Middle Age at EPA: Serving Communities at Home and Abroad

By Mark Kasman

The realities of reaching middle age have included watching my hair go grey, my middle thicken, and my back become less forgiving. The advantages, however, have included gaining life experiences, making wonderful friends and partners, and building strong programs that have led to meaningful environmental gains. One satisfying aspect is being able to experience the environmental results of my work in person. Recently, I had the opportunity to help celebrate twenty years of U.S. – Taiwanese environmental cooperation and see how our work has benefitted both countries.

When I first visited Taiwan twenty years ago, it was not a clean place. The cities were choked with air pollution, the rivers were full of industrial and solid waste, and there was a lot of litter. It reminded me of many places in the United States when I was a child before EPA was established. Indeed, Taiwan had just established its Environmental Protection Administration (EPAT). With a small staff and limited budget, EPAT turned to U.S. EPA for advice on environmental standards and technologies that could apply to Taiwan. EPAT adapted our approach to most of its environmental challenges and has made significant improvements. Twenty years later, the air quality has improved dramatically, the rivers and lakes are cleaner, the soil is healthier, and Taiwan is recognized as an environmental leader in the region.

Now, the benefits of this experience are expanding beyond Taiwan. At U.S. EPA’s urging, EPAT is sharing our experiences throughout the Asia Pacific region and beyond. With funding from Taiwan, we’ve established regional working groups on e-waste management, site remediation, mercury monitoring, environmental enforcement, and environmental information. These working groups share best practices and information that is helping the region address its environmental challenges. Experts from Africa, as well as Central and Latin America, have even joined our efforts on e-waste to establish the International E-Waste Management Network.

And the benefits are coming directly back to the U.S. as well. The program has connected schools and communities in the U.S. and Taiwan to share best practices to make our communities more sustainable. U.S. businesses are benefitting from the resulting demand for their goods and services in Asia. With over 80% of the mercury deposition in the U.S. coming from the Asia Pacific region, it is important that our work is helping us understand how the mercury gets here. And with much of the rice, vegetables, fruit, and fish on our table today coming from Asia, it is important that it’s not contaminated at its source.

Challenges remain. However, it’s rewarding that the work EPA is doing at home also helps communities abroad, and that those overseas changes then benefit us in the U.S.

About the author: Mark Kasman is Senior Advisor of EPA’s Asia Pacific Program.  Before coming to EPA 27 years ago, Mark worked at the United Nations Development Program in Jakarta, Indonesia and the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia.