Environmental Justice in Action

Explore EPA’s Annual AirTrends Report 2016 Using a New Interactive Web Application

Then: "The George Washington Bridge in Heavy Smog. View toward the New Jersey Side of the Hudson River," May 1973. Now: "Thermal Inversion Freedom Tower," March 2013.

Then: “The George Washington Bridge in Heavy Smog,” May 1973.
Now: “Thermal Inversion Freedom Tower,” March 2013.

By Arthur Zuco

Imagine standing on the banks of the Hudson River, air so thick with smog you can barely make out the massive pillars of the George Washington Bridge. Cars zoom past you fueled by leaded gasoline. A faint sound of music wafts through the air.

Wait. Is that disco music?

Though many communities still face a variety of air quality issues, our nation’s air quality has steadily improved since 1970. In all those years, many would claim that cleaning up our air would come at the expense of economic growth.

Yet, in the same period of time, gross domestic product is up almost 250 percent and aggregate emissions are down 70 percent. So why bring all this – and the nightmarish memories of platform shoes and leisure suits – up now?

Well, EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation recently released its annual AirTrends Report 2016, which tracks air quality data and trends through 2015. It’s important to track progress as we work to ensure all Americans are free from breathing toxic and harmful air pollution. We know that overall air quality is improving but we can’t stop yet.

Click on the photo to view the interactive air quality and emissions data update.

Click on the photo to view the interactive air quality and emissions data update.

There is still much work to do, especially in our communities with pressing environmental justice concerns. Recent studies have reaffirmed that certain communities, including low-income communities and communities of color, are disproportionately affected by the impacts of air pollution. Therefore, it is imperative that we utilize tools, such as the Air Trends Report, to identify how and where our air quality is improving, and where it is not, so we can prioritize those areas that most need our assistance.

So, go check out the report!

Explore the interactive air quality and emissions data update

It is presented through an interactive web app featuring a suite of visualization tools that allow the user to:

  • Air QualityLearn about air pollution and how it can affect our health and environment;Pollution
  • Compare key air emissions to gross domestic product, vehicle miles traveled, population, and energy consumption back to 1970;
  • Take a closer look at how the number of days with unhealthy air has dropped since 2000 in 35 major US cities; Emissions
  • Explore how air quality and emissions have changed through time and space for each of the common air pollutants; and
  • Check out air trends where you live.

Users will also be able to share this content across social media, with one-click access to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and other major social media sites.

The data shows that our nation’s air continues to improve. We may have come a long way from bell bottoms and leaded gasoline, but there is still much work left to be done to move us forward. EPA must continue work with our partners at the state, tribal, local and neighborhood levels to ensure healthy air for all communities. I encourage all of you to take a look and read about the progress made over the years.

Explore the new AirTrends website

Follow the agency’s new @EPAair twitter account

Outlook

About the Author: Arthur Zuco worked in conjunction with the Air Quality Analysis Group of the Office of Air Quality Planning Standards, which has led the effort to redesign both the AirTrends website and 2016 Air Trends Report. Experts from various disciplines contributed content and oversaw the development spanning over eleven months. Collectively, we are proud to bring the American people a compelling story about our improving air quality in an interactive and mobile-friendly tool. The employees who worked on the report, and this blog post, include Halil Cakir, Jan Cortelyou-Lee, Josh Drukenbrod, Aaron Evans, Brett Gaines, Brett Gantt, David Mintz, Liz Naess, Tesh Rao, Adam Reff, Kayla Schulte, Madeleine Strum, Ben Wells, and Arthur Zuco.

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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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Being Prepared for Climate Change: A Workbook for Developing Risk-Based Adaptation Plans

Estuaries

By Nicole Tachiki

At a conference on climate change adaptation, I found myself eating lunch next to the Planning Administrator of a Maryland county. She told me that her office does not have budget or staff dedicated to thinking about the impacts of climate change, so she registered for the conference to learn how to incorporate climate adaptation into her work. Although her position as the county’s planning administrator does not include a sustainability portfolio, she recognized the need to consider climate change in county plans and wanted to learn more about it.

Climate change will have an impact on communities, particularly those that are already vulnerable to coastal storms, drought, and sea level rise. Like in the Southwest, drought will only exacerbate water shortages and increase the likelihood of future wildfires. Low-income communities that lack adequate resources to prepare and adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change are especially at risk.  Workbook

Because of experiences like this, I am very proud of the work that has gone into EPA’s risk-based vulnerability assessment workbook entitled “Being Prepared for Climate Change: A Workbook for Developing Risk-Based Adaptation Plans.” The workbook is a step-by-step guide to conducting a risk-based vulnerability assessment and then writing an adaptation action plan. Communities can follow the workbook steps to identify their potential climate change risks and how to consider adaptation options.

