Monthly Archives: December 2013

Making a Green City Even Greener

By Jeff Maurer

Polystyrene Food Container

Polystyrene Food Container

New Yorkers don’t like being second-best; whether its sports, food, or the arts, we strive to lead, not follow. One of the newer facets of New York’s character is a desire to be a leader in environmentalism and sustainability. This is huge; making the big apple a green apple will provide a model for other cities to follow. Recently, Mayor Bloomberg took two important steps in that direction by banning polystyrene foam (commonly called Styrofoam) containers and requiring the city’s largest food waste generators to separate their food waste.

When it comes to being bad for the environment, polystyrene foam is a repeat offender.  Polystyrene foam used to be regularly manufactured using ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, and even today it is impossible to confirm that all polystyrene foam is “ozone safe.” Styrene, the basic building block of polystyrene, is classified as a possible carcinogen by EPA and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The manufacture of polystyrene requires large amounts of petroleum and chemicals. When polystyrene foam goes to a landfill, it stays there: it can take more than a million years for a polystyrene product to decompose.

Polystyrene foam is about as bad for the environment as a product can get; that’s why Mayor Bloomberg’s ban is a welcome development. Better alternatives are available; companies including Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, Wendy’s, McDonalds, Red Lobster, and Arby’s have already stopped using polystyrene foam. The City Council passed the ban unanimously. This is a change whose time has come.

Another important step towards becoming a more equitable and sustainable city came in Mayor Bloomberg’s requirement that the city’s largest food waste generators separate their food waste. This will result in more food being composted or given to the needy; less will go to landfills. We should be taking every measure to avoid wasting food, especially when more than 14 percent of New Yorkers – almost 3 million people – don’t have enough to eat. When food goes to a landfill it rots and becomes a significant source of methane, a greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. This measure will encourage New York’s largest producers of food to keep food on our tables and out of landfills.

New York has a lot of competition for the title of “greenest city;” nearby, cities including New Paltz and Newark are putting ambitious programs in place to make their cities greener. I’m glad to see Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Council take these steps to bolster New York’s reputation as a leader in environmental protection and sustainability.

About the Author: Jeff is a speechwriter and public affairs specialist. He started in EPA’s Washington, DC office in 2005 and moved to EPA’s Region 2 office in New York in 2011. Before joining EPA, Jeff served in the Peace Corps in Morocco. He is an avid soccer fan and part-time standup comedian, and can periodically be found performing at clubs around New York.

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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America’s got (Manufacturing) Talent

Did you know that we help small-to-medium sized local businesses to be more sustainable? EPA works with five other federal agencies through a special partnership called E3: Economy, Energy and the Environment to connect these companies and their communities to technical experts.

Did you know that the Small Business Administration (SBA) has a network of Women’s Business Centers throughout the United States to help women start and grow small businesses?

Did you know that the Census Bureau has extensive county-level economic and demographic data and is making that data available to communities to help them assess their regional business environments?

You’ll find these resources in a new playbook recently created by a federal team of experts under the President’s Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership (IMCP).  The IMCP Playbook pulls together existing federal planning grant and technical assistance resources and best practices in economic development.

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Mussels in the Blue III – Water Quality and Threats

By Craig Thompson

Over the past two weeks I’ve told you about  one of my favorite rivers (the Blue River) and favorite aquatic species (Mussels).  Although the Blue River currently supports nearly 17 mussel species, habitat alteration, pollution, and the introduction and spread of non-native clams (Corbicula) have led to the extinction of some species from the river.  More than half the surviving native mussel species at 159th exhibit declining populations.  Mussels as a group are considered one of the most imperiled freshwater organisms in North America.  Mussels are in serious danger and many of the declines in mussel populations at 159th and other sites on the river can be attributed to flood-control and urbanization projects.

Many of the lower reaches of the Blue River have been channelized.  In fact, when we arrived last summer (2012) to sample the Byram’s Ford site, we found the river had been altered and straightened.  Flood-control projects like the one at Byram’s Ford result in the loss of habitat for mussels and other aquatic life.  The original habitat at this site was riffles, runs, and some backwaters with a medium bend in the river.  Now, the river is deep and straightened, and it is hard to get in to sample.  Riffles aerate the river and provide essential dissolved oxygen for many aquatic organisms.  Bass, sunfish, madtoms, darters, and many minnow species use riffles for food, reproduction and shelter.  Riffles are important for mussels as well.  In 2009, this site had a productive mussel community including one SINC species, the Yellow sandshell (See the Table below).

