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Working Together to Tackle Environmental Challenges

2014 August 1

By Walker Smith

The United Nations Environment Program Compound in Nairobi, Kenya, where the first meeting of the United Nations Environment Assembly of the UNEP, or UNEA, was held.

As I sat in traffic on my way back to the Nairobi airport, I watched the children weaving between the old taxis and buses that clog Nairobi’s streets, breathing in the black plumes pouring out of the tailpipes. The sight was a powerful reminder of why I’d traveled to Nairobi in the first place – for the first meeting of the United Nations Environment Assembly of the United Nations Environment Program, or UNEA.

Over 160 nations came together at the first UNEA to address the critical environmental challenges facing the world today, like air quality, marine debris, illegal trade in wildlife, and hazardous waste. UNEA provided its participants with an opportunity to discuss, learn, negotiate, and, most importantly, identify concrete ways to improve environmental quality around the globe.

One of the goals of the U.S. delegation attending UNEA was to ensure that this nearly universal group of nations strengthened the United Nations Environment Program’s (UNEP) efforts to improve air quality around the world. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 7 million people died as a result of air pollution in 2012 alone, making air pollution the world’s largest single environmental health risk. Poor air quality has a staggeringly high human cost, but it’s an issue we can, and must, do something about.

We’ve already made progress domestically and abroad. In the United States from 1970 to 2012, Clean Air Act programs have lowered levels of six common air pollutants by 72 percent! Internationally, the UNEP-led Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles (PCFV) has worked tirelessly to remove lead from fuels since its founding in 2002. Through successful efforts to eliminate leaded gas in all but 6 countries, we avoid 1.2 million premature deaths per year – 125,000 of which are children.

Looking out the car window, I thought about the progress we had made through PCFV and efforts like it, but also of the steps still to be taken. Without these efforts, the children along the road beside me would be breathing in lead, a powerful neurotoxin with irreversible health impacts; however, many of them are still exposed on a daily basis to sulfur dioxide and black carbon from vehicles and from dirty stoves in their homes. And, in the United States, we still feel the effects of air pollution, generated from both domestic sources and across the ocean.

The world faces serious environmental threats, many of which cannot be solved by one country alone. Working through UNEA and with partners like UNEP, we’ill continue to move forward, finding new solutions and forming partnerships to help us tackle these challenges. I hope one day children in Nairobi, and around the world, will live and play in a cleaner, healthier environment.

About the author: Walker Smith has served as the Director of the Office of Global Affairs & Policy in the Office of International & Tribal Affairs since 2009. She previously served as Director of the Office of Civil Enforcement at EPA and as the Principal Deputy Chief of the Environmental Enforcement Section in the Department of Justice.

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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Thanking America’s Sustainable Farmers

2014 July 30

By Christina Badaracco

While working on education and outreach in EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Ocean, and Watersheds, I have been particularly inspired by our work with agriculture. As an environmentalist and a foodie, I love learning about the connection between healthy food and sustainable agriculture, and I am always eagerly looking to share that information with the public. This is why I’m excited about our efforts to interview and feature for the American public “farmer heroes,” who manage the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution on their farms and grow America’s food supply in a sustainable manner.

Through our “Farmer Hero” campaign, and through my own personal purchasing decisions as an informed consumer, I am supporting farmers who protect local land and water resources while undertaking the critical role of producing America’s food supply.

I was first exposed to the world of sustainable farming in college, and have since been inspired by the videos and writing of Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farm in Swoope, Virginia and a leader in the local food movement. I had the pleasure of visiting his farm last fall, and seeing the clever contraptions (e.g., the Eggmobile and Gobbledygo) and beautiful scenery I had read about in his books. Views of dirt-covered pigs, running around in the woods; ripe red tomatoes, grown without chemicals; and the engaging storytelling of our host were a treat and well worth the drive out from D.C.

In late May, I was thrilled to return to the area to meet other farmers who practice sustainable agriculture. I visited Robert Schreiber of Bell’s Lane Farm, and saw his on-farm composting operations and sales. I also met Gerald Garber from Cave View Farms, and learned how his livestock fencing and no-till farming reduce pollution runoff.

It is a delight to meet these farmers who have offered to share their stories: their goals for their properties and families, their innovative approaches for managing nutrients, and above all, their willingness to protect their local environment and the many lands downstream (http://www2.epa.gov/nutrientpollution/farmer-heroes-manage-nutrients-farm). I am encouraged to see EPA building better relationships with farmers to protect the same land, water, and food on which we all rely.

To Mr. Salatin and the other farmers who read this blog; who are conserving their resources, protecting their local waterways, and raising their animals and crops sustainably; and whom I one day hope to meet, we thank you. You are our heroes.

About the author:  Christina Badaracco has worked in EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds since 2012. She works on communication and outreach projects regarding nutrient pollution, and is particularly interested in sustainable agriculture.

