Monthly Archives: June 2008

On the Green Road: Hawaiian Sense and Sustainability

About the author: While Jeffrey Levy of EPA’s blog team enjoys vacation, he’s sending along environmentally relevant thoughts and pictures.

Everywhere we go in Hawaii, we hear about taking care of aina (“eye-nuh”), the land. As an environmentalist, it’s really nice to find so much dedication to protecting the natural world.

That spirit is evident in Len and Jane Sutton, our innkeepers in Hilo. I was originally intrigued by the guidebook’s mention of a private waterfall on the property. There are other waterfalls to swim in, but I’m guessing they’re crowded. Whereas yesterday morning, my wife and I had the whole thing to ourselves for an hour. For an anniversary trip, that’s hard to beat!

shed-covered power plant and small waterfall in a lush tropical backgroundBut this place isn’t special just because of the waterfall. The natural beauty is matched by how the Suttons manage the place. Len built his own small hydroelectric plant that supplies all of their electricity, working extensively with state biologists and the Hawaii Dept. of Land and Natural Resources. Their roof catches rain and sends it to a treatment system. And soon, they’ll be composting and growing some of their own food. Basically, their goal is to have a negative carbon footprint.

Protecting the environment really does take all of us: regulatory agencies like EPA and individuals making good decisions. But it seems to me the best situation is when our lives intersect with the environment, because internal motivation will always be more powerful than external requirements.

Here in Hilo, the Suttons have found the perfect match of a magic location and a sustainable way to enjoy it.

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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Question of the Week: What would convince you to change your driving habits?

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

Driving less, carpooling, and combining errands all mean less pollution. And with fuel prices rising, people are driving less, or driving smarter when they can. But many find it very difficult to drive less because of where they live or what they do.

What would convince you to change your driving habits?

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En español: Cada semana hacemos una pregunta relacionada al medio ambiente. Por favor comparta con nosotros sus pensamientos y comentarios. Siéntase en libertad de responder a comentarios anteriores o plantear nuevas ideas. Preguntas previas.

Actividades como el guiar menos, hacer carpool y combinar mandados todas contribuyen a reducir la contaminación. Mientras los precios del combustible están en alza, las personas están conduciendo menos y lo están haciendo de manera más inteligente siempre que pueden. Sin embargo, a veces se les dificulta guiar menos debido al lugar donde viven o por lo que hacen.

¿Qué le convencería para cambiar sus hábitos de guiar?

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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On the Green Road: The Sneaky Sun

About the author: While Jeffrey Levy of EPA’s blog team enjoys vacation, he’s sending along environmentally relevant thoughts and pictures.

Aloha from sunny Hawaii! Like Karen Reshkin a few weeks ago, I’ll be sending a few entries from vacation back to the office.

humorous drawing of a bottle of SPF 50 million sun screenSeveral years ago, I worked for the SunWise Schools program, so I know all about sun safety, from applying (and re-applying) sunscreen to wearing long- sleeve shirts, and even staying out of the sun during the middle of the day. And I know that the strongest sun occurs on the summer solstice (last week), when there are no clouds, at low latitudes and at high altitudes. Add in no recent exposure, and my wife and I have the perfect setup for major sunburn.

So when we went up Haleakala on Maui, we knew we needed to be very careful. We put on SPF 50 sunscreen that blocked both UVA and UVB, and we wore jeans, long-sleeve t-shirts, and hats with big brims (it’s only in the 60s at 10,000 feet).

For snorkeling the next day, we slopped on SPF 60, which was so thick it took several squirts to cover everything. And we wore shirts in the water.

The result? Sunburned faces. We couldn’t believe it until we realized:
1) we hadn’t been burnt at all after the mountain, so it wasn’t that trip.
2) our faces were in the water and the backs of our legs weren’t burnt, so it wasn’t snorkeling.

But we did stand outside in line for breakfast for 45 minutes from 9:30-10:15. Bingo! It’s not only the activities we know will burn us, but being outside here anytime.

