On this Earth Day, let’s celebrate how Iowa is becoming a greener state in important ways while recognizing key challenges moving forward. Environmental progress is being achieved together with job creation and economic development. The old myth about jobs versus the environment is simply that: old and false.
Let’s be proud of what Iowa has accomplished and candid about some environmental problems requiring solutions.
Wind Energy: Iowa is a national leader in wind power development with 5,177 megawatts of installed generating capacity today and more coming soon. Iowa ranks second in the nation for wind power manufacturing and installation jobs. Clean wind energy is powering the growth of new Facebook, Google and Microsoft data centers in Iowa.
• Challenge: The stop-and-start federal production tax credit for wind power must be extended. Gov. Branstad, Sens. Grassley and Harkin and Reps. Braley, Latham, Loebsack and King are all strong supporters. They must help persuade congressional Republican leadership to withdraw their opposition.
Energy Efficiency: Energy efficiency saves businesses and residential consumers money on their utility bills, avoids pollution, creates jobs and keeps money in Iowa’s economy. Iowa is transitioning to modern LED streetlights that save money and energy. The Environmental Law & Policy Center recently worked to improve MidAmerican Energy’s and Interstate Power & Light’s energy efficiency plans, which are estimated to save 2.1 million megawatt-hours and reduce carbon pollution by 1.54 million metric tons over five years.
• Challenge: There is still much untapped energy efficiency beyond what the utilities’ plans will capture. Let’s make sure that homes and businesses in all Iowa communities gain energy efficiency benefits.
Solar Energy: Solar energy is Iowa’s next clean energy opportunity, building on the successful wind power experience. Iowa’s solar tax credit incentive program is working, and solar panel prices are dropping while technologies improve. Iowa’s solar incentives of $2.84 million have leveraged 622 solar projects with a total $24 million investment.
• Challenge: The utilities’ anti-competitive attempts to create regulatory barriers to solar development should be rejected by the Iowa Supreme Court. The Iowa Utilities Board should adopt policies designed to support distributed solar development on building rooftops. People and businesses who arrange to install solar panels on their rooftops providing clean, independent energy supplies shouldn’t be penalized. The solar tax cap should be raised from $1.5 million to $4.5 million annually to accelerate progress.
Cleaning up Iowa’s lakes and rivers: Iowa’s lakes provide recreational enjoyment for many people, and clean lakes are economic assets helping Iowa businesses recruit and retain employees. The 11.9 million lake visits each year generate $1.2 billion in spending and more than 14,000 jobs. Cleaning up Iowa’s rivers and lakes, however, has a long way to go. Nutrient pollution from agricultural chemical run-off requires costly water treatment to protect Des Moines residents’ drinking water supplies and causes algae blooms in Iowa’s lakes and rivers that hamper recreation and harm aquatic life. The Iowa nutrient reduction strategy is bringing people together to talk about improving water quality and steps to address nutrient pollution.
• Challenges: Cleaning up Iowa’s rivers and lakes requires reducing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from heavy agricultural chemical use and runoff. Actions do speak louder than words for seriously improving water quality.
It’s time for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to adopt strong water quality standards to achieve cleaner water. In 2008, a panel of scientists provided recommendations to the DNR on better protecting Iowa’s swimming lakes. Progress has stalled. Let’s advance solutions now.
Higher-speed rail: The growing Midwest high-speed rail network will connect Iowans to Chicago, Omaha and the mid-sized cities in between. Amtrak is achieving record-high ridership levels between Chicago and Milwaukee, Detroit and St. Louis. Modern passenger rail can work for Iowa by improving mobility, reducing pollution, creating jobs and spurring regional economic growth.
• Challenge: Iowa should invest in modernizing and expanding passenger rail service. It’s time for Iowa policymakers to join with Iowa’s business leaders and get on board.
Clean water, clean air, cleaner energy and fewer toxics are important values shared by all Iowans. This Earth Day, let’s be proud of Iowa’s accomplishments and progress, and let’s seize opportunities to advance cleaner, greener and safer communities for all.