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Working with Communities to Combat Climate Change: A Peace Corps Volunteer’s Story

2014 June 25

By Courtney Columbus

Three times a day, my neighbor in the Dominican Republic (DR) balances pieces of locally found firewood on top of three stones in her backyard. She cooks breakfast, lunch, and dinner for her family on this slow-cooking fire. Although her pots of fire-cooked rice and beans nourish her and her family, the smoke that spirals up from this fire and into her lungs poses serious health risks.

My neighbor’s cooking technique is common practice in the DR, and in other developing nations. However, this isn’t the only practice that is harmful to health and the environment. In my region, near the Haitian border, many families also make their own charcoal, which requires cutting down trees. This region is hot and arid, making it difficult for deforested areas to ever fully recover. Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) in the DR often dedicate part of their service to finding ways to improve this situation.

To help address the environmental and health problems caused by cooking on firewood and charcoal, a group of dedicated doñas (this is a respectful reference to older women) and I decided to build improved cookstoves in my community. These stoves have an enclosed cooking chamber that burns firewood more efficiently than cooking out in the open. The fire inside the stove heats up two hot plates, so Dominican women can still cook their daily pots of rice and beans, but unlike an open fire, these stoves have chimneys that take smoke away from the cook. Also, the improved cookstoves reduce the use of charcoal by rural families, because the stoves work best when dry firewood is used. Less charcoal use means that more trees in my community can remain standing!

There are inconveniences being a PCV: a broken-down bus never shows up to take me to a meeting; a grant application gets delayed; I lose the finer meaning of a project partner’s speech in Spanish at a community meeting. But, on the opposite side are moments that make it all worth it. Those mornings when I stop by my neighbors’ wood-slat-and-rusty-tin-roof homes and see them contentedly boiling a pot of coffee on their improved cookstove gives me the motivation to keep working.

Although the 70 stoves that we built in my site are a microscopic drop in the bucket of global efforts to combat climate change, many PCVs throughout the DR have also been building stoves. Several PCVs in northern DR have built over 100 stoves each with their community members. We hope to see the project continue in the future. Improved cookstoves have changed the way that women in our sites cook, changed the air that they breathe, and changed the way they treat their environment.

About the author: Courtney Columbus is from Lower Burrell, Pennsylvania has been serving as a Community Economic Development Volunteer in the Dominican Republic since 2012. A graduate of Allegheny College, she is currently serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader.

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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Synthetic female hormones in sewage are toxic to male fish over generations

2014 June 23

By Kristen Keteles

I’m a toxicologist at EPA in Denver, Colorado, and I study how pollutants can affect ecological and human health. I work with a team of scientists from academia (Colorado State University, University of Colorado Denver) and U.S. Geological Society to understand the potential effects of hormones and medications that are discharged into the environment. Did you know a very potent synthetic female hormone used in prescription drugs can be found in water and could be harming fish? We’re finding in our study that it can wipe out fish populations over several generations, and it’s the male fish that are most affected. Some studies have found that male fish below waste water treatment plants, and exposed to female hormones, can lose their masculine characteristics and become indistinguishable from females. Our new study found that a potent form of the female hormone estrogen used in prescription drugs not only causes the males to look female, it also appears to be toxic to male fish and these effects may impact future generations of fish.

Where do these hormones and medications come from? All of us. Humans excrete hormones and medications, which often end up in our rivers and streams from sewage. Disposing of medications by flushing can also contribute to pharmaceuticals in the environment. A growing human population, combined with effects of climate change like decreasing precipitation, has resulted in many streams containing higher concentrations of waste water. In fact, some streams in the west are 90% waste water. Not a nice thought if you like to kayak and fish, like I do. The water IS treated, but many hormones and pharmaceuticals are not completely removed by the waste water treatment plants. So, more people and less water equals more hormones and drugs in the water. My team is trying to determine what this means for fish, and ultimately for people, too. Although, currently, EPA does not have water quality standards for these types of chemicals, our study may help determine if such water quality standards are needed.

We looked at effects of exposure to a synthetic estrogen used in prescription drugs to fathead minnows over multiple generations by conducting experiments, both in the laboratory and in outdoor water tanks that mimic natural conditions.

