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Seeking Solutions from a New Perspective

2008 April 25

photo of site with collection lagoon and large white tanks

About the author: Rob Lawrence joined EPA in 1990 and is Senior Policy Advisor on Energy Issues in the Dallas, TX regional office. As an economist, he works to insure that both supply and demand components are addressed as the Region develops its Clean Energy and Climate Change Strategy.

About 5 years ago, I had the opportunity to change jobs within our Dallas regional office. The Region recognized that we were facing new environmental challenges that did not fit entirely within one media division. Sure, aspects of an issue would be adequately addressed by a traditional media program, but no one had the larger view that included cross-program policies and requirements. In my case, the job was monitoring and coordinating energy issues in Region 6. Almost everyday, I get tasked to look at a situation that is not just about air emissions or water discharges or waste handling concerns. It is usually some of each and other factors like community views and economics thrown in as well.

Rob LawrenceAnd just what happens when no one takes a broader view? A fine example comes from my prior state service in Louisiana. A waste oil recycler had gone bankrupt and abandoned the operations, including a waste lagoon. After a heavy rain, the neighbors became concerned about the lagoon overflowing and the waste oil reaching their properties. The state water division sent inspectors to the site, determined that additional capacity in the lagoon was needed and issued a compliance order to draw down the water. Soon after some of the water was removed, the neighbors complained about odors coming from the lagoon. The state air division sent inspectors, determined that the exposed oily waste in the lagoon was the cause, and issued a compliance order to put water into the lagoon to serve as a cap on the odors. The next day the site manager called to say that he was in a Catch-22 situation: he could not meet the requirements of one compliance order without violating the terms of the other one. Clearly, addressing the particular needs of one program would not really address the broader environmental concerns presented by the site. Both media programs did the right thing from their perspective, but the situation was more complex than that.

More and more of today’s environmental challenges are calling for solutions with a multimedia or cross program perspective. How can we expect to address climate change and similar complex concerns without taking a broad view? We need to make sure that fixing one problem doesn’t lead to unintended consequences. One approach EPA is taking is with its environmental innovations program. Check out our website to learn more about how EPA is facing these issues from a different perspective.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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11 Responses leave one →
  1. NEIL BOOKER permalink
    April 27, 2008

    Greenhouse effect cure (there are no real cures but this may help till we can find one).
    First I want to point out that there are no real, viable short term, or easy methods of curing our Global warming woes. The damage to the environment has already been done and is, for all intent and purposes, basically irreversible.
    It is likely, however, that any type of plan to get rid of Global warming, will require some type of dramatic ecological compromises.
    Some will say that all we need to do is give up industry on the planet and the world will eventually go back to the way it was. I say it is too late for that solution (as a short term solution anyway). The damage done by increased greenhouse emissions has already taken its toll. This is evident by the melting of polar ice and glaciers across the globe.
    We cannot get the world back the way it was, even as of fifty years ago, much less stop the damage that will still occur in the future. Sure we could try to stop all industry that will cause pollution, but at what cost. Without industry we could not sustain the present world population. Giving up industry and sacrificing billions of people on this planet in the process, is not a viable solution (even trying to merely lower greenhouse emissions is at best a temporary solution).
    My plan, however, will require the use of old tires and recycled plastics. Of course it will require some engineering feats also, and a few ecological compromises. The benefits of using these wasted products will far outweigh the compromises required.
    My idea is to build large floating islands (white on top, to reflect sunlight back out of our planet) made from used tires (filled with co2) and recycled plastics. Yes there are engineering and ecological problems, but everyone has to admit there are worse problems in our current situation. So before anyone gets on their high horse and tells me that this isn’t feasible, please remember keeping the situation the way it is now is really not feasible.
    The biggest problem we have now is not just the fact that we have more greenhouse gasses trapping heat in, but we are getting less and less sunlight being reflected out from the planet. As the snow cover melts from more and more of the planets surface, the sunlight heats up more parts of the earth that once reflected light back out. It is like a dog chasing its tail (until it gets dizzy and falls from exhaustion). As global warming just keeps building on itself till the ecological balance fails, and this planet will no longer sustain the teeming human populations.
    So the only feasible solution is to build a bunch of artificial reflection “islands” across the planet.
    There will be other benefits realized, once we build enough of these islands. One of the problems associated with the increased temperatures we are experiencing is the possibility of increased hurricane intensity and frequency. Having enough of these floating islands in strategic points in the oceans will help to alleviate this problem also.
    It is a well known fact that hurricanes form in areas of the ocean where the temperature rises above approximately 80 degrees Fahrenheit. If we can keep those areas below that temperature (by reflecting sunlight away), we can prevent the formation of hurricanes. Without these floating islands, hurricanes will probably continue to increase in intensity and frequency…
    We need a solution to deal with our Global warming woes, and we need it now. Even if this is a difficult path to follow, it will pay off in the future.

  2. anonymous permalink
    April 29, 2008

    This is an interesting blog entry, but it would be nice to know who wrote it. Is Lawrence his first name or his last name? It isn’t provided.

  3. Matthew Kelm permalink
    April 29, 2008

    Not to mention…………….those floating islands would make great vacation spots too!!! :)

  4. NEIL BOOKER permalink
    April 29, 2008

    I thank Mr. Rob Lawrence the moderator for approving my post and for the interest shown by others. The islands would also make good ocean disaster response centers, where ocean disasters such as oil spills from tankers and other disasters can be contained quickly.

  5. SBrattin permalink
    April 30, 2008


    This is a wonderful idea! Floating islands would be something to seriously consider. You could even use them to harnass both wind and water energy. Although it would be probably be expensive initially, the benefits would far outweigh the disadvantages and prove to be a good idea in the long run.

    Good job, Neil!

  6. jlevy permalink*
    May 1, 2008

    Anonymous: thanks for pointing out that Rob’s name wasn’t appearing correctly in some browsers. We’ve corrected the code, so now his full name “Rob Lawrence” should appear under the picture.

  7. Gary Moulder permalink
    May 6, 2008

    I work with an organization called Interstate Technology Regulatory Council (ITRC) and we have submitted a new project proposal for 2009 entitled Sustainable Stormwater Management on Contaminated Properties. Traditionally, capping of contaminated properties with impervious materials (e.g., landfill caps, parking lots, buildings, etc) was thought to be a solution in preventing exposure to the contaminated materials and minimizing water infiltration on the contained contamination. While impervious capping accomplishes these goals, it also creates an additional environmental issue which must now be addressed, namely site specific sustainable stormwater management practices.

    I was wondering if this is a big issue with anyone and whether EPA’s recent focus on storm water issues takes these factors into account. I would especially be interested in any folks with experiences relating to storm water runoff issues created by capping contaminated sites.


  8. Rob Lawrence permalink
    May 7, 2008

    Gary – thanks for raising the issue. I can check with some of our water staff here in the Dallas office, but would hope that sustainable storm water practices are being incorporated in remediation plans.

  9. February 16, 2009

    That is a great idea i hope this will acually happen

  10. Jim permalink
    March 25, 2009

    We must do more.

    The Earth is important.

    The best Poem about Earth Day Perspective I have ever read is here at Associated Content by It’s All Good. It says “Symbols Mean a Lot You Know; The Big House and SUV Must Go” that says it all, eh?

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