Brownfields

Will Aquaponic Gardening Help Solve Food Insecurity in the Future?

Emily Nusz-thumbnailBy Emily Nusz

EPA brings in students every summer to work, learn practical environmental skills, and enhance their educational experience through our Pathways Intern Program. The Big Blue Thread has been proud to feature several blogs written by these interns, focusing on what motivates them to work in the environmental sector and what attracted them to EPA. We’ve posted blogs by Andrew Speckin, Sara Lamprise and Kelly Overstreet. Our final blog in this series is the second one by Emily Nusz, who continues to intern with our Environmental Data and Assessment staff.

Water is an essential component of life. Without it, we cannot survive. In my previous blog, I discussed my experience building a well for clean drinking water in Africa. Many developing countries are challenged by the lack of access to clean water. In some cases, people have to walk miles each day just to reach a source, which is why my church’s mission team and I wanted to provide a water well to a village in Nairobi, Kenya.

Water is not the only essential component of life to which some communities across the globe lack access. Finding abundant food sources also may be a problem. I have thought over and over again about how we can solve food insecurity, while also being eco-friendly. During my undergraduate career, I researched and built a system that may have the potential for doing just that. In fact, my former agriculture professor travels to Haiti about once a month to teach this simple gardening technique, which can be used to provide communities with a self-sustaining food supply. This system is unique because it can work anywhere, anytime, through any season.

It’s called aquaponics, a budding technique that allows you to grow your own local, healthy food right in your backyard while using 90 percent less water  than traditional gardening. If you are wondering what aquaponics is, you are not alone. The term “aquaponics” is not part of everyday conversation, but soon it may be. I was not introduced to the idea until about a year ago when I began to build a system of my own for academic research.

How It Works

Aquaponics

Aquaponic gardening integrates fish and plant growth in a mutual recirculating cycle by combining hydroponics and aquaculture. It is an environmentally friendly way to produce food without harsh chemical fertilizers through a symbiotic relationship. To give you an idea, the fish are able to produce waste that eventually turns into nitrates, which provides essential nutrients for plant growth in a hydroponic environment without any soil. The plants, which are planted in gravel beds, take in the nutrients provided by the fish and help purify the water for the care of the fish. The purified water then flows back to the fish for reuse. Many cultures are able to use this system to not only grow crops, but have a food source of fish as well.

Many types of plants can be grown in the system, such as lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Tilapia are the most commonly used fish because they provide extra benefits other fish cannot, such as high levels of ammonia, which is important for maintaining effective system levels.

My Experiment

When I began to build an indoor aquaponic system, my goal was to research if plants and fish could sustain life in an environment lacking nutrients provided by sunlight. The system contained three separate tanks.

Tank 1 was set up as the “breeder tank.” This tank circulated the Aquaponic Research Setup - Emily Nusznutrients from the fish into the tank containing the plants. Many aquaponic systems do not include a breeder tank, but for my research it was included.

Tank 2 was set up as the “fish tank.” This tank contained all of the fish (about 50 tilapia). Tank 3 was set up as the “plant tank.” All of the plants were planted in the gravel of this tank to absorb the nutrients provided by the fish. The purified water then flowed from this tank back into tank 2 for reuse.

The water quality of the continuous cycle was observed and recorded over a 10-week period to determine the production of plant growth and water quality in an indoor aquaponic system. Measurements of water quality were collected, including pH, electroconductivity, total dissolved solids, potassium levels, nitrate levels, dissolved oxygen, and temperature.

Although my research did not support sufficient growth of plants in an indoor aquaponic system, it has been found to work indoors using ultraviolet light as a source. Year-round results can also occur by having the system set up in a greenhouse. As long as the system is set up in a controlled environment that mimics nature, fish and plant production will flourish.

The Future

The awareness and potential for aquaponics is beginning to soar. Aquaponics may not be part of everyday conversation yet, but it could make a tremendous change in how we grow our food in the future.

In fact, today EPA tries to incorporate this type of gardening technique to redevelop contaminated Brownfield sites. They work with communities on many of the redevelopment projects to set up urban agriculture practices for food production. There are many benefits to constructing Brownfield sites into agricultural growth areas, especially using the aquaponic system. Urban agriculture has two major benefits for contaminated sites: it binds the contaminants, and it contributes to the growth of local food.