Chemical exposure to female hormones in prescription drugs was found to increase the chances of death in male fish, but not females. And, fish exposed when they were young, but not as adults, were not able to reproduce later on in life. In addition, fish that weren’t even exposed to the prescription drugs, but were born to parents who were exposed, were less likely to reproduce. It could be that synthetic estrogen in prescription drugs, combined with other natural and synthetic hormones in the water, are reducing male fish fertility and could affect fish populations.

This is why it’s important to do what we can to protect fish breeding habitats in unpolluted areas. What are some things that your community can do to protect fish habitat? Read our information on how to dispose of unused medications to reduce the amount of pharmaceuticals that end up in water.

About the author: Kristen Keteles is a toxicologist in the Support Program of the Office of Ecosystems Protection and Remediation in EPA Region 8 in Denver. She has been with EPA for six years.

Fish A is a normal male fathead minnow. Fish C is a normal female fathead minnow. Fish B is a male that was exposed to female hormones in prescription drugs and looks more like a female than a male.

Fish A is a normal male fathead minnow. Fish C is a normal female fathead minnow. Fish B is a male that was exposed to female hormones in prescription drugs and looks more like a female than a male.

 

EPA Fish Team scientists: Al Garcia, Kristen Keteles, Elaine Lai, and Adrian Krawczeniuk.

EPA Fish Team scientists: Al Garcia, Kristen Keteles, Elaine Lai, and Adrian Krawczeniuk.

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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Pedaling to a Sustainable Future During Bike-to-Work Month

2014 June 20

By Marco Evert

If you peeked into the EPA Seattle bike locker in May, you’d find a tidy corridor lined wall to wall with bikes, helmets, and child carriers. Our participation in Bike-to-Work Month extended to Alaska, Idaho and Oregon, with staff across EPA Pacific Northwest Region waking up and strapping on helmets for the morning bike ride to the office, some with kids in tow to drop off at daycare.

When we participated in Bike-to-Work Month, we joined a community of people committed to sustainability and we wanted to give our support. How do you show appreciation to a Seattle bike commuter? With coffee and healthy snacks, of course! We celebrated Bike-to-Work Day on May 16 by hosting a commute station with coffee, fruit, and treats in Seattle’s Centennial Park along Puget Sound. This has been a tradition of ours since 2003.

That day, ten EPA employees showed up bright and early before work to cheer on about 520 riders who stopped by on their morning commute. The station is a growing partnership between EPA, the neighborhood Whole Foods, the Seattle Art Museum, and its café, and Nuun Hydration. In addition to feeding and caffeinating the cyclists who stopped by, we highlight the efforts of Cascade Bicycle Club to make bike commuting accessible and safe in the Pacific Northwest. This organization hosts Bike-to-Work Day in Seattle and rallies organizations and businesses to sponsor commute stations.

 

Seattle area commuters show off their rides at EPA’s Bike-to-Work Day station.

Seattle area commuters show off their rides at EPA’s Bike-to-Work Day station.

 

Seattle area commuters show off their rides at EPA’s Bike-to-Work Day station.

Jonathan Freedman, an ecologist who has worked in the EPA Seattle office for 13 years, has spearheaded EPA’s sponsorship of a bike station since its inaugural year. “It gives EPA employees a chance to serve our community together as volunteers, and as bike commuters we can make friends with other workers who bike downtown,” Freedman said. “That’s part of the fun of it – we see some people year after year.” Since the first EPA commute station in 2003, Freedman estimates EPA has seen 6,000 bikers pass by our station, double or triple the number we would get in the early years.

EPA Pacific Northwest Region bike commute station volunteers (left to right): Annie Christopher, Hanady Kader, Jonathan Freedman, John Keenan, Rob Elleman, and Erik Peterson.

EPA Pacific Northwest Region bike commute station volunteers (left to right): Annie Christopher, Hanady Kader, Jonathan Freedman, John Keenan, Rob Elleman, and Erik Peterson.

When cyclists stopped by, we asked them to put pins on a map showing points of departure and destination, and we pinned our own routes as well. At the end of the morning, we had a colorful splash of pins covering Seattle.

A rider pins his trip on EPA’s commute map.

A rider pins his trip on EPA’s commute map.

Biking to work puts into practice our professional and personal commitment to sustainability. We thank all bike commuters, including EPA’s own, for pedaling during Bike-to-Work Month and throughout the year.