Leaders of the San Juan Bay Estuary Program decided to use the workbook to identify and prioritize climate change risks to the communities surrounding the estuary in Puerto Rico. One priority for these leaders was to engage and meaningfully involve the communities that would disproportionally be impacted by the potential risks to the estuary. They held community workshops to learn about the climate change impacts people in the community were already observing. Two of their workshops were specific to environmental justice communities living around the estuary.

You can listen to the “Climate Resilience: What to Expect, How to Prepare, and What You Can Learn from Others” webcast to learn more about how the workbook has been used in a pilot project with the San Juan Bay Estuary program.

To facilitate user experience with the climate change adaptation workbook, EPA’s Climate Ready Estuaries program has just released a new online companion tool to the workbook.

This new online tool enables users to enter data for the first five steps of the workbook online. After working through the steps of the online tool, users receive a formatted matrix prioritizing their climate change risks and a final assessment report with all the user input.

As I sat by the planning administrator that day at the conference, I was further inspired to continue this work as I got to meet the people for whom these resources were developed.

And, as I continue to work on resources such as the workbook and online companion tool, I gain a greater appreciation for the work being done at EPA to help environmental leaders adapt to climate change. Communities are already dealing with the impacts of climate change and they need our support and resources to help them adapt.

About the Author: Nicole Tachiki is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) fellow working with Climate Ready Estuaries and the National Estuary Program in the EPA’s Office of Water. In this capacity, she enjoys working to provide research and tools for climate change adaptation.

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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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Building equity, inclusiveness for low-income communities is key in climate resilience planning

About the Author: Shamar Bibbins is a program officer with the Environment Program at The Kresge Foundation. Her grant work supports efforts that help communities build resilience in the face of climate change.

Activities of PUSH Buffalo, one of the 15 grantees under Kresge's Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity initiative

Activities of PUSH Buffalo, one of Kresge’s Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity grantees

As a student organizer, I saw firsthand the lack of engagement with communities of color around key environmental issues. When I began working on climate change years later, I remained guided by a deep passion to ensure that people from historically underrepresented groups were included in efforts to advance climate solutions.

Low-income communities have, historically, been largely excluded from the benefits of robust investments in clean energy, green infrastructure, high-quality transit, and other climate-beneficial interventions. Climate policies have failed to address the magnitude of environmental, economic, and social vulnerabilities these communities face.

Activities of PUSH Buffalo, one of the 15 grantees under Kresge's Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity initiative

Activities of PUSH Buffalo, one of Kresge’s Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity grantees

I believe the only way we will come close to meeting our global climate challenges is by adopting the principles of environmental justice to develop targeted strategies that address the unique circumstances of these populations. In the absence of proactive efforts to address equity concerns in climate resilience planning, climate change will reinforce and worsen current socioeconomic disparities, diminishing opportunity for low-income and other disadvantaged populations.

Over the years, the Kresge Foundation has worked in conjunction with the EPA by matching funds so that communities receive the financial assistance needed to create healthier and more environmentally-friendly neighborhoods. We are proud to support the EPA’s environmental justice mission, which strives for all communities and persons across the nation to enjoy the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process that impacts their environment.

After 25 years of working on these types of collaborative governmental/non-governmental projects, I am honored to see how these types of partnerships truly do make a visible difference in communities. This is why I have been so excited to lead the Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity Initiative at the Kresge Foundation.

CRUO grantees together at The Kresge convention in Chicago

Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity Initiative Grantees gather in Chicago to talk about climate resilience in low-income communities

The initiative aims to ensure that the distinct needs and interests of low-income communities are addressed in climate adaption planning. Through the initiative, we support grantee organizations in more than one dozen U.S. cities who are working to establish local and regional climate policies that meet the priorities of low-income communities.

We recently awarded $660,000, three-year grants to 15 community-based organizations to work toward incorporating strong equity provisions into local and regional climate resilience policies and programs.

