Monthly Archives: December 2008

New Climate for Action: Graduation

About the author: Ashley Sims, a senior at Indiana University, is a fall intern with EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection and Environmental Education through the Washington Leadership Program.

Image of Ashley Sims in front of Washington MonumentI regret to say the time has come for me to return to my studies at Indiana University. During my semester at EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection and Environmental Education under the University’s Washington Leadership Program, I’ve had the privilege to work with dedicated and highly respected individuals. As part of the nation-wide climate change and children’s health education campaign, my goal this semester was to engage middle and high school students to participate in the discussion of global climate change and its effects on children’s health. I’ve been very excited and greatly thankful for the contributions to the weekly blog discussion and everyone’s shared ideas and comments. My only request is to keep the comments coming after I’m gone.

Here are some things I thought might be interesting-

Are you interested in saving the planet? Do you have any ideas to help protect the environment but need financial help to execute that plan? Check out http://www.planet-connect.org/. Planet Connect is an online network that provides high school students funding opportunities to support their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Hurry up and apply. The deadline is January 20, 2009. You can also check out the link from our climate ambassador page at http://www.epa.gov/climateforaction/lead/become.htm

Also, don’t forget to be a leader! Take action and motivate others to engage in activities to reduce global climate change and its effects on children’s health. If you are a middle or high school student interested in global climate change, become a Climate Ambassador. Once you sign up to be a Climate Ambassador, copy the icon found at http://www.epa.gov/climateforaction/lead/become.htm to your facebook or other social networking page and encourage others to do the same.

Remember- let’s show others our passion and dedication to issues that are essential to protecting our environment. Again, it has been my pleasure to help you express your thoughts on issues so personal and important to your future.

Have a wonderful and safe holiday!

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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Science Wednesday: Black Friday, a Winter Garden, and a New Name for EPA’s Ecosystem Services Research Program

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

About the Author: Susan Lundquist works in EPA’s Ecosystem Services Research Program. She has been with the Agency for almost seven years.

Like so many consumers out there, I admit I spent time Thanksgiving Day combing through newspaper ads in preparation for the next day. It’s my usual thing, coffee early in the morning when it’s still dark, lending a certain mystic quality to an otherwise silly tradition of planning my shopping attack—solidifying my vision of goodies bought at bargain prices.

I indulged until I ran across an ad for a mini indoor garden for fresh herbs and lettuces grown under a sophisticated lighting system. Great idea, but suddenly I realized I already had an environmental bargain of my own, a raised-bed, outdoor winter garden.

image of womand standing next to a I’m growing a winter garden using simple raised garden beds, a hoop house for each bed, and plastic covering. I’m eating seasonally with fresh cilantro, arugula, thyme, parsley, red and green leaf lettuces, chives, and mesclun.

Seeing the ad for the mini garden made me think about my job. I work in the Ecosystem Services Research Program at EPA. After all, my makeshift outdoor garden is a mini ecosystem in its own right. My indulgence in Black Friday ads made me ponder the significance of the Ecological Research Program recently changing its name to the Ecosystem Services Research Program (ESRP).

We changed the name so it would more accurately reflect how the goods and services we get from nature may be adversely affected or positively enhanced by management actions. On the tiny scale of my garden, an adverse action might be using pesticides that harm the bees and other pollinators that are the basis for my harvest.

The goal of the ESRP is to transform the way we account for the type, quality and magnitude of nature’s good and services, what we call “ecosystem services.” So even though my winter garden is on a small scale, it provides a great example of one of the fundamental ecosystem services: food production.

Isn’t it time we start thinking about ecosystem services on a larger scale and how we can begin to more accurately account for the cost of using these services? It’s certainly food for thought in early morning hours before Black Friday.

Learn more by visiting our website at http://epa.gov/ord/esrp/

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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EPA Goes Mobile with the Launch of m.epa.gov

About the author: Yolanda DeLilly, an Information Technology Specialist, joined EPA in 1988 and is currently working in the Office of Web Communications.

