Iowa environmentalists hail Biden’s first-day actions, ask for more

By: - January 20, 2021 4:11 pm
Iowa is one of the nation's top producers of wind energy. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Wind turbines frame an Iowa sunset. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

President Joe Biden spent part of his first day in office reversing the previous administration’s environmental policies on climate change, vehicle emissions and drilling in an Arctic refuge. 

The praise from Iowa environmental advocates came quickly Wednesday.

Polk County Conservation Director Richard Leopold said Biden’s executive orders appear to bring science back into the center of federal environmental debates.

“We in the natural resources world are greatly encouraged by the initial efforts of the Biden administration,” Leopold said in an interview. “We understand the very real, science-based effects of climate change in Iowa, and support efforts to help our wildlife and natural resources adapt to the shifting climate, while also mitigating the causes such as continued reliance on fossil fuels. 

“We are also witnessing, more than ever as time moves on, the effects of climate change on our natural world and public health. We support a transition to cleaner and more sustainable forms of energy,” Leopold added.

The Iowa Environmental Council, a coalition of organizations and individual members, said Wednesday’s actions were the first in an expected series. 

In addition to Biden’s move to rejoin the Paris climate accord, the council hailed his creation of a special envoy position on climate issues, to be held by former Secretary of State John Kerry, and the nomination of former U.S. Environmental Protection Administrator Gina McCarthy as national climate adviser.

The council noted that a federal appeals court this week threw out former President Donald Trump’s proposal to reduce power sector emissions by a maximum of 1.5% by 2030. That’s a fraction of the cuts sought by President Barack Obama, who preceded Trump in office. 

“The application of rigorous science, a clear understanding of how policy can affect change, and the readiness to take action is critical to battle climate change and protect our environment,” said Ingrid Gronstal Anderson, council water program director.

Kerri Johannsen, the council’s energy program director, said the Biden-Harris administration is expected both to boost renewable energy while moving to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“We are hopeful for the great promise that responsible, effective action can have to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, while also driving growth and innovation for our nation and right here in Iowa,” Johannsen said. 

“Iowans earn millions of dollars from renewable energy development and enjoy low energy rates,” Johannsen added. “Advancing our efforts to grow renewable energy, move to electrification, increase energy efficiency, adopt zero-emission transportation options and more will bring positive and beneficial changes for the health of everyone in our state, in our nation, and around the world.” 

Iowa state Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, follows climate change issues in his job as outreach and community education director for the University of Iowa’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research and the Iowa Flood Center.

“President Biden’s executive orders on climate change and energy will get America back on track leading the world in creating new clean energy technology and thousands of new well-paying jobs,” Bolkcom said. “America will be healthier and more prosperous under these orders.”

Biden planned to sign documents Wednesday indicating the United States will rejoin the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, a key international pact that the previous president had opposed as bad for business. The U.S. officially rejoins the agreement in 30 days. 

Nationally, industry group EnergyForward, praised the move. “… Paris also represents a recognition that global climate change is an inherently international challenge, and that our domestic response must be economy-wide and substantial,” the group of power-generating companies said in a statement. “We look forward to working together with the new administration on achieving its climate goals in a sound and effective way.”

The new president also called on federal agencies to review actions of the previous administration that were harmful to public health, damaging to the environment and not in the public interest. He asked agencies to consider tightening vehicle fuel economy regulations again. And he moved to stop work on leases for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and to protect several other threatened federal lands. 

And, Biden immediately moved to revoke the permit for the highly controversial Keystone XL pipeline. 

Former state lawmaker Ed Fallon, who runs the nonprofit Bold Iowa, said he hopes Biden will act to block a proposal to double flows in the Dakota Access pipeline, which crosses Iowa. During the campaign, Biden told Iowans he had opposed the pipeline. 

“Given President Biden’s clear and strong statements in opposition to (Dakota Access), he needs to step in immediately and prevent the proposed expansion,” said Fallon. “He gave us his word.”

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Perry Beeman
Perry Beeman

Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.