Makani Themba, Advisor to CRUO talks with Chris Marchi of Neighborhood of Affordable Housing at the convening in Chicago

Makani Themba, Advisor to The Kresge Foundation’s Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity Initiative talks with Chris Marchi of Neighborhood of Affordable Housing at a convening in Chicago

One of the goals of the Initiative is to systematically engage leaders and advocates who authentically represent the concerns of low-income communities and elevate their expertise on climate change. This engagement is designed to ensure that cities and municipalities adopt climate resilience plans that are more attendant to the priorities of people disproportionately harmed by climate-driven extreme events like flooding, heat waves and intense storms. These are people who have traditionally been left out of broader climate decision-making processes and we are striving to get them involved!

I am grateful to be part of a program that is building the field of climate resilience with a comprehensive, integrated approach that leads with equity. I truly believe that this new cadre of leaders who are both skilled at working in low-income communities and experts in climate resiliency will be an important step in addressing the urgent and complex environmental and climate challenges.

Activities from PUSH

Activities of PUSH Buffalo, one of Kresge’s Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity grantees

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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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U.S. EPA and Imperial Valley Communities Tackle Childhood Asthma

By Priyanka Pathak

Growing up in the United States as a woman of color and an immigrant gave me a strong sense of wanting to make the world a more just place. In my academic and social life, I was constantly having to challenge this idea that people who were different like me might expect to be treated unfairly. I very naturally identified with people different from me who experienced discrimination and sought change. Today, in the environmental health field, I have the privilege of collaborating with community members and local organizations working hard to address major environmental health disparities faced by residents of the U.S.-Mexico Border region.

24-Hour Particulate Matter (24-Hour PM-2.5) Attainment Designations in Region 9

24-Hour Particulate Matter (24-Hour PM-2.5) Attainment Designations in Region 9 — click on the photo to learn more!

PM-10Air Quality Map1

Particulate Matter (PM-10) Attainment Designations in Region 9 — click on the photo to learn more!

Imperial County, in southern California, bears the distinction of having the highest hospitalization rate for childhood asthma in the state. For those whose asthma is triggered by dust, everyday activities become risky. And dust is plentiful in these desert farming communities.

Fernanda, an outgoing eleventh-grader, goes to school in Imperial Valley and fears an asthma attack daily. She was diagnosed with asthma three years ago. Fernanda knows that her asthma problems are caused by pollution, especially outdoor air pollution. Living with this chronic health condition has significantly impacted her life. Fernanda cannot participate in gym class, since running outdoors can cause her to have an attack. Her asthma limits how often she can attend school.

Each time she is hospitalized, Fernanda misses about two days of school. In April, Fernanda went to the emergency room five times and was absent from school a third of the month. Her frequent absence is not unique among kids with asthma. Every year, asthma results in 10 million missed school days. Schools with a high population of low-income students tend to experience even more asthma-related absences.

While hospitalized, Fernanda’s doctor told her about the Imperial Valley Child Asthma Program (IVCAP), which has been providing individualized home visits for low-income families for over a decade.

Fernanda receives IVCAP counseling.

Fernanda receives IVCAP counseling.

IVCAP’s home visits include several hours of bilingual counseling by two community health workers. Graciela Ruiz advises parents and guardians on administering asthma medication correctly, while Lourdes Salazar conducts a home walk-through and identifies possible asthma triggers.

 

By the final home visit, a majority of parents and guardians report feeling confident in being able to manage their child’s asthma. Among the 106 families they served in the past year, only one child has needed to go to the hospital.

IVCAP will continue to tackle childhood asthma among low-income Imperial County residents, thanks to grants from EPA’s Border 2020 Program. Currently, we in EPA’s Pacific Southwest Regional Office are working together with local, regional, and national organizations to help identify funding opportunities for organizations that provide in-home asthma services.

I think we can all agree that no child should ever have to fear going outside or sacrifice their education because of air pollution. I encourage everyone, not just those with asthma, to learn about how to prevent asthma attacks. Homes, schools, and childcare centers can be made safer by controlling exposure to common asthma triggers such as dust mites, pest and animal allergens, mold and moisture, chemical irritants in consumer products, wood smoke, outdoor air pollution, and others. You can be part of the solution: learn more about controlling asthma at www.epa.gov/asthma.

About the Author: Priyanka Pathak is the U.S. EPA Air Division Community Environmental Health Coordinator for the Pacific Southwest, home to 50 million people in Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, the Pacific Islands and 148 tribal nations.

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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.

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.