About the author: Marco Evert is a 2014 Federal Bike-To-Work Challenge intern. He is a junior at Seattle University in Washington State working towards a Public Affairs degree.

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 Redevelopment in Communities

2014 June 19

By Rafael DeLeon

As coach of my son’s youth soccer, baseball, and basketball teams, I not only get to spend time with my son, but I also get to give back to my community. When the teams gather on the courts and fields, I know that I’m providing a meaningful service for my community.
Watching my son, I also remember my own childhood growing up in New York City. While my son plays on grassy fields, my neighborhood playgrounds lacked adequate green space. My friends and I would play baseball on asphalt fields and scrape our jeans as we slid into home.

As the Deputy Office Director of the EPA’s Office of Site Remediation Enforcement, part of my job is to help communities clean up and redevelop contaminated lands by addressing liability concerns associated with redevelopment projects. Contaminated land shouldn’t be neglected or ignored. In fact, by putting land back into productive use, it can revitalize a community by adding jobs, renewing resources, supporting economic growth, and creating green space for recreational activities.

To assist parties involved in revitalizing a property, my office recently issued the Revitalizing Contaminated Lands: Addressing Liability Concerns (The Revitalization Handbook). This handbook is a great way to understand how the cleanup enforcement program can help facilitate and support revitalization.

The Revitalization Handbook discusses how formerly contaminated lands may be turned into recreational spaces for the whole neighborhood to enjoy. For example, in downtown Orlando, Florida, the Former Spellman Engineering Site was once largely vacant due to groundwater contamination. Through the use of an innovative property owner agreement, EPA and the City of Orlando were able to facilitate the cleanup and redevelopment of the site, on which much-needed sports fields and other community facilities were built.

The Former Spellman Engineering Site in downtown Orlando, Florida is now home to a sports fields and other community facilities.

 

The Former Spellman Engineering Site in downtown Orlando, Florida is now home to a sports fields and other community facilities.

The Former Spellman Engineering Site in downtown Orlando, Florida is now home to a sports fields and other community facilities.

The Revitalization Handbook also highlights our work with the Arlington Blending and Packaging Site in Arlington, Tennessee. In that case, EPA worked with the city to make sure the site had been cleaned up to a standard that would permit recreational use. Where there was once a Superfund site, there is now Mary Alice Park where children can play.

As a parent and coach, I know just how important these parks are and the role they play in a community. I’m proud of the Agency’s work to take blighted areas and make them into places neighborhoods and communities can enjoy.

About the author: Rafael DeLeon grew up in the Bronx and now is the  Deputy Office Director of the Office of Site Remediation Enforcement.

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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From the Philippines to the Pacific Northwest – Working with Communities for Environmental Protection: A Return Peace Corps Volunteer’s Story

2014 June 18

By Gina Bonifacino

My Peace Corps site assignment was not what I would have conjured in my mind as a kid, dreaming about a future adventure as a Peace Corps Volunteer in some isolated corner of the world. San Jose de Buenavista, Antique was a busy, medium-sized provincial capital in the Philippines.

I was assigned to the Provincial Planning Office to work on coastal management. With a very general assignment, and being new to the country and the community, my first challenge was figuring out how a fresh college graduate, new to the language and culture of the Philippines, could help.

A co-worker at the Provincial Planning Office was very excited about piloting a new method of gathering planning data, Participatory Resource Assessment (PCRA). As I learned more about this tool, I became interested in exploring it as a means to connect with communities and better understand coastal issues in the province.

After consulting with provincial colleagues and getting support from local officials, we planned and held a series of assessments with five coastal communities. These assessments brought community members and officials together to map and document issues in their communities.

The biggest issues that the communities identified – health concerns, livelihood and environmental degradation – were all closely linked. Many homes didn’t have access to clean water or sanitation. Women had to spend nearly an hour per day just to collect clean water. Without proper sanitation, waterways were polluted and children became sick. Most of these families subsisted on local fisheries, but had in recent years seen numbers declining due to encroachment from illegal fishing boats within municipal waters.

I’d have never been able to understand these issues without direct community engagement. And, I knew that solutions, like establishing a local fisheries policing force, required community involvement. It was incredibly rewarding to work and make friends with the community members.