Emily Nusz-thumbnailAbout the Author: Emily Nusz is a Student Intern at EPA Region 7, who worked full-time this summer and continues to work part-time during the school year. She is a graduate student at the University of Kansas, studying environmental assessment. Emily is SCUBA certified, and one of her life goals is to scuba dive the Great Barrier Reefs off the coast of Australia.

Sources:

Emily’s First Blog Entry: https://blog.epa.gov/blog/2015/10/providing-clean-water-to-an-african-village-not-a-simple-turn-of-the-tap/

Brownfields: http://www.epa.gov/brownfields

Land Revitalization/Urban Agriculture Fact Sheet: http://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-08/documents/fs_urban_agriculture.pdf

USDA Aquaponics Information: https://afsic.nal.usda.gov/aquaculture-and-soilless-farming/aquaponics

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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EPA’s Grant Program – A Key Contributor for Environmental Results

By Karl Brooks

Here at EPA, we partner with other governments – state, tribal, and local – to share responsibility for protecting human health and our nation’s natural environment. In order to do so, our Office of Grants and Debarment annually transfers grants worth more than $4 billion to other governments, educational institutions and non-profit organizations.

We are proud of our role supporting the efforts taken in 2009 to deal with an unprecedented national economic crisis. When Congress enacted the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) in 2009, they more than doubled our annual grant award budget to $9.8 billion. Our ARRA grants helped communities throughout America direct billions of dollars into shovel-ready projects for environmental infrastructure and cleanup — efforts that enhanced the quality of life in communities and better protected public health.

We met this historic responsibility by obligating 50% more funds than had been usual — $6.5 billion in grants – in barely two-thirds of a normal cycle. To meet Congress’ stewardship expectations and to prevent waste, fraud and abuse, we also instituted a monitoring program that far exceeded our standard process for non-ARRA awards.

After several years of managing ARRA funds, we faced other federal budget constraints triggering sequestration and furloughs in 2011-13. But now that our economy and grant program have entered a period of more normal operations, we are moving forward with a number of initiatives to further enhance our grants management system. In February 2015, we moved to Grants.gov for the submission of initial grant applications and deployed the first phase of our Next Generation Grants System, saving taxpayers $27 million by leveraging existing systems instead of developing new ones.

Working effectively in partnership with states, tribes, and other grantees, we have distributed, overseen, and accounted for more than $36 billion that went to governmental partners, educational institutions and non-profit organizations between fiscal year 2008 and fiscal year 2014.

In administering this funding, we manage, on an annual basis, over 6,000 active grants involving more than 2,300 separate grantees and approximately 100 different programs. These programs sustain our environmental protection enterprise at all governmental levels, encourage vital scientific research and help communities shape environmental policy. We work with Congress, GAO, and our Office of Inspector General to ensure funds are properly managed. We welcome their scrutiny and continue to work diligently to make our grant program efficient and responsive to the American public.

To learn more about how our grant making is making a difference visit:

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Tools Promoting Reuse-Evaluating Clean Energy for Contaminated Properties

By Mathy Stanislaus

Last month while attending the Brownfields conference in Chicago, I spoke with numerous mayors, community members, developers, financiers, and many others working to revitalize their communities. One common theme I heard was the need for tools and resources that could be deployed at the community or site level to help facilitate the cleanup or reuse of degraded or blighted properties. Toward that end I am pleased to announce the release of our RE-Powering America’s Land electronic decision tree tool. It will let communities and stakeholders examine the key considerations associated with solar or wind development on a formerly contaminated property or a landfill.

You may not have thought about siting renewable energy on a landfill or formerly contaminated property but it presents a unique opportunity to transform dormant and degraded properties into productive community assets. To date, more than 150 renewable energy installations have been installed on contaminated lands, landfills and mine sites across the U.S., providing clean energy to power cleanups, on-site operations and community electricity needs. The Agency’s RE-Powering Initiative has supported and continues to advance this trend. Because of these projects, communities across the country have saved millions of dollars in energy costs, created construction jobs, and received new property tax revenue as a result of reusing these sites for renewable energy.