Our Community, Our Plan: Building Climate Resiliency in Northern Manhattan

About the Author: Tina Johnson, a mother of three and a lifelong resident of West Harlem, New York, is concerned with community issues related to health, education and environmental resiliency. Through her work in the community as a tenant leader, she has become a proud and faithful member of the WE ACT for Environmental Justice organization.

I live in a New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) development called Grant Houses. Looking out my 18th floor window, there is another NYCHA development across from Grant: the Manhattanville Houses. We both sit at sea level. Our neighborhood is bordered by a major state highway and a bank of the Hudson River.

Click on the photo to explore the EJSCREEN data on the area surrounding the Grant Houses.

Click on the photo to explore the EJSCREEN data on the area surrounding the Grant Houses.

Development is happening all around us, but progress seems to pass by us.

Contrary to public perception, low-income and working class people – like me – care about our communities and how climate change will affect our future and the future of the next generation. I don’t like feeling helpless. Becoming an active member of the

community-based organization WE ACT for Environmental Justice, an organization that has received long-term funding from the EPA, including the Environmental Justice Small Grants Program, has been a way to participate in the climate-related decisions that impact me and my community.

Last winter, WE ACT offered a challenge to its Northern Manhattan communities. The challenge involved a grassroots process to facilitate community planning around climate change. I loved the way WE ACT structured the challenge, which linked me to other community members who are concerned with similar challenges.

WE ACT members and staff plan for climate justice and resilience in Northern Manhattan.

WE ACT members and staff plan for climate justice and resilience in Northern Manhattan.

The challenge was based on a fast-paced game that mirrored real time climate events. As a group, we had to conceptualize what it means to be prepared for climate change through the lens of extreme weather “reality” in action. We participated in group brainstorming with real time feedback from the other participants and groups who were focusing on different systems related to government policy, health care, communication, transportation, food systems and the resulting lack of regularly accessible resources.

This exercise, both grounding and clarifying, taught me about the efforts required to maintain a healthy community in the face of potential upheaval. I identified responses to challenges required by myself and my government to maintain resilient “wholeness” in my community.

Working within a group provided me with alternative viewpoints. Different ideas were developed around the idea of resilience, but we discovered more common ground than differences. We were able to identify a shared vision in how to promote a local, green economy that supports low-income residents. From this collaboration, we began planning how to design short-term and long-term resiliency strategies to address extreme weather events.

Click on the photo to learn more about the Northern Manhattan Climate Action Plan!

Click on the photo to learn more about the Northern Manhattan Climate Action Plan!

Participating in these group exercises helped me envision development in achievable parts. It became clear to me that a cohesive emergency preparedness and civic participation action plan was necessary for my community. One of the parts I am currently working on is identifying a location site for the installation of an informational kiosk on the Grant and Manhattanville NYCHA properties. I am working with an artist, an architect and other WE ACT members to design a community kiosk structure which will serve as an information hub about climate change.  This is one component of WE ACT for Environmental Justice’s Northern Manhattan Climate Action Plan to tackle climate change and social inequality in my community.

WE ACT members and staff visit NYCHA units in Northern Manhattan to plan for emergency kiosks.

WE ACT members and staff visit NYCHA units in Northern Manhattan to plan for emergency kiosks.

With assistance from EPA resources on emergencies, the kiosk will allow the local residents to learn about climate change and how to act in emergency situations. The kiosk will share evacuation routes and other resources necessary during climate-related emergencies. Its design will be unique to its geographical area and it will inform the community about the specific challenges and needs of the area. The kiosk will also serve community members who may be subject to loss of services and isolation during an emergency.

In this way, the kiosk will stand as a sign of my community’s efforts to survive and thrive in the face of chronic, extreme weather events that will stress its fabric by substituting action for worry and uncertainty.

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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.

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.

Accessible, Aware, Accountable: How the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice is Responding to Your Concerns

By Marsha Minter

Public input undeniably has the power to shape how federal agencies are integrating environmental justice into their policies and programs. During my time at EPA, I have witnessed this on numerous occasions – notably, the creation of the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice (EJ IWG), which was assembled in response to public comments asking federal agencies to holistically address the myriad challenges and opportunities that face overburdened and under-resourced communities.

President Bill Clinton signs Executive Order 12898, which creates the EJ IWG. Click on the photo to ready the Executive Order Summary.

President Bill Clinton signs Executive Order 12898, which creates the EJ IWG. Click on the photo to ready the Executive Order Summary.

