Archive for the ‘Energy & Environment’ category

Earth Day: Making policy matter

April 22, 2014

It’s good to see public officials looking for sensible policy solutions. When it is Earth Day and the policy is designed to protect the environment, it is especially rewarding.

As Iowa Policy Project research has described, frac sand mining poses environmental, aesthetic and economic threats to one of Iowa’s most picturesque regions. Local officials in Allamakee County are attempting to respond. See this Cedar Rapids Gazette/KCRG-TV story.

Basic RGBThe Allamakee County Planning and Zoning Commission has proposed a very restrictive ordinance to govern any frac sand mining in the county. The county passed a moratorium on any new mining 14 months ago and the P&Z has used the time to gather data to write a new ordinance. A first look at the P&Z proposal includes ideas also found in the IPP report issued in January, Digging Deeper on Frac Sand Mining. The IPP report suggested local governments in Iowa could use a Minnesota Environmental Quality Board toolkit to consider appropriate local ordinances.

The proposed Allamakee ordinance, among other restrictions, features two important ideas from that resource: setbacks from sinkholes and careful analysis of potential impact of mining given the geology of the area. According to the Cedar Rapids Gazette/KCRG story, the ordinance would:

  •    forbid mining within 1,000 feet of a sinkhole;
  •    forbid mining within a mile of a stream or river; and
  •    require that a mining firm must survey the impact of its operations on the geology of the area before any mining can begin.

Citizen involvement brought this proposal to its current stage, a step closer to adoption, with approval still required by the county Board of Supervisors.

With good information, local citizens and policy makers can do a better job evaluating a new industry and preparing for its impacts. These efforts will enable the county to protect itself and the tourism industry that Allamakee County residents have nurtured over the years.

Policy makers have not jumped into a new economic endeavor without making sure the new will not hurt the old.

 

IPP-osterberg-75Posted by David Osterberg, Founding Director

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Click here for an executive summary and a link to the full IPP report, Digging Deeper on Frac Sand Mining, by Aaron Kline and David Osterberg. Kline is an IPP intern from the University of Iowa School of Urban and Regional Planning. Osterberg, IPP’s environmental director, is co-founder and former executive director of IPP.

Investor-owned utilities must deal with climate change

February 25, 2014

Editor’s Note: This post is excerpted from a statement by David Osterberg, founder of the Iowa Policy Project, to the Iowa Utilities Board, February 25, 2014, in docket NOI-2014-0001
Full statement submitted to IUB is here

The Iowa Utilities Board must recognize that this docket has implications for confronting climate change. To look narrowly and make a decision based only on what is best for the stockholders of Alliant or MidAmerican Energy would be the wrong choice. Climate change is a reality and the investor-owned utility companies must adjust their business model to contend with it. The question for the Board should be, “How does the state of Iowa procure more distributed electric generation installed in a way that gives the utilities a way to be part of the solution?”

First, there is no scientific debate about whether the climate is changing and whether humans are the main cause. In October 2013, 155 science and research staff at 36 Iowa colleges and universities signed a statement on the reality of climate change. As one of the signers I would like to submit the first paragraph and the last sentence of that statement:

“Our state has long held a proud tradition of helping to ‘feed the world.’ Our ability to do so is now increasingly threatened by rising greenhouse gas emissions and resulting climate change. Our climate has disrupted agricultural production profoundly during the past two years and is projected to become even more harmful in the coming decades as our climate continues to warm and change.”

Rather than being a vague threat lurking somewhere on the horizon, scientists from around the globe confidently stated in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that temperatures and rainfall patterns are shifting due to additions humans have made to the atmosphere by burning coal and oil. We who work in this area are alarmed at the lack of action to reduce the pollutants that are the root of this problem.

Children born today will spend their lives under climates that are different from those any generation of Americans has experienced. The same will be true for their children, and their grandchildren. Agriculture, the lifeblood of Iowa, is being threatened with more frequent droughts and floods. Switching to modern renewable power sources and becoming more efficient in how we use energy cannot roll back the clock, but it can help make these climate changes less extreme.

I applaud the Board for looking deeply into distributed electric generation such as wind and solar power. It is the solution to the biggest environmental problem in modern times.

IPP-osterberg-75David Osterberg is the founding director of the Iowa Policy Project, and a Professor in the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health in the University of Iowa College of Public Health.