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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Keeping Your Cool on a Heat Island

2014 July 21

 

Jessica on Heat Island

Jessica on Heat Island

By Jessica D’Itri

It’s 9 a.m. and I’m on my way to my internship at EPA. I’m sweating through my clothes, my hair is plastered to my neck, and mascara is pooling under my eyes. The summertime heat and D.C.’s swampy humidity are bad enough, but an extra dose of suffering comes from the heat island effect.

Washington, D.C., like many developed areas, is a heat island: all of the pavement and buildings absorb and retain much more heat than less built up areas. This means they can be 1.8 to 5.4°F warmer on average, and up to 22°F warmer in the evening.

 

 

Temperatures climb more among buildings and roads than open land and vegetation.

Temperatures climb more among buildings and roads than open land and vegetation.

Heat islands aren’t only uncomfortable, they can be hazardous to people’s health. And, they can create a vicious cycle: higher city temperatures mean more electricity is needed to cool buildings, which in turn may increase air pollution. Also, when an extreme heat wave hits a city already stressed by the heat island effect, it can increase the risk of heat-related illness and death. This risk is worse for children, the elderly, and the ill, who are more vulnerable to extreme heat and polluted air.

EPA’s Heat Island Reduction Program suggests several strategies that cities can take to reduce summertime heat islands:

  • Planting trees near buildings: Trees and other plants help cool the environment.
  • Installing green roofs: Green roofs provide shade and remove heat from the air.
  • Installing cool roofs: Cool roofs have a high solar reflectance that helps reflect sunlight and heat away from the building.
  • Using cool pavements: Cool pavements reflect more solar energy, enhance water evaporation, or have been otherwise modified to remain cooler than conventional pavements (like those that allow water to permeate below the surface).

These tactics reduce demand for energy to cool buildings, which cuts carbon pollution and lowers bills. Using these cool technologies reduces the heat island effect, helping everyone stay cool.

Permeable pavement reduces runoff, mitigating heat buildup and improving drainage.

Permeable pavement reduces runoff, mitigating heat buildup and improving drainage.

 

The city heat can be a real nuisance (especially when trying to look professional for work!), but it can also be dangerous. Luckily, there are plenty of things that can be done to combat the heat island effect and keep safe in the heat. Listening in on heat island webinars and calls, I’m excited to hear about how communities are taking action to make life safer and more comfortable for residents. There’s a lot we can do as individuals and communities to reduce heat island, and those efforts can add up and have a big impact for us and the environment.

And there’s some good news for D.C. The District Department for the Environment recently created a Green Building Fund Grant Program, which has several goals, including assessing the health impacts of urban heat islands in this city. So, hopefully, future interns will benefit from this research and resulting policy changes. What is your city doing to reduce the heat island effect?

About the author: Jessica D’Itri is a Master of Public Policy student at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. Prior to attending the Ford School, she served as an environmental educator with Peace Corps Nicaragua. She is interested in learning how communities and local governments can implement policy to best benefit people and the environment.

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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Taking Action During California’s Drought

2014 July 15

By André Villaseñor

Did you know up to 60 percent of your body is made of water? Recently, I thought about water quite a bit while my daughters and I were camping in Joshua Tree National Park. To survive three days in the desert, we brought 15 gallons of water. We were able to thrive on less than 12 gallons, including drinking, cooking, and brushing. This water-restricted camping trip was a great experience for someone like me, who lives in California, where drought is a household word.

California is in the midst of an unprecedented drought. The Sierra snowpack is 91 percent below its normal level, and groundwater reserves have reached an all-time low. Everyone in California is experiencing the drought, from farmers, to consumers, to manufacturers. Governor Brown issued a State of Emergency, calling on Californians to reduce their water use by 20 percent.

Federal facilities in California are responding to the call. As participants in EPA’s Federal Green Challenge, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Southwest Lab in Vista, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) in San Francisco, and Naval Base Coronado near San Diegoall earned accolades for their water conservation achievements.

  • The DEA Southwest Lab cut water use by 40 percent through simple, low-cost fixes, such as upgrading water faucets, encouraging employees to report leaks, and replacing suspect valves.
  • The FDIC conserved over 729,000 gallons of water by upgrading to efficient WaterSense irrigation systems, faucets aerators, and new boilers.
  • Naval Base Coronado conserved over 101 million gallons of water by allowing its lawns to go dormant and installing low-flow urinals.

On May 6, EPA honored these facilities for their water conservation efforts, as well as other area facilities for reducing their environmental impact as part of the Federal Green Challenge. EPA estimates that over the past two years, Federal Green Challenge facilities in the Pacific Southwest have conserved over 350 million gallons of water!

Water conservation is important regardless of where you live. Reducing water use can take many forms – from reducing lawn and plant watering, to installing more efficient or low-flow devices such as faucets and showerheads. For me, I realized just how little water my family could use after our camping trip. For our Federal Green Challenge partners, they’re demonstrating how federal facilities can make a difference in their communities. No matter how you decide to reduce your water usage, you’ll be in good company to help ease the drought.

About the author: André Villaseñor, a specialist in Sustainable Materials Management, fulfills EPA’s mission from Region 9’s Southern CA Field Office in Los Angeles. He is a returned Peace Corps Volunteer.

 

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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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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