Food system justice and environmental advocates on Wednesday urged all Democratic presidential hopefuls to follow in the footsteps of Sen. Elizabeth Warren in signing a pledge rejecting campaign cash from food and agribusiness corporations.
The Massachusetts senator, said advocacy group Friends of the Earth, is "leading the way."
BREAKING: Elizabeth Warren has signed our #NoBigAgMoney pledge! 77% of Iowa Democratic caucus goers want candidate… https://t.co/A0VudN01tO— Friends of the Earth (@Friends of the Earth)1579706562.0
"We applaud Sen. Warren for listening to voters that overwhelmingly support candidates rejecting Big Ag's money and influence," said Lisa Archer, food and agriculture director for Friends of the Earth Action. "We urge all presidential candidates to take the No Big Ag Money pledge and prioritize our families, farmers, food chain workers, our planet, and our democracy over Big Ag's profits."
The "No Big Ag Money Pledge" was launched last week. It states (pdf):
I pledge not to take contributions over $200 from large food and agribusiness corporation executives, lobbyists, and PACs and instead prioritize the health of our families, farmers, food chain workers, our planet, and our democracy.
The document lists dozens of companies that fall under that category, including giants Bayer, Caterpillar, Tyson, General Mils, and Sodexo. Rejecting cash from those entities, says the coalition behind the pledge, would show that presidential candidates won't favor the interests of factory farms over those of family farms.
If the opinion of likely Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa serve as a guide, candidates would be wise to sign on to the plege.
According to a poll (pdf) out earlier this month — commissioned to the Friends of the Earth Action and conducted by Lake Research Partners — 77 percent of these likely caucus-goers agree that presidential candidates should reject campaign contributions from Big Ag. Sixty-four percent also said they support breaking up the biggest food and agriculture corporations — a proposal backed by Warren and Democratic primary rival Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Make no mistake, Big Ag wields significant power. As Friends of the Earth outlined in a statement last week,
Currently in the United States, four corporations (many of them foreign owned) control 84 percent of the market for beef, 70 percent of the market for soy, 66 percent of the market for hogs, 80 percent of the market for corn, 59 percent of the market for poultry, 84 percent of the market for pesticides, and 60 percent of the market for seeds.
The food and family farms groups say that campaigns not accepting contributions from these interests would be a step towards neutering their political influence.
"It would be great to see all the candidates join Elizabeth Warren in taking the No Big Ag Money Pledge," said Alexis Baden-Mayer, political director of Citizens Regeneration Lobby. "It's time to stop agribusiness monopolies from using campaign cash and lobbying dollars to put a stranglehold on federal food and farm policy."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
On Thursday the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa struck down the Iowa Ag-Gag law, holding that the ban on undercover investigations at factory farms and slaughterhouses violates the First Amendment. In 2017, a coalition of animal, environmental and community advocacy groups, including Center for Food Safety, challenged the law's constitutionality. Federal courts have similarly struck down Ag-Gag laws in Idaho and Utah as unconstitutional.
Iowa's Ag-Gag law criminalizes undercover investigations at a broad range of animal facilities including factory farms, puppy mills and slaughterhouses; preventing advocates from exposing animal cruelty, environmental harm, workers' rights infractions and food safety violations. The law achieved its goal of suppressing undercover investigations—no investigations have taken place since the law's passage in 2012.
"Ag-Gag laws unconstitutionally allow Industrial Ag to hide in the darkness, and today's decision is another important pulling back of that curtain," said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety. "This decision is a victory for all those who support humane treatment of farm animals and safe food."
For more than a century, the public has relied on undercover investigations to expose illegal and cruel practices on factory farms and slaughterhouses. No federal laws govern the conditions in which farmed animals are raised, and laws addressing slaughter and transport are laxly enforced. Undercover investigations are the primary avenue through which the public receives information about animal agriculture operations. Iowa is the biggest producer of pigs raised for meat and hens raised for eggs in the U.S., making it critically important that investigations there are not suppressed.
"Ag-Gag laws are a pernicious attempt by animal exploitation industries to hide some of the worst forms of animal abuse in the United States," said Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. "Today's victory makes it clear that the government cannot protect these industries at the expense of our constitutional rights."
Center for Food Safety is also co-counsel and co-plaintiff in another case successfully striking down Idaho's Ag-Gag law in 2017, and part of ongoing cases in North Carolina and Kansas.
A copy of the decision is available upon request (please email us at [email protected]).
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Bailing Out Benji, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Center for Food Safety. They are represented by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa, Public Justice, the Law Office of Matthew Strugar and Center for Food Safety.
This Victorious California Ballot Measure Could Improve the Lives of Farm Animals Nationwide https://t.co/EITIAYdOCl— SSF-BERF-DEFM (@SSF-BERF-DEFM)1541775667.0
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
Four U.S. states generated 30 to 37 percent of their energy from wind power in 2017. That's just one of the findings of the Department of Energy (DOE)'s annual Wind Technologies Market Report, released August 22.
Oklahoma, Iowa, Kansas and South Dakota were the leaders in terms of how much wind contributed to their state's overall electricity generation, but 14 states got more than 10 percent of their in-state energy from wind power last year. Texas took the lead in added wind capacity, installing 2,305 megawatts worth.
Overall, 2017 was a good year for U.S. wind power, with $11 billion invested and 7,017 megawatts of capacity added to increase total U.S. wind capacity to 88,973 megawatts.