The electronic decision tree is a downloadable computer application that walks users through a series of questions supplemented by tips and links to relevant tools and information sources. The user is guided through various considerations associated with the site, redevelopment process, and criteria specific to landfills and contaminated properties. In addition, it helps users explore how the regulatory context, financial incentives and future electricity usage affect projects. You would think that the amount of sun and the site conditions would mainly determine feasibility; however, these other factors tend to dominate.

This new tool helps communities and other stakeholders explore their sites, engage developers and drive their vision of productive reuse. The tools inform and empower communities to plan and align their desires for economic development within a sustainable land management strategy.

RE-Powering encourages renewable energy on contaminated lands in a variety of ways by:

  • Identifying and screening contaminated properties
  • Disseminating success stories and best practices
  • Clarifying liability
  • Articulating associated environmental, economic and community benefits
  • Disseminating financing strategies and information on incentives
  • Highlighting favorable policies; and
  • Developing partnerships and pursuing outreach

Most of all, RE-Powering brings two important ideas together: the interest in cleaning up contaminated land and in siting renewable energy. And, all this in the context of what’s appropriate for the site and what is desired by the community.

Check out the new RE-Powering website and all its resources, its updated mapper and, of course, the new electronic decision tree tool.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Brownfields Revolving Loan Funds – Transforming Communities across America

By Mathy Stanislaus

Here at EPA, we’re proud of our brownfields program, which addresses contaminated sites with a community-driven and innovative approach. We provide grants and other technical assistance to communities to plan for, assess and clean up brownfield sites. There is no better example of the flexibility a brownfield grant affords a community than the Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) program, which provides capital to make low- or no-interest loans and sub-grants to finance brownfields cleanup.

When these loans are repaid, the loan amount is then returned to the fund and re-loaned to other borrowers, providing an ongoing sustainable source of capital within a community for additional brownfields cleanups. The RLF program is important in brownfields cleanup and redevelopment and a central component of the brownfields program. Since the Brownfields Law was passed, we have awarded 330 RLF grants totaling more than $319 million. RLF grants account for over one-third of the total sites cleaned up under the brownfields program and are responsible for leveraging over 24,000 jobs and over $5 billion in other cleanup and redevelopment funding.

A great feature of the RLF is our ability to recognize and reward successful grantees by re-capitalizing their grants through supplemental funding as loan funds are depleted. We recently announced the re-capitalization of 31 of our highest performing RLF grantees with $13.2 million in new funds, allowing them to continue to issue loans and sub-grants to cleanup brownfields sites.

Many of these sites start as a high priority or target area for redevelopment. After going through the assessment and planning process, sites must secure cleanup funding. When used effectively, the RLF can clean up sites that would otherwise not be revitalized. Since traditional lenders can be reluctant to finance the cleanup component of a redevelopment project, the RLF can provide the critical gap financing needed to jump-start the redevelopment process. After that, the site is positioned to attract additional leveraged funding for redevelopment.

RLFs are key tool for states and regional planning commissions to target small and rural communities who don’t have the capacity to manage a brownfields grant or have the needed cleanup funding. In this way, the RLFs expand our reach into rural communities that may otherwise not receive our funding. In fact, in this recent round, 30 percent of the planned projects are in rural communities with populations under 20,000.

RLFs can also be great for urban areas, as demonstrated by the program established in Kansas City, MO. Kansas City has a rich history of revitalizing their brownfield sites – they’ve received funding from us, HUD, and the Missouri Housing Development Corporation. In this instance, the Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council (INC), a nonprofit community development organization, led the effort to clean up the former Horace Mann School, a site in a historically disadvantaged neighborhood with prominent blight and health risks of asbestos, lead paint and mold. Through the use of $671,862 of brownfield assessment and RLF funds, Kansas City was able to assess and cleanup the site.

The site is now being redeveloped into various affordable housing options and a community building with a fitness center, library, pharmacy and community garden.  The complete redevelopment project, named Ivanhoe Gateway at 39th Street, will cost approximately $100 million dollars. The use of the RLF funds have enabled the nearly $5 million first phase of the redevelopment project to go forward.