Since its creation in 1994, the EJ IWG has evolved in many interesting and unique ways by working alongside communities as they aim to become healthier, greener and more sustainable. Last year, the EJ IWG released “Fiscal Years 2016-2018 Framework for Collaboration.  This strategic document outlines goals for the next three years to advance greater federal agency collaboration to improve quality-of-life and support economic opportunities in communities overburdened with pollution.  The framework reinforces the federal family’s commitment to the original mission to “identify and address, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of [our federal] programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations,” which is defined in Executive Order 12898.

Click on the photo to read the Environmental Justice Interagency Working Group Framework for Collaboration for Fiscal Years 2016-2018.

Click on the photo to read the Environmental Justice Interagency Working Group Framework for Collaboration for Fiscal Years 2016-2018.

The cornerstone of the EJ IWG’s mission is to ensure that the federal government is

  • Accessible – that the government is easily reached by communities, advocates, and other stakeholders regarding environmental justice concerns;
  • Aware – knowledgeable of the environmental justice concerns and issues facing communities; and
  • Accountable – capable of explaining the actions and decisions related to the implementation of Executive Order 12898.

As part of our effort to be more accountable to the public, we are launching a webinar series to not only provide information on the programs, policies and activities of the EJ IWG but also to solicit feedback, explore opportunities and hear concerns from all of our stakeholders.

I believe that public forums of this nature are critical ways for community members to participate in generating solutions and actions to reduce environmental problems and expand environmental benefits that the EJ IWG, as an embodiment of the federal family, can help to support and lift up. The importance of these conversations, to which stakeholders bring invaluable experience, expertise, and knowledge, echo the 10th principle of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development Exit:

Environmental decisions are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens …[who] shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment held by public authorities, including … the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes.

With that in mind, I am proud to invite you to participate in the monthly “Access and Awareness Webinar Series,” which are designed to increase public access to the EJ IWG and to increase community awareness of federal agency environmental justice strategies and holistic community-based solutions to address environmental justice issues.

To stay updated on all of the upcoming EJ IWG activities, webinars, and registration information, make sure to subscribe to the environmental justice listserv.

Please find more information on the specific webinar details below for each specific webinar:

Webinar #1 – Federal Agencies and Environmental Justice: Connecting Communities to Green Space, Healthcare and Jobs

Date: 8/11/2016
Time: 1:00pm – 2:30pm Eastern
Please register for the first webinar here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/access-and-awareness-webinar-series-from-the-federal-interagency-working-group-on-environmental-tickets-26760830364

Webinar #2 – Increasing Awareness of Federal Grant and Resource Opportunities

EJ IWG convenes to discuss federal EJ strategies and initiatives.

EJ IWG convenes to discuss federal EJ strategies and initiatives.

Date: 9/8/2016
Time: 1:00pm – 2:30pm Eastern
Purpose: An introduction on how to use the www.grants.gov website and current funding opportunities for communities facing environmental justice issues.

Webinar #3 – Creating Safe and Healthy Environments for Children

Date: 10/13/2016
Time: 1:00pm – 2:30pm Eastern
Purpose: Children’s Health Month: Advancing the federal commitment of protecting children’s environmental health and safety.

Webinar #4 – Learning Together: Lessons Learned from Collaborative Place-Based Initiatives

Date: 11/10/2016
Time: 1:00pm – 2:30pm Eastern
Purpose: Overview of the EJ IWG Framework for Collaboration and showcasing the importance of effective federal collaboration.

I believe that this series will help everyone gain a deeper understanding of how federal agencies are collaborating to improve the health, quality-of-life, and economic opportunities in overburdened communities.

So, I look forward to hearing from all of us in the upcoming months!

About the Author: Marsha Minter is the Associate Director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice. In this capacity, she is responsible for managing the activities of the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice (EJ IWG).

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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.

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.

Mapping the Way to Climate Justice

TPL-Chattanooga_081-crop_illo

About the Author: Jad Daley directs the Climate-Smart Cities Program at The Trust for Public Land. The program is advanced through deep partnership with cities, community groups, and others to advance multiple-benefit green infrastructure for climate action and climate justice. Learn more about Climate-Smart Cities Program in this video.

 

Heat risk became a reality for me after my wife was in a car accident. During her in-bed recovery, an extreme heat wave hit Washington, D.C., and the air conditioning unit in our tiny apartment gave out. As my wife lay in bed, unable to walk, the temperature steadily climbed in our apartment.