The U.S. added the second most wind capacity globally in 2017 after China, but when it comes to the percentage of energy the U.S. generates from wind, the U.S. lags farther behind. While wind power meets around 48 percent of Denmark's electricity demand, and around 30 percent of Ireland and Portugal's, it accounts for only 7 percent of overall U.S. electricity demand in an average year.
Low costs are currently helping the U.S. wind industry to grow.
"Wind energy prices–particularly in the central United States, and supported by federal tax incentives–remain at all-time lows, with utilities and corporate buyers selecting wind as a low-cost option," Ryan Wiser, a senior scientist at the Electricity Markets & Policy Group of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which prepared the report for the DOE, said in a press release.
The cost of wind turbines has fallen to $750 to $950 per kilowatt, which has in turn decreased the cost of installing new projects. In addition, the cost of wind energy has fallen from its 2009 peak of 7 cents per kilowatt-hour to a national average of 2 cents per kilowatt-hour, which has made wind power an attractive purchase for corporations, municipalities and universities, as well as traditional utilities.
One technological improvement helping the sector has been the development of bigger wind turbines. The average generating capacity of wind turbines installed in 2017 has risen 224 percent from what it was two decades ago.
The report predicted that wind power would continue to grow in the U.S. through 2020, in large part because of a production tax credit (PTC) that Congress extended for five years as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016.
Projections for 2021 to 2025 are less optimistic, though.
"Expectations for continued low natural gas prices, modest electricity demand growth and lower demand from state policies also put a damper on growth expectations, as do limited transmission infrastructure and competition from natural gas and solar energy," the report said.
However, the report also thought that technological innovations, as well as state renewable energy policies, could boost wind power in the long term.
2017 Clean Energy By the Numbers: A State-by-State Look https://t.co/NPYOUXPCCc @ClimateReality @NRDC @SierraClub… https://t.co/nVzqed6PAB— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1519928674.0
By Sacoby Wilson
As U.S. livestock farming becomes more industrial, it is changing rural life. Many people now live near Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs)—large facilities that can house thousands of animals in close quarters. Neighbors have to contend with noxious odors, toxic emissions and swarms of insects, and have had little success in obtaining relief—but this could be changing.
On April 26, Murphy Brown LLC, a division of Smithfield Foods, was required to pay $75,000 in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages in a nuisance lawsuit filed by ten residents of Bladen County, North Carolina over impacts from a nearby hog farm. On June 29, another North Carolina jury awarded $25 million to a couple in Duplin County in a similar lawsuit against Smithfield Foods. Other cases are pending in North Carolina and Iowa.
Smithfield Foods is the largest hog processor and producer in the world, so these verdicts are major victories for people organizing against industrialized animal agriculture. Based on my experience studying environmental health at the community level, I see them as breakthroughs after decades of government failure to protect rural communities from negative impacts of CAFOs.
Threats to Health and the Environment
They also produce massive quantities of waste. Unlike human biosolids, which must meet regulatory standards for pathogen levels, vector attraction reduction and metal content, no such standards are required for CAFO waste. Studies have linked exposure to hog farm emissions, such as ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, to symptoms including increased stress, anxiety, fatigue, mucous membrane irritation, respiratory conditions, reduced lung function and elevated blood pressure.
Hog waste can contaminate ground and surface water reserves through runoff, leaching and rupturing of storage facilities. High quantities of nitrates and phosphates, from both animal waste and fertilizers used to grow feed, can also contaminate rivers and streams.
Bacteria and residual antibiotics present in hog waste have the potential to cause acute illness and infection, as well as antibiotic resistance. Rural communities are especially vulnerable to water contamination because many rely on private well water, which is not regulated by government agencies.
U.S. hog farms are concentrated in the Midwest and Southeast.
Impacts Beyond the Farm
The Bladen County lawsuit charged that waste management techniques employed by Kinlaw Farm, a local hog producer for Murphy Brown LLC, put neighbors' health at risk and severely lowered their quality of life. The farm stored liquid manure in on-site lagoons and sprayed it on local fields as fertilizer.
High volumes of waste and frequent mishandling exposed nearby residents to noxious odors. The lagoons attracted swarms of insects onto neighboring properties, and plaintiffs complained in the lawsuit that trucks packed with dead animals drove through the neighborhood at all hours of the day.
Such conditions characterize the lives of people who live close to CAFOs. People who cherish the freedom of rural life are anguished when pollution and overpowering smells make it impossible to perform everyday tasks and engage with their community. Many feel imprisoned within their own homes.
In May 2018 Shane Rogers, a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and USDA environmental engineer, published an air quality investigation that provided evidence to support the nuisance lawsuit. Using samples collected from the air and exteriors of homes neighboring Kinlaw Farm, Rogers was able to isolate hog feces DNA at 14 of the 17 homes tested. All six of the dust samples collected from the air contained "tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of hog feces DNA particles."
Based on such high concentrations, Rogers deemed it highly likely that these contaminants could enter the houses. The presence of fecal matter in homes may provide grounds for a trespassing claim, as it falls under the definition of a physical invasion of another person's property.
Pork producers respond
Although the North Carolina settlement is a major step forward for rural communities, the industry is pushing back. Smithfield Foods has condemned such lawsuits as "nothing more than a money grab by a big litigation machine." The company asserts that because Kinlaw Farm fully complied with all federal, state and local laws and regulations, such lawsuits only threaten the livelihoods and economic prosperity of thousands of North Carolinians employed by the industry.
