Monthly Archives: April 2010

The Grand Experiment

A few weeks ago, I read an opinion piece in the Washington Post that praised the Acid Rain Program as an example of how people with different perspectives could come together to create a successful program to solve an important problem. Reading this article twenty years after I helped write the bill that created the Acid Rain Program, I couldn’t help but ask – How did we do it?

The Acid Rain Program is often called “the grand experiment” because it is the world’s first large-scale air emissions cap and trade program. Signed into law in 1990, it created a cap and trade program that requires power plants to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) in order to address acid rain.

We were breaking new ground on environmental policy but we also needed a strong, national solution to a multi-state problem with local impacts. Writing the legislation was a wild ride full of Washington intrigue but we knew we had to – and we did – create a carefully designed program that provided a firm environmental goal (the emission cap) while giving industry the flexibility to decide how to achieve their emission reductions.

We were looking for certainty, simplicity, accuracy and an approach that wouldn’t require a lot of people to run it. And the program has proven to be all of these things. Power plant SO2 emissions have fallen dramatically since the program began in 1995. Some sensitive ecosystems are starting to recover from the damages of acid rain. By making huge reductions in SO2, we achieved one of the largest improvements in public health. Compliance cost 70% less than originally expected. Monitors on smokestacks collect data, available online, providing transparency and confidence in results. We’ve seen the market flourish while achieving over 99 percent compliance every year.

Looking back after 20 successful years of the Acid Rain Program, the world now knows that cap and trade works. For the right pollution problem, we don’t have to control every action – just the emissions – and we can allow flexibility AND achieve high compliance. Most importantly, we have shown that a strong economy and a healthy environment CAN exist together.

Interested in learning more? Join our Discussion Forum and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

About the author: Brian McLean is the Director of the Office of Atmospheric Programs in the Office of Air and Radiation and EPA manager for the Acid Rain Program.

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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Innovative Packaging—Part 2

Last month I wrote a blog on how companies are using technology to green their products.  In that blog, I was raving about the green virtues of “100% compostable packaging.” The blog generated some interest. However, one of the commenters, Alexa, posed some interesting questions regarding the ability of this packaging to actually decompose if it ended up in a landfill instead of a composter. “Without the regular turning of soil and a heated environment that composting provides, will it break down?”

Well, I didn’t have the answer to her question. So I contacted my friends in EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery. I was surprised to find out that the fact that a product is classified as “biodegradable or compostable” doesn’t make it 100% green. These so-called compostable or biodegradable products “are only good for the environment when composted” emphasized my colleagues. By sending these materials to a landfill, they will not automatically breakdown. The right conditions have to exist for them to decompose. In fact, the very nature of landfills prevents the vast majority of compostable products from decomposing. The reality is that these landfills are virtually “dry tombs” and they are designed specifically to protect the materials deposited in them from coming in contact with air, water, ground water and sunlight. If these compostable products start to break down and decompose in a landfill, they will remain trapped in place possibly producing methane gas and leachate. They will not magically disappear.

So, for those individuals interested in making these compostable materials live up to their green name, I would recommend visiting the following websites on reducing and recycling organic waste and composting for additional ways to make them truly green.

So, while green packaging still has benefits, the best thing to do for the environment is to not create the waste in the first place. In spite of our best efforts, when waste is created, the next best options for our finances and the environment will be to reuse it, recycle it or compost it! Have a green day.

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.

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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Envoltura innovadora—parte 2

El mes pasado escribí un blog sobre cómo las compañías están utilizando la tecnología para desarrollar productos favorables al medio ambiente. En ese blog, elogié las virtudes verdes de la “envoltura 100% compostable.” El blog generó interés y comentarios. Sin embargo, una de las personas, Alexa, planteó algunas preguntas interesantes sobre la habilidad de la envoltura de descomponerse si terminaba en un vertedero en lugar de reciclarla como compost. “¿Sin revolver el suelo y el entorno caliente que ofrece el proceso de compostaje, realmente se podrá descomponer?”