It’s been more than 15 years since I’ve worked with the communities in the Philippines through the Peace Corps; however, that experience continues to serve me as an EPA employee in our Seattle office. After data showed that poor burning practices and burning in old, dirty woodstoves and fireplaces contributed to unhealthy particulate levels in many Pacific Northwest and Alaskan communities, I drew on my Peace Corps experience, and worked with local agencies, EPA’s Headquarters Office of Air and Radiation, and local communities on a campaign to reduce particulate matter from wood smoke.

The campaign grew and is now known as Burn Wise. As a result of EPA’s work with communities, many households have been able to help reduce particulate pollution from woodsmoke, increase heating efficiency, and improve the air they breathe inside of their homes.

About the author: Gina Bonifacino is with Region 10’s Puget Sound Program.

Provincial Planning office shows off its coastal management map.

Provincial Planning office shows off its coastal management map.

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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Te·sito: the gathering of many to work for a common cause, A Return Peace Corps Volunteer’s Story in the Gambia

2014 June 16
Woman in rice farming field in Kiang Jali, The Gambia.

Woman in rice farming field in Kiang Jali, The Gambia.

By Maggie Rudick

Growing up, I remember volunteering for park cleanup projects and school fundraisers, and hearing the phrase, “many hands make light work.”  I understood it, at a superficial level.  But, as I began my Peace Corps service as an environmental and natural resource volunteer in Gambia, “many hands make light work” took on a whole new meaning.

When rice yields from the previous season were low, community leaders in my host village of Kiang Jali got together and brainstormed solutions to avoid the same problem in the future. To grow a sustainable amount of rice to feed the whole village, a new dike needed to be constructed on the outskirts of the village.

This was a daunting task of digging up dirt from one section of the rice fields and creating a 3-foot dirt “wall” for an entire mile.

Kiang Jali women dig to build a dike.

“Who is going to do this work?  There is no equipment or tools!” I exclaimed in Mandinka (the local dialect), to the women’s group president, Daranging.  She gave me a grin and, in her raspy voice, said bluntly, “It’s okay, we’ll finish tomorrow.  Tesito; people will come.”

In the time it took me to walk across the village to my host family’s house, word had spread. Tomorrow.  Tesito. Right after breakfast. 

Kiang Jali  women demonstrate testito while building a dike to ensure higher yield of the village’s rice crop

Kiang Jali women demonstrate testito while building a dike to ensure higher yield of the village’s rice crop

Sitting around the food bowl at dinner, I asked the meaning of ’”tesito.”  My host father explained that tesito is when everyone joins together and works towards one task.

He said they had a week-long tesito to build a road and a day-long tesito to clear the peanut fields. I asked him what would happen if someone didn’t go. He laughed, “Why would they stay home? Everyone else is working. It is our duty as members of the village to take care of our land.”

The next day, everyone trekked out to the rice fields. Shovels, picks, hand hoes, buckets, lunch bowls, and water in tow; ready for a day of hard work. The community worked hard, digging and transporting dirt around the rice fields as they laughed, gossiped, and complained about the hot sun. The camaraderie and teamwork of the community was refreshing. The culture of working together for a common goal, and accomplishing a task was rewarding for all.

Even now, I’m reminded of the importance of joining forces and doing what is best for my community and environment, even if I don’t see immediate results. It’s not always possible to show the direct benefits of environmental education, regulation, and outreach; similar to the direct benefit of digging a trench around a rice field for a potential flood. All we can really do is join together and work to be good stewards of the earth. Tesito.

Kiang Jali women get water from a village well.

Kiang Jali women get water from a village well.

About the author: Maggie Rudick is an Environmental Protection Specialist in EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety Pollution and Protection.

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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Expectant Moms, Parents, and Everyone Else Should Read This!

2014 June 13

By Jessica Orquina

I never thought much about mercury in fish. I like seafood, and have heard there may be some health concerns, but I didn’t really give it much thought. Then, I became pregnant and started reading all the information I could find about health and nutrition for expectant mothers, including about mercury in fish.

I learned that eating fish with high levels of mercury may harm an unborn baby or young child’s developing nervous system. I also learned what types of fish have higher and lower levels of mercury so I could focus my diet on those fish that were safer to eat.

