Monthly Archives: February 2012

Job Training – Community Revitalization – Waste Prevention

Per Scholas Professional Training and Job Placement

EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe converses with students of the Per Scholas IT Training and Job Placement Program in the Bronx.

By Rob Goulding

On Friday February 17, I had the honor of visiting Per Scholas, a nonprofit organization operating in the South Bronx and open to all NYC residents (age 18-55 with a HS diploma or GED).  Per Scholas has the dual mission of providing job training and computer refurbishing.  Students at Per Scholas, through a disciplined 15 week program, learn ‘soft skills’ (interviewing, resume writing, etc.) then repair and upgrade donated computers which are sold, at a discounted price, to low-income residents in the surrounding community.  In addition to a fantastic overview of the organization, presented by CEO Plinio Ayala and VP of Education and Training Linda Lopez, Regional Administrator Judith Enck and I were given a chance to walk through a few active classrooms.

The women and men I encountered were busy learning about technology refurbishment, but were still eager to discuss their participation in the program.  They took pride in learning these skills and were eager to take meaningful steps to participate in the workforce.  In one of the classrooms, each student was busy fixing a problem specific to the computer module they were assigned.  They would then go on to present to each other what their problem was and how they solved it. 

I was struck by the intersection of waste prevention (by keeping these products out of our waste-stream), job training and community revitalization taking place at Per Scholas.   President Obama has made clear, through his policies and recent State of the Union speech, that a knowledgeable and well trained workforce is key to an economy ‘built to last.’  Our recovery will only be made stronger by organizations like Per Scholas, the women and men who train there and finding that sweet spot between job training and sustainability.

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: Modeling Matters: Transparency in Action

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

By Gabriel Olchin

In the age of transparent government, I think it helps to highlight specific products that make our research and approaches more apparent to the public. Transparency is important to me because I work in the field of environmental modeling, and models are often referred to as the ‘black-boxes’ of the research process; and a black-box is not transparent at all!

What does transparency mean, and why is it important to environmental modeling at the EPA?

The modeling research at the EPA is a complex science – one that we don’t take lightly. To me, transparency means providing the relevant information and documentation so that our stakeholders can understand how these ‘black boxes’ (models) work.

Models are used by the EPA for a variety of reasons: for regulatory rulemaking, as research tools, and to generate data that inform decisions. Each model used by the EPA is designed and developed with specific purposes in mind.

The EPA established the Council for Regulatory Environmental Modeling in 2000 to improve the quality, consistency and transparency of the models for environmental decision making. In short, the CREM helps to make the EPA’s modeling transparent. We maintain the Models Knowledge Base, an inventory of the computational models that are developed, used, and/or supported by EPA’s offices. For each model, the Models Knowledge Base provides information or documentation on:

  • the model’s development;
  • the model’s conceptual basis, scientific detail, and evaluation;
  • technical requirements and how to use the model;
  • information on the model’s inputs and outputs; and
  • directions for acquiring the model and links to further information.

The CREM’s latest effort has been focused on developing a suite of training modules for environmental modeling. These modules are designed to take our technical guidance document on environmental modeling and make it transparent to a broader audience. We also developed training modules on the legal aspects of environmental modeling, integrated modeling, and technical topics of model evaluation.

I’m often humbled working at an Agency with such talented modelers. I really enjoy my role at EPA helping to make the great modeling work done in our program and regional offices more transparent to our stakeholders.

About the author: Gabriel Olchin, a biological scientist, has been in the Office of the Science Advisor with the Council for Regulatory Environmental Modeling since 2009.

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 Tips on the Go

earth image

Want to get green tips for on the go?  Find out how to reduce your carbon footprint, protect yourself from the sun and save water.  Check out our “Green Tips” podcasts on your MP3 player.  You can also go into iTunes®, and search the iTunes Store for “epa green tips.”  Be green everyday!  EPA doesn’t endorse any particular software or music service.

http://www.epa.gov/earthday/podcasts/

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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Zen And The Art Of Dumbing Down Your Prose

By Amy Miller

This is a blog post about blogging. Really, it’s about writing, and specifically about communicating better when you are an expert, or at least more of an expert than your audience. Often I am accused of dumbing down the copy of others who know more than I do.

So be it. If dumbing down makes a document more readable, then I am happy to be that person.

The Environmental Protection Agency is filled with technical people – lawyers, scientists, strategists and bureaucrats – who must write on a daily basis. Each group has words they use relentlessly that the rest of us don’t really understand. After 13 years here I still don’t catch all the meanings.

So I have come up with a list of words that are not to be used. They are insider jargon, or unnecessarily long words, or just plain ugly.

Here are a few words that the environmental people use a lot:

  • Stakeholder
  • Partnership
  • Remediation
  • Environmental justice
  • Brownfields
  • Best management practices
  • Integrated pest control

And here are some unnecessarily long or ugly words (and the short words that can replace them) that many people use a lot:

  • utilize – use
  • currently – now
  • possess – have
  • however – but
  • for the purpose of – for
  • Initiate – start
  • Terminate – end
  • Facilitate – help
  • Interface – meet? Talk to?
  • Relocate – move
  • Retain – keep

Acronyms, by the way, make ugly words look pretty. There are about a million of them, but only a few we should ever use — the ones that we know better as initials than spelled out. For instance, FBI, IBM, CBS and NASA.