Bueno, como no tenía la respuesta a estas preguntas, me comuniqué con mis amistades en la Oficina de Conservación y Recuperación de Recursos de EPA. Para mi sorpresa, aprendí que el mero hecho de que un producto es clasificado como “biodegradable o compostable” no lo hace 100% verde. Esos productos compostables o biodegradables “sólo son buenos para el medio ambiente cuando se hacen en compost” enfatizaron mis colegas. El enviar estos materiales a un vertedero, no significa que se van a descomponer automáticamente. Las condiciones idóneas tienen que existir para descomponerse. De hecho, la naturaleza de los vertederos evita que la mayoría de los productos compostables se descompongan. La realidad es que estos vertederos o rellenos sanitarios son casi como “tumbas secas” y están diseñadas específicamente para proteger los materiales depositados en ellas de entrar en contacto con el aire, agua, aguas subterráneas, y la luz solar. Si a pesar de eso estos productos compostables se descomponen en un vertedero, permanecerán atrapados en ese lugar y posiblemente producirán gas metano y solución lixiviante. Estos productos compostables no desaparecen por arte de magia.

Por lo tanto, para aquellas personas que quieren asegurarse de que los materiales compostables hagan honor de sus cualidades verdes, les recomiendo que visiten los siguientes sitios Web para aprender más acerca de cómo reducir y reciclar los desechos orgánicos [http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/materials/organics/reduce.htm] y hacer compost así como otras prácticas realmente verdes.

Por ende, mientras la envoltura verde tiene sus méritos, lo mejor que se puede hacer para el medio ambiente es no crear desechos desde el principio. A pesar de nuestros mejores esfuerzos, cuando creamos desechos, las siguientes mejores opciones para nuestro bolsillo y el medio ambiente consiste en reutilizar, reciclar o compostar estos productos! Que tengan un buen día protegiendo al medio ambiente.

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.

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: Homeland Security Research: Armed with Science

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

Last week, I taped my first homeland security talk radio interview!

The interview was with Dr. John Ohab, moderator of the Defense Department’s (DOD) “Armed with Science” news webcast. He focused our interview on EPA’s role in homeland security science while emphasizing our collaborative research with DOD in two critical areas:

  1. Protecting national water infrastructure, and
  2. Decontaminating buildings and outdoor areas following biological, chemical, or radiological contamination.

Dr. Ohab asked me questions designed to inform DOD’s listeners about EPA’s homeland security research.  He was interested in how our extraordinarily talented EPA scientists and engineers collaborate with the Defense Department and others in undertaking a broad range of scientific research activities that are advancing our homeland security science to support and improve our response and recovery capabilities.

In addition to my interview, I posted my first ever blog entry—on the “Armed with Science” web site
and wrote my first “tweet” on EPA’s Research Twitter site: www.twitter.com/eparesearch .

I must say, these were entirely new experiences for me, and I’m still on a steep learning curve when it comes to blogging and tweeting. I really enjoyed exploring new ways to share the story of our homeland security research, our results, and its impacts. In fact, I enjoyed it so much I decided to contribute this post to EPA’s Greenversations blog!

I want to offer special thanks to everyone at EPA, and to our colleagues at the Department of Defense, who are helping us make our way into the new world of Web 2.0 technologies. Thanks to everyone reading this blog entry! Your interest in EPA homeland security research and science makes it even more gratifying.

You can listen to my DOD interview here: Armed with Science Episode 62 where it has been archived.

About the Author: Dr. Peter Jutro is the Deputy Director for Science and Policy at EPA’s National Homeland Security Research Center. EPA scientists and engineers collaborate with their partners on research and technologies that protect national water infrastructure and advance the state-of-the-art in decontaminating buildings and outdoor areas after a chemical, biological, or radiological attack.

