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Pollinator Week Had My Mind Abuzz

2014 July 10

By Isabella Bennett

Last month’s pollinator protection week (June 16-22) got my mind buzzing, thinking about popular attitudes toward bees and other pollinators. Sadly, too many people fear, rather than appreciate, our busy little friends. Let me give you an example.

One spring afternoon, my friends and I were sitting outside our campus coffee shop talking about the latest bio exam when a big ol’ bee came buzzing around. When the bee flew just a bit too close to my friend’s nose, she leapt from her chair, grabbed her purse, and began frantically swatting and shrieking.  Needless to say, everyone nearby enjoyed the show. I couldn’t stop giggling as I led her back to her seat, allowing the bee to continue on her way. That day, I witnessed one pollinator in particular need of some protection!

My friend and many others fail to realize that many pollinators are pivotal to our environment and our national economy, and they need our protection.

Each year, pollinator week marks a time when we all should spread awareness and educate friends, family, and ourselves about the importance of pollinators – bees, butterflies, beetles, birds, bats, and others.  For example, they currently pollinate about one-third of the food we eat. Moreover, they’re accountable for 75% of all flowering plants! Recently, there have been declines in pollinator health because of habitat loss, disease, and pesticides. That’s why now is the time to bring as much awareness to the issue as possible.

There are steps you can take right now to help our pollinators. One of their main challenges is habitat loss; by planting native flowering plants, shrubs, and trees in our backyards, gardens and schools, you can create perfect rest stops and pollen refueling stations.  Another step you can take is reducing pesticide use, especially trying integrated pest management. If you do need to use a pesticide, pay particular attention to label directions; they explain how to safely use it and ultimately protect our pollinators and our environment.

Take a moment sometime this week to appreciate what pollinators do for you and consider what you could be doing for them.  I know I will.

About the author: Isabella Bennett is Environmental Business major at Texas A&M University.  She works as a summer intern in the Communications Services Branch in EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs. 

 

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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(WASTED) FOOD FIGHT!

2014 July 10

By Amanda Hong

Consider this shocking fact – a whopping 40% of food produced in the U.S. goes to waste.

Though we preach waste reduction in my household, we contribute to that percentage of waste. My partner purchased a box of mangoes last week. We love mangoes, but were only able to enjoy a few before the rest went bad. The remaining ones went to the compost heap. As I peeled off the stickers to prepare them for composting, scolding myself for not finding time to preserve them, I thought about the 1,500 miles these mangoes had traveled only to be tossed out.

When we waste food, all the resources that go into growing, packaging and transporting it are wasted too. One quarter of all water used in the U.S. goes to growing food that is thrown away. Only 5% of food scraps are composted nationally – the rest goes to the dump, where it decomposes to produce methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. When composting is done properly, the balanced decomposition of organic materials in the compost does not release methane. Organic material that is in a landfill does not receive the proper amount of oxygen, producing methane.

Food isn’t just wasted in households, it’s wasted along the entire supply chain: retailers throw out imperfect produce; cafeterias have lots of leftover lunches; caterers are left with trays of untouched gourmet cuisine after events.

 

The Reducing Wasted Food & Packaging: A Guide for Food Services and Restaurants is available online, for anyone to use.

The Reducing Wasted Food & Packaging: A Guide for Food Services and Restaurants is available online, for anyone to use.

I feel privileged to work with the Pacific Southwest Region’s Zero Waste team on finding ways to chip away at that 40%. We recently released a toolkit that helps restaurants and food services cut back on their food and packaging waste, saving them money while reducing their environmental impact. It’s called the Reducing Wasted Food & Packaging Toolkit.

Understanding waste is the first step toward reducing it. The kit includes an Excel audit tool that allows users to tailor their waste tracking to the level of detail needed for their facility. Once the data is entered, the spreadsheet generates graphs and summaries to help users identify opportunities to reduce waste.

The PDF guide provides source reduction, food donation, and composting strategies. One of my favorite examples is tray-less dining. Simply removing trays at campus dining halls discourages college students from taking more food than they can eat. This strategy has led to a 25-30% reduction in wasted food!

Find more information on how to cut back your food waste at http://epa.gov/waste/conserve/foodwaste/. Together, we can reduce the food we waste, conserve the resources we use to produce it, and help mitigate climate change.