In one summary of a legal case being brought by the EPA I found these acronyms: MMR, SDWA, STAPP, EPA, MANG, RCRA, NGB, AO2, RLALAT and OMMP .

I’m an EPA employee and I know only four of these.

By the way the federal government backs me up.

President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act of 2010, which requires federal agencies to use “clear government communication that the public can understand and use.” A subsequent executive order says that that regulations must be “accessible, consistent, written in plain language, and easy to understand.”

Knowing what an acronym or word means doesn’t make it a good read. Or, as my Haitian friends say, “Pal franse pa di lespri pou sa.” (Just because you speak French doesn’t mean you’re smart.)

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 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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Pesticides in Fruits and Vegetables | When to Buy Organic

By Kevin Hurley

As someone who was raised on meat and potatoes, picking out what fruits and vegetables to eat is a daunting task. While I usually try to buy organic fruits and veggies from one of the various Local Grown NYC Food Markets, often I end up in my neighborhood supermarket faced with a decision. Should I spend the extra money and buy organic?

Fortunately, I recently acquired a handy guide to assist me in the decision making process. A colleague gave me the “Pocket Guide Tips for Growing Up Green and Healthy” produced by the Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center. This credit card sized guide uses data from the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce to list which fruits and vegetables have the most pesticide residues. These fruits and vegetables are the most important to buy organic.

We all know that pesticides are used by farmers to keep pests from destroying fruit and vegetable crops. However, you may not have known that traces of these pesticides, known as pesticide residue, stay on fruits and vegetables even after you wash them. While EPA establishes the maximum pesticide tolerances in order to protect human health and the environment, certain types of produce naturally tend to retain and absorb higher levels of this pesticide residue.So which fruits and vegetables retain the highest amounts of pesticides?

Apples, celery, strawberries, peaches and spinach are listed as having the highest levels of pesticide residue. For these fruits and vegetables, along with the others listed on the “Pocket Guide,” you may want to consider going organic. I know I will.

About the Author:  Kevin has been working as a Grants Management Specialist with the EPA since 2007, and is currently on detail serving as special assistant to the Regional Administrator.  He grew up in South Jersey, went to school outside of Baltimore, and received a Masters in Public Policy from Rutgers University.  Kevin currently resides in the Upper East Side of Manhattan where you can usually find him exercising or playing outdoor ice hockey in Central Park.

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 Keep Your Home Electricity Use Down (While Still Enjoying Your Favorite Gadgets!)

By Denise Durrett

Quick! Do a mental scan of your house or apartment and guess the number of products you have that are continuously drawing power. Well, the typical home has 40! Quite a few of these products are consumer electronics—and they may be eating up a larger chunk of your energy bills than you think.

Energy used for consumer electronics and small appliances has increased by 20 percent since 2005— and TVs and PCs account for a lot of that increase. In fact, the largest high-resolution TVs can use as much electricity as a new conventional refrigerator. Just over 20 years ago, the average American home had two TV sets. Today, more than half of homes have three or more TVs. Add the fact that many of those old TVs are replaced by big, flat-panel versions that use double the energy, and you can start to see the energy use pile up. This increased energy use means an increase in greenhouse gas emissions in our environment, which contributes to the effects of climate change.

Looking to trim your energy bills? Try these tips:

  1. Choose ENERGY STAR. You can find the ENERGY STAR label on products in over 60 different categories for your home, including electronics and office equipment. Visit energy star for TVs recognized as ENERGY STAR’s Most Efficient. These are the most efficient products among those that qualify for the ENERGY STAR and represent the leading edge in energy efficient products.
  2. Use a powerstrip. Plug electronics and computer equipment into a power strip with an on/off switch and turn it off when you are not using the products.
  3. Sleep is good! Activate power management features on computers and monitors to place them in a low-power sleep mode after a set time of inactivity to reduce power consumption.
  4. Turn it off. Turn off computers and monitors if you will be away for more than two hours. It doesn’t harm your computer and will save energy.
  5. Laptops are more efficient. If a laptop will meet your needs, choose one over a desktop. Laptops are 2.5 to 3 times more efficient than desktop computers.
  6. Visit energy star for the latest energy-saving news, products, and ideas for your home.

About the author: Denise Durrett is a communications team member with EPA’s ENERGY STAR 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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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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Black History Month:The Power of a Mother’s Voice

By Kuae Kelch Mattox
National President, Mocha Moms, Inc.

It’s been said that there is no one more protective than a mother over her children, and when it comes to our children’s health, our passion knows no bounds. Yet many women, like me, grew up taking the environment and the air we breathe for granted. We left the work of fighting for clean air to the die-hard environmentalists and dared speak up unless an issue hit too close to home.