More information:

Information on January 2014 Notice of Inquiry by Iowa Utilities Board

Previous IPP publications:

IUB Inquiry is Opportunity to Find Acts in Cap-and-Trade Debate — July 2009
News release
IUB Notice of Inquiry

Proposals in Congress Do Provide Relief to Consumers — June 2009
Backgrounder
News release

Electric Rate Reform Could Spur Energy Savings, Help Low-Income IowansJune 2009
Full report
Executive summary

News release

Digging Deeper on Frac Sand Mining

January 30, 2014

Frac sand mining is an emerging concern for people in Northeast Iowa. This concern has prompted questions regarding potential impacts on water quantity, water quality, recreation and tourism amongst others.

In a new Iowa Policy Project report, “Digging Deeper on Frac Sand Mining,” we examined potential impacts of this industry on the environmental, economic and aesthetic assets of Northeast Iowa. Particularly with regard to water resources, we identify unique features of the region that warrant extra precaution such as trout streams and the prevalent karst geology.

frac sand deposits map

Well-rounded, crush-resistant sand prized by the fracking industry is found in several areas of three Northeast Iowa counties.

The potential impacts of frac sand mining on water quality and water quantity include changing local groundwater flow patterns and increased sedimentation of waterways through overflow and runoff events.

The exceptional waters and pristine environments found in Allamakee and Winneshiek counties contribute to the local economy drawing anglers and boaters. This led to $68 million in domestic travel expenditures and over 500 travel-related jobs in 2012 within these two counties. Frac sand mining in the region has the potential to affect this tourism-based economy in unforeseen ways. In fact, several economic studies from Wisconsin have shown that the costs associated with frac sand mining may exceed the benefits when comparing other economic activities in the region.

State regulations and local ordinances have an impact on the growth of this industry within a region as shown in this report’s comparison of Minnesota and Wisconsin activities. Wisconsin is shown to have less restrictive regulations than Minnesota, which has assisted the explosion of frac sand mining in Wisconsin.

These comparisons should inform local officials of different strategies and outcomes when drafting frac sand mining ordinances. They do have options, including hydrologic mapping, local well monitoring, and setbacks from trout streams and sinkholes.

As this industry becomes more active in Iowa, local officials and community members need to be aware of the potential effects it could bring to their lives and the local economy.

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAPosted by Aaron Kline, IPP research intern

Click here to find the executive summary and full report, Digging Deeper on Frac Sand Mining, by Aaron Kline and David Osterberg

This research was produced with the generous support of the Fred and Charlotte Hubbell Foundation.

With ALEC, it’s not just ‘Who?’ but ‘What?’ and ‘Why?’

January 10, 2014

Some Iowa legislative leaders are taking issue with claims that all Iowa legislators are members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

See these links:

All of this calls to mind the words of the great comedian Groucho Marx, who is widely quoted:

“I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.”

Groucho presumably was never a member of ALEC — like many Iowa lawmakers now protesting claims of their inclusion. But regardless of who belongs to ALEC, the bigger issue is whether ALEC belongs at the public policy table.

Iowa Policy Project analysis has refuted the value of legislative initiatives promoted by ALEC, which is essentially a bill mill backed by corporate interests. IPP’s Peter Fisher and the national group Good Jobs First, in their 2012 report “Selling Snake Oil to the States,” showed that states following ALEC proposals were likely to show worse economic results than other states.

As Fisher noted at the time:

“We tested ALEC’s claims against actual economic results. We conclude that eliminating progressive taxes, suppressing wages, and cutting public services are actually a recipe for economic inequality, declining incomes, and undermining public infrastructure and education that really matter for long-term economic growth.”

This recalls another quotation:

“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”

No, that is not the ALEC mission statement. Again, they are words widely attributed to Groucho Marx.

But if the shoe fits ….

Mike OwenPosted by Mike Owen, Executive Director

Stop the spin; climate change is for real

December 30, 2013
Note: A version of this post ran as a guest opinion in the Saturday, Dec. 28, Cedar Rapids Gazette:
http://thegazette.com/2013/12/28/stop-the-spin-climate-change-is-for-real/

Get this straight, everyone: Climate change is real. The Earth is warming. There is no doubt that we have plenty to do with it because of the way we live, burning fuels that spew out pollution.

And no amount of spin will change that.

Yet, some urban myths just won’t die. In a recent issue of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, a couple of climate change deniers tell us that “global warming actually stopped 17 years ago.” Give me a break.

If you find that statement troubling, why not look at a respected source like NASA — the folks who get spacecraft to land safely on Mars. This is what they say:

NASA scientists say 2012 was the ninth warmest of any year since 1880, continuing a long-term trend of rising global temperatures. With the exception of 1998, the nine warmest years in the 132-year record all have occurred since 2000, with 2010 and 2005 ranking as the hottest years on record.
See: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/2012-temps.html

The latest credible information has 2013 probably coming in as the fourth-warmest year. How does that square with global warming stopping 17 years ago?

