Monthly Archives: December 2011

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Cutting Mercury and Protecting America's Children

by Administrator Lisa P. Jackson

From historic efforts to cut pollution from American automobiles to strong measures to prevent power plant pollution from crossing state lines, 2011 was already a banner year for clean air and the health of the American people. And the EPA is closing out the year with our biggest clean air protection yet.

Last week, we finalized the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, or MATS, a rule that will protect millions of families and, especially, children from air pollution. Before this rule, there were no national standards that limited the amount of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases power plants across the country could release into the air we breathe. Mercury is a neurotoxin that is particularly harmful to children, and emissions of mercury and other air toxics have been linked to damage to developing nervous systems, respiratory illnesses and other diseases. MATS will require power plants to install emissions controls that will also reduce particle pollution, which has been linked to premature death and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

As a result, MATS will provide between $37 billion and $90 billion in health benefits for the American people. Once the rule is fully implemented in 2016, it will prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, and 130,000 cases of aggravated asthma among children between six and 18 years old.

That last point is especially significant to me as a mother. I understand the importance of MATS in very profound ways, because both of my sons have struggled with asthma. Fifteen years ago, my youngest son spent his first Christmas in the hospital fighting to breathe. Like any parent of a child with asthma, I can tell you that the benefits of clean air protections like MATS are not just statistics and abstract concepts.

What we’re really talking about with all those numbers above are pregnant mothers who can rest a little easier knowing their children won’t be exposed to harmful levels of mercury in critical development stages. We are talking about reducing the levels of mercury in the fish that we and our kids eat every day. We are talking about future generations growing up healthier because there is less toxic pollution in the air they breathe.

Find out how MATS will protect health in your state.

What we’re also talking about with MATS are thousands of new opportunities for American workers. Not only will MATS provide health benefits that far outweigh the costs of compliance, it will also support jobs and innovation for our economy.

To meet the MATS standards over the next several years, many power plants will have to upgrade their operations with modern and widely available pollution control technology. There are about 1,100 coal-fired units that are covered by MATS, and about 40 percent do not use advanced pollution controls to limit emissions. Increased demand for scrubbers and other advanced pollution controls will mean increased business for American companies that lead the way in producing pollution control technology.

But that’s just the start. Power plants making upgrades will need workers to build, install, operate and maintain the pollution controls. As the CEO of one of the largest coal-burning utilities in the country recently said about cutting emissions by installing pollution control technology, “Jobs are created in the process – no question about that.” The EPA estimates that the demands for workers will support 46,000 short-term construction jobs and 8,000 long-term jobs.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will protect millions of families and children from harmful and costly air pollution, provide the American people with health benefits that far outweigh the costs of compliance, and support job creation and innovation that are good for our economy. Families across the country – including my own – will benefit from the simple fact of being able to breathe cleaner air. That is what environmental protection and the work of the EPA is all about.

In this holiday season as we gather with our friends and families, Americans can take pride in the gift of clean air. Our children and future generations will have healthier air to breathe because of MATS and this historic year for clean air protection.

About the author: Lisa P. Jackson is the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency

Find out more about how MATS works:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sx0vvn_Wn8o&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]

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: Don’t wait for Wednesday—Get Science Matters!

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

By Aaron Ferster

While “TGISW” (thank goodness it’s Science Wednesday) may never catch on like that more famous exclamation about everybody’s favorite workday, I’ve come to really enjoy my weekly task of getting EPA’s weekly science post ready for Greenversations. Even though we still have another one left before the calendar flips over to 2012, we’ve already shared more “Science Wednesdays” this year than there are actual Wednesdays.

Posts were “tagged” for a diversity of EPA science activities, including sustainability (six posts this year), green chemistry (four posts), clean air research (four posts), women in science (part of the Agency’s month-long activities Celebrating Women in Science during March, 2011), risk assessment (two posts), and a host of other subjects too numerous to fit into a single blog post. We even managed to work in something about bed bugs and a hedgehog!

EPA scientists eager to share insights on their work advancing environmental models launched a series called “Modeling Matters.”

A special thanks to all our readers and commenters, who joined the science “Greenversations” to the tune of some 191 comments.

By now you’ve noticed that we have a lot of science to share, way more that can fit into weekly “Science Wednesday” posts. That’s why I’d like to invite everyone again to sign up for our newsletter, Science Matters.