It’s rewarding to see how communities are leveraging the RLF funds to transform their downtowns and bring positive change to their inhabitants. We look forward to seeing what our next round of RLF recipients will accomplish.

For more information

 

Former Horace Mann School, 2008 E. 39th St.

Former Horace Mann School, 2008 E. 39th St.

Ivanhoe Gateway at 39th Street Vision

Ivanhoe Gateway at 39th Street Vision

Phase I Construction – June 2015

Phase I Construction – June 2015

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Strengthening Local Economies and the Environment Go Hand in Hand

Last week in Chicago, I participated in a series of events as part of the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership (IMCP). The IMCP works with counties and private and non-profit organizations to advance manufacturing in the U.S. by aligning a range of federal government programs with community goals. EPA has been a strong partner with the Department of Commerce and the White House, encouraging the integration of sustainability, smart growth, and industrial legacy site reuse as part of community manufacturing investment strategies.  The Chicago metro area was one of the first IMCP communities, and they’ve focused on expanding the metal fabricating sector.

The Chicago Metro region epitomizes what the IMCP can do through a coordinated redevelopment approach.   During my visit, I went to Sterling Lumber, which straddles Harvey and Phoenix, two small, economically challenged older inner ring suburbs.  To accommodate his rapidly growing and diversifying wood products business, CEO Carter Sterling relocated and consolidated his business on a brownfields site.  The site already had a large existing manufacturing building space that could be adapted for Sterling and transportation access.  Starting with an EPA assessment grant to the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association (long active in Cook County brownfields efforts) to characterize and quantify the cleanup costs, Mr. Sterling  built partnerships and leveraged considerable support from state agencies and Cook County.  Improvements included upgrading road access and adding a rail spur to the site. He also partnered with OAI (a local workforce training organization and recipient of our Environmental Workforce and Job Training grants) and the Calumet Green Manufacturing Partnership, to hire about a third of Sterling’s new workforce – about 20 individuals – from the community.

Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus and Mike O’Connell, CEO of Sterling Lumber Company

Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus and Mike O’Connell, CEO of Sterling Lumber Company

Next, we visited LB Steel, a leading steel manufacturer that employs around 300 workers.  I toured its 450,000 square foot facility and observed numerous metals products being manufactured for customers around the world. LB Steel is a great illustration of the existing strength in metals manufacturing that is the foundation for expanding metals manufacturing in the Chicago Metro area.

Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus and David Abshire, Vice President of LB Steel tour the LB steel products factory.

Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus and David Abshire, Vice President of LB Steel tour the LB steel products factory.

Before leaving, I addressed the semi-annual meeting of the Chicago Regional Growth Initiative, a bi-partisan collaboration of the elected leadership of all of the counties of the Chicago Metro area (Cook, Will, DuPage, Kendall, McHenry, Lake, and Kane Counties), established to support the IMCP designation under the leadership of Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle.

I noted that I represented the U.S at the G7 earlier this year to advance a circular economy strategy to maximize the recovery of used materials through life cycle-based sustainable materials management. The U.S. has seen a 57 percent increase in new materials acquired (e.g., mining, lumbering); 42 percent of greenhouse gases stem from materials management in the U.S. economy.  Similar statistics were shared by other G7 countries. This led to the adoption of a sustainable materials management/resources efficiency platform built on production and environmental considerations. The G7 declaration noted that global raw material use rose during the 20th century at about twice the rate of population growth. Furthermore, much of the raw material input in industrial economies is returned to the environment as waste within one year.

I recognized that the collaboration of these counties around a common manufacturing agenda is the vision of the IMCP.  I shared the role of EPA in advancing manufacturing, and why EPA is so involved in attracting new manufacturing activity, and attracting new foreign direct investment aimed at industrial production.  What better place to encourage new manufacturing investment than at old brownfields and other previously used sites?  Their location near community centers, transportation and established universities and R&D centers as well as their past industrial uses make many of these sites uniquely situated to attract new manufacturing activities.  I concluded my comments by noting that the Chicago IMPC model is a strong example of how manufacturing can advance economic, environmental and social outcomes.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Field Trip to Camden, NJ

By Carsen Mata

Tour visits the Puchack Well Field site.

