Top Stories

Open letter to readers: Today and tomorrow

By Lynda Waddington | 11.17.11

Wednesday was a difficult day for The American Independent News Network, which is the larger entity that operates The Iowa Independent. Our chief executive and founder announced two of our sister sites would close and their content would be moved to The American Independent.

ACS lockout continues; plan emerges to repeal sugar protections

By Virginia Chamlee | 11.15.11

A recently introduced bill could have far-reaching impact on the U.S. sugar industry, including American Crystal Sugar, a farmer-owned cooperative that locked out 1,300 Midwest workers on Aug. 1.

Cain campaign: Farmers know more about regulations than EPA

By Andrew Duffelmeyer | 11.15.11

The chairman for Herman Cain’s Iowa effort says the campaign “relied more on the word of farmers than Washington regulators” in deciding to run an ad containing claims the Environmental Protection Agency says are false.

Mathis wins, Democrats maintain Senate control

Liz Mathis
By Lynda Waddington | 11.08.11

The Iowa Senate will remain under the control of a slim 26-25 Democratic majority when it reconvenes in January 2012.

Press Release

PR: Nation should work to address veterans’ challenges

By Press Release Reprints | 11.11.11

BRUCE BRALEY RELEASE — As US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan ends, it’s more important than ever that our nation works to address the challenges faced by the men and women who fought there.

PR: Honoring veterans, help in hiring

By Press Release Reprints | 11.11.11

CHUCK GRASSLEY RELEASE — A difficult job market is challenging the soldiers, sailors and airmen who have protected America’s interests by serving in the Armed Forces.

PR: In honor of America’s veterans

By Press Release Reprints | 11.11.11

TOM LATHAM RELEASE — No one has done more to secure the freedom enjoyed by every single American than our veterans and those currently serving in the armed services.

PR: Honoring and supporting our nation’s veterans

By Press Release Reprints | 11.11.11

DAVE LOEBSACK RELEASE — Veterans Day is an opportunity to reflect on the service of generations of veterans and to honor the sacrifices they and their families have made so that we may live in peace and freedom here at home.

Students vow to press Iowa universities on coal ash disposal

By Jason Hancock | 08.18.09 | 12:36 pm

Students at Iowa’s state universities say getting their schools to change their coal ash disposal methods will be a priority during the coming school year, and a new organization could make that easier.

The University of Iowa's coal power plant in Iowa City.

The University of Iowa's coal power plant in Iowa City.

The University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa are among the state’s biggest producers of coal ash, a toxic byproduct of coal combustion. All three schools dispose of their ash in an unlined, unmonitored former quarry in Waterloo that received a waiver from the state in 2002 allowing it to use the ash as fill in its reclamation process.

Because the site is unmonitored, its potential risks to public health are unknown. State regulators say they are waiting for the federal government to issue new rules governing coal ash disposal, despite admitting to The Iowa Independent that contamination could already be taking place. Environmentalists point to studies released this spring showing a much higher risk of toxins leaching into groundwater supplies than previously thought. They believe the state should take action in order to protect its citizens from any potential health risk.

Early this summer, all three of Iowa’s public universities vowed to investigate any possible health risks that could result from the disposal of their coal ash at the Waterloo quarry. In the end, the schools decided they would not alter their methods.

Holly Jones, a University of Iowa student and an organizer with the Sierra Club Student Coalition, said many students are not aware that this is happening at their school. Most don’t even know there is a coal plant sitting all three campuses.

“It’s so ironic that here we are attending a university that is supposed to be fostering learning and growth, and right on campus we have a coal plant that is detrimental to the student body’s health,” she said.

To remedy that, Jones said student organizers plan to work to raise student awareness of the issue and force the school’s administration to alter its coal ash disposal methods.

“The university can do better, and we have to challenge them to do so,” she said.

Pantelis Korovilas, an Iowa State University student who has been active in the environmental movement, said student organizations know the issue of coal ash well. While groups have previously only worked on their specific campus, coal ash could become one of the first issues tackled by a new statewide student organization formed in the spring.

Following the Iowa Earth Summit held at Drake University on March 28, student environmentalists formed the Iowa Sustainability Alliance, Iowa’s first statewide student environmental effort.

“This issue is bigger than just one campus,” Korovilas said. “So, the fact that a state network is getting underway right now, this is the perfect opportunity to tie something in across campuses and work on something at a statewide level.”

Initial efforts will focus on educating the student body on the issue and making them aware that, despite what each of the universities say about their commitment to the environment, the reality is they are some of the biggest polluters in the state, Jones said.

“The universities are always talking about sustainability and renewable energy,” she said. “But then you hear that how they dispose of coal ash doesn’t seem to be much of an issue to them, and that is really discouraging. This is something in the coming year that students will rally around.”

In addition to pushing each school’s administration, Korovilas said students might speak to the Board of Regents, the governing body for the state’s public universities. When contacted to discuss the coal ash issue, Sheila Doyle, the board’s spokeswoman, said it “would not be appropriate to comment at this time.”

Doyle did say that to the best of her knowledge, the universities’ method of coal ash disposal has never been brought before the board.

Coal ash, which contains high levels of toxins like arsenic, mercury and boron, is usually disposed of in dump sites mandated to follow strict landfill standards, including liners, groundwater monitoring and financial assurances that the site owner can clean up any contamination. The Waterloo quarry used by the universities, along with three other sites around the state, received waivers from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources allowing them to act as coal ash dumps without following those regulations.

Last year, the University of Iowa helped derail tougher regulations on coal ash, writing a letter to the DNR claiming that no evidence exists that “the current practice causes harm to human health or the environment.”

The main reason no evidence of contamination in Iowa exists is because there has been no monitoring for such contamination.

For their part, Jones said students would make coal ash disposal a priority in the fall, and push for the universities, which are mandated to serve the public, to stop engaging in a potentially dangerous practice.

“Iowa is such an amazing state as far as looking at quality of life for our citizens, so to think that something as serious as this is going on, especially at public universities, is strange,” she said. “It is definitely a surprise to me that this is something that has gone unnoticed for so long and has been swept under the rug like this.”

Follow Jason Hancock on Twitter


Switch to our mobile site