That night was truly terrifying. I ran to the store and bought a fan, which was just enough to cool her through the night. Within a day, we were able to find a technician to fix the A.C. unit but at a cost that I am still paying off today – a few years later. Regardless, we are fortunate to have this financial capacity.

Heat Island Map

This map highlights Urban Heat Island Hotspots (The Trust for Public Land).

Many Americans in low income communities are not so lucky. In such situations they are reliant on cooling centers or other means for protection. The recent climate health report from the U.S. Global Change Research Program highlighted extreme heat from climate change to be a primary threat to human health. Low income families without air conditioning, the elderly, and people with pre-existing health conditions are at greatest risk.

With a phenomenon known as the “Urban Heat Island Effect,” our cities make heat risk worse. This effect occurs when city pavement and other built materials absorb and re-radiate heat, which creates an oven-like effect. A report published by the EPA reveals that heat islands can raise local temperatures as much as five degrees Fahrenheit during the day and as much as 22 degrees at night.

Low income communities are further disadvantaged. Home design can dramatically impact indoor air temperature, and many low-income communities, rental homes, and public housing units are not well designed to lessen heat. For example, in some cases renters are unable to access enough power to run window air conditioning units.

In addition to building design, tree canopy and other green infrastructure are complementary and cost-effective natural solutions to reduce urban heat islands and protect people’s homes. Here is where climate justice comes in. In virtually every American city, tree cover strongly correlates with income—wealthy neighborhoods generally have significantly more tree cover.

How can we bring more protection to the neighborhoods that need it the most?

I believe a catalyst can be the power of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping to illustrate our green infrastructure deficits, like how insufficient tree canopy overlaps with our most vulnerable 2populations. The latest version of the EJSCREEN, the EPA’s environmental justice screening and mapping tool, includes this very information.

We also overlay other issues in these neighborhoods like the increased rate of flooding from extreme rainfall patterns resulting from climate change. After all, the problem that triggers urban heat islands — too much pavement, not enough greenspace — is the same land use pattern in many low income neighborhoods that leads to problems like basement flooding. If we see where these problems of heat islands and water management overlap, then we can develop green infrastructure solutions like green alleys that are designed to address both issues.

Mapping this threat is urgent because it is not a clearly assigned responsibility. Cities have water departments, transit departments, but not “urban heat island departments.” This risk is infrequently covered by the health department, but those agencies are not well positioned to advance strategies to protect key neighborhoods.

That is where GIS mapping comes in.1

My organization, The Trust for Public Land, maps heat islands, who is at risk in these areas, and how strategies like trees and other green infrastructure can help protect these neighborhoods.

If you can’t map climate justice, it is very unlikely that cities and their partners will make the focused investment to solve problems like urban heat islands and flash flooding. But if a picture is worth a thousand words, a map is worth a million. We have gotten immediate attention from city agencies and even mayors by using GIS to show where these climate justice issues exist, which is leading to unprecedented collaboration for climate justice by city agencies in cities such as Boston, New Orleans, and Chattanooga.

It is clear to me that finding the road to climate justice will take a very good map!

3

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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.

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.

Finding the words: How one city is leveraging resources to engage its Hispanic community to improve the watershed

Hispanic or Latino Population of Nampa, Idaho (2010 Census Block)

Hispanic or Latino Population of Nampa, Idaho (2010 Census Block)

About the Author: Jocabed Veloz has lived in Nampa, ID since 2003. She was born in Mexico and moved to the USA when she was 6 years old. She has a Master of Public Health and is a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES). She is currently working as a business intelligence analyst with St. Luke’s Hospital.

I want more people to be more involved in environmental issues.

Simple things like taking your vehicle to a carwash, scooping up pet waste, and preventing excess water from running down the street can have large impacts on the quality of our water systems. And so it is important for us to all realize how these little things add up.

When I work with the Hispanic community in Nampa, Idaho and we talk about improving water quality, I can see that they understand and that they are willing to make the changes necessary to enact positive change in their community.

The Hispanic community in Nampa is hardworking. Many still have a strong connection to the Earth. They may not know all the issues related to water quality or how our systems are set up to manage water, but at the very core, this community understands the importance of clean water in everyday life. And even though we all know this, we often need to be reminded that we are part of the solution and need to actively work to protect our water quality.

With support from an Urban Waters Small Grant, an Environmental Justice Small Grant, and other EPA funding, the City of Nampa launched a watershed improvement program to improve the city’s water quality.

