Environment & Weather
Harkin, Senate Leader in Push for Clean, Renewable Fuels; Welcomes Climate Change Proposal PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Environment & Weather
Written by Sen. Tom Harkin   
Monday, 02 June 2014 15:41

‘Climate change is real and this proposal is a major action to address it’

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today issued the following statement on the proposed rule released today by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  The proposal aims to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants by 30 percent by 2030.  The draft rule will now will now go through an extensive public comment period and stakeholder feedback process before being finalized.

Harkin was an original cosponsor of the bipartisan Bingaman-Specter climate bill introduced in the Senate in 2007 and has been a long-time leader in the move toward clean, renewable fuels. He authored the first-ever energy title in the 2002 farm bill to promote the production and use of biofuels and biobased products,  and to support energy efficiency and renewable energy projects for farmers and rural small businesses.  The 2008 farm bill extended these energy programs, including the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) that has become hugely popular with farmers.   For background on Harkin’s renewable energy work, click here.

“Today’s announcement is a major step forward and I applaud the President and the EPA for this action.  Climate change is real, as we have seen by increased frequency of severe weather, in extended draughts and heat waves, in increases in heavy precipitation, and in flooding in Iowa and throughout the Midwest.  Today’s proposed rule will deliver a significant reduction in carbon pollution from our largest single source, and thus it represents a major action to address climate change.

“The last time major Clean Air Act regulations on air pollution took effect on the power sector in the 1990’s to limit emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and carbon monoxide; we were told that compliance would be an economic disaster.  Yet, the regulation had the opposite effect.  Environmental firms and small businesses generated $282 billion in new revenue and $40 billion in exports and supported 1.6 million new jobs.  There was no significant impact on electricity prices.  We are hopeful of the same, positive outcome from today’s announcement.

“We also know that renewables are rapidly expanding as effective and economic power supplies.  In Iowa, we get more than 25 percent of our electrical power from carbon pollution-free wind.  Moreover, our power companies have already begun to shut down some of the older, less efficient coal-burning power plants.

“What the Obama Administration is proposing is bold action.  It will take time to implement.  But I have no doubt that it is in the best interest of our climate and our country’s future.”


News Releases - Environment & Weather
Written by Susan Guy   
Monday, 02 June 2014 10:52
Iowa IPL to Announce Statewide Canvass to Gather Signatures in Support of new EPA Rules
DES MOINES, Iowa – Monday, Iowa Interfaith Power & Light (IIPL) and Iowa climate experts will hold a statewide conference call with Iowa reporters to discuss a newly announced proposal to limit carbon pollution from power plants, a major driver of climate change, and to outline the positive impacts of that decision, as well as accompanying energy efficiency and clean energy investments, for Iowans.

Speakers on the call will also unveil plans to launch a statewide canvass to gather signatures from Iowans in support of the new carbon rules.  The canvasses will take place on Sunday, June 8th – the six-year anniversary of the start of the historic 2008 Iowa floods that devastated Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and communities across the state.

Conference call participants include:
  • Rev. Susan Guy: Rev. Susan Guy has served as the Executive Director at Iowa IPL since 2010.  She is ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) with an M. Div. from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, a B.A. from Bethany College in Bethany, West Virginia.  Prior to Iowa IPL, Susan served as a pastor in both Disciples of Christ and United Methodist congregations, focusing on social justice ministries.  She also has experience managing non-profit organizations, and served as the first Heartland Field Organizer for the ONE Campaign on global poverty.
  • Dr. Yogesh Shah:  Dr. Yogesh Shah is the Associate Dean for Global Health at Des Moines University, a position created in 2006 to establish global health experiences that DMU students increasingly seek.  Dr. Shah has been instrumental in establishing the City of Des Moines as a member of the World Health Organization’s network of age-friendly cities.  He also led the creation of the Heartland Global Health Consortium, and the creation of Heartland Climate Health Consortium, a collaborative of Iowa educational institutions to promote the effect of climate change on nutrition and human health.
  • Christopher J. Anderson, PhD:  Christopher J. Anderson is a climate risk analyst.  He is Assistant Director of the Iowa State University Climate Science Initiative, a research program that provides authoritative, scientific information for short-term and long-term climate-informed decision-making.  He holds doctoral and master degrees in agricultural meteorology from Iowa State University.  Mr. Anderson’s research examines linkages between climate variability, climate change, and water management.  He has coauthored recent reports for the Western Utility Climate Alliance and US EPA containing recommendations on investments in climate modeling that would yield improvements in infrastructure planning for water utilities in major metropolitan areas (Options for Improving Climate Modeling to Assist Water Utility Planning for Climate Change) and flood mitigation in the Midwest United States (Iowa Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience Report).  Currently, he is providing leadership to the Federal Highways Climate Resilience Pilot in Iowa in collaboration with Iowa DOT and University of Iowa IIHR.

