Monthly Archives: October 2011

Energy-Saving Tricks and Treats

By Brittney Gordon

For many, Halloween is one of the best holidays of the year. From the endless bags of candy to the costumes, it is the one night where adults and kids alike can pretend to be anyone they want to be, and have a lot of fun doing it. For weeks friends have asked me what I am going to dress up as, but to tell you the truth I haven’t the foggiest idea. I am kind of last minute when it comes to this holiday (okay, all holidays) and I will probably run to the costume store just in time to get the scraps leftover by the more time serious Halloween shoppers.

While I may be slow when it comes to picking out a costume, I am focused on being right on time when it comes to the energy efficient things I can do in my home this Halloween. Below is a simple list of things we can all do to save energy and protect the environment before and after we go trick-or-treating.

Trick for heat: When is the last time you checked your heating system’s air filter? You should do it every month and change it every three months. While you are at it, this is a great time to have a qualified professional tune up your system with a pre-season maintenance checkup. If it’s time to replace your system, look for the ENERGY STAR.

Protect Yourself from Vampires: No, I am not talking about the latest “Twilight” movie. Instead I am referring to “vampire power” or standby power. It is the electric power consumed by electronics and appliances while they are switched off or in a standby mode. ENERGY STAR qualified models use a lot less energy in standby mode. Looking for an easy way to remember to turn everything off? Plug all of your electronics into a power strip. Flipping the switch turns everything off at once.

Don’t Waste Your Heat on Ghosts: By properly using a programmable thermostat, you can ensure that you are not unnecessarily heating the home when you are away or sleep. Programming a lower temperature for when you go to work and go to sleep can save you up to $180 a year in energy costs—a pretty sweet treat!

Check for more energy-saving tips.

About the author: Brittney Gordon is a communications team member for EPA’s ENERGY STAR program. She came to EPA in 2010 after a career in Broadcast Journalism.

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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Boo! Rainy Season is Here

EPA Photo/Kasia Broussalian

By Sophia Kelley
It seems like the Big Apple is getting wetter and stormier every year. Even if the trick-or-treaters stay dry tonight, it looks like more rain later in the week. In fact, I have to admit that I’m finally considering breaking down and buying a pair of the trendy rain boots everyone seems to wear these days. I used to scoff at them, thinking, ‘Since when does the average New Yorker have to wade through streams and knee-high rivers on their way to work?’ Apparently these days. And it doesn’t seem to be a passing anomaly anymore.

Wet weather ‘events’ are part of the reality of changing climate. Whether or not you believe in the human causes of climate change (but if you’re reading an EPA blog, I imagine you probably find our position on the subject pretty reasonable), the statistics are telling a compelling story. According to the National Climatic Data Center, the world’s largest archive of weather data, New York State and other parts of the Northeast had the wettest August-September in 117 years. After Saturday’s messy, slushy snow, it looks like October is continuing the trend. Take a look at this cool graph I found that shows the average precipitation in our area over the past century. Or for even more fun, you can change the parameters and plot your own graph to compare various indicators and even check out other parts of the country.

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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Smart Growth: Creating New Opportunities in Rural Communities

By Brett Schwartz

Prior to beginning my internship in EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities this past summer, my interest in smart growth was focused primarily on urban infill and suburban retrofit projects.  Having lived in or visited places such as Atlantic Station in Atlanta, Washington DC’s Columbia Heights neighborhood, the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor in Arlington, Virginia, and the Roxbury neighborhood in Boston, my view of sustainable community approaches had a predominantly urban flavor.  However, during my time at EPA, I was fortunate to work on a number of projects that introduced me to a variety of smart growth strategies being pursued by small towns and rural communities throughout the country.

Through my research and writing, I have learned about places like Greensburg, Kansas, where residents are rebuilding after a devastating tornado in 2007 that destroyed 95percent of the city.  Following the tornado, the city passed a resolution requiring all new buildings to achieve a LEED Platinum rating, widely recognized as the highest standard for green building.  Today, Greensburg serves as a model for other communities recovering from natural disasters that seek to rebuild in a sustainable way.  I have followed the progress of Howard, South Dakota (pop. 850) which recently opened the first phase of the Maroney Commons, a mixed-use project located on the town’s Main Street.  The development will serve as an education and training space for rural residents to learn about green jobs and technology in the new rural economy.  I learned how providing efficient and reliable public transportation for small communities through innovative projects such as Montana’s Opportunity Link is crucial in connecting rural residents to jobs, health care, and educational opportunities.  These rural communities, and many others throughout the country, have adopted creative strategies to stimulate economic development, improve the environment, and ensure a better quality of life.

