Events coming up this week

Earth Day is Friday, April 22, but festivals, community clean-ups and related celebrations begin this week in many Iowa communities. Details on those and other events are after the jump. As always, please post a comment or send me an e-mail if you know of another public event that should be included on this calendar.

While I was checking the Iowa Environmental Council’s calendar and April newsletter, I learned that earlier this year, the American Institute of Architects, Iowa Chapter office in Des Moines became the U.S. Green Building Council first LEED Platinum certified project in Iowa. Congratulations to the AIA for demonstrating how to do an office renovation in an eco-friendly way. Click here to learn more about the project’s sustainable features.  

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Bad news for Iowans who breathe air and drink water

I wish I had better news to share on Earth Day, but the Iowa Department of Natural Resources issued its annual State of the Environment report this week, and it’s not encouraging for people who like to breathe air and drink water. From Perry Beeman’s report in the Des Moines Register:

Last year culminated a three-year run in which air pollution exceeded health thresholds 125 times – up 33 percent from the previous three-year reporting period.

[Iowa DNR Director Richard] Leopold said that’s disturbing as production was down at many factories because of the economy.

Most of the problem: fine particles from hog confinements, cars and power plants, whose emissions blend ammonia and sulfuric or nitric acid in the air.

Fine particulate matter, also known as PM 2.5, has been linked to many life-threatening illnesses and causes thousands of premature deaths every year. That’s another reason to be thankful that utility companies abandoned plans to build new coal-fired power plants in Waterloo and Marshalltown last year. (Side note: could someone please inform the three “pro-life” Republican gubernatorial candidates that coal combustion is hazardous to human health? Terry Branstad, Bob Vander Plaats and Rod Roberts all favor building more coal-fired power plants in Iowa.)

As for the other major contributors to poor air quality in our state, the Iowa legislature has done little about air pollution from confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) beyond passing a time- and money-wasting odor study bill in 2008. Nor have our state’s leaders done enough to fund alternate modes of transportation, which could reduce vehicle miles per capita traveled by car (and the associated fine particulate emissions).

The DNR’s report showed statistically insignificant improvements in Iowa water quality, but not enough to lift us out of the “poor” category. While new “antidegradation rules” on water quality may protect some Iowa waterways from getting worse in the future, we have a long way to go to make our lakes and rivers safe for recreation and other uses.

Public demand for usable waterways is increasing; the DNR’s report showed that more Iowans are using state parks, boating and buying fishing licenses. It’s therefore baffling that the DNR is proposing to reduce protection for 408 Iowa stream segments this year. The Iowa Environmental Council has much more background on this issue here. Public comments to the DNR are needed by April 30, and it only takes a few minutes to send a message to the relevant DNR official (click here for contact information and talking points).

For those who like to fish: please be aware of the DNR recommends eating fish from certain lakes and rivers no more often than once a week because of elevated mercury levels. Coal combustion from power plants is the main source of mercury pollution in our waterways.

Share any relevant thoughts or Earth Day plans in this thread. I see that the Sierra Club of Iowa, Moveon.Org and 1Sky are organizing a rally outside Representative Leonard Boswell’s office (300 Locust in Des Moines) at noon today to urge Boswell to oppose various “dirty air” bills proposed in Congress. They are asking people to “dress in rain gear, such as raincoats, rain hats, umbrellas, galoshes, etc., to make the point of increasing severe weather due to climate change.”

There’s also an Earth Day Trash Bash cleanup event in downtown Des Moines this afternoon, followed by a celebration in the Simon Estes ampitheater. Here’s a description of last year’s cleanup.

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Events coming up during the next two weeks

This April is shaping up to be a relatively quiet month in Iowa politics, with the legislature already adjourned for the year. However, after the jump you’ll find details for many events coming up soon. Please post a comment or send me an e-mail (desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com) if you know of an event I’ve left out.

I have also posted information about an internship opportunity for women who would like to work on a sustainable farm, as well as a grant opportunity called “Iowa Sun4Schools.” It’s for Iowa schools that may want to install a solar array: “In addition to supplying electricity to the facility, the solar array will serve as an educational and research tool, and as a symbol of the schools commitment to saving energy and reducing their carbon footprint.”

UPDATE: Iowa nonprofit, charitable and government organizations have until April 16 to nominate people for the Governor’s Volunteer Award.

