Climate Convention in December 2015 as an official member of the media.

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.