While I still consider myself a “city person,” through my internship I developed a newfound respect and interest in smaller towns that have embraced the principles of sustainable design as part of their future.  Smart growth can be applied in any community – urban, suburban, or rural – where residents wish to build safe, welcoming neighborhoods, create a sense of community, and be environmentally and fiscally responsible during these challenging times.

About the Author:  Brett Schwartz was an intern in EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities and is a third year law student at the University of Baltimore, where he’s focused on land use and community development issues.  He holds degrees from Georgetown University and Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.

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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Upcoming Weekend Activities: “Green” means more Than the Color of your Zombie Face Paint this Halloween Weekend

The month of five Saturdays and five Sundays is coming to a close. Plan now for the last weekend in October with some options below that will help reduce your carbon footprint and get you in the Halloween spirit. 

Bird Walks in Van Cortlandt Park: Focus on wildlife happenings in the park with NYC Audubon experts & the Urban Park Rangers. Saturday, October 29, 8 a.m.

Bronx River Bike Tour: Join Bronx native Mike Gupta in the six-mile long bike ride and explore the rich and conflicted history of the river, as well as old remnants of the ill fated Bronx River water system. Tickets are for purchase at the provided link. Saturday, October 29, 11 a.m. –2 p.m.

Canine Costume Carnival: Why should humans get to have all the fun? Bring your furry friend to Rockaway Freeway/ Beach 84 (in Rockaway Freeway), Queens for a costume contest in celebration of Halloween. Prizes will be awarded for the most creative costumes in large and small dog categories. Don’t have a dog? You can still go watch! Saturday, October 29, 11 a.m. –2 p.m. 

Central Park Pumpkin Festival: Join NYC Parks for Pumpkin Festival, New York City’s annual celebration of the fall harvest season in leafy Central Park! Saturday, October 29, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. at the Central Park band shell.

Children’s Fall Festival at the Queens County Farm: Celebrate autumn with Halloween fun for all ages. Visit the Haunted House ($4), play traditional games like trinkets-in-the-haystack and sack races, or take a pony ride. Costumes encouraged! Sunday, October 30, 11 a.m.–4 p.m. 73-50 Little Neck Pkwy Floral Park, NY 11004, Queens

East New York Farmer’s Market: Saturday, October 29, 9 a.m.–3 p.m. 

The Halloween Marathon in Van Cortlandt Park: The Halloween race course includes 50k marathon, half marathon, 10k and 5k options. And guess what? It’s all free! Sunday, October 30, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. 

National Prescription Drug Take Back Day: Don’t flush old pills, drop them off at participating collection sites around the city. Saturday, October 29, 10 a.m. –2 p.m. 

Revenge of the Electric Car Film Screening: Tired from a long work week? You can stick with our “green” theme all while getting some much deserved R&R. Catch a screening of Revenge of the Electric Car at the Sunshine Cinema (not sold? It’s narrated by Tim Robbins!). 143 East Houston Street on the Lower East Side. To view screening times as they become available/to purchase tickets, click here.

Textile Recycling Greenmarkets: Check out the link provided for a location near you. Saturday and Sunday options are available at many of the locations.

Yoga in the Greenbelt: This one’s for you, Staten Island! Saturday, October 29, 9:30 a.m.–11 a.m.

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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Investing in Clean Water Pays

By Nancy Stoner

Population growth, aging infrastructure, urbanization and climate change are placing increasing pressure on our water infrastructure all across the country, and over the next 20 years, EPA estimates that more than $600 billion will be needed to address water infrastructure problems.

Modernizing the systems that bring us the clean water we depend on every day provides a clear benefit to the environment and public health, but more and more, we’re seeing how upgrading our water infrastructure is a driver for economic growth and job creation. A new report from the non-profit Green for All estimates that a $188.4 billion investment in water infrastructure over the next five years would add $265 billion to the economy and create 1.9 million jobs. And, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said in a recent report that for every job added by water and wastewater industries, three jobs in other industries must be added to support that work in the water industries.

On a recent trip to Minneapolis, Minnesota’s drinking water plant, which is undergoing a $25 million facelift, I got to see how an investment in water infrastructure is already paying dividends and will continue to do so for years to come.

The plant’s upgrade, to which EPA contributed $6.5 million through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, includes a new machine to process residuals that uses far less electricity – about $100,000 worth per year – than its predecessor, according to the plant manager. The machine produces a type of residual that’s easier to ship and will save Minneapolis about $1 million each year in trucking costs, which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 150,000 pounds annually. Add that up over the 30 year expected lifetime of the new machinery and you’re talking about huge economic and environmental benefits.