About the author: Amanda Hong is a graduate fellow with EPA’s Region 9 Zero Waste Section and a Master of Public Policy candidate at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy. Her work supports EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management Program, which seeks to reduce the environmental impact of materials through their entire life cycle, including how they are extracted, manufactured, distributed, used, reused, recycled, and disposed.

 

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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Switch Flipped On at Largest Solar Farm on a Superfund Site

2014 July 9
The DuPont Newport Solar Project was recently completed in December 2013 and has an installed capacity of 548 kW (Photo courtesy of DuPont USA)

The DuPont Newport Solar Project was recently completed in December 2013 and has an installed capacity of 548 kW (Photo courtesy of DuPont USA)

By Charlie Howland

I work on an EPA initiative called RE-Powering America’s Land, which encourages renewable energy development on contaminated lands, landfills, and mine sites.  I was excited to learn that the switch was recently flipped at the 10 megawatt Maywood Solar Farm on 45 acres in Indianapolis and it began pumping electricity into the grid, becoming the nation’s largest solar farm on a Superfund site.  The developer estimates that the project will reduce CO2e emissions by 13,235 metric tons per year, which is equal to the amount of carbon produced for energy use in more than 1,800 residential homes or the carbon output of 2,757 passenger vehicles. But to some folks, especially long-time EPA attorneys like me, it’s the site’s original name – Reilly Tar and Chemical – that might ring a bell. A 1982 court decision about another Reilly Tar site was one of the first to interpret Superfund’s liability provisions. The court helped determine the party responsible for paying to cleanup contamination.

The Maywood solar farm and others, such as the DuPont Newport solar farm project in Delaware, on which I recently worked, stand as examples of our efforts to help renewable energy developers. At the Newport site, a 548 kilowatt, five-acre solar installation now generates approximately 729,000 kilowatt hours of power per year — enough electricity to power about 60 homes.

There is an increasing buzz about the environmental, civic, financial and grid benefits of siting renewable energy projects on environmentally impaired lands, be they Superfund, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) or Brownfield sites. We recognize that such projects are often the best use for contaminated lands, while helping to preserve existing green open spaces. Today, we’re aware of over 100 renewable energy projects that have been developed on such sites, with over 700 MW of installed capacity. Thus far, the majority of these projects sell power back to the grid in wholesale electricity markets, and sell the accompanying Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) to utilities and interested institutions and other consumers. The remaining projects generally provide energy for onsite use. Systems range from utility-scale systems, like the 35 MW wind farm at the former Bethlehem steel mill on the shore of Lake Erie in Lackawanna, New York, to smaller scale projects that serve green remediation systems, like the 280-kilowatt Paulsboro Terminal Landfill in New Jersey.

The Reilly Tar & Chemical site in Indianapolis—now home to the Maywood Solar Farm—produced refined chemicals and treated wood products from the 1950s to 1972 (Photo courtesy of Hanwha Q CELLS and Vertellus Specialties, Inc.)

The Reilly Tar & Chemical site in Indianapolis—now home to the Maywood Solar Farm—produced refined chemicals and treated wood products from the 1950s to 1972 (Photo courtesy of Hanwha Q CELLS and Vertellus Specialties, Inc.)

In my RE-Powering work, I am often reminded of an experience I had while serving as general counsel for a renewable energy developer. The firm had learned that the township in which it had optioned a parcel of farmland for a solar project had amended its zoning ordinance, restricting solar projects such as ours to areas zoned industrial. My arguments to convince the town council to change their zoning back were unsuccessful. At the end of the evening, the mayor came to me and said, “You know, we really do like your project. But we’d rather see it on the old landfill we own, instead of on farmland. What do you think?”

This is the question that the Maywood Solar Farm helps answer for the Reilly Tar site; and it’s the same one we’re asking at other contaminated properties across the country.

About the Author: Since 1990, Charlie Howland has been a Senior Assistant Regional Counsel in Region III, specializing in cleanups under CERCLA and RCRA at private sites and federal facilities.  He serves on EPA’s RE-Powering America Rapid Response Team.  Outside of EPA he took a leave of absence in 2008 and 2009 to work for a renewable energy development firm, and he currently teaches energy law and policy at Villanova Law School.