The December issue includes stories on: EPA efforts to measure sustainability, an environmental model for tracking mercury levels in fish and loons in lakes across New England, news about the latest release of the Community Multiscale Air Quality Model, a link to a podcast interview about EPA’s hydraulic fracturing study—and more. To have the newsletter delivered right to your inbox, click on the link below and add your e-mail address to the box on the web site: Subscribe to Science Matters.

Until next time—TGISW!

About the Author: Aaron Ferster is the lead science writer in EPA’s Office of Research and Development and the editor or Science Wednesday.

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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Entertaining over the Holidays

 By Elizabeth Myer

Entertaining in the New York City Metropolitan area is complicated (among potential obstacles, space concerns come to mind first and foremost), but hosting guests during the holidays is another thing entirely. In my 575 square foot Manhattan apartment, I’m lucky if I can fit 10 friends at once. With that said, over the years I’ve been able to narrow down some “green” tips for entertaining during any holiday season:

  • Send electronic invitations.
  • Look for reduced packaging when shopping for pre-party food (i.e. stay away from individually packaged treats in small serving sizes).
  • Bring re-usable bags with you to the food store. No excuse.
  • Eat foods that are in season whenever possible. This way, you are much more likely to be purchasing local items.
  • Dim the lights during your gathering (compact fluorescent, of course). After all, everyone knows that the easiest way to set the mood (and save energy) is to minimize the amount of blaring artificial light.
  • Avoid using disposable cups and plates. If you don’t feel comfortable asking guests to bring their own dishware (believe it or not, this is becoming quite the trend in urban areas), rent it! These days it’s cheap and simple to rent a range of dinnerware (plus tables, chairs and tablecloths). This is a GREAT tip for New Yorkers who often lack storage space for excess plates, cups, utensils, etc.
  • Wash the dishware ASAP to significantly reduce the amount of water it takes to clean. After a long night of hosting, this one can be tricky, but it makes a world of difference.

Are you an environmentally responsible host? Let us know how you manage to be eco-friendly while throwing an awesome party (trust me, the two go hand in hand).

Happy holidays!

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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My Town Helped Me To Recycle More

By Amy Miller

I thought I recycled everything possible. Papers here. Bottles there. Food waste in the yard. Yes, my trash was reduced to simply trash.
Then my town started a Pay-As-You-Throw program. Suddenly there was this system of measurement and it became like a game. Each Blue Bag counted.

And so I began peeling the plastic off window envelopes and separating wire from the plastic packaging around toys. I no longer tossed scrunched up paper in the trash because it didn’t lay flat. It’s really not the money though, since the bags cost only about $1.50 each. It’s the challenge.
National numbers are similar. Once a town starts PAYT programs, as they are known, people start recycling more.

For instance, Malden, Mass. saved $2.5 million annually and reduced solid waste by 50 percent, thanks to its pay-as-you-throw program. The town saves money in two ways – first it gets revenue from the bags. Second, less waste collection also means more money.

A program in Concord, N.H. is saving the city about $528,000 a year and increased recycling by 75 percent. Gloucester, Mass. reduced waste by 29 percent and is saving $300,000-500,000 a year.

More than 7,000 communities are cashing in on the PAYT perks, according to EPA. Some 300 communities helped by WasteZero, a company that helps municipalities implement PAYT, diverted on average 43 percent of their waste, with many communities coming close to 50 percent.
Of course this means we each pay only for how much waste we create. So in that way, if we pollute more, we pay more.

Mark Dancy at Zero Waste noted that if all residents shared the cost of electricity equally, the way we do waste hauling, many people would be much more wasteful with electricity.

A household that recycles typically only needs a 30-gallon bag and a half of garbage a week, according to Darcy.
If you want to know the hard fast facts of how much our trash pollutes, consider that materials, food, and packaging account for 42 percent of green house gas emissions. Just recycling your Sunday paper saves enough power to run your laptop for more than 3,000 hours. Recycling a milk jug every week saves enough power to run your TV for 189 hours.
The EPA has found food makes up the largest part of what goes to landfill – about a fifth. So we’ll talk more about composting another time.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

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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Think About the Environment this Holiday Season: Holiday tips from EPA’s Regional Administrator

By Judith Enck 

When I was a kid, growing up in Greene County New York, my beloved father won contests for the large number of lights that he put on our house. I would note that entire power plants had to run in order to keep the Enck family house illuminated, so I’m now doing my penance with LED lights. There really is no excuse to double your electric bill or blow your budget around the holidays, so here are my tips for a more environmentally friendly season.