Tour visits the Puchack Well Field site.

My walk to the office on Monday morning was quite different compared to most days. My stride longer, my pace faster, today I was going on a field trip! This wasn’t just any old field trip by the way, this was a two-hour trek from New York City down to Camden, New Jersey. The field trip crew that I accompanied consisted of a few seasoned EPA Region 2 staff members, our Regional Administrator Judith Enck, and Congressman Norcross of District One. The day’s itinerary had us hopping from one event to the next, guaranteeing an eventful day. First up – the Puchack Well Field site in Pennsauken, NJ. Upon arrival we were greeted by John Gorin, the remedial project manager for the site. John is the go-to guy for all things Puchack, especially when it comes to the ins and outs of the cleanup process.

The coolest part of the morning was seeing the site in full operation mode. This was surely the perfect time for a visit. Cranes and sifters were at work, soil from one area was being transported to another, and misters above the site gates were spraying the perimeter of the work zone. When everyone arrived John ran us through a brief overview of the work being done and the potential action items to come. After a short announcement and photo-op for the press we headed over to the next event at the Ray and Joan Kroc Salvation Army Center in Camden.

EPA’s John Gorin explains the cleanup plans.

EPA’s John Gorin explains the cleanup plans.

It was here that we met the Director of Economic Development for Camden, Jim Harveson, who excitedly joined Judith and Congressman Norcross in announcing that the Camden Brownfields program was receiving nearly $1 million in EPA grants. This package of grants will go towards the cleanup efforts at sites in Camden like the Harrison Avenue landfill and the former warehouse, experimental lab, and toy assembly plant at East State Street.

The press event was held outdoors with the recently constructed ball fields and playground of the Salvation Army Center serving as a beautiful backdrop. All of the event’s speakers were wonderful but Congressman Norcross, a Camden native, stepped up to the podium to address the media with a sentimental message. He reminisced about what this space once looked like and what the development of sites like these meant to the people that live there. It is clear that these grants represent much more than funding for various development projects. They symbolize the perseverance of a community that has been burdened by decades of industrial pollution. After many trying years, this area and its residents are on their way to environmental and economic success, something every community deserves.

Jim Harveson concluded the event by inviting everyone that attended back in two years. By then, he hopes the site will feature a waterfront park as well as a field of solar panels to power the center. For now, they’re taking it one site at a time, making every grant dollar count.

To finish off our day we visited a portion of the Welsbach & General Gas Mantle Superfund site in Gloucester City, just fifteen minutes south of Camden. Although a great deal of the cleanup work has already been completed, this particular area has soil and building surfaces that are still contaminated by radioactive waste. It is also situated on one of the busiest port facilities in the region, making it uniquely complex for all parties involved in the cleanup. We were joined by Rick Robinson, the remedial project manager of the site and Leo Holt – president of Holt Logistics, the owner and operator of the port, for a short bus tour around the property.

Judith Enck addresses the crowd.

Judith Enck addresses the crowd.

As soon as we witnessed cleanup and port activity occurring simultaneously, we understood the complexities of the site on a deeper level. Humongous containers filled with fruits and vegetables from all over the world were being transported by even bigger pieces of construction machinery. On the other side of the property EPA cleanup activities were being completed. I suddenly wondered, “all this activity AND an EPA cleanup? At the same time?” I’ve never felt so small in my life! Seeing the port in action and learning about the cleanup from such experienced staff solidified the fact that the EPA will stop at nothing to protect human health and the environment!

I think it’s safe to say this might be one of the best field trips I’ve ever been on.

About the Author: Carsen Mata is an intern for the EPA Region 2 Public Affairs Division.  She currently resides in Jersey City, NJ and is a graduate of Fairfield University in Fairfield, CT.  She is entering her last semester of graduate school at Fairfield University and will be receiving her Master of Public Administration in December 2015.

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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A Promise Fulfilled: Environmental Justice at work in Spartanburg, SC

I just got back from visiting Spartanburg, South Carolina, a city of 180,000 and a national leader on environmental justice issues. Back in 1997, the neighborhoods of Forest Park and Arkwright on the south side of the city were surrounded by two Superfund sites, six Brownfields, and an active chemical plant. In Spartanburg, the soil that children played in, and that their homes were built on, were contaminated with toxic chemicals. But local resident Harold Mitchell was determined to improve the quality of life for his family and community and set out to address the root of the problems.