News Releases - Environment & Weather
Written by Brandy Walvaert   
Tuesday, 27 May 2014 14:45

Suggest a cleanup site—and vote for your favorite T-shirt color!

QUAD-CITIES—The date has been set and planning is underway for Xstream Cleanup, the Quad-Cities’ annual, volunteer-based cleanup of area waterways.

The cleanup will be held from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014. Online registration will open by July 1 at www.xstreamcleanup.org.

Again this year, organizers are looking for new cleanup sites and encourage members of the community to make suggestions. If a site is dirty, litter-ridden or host to illegal dumping, organizers want to hear about it. To make a suggestion, send an e-mail to  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call (563) 468-4218.

“Xstream Cleanup gives people an opportunity to get their hands dirty and show their commitment to the community. Each year hundreds of volunteers pick up, drag out, and haul away unwanted trash and debris from our waterways. This event proves that as a community, we’re willing to sweat together to protect and improve water quality where we live,” says Curtis Lundy, event chair.  

Community members also are invited to visit the Xstream Cleanup Facebook page to vote for their favorite color for this year’s volunteer T-shirts. Color options are Chestnut (light brown), Gravel (light gray), or Yellow Haze (light yellow). One vote per person will be counted. The deadline to vote is 5 p.m. Friday, May 30.  

Xstream Cleanup began in 2004 as a small-scale cleanup of Duck Creek. Over the years, the event has grown to engage over 1,000 volunteers cleaning up about 40 sites around the Quad-Cities each year. The cleanup is now in its eleventh year. 


For more information about Xstream Cleanup, visit www.xstreamcleanup.org. “Like” Xstream Cleanup on Facebook for updates as the event approaches.


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USDA seeks partnerships to protect soil, water PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Environment & Weather
Written by JOHN FLESHER, AP Environmental Writer   
Tuesday, 27 May 2014 14:42

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture is teaming with businesses, nonprofits and others on a five-year, $2.4 billion program that will fund locally designed soil and water conservation projects nationwide, Secretary Tom Vilsack said.


Authorized by the new farm law enacted earlier this year, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program is intended to involve the private sector more directly in planning and funding environmental protection initiatives tied to agriculture. Officials provided details of the program to The Associated Press ahead of an announcement scheduled for Tuesday.


"It's a new approach to conservation that is really going to encourage people to think in very innovative and creative ways," Vilsack said.


He described the projects to be funded as "clean water start-up operations" that will benefit communities and watersheds, a departure from the department's more traditional approach of focusing on individual operators adopting practices such as no-till cultivation or planting buffer strips to prevent runoff into streams.


Universities, local and tribal governments, companies and sporting groups are among those eligible to devise plans and seek grants.


"This program is a recognition that a coordinated and comprehensive effort is more effective than the USDA operating on its own and Ducks Unlimited operating on its own and the Kellogg Foundation operating on its own," Vilsack said.


In addition to protecting the environment, the projects will bolster the rural economy by supporting tourism and outdoor recreation jobs while avoiding pollution that would cost more to clean up, he said.


USDA will spend $1.2 billion — including $400 million the first year — and raise an equal amount from participants. Successful applications will include offers of cash, labor or other contributions, as well as plans for achieving measurable solutions and using new approaches, said Jason Weller, chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service.


Vilsack was announcing the program in Michigan, home state of Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, primary writer of the farm bill with Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma. A news conference was scheduled in Bay City near Lake Huron's Saginaw Bay, where nutrient runoff from croplands causes algae blooms that degrade water quality.


Stabenow said she expected the area to generate several funding proposals.


The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, established by the cereal pioneer, is working with The Nature Conservancy on a project designed to reduce runoff in the Saginaw Bay watershed, said Diane Holdorf, the foundation's chief sustainability officer. Kellogg, based in Battle Creek, buys wheat for its cereals from farms in the area.


The program establishes three pots of money for grants. Thirty-five percent of total funding will be divided among "critical" areas including the Great Lakes, the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the Columbia, Colorado and Mississippi river basins, the Longleaf Pine Range, prairie grasslands and the California Bay Delta.


Additionally, 40 percent will go to regional or multi-state projects selected on a competitive basis and 25 percent to state-level projects.


The California Rice Commission plans to seek funding of initiatives to expand water bird habitat in flooded Central Valley rice fields, said Paul Buttner, manager of environmental affairs. Rice farms are an indispensable waterfowl refuge because most of the original wetlands have been developed, he said.


Working with the USDA and other partners, the rice commission has developed practices that can make fields more hospitable for birds such as draining them more gradually ahead of planting season and building nesting islands, Buttner said. The new program could attract more participants, he said.