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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Sugar Rush

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) has been giving people quite the scare for some time now. It is a belief that the introduction of this product into our diet was the reason for increasing obesity in America; that the simple elimination of the product in our diets would make us lose that extra weight the American public has gained. Like many other Americans I believed this myth that HFCS was worse for you than the other sugars out there: honey, cane sugar, and brown sugar. But like many Americans, I was wrong. I used to read every label that I thought may have HFCS in it, and if it did I would put it back down and refrain from consuming the “evil” substance.

Just this year I have learned that HFCS is not as harmful as I thought it was. However, like other sugars, high fructose corn syrup should only be ingested in small amounts. The main reasoning for manufacturers to use HFCS as opposed to other sugars is that it is cheaper .

When choosing what food to eat, it helps to know what you are actually eating. Some foods that you wouldn’t expect to have sugar in it do, and thus it is still important to be aware of what contents you are actually eating. The best ways to go about doing this are to eat foods that are in their most natural form. This includes organic produce and excludes packaged foods. If you are choosing a food or drink item that has a variety of ingredients it may be important to read the ingredients and nutrition facts as HFCS is becoming more prevalent in foods that were once exempt of sugar additives.

The foods that many kids, and adults, find to be the most delicious are usually those foods that contain high fructose corn syrup. Kids especially are drawn to the sugary drinks and foods that are becoming more prevalent in our grocery stores and fast-food restaurants. Persuading children to eat fresher and healthier foods may be difficult, but will prove to be more beneficial for their health now and in the future. It is important to remember that high fructose corn syrup is still a type of sugar and should only be consumed in moderation.

About the author: Nicole Reising is an intern at the Office of Children’s Health Protection. She is a sophomore studying non-profit management at Indiana University.

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 are you going to do to celebrate the Earth this April?

April is Earth Month, and Earth Day, April 22nd, is rapidly approaching. Check out our Earth Day web page for things you can do to celebrate, participate and then share what you are doing. Activities range from “Pick 5″– choosing five environmental actions you will commit to, to submitting a video clip to join our “It’s My Environment” video project and loads of things in between. Check it out and tell us about your plans.

What are you going to do to celebrate the Earth this April?

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.

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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Pregunta de la Semana: ¿Qué está haciendo para celebrar al Planeta Tierra este abril?

Abril es el Mes del Planeta Tierra y el Día del Planeta Tierra, el 22 de abril, se aproxima rápidamente. Visiten nuestra página Web del Día del Planeta Tierra para celebrar, y participar y entonces compartir lo que está haciendo. Las actividades varían desde “Pick5″–donde puede escoger 5 acciones ambientales a las cuales se quiere comprometer, someter un video para unirse a nuestro proyecto de video “Es mi medio ambiente” y cantidad de otras cosas también. Consulte la página y cuéntenos acerca de sus planes.

¿Qué está haciendo para celebrar al Planeta Tierra este abril?

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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A Call to Action on Asthma

Over 20 years ago, I worked in a pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) where every day I saw children in serious distress from asthma. Most got better, but some returned time and again…and a few never went home. It was heartbreaking; especially because in many cases, their distress could have been prevented.

I felt called to help children make changes that would allow them to lead active, healthy lives unencumbered by asthma symptoms – to give them and their families the knowledge they needed to take control of asthma. It was then that I transitioned my career to promote asthma education and empower communities to manage asthma. It was, and continues to be, my goal that not one more person dies from asthma.

At EPA, where I have worked for the last 13 years, that mission is shared. We have partnered with other federal agencies, national, state, and local nonprofit organizations and hundreds of communities nationwide to promote environmental trigger management as part of comprehensive asthma care.

Part of EPA’s activities include convening the National Asthma Forum; providing support to a growing network of community asthma programs; promoting community action and events during Asthma Awareness Month; and recognizing health plans, providers and communities that are addressing environmental asthma triggers with the National Environmental Leadership Award in Asthma Management.

Our most important activity, though, is empowering individuals to control asthma through education. Everyone in a community has a role in helping people manage asthma. Here are some actions you can take:

  • Learn about asthma, environmental triggers and what you can do to control them.
  • Plan or participate in an Asthma Awareness Month event this May.
  • Talk to a nurse, the school board, the principal, the PTA or other leaders in your school district about how they can help students by controlling asthma triggers.
  • Encourage your care provider to attend the National Asthma Forum.