 

 

 

 

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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Improving Access to Environmental Data through ECHO

2014 July 8

By Rebecca Kane

I work at the Environmental Protection Agency because I care about protecting communities from pollution. I believe that information is critical to taking action, be it working with stakeholders to affect local policies or empowering citizens with tools to reduce their environmental footprint.

I manage EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online website, known as ECHO, which provides information about environmental inspections, violations and enforcement actions for EPA-regulated facilities, like power plants and factories. As one of our most important and popular resources, ECHO houses information about more than 800,000 facilities nationwide, and last year, it was visited more than 2 million times. I consider it an important tool to staying informed about my community in suburban Washington, DC.

Recent updates to ECHO allow me, and all who want to stay informed about environmental issues in their community, to find information more efficiently and accurately. Here are some examples of how these upgrades help me use the data:

  • We’ve brought back the popular Clean Water Act features, and now it’s easier to find data about water violations and inspections.
  • I can search for Clean Water Act dischargers based on type of pollutants discharged. For example, I can quickly find facilities in the area that discharge metals and check to see whether they are meeting their permitted discharge limits. This matters if my family wants to fish or swim in nearby streams and rivers.
  • When I download data to analyze violations at facilities near my neighborhood, I can see information that’s been updated within the week.
  • I can now encourage web developers to build EPA’s enforcement data directly into their own web pages and apps, because ECHO reports are now built on web services.

I’m proud to be a part of ECHO’s continued development, and there’s more to come as we continue to advance our commitment to inform and empower the public. We’re always working on enhancements to ECHO, and welcome your feedback about the site.

About the author: Rebecca Kane is a program analyst who has worked at EPA for 13 years. She’s spent most of her time in the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance and is leading the ECHO modernization effort.

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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Four Things to Remember on the Fourth

2014 July 3

By Maddie Dwyer

 Maddie, last Fourth of July, at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Cambridge, Maryland.


Maddie, last Fourth of July, at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Cambridge, Maryland.

During the summer, it’s hard to think of anything other than vacations, cookouts, family, and friends. I find this to be especially true during the excitement of the Fourth of July. The Fourth is one of my favorite holidays; I love the parties, the fireworks, and the awesome outfits! During this time of patriotism and national pride, it’s easy to forget about some important summer environmental issues, and this leads to people like myself to get horribly sunburned and exposed to other significant health risks.

Here at EPA, there are four things we recommend you keep in mind while enjoying the summer fun.

  • Air quality: The increased temperatures, humidity, and pollen of summer can translate to poor air quality. It’s important to keep in mind when you go outside. You can check the air quality in your area, or the area you are vacationing in, using our AirNow website or mobile app.
  • Beach safety and protection: Beaches are a top summer vacation destination. If you find yourself at one this summer, be aware of the issues that can affect your health and safety. From marine sanitation to dune protection, EPA has lots of great resources to help you plan a fun and safe trip to the beach.
  • UV index: It’s a no-brainer that sunburns and UV over exposure are more common in the summer. EPA’s UV Index, which can give you a UV risk forecast for your zip code, is a great resource to use when you are planning a day in the sun.
  • Going green at home: The fourth and final thing to keep in mind this Fourth of July (and beyond) is what you can do at home to protect the environment. A lot of people want to be greener at home, but are unsure of where to start. Check out EPA’s Resources for Concerned Citizens for some ideas on saving energy, conserving water, and much more.

So this Fourth of July, break out your coolest red, white and blue clothes, watch some fireworks, and protect yourself and the environment.

 

Fireworks display in Washington DC

Fireworks display in Washington DC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the author:  Maddie Dwyer studies environmental science and policy at the University of Maryland. She works as an intern for EPA’s Office of Web Communications.