159table

The original riffles, gravel bars, and adjacent backwaters also were important feeding areas for waterfowl and herons.  Ultimately, with the loss of riffle habitat and the increase in water depth, we may see a decline in the diversity and abundance of some mussel species at this site.  The following picture of the Blue River at Coalmine Road (not far from the Stadiums) gives you an idea of what the river looks like lower in the watershed.

blueatcoalmine

Since coming on board with EPA, I have observed a number of changes to the upper Blue River basin.  When I was enrolled in classes in the 1970s at Johnson County Community College, Antioch Road was just two lanes and the land south of the college was mostly farmland and pastureland.  Over the years, construction crews have widened many of these roads to accommodate the accelerated growth moving into south Johnson County.  On my field trips to stream monitoring sites in the county, I have observed many water quality problems associated with all this new growth.  I am usually disgusted by the way construction crews build silt fences and how these fences never do their intended job of preventing exposed dirt from running off into waterways.  These types of activities contribute to the runoff of sediments into streams which can bury mussels.  Also, mussels are very sensitive to many other types of pollution as a result of stormwater runoff from parking lots and residential lawns.  Heavy metals, pesticides and herbicides are some of the constant water quality problems mussels must face in the Blue.  In the future, the conservation of native mussels will depend upon how well we protect the land from soil erosion and stormwater runoff.  Basically, we need to take care of our watersheds.

Blueriver

Over the years I have been collecting and observing freshwater mussels from streams throughout Kansas and Missouri.  The Blue River at 159th (shown above during high water) is a gem of a site.  At this time, I believe that the physical, chemical and biological attributes are very good at this site.  Every time I have sampled this urban stream site, there is good flowing, permanent water, which most mussel species require.  It will be interesting to discover in the coming years what aquatic species are able to live and tolerate the rapid environmental changes that are occurring in the Blue River basin.  And, this is especially true for the mussels in the Blue at 159th.

Craig Thompson lives near the mussel-less (except for Asian clams) Brush Creek, a tributary of the Blue River.  He is a Life Scientist with the Environmental Assessment and Monitoring Branch (EAMB).  Craig joined EPA in 2009 after spending thirteen years with Kansas Department of Health and Environment.  He assists EAMB staff with water quality and biological sampling surveys throughout the Region 7 area.

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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La resiliencia de las comunidades ante el cambio climático

Inundaciones en una comunidad como resultado del huracán Katrina

Inundaciones en una comunidad como resultado del huracán Katrina

Por Mathy Stanislaus

Como miembro de la comunidad de la EPA que dirige los esfuerzos para prevenir la emisión  de sustancias peligrosas y la respuesta a emergencias, sé que es importante poder evaluar rápidamente los impactos, ayudar en la recuperación y limpieza, mientras también nos preparamos para eventos futuros. Mi oficina, la Oficina de Desechos Sólidos y Respuesta a Emergencias (OSWER, por sus siglas en inglés) ayuda a abordar estos asuntos específicamente mediante la limpieza de terrenos contaminados, el manejo de desechos peligrosos y no peligrosos, y la respuesta a emergencias.

Muchas de estas responsabilidades podrían ser impactadas por el cambio climático. Los estados, las tribus y las comunidades a través del país están elaborando e implementando medidas para adaptarse al cambio climático. Esto es crucial para ayudar a la EPA a apoyar y fortalecer estos esfuerzos para prepararnos para una mayor frecuencia y severidad de emergencias.

Durante el pasado año, mi oficina, , la Oficina de Desechos Sólidos y Respuesta a Emergencias (OSWER), desarrolló un Plan de Implementación para Afrontar el Cambio Climático a fin de identificar acciones que podemos tomar ahora para ayudar a prepararnos para los impactos del cambio climático, así como proteger a las comunidades. Por ejemplo, OSWER está proponiendo que consideremos el impacto de mayores inundaciones de lugares contaminados donde accidentes, derrames o fugas han dejado materiales o desechos peligrosos en la tierra. También estamos evaluando  cómo manejar mejor cantidades masivas de escombros generados después de las tormentas. Cada grupo dentro de OSWER, así como nuestros socios regionales, ha propuesto acciones que ayudarán a integrar la adaptación al cambio climático en la manera que realizamos nuestra labor todos los días. {Vea los planes de implementación para todas las oficinas y regiones de la EPA aquí].