But now across this country, many mothers, and mothers organizations in particular are realizing the incredible power of their collective voice. Mothers are the new face of environmentalism. You see us now on the frontlines, writing letters to the editor of our local paper, organizing grassroots efforts to educate our peers, promoting online environmental campaigns, going door to door with petitions and demanding accountability at town hall meetings. We now know that clean air is not only important, it is vital to the health and well being of future generations.

As an African American wife of an asthma sufferer and mother of three children, one of whom also suffers from asthma, I am horrified by the statistics that are devastating our community. African Americans visit the emergency room for asthma at 350 percent the average rate that whites do, and die from it twice as often. Mortality rates for cancer are higher for African Americans than for any other group, and heart disease is the most fatal illness in the black community.

We need to expand the conversation to include the environmental causes of illnesses that affect communities of color, the pollution that makes its way into our schools and the environmental challenges in our neighborhoods that hold back economic growth.

When the EPA asked Mocha Moms to join them in the fight for cleaner air, we jumped at the chance to further educate our mothers and their families.
Our hope is that our partnership with the EPA is only the beginning of an ongoing national dialog to empower mothers of color to be greater advocates for healthier environments. We are thrilled to have a seat at the discussion table. After all, it is our children who will ultimately reap the greatest benefit.

About the author: Kuae Kelch Mattox is the National President for Mocha Moms, Inc.  Mocha Moms, Inc. is a national, non-profit organization that supports stay at home mothers of color with 100 chapters in 29 states.

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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Sea Mammal Therapy

By Jeanethe Falvey

Traveling down the coast of California this week, I’ve been thinking about the state of the environment the entire way. It’s hard not to. There seems to be a greater connection to nature here. Perhaps it comes with the territory of dealing with forest fires and mud slides on a regular basis. Yet you don’t see anyone walking around constantly worrying about those things. Instead, they’re on the beach watching the sunset, surfing, and taking photographs.

Recycling bins are everywhere. Compost bins are everywhere (I’ve leapt for joy over that a few times). In Monterey, every single garbage bin had a recycling section on top. You couldn’t possibly throw something away without first seeing the option to recycle it. Brilliant. Why this isn’t universal befuddles me.

Maybe if the rest of the United States coastline was covered in sea lions barking, elephant seals oompfing their way down the beach and sea otters rolling about in kelp forests, things would be different. You would want to prevent pollution and litter from ever harming that seal right there that’s making eye contact with you.

In San Francisco, I watched the sea lions push each other around the piers, sadly seeing one with a cut around his neck from fishing line. In Big Sur, I saw seals and sea otters looking content along the dramatic coastline. In Cambria, I went numb taking pictures of elephant seals enjoying the ‘warm beach’ in 30 mph winds.

Since federal protections began in 1977, the small family of sea otters that were left after the species was brought to near extinction have grown to a few thousand. Plump seal pups can rest at ease by their mothers and sea lions can bark away at each other without living in fear of us.

When nature can take a deep breath, it’s a mind-blowing thing.

It’s worth it to experience the results of the federal laws designed to protect these animals, California’s additional conservation and protection efforts, and the individuals who had the drive and passion to start it all.

If you haven’t picked the 5 actions you can do for our environment where you live, get on it! Join the the 8,000 others around the world who have made the official pledge. Share your story and inspire others to do the same!

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey writes from EPA’s Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education, as the project-lead for Pick 5 and the State of the Environment, two projects geared towards learning, sharing and gaining a greater collective connection to our environment.

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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Fourteen Years of Green Jobs

By Joe Bruss

Working in the Brownfields program, that brings contaminated property back to life, I keep hearing green jobs are only in clean energy such as solar or wind installation. But there’s much more. One of the things people may not know about are the environmental workforce development and job training grants that EPA awards to organizations for green job training in a wide array of cleanup activities.

Organizations who receive these grants train and place people in sustainable green jobs focusing on local activities to reverse environmental damage in their own communities! So what do these grants do? They give organizations money to train people with skills to market themselves for green jobs. What are these green jobs you ask? They can include support for hazardous and solid waste management, mold remediation and deconstruction, underground storage tank removal, and critical training in environmental health and safety. But that’s not all, there is much more and the benefits are even greater.

Graduates from these training programs were employed as first-responders at the World Trade Center, assisted in cleanup efforts after Hurricane Katrina, and helped to contain the BP oil spill in the Gulf.

As of January 2012, these grants paid to train more than 10,000 people and 7,155 were employed in the environmental field. And, the average starting pay is about $14.00 an hour. That’s putting people to work and improving the environment in our neighborhoods and communities around the country.

So, as you can see, there are many green job opportunities! Do you want to be part of it? Here’s more information on how your organization can get involved. You’ll be helping the economy and improving the environment for years and generations to come.

About the author: Joe Bruss has been with the EPA Brownfields Program for over seven years where he acts as the Job Training Grant Program and Environmental Justice Coordinator. In 2009, Joe received a Fulbright Grant, and took a year’s absence from the EPA, to conduct research in the Netherlands on Dutch equitable development policies in revitalization.

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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