Budget bill defunding ISU’s Leopold Center goes to Branstad


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. ”


Warm Gulf of Mexico Waters could cause more spring storms

Sea surface temperature difference from average. (WeatherBell.com)
Jake Slobe | April 17, 2017

This On The Radio segment discusses the abnormally warm temperature of the Gulf of Mexico this winter and the potential effect on springtime storms.

Gulf of Mexico waters have been exceptionally warm, which could mean explosive springtime storms.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

 This winter, the average sea surface temperature of the Gulf of Mexico never fell below 73 degrees for the first time on record.  Water temperatures at the surface of the Gulf of Mexico and near South Florida are on fire. The warm waters caused historically warm winter in the southern United States and could fuel intense thunderstorms in the spring throughout the southern and central U.S. While this relationship is far from absolute, scientists have found that when the Gulf of Mexico tends to be warmer than normal, there is more energy for severe storms and tornadoes to form than when the Gulf is cooler.

A study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters in December found that the warmer the Gulf of Mexico sea surface temperatures, the more hail and tornadoes occur during March through May over the southern U.S.

The implications of the warm water for hurricane season are less clear. Warmer than normal water temperatures can make tropical storms and hurricanes more intense, but wind shear and atmospheric moisture levels often play more important roles in hurricane formation.

To learn more about the warm water temperatures and their effects, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

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

CGRER’s future threatened


Today, CGRER Co-Directors Jerry Schnoor and Greg Carmichael released a statement about a budget proposal from the Iowa General Assembly that funds CGRER:

Dear CGRER members,

Yesterday, we learned that a budget proposal from the Iowa General Assembly sunsets funding the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER) and the Iowa Energy Center on July 1, 2022.

This would effectively eliminate the work of CGRER; which supports $225,000 in environmental research grants to Iowa universities and colleges throughout the state each year; garners approximately $20 million for Iowa in new external research grants; and supports graduate students traveling to important research sites and presenting their findings at leading conferences.  CGRER researchers continue to make major discoveries that add to the fund of knowledge, create jobs, and help improve and protect human health and the environment.  We hope the Iowa General Assembly will reconsider this decision in order to continue to serve the economic and environmental interests of the state.

With so much at stake, we are reaching out to interested parties to encourage them to communicate with their state legislators about the value of the state’s investment in environmental research.

We urge you to contact your state senator and state representative TODAY to share your concerns. 

You can call your legislators at the Capitol. The Senate switchboard number is 515-281-3371, and the House switchboard number is 515-281-3221. You can also find your legislators and their emails at https://www.legis.iowa.gov/

Let us know if you have any questions.

Thank you for your support!

Jerry Schnoor
Greg Carmichael
Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research

2017 Provost’s Global Forum: Women’s Health & Environment


Jake Slobe | April 11, 2017

The University of Iowa will host scholars, experts, and researchers from around the world  this week as part of the 2017 Provost’s Global Forum, “Women’s Health & Environment: Going Up in Smoke” The goal of the Provost’s Global Forum is to inspire discussions of global affairs and build relationships between the university and the state of Iowa.

Wednesday, April 12
11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. – Joel Barkan Memorial Lecture
Presentation by Gautam Yadama
Senate Chamber, Old Capitol Museum
2:30 – 4:30 p.m. – Display and demonstrations of cookstoves
Anne Cleary Walkway
7:30 – 9:00 p.m. – WorldCanvass: Women’s Health and the Environment: Going Up in Smoke

Thursday, April 13
8:30 – 9:45 a.m. – Keynote Presentation
Kirk Smith, Professor of global & environmental health, University of California,
Senate Chamber, Old Capitol Museum
10:00 – 12:45 p.m. – Panel I: Carbon, Climate Change, and Biomass Use
Senate Chamber, Old Capitol Museum
2:15 – 5:00 p.m. –  Panel II: Global Health Effects of Emissions from Biofuels
Pappajohn Business Building, Room W151
7:30 p.m. Screening of film: “What the Health”
Iowa Memorial Union, Iowa Theater

Friday, April 14
8:15 – 9:00 a.m. – Keynote Presentation
Atul Jain, professor, department of atmospheric sciences, University of Illinois
Becker Communication Studies Building, Room #101
9:00 – 12:30 p.m. – Panel III: Policy and Fuel Use in Developing Countries
Becker Communication Studies Building, Room #101
12:30 – 12:45 p.m. – Concluding Comments
Becker Communication Studies Building, Room #101
3:00 – 4:30 p.m. – Panel Discussion: “Writing About Climate Change”
Becker Communication Studies Building, Room #101

Starting the conference will be Gautam Yadama, assistant vice chancellor for international affairs and dean of Boston College School of Social Work will deliver the Joel Barkan Memorial Lecture on Wednesday, April 12, at 11:00 a.m., in the Senate Chamber in the UI Old Capitol Museum. Forum organizers will host a display and demonstration of cookstoves on the T. Anne Cleary Walkway from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., followed in the evening by a live production of WorldCanvass from 7:30 to 9:00 p.m. in the Voxman Music Building. This televised discussion is hosted by Joan Kjaer and will feature many of the forum’s keynote speakers and scholars.