Mitchell went door to door, letting folks know about the health concerns they faced, and founded ReGenesis, a community organization committed to environmental justice in Spartanburg. In 1997, ReGenesis was awarded an Environmental Justice small grant of $20,000 from EPA. Over time, the city, county, state, and federal government agencies got involved—and since then, Spartanburg has turned that grant into more than $270 million in investments in the community.

Today, community health centers, affordable housing and a state-of-the-art recreation center stand because of the collaborative efforts the Superfund and Brownfields programs, the community and a host of local partners. A solar generation facility is being planned where an old chemical plant once stood. New mixed-use housing has replaced old, unsafe stock. Community members have been trained in asbestos abatement—and they’ve found work not just in Spartanburg, but in Virginia, where they helped renovate the Pentagon, and in New Orleans, where they helped rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

I had the chance to meet Harold Mitchell—now a South Carolina state representative—and visited the former Superfund and Brownfield sites with Mayor Junie White, and other county officials.

After seeing these dramatic changes for myself, I heard from the community leaders who made it happen. We met inside the new community center—a major investment in the quality of life of Spartanburg residents. It was incredible to see what they’ve achieved by putting the community in charge of its own destiny.

Spartanburg is a shining beacon of what’s possible when folks impacted by community decisions have a seat at the table. As the Superfund program celebrates 35 years of revitalizing communities, I was thrilled to celebrate such an amazing success story because at the core of EPA’s mission is the belief that no matter who you are or where you come from, you have the right to clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and healthy land to call home.

That said, we’ve still got work to do. Too often, low-income neighborhoods and communities of color are disproportionately burdened by pollution and health risks. Those same communities are vulnerable to the devastating floods, fires, storms and heat waves supercharged by climate change.

To make matters worse, the carbon pollution fueling climate change comes packaged with other dangerous pollutants that cause chronic disease and chase away local businesses and jobs. Power plants, our biggest source of carbon pollution, are often located in these areas, casting their shadow over communities already vulnerable to environmental health hazards.

That’s why EPA is doubling down on efforts to fulfill the promise of environmental justice. Spartanburg’s success helped us develop a collaborative problem-solving program for vulnerable communities, helping communities give a voice to those who’ve too often been left out of important planning decisions.

EPA recently released EJScreen, a tool that lets anyone see the pollution burden in their neighborhoods, and explore how various decisions could improve their quality of life. We’ve also awarded more than 1,400 EJ small grants to date, and we’ll continue to give local communities the training and expertise they need to address pollution challenges.

And this summer, we’re finalizing a Clean Power Plan to cut the carbon pollution fueling climate change from our nation’s power plants. Under our standards, our nation will avoid more than 100,000 asthma attacks and 2,100 heart attacks in 2030—and will protect vulnerable communities from climate impacts.

Last week in Charleston, President Obama gave a eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a victim of this month’s tragedy at Emmanuel AME Church and a champion for Spartanburg’s revitalization, as well as renewable energy, in the South Carolina Senate. Speaking to Rev. Pinckney’s legacy, the President called on all Americans to fulfill the promise of a more equal, more just society.

By putting environmental justice at the heart of what we do, EPA is responding to that call.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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New Online Resources Available for Local Leaders and Community Members

During my 38 years at EPA, I’ve had a chance to work here in Washington, D.C., in Research Triangle Park, in Dallas, and in Atlanta. In each of my roles, I’ve had many opportunities to meet with local leaders who are working hard to address concerns in their communities. So I know protecting environmental quality and public health happens most directly at the local level.

That’s why making a visible difference in communities is one of our top priorities for EPA. We are looking for ways we can support local officials juggling multiple responsibilities, as well as residents eager for information they can use to take action and improve local conditions.