The New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts will develop proposals for combating invasive plants that suck too much water from the ground and ranching practices that could slow the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer, Executive Director Debbie Hughes said.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Announces Action to Combat Insects and Diseases that Weaken Forests, Increase Fire Risk PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Environment & Weather
Written by USDA Office of Communications   
Wednesday, 21 May 2014 08:36
Vilsack Also Reiterates Need for Fire Funding Solution as Projected Cost of Fighting Wildfire Exceeds This Year's Budget

DENVER, May 20, 2014 - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced action to help 94 national forest areas in 35 states to address insect and disease threats that weaken forests and increase the risk of forest fire. These areas are receiving an official designation that will provide the Forest Service, working collaboratively with stakeholders, additional tools and flexibility to more efficiently plan and accomplish restoration treatments in those areas. Vilsack announced the designations in Denver where he discussed additional efforts to help better prepare for and combat the threat of wildfire.

"USDA and the Forest Service are working to improve the health of our national forests and reduce the risk of forest fire," said Vilsack. "The designations announced today, made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill, will support the Forest Service's ability to work with partners to restore areas within the National Forest System that have been impacted by insects and disease."

The new Farm Bill amends the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003 to allow the Forest Service to more quickly plan projects for insect and disease treatments within designated areas, in an effort to increase the pace and scale of restoration across the National Forest System. Using the new tools in the Farm Bill, restoration projects in these designated areas have to be developed in collaboration with a diverse group of stakeholders and must meet environmental safeguards.

The Forest Service will use the authority to work collaboratively with States, Tribes, partners, stakeholders and the public to develop and implement restoration projects within designated areas that reduce the risk of insect and disease infestations along with drought. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell designated over 45 million acres* of the National Forest System in response to requests from governors whose states are experiencing, or are at risk of, an insect or disease epidemic. Insect and disease damage makes forests more susceptible to wildfire.

"Working with local partners to combat insect and disease infestation has long been one of our top priorities, and this new authority gives us additional tools to implement landscape scale projects," said Chief Tidwell. "We will continue our commitment to involve the public as we develop and implement projects in these areas."

In addition, Vilsack also announced today another Farm Bill initiative to help remove insect infected trees from National Forest Service lands. The Biomass Crop Assistance Program, administered by the Farm Service Agency, supports the harvesting and transporting of forest residue to an energy facility. These payments are designed for energy generation while reducing fire, insect and disease threats on public lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. USDA announced that the program has been reauthorized for $25 million annually with funding becoming available on June 9th.

Vilsack also discussed the need for Congress to approve a provision in the Obama Administration's 2015 budget proposal that creates a special disaster relief cap adjustment for use when costs of fighting fires exceed Forest Service and Department of the Interior budgets, as is expected to happen this year. A May report showed that the cost of fighting fires could reach nearly $1.6 billion this year, more than $500 million over the Forest Service's firefighting budget.

When actual firefighting costs exceed firefighting budgets, the Forest Service has to engage in what's known as "fire transfer," where funding for fire suppression is transferred mid-year from non-fire programs, including forest management activities that treat areas impacted by insects and disease and reduce the incidence and severity of future wildfires.

In the most recent two fiscal years, the Forest Service had to transfer $440 million and $505 million respectively from other accounts to pay for fire suppression. Over the last 12 years, a total of $3.2 billion was shifted from other programs that accomplish important forest health objectives. This year the Forest Service projects that it will run out of funds to fight wildfires before the end of the wildfire season, triggering the need for transfers from other accounts.

"The President's budget proposal, and similar bipartisan legislation before Congress, would solve a recurring problem of having to transfer money from forest restoration and other Forest Service accounts to pay the costs of fighting wildfires," said Vilsack. "USDA will spend the necessary resources to protect people, homes and our forests, but it is not in the interest of forest health to transfer funds from forest restoration that can prevent future fires."

The effects of a warming climate and droughts have ripened conditions for insect and disease epidemics to take root. Approximately 81 million acres of the nation's forests are at risk of insects and diseases based on the 2012 National Insect and Disease Risk Map and approximately 58 million acres of National Forest System lands are at risk of intense wildfire. Additionally, Forest Service scientists predict that fire seasons could regularly exceed 12 to 15 million acres burned annually. Not only do these conditions and trends pose risks to surrounding communities, they could impact drinking water, wildlife habitat, recreation opportunities and many other benefits provided by the nation's forests. Landscape scale treatments in the insect and disease designated areas will help adapt forests and watersheds to the effects of a changing climate while lowering the risks of impacts from catastrophic wildfire.

The Farm Bill supports a wide range of agency efforts already underway to increase the pace and scale of restoration, including the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, Cohesive Fire Strategy, Western Bark Beetle Strategy, the Integrated Resource Restoration Program, Watershed Condition Framework, and implementation of the 2012 National Forest System Land Management Planning Rule.

*For more information about the insect and disease designations, including specific acres and forests by state, please visit http://www.fs.fed.us/farmbill/.


USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. To file a complaint of discrimination, write: USDA, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Office of Adjudication, 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (866) 632-9992 (Toll-free Customer Service), (800) 877-8339 (Local or Federal relay), (866) 377-8642 (Relay voice users)


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