So enjoy yourselves outdoors this summer, but follow the SunWise actions steps no matter what you’re doing.

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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Buying A New Car

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Lea la versión en español a continuación de esta entrada en inglés.
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At home, we will soon be looking into buying a new car for our eldest daughter. Her present car needs a replacement. Given the rising gas prices and the long distances she has to drive, we’re definitely looking at cars that get excellent mileage. The good thing is she’s over the stage of purchasing a vehicle just for its looks or because it’s the coolest car on the block. That makes it much easier on us. Nonetheless, we have to study our options carefully in order to spend our money wisely while ensuring fuel efficiency.

Personally, I would love to buy a hybrid. Wish all our cars at home were hybrids, but I don’t think that’s going to happen right now. As a mother, I’m looking at two main concerns. First, how safe is the vehicle. Second, the mileage. There are some good resources on the Web to help us make the right choice. For example, the site www.safercar.gov gives you extensive information on crash test and rollover ratings. You can even compare the different vehicles by class, year, make and model. Now for mileage, we have www.fueleconomy.gov and EPA’s Green Vehicle Guide where you can also explore green options for the cleanest and most fuel-efficient vehicle that meets your needs.

We’re starting to narrow our options. I think we’ll be able to find a car that will be good for the environment and our family budget. My daughter also wants a fuel efficient car because she needs to save money on gas. So far, she’s been flexible during these family negotiations. There is only one non-negotiable requirement on her part: it has to have a good sound system.

We can live with that.

Al comprar un auto nuevo

Sobre la autor: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la EPA desde el 2002 y está a cargo del Grupo de Trabajo sobre Comunicaciones Multilingües. Como periodista, dirigió la oficina en Washington de dos periódicos puertorriqueños y ha laborado en varias agencias gubernamentales.

En casa, estamos considerando comprar un nuevo automóvil para mi hija mayor. Su carro pronto no dará para más. Dado los precios de petróleo que siguen subiendo y las largas distancias que ella tiene que recorrer, definitivamente estamos interesados en los automóviles que tengan un millaje excelente. Lo bueno es que ya ella ha pasado la etapa de interesarse en la compra de un vehículo simplemente por la apariencia exterior o porque es el último grito de la moda. Eso nos facilita el proceso enormemente. No obstante, estamos estudiando varias opciones para usar el dinero prudentemente mientras aseguramos la eficiencia del combustible.

Personalmente, a mí me encantaría tener un auto híbrido. Quisiera que todos los vehículos en casa fueran así. Obviamente eso no va a ocurrir por ahora. Como madre, tengo dos preocupaciones importantes. Primero, cuán seguro es el vehículo. Segundo, el millaje. Hay buenos recursos cibernéticos que nos ayudarán hacer la selección correcta. Por ejemplo, el sitio www.safecar.gov brinda extensa información sobre las pruebas de choques y probabilidades de volcarse que tiene el vehículo. También puede comparar los diferentes vehículos por clase, año, fabricante, modelo. En cuanto al millaje, tenemos www.fueleconomy.gov y la Guía de Vehículos Verdes de EPA donde también puede explorar opciones verdes para los vehículos más limpios y eficientes energéticamente hablando para cumplir con sus necesidades.

Ahora estamos identificando cuáles son nuestras verdaderas opciones para hacer una selección. Creo que podremos encontrar un automóvil que sea bueno para el medio ambiente y el presupuesto familiar. Mi hija también quiere un auto eficiente porque no quiere gastar tanto dinero para la gasolina. En fin, ha sido bastante flexible durante estas negociaciones familiares. Su única exigencia no-negociable es que el auto tenga un buen sistema de sonido.

Creo que eso es totalmente aceptable.

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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Grocery-store Environmental Indicators?

About the author: Larry Teller joined EPA’s Philadelphia office in its early months and has worked in environmental assessment, state and congressional liaison, enforcement, and communications. His 28 years with the U.S. Air Force, most as a reservist, give him a different look at government service.