A few weeks after the April verdict, the judge reduced the settlement from $50.75 million to $3.25 million, pursuant to a North Carolina law which caps punitive damages at either three times the amount of compensatory damages awarded or $250,000. This allotment does not address community members' suffering, and jurors were unaware of the law limiting punitive damages when they reached their decision.
In response to 23 nuisance cases filed by more than 500 residents, the North Carolina legislature recently voted to expand its right-to-farm law, overriding Gov. Roy Cooper's veto. These laws were originally designed to protect farms from people who moved in nearby and then complained about noise and odors. However, industries in some agricultural states have pushed legislatures to expand the statutes to make it harder to sue CAFOs.
An Underregulated Industry
In my view, current measures in place to protect rural communities from factory farms are grossly insufficient. CAFOs have been defined as point sources of pollution under the Clean Water Act for more than 40 years. This means they should have to obtain permits to discharge waste into river, streams or surface waters. But due to industry pushback, lobbying and privacy concerns, it is estimated that only 33 percent of CAFOs operated with such permits as of 2017.
Environmental advocates also contend that CAFOs qualify as stationary pollution source under the Clean Air Act. Instead, the EPA has pursued a voluntary approach for more than a decade that centers on studying how to monitor CAFO air emissions.
In sum, I see governmental agencies as complicit within a system of production that prioritizes private interests rather than the well-being of communities and the environment. Research has shown that these operations disproportionately burden communities of color in rural North Carolina, so this is a major environmental justice issue.
In order for CAFOs and communities to coexist harmoniously, the entire structure of the present food system must change. In addition to strengthening regulations on factory farm emissions and discharges, I think regulators should provide incentives for CAFOs to invest in sustainable technologies and alternative waste management systems.
These farms should also be offered incentives to publicly report quality and safety data and expected impacts on host and nearby communities. This kind of information would increase rural residents' negotiating power.
Given the Trump administration's anti-regulatory slant and proposed budget cuts, the federal government is unlikely to lead in this area. However, the North Carolina verdicts and pending cases in Iowa could lead to greater industry transparency and empower more rural citizens to take action against CAFOs in their communities.
Iowans Fight Back Against Factory Farms—So Can You https://t.co/e6GP5y4o8H #FactoryFarming #CAFOs @OrganicConsumer… https://t.co/TE8J2qifem— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1517508218.0
Disclosure statement: Sacoby Wilson received funding for research on hog CAFOs from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National institutes of Health from 1998-2005.
Crystal Mehdizadeh, a bachelor's degree candidate in public health science at the University of Maryland-College Park, contributed to this article.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
By John Hall
As a wind energy researcher, I realize it will be hard for the industry to keep up this pace. Yet ample evidence supports widespread predictions that the volume of wind energy will continue to grow quickly—here and abroad, on land and offshore—for reasons that most electricity consumers can support.
Wind turbines, which convert moving air into electrical power, currently produce 6.3 percent of the electricity the U.S. consumes. Texas leads the nation overall in terms of the amount of power it gets from wind. Iowa gets a higher share of its electricity from wind turbines than any other state—37 percent.
The U.S. still lags other nations, particularly those in Europe, with offshore wind production. But even on that front, the U.S. has seen growth. The nation's first commercial offshore wind farm, located off the coast of Rhode Island, began operating in 2016. New York state plans to build a much larger offshore farm. And California may soon establish floating offshore wind farms.
#Windpower fact of the day: Four states now generate 30% or more of their electricity using wind energy. https://t.co/IgJpCzrWdN— American Wind Energy (@American Wind Energy)1524078301.0
Wind is abundant, ubiquitous and free, but sometimes it dies down. Consequently, the energy from wind turbines can't provide power around the clock.
Today, wind power faces another challenge: politics. The Trump administration is sending mixed signals regarding the industry. It exited the Paris agreement yet supports wind power growth as part of its "American energy dominance" policy.
Meanwhile, market forces coupled with widespread concerns over climate change continue to propel the wind industry. Such is the enthusiasm from tech giants, such as Apple and Google, which are proactively seeking to rely on wind energy, rather than fossil fuels.
And this wind rush is creating jobs in manufacturing, services and science. With total generating capacity projected to increase from about 89 gigawatts to more than 400 gigawatts over the next 30 years, the Energy Department says the industry may eventually employ 600,000 American workers.
John Hall is assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the The University at Buffalo School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
Disclosure statement: John Hall receives funding from the National Science Foundation.
Nation's Largest Wind Farm Coming to Oklahoma https://t.co/JFn8pgqTBn @WindEnergyPower @NewWindPower— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1519353904.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
By Jessica Corbett
More than 50 groups are demanding that Iowa lawmakers urgently pass landmark legislation to enact a moratorium on factory farm expansion in a state that is home to more than 10,000 of them.
"Across the nation, factory farming destroys communities and contaminates drinking water supplies and air quality," said Krissy Kasserman, the national factory farm campaigner at Food & Water Watch, one of the groups behind the effort. "A stop to the expansion of factory farming needs to happen now. It begins with Iowa."
In a letter to members of Iowa's General Assembly on Thursday, dozens of local, state and national groups wrote that a ban on new and expanded factory farms would give lawmakers "an overdue opportunity to evaluate the public health, economic and societal impacts of factory farms while providing Iowa's communities with important statutory protections from further expansion of this industry."
"Iowa is in the midst of a serious water pollution crisis," the letter declares, citing research from 2014 that found 750 bodies of water in the state, or more than half tested, contained pollutants or showed other conditions tied to factory farming‚ "including E. coli, excessive algal growth and diminished aquatic life."
