Monthly Archives: May 2011

Learning In Your Own Backyard

CU-Boulder Professor Jeff Mitton

CU-Boulder Professor Jeff Mitton

By Wendy Dew

Here in Colorado we have an abundance of environmental education opportunities with a diversity of flora and fauna. You can even see prairie dogs from the side of the road at a shopping center!

Unfortunately, one the best educational examples we have right now is Pine Beetle. Rocky Mountain kids can see firsthand the effects of climate change and drought on our local forests with the pine beetle epidemic. The mountain pine beetle is in the midst of its most intense and widespread epidemic in recorded history. The geographic infestation extends from New Mexico to the Yukon Territory and from the front range of Colorado to the Pacific Ocean. In Colorado alone, more than 3 million acres of forests have already been affected.

The University of Colorado – Boulder recently released a new film on mountain pine beetle and its effects in Colorado. They have also created a lesson on mountain pine beetle appropriate for high school but adaptable to middle school. They have a variety of other lesson plans and videos and resources for teaching about local climate change.

Every student has the opportunity to learn about the environment. Whether it be the pine beetle, the Chesapeake Bay or in your own backyard. Look to your local environment to find out what issues are happening and what you can do about them.

For more information

About the author: Wendy Dew is the Environmental Education and Outreach Coordinator for Region 8 in Denver, Colorado.

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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Swishing…Or “How We Dressed Up Earth Day at EPA”

By Heather Barnhart

My father’s birthday is the beginning of May, and every year I struggle to think up the perfect – and new! – gift idea. Earth Day’s approach fills me with this same nagging need to come up with something innovative. We’re social creatures and our attitudes, opinions, and values on issues and situations develop into norms, which are behaviors evolved from the collective. The movement from opinion and value to norm is basis for developing an environmental ethic. And the wonderful thing about Earth Day is that it’s supposed to be fun – fun and celebratory, fun and SOCIAL.

How do I take something that happens every year and make it special and unique and maybe just a bit exciting? We decided to encourage employees to reuse/recycle by holding a swap, which we called a swish to be more posh like our friends across the pond.  Swishing is a fun, accessible, and free way to promote reuse because everyone has, needs, and buys THINGS. Our individual choices have environmental impacts and the amount, number and types of things we buy, reuse, and/or recycle impacts the environment. At the event employees could also learn about trash, waste disposal, and take a personal Ecological Footprint quiz to learn about their own impacts on the environment.

If you want to swish, it just takes planning and the dedication of some volunteers. Here in NYC, we take our status as one of the world’s fashion capitals seriously and focused on men’s and women’s accessories (along with our partners from the IRS and the FAA). Employees donated nearly 300 items towards the event and what wasn’t taken was donated to a local charity. Our fellow feds at U.S. Army Core of Engineers at Fort Hamilton extended their swishing to include household goods and electronics and also received more than 250 contributions from employees!

Even if you don’t swish, there are also some amazing resources in New York and New Jersey for reuse and recycling. Find out where you can donate, sell, and fix things in the NYC area at the NYC Exchange and where you can buy recycled in New Jersey on the NJ Department of Environmental Protection’s website.

Most of all remember that EARTH DAY IS EVERY DAY!

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Swishing…Or “How We Dressed Up Earth Day at EPA”

By Heather Barnhart

My father’s birthday is the beginning of May, and every year I struggle to think up the perfect – and new! – gift idea. Earth Day’s approach fills me with this same nagging need to come up with something innovative. We’re social creatures and our attitudes, opinions, and values on issues and situations develop into norms, which are behaviors evolved from the collective. The movement from opinion and value to norm is basis for developing an environmental ethic. And the wonderful thing about Earth Day is that it’s supposed to be fun – fun and celebratory, fun and SOCIAL.

How do I take something that happens every year and make it special and unique and maybe just a bit exciting? We decided to encourage employees to reuse/recycle by holding a swap, which we called a swish to be more posh like our friends across the pond. Swishing is a fun, accessible, and free way to promote reuse because everyone has, needs, and buys THINGS. Our individual choices have environmental impacts and the amount, number and types of things we buy, reuse, and/or recycle impacts the environment. At the event employees could also learn about trash, waste disposal, and take a personal Ecological Footprint quiz to learn about their own impacts on the environment.

If you want to swish, it just takes planning and the dedication of some volunteers. Here in NYC, we take our status as one of the world’s fashion capitals seriously and focused on men’s and women’s accessories (along with our partners from the IRS and the FAA). Employees donated nearly 300 items towards the event and what wasn’t taken was donated to a local charity. Our fellow feds at U.S. Army Core of Engineers at Fort Hamilton extended their swishing to include household goods and electronics and also received more than 250 contributions from employees!