I’ve worked for decades at one of the government’s largest science agencies, witnessing how information is carefully collected and rigorously used to make truly important decisions about, for example,

I’ve had a hand in few, but have learned how important it is to make decisions based on well-chosen data and sound reasoning. So it’s been gratifying to see EPA’s (and especially my regional office’s) sustained interest in developing environmental indicators to guide the agency’s work. EPA defines an environmental indicator as a “numerical value that helps provide insight into the state of the environment or human health … based on quantitative measurements or statistics of environmental condition tracked over time.” Higher order indicators track, ultimately, environmental health, while lesser indicators in a multi-level hierarchy portray changes in ambient conditions and environmental protection actions.

Here are my two favorite, if unconventional, indicators; one has gained 20 years of growing popularity and validity (not mine) and one is new, unknown and possibly shaky (mine).

  • Maryland Senator Bernie Fowler leading a crowd down the bank of a waterbody.Former Maryland State Senator Bernie Fowler leads annual wade-ins in streams of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. He and friends see how deep they can walk and still see their sneakers—as a measure of water clarity, and a great way to connect people to this great but vulnerable natural resource.
  • To test how people have started adapting to expensive gas, I began a year ago to track the percent of SUVs and pickups in the parking lot during my weekly supermarket trips. (Does it kill you, too, to see a lone driver use a 6,000 pound SUV to buy groceries?) I know it takes years for the fleet to be replaced, but my year’s “findings,” it seems, are significant and encouraging.

Which low-tech indicators do you use, or propose, that can tell us something interesting about our world’s health?

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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Green Building at the Tipping Point

About the author: Ken Sandler is Co-Chair of EPA’s Green Building Workgroup. He has worked for EPA since 1991 on sustainability issues including green building, recycling and indoor air quality.

At EPA, we strive to help people make the environment part of their everyday decisions. But how can we tell when we’re succeeding?

In truth, we often can’t. But sometimes the evidence of change is hard to miss.

Take green building (Web site or video) – making buildings and their sites better for the environment and health. It’s an issue on which I’ve worked for a decade, and I’m now leading efforts to establish a new EPA strategy on the subject.

Yet for years, I would draw blank stares when mentioning “green building” in conversation. Some people would even ask if it meant painting buildings green.

And then, suddenly, nearly everyone had heard of it. My Dad was sending me articles on green building from Newsweek. I would mention it at a barbecue and people would come up to me and say, yes, we’re looking to green our homes, tell us how!

Green building seems to have reached its tipping point. But how do such things happen? If there’s a formula to make sustainable practices bloom, we’d like to get our hands on it.

In fact, we’ve seen such phenomena before. Take recycling. In 1988, only 1,000 communities in America had curbside recycling. Just 8 years later, that number had leaped to 9,000. Why? One reason was that in 1989, responding to public concern, EPA set a goal for the US to recycle 25% of its municipal waste.

This helped set off a competition among states to set their own recycling goals. In response, systems were established to recycle a variety of materials. The engine of recycling got going – and keeps on humming.

With green building, the story is different. Since the early 1990s, EPA has successfully pushed voluntary programs covering many aspects of the built environment – energy, water, indoor air quality, products, waste, smart growth and more. Other groups began to put these pieces together in holistic, market-based programs.

The U.S. Green Building Council, a leading non-profit, has its own eye-popping numbers on the transformation they helped bring about. From 2000 to the present, their member organizations went from 570 to over 15,000, the number of buildings registering to use their LEED green building rating system from 45 to 21,000.

So does this mean our work is done? Hardly. The green building field has needs that range from research to stronger standards to more public education and partnerships. We plan to work with a wide variety of groups to help tackle all of these challenges.

But there are many advantages to reaching a tipping point. Those years of struggling in obscurity have given way to lots of new doors opening up. And it’s nice to get fewer blank stares at parties.