NASA-warming2008-12

719289main_giss_navy_anomaly_celsiusSource: NASA

A bunch of organizations exist to say global warming is a myth. Unfortunately they and a few people like them are keeping the United States from confronting this huge global issue with policy that pushes renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Gazette columnist Todd Dorman opened a column on this issue in December 2012 with this sentence: “It’s tough to know who to believe.”

Todd was referring to a statement from a number of scientists from Iowa colleges including me, who warned about climate change, vs. the latest spin from apologists for the fossil fuel industry. “On one hand, you’ve got 138 science faculty and research staff from 27 Iowa colleges and universities. Or you can side with a lawyer from Tampa.”

Please consider the source. The climate is changing very quickly and humans are most likely doing most of it by burning coal and oil and other fossil fuel. Ignore the skeptics. We need to get after this problem.

IPP-osterberg-75Posted by David Osterberg, Founding Director

Wind in your Facebook

November 20, 2013

This item reported by The Des Moines Register’s Donnelle Eller came as a breath of fresh air to those concerned about the energy demands of big data centers coming to Iowa.

Reported Eller:

Facebook says it will begin operating its new data center in Altoona in early 2015 powered entirely by renewable energy that will come from a new wind project in Wellsburg, Ia. …

Iowa has become home to a growing number of massive data centers in recent years, first Google, followed by Microsoft and Facebook. Experts cite Iowa’s low energy costs — and rich incentives — for attracting the tech companies.

At IPP, our research has covered many areas of public policy, but two strong themes that have emerged are these:

  • Clean renewable energy such as wind and solar can enhance economic growth in our state; and
  • Economic development “incentives” must be designed to pay long-run dividends to the state to truly offer a public benefit.

Iowa won the bidding war with Nebraska not because we gave away more taxes but because we had more wind power. Facebook had a deal with environmental organizations to stop being a dirty energy hog so they came to a place where they could easily get wind power. And all that wind power in Iowa (24.5 percent of the total electricity generated last year was from wind) has not caused our overall electric rates to spike. So other companies like the Iowa environment as well. Clean energy seems to get us more high quality jobs.

Most of the “rich incentives” in Iowa’s economic development playbook do not incentivize anything that would not happen anyway because they are focused on tax breaks for companies that pay little or no taxes in the state to begin with, and in any event are such a small part of business costs that they have little bearing on location decisions.

But clean energy does matter. The promise of renewable energy, such as wind power, rests with the recognition that as we invest in new energy sources to meet demand of the future, we can do so in a way that does not harm our environment and keeps energy costs down over the long term.

In this case, Facebook is following a course, beyond giveaways, that more companies should consider when thinking about where to locate or keep operations.

IPP-osterberg-75 Posted by David Osterberg, Founding Director

Addressing water pollution no matter the source

November 4, 2013

The Iowa Policy Project keeps producing good reports about the causes of water pollution and how to address it.

Our report last week, Managing Water Pollution With Urban Wetlands: How Cities Reduce Contamination from Farms and Urban Development, was released on October 30. This IPP report, authored by J. Elizabeth Maas & E. Arthur Bettis, received a great deal of media attention. It was front page above the fold in both the Cedar Rapids Gazette and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. It was also covered by the Des Moines Register, Iowa Public Radio and WHO Radio, and the subject of a talk show on KVFD-AM in Fort Dodge.

While our report dealt with urban wetlands, many of the questions from the media folks who participated in our call-in news conference were about agricultural wetlands. That is no surprise since so much of the water pollution problems in Iowa come from the farm.

IPP pointed out that reality in a 2010 report that can be found on our website: Solution to Pollution: It Starts on the Farm by Andrea Heffernan, Teresa Galluzzo and Will Hoyer, released in September 2010. That report pointed out that so little land in Iowa is devoted to urban uses (lawns or golf courses) that even if urban application rates of Nitrate and Phosphorus fertilizer were much higher than that on farms, the fact that two-thirds of Iowa land is in corn or soybeans means that only 2 percent of the pollution from land application of fertilizer comes from lawns and golf courses.

Agriculture still dominates even if you include sewage treatment plants in the urban share of nutrient pollution (see graph below).

usgs

So the takeaway message — water pollution in Iowa comes from agriculture. We all have an obligation to clean up our rivers, lakes and streams and no sector can be exempt. It is not a voluntary matter.