So I’m excited about a new resource we’ve launched specifically for local officials and citizens. The Community Resources website gives visitors easy access to three unique resources that can help with a variety of local environmental and public health issues:

  • The Local Government Environmental Assistance Network (LGEAN) website offers information to help communities understand and meet federal and state environmental regulatory requirements. Developed in partnership with the International City / County Management Association, it’s one of several compliance assistance centers EPA supports. Along with media-specific information, LGEAN also includes information to help with issues ranging from sustainable environmental management to transportation to public safety.
  • The National Resource Network website offers practical solutions to help communities reach their goals for growth and economic development. Established by HUD in cooperation with the White House Council on Strong Cities, Strong Communities, it offers local government officials a Resource Library to help with practical solutions and analyses, as well as a “311 for Cities” service that enables them to request and quickly receive assistance on a wide range of topics.
  • And EPA’s Community Health website gives users resources to help improve local environmental health conditions. It provides access to information about beach closures, fish advisories, toxic emissions, and other public health issues. Visitors can also find information about applying for EPA grants and technical assistance.

We hope you’ll find this new site helpful. We invite you to check it out and then, click on the link to give us your feedback. We want to hear how we can improve the site to help local officials and community members across the country find the resources that are most important to them.

The Community Resources site is just one way we are working to make a visible difference in communities. Let me share a few examples of work happening on the ground around the country:

  • In Lawrence, Massachusetts, we awarded a brownfields grant that will help the community cleanup and revitalize a neighborhood marked by abandoned and polluted industrial properties. Check out this short video that features Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera and Massachusetts Rep. Niki Tsongas as they describe what this support will mean for the community.
  • In Wheeling, West Virginia, we joined local residents in exploring how it can transform an old apple orchard in an historic part of town into a regional hub for local foods. This work is part of the Local Foods, Local Places Initiative, which involves USDA and other federal agencies in helping communities develop local food systems as a means of revitalizing traditional downtowns and promoting economic diversification. Listen to what the Reinvent Wheeling’s Jack Dougherty has to say about this effort in this story by WV Public Radio.
  • In Fresno, California, we have been working with other state and federal agencies to help spur economic development and revitalization as part of the Obama Administration’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative. A new EPA report drawing on that work describes 30 strategies to help local governments overcome obstacles and encourage infill development, particularly in distressed communities. As many communities across the country have learned, infill development saves money through the more efficient use of tax dollars, increases property values, and improves quality of life. We’re excited about how it can help Fresno, and many other communities that recognize the benefits of reinvesting and restoring what were once vibrant neighborhoods.

Whether working on tools and information to help communities address priority issues or working right alongside community leaders, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and I are proud of the work EPA is doing to help communities build a greener, healthier, more prosperous future. We look forward to sharing more examples of how we are supporting communities in reaching their goals.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Great Partners and Progress in Great Falls

By Brett Doney

Great Falls is a pioneering city built on a rich heritage of farming and ranching, industrial development,

This is one of several historic downtown properties cleaned and redeveloped with support from the Great Falls Development Authority and EPA brownfields funding.

This is one of several historic downtown properties cleaned and redeveloped with support from the Great Falls Development Authority and EPA brownfields funding.

the United States Air Force, and entrepreneurship. Situated at the Great Falls of the Missouri River -where the Great Plains meet the Rocky Mountains – this city has protected its unique history and many call it genuine Montana.

Ten years ago, Great Falls was still struggling to recover from the closing of the Anaconda Smelter and numerous military cutbacks. Despite economic hardship, Great Falls never lost its spirit. Public and private community leaders came together to forge a comprehensive Forward Great Falls economic development plan. Revitalization of the city’s historic riverfront and downtown areas were identified as a key ingredient of an economic turn-around.

With the help of EPA brownfields assessment (a brownfield is a property where previous uses have left, or may have left, hazardous substances or pollutants, like a former gas station or industrial facility) and revolving loan funds, and years of hard work, Great Falls is now enjoying an economic renaissance.

Great Falls Development Authority used its brownfields funding to help clean widespread asbestos from a former bank, facilitating the development a new Easter Seals Goodwill regional headquarters.

Great Falls Development Authority used its brownfields funding to help clean widespread asbestos from a former bank, facilitating the development a new Easter Seals Goodwill regional headquarters.