Last fall, my son was born, and now I’m back at work. I was interested to learn EPA has been working with FDA to recommend new draft advice for fish consumption. In the past, our advice was based solely on the health concerns caused by eating fish with high levels of mercury. The new recommendations still consider that issue, but they also look at the health benefits of eating seafood.

I strongly urge you to read the new draft advice (Fish: What Pregnant Women and Parents Should Know), share your thoughts with us, and adjust your family’s diet accordingly. While mercury consumption is a big concern for expectant mothers and young children, it can affect everyone’s health.

So, take a minute and read this document. I did.

About the author: Jessica Orquina works in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education as the social media lead for the agency. Prior to joining EPA, she served as a military and commercial airline pilot. She lives, works, and writes in Washington, DC.

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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Social Media Magic

2014 June 12

As an environmental policy major at the University of Maryland, I knew I’d found the perfect internship at the Office of Web Communications.

Working here is showing me a whole new side to the sites and applications I spend so much of my time on. My normal day on social media includes some frankly pathetic attempts at humor on Twitter, some carefully selected photos on Instagram, and an overwhelming amount of posts with sub-par grammar on Tumblr. How EPA uses social media, however, is a whole different story.  Where my “hilarious” tweets fall flat amongst my small following of friends, EPA’s tweets convey important health and environmental information that reaches thousands and get shared constantly.

Take my first day at EPA for example, Monday, June 2, 2014, the day Administrator McCarthy announced the new Clean Power Plan. I’m not exaggerating when I say the internet EXPLODED.  There were tweets, Facebook shares, and comments upon comments of the public’s reactions all flooding in at top speed. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed, but also very intrigued by social media on this scale.  The following week proved to be even more interesting as I got to work on some of EPA’s posts myself. Nothing was more gratifying than seeing a post I helped write on the official EPA Facebook page!

A selfie Maddie took at her desk at EPA.

After just one week here, I’m beginning to see a new picture form about the social media sites I thought I knew so well. I’ve come to realize that social media is not just for teenagers and their endless (beautiful) selfies, but it is a way for the whole world to keep connected to today’s important issues. As I got a chance to explore all the social media outlets the EPA has to offer (check them all out here), I realized that social media is not just about shares and retweets, but is more about participation. Having today’s most important news stories readily available invites a conversation that gets everyone involved. Whether it’s a comment on a Facebook post, a retweet on Twitter, or a video on YouTube, EPA has some great ways to encourage an important conversation with the world.  I am so excited to see and learn more about social media and EPA during my summer here!

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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Improved Cookstoves in Peru: A Peace Corps Volunteer’s Story

2014 June 5

By Greg “Goyo” Plimpton, PCVC WASH, Peru 18

For the more than 3 billion people around the world, who still cook and heat with open fires inside the home, the improved cookstove is a development technology that reduces the health hazards associated with breathing smoke. In rural Peru, I used funding from the USAID/Peace Corps Small Project Assistance Agreement to introduce my community to this brilliant technology by building 15 stoves and training other Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs), NGOs, and local masons in the stove construction, use, and maintenance techniques.

A successful and sustainable project requires good cooperation between the PCV and the community partners. My first challenge was finding a household that was willing to test a stove, with only my explanation and a diagram. Felicia, who became a tireless advocate and “salesperson” in the community, took that leap of faith and patiently worked with me as we sorted out the details on the construction and use together.

One of the truly unique and powerful aspects of the Peace Corps service is that we Volunteers live for two years in close proximity to those we serve. This gives us the advantage of trust, familiarity and, most of all, time. This gave me the opportunity to revisit all of the families, multiple times. The feedback from my community was instrumental in showing me that the improved cookstoves required the user to make many behavioral changes. I also observed many benefits and challenges with the clean cookstoves.

The improved cookstoves not only required more work to start a fire, but they needed smaller sized wood. The stoves only allowed for a limited amount of pots, of a specific size, to fit the stove, and even then, some stoves only allowed 2-3 pots to cook at a time. And in small homes, the larger, improved cookstoves required more floor space, which was a challenge.

However, the health and safety benefits were profound. The open flame and smoke that traditional cookstoves produced was no longer causing issues like damage to lungs or eyes, or causing burns. Cooking fuel was reduced by 50% and the stove resulted in faster cooking times.