  • Remember to support local businesses whenever possible

    Holiday themed LED lights are a great compromise

  • Consider a small live indoor tree or plant that can serve as a holiday tree to be decorated year after year.
  • If you opt for a real tree, be sure to compost it after the season is over.
  • Decorate with LED lights and colorful reusable ornaments that don’t require electricity such as (reusable) ribbons.
  • Reuse wrapping paper or use old comics to wrap gifts.
  • Start a new card tradition. My friend, Laurie Valeriano and I send the same holiday card back and forth to each other. We read old messages we wrote over the years and they are great memories.
  • Try not to buy unnecessary consumer products. Give experiences instead like tickets to plays or concerts as a way to spend time together.
  • When purchasing gifts, I try to select things that are useful, fun and environmentally sound. This year, several people on my list will be getting seltzer makers so they don’t even have to recycle bottles any more, they can just reuse the same ones.
  • More tips here.

Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments section. Best wishes for a wonderful and sustainable holiday season and a very green new year!

About the author: Judith Enck is EPA’s Regional Administrator of and a native New Yorker who currently resides in Brooklyn.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Green Kid Taking Action

I am 11 years old, from Fremont, CA. I am a very passionate environmentalist.
Many people wonder how I got into being an environmentalist.  I guess it is because of the way I was brought up. My mom told me that I started raising concerns about trash lying around in public places when I was four years old.

studentIt used to bother me a lot when I see kids throwing trash around school and being irresponsible about it. When I was in 2nd grade we had a class project, and I wrote a story about caring for the environment and showed that, it is the responsibility of everyone to keep their community clean. That’s when I first expressed my thoughts openly.  This story was later published as a children story book called, “Two Tales from a Kid”.

I love to read books, and my favorite subjects at school are science and math. I am always very curious. Everybody tells me that I ask too many questions. My parents’ told me that it is okay to ask questions, but, as I am growing older I need to also try to find the answers myself. I do a lot of research by reading books, internet, meeting experts, and exploring whenever I am curious about something. My parents’ take me to different places and help me find my own answers.

I often discuss about the issues I observe and share my suggestions for improving. Some people are supportive, some agree, but do not want to take action, and some just ignore.
I was advised to be more clear and specific, and list actionable items when I give any suggestions. I then started writing step by step actions that can be taken at school. It took me two years to complete my program for school. It has been reviewed by experts, and now I am piloting it, through my non-profit organization, Green Kids Now, Inc.,
I realized the process of self-learning is too time consuming and that we need a conference dedicated for children, so we could learn faster and be updated on all the latest developments, so I founded “ Green Kids Conference”.

Though I faced numerous hurdles, it is my passion and strong belief for the cause that keeps me going. I will continue in this path and become an entrepreneur and focus on bringing in solutions to the most challenging environmental issues.

Pavan is a passionate environmentalist, published author, and founder of non-profit charity organization, Green Kids Now, Inc.  He is also the founder of Green Kids Conference.

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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Our Trip To The Christmas Tree Farm

By Amy Miller

We went to buy our Christmas tree last weekend. We couldn’t remember where that one cut- your-own place was, we weren’t sure if that other cut-your-own place was still in business and anyway, we really didn’t have much time for a sentimental ritual in between Benjamin’s basketball game and our friends’ progressive dinner.

So we settled on a 20-mile drive to get to the place two miles from our house. At Riverside Farms, you can walk through rows of trees arranged by size; pick your own shape and pay. Then a strong young man will tie the tree on your car for you.

At mile 8, though, as we were cruising Lebanon Road, we passed an irresistibly homemade sign – “Cut Your Own Christmas Tree.” So we took a U-y and the country road to the dirt drive to the weathered older gentleman sitting in his pick-up. Yes, he had rope and yes, we could use the saw in the nearby bucket. Head down there and chop, he pointed.