Reconozco que las los estados, las tribus y las comunidades locales, así como la comunidad más amplia, poseen una mayor concientización, pericia y experiencia para entender las consecuencias de nuestro clima cambiante y para encontrar un camino hacia una mayor resiliencia. Espero escuchar sus opiniones y recibir su insumo acerca de nuestro Plan de Adaptación al Cambio Climático.

El periodo para enviar comentarios al borrador del Plan de Implementación del Cambio Climático de OSWER cierra el 3 de enero del 2014. Para más información (en inglés)  acerca del Plan de Implementación para afrontar el cambio climático, visite: http://epa.gov/climatechange/impacts-adaptation/fed-programs/EPA-impl-plans.html

 

Mathy Stanislaus es el administrador adjunto de la Oficina de Desechos Sólidos y Respuesta a Emergencias (OSWER), quien dirige los esfuerzos de la agencia para la limpieza de terrenos, programas de desechos sólidos y respuesta a emergencias. El Sr. Stanislaus es un ingeniero químico y abogado ambiental con más de 20 años de experiencia en el campo ambiental en los sectores privado y público. Recibió su título como abogado de la Escuela de Derecho de Chicago Kent y su grado en ingeniería química del Colegio de la Ciudad de Nueva York.

 

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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Environmental Issues Know No Boundaries

By Salimatou Pratt

If you’re like me, talking about environmental issues is normal, especially around the dinner table with family and friends. Coming from Conakry, Guinea, and learning about how I may have been exposed to toxicity from local industries while growing up, has intensified my desire to be part of the bigger environmental discussion. Interning in EPA’s Office of Public Engagement has given me a unique perspective on how the agency connects with communities, both nationally and internationally.

When I visited my family in Guinea two years ago, I paid attention to things I hadn’t thought about before, such as lead-based paintpesticides, and contaminants in drinking water.  In my community, these are things that directly affect the homes we live in, the food we eat, and the water we drink. I have seen firsthand how the lack of oversight of these basic needs has taken a devastating toll on people, families and communities. While pursuing my liberal arts degree at The Evergreen State College, I’ve concentrated on environmental studies to learn more about health hazards, both here in the US and in my home country.

I constantly ask myself what I can do to help the most vulnerable people, like children, pregnant moms and seniors. The first step towards addressing these issues is to raise awareness, so I’ve been helping to support the current conversation about EPA’s proposed standards on carbon pollution for existing power plants in the US. It’s exciting to know that everyone in this country has the opportunity to comment on rules like this and that their voices are an important part of the rule making process.

I’m committed to applying my knowledge of public health and lessons learned during my coursework and internship to help educate those around me, especially the most vulnerable in my local community in Guinea.

About the author: Salimatou Pratt is a fall intern with EPA’s Office of Public Engagement and is graduating from The Evergreen State College in Tacoma, Washington. She is planning to further the conversation about the environment in her home town of Conakry, Guinea.

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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Naughty, Nice, or NORAD

By Jeffery Robichaud

As a father I love both my boys, tremendously.  They have so many unique qualities which make their mother and I very proud.  Of course they also have their idiosyncrasies.  My youngest has a specific one that never ceases to amaze us…the ability to sound old beyond his years in a flippant, matter of fact, but somehow ridiculously funny way.  He said something the other day that cracked us up yet again.  At dinner he mentioned that some of the kids at school had the temerity to question the authenticity of a one Mr. Jolly Saint Nick.  My wife asked him, “Well what did you say?”  Without a second thought he quipped, “I told them of course he’s real, otherwise NORAD wouldn’t bother tracking him with satellites.”  That’s my boy.  So I know what we’ll be doing this December 24th, a time honored tradition in the Robichaud house that I mentioned in last year’s post.