Even if you don’t swish, there are also some amazing resources in New York and New Jersey for reuse and recycling. Find out where you can donate, sell, and fix things in the NYC area at the NYC Exchange and where you can buy recycled in New Jersey on the NJ Department of Environmental Protection’s website.

Most of all remember that EARTH DAY IS EVERY DAY!

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

American Fellow in Costa Rica

By: Nesmarie Negron

Last November, I traded in my NYC commuter shoes for my hiking boots and embarked upon a Central American adventure to help address water quality issues in Costa Rica.   I spent two months working in San Jose, as part of the American Fellows Program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of State and promotes the exchange of professionals throughout Latin America.    Facing many of the same water quality challenges as the U.S., the Costa Rican Ministry of the Environment (MINAET) was interested in learning about our regulatory and voluntary framework for addressing surface water contamination (the Clean Water Act), guidelines for developing watershed plans to restore and protect waters, and nonpoint source initiatives in Puerto Rico which could also be implemented in Costa Rica to address nutrient and pathogen contamination in water bodies.

In addition to sharing EPA’s experiences, I also had the opportunity to be involved with some of MINAET’s ongoing projects, including the United Nations Environmental Programme’s REPCar (Reduction of Pesticide Runoff in the Caribbean) Project and environmental management plan inspections, where we monitored the progress of energy, water, and recycling programs in a variety of industries.

¡Pura Vida!  It is no accident that this phrase meaning “full of life” is so commonly used in Costa Rica.  Ticos (Costa Ricans) are some of the most vibrant and welcoming people I have ever met.  My favorite activities in San Jose were admiring pre-Columbian gold and jade in the city’s museums, listening to musical performances at the National Theater, and learning how to dance the Costa Rican Swing at a local dance school.  However, the real adventures were outside the capital during offsite meetings.  It was then that I had the opportunity to see the beautiful natural resources MINAET is working hard to protect.

About the author: Nesmarie Negrón is an Environmental Engineer and has served in various positions at the EPA over the past five years.  She currently leads the Region 2 Clean Water Act 305(b) Water Quality Assessment Program.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

How My Mother Made Me See The Light: One CFL Light Bulb At A Time

By Molly Hooven

A typical evening in my house consists of someone asking, “Mom, where’s this?” or “Mom, where’s that?”

So when one of my light bulbs went out, I asked “Mom, where are the light bulbs?” She placed the energy saving CFL light bulb in my hand and the world was right again.

Moms across the nation are creating a path for younger generations to become more aware and proactive about protecting our environment. According to Energy Star, if everyone replaced the light bulb (like I did) then we would save enough energy to light 3 million homes for a year but according to Mom, it’s just the right thing to do.

That’s good enough for me.

Mothers Day is May 8th and so it’s perfect timing to acknowledge how moms are teaching environmentally friendly day-to-day activities in a fun manner to their children. My mother’s passion for the earth certainly has now been embedded in my life. As role models, moms are the ones with the power to shape how we act towards our water, air, health and planet.

Not a day goes by that my mom does not recycle bottles or cardboard. Did you know that it takes over 200 hundred years for an aluminum soda can to decompose but if recycled it can be reused in a matter of weeks? When my mom heard that our county was trashing the caps of water bottles, she quickly started saving them until she could find a location that would recycle them. Thankfully, it was a false rumor so we can once again toss the bottles (caps included!) into the bin.

Even with summer just around the corner, there’s no vacation for recycling, according to my mom. When traveling to Maine for vacation, she collects our used bottles and made it a “fun activity” for us to stick them in a reverse vending machine at the grocery store that recycles them and refunds deposits to customers. I still hold a fond memory of the smell of soda cans and salt water!

My mom allowed me to find my eco-passion on my own time. I remember asking her to pack my lunch in a paper bag. Soon enough I saw the light and am now a proud carrier of a cloth lunch bag that does not contribute to the 4.5 pounds of garbage each person produces daily. My sister caught on earlier than I did and as she proudly wears her “Going Green is Hot” t-shirt, she too carries her cloth lunch bag.

My mom and many other women are creating a greener future for our nation. Did your mom’s green techniques leave an impact on you? Share your thoughts!

About the author: Molly Hooven joined the EPA in November 2010 as a SCEP intern. She will graduate in May with her M.B.A. from Mount St. Mary’s University and has an undergraduate degree in Communications.

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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BP Alaska Settlement: Enforcing the Law to Protect a Fragile Ecosystem

By Cynthia Giles

Looking at the picture of the BP Exploration Alaska facility taken from the window of a small plane as EPA inspectors flew over; you can’t help but notice the vastness of the Arctic tundra and the great expanse of pipeline that covers it. Home to habitat for caribou and many migratory bird species, the area also contains an abundance of domestic oil.

Those oil reserves, tucked below the often snow-covered surface, will help fuel the nation as we work to expand domestic energy production, transition to cleaner sources of fuel, and innovate our way to a cleaner, greener economy. But, the extraction of that oil must be done in a way that follows the law to ensure the protection of the fragile Arctic environment and the health and safety of the people who live and work there.

In 2006, leaks caused by a corroded pipeline spilled more than 5,000 barrels of oil, covering the tundra and reaching a nearby lake. The spill was the largest ever on the North Slope of Alaska and was the result of the company failing to properly operate and maintain its 1,600 miles of pipeline. Because of that negligence, EPA, working with our partners at the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Transportation (who oversee pipeline safety) pushed for the toughest per barrel penalty ever for an oil spill.

This week, we settled with BP, imposing a $25 million dollar penalty and requiring the company to drastically reduce the types of conditions, like internal pipe corrosion, that lead to the spills. But, we can’t just take their word for it when a company has a history of failing to properly maintain and monitor their operations, so we have also called for BP to hire an independent monitor to confirm that they are meeting the requirements of the settlement.

EPA takes its responsibility to protect people’s health and the environment very seriously. We have an obligation to vigorously enforce our nation’s environmental laws and companies that cut corners and fail to follow those laws will be penalized. American’s expect companies to operate in a safe, responsible and legal way and EPA is hard at work to make sure that they do.

About the author: Cynthia Giles is assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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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Healthy Buildings Help People with Asthma Lead Healthier Lives

Healthy buildings provide a safe and secure physical structure that helps occupants maintain their health and well-being through improved indoor air quality. Creating a healthy indoor environment can have a particularly significant impact on people who have asthma. Allergens, such as dust mites, other pests, including cockroaches and rodents, and mold are all related to asthma symptoms and unfortunately we know these triggers are ubiquitous in urban housing.

At the Boston Public Health Commission, we work collaboratively within the community to address these triggers, teach residents how to better manage their asthma and their environment, and support residents when their indoor environment is making them sick and it is out of their control. We conduct over 100 direct service home visits for families with asthma each year to help people create healthier indoor environments within their homes.

In addition, with EPA support, we established the Breathe Easy At Home program, a collaborative effort among city agencies and health care institutions. This program enables clinicians to make online referrals for housing code enforcement inspections, for their patients with asthma. A patient tells their doctor about a health concern related to their home environment, the clinician reports it, an inspection is performed, and the clinician receives continued information about the resolution of the complaint. The city of Boston is reaping the benefits of this powerful collaboration. The hospitalization rate for Boston’s children with asthma has decreased 39 percent and emergency department visits are 16 percent lower.

Attending EPA’s Communities in Action National Asthma Forum was an amazing learning opportunity for us and really helped us to solidify our vision for the future. It brings together both clinical and community-based programs and affirms that we are a continuum of care. It also allowed us to reevaluate and reprioritize our efforts and to learn from other leaders working in asthma management. It also pushed us to think about how to address asthma management from a nation-wide perspective.  I would highly encourage both new and established asthma management programs to attend the upcoming National Asthma Forum, June 9-10 in Washington, D.C. It’s an inspiring event that yields a huge return on investment.

About the author: Margaret Reid has been with the Boston Public Health Commission for twelve years and currently serves as the Director of the Division of Healthy Homes and Community Support.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Keith Takata

Superfundman

Superfundman

By Keith Takata, Deputy Regional Administrator

I’m a child of ‘50s, born and raised on a small farm in the Santa Clara Valley, long before the term Silicon Valley was coined. I graduated from a country elementary school, kindergarten through 8th grade, with 16 kids. I spent a lot of time at the Buddhist Church in San Jose’s Japanese American community.

After high school, I went to U.C. Berkeley during the years of social protest. I was heavily involved in the “Third World Strike” to establish an Ethnic Studies Department and stop the Vietnam War.

Figuring I eventually needed to get a job, I went to law school at U.C. Davis, passed the bar, and went to work for EPA’s regional Enforcement Division in San Francisco. My early career at EPA was lackluster until I switched to management, and found my calling.

I started the Superfund program here in 1981, and that’s where I’ve spent the bulk of my career. I liked the direct federal responsibility for Superfund sites and I love the action of emergency response. Last year, duty called and I am now Deputy Regional Administrator.

Every now and then there is a nice confluence of work and life. Recently I took part in the groundbreaking for a cleanup in Richmond, Calif. funded by an EPA Brownfields grant. The money is being used to clean up an area where 17 Japanese American families operated flower nurseries for over a century. After the cleanup, Richmond will develop new housing, preserve an original home and greenhouse, and create open space for the community.