The focus of the project is on Indian Creek, where storm water is a major source of pollution. As the neighborhoods surrounding the creek are heavily Hispanic, the city recognized that a successful campaign had to engage the Hispanic community. My personal experiences and academic research has given me a unique understanding of the Hispanic population in Nampa and the issues at hand. Thus, I was asked to advise the City of Nampa on how to engage the Hispanic community.

Indian Creek in the City of Nampa, Idaho

Indian Creek in the City of Nampa, Idaho

The city wanted to engage the community to help them understand and change the everyday behaviors that were contributing to water pollution. I recommended that our outreach messages be in English and Spanish and that we use simple, everyday language.

Nampa Stormwater Advisory Group Field Trip

Nampa Stormwater Advisory Group Field Trip

From this recommendation, we produced a directory of Nampa Hispanic leaders to assist us with our outreach projects. This information helped the city establish contacts with Hispanic organizations to successfully target outreach efforts. These leaders were invited to become a part of the Nampa Stormwater Advisory Group and those conversations helped guide the crafting of outreach materials and the opportunities to engage the Hispanic community.

To educate residents about behavior changes that can improve water quality, we created bilingual engagement strategies, which included bilingual interpretive signage at City Acres Park and a bilingual website that won an Idaho Press Club award. We also created a bilingual story book for children. You can read it too at this link, it’s called What Ollie Sees- A Story about Stormwater.

Ollie

Click on the cover to read the bilingual story book about stormwater for children

I think people really care about the environment and they welcome opportunities to engage in positive change. People are happy to see something tangible from their work; it makes them feel like “we matter.”

I love this work because it’s exciting to do something that you feel makes a difference. And I personally like working on projects like this because they get at the root causes, rather than just the symptoms, of public health issues. And in the end, I can see that my efforts and the efforts of others have indeed resulted in many more people being much more involved in their community’s environmental issues.

Factsheet

 Click on the photo to learn more about the Urban Waters Nampa project!

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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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EPA’s Urban Waters Program Meets Local Needs Working with Community Mentors

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By Benita Best-Wong

I value how mentors from community-based organizations across the country have shaped the EPA’s Urban Waters program into an enterprise dedicated to meeting local needs. The program’s local leaders have demonstrated that revitalizing urban watersheds best catalyzes economic and social benefits when we unite with local partners and grantees to address environmental justice challenges.

Support to empower communities tackling local environmental challenges work is now in our program’s DNA. Our goal is to help local residents and their organizations, particularly those from underserved areas, restore their urban waters and advance community and economic revitalization.

UW Cycle

Click on the photo to learn more at the Urban Water cycle!

To back that goal up, this program has committed to advancing environmental justice in all major elements of our work. Urban Waters provides funding to communities through the Urban Waters Small Grants program and through the Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Grant program, but we strive to be more than a grant-maker. We’ve found a unique niche that can’t be filled through money alone.

Urban Waters is about people – building human connections, human capital, and supporting initiatives that are greater than the sum of their parts. Through the Urban Waters Federal Partnership and the Urban Waters Learning Network, we help communities leverage the abilities and authorities of all our partners, building partnerships across sectors from the local to the federal level to catalyze action and meet our shared goals. In this way, we strive to make sure Urban Waters efforts can be sustained long after an individual project is completed.

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Click on the map to learn more about what Urban Waters is doing to assist communities.

These program elements were developed through thoughtful engagement with organizations doing work on the ground. It’s only because these community-based partners raised their voices that we’ve seen such robust partnerships formed and problems solved under the Urban Waters banner.

The urban environmental landscape is dynamic; at times, it’s tough terrain with complex and unique challenges arising where communities, development, and environment intersect. While EPA has come a long way working with environmental justice communities to identify and address challenges and inequities together, we still have plenty of work to do. 5

All of us in EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds and the Urban Waters Program consider community voices as critical contributors who shape the way we do business each day. We know we cannot achieve our goals without continued mentorship and guidance from the environmental justice community, and we look forward to taking strides to advance place-based priorities together.

This is why we are so excited for our upcoming Urban Waters National Training Workshop happening July 26-28 in Arlington, Virginia. At this workshop, we look forward to inspiring and strengthening the urban waters movement to build and sustain robust effective partnerships across the country; strengthening our skills in working together with underserved communities to address community-based priorities and environmental justice challenges; and connecting, sharing and learning with other innovators about how to convene, engage and succeed in our partnership work.