And, the new machine, a filter press, was made in Michigan. Another newly-installed piece of machinery came from Pennsylvania, and new pipes are from Ohio and Alabama. In addition to buying homemade goods and supporting jobs in several American communities, the plant upgrade created the equivalent of 25 full-time jobs over the last two years, and 47 jobs for almost a year when work was at its peak.

The work to modernize the Minneapolis plant – installing new equipment that will cut operating costs and reduce air pollution while creating jobs – is a recipe for success, and it’s all in the name of improving our drinking water.

About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Water and grew up in the flood plain of the South River, a tributary of the Shenandoah River.

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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EPA Rides to the Rescue: An Overview of Operations

By Keith Glenn

Fourth installment on our Emergency Response series. 

Prior to the first drop of water or wind gust reaching New York or New Jersey from Hurricane Irene, EPA had deployed personnel to critical emergency management locations lead by the state and local offices of emergency management. EPA on-scene coordinators rode out the storms in Trenton, Brooklyn and Albany to commence the development of post-storm response and recovery strategies. Following the Emergency Declaration by President Obama, EPA began to receive mission assignments from FEMA to conduct rapid needs assessments throughout the impact areas, facilitate a program for the collection of household hazardous waste, coordinate debris removal programs with other government agencies, provide inspections of critical water infrastructures, and retrieve orphan containers containing oil and hazardous substances. 

Within a few hours of receiving mission assignments, EPA teams were deployed to the field with concentrations in Greene, Delaware, Schoharie, and Essex Counties in New York and Passaic, Morris, and Bergen Counties in New Jersey. As the early days progressed, hazardous waste collection stations were established, curbside collection of household hazardous wastes occurred, boat operations for reconnaissance and recovery of orphan containers commenced, and aerial surveillance of debris lines began.    

Just as efforts started to become manageable and routine, Tropical Storm Lee hit additional areas of New Jersey and New York, causing more damage in existing affected municipalities and creating new work areas. The process of meeting governing officials to establish a response and recovery effort resurged and additional emergency personnel were deployed to Broome, Tioga, and Chenango Counties in NY and in Sussex County, NJ.  At the peak of operations, over 160 EPA and contractor personnel were involved.  More

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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An Rx for Unused Pills

Click here to get EPA tips on how to dispose of your medicine.By Brian Hamilton

If you’re like most Americans, you may have some expired or unused medicines sitting in your house and you’re not sure what to do with them.

The Drug Enforcement Administration knows this is a big problem.   That’s why the DEA is hosting a National Drug Take Back Day on Saturday, October 29, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at many different municipal locations.   Last year, nearly 4,000 local agencies participated in the event and collected over 309 tons of pills.

So what does this have to do with Healthy Waters?

Prescription and over-the-counter drugs poured down the drain or flushed down the toilet can pass through wastewater treatment plants and enter rivers and lakes, which may serve as sources downstream for community drinking water supplies.  In homes that use septic tanks, medicines flushed down the toilet can leach into the ground and seep into ground water.

In addition to the National Drug Take Back Day, check with your municipal or county government’s household trash and recycling service to see if there are other drug take-back programs available in your community.

Click here to learn more about the National Drug Take Back Day and find take back locations. Also click here to get EPA tips on how to dispose of your medicine.

About the Author: Brian Hamilton works in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support at Region 3. He helps manage the Healthy Waters Blog, and assists in reviewing mining permits and does other duties as assigned. Brian grew up in Central Pennsylvania. He has worked for the EPA since July 2010.

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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Caribbean Petroleum Corporation (CAPECO) Response, Two Years Later

An aerial shot of the facility the night of the explosions, 10/23/09

By Mark Gallo 

On October 23, 2009 at approximately 12:30 a.m., residents of the San Juan area of Puerto Rico either observed or were awakened by the fire and explosions that rocked their area (see “Fire in the Sky”, October 2009). If you ask residents where they were that night, the majority remember it like it was yesterday. 

Working as an EPA On-Scene Coordinator (OSC), you expect that on some days you will wake up and find yourself in the middle of chaos. One of those days for me was at the CAPECO response, an emergency response action to a fire/explosion of a major petroleum oil storage facility in Bayamon, PR. It was four days after the initial explosion when I received the call to support five other EPA OSCs already on site, one from the EPA San Juan Office and four from our EPA Edison office. I “had” a nice weekend planned, but duty calls, my flight was booked, and I found myself waking up to chaos the following day. To quote a co-worker’s response, “There’s oil EVERYWHERE!” This facility had approximately 60 million (M) gallons on site during the incident and approximately 30M gallons either consumed in the fire or released to the environment. The remaining oil was in tanks with questionable integrity! 