Back in August of this year I had the privilege of having lunch with Jeffrey Levy, Director of the Office of Web Communications, to discuss me doing a short assignment in his office to design a mobile website for EPA.

screenshot of handheld device showing EPA's mobile Web home pageMy first day, September 9, was a hectic one considering it was the launch of EPA’s new and improved homepage, in which I got pulled in to do some QAQC. In spite of that I still managed to do some research to see if there were any federal government mobile websites already out there in cyber land. I found that there are not a lot of federal government agencies with mobile sites. This made getting started a little difficult.

I did manage to find that usa.gov has a link to its mobile website mobile.usa.gov. This site has an A-Z index of all available state and federal agencies with mobile websites. Then I had an ah-haa moment.

Once I began thinking about what information would be useful on an EPA mobile website I began to build it. To my surprise it was not that difficult to build the site using my web editor. The most difficult part of the building the site was thinking about the beneficial important information.

The really cool thing about creating this mobile site was not only making EPA more visible to people on the go but also knowing that I was creating a site that will go down in history as the first mobile site for EPA.

Here is what you will find on EPA’s mobile site:

  • How to contact EPA
  • Find information by ZIP code
  • EPA news releases
  • Greenversations blog, including the question of the week, and
  • Links to other government mobile websites.

I was able to test the site on a Blackberry and an iPhone and it looks great on both. It would be helpful to hear feedback from all mobile device users on:

  • What you think about the site, and
  • What can we do to improve 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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Celebrate the Environment: Check in to an ENERGY STAR Hotel to Check Out with Energy Savings

About the author: Maura Cantor Beard joined EPA in 1992 and currently works with the ENERGY STAR program.

Like so many of us, I love the holiday season. Perhaps my greatest joy is the time spent with family and friends. But with relatives spread from coast to coast, it can feel like a logistical circus act trying to get everyone from here to there with a good place to stay. And I can’t help but think about how all this travel impacts the environment. But there is good news – with help from ENERGY STAR, I’ve found a new way for my family to help protect the environment while on the road this holiday season by staying in ENERGY STAR qualified hotels.

Just like the ENERGY STAR qualified TV on your holiday shopping list, you can find hotels that have earned the ENERGY STAR. These hotels use 40 percent less energy and emit 35 percent fewer greenhouse gases; all without you lifting a finger.

But once my family is checked in and our bags are unpacked, our job’s not finished. Many of the things I do to save energy at home and in my office can also be done when I’m staying at a hotel. For example, I always turn off the lights when I leave my room. When I’m in the room, I open the curtains to take advantage of natural light. I also unplug my cell phone and iPod once they are charged, since they still draw energy even if they are not charging. If I know I’m going to be gone for a while, I’ll set the thermostat to an energy-saving setting so it doesn’t heat or cool the room while I’m gone. And when my son “unpacks” by throwing his clothes on top of the air vents, I remind him that it will take as much as 25% more energy to condition the room when the vents are blocked. Remember, it’s the little actions that, when combined, can have a big impact in our fight against global climate change.

Find hotels that have earned EPA’s ENERGY STAR. If you can’t find one in your area, keep checking back with us as ENERGY STAR hotels are added every day. You could even check out internet travel search engines and search for ENERGY STAR qualified hotels along with other green travel options.

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 do you do with unused over-the-counter or prescription drugs?

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.

Drugs and pharmaceutical products include powerful chemicals that have saved or improved countless lives. But even small amounts of drugs need to be disposed of carefully so they don’t pollute the environment or harm human health and wildlife. In early 2007 the government set guidelines for proper disposal of prescription drugs.

What do you do with unused over-the-counter or prescription drugs?

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: ¿Qué hace con medicamentos que no ha usado sean recetados por el médico o aquellos que ha obtenido sin receta médica?

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.

Los medicamentos o productos farmacéuticos contienen poderosas sustancias químicas que salvan o mejoran numerosas vidas. Sin embargo, aún las cantidades de medicamentos más pequeñas tienen que ser desechadas cuidadosamente para no contaminar el medio ambiente ni perjudicar la salud humana o la vida silvestre. A principios del 2007, el gobierno estableció normas para desechar adecuadamente los mediocamentos recetados.

¿Qué hace con medicamentos que no ha usado sean recetados por el médico o aquellos que ha obtenido sin receta médica?

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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Another First

About the author: Marcus Peacock is EPA’s Deputy Administrator.