If you have read any of my blog articles, you know I have two rugrats.  As both a scientist and an amateur geospatial enthusiast, I often find myself in the awkward position of having to try and describe the physics of a one Mr. Pere Noel’s  trip to my boys about this time every year.  Thankfully, all sorts of films have taken a stab at trying to explain a certain flight every December 24th.  My favorite  growing up (possibly because it starred Jacklyn Smith albeit as a parka wearing mom) was “The Night they Saved Christmas,” where elf Paul Williams explained such futuristic concepts as Santa’s Reindeer Zephyr and instant People Mover as well as some gizmo that slowed time.    Last year’s “Arthur Christmas” had a more modern take.   I think we probably will never really know how Sinterklaas does it… plain old magic I suppose.

But even though every year I am unable to break down the science for my boys, I am able to help out with the geography thanks to the fine men and women at NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

 

If you log into the NORAD Santa Tracker website on the 24th you can track Kris Kringle across the globe.  My kids have loved it, and in my experience it has a couple of extra benefits.  First it helps to pass a day full of anticipation since if they get antsy, I ask them to go check on Santa. Second it sneaks a bit of education into a mindless winter break filled with sweets and video games.  Finally, it serves as an extra incentive to go to sleep on time as we watch Old Saint Nick creeping closer and closer to Kansas City (it’s amazing how fast they move when he hits St. Louis).  This year they have switched from Google Maps to Bing Maps so I hope everything goes smoothly.  If it crashes you can always check out Google’s own Santa Tracker (and hint…it doesn’t work properly in Internet Explorer)

It looks like both trackers have received cool upgrades this year, so I’m not exactly sure what to expect, but NORAD’s uses Bing and Google’s uses, well Google (I have updated the links in the above article). We hope you’ve enjoyed reading our posts in our first full year of the Big Blue Thread.  Here is wishing all of you a Happy Holiday Season and a Happy New Year.

Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.  More Cool gifts that Jeff can remember Santa bringing include the Space:1999 Eagle 1 Spaceship, the Adventure People Wilderness Patrol Set, and the Flying Aces Attack Carrier.

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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President Obama Honors Outstanding Early-Career EPA Scientist

Modified from White House, Office of the Press Secretary release

President Obama addressing past PECASE winners.

President Obama addressing past winners of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers.

President Obama today named EPA’s Dr. Steven Thomas Purucker one of 102 recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.  The winners will receive their awards at a Washington, DC, ceremony in the coming year.

“The impressive achievements of these early-stage scientists and engineers are promising indicators of even greater successes ahead,” President Obama said. “We are grateful for their commitment to generating the scientific and technical advancements that will ensure America’s global leadership for many years to come.”

The Presidential Early Career Awards embody the high priority the Obama Administration places on producing outstanding scientists and engineers to advance the Nation’s goals, tackle grand challenges, and contribute to the American economy. The recipients are employed or funded by the following departments and agencies: Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of the Interior, Department of Veterans Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Science Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Intelligence Community, which join together annually to nominate the most meritorious scientists and engineers whose early accomplishments show the greatest promise for assuring America’s preeminence in science and engineering and contributing to the awarding agencies’ missions.

The awards, established by President Clinton in 1996, are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. Awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach.

To learn more, and see a list of all the winners, please see the White House announcement.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Climate Change in Yosemite

 By Harsharon Sekhon

As someone who grew up in California’s San Joaquin Valley, I’ve been lucky enough to explore the various landscapes the state has to offer. The valley is centrally located to many of California’s attractions, so day trips have always been part of a regular routine for my family. My favorite place to visit is a national park close to home—Yosemite. Since I live less than an hour from the southern entrance, I’ve visited Yosemite countless times and I’m always eager to go back.

There’s a reason for Yosemite’s international fame. It houses granite monoliths, grassy meadows, and my favorite feature: groves of ancient, giant sequoias. While visitors admire these trees, many people are unaware of the effects climate change  has on their chances of survival. Giant sequoias rely on water from both rain and snowfall, which are decreasing due to droughts in California, an indicator of a changing climate. These droughts are leading to wildfires that are becoming more frequent and devastating  for the park.