The letter chastises the Environmental Protection Agency and state officials who, for decades, "have failed to regulate the environmental impacts of factory farms," and illustrates how existing regulations are "failing Iowa's communities" with a series of examples:
Family farmers and rural residents are often left feeling like prisoners in their own homes, unable to hold family gatherings or hang laundry outside to dry due to the overwhelming stench and air pollution. Retirees are left with the realization that their homes and properties—often their nest eggs—are depreciated due to the decline in property values associated with living next to a factory farm. Research has shown that Iowans living near factory farms are more likely to experience respiratory problems, headaches, diarrhea, burning eyes, nausea and more serious health problems as a result of factory farm air pollution.
Cherie Mortice, board president of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, said even though "state agencies and lawmakers are failing to protect our communities and environment," it is "clear to Iowans that the factory farm industry is out of control." She noted that the state is "seeing a massive expansion" in factory farming, and warned: "we're at a tipping point and need to put a stop to this industry immediately."
Food & Water Watch maps out where factory farms are most concentrated in the country:
In an editorial exploring multiple policy proposals, including a moratorium, the Des Moines Register wrote last fall that "pressing pause may be the only way Iowa can catch up to this fast-growing industry." The newspaper pointed to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report that showed a "record number of hogs and pigs were on Iowa farms as of Sept. 1: 22.9 million, up 3 percent from a year ago," and noted, "That's about 7.3 times more pigs than people in the state."
"Our call for a moratorium is a call for the return of plain, old common sense," explained Chris Peterson, an independent Iowa hog farmer and regional representative for the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project, another signatory on the letter. "Iowa is suffering under the enormous weight of a business that has no respect for the people, environment, animals and future of the state."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
By Steve Horn
The Iowa Senate has advanced a bill which critics say could lead to the criminalization of pipeline protests, which are being cast as "terrorist activities." Dakota Access pipeline owner Energy Transfer Partners and other companies have lobbied for the bill, Senate Study Bill 3062, which opens up the possibility of prison time and a hefty fine for those who commit "sabotage" of critical infrastructure, such as oil and gas pipelines.
This bill, carrying a criminal punishment of up to 25 years in prison and $100,000 in fines, resembles the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, a "model" bill recently passed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). That ALEC bill, intended as a template for state and federal legislation, was based on Oklahoma's HB 1123, which calls for citizens to receive a felony sentencing, $100,000 fine, and/or 10 years in prison if their actions "willfully damage, destroy, vandalize, deface, or tamper with equipment in a critical infrastructure facility."
According to disclosure records, corporations lobbying for the Iowa bill include not only Energy Transfer Partners, but also Koch Industries, the American Petroleum Institute, Valero Energy, Magellan Midstream and others. The Iowa State Police Association has also come out in support of the bill, while the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa is against it. The bill has passed out of subcommittee and next goes in front of the state Senate Judiciary Committee.
The bill's introduction comes as President Donald Trump called for Congress to pass a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill in his State of the Union Address, which according to a leaked outline of his proposal published by The Washington Post, includes pipelines and would expedite the federal regulatory permitting process for them, largely by simply removing environmental requirements.
State Sen. Jack Shipley (R), one of the Judiciary Subcommittee "yes" votes, told the Des Moines Register that the bill was necessary "as evidenced by terrorist activities on pipelines, many many pipelines."
Sen. Charles Schneider, who also voted to advance the bill out of subcommittee, is one of two Iowa ALEC state chairs. The other "yes" vote came from Sen. Rich Taylor, a Democrat.
ALEC is a corporate-funded group which brings together primarily Republican Party state legislators and lobbyists at annual meetings to vote on proposed "model" legislation, generally drafted by corporate lobbyists and attorneys. The Critical Infrastructure Protection Act passed through ALEC's Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force at its States & Nation Policy Summit in December held in Nashville, Tennessee.
Energy Transfer Partners' Iowa lobbyist, Jeff Boeyink, formerly served as chief of staff for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who now serves as U.S. Ambassador to China. Branstad was one of ALEC's key founding members in the 1970s. Energy Transfer in the past has funded ALEC meetings, though it is not clear if they are a current donor, as ALEC does not list funders on its website, nor does it make public who sponsors its meetings.
Boeyink told the Des Moines Register that he believes Energy Transfer Partners is the "poster child" showing the bill's necessity, alluding to the months-long protests which erupted against the Dakota Access pipeline in both North Dakota and Iowa. But one of the leading opponents of the bill, Bold Iowa, has come out against the legislation and sees it as overreach.
"This latest attempt by Big Oil to silence dissent is no surprise," Ed Fallon, director of Bold Iowa, said in a press release about the bill. "This is legislative extremism at its worst. The bill's backers want you to believe this is about cracking down on arson and vandalism. But the hundreds of pipeline protesters who were peaceful, nonviolent and didn't engage in property destruction could be accused of interrupting service under this bill and subject to insane consequences."
The director of ALEC's Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force, Grant Kidwell, told DeSmog that he expects the model bill could be introduced in other states in the weeks ahead. He also pointed out that it is not only an ALEC model bill, but also one passed at the corporate-funded Council on State Governments.
Before coming to ALEC, Kidwell worked as a senior policy analyst for Americans for Prosperity, the lobbying, advocacy and electioneering group funded and founded by money from the Koch Family Foundations and Koch Industries.