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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“It’s When a Soldier Stops Complaining That I Begin to Worry”

About the author: Dan Heister has been an on-scene coordinator with Superfund in Region 10 since 2000 and joined EPA 13 years before that. Dan’s responses have ranged from fifty gallon oil spills on a small creek to spending seven weeks in a FEMA trailer helping with the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

map of the USA showing where Katrina responders are fromI did two five-week rotations at the Hurricane Katrina response. I was the Deputy Incident Commander, in Metairie, LA. My second tour ran from Thanksgiving to Christmas of ’05 and staff morale had hit a low. Approximately 300 staff from every office and region were represented. Most folks had never done emergency response. Working seven days a week in the devastation, eating greasy food, sharing FEMA trailers, and being away from home were all taking their toll. The Incident Commander asked me to address the morale issue.

I delivered the top ten list below to an all staff operations briefing. Of all the steps I took to improve morale this was the most immediate and successful. I apologize in advance if any part of the list offends.

Top Ten Positive Aspects of Trailer Life at Metairie:

#10 Realizing I really didn’t want all those pesky hotel points anyway.

#9 Concluding that privacy and personal space are very overrated.

#8 Eliminating the RV lifestyle as an option for my golden years.

#7 Leading a sheltered life, the incident allowed me to sleep with more strangers than I ever imagined.

#6 Learning a man of my advanced years and poor physical condition, can still do yoga, but only when trying to sit on the toilet in my trailer.

#5 Recognizing the vibrations from the adjacent railroad switching yard are reminiscent of “magic fingers” beds at a motel, but without having to pay for it.

#4 Discovering much like electroshock, hitting my head on low hanging cabinets can be very therapeutic.

#3 Appreciating the safety features of my shower stall in that even if I did slip it would be impossible to fall down.

#2 Marveling that the vortex created by my bathroom fan, allows me to continue my doctoral work on the aerodynamics of toilet paper.

#1 Appreciating that my office mate back home, now my trailer mate, keeps his shoes on at the Portland office.

I reminded folks that a year from now they would probably be laughing about the trailers, but in 10 years they would all still be proud of their commitment and sacrifice. I was overwhelmed in the days that followed by the number of people who thanked me for reminding them why we were there.

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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Question of the Week: How would you use blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other Web 2.0 tools to protect the environment?

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

Wikis and widgets and blogs, oh my! “Web 2.0″ is about sharing content… your photos, opinions, links, and more. At EPA, we are trying to find ways to use Web 2.0 technologies such as wikis, blogging, news feeds, podcasts, or social networking, to improve how we reach out to and communicate with the public.

How would you use blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other Web 2.0 tools to protect the environment?

On Monday, June 23, “Ask EPA” hosted an online discussion about using Web 2.0 to protect the environment – read the transcript.

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En español: Cada semana hacemos una pregunta relacionada al medio ambiente. Por favor comparta con nosotros sus pensamientos y comentarios. Siéntase en libertad de responder a comentarios anteriores o plantear nuevas ideas. Preguntas previas.

¡Wikis y widgets y blogs, Dios mío! “Web 2.0″ se trata de compartir contenido…sus fotos, opiniones, enlaces, y más. En EPA, estamos tratando de encontrar maneras de utilizar tecnologías de Web 2.0 como wikis, blogs, “feeds” noticiosos, podcasts, o reds sociales, para mejorar la manera en la cual nos comunicamos con el público.

¿Cómo utiliza blogs, wikis, podcasts, y otras herramientas de Web 2.0 para proteger el medio ambiente?

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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First Environmental Act

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.

old sprite bottle on sandy ground While enjoying the countryside near Santa Fe, NM, over the Memorial Day weekend, I came across an old glass soft drink bottle. And it got me to thinking about growing up in Baton Rouge in the 60s and my first environmental action – recycling.

My family had just finished building a house in a fairly new subdivision and my younger brother and I were looking for ways to make some spending money. We noticed that the work areas around the new construction sites were littered with bottles left by the roofers, carpenters and bricklayers. So every afternoon during the summer of 1966, we pulled our red wagons around the expanding neighborhood to gather bottles. On Saturday, we would load cases of returnable bottles into the family station wagon and head to a local grocery store to convert someone else’s trash to our treasure. Together, we made about $600 that summer – not bad when you realize that was over 30,000 bottles at 2 cents a piece. Having seen a sign while on vacation in Arizona that said that returnable bottles there went for 5 cents, we tried, to no avail, to convince our parents that we should drive back and get the cases of bottles stacked behind our house.