Since completion of my project, over one hundred stoves have been installed– a very gratifying and sustainable result. Moreover, it was a real joy to see mothers no longer having to wipe tears from their eyes due to smoke irritation, toddlers no longer getting close to an open flame, and walls and ceilings no longer covered with nasty soot. Folks spent less time or money acquiring firewood, and to my benefit, I was invited to stay for many meals. This face-to-face contact with those we serve is one of the many rewards of Peace Corps service.

About the author: Greg Plimpton of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., is currently serving in Peru as a Water and Sanitation volunteer. Plimpton began his service in 2011, and is currently the Peace Corps Volunteer Coordinator (PCVC) in charge ofEnergy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA) , renewable energy and climate change projects.

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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Reddit “Ask Me Anything” with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

2014 June 4

Cross-posted from the White House Blog

Gina McCarthy, Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, took to Reddit yesterday to answer questions about the EPA’s proposed rules to cut carbon pollution in our power plants.

During the “Ask Me Anything,” Administrator McCarthy answered questions on a range of topics — including President Obama’s plan to fight climate change, what people can do in their own communities, and her thoughts on Marvin Gaye.

You can see all of the responses on Reddit, or check out the questions and responses below.

Gina McCarthy here. EPA Administrator, mom, wife, Boston area native, Red Sox fan.

Yesterday the EPA proposed a commonsense plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants. The science shows that climate change is already posing risks to our health and our economy. The Clean Power Plan will maintain an affordable reliable energy system, while cutting pollution and protecting our health and our environment, now and for future generations. Read more here: http://blog.epa.gov/epaconnect/2014/06/our-clean-power-plan-will-spur-innovation-and-strengthen-the-economy/

I’ll be here to answer questions starting at 6:00 PM ET. Ask Me Anything. Proof it’s me: https://twitter.com/GinaEPA/status/473899708721946625

Question: Why do you think climate change has become the partisan issue that is has recently? Do you think we have a chance of moving away from the politicization of science in the foreseeable future?

Reply: We know what the science tells us – the time to act is now. There is nothing political about public health and clean air.

Question: Hi Secretary McCarthy! Thanks so much for taking our questions, and thank you for your efforts in rolling out this historic proposed rule. I’m sure you’ll hear a lot of complaints, but you have also made many people incredibly happy and relieved to finally see action in this area, including myself.

  1. Can you discuss the legal authority for setting standards for each state as opposed to individual existing power plants? I think it’s great that the state-wide solution adds more flexibility, but I’m curious about how EPA Office of General Counsel justified authority for this.
  2. Many coal towns are lamenting the inevitable loss of jobs. While jobs are likely to be created elsewhere if the proposed rule becomes final, how can the EPA and the Obama administration directly provide for these communities?
  3. How was a 30% reduction decided upon, and how was it decided to use 2005 as the baseline?
  4. How often do people tell you that your Boston accent is the greatest thing ever? I interned at EPA last summer when you first started as EPA Secretary and all that people on my floor were talking about for a week was the welcome video in which you called EPA employees “soopah smaaht.”

Reply: This is a Clean Air Act rule. State standards make the most sense. We’ll get substantial reductions in carbon emissions in practical, flexible, achievable ways. We expect states can take actions that will protect their communities, public health and local economy. Check out how we did the state standards, it wasn’t about getting 30%, that’s what the standards will achieve nationally. You are wicked cool!

Question: How did you like the Simpson’s Movie?

Reply: I sure hope I’m a better EPA Administrator than Russ Cargill. But seriously, Marge is my favorite. Love the hair.

Question: Can you talk a little about how the EPA Clean Power Plan targets fit into President Obama’s broader 2009 UN Copenhagen Accord targets or long-term plans after 2030? The EPA proposed rule hopes to get to a 30% reduction in electricity emissions by 2030, and the UN Copenhagen Accord targets are quite a bit more ambitious: 17% reduction in total emissions by 2020, 42% by 2030, and 83% by 2050 (1). Based on the EPA GHG inventory (2), this looks like the EPA rules would get us about 30% of the way to the Copenhagen Accord goals by 2030 – what do you see as making up the rest of this gap?

