Climate change is an international challenge with local impacts that threaten the health and welfare of American families. In light of increasing knowledge of how climate change impacts our communities, our Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER) is focusing our efforts to ensure we continue to protect the land that surrounds them.
OSWER is partnering with states and communities to make contaminated sites resistant to the impacts of climate change. For example, flooding from more intense and frequent storms, or sea level rise, may lead to contaminants spreading from OSWER sites. The increased intensity and frequency of storms may also increase debris that must be managed, and puts additional sites and communities at risk. In addition, OSWER will work with other agencies to evaluate whether changes in the frequency or severity of extreme weather events will require additional emergency response resources.
While we build resilience to the impacts of climate change, we must continue to reduce current and future greenhouse gas emissions. The manufacture, transportation and disposal of materials and goods are responsible for as much as 42 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. As individuals, we can make choices that minimize the life cycle environmental impacts of materials – such as buying products made of recycled materials – to reduce emissions. One projection is that by 2050, unless we can substantially minimize and reuse materials, we will not be able to sustain our global population and encourage economic growth.
We can rethink the way we use land to significantly reduce emissions. By reusing formerly contaminated properties for commercial, industrial, residential, or green space purposes, we can preserve open space, including forest lands, and increase the carbon sink. Redevelopment of brownfield sites and other contaminated properties located in downtown and economic centers can reduce transportation emissions, another large contributor to climate change. One study indicated that development at brownfields sites can result in a 32 percent to 57 percent reduction in daily vehicle miles traveled compared to development at greenfield sites in less densely populated areas, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
As we celebrate Earth Day, please keep these facts in mind to as we address the impacts of climate change.
Mathy Stanislaus is the Assistant Administrator in EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER), leading the Agency’s land cleanup, solid waste and emergency response programs. Mr. Stanislaus is a chemical engineer and environmental lawyer with over 20 years of experience in the environmental field in the private and public sectors. He received his law degree from Chicago Kent Law School and Chemical Engineering Degree from City College of New York.