"States are recognizing the importance of critical infrastructure and the threats to it," Kidwell told DeSmog. "Oklahoma enacted legislation in 2017 protecting critical infrastructure before ALEC began its consideration of model policy on the issue. Iowa is currently considering legislation to protect critical infrastructure and likely many more states will as well."
Members of the Iowa-based lobbying teams for the bill, representing Koch Industries and Energy Transfer Partners, did not respond to a request for comment.
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
By Brett Walton
State of the State speeches are where governors sketch their legislative priorities and report on the overall health of their dominions. The state of the state is almost always "strong" and water issues are occasionally mentioned.
Below are summaries of the governors' references to water, climate and the environment.
This post will be updated throughout speech season, which concludes on March 12 with Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana.
Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican who took office last year after the previous governor resigned, did not mention water or the environment, other than to say that state agencies have improved their communication during disastrous weather.
Because she grew up in a small town in a rural county, Ivey said that rural Alabama is "central to [her] legislative agenda." Broadband and health services were two items mentioned.
As in past years, Gov. Doug Ducey used his speech to take a jab at a neighbor's water policies.
"Because in Arizona, we know the recipe for success," the first-term Republican said. "Lower taxes. Light regulation. Great public schools. Superior quality of life. And responsible water policies that will protect us from sharing in California's water crisis."
Not all is harmonious in his own house, though. Ducey hinted at the power struggle between two agencies—the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, which manages the state's main Colorado River canal, and the Arizona Department of Water Resources, the primary state water agency—over which will take the lead on state water policy.
Ducey implied that the agencies should stop quarreling and mimic earlier state leaders who put in place Arizona's landmark groundwater management law in 1980.
"We must follow their lead and put forward responsible policies that will ensure Arizona speaks with one voice to secure the state's future for generations to come."
Gov. Butch Otter, in his last State of the State, dedicated a not-insignificant portion of his speech to recapping the year's precipitation, which was the 12th wettest on record in Idaho. Otter, a Republican, also noted an agreement to conserve water in the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer.
"As I said, it was a big year for water, whether it was falling from the sky or being recharged into Idaho's largest underground reservoir. Runoff from last year's snowpack on top of saturated soils required careful, coordinated management of dams and reservoirs.
The effort successfully reduced flooding and ensured that dam structures were secure. Meanwhile it provided a full allocation of water in the Boise River and Snake River reservoirs and plenty of carryover for use in 2018.
Just as importantly, for the first time since the 1950s we put more water back into the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer than we pumped out in 2017. Water levels in the Lake Erie-sized aquifer had been dropping at an average rate of 215,000 acre-feet per year for 60 years.
But last year the Idaho Water Resource Board worked with private canal companies to recharge 317,000 acre-feet of water. A landmark settlement agreement between surface water users and ground water users resulted in a net gain of another 200,000 acre-feet.
Along with the wet weather, the result was a 660,000-acre-foot increase in water storage in the aquifer. Without our work together on these issues it would have been impossible to realize these historic advances in managing and protecting our most precious and fragile natural resource."
As he did in his first State of the State last year, Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, spoke about the need to repair Indiana's water systems. A priority, he said is to identify the highest needs for utilities, which a state agency will help accomplish over the next two years.
"It's also high time for Indiana to address our aging water infrastructure. State oversight is spread across several agencies, so we're going to form the executive branch governance structure needed to manage our operations and long-term strategy.
We're eager to work with lawmakers to get the ball rolling.
In the meantime, I'll direct the Indiana Finance Authority to designate half a million dollars each of the next two years for development of asset management plans for high-need water and wastewater utilities."
The former lieutenant governor, Gov. Kim Reynolds, gave her first State of the State address. Like her predecessor, Reynolds, a Republican, stressed the need for cleaner waters. A keystone in the nation's agriculture industry and a state within the Mississippi River watershed, Iowa has been a battleground for nitrate pollution for years.
"Improving water quality is a shared goal of Iowans. Urban and rural stakeholders have worked collaboratively making great strides.
My hope is that a water quality bill is the first piece of legislation I sign as governor.
Let me assure you, passage of this monumental legislation does not mean the water quality discussion is over; rather it ignites the conversation to implement and scale practices that will continue to make an impact on water quality."
In his final State of the State, Gov. Sam Brownback was dreaming dreams. The two-term Republican, ready to leave Kansas for a Trump administration post, had visions of renewable energy and sustainable groundwater use.
"I dream of a future Kansas exporting wind electricity across America. A Kansas known as the Renewable State. It could well be that in the future, those who have the wind resource will flourish like those who now have oil. We are growing as an energy state.
Dream with me of an Ogallala Aquifer that never runs dry because the use is sustainable. Of our reservoirs dredged, renewed and supplying the water we need in times of severe drought. Of us having a legal, binding allotment of water from the Missouri River and of an Arkansas River with water in its whole course."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said that lawmakers must recognize the risks of water pollution.
The two-term Democrat outlined four water priorities: cleaning up a nearly four-mile-long plume of groundwater at a former Northrop Grumman and Naval base that is contaminated with 1,4-dioxane and other chemicals; suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to continue the PCB cleanup in the Hudson River; halting the spread of harmful algal blooms; and addressing polluted discharges at the Niagara Falls wastewater treatment plant.
"Second, we face new challenges threatening our safety and quality of life: terrorism, climate change, environmental threats, including to our drinking water, and the growing opioid epidemic, a scourge across our state, that claimed more than 3,000 lives last year…
The growing concentration of chemicals and pollution in some areas is literally poisoning the water. In the beautiful lakes upstate, toxic algae is spreading. On Long Island, the Grumman plume carries 30 years of industrial stains and contaminants."