SECOND UPDATE: The Fred Phelps freak show is coming back to Des Moines on April 10 to protest a constitutional law symposium on same-sex marriage at Drake University. Click here for details about counter-protests being planned.

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Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 1)

I expected 2009 to be a relatively quiet year in Iowa politics, but was I ever wrong.

The governor’s race heated up, state revenues melted down, key bills lived and died during the legislative session, and the Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in Varnum v Brien became one of this state’s major events of the decade.

After the jump I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from January through June 2009. Any comments about the year that passed are welcome in this thread.

Although I wrote a lot of posts last year, there were many important stories I didn’t manage to cover. I recommend reading Iowa Independent’s compilation of “Iowa’s most overlooked and under reported stories of 2009,” as well as that blog’s review of “stories that will continue to impact Iowa in 2010.”

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Year in review: national politics in 2009 (part 1)

It took me a week longer than I anticipated, but I finally finished compiling links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage from last year. This post and part 2, coming later today, include stories on national politics, mostly relating to Congress and Barack Obama’s administration. Diaries reviewing Iowa politics in 2009 will come soon.

One thing struck me while compiling this post: on all of the House bills I covered here during 2009, Democrats Leonard Boswell, Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack voted the same way. That was a big change from 2007 and 2008, when Blue Dog Boswell voted with Republicans and against the majority of the Democratic caucus on many key bills.

No federal policy issue inspired more posts last year than health care reform. Rereading my earlier, guardedly hopeful pieces was depressing in light of the mess the health care reform bill has become. I was never optimistic about getting a strong public health insurance option through Congress, but I thought we had a chance to pass a very good bill. If I had anticipated the magnitude of the Democratic sellout on so many aspects of reform in addition to the public option, I wouldn’t have spent so many hours writing about this issue. I can’t say I wasn’t warned (and warned), though.

Links to stories from January through June 2009 are after the jump. Any thoughts about last year’s political events are welcome in this thread.

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Open thread on Obama in Newton for Earth Day

I won’t be able to watch President Barack Obama’s Earth Day appearance in Newton live, but I’m putting up this thread so that others can talk about it.

Iowa Global Warming will be twittering the event here and will upload video at these sites:

http://www.youtube.com/user/io…

http://www.mogulus.com/igwc

I’m all for green jobs and boosting renewable energy production. Let’s make sure the jobs in this industry pay well with good benefits, though.

I’ll update with thread later with more details from and reaction to Obama’s speech in Newton.

UPDATE: The text of Obama’s remarks (as prepared) is after the jump. Lots of good stuff in there, such as:

“Today I am announcing that my administration is taking another historic step. Through the Department of Interior, we are establishing a program to authorize ­ for the first time ­ the leasing of federal waters for projects to generate electricity from wind as well as from ocean currents and other renewable sources,” Obama said to about 200 in at Trinity Structural Towers in Newton.

“It’s a win-win. It’s good for the environment. It’s great for the economy,”

he said.

Obama continued to advocate for a cap and trade policy to limit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. Iowa Democrats twittered that the president called for connecting Des Moines to Chicago via high-speed rail, but I didn’t find that in the prepared remarks (just a general statement about investing in high-speed rail).

The Des Moines Register found it noteworthy that the president

didn’t mention ethanol by name.

In particular, ethanol interests might have hoped that Obama would at least put in a good word for the expansion of the allowable blend of ethanol with unleaded gasoline for conventional automobile engines from the current 10 percent to 15 percent.

But Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, said he wasn’t upset.

“Frankly, the Environmental Protection Agency (which will make the E-15 decision) gets sued all the time and one of the things they’re hit with is that their decisions might be based on politics rather than technology or science,” said Shaw.

“So it is probably better for us that the President not mention E-15 today,” Shaw continued. “The science is on our side. But we don’t need people challenging the EPA later, after they make a favorable decision on E-15, saying that it was based on politics and using the President’s remarks as evidence.”

Maybe the Register meant that Obama didn’t mention E-15 by name, or maybe the president deviated from his prepared remarks, which included this paragraph:

My budget also makes unprecedented investments in mass transit, high-speed rail, and in our highway system to reduce the congestion that wastes money, time, and energy. And it invests in advanced biofuels and ethanol, which, as I’ve said, is an important transitional fuel to help us end our dependence on foreign oil while moving toward clean, homegrown sources of energy.

If you watched the video, please tell us what you thought.

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