I learned a lot of lessons that summer, including that even trash has value if you look for it and applying economic theories to environmental issues can be a worthwhile approach.

What was your first act of environmental awareness?

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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Where have all the butterflies gone?

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Lea la versión en español a continuación de esta entrada en inglés.
Some links exit EPA or have Spanish content. Exit EPA Disclaimer

For all those garden enthusiasts—whether you have a green thumb or not—have you noticed anything different this season?

The reason I’m asking the question is that I’m yet to see any butterflies in my backyard. Don’t know if I just haven’t seen them or of something else is going on.

I’ve tried to create a healthy natural setting that will encourage regular visits from benefitial insects and wildlife. I normally use greenscaping techniques to protect the environment. I have specifically planted several shrubs and perennials that supposedly attract bees, butterflies and birds—aster, yarrow, butterfly bush, and daylilies, to name a few. Overall, the flowering plants are blossoming as expected this year. Currently, I’ve noticed that my birdhouses already have their share of regular tenants. The hummingbirds have already made an early appearance—but no butterflies.

I was hoping to enjoy the colorful scenery with these fluttering visitors while leisurely resting at my deck, but I suppose I’ll have to be patient. Nonetheless, I have two other options in the DC metropolitan area at this time to see butterflies from around the world. The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History has an exhibit on Butterflies + Plants: Partners in Evolution through the 10th of August and the Brookside Gardens South Conservatory in Wheaton, MD has a live butterfly exhibit called “Wings of Fancy” through September 21st. I highly recommend them to anyone who wishes to learn more about these colorful insects. If you’re traveling through DC, they exhibits are definitely worth a couple hours of your time.

In the meantime, I welcome advice on attracting butterflies to my garden.

¿Para dónde se han ido las mariposas?

Sobre la autor: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la EPA desde el 2002 y está a cargo del Grupo de Trabajo sobre Comunicaciones Multilingües. Como periodista, dirigió la oficina en Washington de dos periódicos puertorriqueños y ha laborado en varias agencias gubernamentales.

Para aquellas personas que les gusta la jardinería—independientemente si tienen buena mano o no—¿han notado algo diferente esta temporada?

La razón por la cual pregunto es que todavía no he visto mariposas en mi patio. No sé si se trata de que aún no las he podido ver o si algo irregular está ocurriendo.

He tratado de crear un entorno natural saludable que fomente las visitas rutinarias de la vida silvestre e insectos beneficiosos. Normalmente utilizo las técnicas de jardinería ecológica para proteger el medio ambiente. He sembrado arbustos y plantas perennes que supuestamente atraen abejas, mariposas y aves. En general, todas las plantas han florecido abundantemente este año. En la actualidad las pequeñas casitas de pájaros tienen sus habitantes tradicionales. Incluso los zumbadores han aparecido temprano esta temporada—pero las mariposas brillan por su ausencia.

Esperaba poder disfrutar el colorido paisaje a mi alrededor viendo a los pequeños visitantes revoloteándose en el aire mientras descansaba en mi balcón, pero parece que tendré que ser más paciente. No obstante, tengo dos opciones en el área metropolitana de Washington para ver mariposas provenientes de todo el mundo. Se trata de dos exposiciones. Una en el Museo de Historia Natural de la Institución Smithsonian llamada Mariposas + Plantas: Socios en la evolución que dura hasta el 10 de agosto y otra en los Jardines Brookside en Wheaton, MD llamada “Alas de fantasía” hasta el 21 de septiembre. Ambas son excelentes y las recomiendo para cualquiera que quiera ver estos coloridos insectos. Si está pasando por DC, estas exposiciones definitivamente merecen un par de horas de su tiempo.

Mientras tanto, espero que alguien me pueda aconsejar sobre cómo atraer las mariposas a mi jardín.

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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