 

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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Proud to Protect Public Health and the Environment

2014 July 1

By Brendan Doyle

PRIDE month means a lot to EPA’s Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgendered (LGBT) employees and their families. It’s a time to reflect on where we’ve been, and what’s ahead of us in terms of realizing full and equal protection under the law. It’s a time to thank our many friends and allies, without whom we wouldn’t have been able to make the progress we’ve seen so far. I’m very proud of my eight colleagues who are featured on EPA’s LGBT web page. Each of them has a different story and background, yet each shares the same truth – they’re dedicated EPA employees who are proud to protect public health and safeguard the environment – regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

To put this truth into historical perspective – we’re commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. Signed into law on July 2, 1964, the Civil Rights Act was a landmark piece of legislation that prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. However, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity was not explicitly provided in Title VII of the Act. Recent case law now provides an interpretation that affords some protections based upon sex gender expression.

This is one of the reasons LGBT federal employees have been working with their leadership, Human Resources Councils, unions, special emphasis program managers, and colleagues to include this prohibition in their Equal Employment Opportunity policies.

That’s where Equality EPA, EPA’s LGBT non-labor employee group, fits in. We work with our allies to “level the playing field” and educate all employees about the inequities we face.

Up until the late 1970s, federal employees could be fired if they came out at work. Eventually, the Justice Department redefined discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation as a “prohibited personnel practice.” This was adopted in EPA’s EEO Policy (circa 1996), yet LGBT employees still didn’t have anyone to turn to if they felt that they had experienced discrimination on the job. EPA and USDA were the first agencies to put an administrative order in place that gave LGBT employees administrative relief to air their complaints. EPA was the first federal agency to charter an LGBT Advisory Council and designate Special Emphasis Program Managers in each program and regional office. Equality EPA continues to be the voice of EPA’s LGBT employees and their allies.

Equality EPA members are very proud of our many accomplishments in bringing equality to our workplace. Yet, there’s still more to do. Last year’s Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act has changed many federal employee benefit regulations, providing more to LGBT employees and their families. Neither Equality EPA nor EPA can address the remaining challenges alone. It will take all of us working together to reach our goal of all EPA employees realizing full and equal protection under the law.

About the author: Brendan G. Doyle is a senior advisor in EPA’s National Homeland Security Research Center. He’s also a founder of “Equality EPA,” the agency non-labor, LGBT employee organization.

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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Cobbler Cure – Doctor’s Orders

2014 July 1

By Thomas O’Donnell It might seem odd to get excited over apple or strawberry cobbler, but this batch touched a special chord. I work in EPA’s Philadelphia office on sustainability and food waste issues. I’ve been trying to find new ways to avoid throwing good food into landfills as part of the agency’s Food Recovery Challenge.  The National Resources Defense Council reported that fruits and vegetables make up the largest type of food going to waste from retail stores, 22 percent, in fact.  That could easily be more than 14 million pounds of fresh fruit in Philadelphia alone.

Picture of two chefs working in the kitchen

I brought one of the challenge participants, the produce team from Brown’s Parkside Shop-Rite supermarket in Philadelphia, together with Drexel University’s Culinary School. The school’s culinary director and a student were anxious to help and try something new.  The school’s mantra in situations where food is heading out the back door is to transform it into healthy, delicious meals. After we got to the store and talked about food recovery options, the folks from Shop-Rite took us to the produce section where they pulled some fruit that had minor imperfections that shoppers were not likely to purchase. A couple of cartons of strawberries and apples went back to the culinary school where the students worked on the challenge of turning what might have been trash into treasure. The next morning, I had six recipes in my email inbox, with the pictures of the cobbler you see included in this blog.  (The Shop-Rite folks were the lucky ones who got to enjoy this special treat.)

Picture of a cobbler in a pan.

It’s just cobbler, right?  True, but Drexel and Shop-Rite launched a successful experiment in food research that took slightly bruised or not perfectly shaped fruit that was destined for a compost pile, or a trash compactor and transformed it into delicious cobblers. They also created half-a-dozen recipes for things like applesauce and jam. How many times could this be done by someone who wants to make fresh meals for local food pantries or shelters?  Could this be a new opportunity for a local business?  The experiment has social and environmental benefits – great food for those in need and less food-waste sent to landfills where it becomes methane, a powerful greenhouse gas linked to climate change. Fruits and vegetables are among the most difficult foods to repurpose to feeding needy people – a goal near the top of EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy.  This small experiment showed how to create delicious alternatives to disposal, and it was quick and fun. Being part of this little experiment was a blast. And, be assured that we’re going to do more research. Stay tuned!