Reply: Our Clean Power Plan is only one action in the President’s Climate Action Plan. It’s a gigantic leap forward and shows significant US leadership, check out the full range of things the President is moving forward: http://www.whitehouse.gov/climate-change. And don’t forget the innovation and investment across the US that this rule will unleash will push our energy revolution forward. It turns out that carbon reductions actually do more than save the planet, they protect kids’ health today.

Question: What are the chances of a zombie apocalypse happening?

Reply: Probably a better question for the CDC!

Question: Hi Gina, Junior Environmental Engineer here. What advice do you have for someone like me who wants to make an effective change towards our environment ? What are effective ways of promoting and implementing the principles of sustainability?

Reply: See what’s going on your community. There’s lots happening across the US, and your skills and energy can really make a difference. When it comes to sustainability local engagement can make the most difference. Check out epa.gov. We’ve got a lot of resources there to get you started.

Question: Hi Gina, why do some many EPA employees go work for the industries they regulate? Do you approve of that ? It seems to be a conflict of interest. Wouldn’t you agree?

Also, why are your fines so low? It appears any kind of EPA action is just a cost of doing business for polluters.

Reply: We have lots of people who come from industry to work at EPA, and they’re totally committed to public health and environmental protection. If people leave EPA and go to work in the private sector, I can’t imagine that they’re going to leave that commitment behind – people who work at the EPA are too passionate about the environment.

I don’t agree that our fines are low. We work very hard to make sure that it doesn’t pay to pollute in this country.

Question: Thanks for taking our questions! What is the number 1 thing individuals can do to support more progress in this direction? What 1 thing would you ask of the private sector?

Reply: The number one thing you can do is to get in the game! Make your voice heard and take action. The same thing goes for the private sector.

Question: Good evening, Administrator McCarthy. West Virginia lawmakers and power industry leaders are worried about the effects of the Clean Power Plan on the state. 1. How many jobs do you predict will be lost in the coal mining industry? 2. How will it affect the price of electricity in the state? 3. How will it affect WV’s economy? 4. Is the base line for the target reductions 2005 or 2012?

Reply: The proposed plan gives the state the flexibilty to design a plan that works for them. We’ll be working closely with folks in West Virigina to make sure they understand what their goal is and the full range of options available. EPA cares about the health and economy of every community in this country.

Question: Do programs like WaterSense and EnergyStar factor into the future climate change initiatives?

Reply: They sure do. Both WaterSense and EnergyStar drive efficiency that benefits every consumer and the planet. You’d be surprised how small reductions add up to big savings for the planet and your pocketbooks. The more people choose EnergyStar and WaterSense products, the more we all win.

Question: Any comments/background/behind the scenes on your marathon of a confirmation fight?

Reply: What confirmation fight? I’m here now and having the time of my life!

Question: Hi Gina! I’d love to hear what your opinions are in regards to nuclear power vs. fossil fuels, specifically as it relates to how best to deal with nuclear waste. Thanks!

Reply: When it comes to nuclear, we know there are some questions, but there’s no denying that it’s carbon free and will be part of the energy mix.

On the issue of waste, it’s been a long standing challenge and one that needs a long term solution. Folks across the Administration are working on it.

Question: Favorite rap/hip hop album?

Reply: I’m more of a Marvin Gaye fan.

Question: I live in Montana and we’re getting bombarded with messages about how this is going to cost us jobs. I recall hearing that global warming wasn’t an issue because technology, in future generations, would fix any problems we might encounter. Won’t that same American ingenuity come up with “clean coal” solutions or other options? Isn’t this more a job shift away from incumbents toward innovators?

You’ve got a tough job ahead. Stick to your guns. History will remember you as being on the right side, no matter what the coal and gas industries say.

Reply: We’re bullish on American ingenuity, that’s what makes this country so great. Thanks for your faith and optimism!

Question: Do you think such an impactful rule should be voted on by Congress? If this rule were put to a Congressional vote, would it pass?

Reply: Congress gave EPA the authority and responsibility to implement the Clean Air Act. We regulate power plants for mercury, arsenic and other dangerous pollutants. Why wouldn’t we regulate power plants for harmful carbon pollution? It fuels climate change and threatens public health.

UPDATE: This has been great – so many great questions. Next time I’ll have to type faster! Thanks everybody.

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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