Gov. Jay Inslee, a two-term Democrat, told lawmakers that they "have a duty to focus on our legacy, which can be long." Voting rights, internet access, education, mental health, birth control, opioids—all worthy and weighty topics on their own—were lead-ins for Inslee's big pitch: that Washington state ought to begin taxing carbon emissions.
"We must recognize an existential threat to the health of our state, a threat to the health of our children, and a threat to the health of our businesses that demands action," he said. "That threat is climate change."
Revenue from a carbon tax, which would start at $20 per ton under the governor's plan and bring in an estimated $1.5 billion in the first two years, could help Washington in a number of ways, Inslee said. On the environment he mentioned upgrading irrigation and water utility systems and reducing pollution in waterways.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.
Des Moines-based MidAmerican Energy, owned by Berkshire Hathaway's Warren Buffett, recently invested $3.6 billion for its 2,000 megawatt Wind XI project, that's hailed as "the largest economic development project in Iowa's history" as well as the nation's largest wind energy project.
The Des Moines Register reports that MidAmerican will install 1,000 wind turbines over the next few years on top of the 2,020 turbines the company has already built around the state.
The feat would bring the utility's share of energy from renewable sources from 55 percent to 89 percent.
"We will be able to virtually serve 89 percent of our customers' needs with an energy resource that requires no fuel," MidAmerican CEO Bill Fehrman told the publication.
The initiative would involve no rate increases for customers—MidAmerican has agreed to freeze rates until at least 2029, and "a lot of that is because of the wind investment," Fehrman said.
"The beauty of wind is there's no fuel costs," he said.
MidAmerican's rates have increased only once since 1998 and are the ninth-lowest nationally, Fehrman said. "There's not another utility in the country—gas, water, cable, electric—that's held rates steady for 12, 13 years."
According to Fehrman, the company's goal is to eventually reach 100 percent renewables, which would require at least another $2 billion and 550 turbines.
"It would set a new precedent for the U.S.," Daniel Shurey, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, told the Register. "It will require a company that really knows what it's doing."
"It will be challenging for them to provide security of supply, and that's not something MidAmerican will take lightly," Shurey said.
The Wind XI project, which the Iowa Utilities Board approved in August, is expected to power 800,000 homes once completed by the end of 2019.
Iowa, one of the top U.S. states in wind power generation, already runs on more than one-third wind energy.
By Andrea Basche
There has been unsettling news out of my former home over the last week, as the Iowa legislature plays politics with critical scientific research in the state.
In the closing days of the legislative session, two budget bills moved swiftly that could force the closing of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, a nationally recognized center for sustainable agriculture research. There were also threats to a research center dedicated to mitigating flood impacts (which I wrote about last year for its excellent forecasting that literally helped saved lives), but that appears now to be safe.
A little bit of background: the Leopold Center was established in 1987 by Iowa's Groundwater Protection Act. This law passed as the farm crisis of the 1980's was raging (it is estimated that nearly one-third of the state's farms went out of business) and there was growing recognition of the problems associated with soil degradation and water pollution. Forward-thinking Iowa legislators came up with a funding stream—a small fertilizer and pesticide tax that generates several million dollars a year—to be dedicated to research on alternatives that offset the economic and environmental impacts of agriculture.
The resulting funding stream launched several important research enterprises—for example, a center studying health effects of environmental contaminants at the University of Iowa, long-term agricultural research sites across the state, as well as the Leopold Center, which is based at Iowa State University.
Since that time, the Leopold Center's competitive grants program has funded research that benefits both rural and urban constituents, with projects that range from local food infrastructure to crop diversification to beginner farmer programs. Many of the innovative topics the center has investigated are now widely accepted largely thanks to its efforts, so it's important to recognize how critical this type of rare funding support is for encouraging and spreading transformative ideas.
Research Far and Wide Has Benefited from the Leopold Center
The Leopold Center's research not only supports progress at the state level, but also has direct application to progress on a national level.
Our own research here at the Union of Concerned Scientists has benefited from the Leopold Center's novel work. In our 2016 report, Growing Economies, we evaluated the economic impact of more local food purchasing in the state of Iowa. We were able to do that using survey data generated by the Leopold Center, in which institutional and intermediate food purchasers were asked about their ability to support local food.
And in Subsidizing Waste, we calculated the economic impact of scaling up the integration of perennial vegetation into corn and soybean fields, to save money on water clean-up costs. The STRIPs project has long been supported by funding from the Leopold Center. Finally, a report we're preparing to release next month will detail how a crop rotation system developed at Iowa State and supported by the center could be expanded, spreading economic and environmental benefits across the state and the Corn Belt.
Also, earlier in my career while I was a Ph.D. student at Iowa State University, I received two Leopold Center research grants to study the long-term impacts and farmer adoption of cover crops. That was an invaluable professional development opportunity for me as an early career scientist: from developing the proposal to helping administer the project and to making decisions on dollars spent.
If a research center like this disappears, it would be yet another significant blow in the broader conversation over how much funding goes toward sustainable agriculture. In a recent analysis, we looked at competitive grants programs within the USDA, concluding that agroecological research (similar to projects supported by the Leopold Center) is woefully underfunded, with less than 15 percent of funding going to projects that included any element of this type of work. We need more of this type of research, not less, and nearly 500 Ph.D. level scientists agree.
Lawmaker Claims "Mission Accomplished" in Sustainable Agriculture (LOL!)