The project is close to my heart because I grew up with farm families who went through some of the same experiences as Japanese Americans in Richmond. My family was interned during World War II just as they were. My father served in the military just as many of their young men did. After the war, my parents returned to San Jose to start farming again just like they did in Richmond.

This generation of Japanese Americans—my parents and grandparents–had the strength to rise above the challenges, just as I know the Japanese people will rise from the recent tragedy of earthquake and tsunami.

As I reach the end of my career, I reflect on the gains we’ve made in environmental protection, but more importantly, I think about what we’ve left undone. Every day a new threat appears, like hydrofracturing and the BP oil spill. We should have more aggressively protected the environment, but now it’s time to pass the torch to the next generation. Are you ready?

About the author: Keith Takata is the Deputy Regional Administrator for EPA Pacific Southwest Region (Region 9). Keith is a Sansei (third generation) Japanese American.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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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I Was a Frustrated Customer at Car Showrooms, but Made the Obvious Decision

By Larry Teller

Being a patriot who wants to do right by our still-struggling economy, I recently started looking for a new car. Well, to be honest, approaching another summer without car air conditioning didn’t delight.

The car I was replacing was 17 years old and, beside no A/C, had gradually lost other non-essential but nice-to-have features: FM and eventually AM radio, keyless door locks, two door locks (but, shucks, no one would steal the car), speed control and intermittent wipers. I’d figured in recent years, what’s the difference? I’m only driving six miles roundtrip to a commuter train. And, besides, the huge trunk provided a handy way to take my bike for repairs; the car was paid for; the insurance was cheap; it reminded me of the sweet day we drove our baby daughter home from the hospital; my friend the mechanic was always eager to fix things; I’m not wild about car salesmen……

It’s been, thankfully, years since I walked into a showroom. Do you, too, dread the experience, beginning with the sweet greeting, followed inexorably by the required question “What do I have to do to sell you a car TODAY?” My specs were simple at the three places I visited: compact car, four cylinders with good gas mileage, comfortable seats, several safety gizmos, any color but black or white, and—here’s the feature that, I learned at all three places, was the root cause of conflict—but I just felt I deserved: heated seats.

Here’s what I learned, unhappily: in order to buy heated seats, you must buy a “weather package,” which is available only on higher “trim” versions, which only come with a larger engine (and also requires, in the fancier trim package, a moon roof which I can happily live without), which has lower gas mileage, which was one of my most important criteria.

So, the frustrating choice the car companies shrewdly force us to confront is whether keeping our tushes toasty on those freezing Monday mornings is worth spending an extra $3,000 (the weather package and higher trim line) and losing, at least in the three compact cars I considered, 2-3 miles per gallon (“EPA estimated—your actual gas mileage may vary.”).

I hope it’s obvious from this tale how I resolved this showroom conflict. How would you?

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.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

DAMages!

Click here to learn about the Manatawny Creek dam removal and restoration!

If you were to guess how many dams there are in America, what would you say? Maybe a couple hundred? A couple thousand? The answer is that there are over 85,000 dams in the United States, the equivalent of building a dam on an American waterway every day since we declared our independence in 1776.

Over 2,200 of those 85,000 dams can generate hydroelectric power, an excellent source of renewable energy. But, while people reap the benefits of dams every day from the power they generate, irrigating crops or recreational purposes, dams can also have a detrimental impact on the environment.

Dams are designed to interrupt a river or stream’s natural flow which can cause numerous ecological side effects. They can increase water temperature by slowing water, and causing harm to native fish species.  When water is released from a dam, it’s usually from the bottom of the reservoir, which contains less dissolved oxygen, potentially harming or killing aquatic life.

Sediment also builds up behind dams, which can cover up vital fish spawning areas. In addition, dams can create barriers that inhibit fish returning from the ocean swimming upriver to spawn, and they block freshwater fish from their prime spawning, rearing and foraging habitat.

Currently, there is a growing awareness in the U.S. to remove dams no longer serving their intended purpose. Removing a dam from a waterway restores the natural flow and brings back the aquatic ecosystem. An organization called American Rivers, which has worked to remove dams for almost 40 years, has an abundance of valuable information, including videos about the benefits of dam removal for restoring rivers.

In 2006 a dam was removed in Manatawny Creek, in eastern Pennsylvania as a result of a conservation plan developed by the Berks County Conservancy.  Numerous partners and stakeholders, including EPA, contributed to removing this “orphaned” dam, which was no longer in use and becoming dilapidated. Removing orphaned dams is usually much easier than removing dams which are still in use because they are structures that do not have a modern day purpose.

Do you know of any dams in your area? Has a dam been removed nearby and you have seen the benefits? Share your thoughts on our comment page!

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.