# Environment



Little of USDA’s conservation spending went to "climate-smart" agriculture

Anne Schechinger is Senior Analyst of Economics for the Environmental Working Group. This report first appeared on the Environmental Working Group’s website.

Farmers received almost $7.4 billion in payments from two of the largest federal agricultural conservation programs between 2017 and 2020, but only a small proportion of these payments went to practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions from farming. 

This finding comes from the Environmental Working Group’s newest update to its Conservation Database, which provides 2017–2020 payment data for five of the largest Agriculture Department farm conservation programs.

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Iowa environmentalists react to Inflation Reduction Act

Meaningful Congressional action on climate change seemed doomed in the 50-50 U.S. Senate after Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia tanked President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better proposal earlier this year. But on August 7, Vice President Kamala Harris cast the tie-breaking 51st vote to approve the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. All Republicans, including Iowa’s Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, voted against final passage.

Assuming the U.S. House approves the bill (a vote is scheduled for August 12), Biden is poised to sign into law “the single biggest climate investment in U.S. history, by far.” In addition to significant changes to the tax system and health care policy, the massive package includes $369 billion in spending aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting clean energy.

According to summaries of the bill’s energy and climate provisions, enclosed in full below, the bill could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. However, the bill’s incentives for the fossil fuels industry—which were necessary to get Manchin on board—are troubling for many environmental advocates.

Bleeding Heartland sought comment from some Iowans who have been engaged in policy battles related to climate change and the environment.

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Monarchs merit royal care

Kurt Meyer writes a weekly column for the Nora Springs – Rockford Register, where this essay first appeared. He serves as chair of the executive committee (the equivalent of board chair) of Americans for Democratic Action, America’s most experienced liberal organization.

Who doesn’t love butterflies, especially monarch butterflies?

Let me share several verbal bouquets I encountered in reading articles about monarchs. “Showy looks.” “Extraordinary migration.” “One of the natural world’s wonders,” and, “one of the continent’s most beloved insects.” Unfortunately, I also came across some very troubling terms, like “endangered,” “vulnerable populations,” “declining precipitously” and “teeter(ing) on the edge of collapse.” Suffice to say, it all captured my attention.

Monarchs have been in the news a great deal lately. Appropriately so.

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A science-based case against carbon dioxide pipelines across Iowa

Seventeen academics, farmland owners, and environmental advocates have urged the Iowa Utilities Board to reject permit applications for a carbon dioxide pipeline that would run across Iowa. A July 29 letter to the board laid out four science-based objections to the projects proposed by Summit Carbon Solutions, Navigator CO2 Ventures, and Archer Daniels Midland partnered with Wolf Carbon Solutions.

Matt Liebman, Iowa State University professor emeritus of agronomy, took the lead in writing the document. Citing “relevant scientific and engineering studies,” the letter explained how the pipelines would damage soil and crop yields without significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Allowing the use of eminent domain for this project would be “a betrayal of public trust and a corruption of the ideal of private sacrifice for public good,” the letter argued.

Those who wrote to the Iowa Utilities Board include six retired professors from Iowa colleges or universities and several Iowans with professional conservation experience at the federal or county level. I also signed, having been an environmental advocate for the past 20 years. I did not draft the letter or make editorial changes to it.

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Another kind of inflation: economic benefits of CO2 pipelines

Silvia Secchi is a professor in the Department of Geographical and Sustainability Sciences at the University of Iowa. She has a PhD in economics from Iowa State University.

There is a long tradition of industry proponents overselling the economic benefits of pipelines by paying for economic impact studies.

Two kinds of goals drive this practice. The first is to increase the social acceptability of the pipelines, which often require formal environmental assessments because of their long and short-term environmental effects. Local landowners and environmental groups often oppose the projects, concerned about impacts on existing infrastructure like tile drainage, and on water and land resources. Second, if the pipelines are in line for subsidies, such studies help create the impression that the subsidies are justified.

The inflated economics reports go back to the Trans-Alaskan pipeline in the 1950s and early 1970s, and the more recent infamous examples of the Keystone XL and the Dakota Access pipeline. The tricks in the consultants’ playbook have largely remained the same.

In this post, I will discuss several issues associated with the report that Ernst and Young prepared for Summit Carbon Solutions.

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Nitrate water levels threaten health

Tom Walton is an Iowa attorney and was a Democratic primary candidate in Iowa House district 28.

In early June, the Des Moines Water Works turned on its nitrate removal facility for the first time in five years. It had to do so because of increasing nitrate levels in in the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers. Extra treatment is required to meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Safe Drinking Water Standards. For nitrate, that level is 10 milligrams of nitrate-nitrogen (NO3-N) per liter of water. Des Moines Water Works provides drinking water to roughly 600,000 central Iowans.

This has been an ongoing battle. In 2013, nitrogen levels at the testing equipment near Van Meter upstream from on the Raccoon River from Des Moines were a record 24 mg/L—more than double the EPA safe level. On June 2 of this year, that station measured a median of 20.4 mg/L.

However, a growing body of scientific research indicates that long-term ingestion of water from public water sources with nitrogen levels below the EPA maximum contaminant level (MCL) have been associated with a higher risk of some forms of cancer and other adverse health effects, although more study is needed to support more conclusive results.

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