To celebrate our community partners, we will be highlighting the work of some of our grantees and workshop participants. So, make sure you come back to learn more about what Urban Waters is doing on the ground!

About the Author: Benita Best-Wong is the Director of the EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds.

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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.

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.

Turning Waste into Social Change

Wood-burning stove, rural Paraguay

Wood-burning stove, rural Paraguay

For each hour that a woman living in rural Paraguay spends cooking with a wood-burning stove, she inhales a quantity of smoke and toxins that are equivalent to 200 cigarettes.

While in school I learned about the health risks low-income, rural populations face when cooking with wood-burning stoves, and that knowledge compelled me to research alternative cooking technologies that are affordable and sustainable. I also found out there are solutions to this problem like anaerobic digestion, commonly known as the biodigester: a simple and affordable system that produces methane gas for cooking and fertilizer for farming.  It appeared that transitioning to this technology could be a way to achieve environmental justice for people like the woman in rural Paraguay who are usually left out of the sustainable development picture.

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A biodigester recipient, Nari, watches as the final steps are taken to install his biodigester. In this photo the bag is being filled with material for the first time.

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This is a complete biodigester. The black material covering the bag protects it from natural elements to ensure its longevity.

Biodigesters function like an artificial stomach. There is a long, heavy duty plastic bag that captures organic material – such as cow feces – and produces methane, a flammable gas.  This gas is transported to a stove by way of a pipe system and can be released for use with the turn of a valve, which mitigates the health concerns of the wood stoves. The excess material produced by the biodigester can be used as valuable fertilizer that can be spread in gardens or sold for extra income. The only requirement for ownership is having access to the excrement of two-to-three farm animals.

If you are interested in learning more about bidogesters, please visit the EPA’s AgSTAR website, which has promoted the use of biogas recovery systems to reduce methane emissions from livestock waste for over 20 years!

Upon discovering this technology a team of fellow students and I applied for and received funding from the Georgetown University Social Innovation and Public Service Fund and the Georgetown International Relations Association’s Global Generation Grant to install biodigesters in the homes of five randomly selected families in Aregua, Paraguay.  This project aims to improve the lives of those who receive biodigester technology, while collecting data on biodigester feasibility, usage, and maintenance.  We hope to promote the use of biodigesters in Paraguay by educating local communities about the health hazards of wood-burning stoves.

Click on the photo to view this infographic that illustrates 20 years of growth and accomplishments achievement throughout AgSTAR's history.

Click on the photo to view this infographic that illustrates 20 years of growth and accomplishments achievement throughout AgSTAR’s history.

The benefits of biodigesters extend beyond respiratory health. By eliminating the need to collect wood for wood-burning stoves, deforestation is also prevented, which helps preserve the local habitat and limits consequences of receding forests such as water run-off and destroying local habitats for animal populations.  The atmosphere also benefits as biodigesters don’t emit black carbon, a nasty bi-product from wood-burning stoves. Additionally, by collecting animal refuse for biodigesters, communities will prevent the run-off contamination of waste into their local water supplies.

Nancy demonstrates using her bio-gas powered stove.

Nancy demonstrates using her bio-gas powered stove.

When we travelled to Paraguay to complete the project, we could not have been more pleased, not only by the local reception to biodigesters, but also strong indicators that the technology will achieve what it promises. For example, our team visited a family in Paraguay that has been enjoying the benefits of biodigester technology for three years.  The family’s mother, Nancy, has found that cooking is now more convenient and efficient.  She does not have to spend two-to-three hours a day searching for firewood to use for her stove.  Additionally, by not having to cook in a hazardous smokey environment, her eyesight has noticeably improved.  Before switching to the natural gas stove fueled by her biodigester, Nancy’s doctor said that her eyesight was so poor because there was grease in her eyes from cooking.

The family has also profited from the fertilizer their biodigester produces. With this fertilizer they were able to grow a full garden on soil that was previously too poor for producing crops.  As a result of the garden, the family saves money every week that they previously allocated to buying vegetables.

Nancy shares her experiences with Lauren

Nancy shares her experiences with Lauren

Through education, our team hopes that the benefits of this project can reach far beyond the borders of Paraguay as people learn about the impact biodigesters can have on their lives. Not only does AgSTAR provide information about biogas recovery but there are financing opportunities available to those interested in utilizing this technology domestically.

About the Author: Lauren Gros is a student at Georgetown University. She is currently interning for the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice.

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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.

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.