Since EPA Administrator McCarthy has made combating climate change a major priority for the EPA , interning here has meant a lot to me. Working in EPA’s Office of Public Engagement has not only brought climate change issues to my attention, but it has also taught me how many diverse stakeholders’ livelihoods are affected. Though many Californians, including myself, don’t see immediate effects of climate change such as hurricanes and tornados, I’ve learned that there are many other ways in which it remains a threat. Whether it’s climate change, air quality, or just getting outside, it has been rewarding to see firsthand how the EPA works to ensure a safe and healthy environment!

 About the author: Harsharon Sekhon is a fall intern with EPA’s Office of Public Engagement and is a graduate from the University of California, Irvine. For fun she likes to tread lightly through forests and moonlights as a Julia Child impersonator.

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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Full Steam Ahead in Enforcement

Last month EPA issued its Draft Strategic Plan outlining, among other things, our enforcement priorities in the coming years.  The draft plan reflects our commitment to vigorous civil and criminal enforcement for the cases that have the highest impact on protecting public health and the environment, and to innovation that will help us do an even better job.

Today’s budget realities have made our jobs tougher. Cuts to budgets and reductions in staffing make hard choices necessary across the board.  Enforcement is no different. Our focus on high impact cases, combined with reduced budgets, means that the overall number of cases will tend to be lower than in past years. In uncertain budget times, we made conservative estimates in the draft plan.

But rest assured – we’re full steam ahead on the enforcement work that matters most to Americans.

Take air pollution. We’ve recently completed civil settlements to reduce dangerous air toxics released from industrial flares at refineries and chemical plants, requiring companies to implement technologies that control emissions. When EPA found unacceptable levels of benzene in the air around a coke facility in New York, we took enforcement actions to hold the company and its executives accountable and to reduce benzene emissions from the plant.

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Adaptando el Plan Estratégico de la EPA al medio ambiente cambiante

Por Maryann Froehlich

Durante el tiempo que he laborado en la Agencia de Protección Ambiental, siempre ha estado interesada en la manera en la cual la agencia responde y se adapta a los asuntos ambientales emergentes y a retos como el cambio climático, así como nuevas oportunidades que surgen, tales como las tecnologías verdes y la infraestructura verde que ayudan al país a abordar los problemas de una manera más práctica y sostenible. También veo cambios en la manera en la cual realizamos nuestro trabajo diariamente y cómo nos encaminamos hacia un enfoque de mayor colaboración con las agencias federales, estatales, y locales, las tribus, los sectores agrícola y manufacturero, los pequeños negocios, la industria y otras partes interesadas, para desarrollar soluciones innovadoras que sacan partido a los avances en tecnología y un mayor acceso a los datos ambientales.

El borrador del Plan Estratégico de EPA AF 2014-2018 (FY 2014-2018 EPA Strategic Plan ) en la actualidad disponible para comentarios públicos hasta el 3 de enero, provee una imagen instantánea de alto nivel de algunos de estos retos y oportunidades y cómo nosotros visualizamos los próximos cuatro años. En el borrador, verá una perspectiva de enfoques sostenibles para abordar problemas en nuestro trabajo—reglamentario, de aplicación del derecho ambiental, basado en incentivos y programas de alianzas por igual. También estoy muy entusiasmada de ver el progreso realizado mediante el programa E-Enterprise para facilitar el proceso de implementación de las regulaciones y permisos, usando tecnologías avanzadas para detectar emisiones y contaminantes, cambiando hacia el uso de informes electrónicos,  la ampliación de la transparencia, y el desarrollo y uso de enfoques innovadores de acatamiento—todos con una meta de progresar hacia el mejorar el cumplimiento y resultados ambientales.

Favor de ver nuestro borrador del Plan Estratégico de EPA AF 2014-2018 en www.Regulations.gov y compartir sus ideas e insumo (haga clic en la sección de comentarios “Comment Now”) acerca de cómo responder mejor a los retos en el futuro. Esperamos escuchar su sentir.

Maryann Forehlich es la principal funcionaria financiera interina de la EPA y tiene amplias responsabilidades para supervisar el presupuesto de la Agencia, la gestión del desempeño de la agencia, los servicios financieros y gestión financiera. Se graduó de Chestnut Hill College con una licenciatura en ciencias y matemáticas . Obtuvo una maestría en administración pública de la Escuela de Gobierno de John F. Kennedy en la Universidad Harvard.

121913 blog photo New-Picture-4

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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