Benjamin wanted big. Lane is getting older (as in teenager) and doesn’t really care anymore. “Whatever,” she said, “let’s go, I’m cold.” We picked a biggish, wide-ish tree and sorta kinda tied it on.

At home, we found our white strand was dead and every third bulb on the colored ones was out. We did the unthinkable – we mixed little colored lights that blink with big colored lights that don’t. And it worked. Our 2011 tree was up.

I would have been just as happy to lace lights around a Charlie Brown tree from our backwoods, but my family will have none of it.

As it happens, 21 percent of us get real trees, and 98 percent of those are from tree farms. Sixteen percent of us “real Christmas Tree consumers” cut our own. And according to the University of Illinois, citing the US Census of Agriculture and the National Christmas Tree Association, about 48 percent of us had fake trees and 32 percent had none.

All told, about 30 to 35 million real Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. yearly. More than 90 percent of these are recycled and two seedlings are planted for every tree sold. One acre typically holds 2,000 trees and provides the oxygen18 people need in one day.

When I’m buying my tree I think of none of this, though. I think about how I love to sit by a fire in a room lighted only by the Christmas tree.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

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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It’s the Holidays. Time to Eat!

By Elias Rodriguez 

I am not a big eater. My doctor politely refers to me as “wiry.” The holidays, however, lend themselves to a season of edible indulgence. Whether it’s Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza, Winter Solstice or something else folks find a reason to concoct culinary delights. New York City is home to thousands of eateries, restaurants and Cuchifritos. If you are on the run and need to pick up a little something, Veniero’s is a gem of a bakery just off of 11th Street and 1st Avenue. Don’t double park! 

Puerto Rican pasteles are assembled using a large sheet of parchment paper and a strip of banana leaf. They are typically seasoned with annatto oil.

At my home, time slows down and Puerto Rican culture runs wild at our Navidad and Fin de Año celebrations. Pasteles (cooked green bananas stuffed with a cook’s imagination) are a birthright. These tasty entrees are well known around town. Look for the authentic ones wrapped in huge leaves before they are wrapped in wax paper. Pernil (roast pork, which my wife lovingly refers to as “heart attack food”) gets an all access pass. Smothered with garlic, oregano, oil, vinegar and your family’s inherited “secret sauce” this meat dish is not for the faint of palate.  Flan (a customized custard tart) is a fan favorite and a desert that is not easily mastered. Though, beware since in many homes the holidays become an excuse for epicurious experimentation. Can anybody recall the Alka Seltzer jingle? “Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz, Oh…”

During this festive time, we can all help the environment by reducing our food waste, sharing from our abundance and considering composting at home. Remember to practice kitchen safety and enjoy the holiday season. ¡Buen Provecho!

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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From Botswana to Brazil

by Jeanethe Falvey

Last Friday, I wrote to you all to say we would be reporting out and helping to share your ideas about the simple ways we can all help our environment. With 8,028 sign ups now around the world, I’ll first share a little international tidbit. One of the comments left last week was a kind note from ‘Lauro’ in Brazil saying that they were also doing their part.

BrazilPick5

I typed Brazil in our Map of Action and sure enough a few green spots appeared!

I encourage you to type in a country, a city, maybe your own zip code in that search bar and see where the green shows up. It’s fun to see where the action is, probably in some places you might not expect! Comment below with your most unexpected find, I’m curious to hear what surprises you. It certainly made me think about who I knew overseas that I could share Pick 5 with.

Now it’s your turn to share. This time of year is filled with holiday markets, festivities, and gatherings of friends, families, and communities. Pick 5 choice number 1 under ‘Advocacy’ encourages you to participate in an environmental festival or event. In that ribbon of thought, let’s see what you have for ideas about how to make a community festival to a small holiday party, a greener event.

While the celebrations aren’t necessarily focused on the environment, there may be elements of it that are, or could be if you speak up. Share your ideas below, whether they are original or observed! Maybe you noticed more green than ever during a recent holiday fair, or craft market. If that’s so, tell us! For those of you planning events, what are some helpful tips our readers can share about running a more successful and sustainable gathering?

Events and ideas large or small, share your stories with us. We’ll help you spread the word and the green!

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey, US. EPA Office of External Affairs. Pick 5 and State of the Environment project lead, based in rainy Boston, Massachusetts.

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.