I’ll never forget the struggles I saw in the PICU that inspired me on my path with EPA to educate and empower families affected by asthma. I hope each of you will join me in taking action. What will you do in your community to raise awareness about asthma and spread the message about comprehensive asthma management?

About the Author: Tracey Mitchell is an Environmental Scientist with the Office of Radiation and Indoor Air’s Indoor Environments Division and works on the EPA Asthma Team.

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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Hearing from allies in the fight for our environment

As a communications person, sometimes it’s hard to feel directly connected to EPA’s mission. How does editing a speech help protect human health and the environment? I’m not a scientist assessing monitoring data or an enforcement officer…enforcing things. I write about what they do.

Recently, though, I had an opportunity to get a little more involved by helping create an online discussion forum to get insights from the public on some of the biggest problems facing our nation’s water resources. We debuted Coming Together for Clean Water in mid-March and took public comments on watershed management, nutrient pollution, and stormwater management for two weeks so that we could get broad input on these topics in advance of EPA’s upcoming conference of the same title. The conference will convene about 100 executive-level leaders from across the water sector to discuss these three topics. The comments from the online forum will be shared with conference participants.

We received hundreds of thoughtful, detailed comments from people involved in all aspects of the water sector—state environment officials, engineers, advocates, and interested citizens. A lot of participants seemed to want to harness the momentum of the environmental movement by ramping up outreach efforts. By making people feel ownership of their watersheds, rivers, and lakes, we can help them become partners in caring for these resources.

Moderating the comments and watching the conversation grow on this forum (or being the “blog mama,” as I called it) was a great experience. Reading so many great suggestions for addressing water pollution, frustrations about what’s not working, and success stories made me realize that EPA is not in the environmental fight alone—we’ve got lots of willing partners from all walks of life, and they are eager to share their experiences.

About the author: Jennah Durant works on the Office of Water communications team. This blog is part of an ongoing series about EPA’s efforts toward the Open Government Directive that lays out the Obama Administration’s commitment to Open Government and the principles of transparency, participation and collaboration.

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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Whatever happened to acid rain?

Recently, my coworkers and I have started tracking the internet chatter about acid rain. We were curious about what the world was saying about this iconic environmental issue. Acid rain is taught in most schools across the country so imagine our surprise when we found a pretty significant number of people who thought the problem of acid rain has been solved.

So…what really did happen to acid rain? It was a big problem in the 80s and early 90s, but now we don’t hear much about it. This year marks the 20th anniversary of EPA’s Acid Rain Program—a program that requires power plants across the country to reduce SO2 (sulfur dioxide) and NOx (nitrogen oxide), the pollutants that form acid rain.

Because of our program, we’ve seen power plant emissions of SO2 and NOx plummet. Many sensitive lakes and streams in the East are starting to recover from the effects of acid rain. And the days of dying forests and lakes totally devoid of fish are, increasingly, a thing of the past.

The success of the Acid Rain Program has been impressive: 63 percent lower SO2 emissions, 70 percent lower NOx emissions, and 100% compliance! We’ve come a long way but, unfortunately, acid rain is still a very real problem in some parts of the country and it is one that EPA is committed to continuing to address.

So – whatever happened to acid rain? We’d like to tell you what we’ve been doing about acid rain, but more importantly, we’re very interested in hearing what YOU guys think. How did you first learn about acid rain? What did you know about the Acid Rain Program and what EPA has been doing over the past 20 years to try to solve the issue?  How has acid rain affected your community?  What more do you think EPA should be doing  to address this issue? Tell us what you think and please join us over the next few weeks as we continue our dialogue documenting the past 20 years of the program on Facebook , and Twitter .

About the author: Josh Stewart is the Communications Intern with the EPA’s Clean Air Markets Division. Josh is currently working on his Master’s Degree in Political Management at The George Washington University.

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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