Cooked cobbler on a plate.

About the author:  Thomas O’Donnell (NAHE) is a Sustainability Coordinator with the Mid-Atlantic Region of the USEPA specializing in the Food Recovery Challenge Program.  He received a PhD in environmental sciences from the University of Virginia. Tom was one of the originators of the Urban Model for Surplus Food recovery, which is piloting in west Philadelphia. He also teaches at Philadelphia University while developing open, online courses on food systems 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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Promoting Sustainability through Community Engagement in Jamaica: A Peace Corps Volunteer’s Story

2014 June 30

By Kevin Fath

My experience while serving as a Peace Corps agribusiness adviser in Jamaica provided me with unique opportunities to learn, engage, and research at the community level. I served in Bluefields, a small coastal farming and fishing village in Westmoreland parish in southwest Jamaica. I worked primarily with a group of organic farmers, promoting sustainable agriculture and introducing climate change adaptation strategies through community engagement. As a participant in the Peace Corps Master’s International program through Texas A&M University, I also conducted research on the vulnerability of local agricultural livelihoods to climate change.

As part of the community integration and learning process, I facilitated an assessment with the Westmoreland Organic Farmers Society, a local organization engaged in production agriculture and home economics. The results of the assessment helped us to better understand factors affecting the economic and environmental sustainability of their livelihoods. Through informal discussions with farmers, I also gained awareness of how changing weather patterns, such as variable rainfall, increased risk for these small-scale farm families.

In October 2012, Bluefields community organizations were given the opportunity to apply for small grants to support the development of livelihood opportunities more resilient to climate change. Designing a project and submitting a successful proposal was easier because we had already collectively identified and prioritized the needs and interests of the organization.

 

Kevin Fath working with two members of the farmers group (Westmoreland Organic Farmers Society Ltd) to set up the main irrigation lines during the development of the organic demonstration farm.

Kevin Fath working with two members of the farmers group (Westmoreland Organic Farmers Society Ltd) to set up the main irrigation lines during the development of the organic demonstration farm.

 

Among other things, the funds we received went toward establishing an organic demonstration farm, where the group erected a structure to catch and store rainwater for a drip irrigation system. The farm was also used to host a Farmer Field School where community members learned about organic farming practices, the potential impacts of climate change, and possible adaptation and mitigation strategies. The group was also able to purchase improved processing equipment and received food safety training, important steps toward establishing a formal agribusiness.

 

Brian (Kevin’s Rastafarian supervisor left, in blue hat) teaching how to make compost at one of the Farmer Field School sessions held at the demonstration farm.

Brian (Kevin’s Rastafarian supervisor left, in blue hat) teaching how to make compost at one of the Farmer Field School sessions held at the demonstration farm.

The group continues to develop and improve the farm, as well as their processing capacity. More importantly, they are increasing resiliency by adapting new technology to their own cultural norms and practices. Working side-by-side with my Jamaican friends to establish the demonstration farm was not only one of the joys of my life, but also showed me how difficult it is to cultivate marginal lands with simple hand tools; a reality for millions of men and women around the world.

During my service, I also designed a study to assess the vulnerability of local agricultural livelihoods to climate change. My hope is that the results will illuminate areas where targeted programs can improve farmers’ resiliency and increase incomes. The data I collected can also be used to measure changes in vulnerability over time. I hope the change we’ll see in Bluefields will be that of more sustainable livelihoods through environmental stewardship and human empowerment. This is a very possible outcome if the Jamaican men and women I worked with in the farmers group are any indication.

 About the author: Kevin Fath of West Salem, Ohio served as an environment volunteer in Jamaica from 2012 – 2014. During his service, Kevin worked with Jamaican farmers on sustainable agricultural practices. A participant in the Peace Corps Master’s International program, Kevin will receive his master’s degree in International Agricultural Development from Texas A & M University later this year. Kevin is also a veteran who deployed twice during his 8-year enlistment in the Army Reserve prior to joining the Peace Corps.