Award-winning redevelopment projects and new businesses along the riverfront and downtown have attracted dozens of new businesses, regional shoppers, tourists and new residents. Employment records were set in 2013 and 2014.  Most telling, student enrollment in Great Falls Public Schools broke 20 straight years of decline to grow in each of the past two years.

Thanks in part to EPA’s brownfields assistance, we’re working with private developers who have proposed future projects that will continue this positive momentum. The future is bright for Great Falls!

About the author: Brett Doney is President and CEO of the Great Falls Development Authority in Great Falls, Montana.

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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Choosing Public Health in the U.S./Mexico Border City of Laredo, Texas

by Hector Gonzalez, M.D.MPH

The City of Laredo, Texas is the gateway city on the border between the United States and Mexico. The city has four international bridges crossing the Rio Grande that supports 47 percent of U.S. international trade headed for Mexico and more than 36 percent of Mexico’s international trade into the U.S.

Laredo is the second largest port of entry in the United States and is also home to the largest inland port along the border. A vibrant and diverse city, Laredo also has communities that bear disproportionate burdens of environmental harm, public health disparities, and economic problems (up to 40% of the population is uninsured). The international flow of trade, as well as potential pollutants on both sides of the border, compound health disparities already present and heighten the potential for health hazards (many of which necessitate some sort of public health response).

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In recent years, Laredo, like other U.S./Mexico Border communities, has taken important strides to improve healthier outcomes and safeguard the environment. Planning and taking strategic steps to improve the city’s economic condition and to address critical public health issues is part of the intervention. Such planning includes engaging citizens in public decision-making, providing greater access to outdoor spaces, educating people about public health and prevention through healthier choices, and establishing new developments that enhance the overall quality of life for all residents. With our “Healthy Living/Viviendo Mejor and Active Living Plan” we have challenged our community to think healthier and to build and plan with health in mind (such as walking clubs, healthier eating and nutrition education, and the Mayor’s Active Living Task Force).

One of the city’s showcase projects is the Haynes Health and Wellness Center, a state-of-the-art park in Laredo that provides open access to indoor and outdoor exercise areas and community spaces, such as a pool, rooftop gardens, and a playground equipped for special-needs children. This park, funded jointly through public funds, private funds, and EPA brownfields funds, is a prime example of how green infrastructure and engaging the community in public decision-making can uplift emerging communities.

The primary mission of the Haynes Center is to provide the public with access to recreational facilities as a way to improve their overall quality of life. The presence of a public recreation center also serves to connect the community around central values. With public access to trails and facilities comes increased public participation in regular exercise regimes and a greater appreciation for the outdoors. In addition, a building like the Haynes Center promotes unity and well-being throughout the entire community.

In 2004, Laredo passed a Green Space Ordinance, which aims to achieve both economic development and environmental protection goals. The ordinance requires developers to include green space when constructing a new development.  For instance, the new outlet mall scheduled to be built along the Rio Grande River will feature a community waterpark on the riverfront.  This development allows businesses to set up shop in Laredo, but also gives the community an outdoor public area that will entice more children to play outside.  For developments in areas that already have designated green space, developers are encouraged to make additions. Overall, the Green Space Ordinance encourages more community areas that encourage more time spent outdoors.

And the most notable feature of Laredo’s decision to put public health as “our choice,” is that we have engaged citizens through the Citizen’s Environmental Advisory Committee (CEAC) and the Laredo Health Coalition. CEAC is a group of professionals and environmental advocates hailing from a diverse range of backgrounds who weigh in on proposed city plans and ordinances, effectively providing a voice for the people. These meetings are publicly announced, and there is a time for community issues to be brought before the committee. Once consensus is reached on an issue, a recommendation letter is drafted and sent to the decision-making body, and the city council takes action. The CEAC played a tremendous role in the plastic bag ban ordinance, as well as a program to offer deposits on used tires to prevent tire discards into the Rio Grande River and the environment.

In Laredo, putting citizens first is our public responsibility and one we feel very proud of. And when you put citizens first, it becomes a healthier community for all.

About the author: Dr. Hector Gonzalez is the director of the City of Laredo Health Department. He has more than 30 years experience in public health and is committed and determined to ensuring the protection, well-being, and disease control in Laredo and Webb County.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.