When I arrived, the OSCs were coordinating with at least a dozen agencies, establishing an Incident Command Structure, staffing and organizing the Incident Management Team, directing clean-up contractors, ordering resources, and working logistics and plans for the coming hours, as that was how quickly conditions changed during the initial days of the response. The 24/7 operation continued well into late November of 2009, when there was some sense of security in reducing operational hours. More

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: EPA Awards Research Grants to Study Black Carbon

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

By Katie Lubinsky

My morning drive to work involves bypassing road construction. You know … the smell of baking asphalt, those bright, dizzying orange cones in the road that you almost hit, and of course, construction trucks galore!

I breathe in the smoky, throat-gripping exhaust from the construction vehicles, which seems ‘oh-so-healthy’ for the environment. I couldn’t help but wonder how the exhaust from the diesel vehicles here compares to other exhaust sources, not just locally, but globally.
One pollutant associated with diesel exhaust as well as contributing to global air pollution is black carbon (BC). BC is a short-lived aerosol that stays in the atmosphere from days to weeks. While there, BC absorbs solar radiation and quickly warms the climate. It affects weather patterns like rain and cloud formation as well as deposits on snow and ice in Arctic areas that, in turn, darken the snow and ice causing a warming climate by decreasing Earth’s reflective power.

Health effects are also a concern with this pollutant; especially in developing countries where many people rely on indoor cook stoves that burn BC-emitting fuels (biomass, wood or coal). This, in turn, affects those around the stoves. In fact, BC contributes to mortality, cardiovascular and lung problems, and other health problems.

EPA recently awarded nine Science to Achieve Results Research Grants to eight universities to extensively study BC. Research will involve tracking BC aging in the atmosphere, using innovative computer models to look at BC deposits in the snow of the Great Plains and Canada, and studying how BC and other materials deposit into human lungs and incorporate into rain drops.

The grants went to: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (two grants); Carnegie Mellon University; University of California, Irvine; University of California, Riverside; University of Iowa; University of Washington; University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Rutgers University.

The goal of the EPA-supported research is to help answer several scientific and policy-related questions about the effectiveness of actions that can be taken to mitigate BC’s impact on climate and air quality. Hopefully, they will also help clear the air for my future morning commutes.

About the author: Katie Lubinsky is a student contractor working with EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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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How to Bag It!

By Joshua Brown

Millions of single-use bags are used in Boulder, Colorado each year. The Fairview Net Zero Environmental Club has a goal: reduce the use of single-use shopping bags in Boulder. We are working with the City Council to pass an ordinance to put a fee or a ban on single-use shopping bags.

While the City Council has the ultimate decision, more than two thousand Boulder citizens have signed petitions to reduce the consumption of single-use shopping bags in Boulder. Several months ago, we asked the City Council to have staff look into the issue. After that success, we went back to the City Council and requested that the issue be addressed in the city’s five year update of the Master Plan for Waste Reduction.

To increase our effectiveness, we formed alliances with New ERA Colorado, Boulder High Net Zero and Summit Net Zero. We speak about the issue at City Council meetings twice a month addressing different concerns and giving information on the negative impacts of paper and plastic single use bags. We have been told the issue will be addressed in the five year plan so now we are asking City Council to put the issue top of the 2012 agenda at the City Council retreat in January.

We are also raising awareness in the community. The Fairview Net Zero and Summit Net Zero Clubs, and New ERA had a booth and brought the issue to the well-attended Boulder Creekfest and collected petition signatures. We also have written letters to the editor of our local paper.

Our efforts have not gone unnoticed. An article in the local paper about us was picked up and published throughout the country and a Denver news station, 9News, did a story on our club’s efforts. We have gained more and more supporters. Keep an eye on Boulder and don’t be surprised if you see an ordinance with fee or ban on single-use bags go into effect in Boulder in 2012!

UPDATE: The City of Boulder included 10 pages in the Master Plan for Waste Reduction about putting bans or fees on plastic and paper bags! This was a direct result of the students’efforts. It should lead to an ordinance reducing the use of single use bags in the near future. What an outstanding accomplishment for these students!

About the author: Josh is a senior at Fairview High School. He is active in the Net Zero Environmental Club and is a link leader helping freshmen adjust to high school. Josh is also active in the local Jewish youth organization where he is vice president. He owns his own lawn service company. He plans to study Arts and Humanities in college.

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.