On Thursday, April 13, Kirk Smith, professor of global environmental health at University of California, Berkeley, will provide a second keynote presentation at 8:30 a.m. in the Senate Chamber, followed by expert-led panel discussions from 10:00 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Afternoon panel discussions will take place from 2:15 to 5:00 p.m. in the Pappajohn Business Building, room W151. Topics will range from discussions concerning climate change, global health impacts, and technology alternatives to wood-burning cookstoves. The day will conclude with a special film screening of the documentary What the Health at 7:30 p.m. at the Iowa Theater in the Iowa Memorial Union.

The final day of the forum, Friday, April 14, will take place at the Becker Communication Studies Building from 8:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with panel discussions focused on clean cookstove programs, prospects for the future, as well as a special panel on the topic of writing about climate change.

All events are free and open to the public. For more information about events and to learn more about those involved in the forum, visit international.uiowa.edu/up-in-smoke.


On The Radio – Study reveals public opinion on climate change

Percentage of adults per congressional district who support strict CO2 limits on existing coal-fired power plants (NY Times)
Jake Slobe | April 3, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses a new study showing public opinion on climate change.

Transcript: A study by researchers at Yale University provides the most comprehensive look yet at U.S. public opinion on climate change.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The researchers asked more than 18,000 U.S. residents questions about their beliefs regarding the existence of climate change, its causes, and climate action policy.

Seventy percent of respondents agree that climate change is happening, while only 53 percent believe it to be the result of human action. The majority of Americans—82 percent—support funding for renewable energy research.

The study also revealed that 70 percent of U.S. citizens support setting strict limits on carbon emissions from power plants. In contrast, the Trump administration has recently announced its plan to eliminate President Obama’s plan to reduce carbon emissions from the nation’s power plants by 30 percent before 2030.

For more information and to access the interactive public opinion maps, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

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


Trump signs executive order dismantling Obama-era climate policies

Planned emission reductions per state by 2030 under the Clean Power Plan (EPA)
Jake Slobe | March 29, 2017

President Trump has signed an executive order that will look to roll back many climate-change policies put in place by the Obama administration.

The order’s main target is former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which required states to slash carbon emissions from power plants – a key factor in the United States’ ability to meet its commitments under a climate change accord reached by nearly 200 countries in Paris in 2015.

Beyond rolling back Obama’s Clean Power Plan, the order takes aim at a several other significant Obama-era climate and environmental policies, including lifting a short-term ban on new coal mining on public lands. This means that older coal plants that had been marked for closing would probably stay open for a few years longer, extending the demand for coal.

The executive order is part of a much broader assault on Obama-era climate policies. Earlier this month, Trump announced the EPA would review and possibly weaken the Obama’s fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks in the post-2022 period. And the White House is crafting a budget proposal that requests sharp cuts to a variety of climate programs at the EPA, Department of Energy, NASA, NOAA, among others.

The executive order does not address the United States’ participation in the 2015 Paris Agreement, the landmark accord that committed nearly every country to take steps to reduce climate-altering pollution. But experts say that if the newly announced Trump program is enacted, it will all but ensure that the United States cannot meet its global warming commitments under the accord.

The aim of the Paris deal is to reduce emissions enough to stave off a warming of the planet by more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the level at which, experts say, the Earth will be irrevocably locked into a future of extreme droughts, flooding and shortages of food and water.

Legal experts say it could take years for the Trump administration to unwind the Clean Power Plan, which has not yet been carried out because it has been temporarily frozen by a Supreme Court order. Those regulations sought to cut planet-warming carbon dioxide pollution from coal-fired power plants. If enacted, they would have shut down hundreds of those plants, frozen construction of future plants and replaced them with wind and solar farms and other renewable energy sources. Many are worried that this executive order sends a signal to other countries that they might not have to meet their commitments, meaning world would fail to stay out of the climate danger zone.

On The Radio – New study looks at freshwater flood risk from hurricanes

On October 4, 2016, Hurricane Matthew made landfall on southwestern Haiti as a category-4 storm—the strongest storm to hit the Caribbean nation in more than 50 years. Just hours after landfall, NASA’s Terra satellite acquired this image. (NASA)
Jake Slobe | March 27, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses a new study showing that hurricanes can often cause more damage to land further inland than previously thought.

Transcript: A study including researchers from the University of Iowa has found that hurricanes often do more damage in the form of freshwater flooding, sometimes thousands of miles inland, than they do on the coasts.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The study looked at freshwater flood risk from North Atlantic tropical hurricanes as part of a groundbreaking study linking hurricanes to flood insurance claims. The authors were the first to analyze future flood impacts due to climate change and urbanization.

The study found that the number of insured residential losses from freshwater flooding is twice as high as that from coastal flooding.

The study’s findings, published in Scientific Reports, could influence the way policy makers think about risk management, emergency services, flood insurance, and urban development.

Until now, research into freshwater flood risk due to hurricanes has been limited. They analyzed all significant flood events associated with U.S.  hurricanes that reached land from 2001 to 2014.

The researchers found that just one-third of total residential flood insurance claims were related to storm surge and that the impact of freshwater flooding from hurricanes was much more significant.

To learn more about the study, visit iowaenvironmentfocus.org

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