An Iowa state representative this week in an interview claimed: "A lot of people felt that the mission for sustainable agriculture that [the Leopold Center] undertook, that they have completed that mission." The same lawmaker also claimed that sustainable agriculture research at Iowa State can continue, but through other channels. These comments either suggest an utter lack of understanding around the reality of sustainable agriculture, or otherwise reveal the politics fueling these budget bills.
The agriculture and natural resources committee budget bill directs the Leopold Center to shut its doors this summer, and directs their funds to another center at Iowa State University. The other center does not currently have a track record of transparently administering research dollars, and has a far narrower scope than the current vision of the Leopold Center.
Comments to the tune of "someone else will do the research" always give me pause. The common thread I've noticed is that research deemed duplicative or unnecessary often simply doesn't jibe with financial interests. It is easy to see that research describing less use of pesticides, for example, might be viewed as controversial to powerful business interests. (Many examples of this already exist!)
Further, to claim "mission accomplished" on sustainable agriculture is laughable, and hints at willful ignorance about the current economic and environment realities in Iowa. They bear similarities to the 1980s: soil erosion and water pollution remain persistent and costly challenges, and farm incomes have been steeply declining for several years.
Research Should Be Free of Interference Even When the Politics Are Thorny
Even though it might not be popular for those with a financial stake in the status quo, the research made possible by the Leopold Center plays a critical role in the future of the state, if not the nation, and has broad public support. So it's hard not to see this incident as part of the larger political attacks on science, with parallels to the Trump Administration's numerous attacks on climate action.
In addition to research funds, the Leopold Center supports a diverse dialogue by bringing in valuable speakers and lectures to Iowa State's campus; I shudder to think how that important dialogue will change if the state legislature votes to close its doors. The center has a successful and important track record benefitting local and national public interests, and I hope it stays that way.
Andrea Basche is a Kendall Science Fellow in the Union of Concerned Scientists Food & Environment program.
By Julie M. Rodriguez
It's no secret that bee populations have declined in recent years. Last year, beekeepers across the U.S. reported losing a staggering 44 percent of their colonies over the course of the winter and summer.
It's Official: First Bumble Bee Species Listed as Endangered in 'Race Against Extinction' https://t.co/7Kl4bXYqtw @xercessociety @bpncamp— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1484176512.0
The causes of bee decline vary—exposure to a variety of pesticides, fungus, parasites and rising temperatures being just some of the potential issues—but there's only one really effective way to fight back against the problem. Bees need open spaces to roam and collect pollen without being disturbed.
One city in Iowa has decided to do just that, in a major way: Cedar Rapids is planning to set aside 1,000 acres of bee-friendly open space. (Eventually, it's hoped, the project may expand to as many as 10,000 acres). This spring, they'll start by seeding a modest 188 acres with native prairie grasses and wildflowers, plants that will both nourish pollinators and prevent invasive weeds from spreading. So far, the initiative has secured $180,000 in funding from the state and the Monarch Research Project, an organization dedicated to restoring monarch butterfly populations and pollinator habitats.
Monarch Populations Plummet: 27% Decrease From Last Year https://t.co/63KULj3gUp @NWF @foodtank @SpeciesSavers @endangered @nongmoreport— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1487604237.0
Cedar Rapids isn't going to convert land used for other purposes for the project. Instead, they're simply repurposes public lands that are currently going unused, seeding them with 39 species of native wildflowers and seven species of native grass. The flowers will serve as an attractor for bees and butterflies, while the grasses will keep noxious weeds from invading the area. Some of the spaces that are being used for the initiative include far-off corners of public parks, golf courses, open areas near the local airport, sewage ditches, water retention basins and green space along roadways.
The project was proposed by Daniel Gibbons, the park superintendent of Cedar Rapids. According to Gibbons, over the past 100 years, Iowa's agriculture boom has resulted a loss of 99.9 percent of the state's native habitats. Converting these unused public areas back to their original state will do more than simply help bees—it's also going to help birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals who rely on native vegetation.
Converting these spaces back to native prairie isn't going to be a simple process. Right now, many of them are choked with undesirable vegetation that isn't bee-friendly. The invasive plants present in these areas need to be mowed down, burned and in some cases hit with doses of herbicide before the native seed mixture can be planted.
You Can Replicate The Cedar Rapids Experiment In Your Own Backyard
Most of us don't have 1,000 acres of unused space lying around, but if you want to do your part to help bees in the same way as Cedar Rapids, there's plenty you can do. If you have a garden or a place to leave outdoor planters, just a few square feet of wildflowers native to your area can help boost local bee populations. In Popular Science, pollination ecologist Stephen Buchmann suggests planting a diverse mix of wildflowers and heirloom crops that bloom in the spring, summer and fall.
If you do plant a pollinator garden, it's best not to use any herbicides or insecticides at all, as these are known to correlate with poor health in honey bees. If you must use these products, do it at night when bees are inactive.
Of course, simply providing a food source for bees does no good if they have no place to rest at the end of the day. You can also create nesting sites for native bees, if you can stomach the idea of a hive on your property. The Xerces society has compiled a helpful guide with information on how to provide nesting sites that allow bees to thrive. In many ways, the approach you'll need to take depends on the species of bees that live in your area—some prefer to nest in hollow wood, while others dig their nests in the dirt.
If we all make a small effort to create bee-friendly spaces, it's completely possible to replicate Cedar Rapids' experiment collectively in our own communities.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Care2.