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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College Students + EPA = a Win for Local Communities

2014 June 27

By Michael Burns

The College/Underserved Partnership Program (CUPP) develops long term partnerships between local colleges and universities and underserved cities and communities. Through the program, the schools provide technical support to communities at no cost to them. I’ve had the opportunity to work on this program for several years, and to help expand it in the southeastern region of the U.S. With my coworkers, I’ve travelled through this area of the country and found that small, underserved communities are in need of resources to improve their environment and quality of life. However, they often lack the required technical expertise in engineering, transportation, and infrastructure planning to pursue these initiatives in a progressive and sustainable manner. We use our CUPP program to provide the support they need. Then communities are able to address these important issues – like energy savings projects, land reuse, and economic development – that will support their long-term viability.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve developed partnerships with nine colleges and 16 communities. Two new colleges will be joining this fall. (And, eight of these nine schools were already providing these services with no federal funding for support!) It’s been great to see our academic institutions place such a high value on the need to help others, and work to make a visible difference in communities that really need the help.

The schools have already done great work. Here’s some of the completed and planned projects in my region:

  •  A completed project between Darien, Georgia and Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia involved using solar stills to dewater sewage sludge. The dewatered sewage sludge was reduced by 30 percent, making the waste easier to handle and less costly to dispose of at a permitted facility.
  •  A pilot agricultural project between Shorter, Alabama and Tuskegee University will provide economic opportunities for underserved and underdeveloped lands.
  • Tuskegee University is also working to create solar panels to power sewage lift stations, thereby reducing operation costs to the city and reducing electrical usage.
  • Tennessee State University is providing Pleasant View, Tennessee an engineering analysis of their stormwater system so the city can address problems with the system.
  • In the fall, Clark Atlanta University will help Lithonia, Georgia develop a proposed private/public partnership for a brownfield site in this town.
  • Savannah State University will develop a coastal sustainability plan to anticipate and address potential issues caused by climate change for two cities in Georgia, Midway and Riceboro. This plan is required by the Regional Coastal Commission of Georgia.
  • Tuskegee University and Alabama State University are developing an alternate transportation project which will reuse brownfield sites, and address issues of lack of access to healthy food and lack of access to medical care in Alabama.
  • And, we’re also asking our federal partners, such as the National Park Service and USDA Rural Development, to expand this collaborative effort.

About the author: Michael Burns works on the College/Underserved Partnership Program (CUPP). Previously he worked for, where he served as the Acting Superintendent of the Tuskegee Institute Park and worked with communities in Alabama

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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Community Engagement in the Philippines: A Return Peace Corps Volunteer’s Story

2014 June 26

By Leah Ettema

Like almost any other coastal community in the Philippines, my Peace Corps site (Laoang, Northern Samar) is primarily composed of fishermen and farmers who report that their fish catch has drastically decreased over the past 20 years. This threatens their food security, income, and way of life.  During my service, I worked with my municipal counterparts to visit all 28 coastal communities in Laoang, where we held community meetings. We talked, listened, and worked with the fishermen to help identify the resources they still have, explore their problems, and come up with ideas for the future.  During these visits, I was able to briefly participate in the everyday life of coastal communities. I learned that even in the poorest of areas, someone will always have a generator to sing videoke, the fear of Aswang (witches) is very real, simple ingredients make delicious snacks, and basic street fair games are highly entertaining. Despite having an increasingly difficult livelihood, the residents’ sense of humor, joy, and resiliency is unwavering.

We compiled the results of our discussions into an environmental profile, which serves as the basis for future coastal resource management programs. We formed plans to enact a Municipal Fisheries and Aquatic Resource Management Council that would work closely with the local government to re-establish marine protected areas and to monitor the health of the coral reefs, sea grass, and mangroves. These plans also called for the enactment of a Bantay Dagat (coast guard) that would aggressively apprehend illegal fishers, as well as to encourage schools and households to segregate their waste for recycling.

What we, as Peace Corps Volunteers, worked toward was to develop the Filipinos’ abilities to effectively manage their resources to improve their standard of life. My Filipino co-workers (and friends) are inspiring, hard-working community developers, and will continue working to improve fishing resources and livelihoods long after I’m gone.

 

RPCV Ettema working with the women in Langob

RPCV Ettema working with the women in Langob

About the author: Originally from Frankenmuth, MI, Leah Ettema, RPCV Philippines, 2009-2011, currently works for EPA’s Region 4, (Atlanta, GA) for the Water Protection Division.

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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