Loretta Lynn once mused — to paraphrase — while everyone wants to go to heaven, nobody wants to make the trip.

It may not be everyone’s definition of heaven, but I carry around a punch list of my goals for 2008. It comprises ten numbered items.  When a goal is reached, I punch a hole in the list next to the appropriate number.

I say it is the list of my goals, but it is really a list of goals for a large team of people at the Environmental Protection Agency.  There is nothing on this list I could do alone.  For instance, I have little idea how to establish a best practices system or create an electronic dashboard.  Nonetheless, I am able to punch items off the list because people are willing to do the hard work necessary to make EPA a better agency and better protect human health and the environment.

I sat down with some of these team members almost a year ago and went through the goals.  When I got to item number 7, there was a groan.  Number 7 seemed impossible.  It was something that no agency had ever achieved and, it seemed likely, no agency ever would achieve.  I said, “That’s okay, we’ll leave it on the list and consider it a stretch goal.”

You see, in the many years it’s been available, only two agencies have ever won the President’s Quality Award for Overall Management Excellence. Think of it as a supercharged Malcolm Baldridge Award for the federal government.  It’s not like winning an Olympic Medal.Two statues of crystal eagles  It’s more like winning 8 gold medals all at once.  It’s possible, but very rare.  And, certainly, no agency has ever won this award two years in a row.

And yet, last night, thanks to this team of EPA employees — employees who not only wanted to go to heaven, but were willing to take the trip — I took my hole puncher and punched out item number 7.  EPA won the President’s Quality Award for Overall Management . . .again.

Of  all the Cabinet and Cabinet rank agencies, EPA is the:

  • first to publish quarterly performance data;
  • first to have an ongoing public blog;
  • first to broadcast management meetings throughout the agency;
  • first to achieve and maintain the highest possible rating on the President’s Management Agenda; and, now,
  • first to receive the top award for management excellence . . . back-to-back.

Not a bad pattern to keep going.

(Find out more about how we did it at http://www.epa.gov/pqa.)

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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Paper, Plastic or Bring Your Own?

About the author: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialist in the San Juan, Puerto Rico office and also handles community relations for the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division

On a recent Sunday morning, I went to a local clothing store to purchase a gift bag for a present that one of my kids was taking to a birthday party. I usually keep recyclable gift bags at home, but this day, I had none. Upon paying, I proceeded to put the rather small bag in my purse along with the receipt. The cashier told me that I needed to put the gift bag in a plastic bag because it was store policy not to let customers walk out of the store with unbagged merchandise. Baffled, I placed my purchase in the store bag, but not before telling her that in Europe and some other islands in the Caribbean, stores either tax their customers for their use or simply don’t provide them. Her reply was the same: store policy.

I remember as a child, going with my mother to the supermarket and packing our groceries in paper bags. These were later reused. I fondly recall tearing them at the seams and using the inside for drawing and making crafts. I also remember how brown paper bags gradually disappeared from our lives when plastic ones were introduced in 1977.

Each year plastic bags cause the death of hundreds of thousands of sea birds and marine animals that mistake them for food. Paper, if not recycled, can fill our landfills and contribute in the long run to climate change. Both, paper and plastic require a lot of energy and raw materials to be produced.

But old habits die hard and our local businesses and industries have been slow in adopting sustainable and green practices. Even though some sell reusable bags, when the time comes to pack their purchases, I only see a small number of people using them. Some non-profit and environmental organizations in the United States have proposed a tax on plastic bags to discourage their use. In 2007, the city of San Francisco, California passed a city ordinance to ban plastic bag use in supermarkets and pharmacies. In Ireland, and since 2002, citizens have been paying a tax to use plastic bags. In turn, their use has dropped by 90% and the government has raised money for recycling programs. As more cities and countries declare a ban on plastic bags, retailers and consumers need to be aware that there is more than paper or plastic. And that is Bring Your Own.

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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Papel, plástico o traiga la suya?

Sobre la autor: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialist in the San Juan, Puerto Rico office and also handles community relations for the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division.