David OsterbergBy David Osterberg, Founding Director

Wind Power in Iowa: Lower Rates, Good Jobs

March 18, 2013

Opponents of expanding renewable energy often claim that new, safe and clean electricity is all very nice but it just costs too much. Let’s look at the data. The Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy keeps statistics on retail electric rates by state and for the nation as a whole. The graph below[i] compares the average retail rates (residential, commercial, industrial) in Iowa to the U.S. as a whole starting in 1998 when Iowa began to produce significant amounts of wind electricity. While there are many reasons why a particular state’s electric rates are high or low it is certainly fair to say that our rank as the leader in per-capita wind electricity production (24.5 percent of all electricity in 2011)[ii] has not caused our rates to shoot up dramatically. Even though Iowa produces seven times as much wind power as the U.S. average, its rates continue to be about 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour below the national average.

Basic RGB

Any discussion of prices for electricity must be qualified since the amount of wind electricity produced is not the same as the amount consumed in the state. States around Iowa have requirements that a percentage of electricity sold be from renewable energy. Iowa also has such a requirement and ours was the first in the nation, a fact the governor tends to emphasize, and the requirement was met long ago. Some wind electricity is certainly exported. Thus, while data on wind electricity consumption would be helpful, information is unavailable on what portion of electricity from each fuel source serves retail load and what is sold on the wholesale market. It should also be pointed out that selling at the wholesale level has some benefit to Iowa ratepayers.

 


[i] Energy Information Administration. October 1, 2012. Average Price by State Provider. http://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/state/

[ii]  American Wind Energy Association. “American wind power now generates over 10 percent of electricity in nine states.” Accessed March 15, 2013.  http://www.awea.org/newsroom/pressreleases/wind-generation-2012.cfm

Posted by David Osterberg & Heather Gibney

Sound budgeting doesn’t include blanket tax credit

January 28, 2013
Mike Owen

Mike Owen

This session of the Iowa Legislature offers a tremendous opportunity to move the state forward with a balanced approach — including responsible, fair tax reform and investments in critical needs that have gone unmet, in education at all levels, in environmental quality and public safety.

The proposal for a blanket $750 tax credit to couples, regardless of need and blind to the opportunity cost of even more lost investments, does not fit that approach. To compound a penchant to spend money on tax breaks is fiscally irresponsible to the needs of Iowa taxpayers, who will benefit from better services, and to the promise that we would return to proper investments when the economy turned up, as it has. Furthermore, to give away Iowa’s surplus when uncertainty remains about the impact of federal budget decisions on our state’s tax system and services is tremendously short-sighted.

As the Iowa Fiscal Partnership has established, cutbacks in higher education funding have caused costs and debt to rise for students and their families, not only at the Regents institutions but community colleges as well. While Iowa voters, through a statewide referendum, have expressly called for new revenues to go toward better environmental stewardship, lawmakers have not taken action. The surplus we now see should be used responsibly for the future of Iowans, who patiently endured budget austerity for the day when we could once again see support for critical services. This is no time to be forgetting our responsibilities.

Iowa can do better by returning to the basics of good budgeting, crafting budget and tax choices that keep a long-term focus on the needs of young and future generations, whose lives will be shaped by the foundations we leave them.

Posted by Mike Owen, Assistant Director

Talk is cheap

November 20, 2012
David Osterberg

David Osterberg

There are three principal problems with the Governor’s proposed Nutrient Reduction Strategy, and they can be summed up in three words: Talk is cheap.

Solutions to this problem start with enforcement, and that takes money. The state of Iowa shortchanges water quality, underfunding it even compared to what we did a decade ago. Our March 2012 report, Drops in the Bucket: The Erosion of Iowa Water Quality Funding, found that this water-quality funding decline came despite greater needs for water protection and public willingness to fund it.

Second, inadequate enforcement of environmental rules for Iowa’s livestock industry has resulted in the state’s censure by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and this threatens our ability to write permits and otherwise enforce our obligations under the Clean Water Act. The strategy bases enforcement on voluntary acceptance of state rules. This has not worked.

Finally, it says much about Iowa’s commitment to water quality — or lack of commitment — when the state proposes a major nutrient reduction strategy and offers no new money to get the job done. The strategy proposes nothing to make sure Iowa does better in assuring clean water for its residents, for states downstream, and the future.

In short, we need a strategy that recognizes the serious water quality problem we have and offers a realistic approach to addressing it. This must be more than a goal — but a guarantee to all Iowans.

Posted by David Osterberg, Executive Director


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