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad has been nominated to serve as U .S. Ambassador to China in Donald Trump's Administration, a pick that has some of Big Ag's biggest players celebrating.
Donald Trump has chosen Iowa Governor Terry Branstad as ambassador to China. Twitter
Branstad is the longest-serving governor in U.S. history with 22 non-consecutive years and going under his belt. During his tenure, he has built significant relationships with Iowa's agribusinesses and has helped spur trade of the state's beef, pork and soy products to Asian consumers, and once struck a $4.3 billion deal with Chinese officials for Iowa's exports.
This past October, China signed a $2.1 billion deal for Iowa soybeans to feed Chinese livestock. In November, less than a week after Trump's presidential win, Branstad traveled to China to promote Iowa beef and pork. It was his seventh such trip to China as governor.
The Republican governor's friendship with Chinese president Xi Jinping goes back three decades after Xi visited rural Iowa in 1985.
"Ensuring the countries with the two largest economies and two largest militaries in the world maintain a collaborative and cooperative relationship is needed more now than ever," Branstad said after Trump's announcement.
I'm honored and humbled to accept this responsibility as Amb to China; Iowa will never be far from my heart #iagov https://t.co/kkyXBYNElZ— Terry Branstad (@Terry Branstad)1481143271.0
At a Wednesday meeting in St. Louis with United Soybean Board and the American Soybean Association, Monsanto chief technology officer Robb Fraley praised the president-elect's latest top-level pick.
"[Fraley] said Branstad's past work on behalf of biotech acceptance and advocacy for U.S. agriculture makes him an excellent choice for the role," according to Farm Journal editor Susan Luke.
China, Monsanto and Iowa are all linked by the humble soybean. Monsanto controls 90 percent of soybean production in the U.S. and Iowa happens to be a top soybean grower, with 97 percent of the state's soybeans grown from genetically modified (GMO) seeds. China is the world's largest soybean consumer, importing about 25 percent of all U.S. soy produced.
Soybeans sold to China are "the largest U.S. agricultural export as their value rose from about $400,000 annually during 1996-97 to as high as $14.5 billion in 2014," Fred Gale, U.S. Department of Agriculture agricultural economist told ChinaDaily USA.
China's booming population is driving increased meat consumption and increased imports of corn and soybeans to feed livestock. Incidentally, China has banned the cultivation of GMO crops, as Chinese consumers are generally fearful of the food's perceived health risks. Rather, the country buys GMO soy for cooking oil or animal feed. But in recent years, China has pushed for the domestic commercialization of GMO soybeans, spending billions on research. President Xi himself called for the domestic cultivation of GMO crops in 2014.
Branstad's nomination was also praised by Iowa Corn Growers Association president Kurt Hora, noting that China does not just buy corn to feed its animals, it's also a large buyer of U.S. ethanol.
"China is an important market for U.S. corn in all forms including the second-largest purchaser of U.S. ethanol last marketing year; and a critical buyer of U.S. distiller's dried grains (DDGS). The China/Hong Kong market is also the third largest customer for both U.S. pork and beef exports," Hora said.
Corn ethanol has been touted as an energy alternative, but the biofuel "might be worse than petroleum when total greenhouse gas emissions are considered," Scientific American explained.
Mother Jones's Tom Philpott called Trump's choice of Branstad a "gift" to Big Ag, highlighting the governor's close ties to Bruce Rastetter, the CEO of Summit Agriculture Group, a major Iowa pork and ethanol producer, who contributed $164,875 towards Branstad's run for governor in 2010. Eldon Roth, CEO of Beef Products International, contributed another $152,000.
Not only that, "back in 2011, the governor also tapped Rastetter's brother Brent, who then ran a business constructing industrial-scale hog-rearing facilities, to the state's Environmental Protection Commission. Branstad also signed into law one of those infamous "ag gag" bills, championed by Big Ag, that make it a crime to secretly document conditions inside livestock farms," Philpott wrote.
Ronnie Cummins, the director of the Organic Consumers Association, criticized Trump's latest pick.
"[The selection of] Iowa Governor Terry Branstad for U.S. Ambassador to China is good news for the factory farm cartel, the ethanol lobby, Big Pharma Bayer and Monsanto, but very bad news for organic consumers and farmers, as well as everyone in the world who cares about justice, healthy food and soils, the environment, humane treatment of animals and re-stabilizing our dangerously out-of-control climate," Cummins told EcoWatch.
Ken Roseboro, the editor and publisher of the Organic & Non-GMO Report, agreed.
"As an Iowan, I've seen that Governor Terry Branstad has been a big supporter of factory farms in Iowa, which threaten the environment, human health and quality of life for Iowans," Roseboro told EcoWatch. "His appointment as Ambassador to China is likely to accelerate that unsustainable trend since China is deeply involved in Iowa's pork production and factory farms."
Health and environmental advocates have been very critical of Trump's recent slew of nominations for his incoming administration. Just yesterday, the president-elect announced his pick of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 350.org's Executive Director May Boeve called Pruitt a fossil fuel "puppet."
OMG! #Trump Picks #ScottPruitt, 'Puppet of the Fossil Fuel Industry,' to Head @EPA https://t.co/NOqLYyg4zn @billmckibben @MarkRuffalo @NRDC— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1481145607.0
"Donald Trump appears destined for the Guinness Book of Records for appointing the most corrupt and dangerous administration officials in U.S. history," Cummins told EcoWatch. "If I were a Reality TV host, my message to Donald and his cronies would be clear: You're fired."