Recientemente fui un domingo en la mañana a una tienda a comprar una bolsa para poner un regalo que mi hija menor llevaría a un cumpleaños. Usualmente tengo de estas bolsas recicladas para poner regalos en la casa, pero ese día descubrí que no quedaba ninguna. Una vez pagué tomé el recibo junto a la bolsa de regalo y los puse dentro de mi cartera. La cajera, contrariada, me indicó que no podía hacer esto ya que era política de la tienda no dejar salir a los clientes con mercancía en otra cosa que no fuese una bolsa de plástico. Sorprendida, puse mi compra en la bolsa que me brindó no sin antes proceder a indicarle que en Europa e inclusive en otras islas del Caribe los negocios imponen un impuesto a los clientes que utilizan bolsas de plástico o simplemente no las proveen. Su respuesta: política de la tienda.

Todavía recuerdo mis tiempos de niña en los cuales iba con mi mamá al supermercado y empacábamos nuestra compra en bolsas de papel. Éstas eran reusadas luego. De pequeña me gustaba cortarlas por las costuras y utilizar su exterior para dibujar y hacer manualidades. Pero un día estas bolsas color marrón desaparecieron de nuestras vidas y rutinas diarias cuando las bolsas plásticas aparecieron en 1977.

Cada año estas bolsas plásticas causan la muerte de cientos de miles de aves y animales marinos que las confunden con comida. [http://vidamarinapr.blogspot.com/2008_03_01_archive.html ] El papel, si no se recicla, puede llenar nuestros vertederos y contribuir a la larga al cambio climático. Tanto el papel como el plástico requieren mucha energía y materia prima para ser manufacturados.

Hay un dicho que dice que los hábitos viejos son terribles de cambiar y nuestras industrias y comercios locales han tardado en adoptar prácticas de sustentabilidad y amigables al medioambiente. Aunque algunos venden bolsas reutilizables para llevar la compra, es muy poca la gente que veo utilizándolas. A veces me siento diferente cuando indico en la tienda que mis compras van en bolso reusable. Algunos grupos sin fines de lucro y organizaciones ambientales en los Estados Unidos han propuesto un impuesto a las bolsas plásticas para desalentar su uso. En San Francisco, California, hay una ordenanza municipal desde el 2007 que prohíbe a las farmacias y supermercados utilizar estas bolsas. En Irlanda, y desde el 2002, los ciudadanos pagan un impuesto por utilizar las bolsas de plástico. Estos han logrado reducir su uso por un 90% y ha ayudado a sustentar económicamente programas de reciclaje. Mientras más ciudades y países prohíben su uso, más informados necesitan estar los consumidores sobre sus opciones que van más allá del papel y el plástico. Su mejor opción es traer la suya.

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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Science Wednesday: Why are Frogs (and Other Amphibians) Declining?

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

About the author: Steven Whitfield is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Biological Sciences at Florida International University in Miami. His work is funded by a Greater Research Opportunities (GRO) Fellowship from the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Investigating Patterns and processes implicated in enigmatic declines of amphibians and reptiles at La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica

Photo of man holding a brown frogHere’s a picture of me and a Mexican tree frog, (I’m the one on the left).

Amphibians are the most threatened group of vertebrates, with approximately one-third of their species at risk of extinction.

Rapid declines of amphibian populations, even in apparently pristine, protected reserves, have generated much alarm. The causes associated with these “enigmatic declines” are poorly understood.

Through my dissertation research—supported by a GRO Fellowship from EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research—I am investigating a variety of factors associated with population declines, including chytridiomycosis (Amphibian Chytrid Fungus), habitat modification, and climate change, in amphibians and reptiles in the lowland forests of Central America.

That’s where my work at La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica comes in.

Photo of man holding a brown frogThe strawberry poison frog (Oophaga pumilio) is one of the common species at my field site that is slowly becoming less common.

Amphibians are the most threatened group of vertebrates, with approximately one-third of their species at risk of extinction.

La Selva populations of terrestrial amphibians have declined by 75% since 1970, and similar declines have been noted in terrestrial lizards. It is currently unclear what factors have contributed to these declines, but potential stressors include fungal disease, shifting climate, pesticide drift from nearby agricultural areas, and habitat modification surrounding the La Selva Reserve.

I am using extensive field investigations and synthesis of long-term datasets collected at La Selva. I hope my research will provide important information necessary to protect biological diversity of this important group of animals.

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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