california

Motivation Meets Innovation in the Name of Water Conservation

California is in the midst of one of the worst droughts the state has ever seen—so smart water use matters more than ever before. Earlier this month, I visited Southern California to get a firsthand look at some of the largest and most successful efforts to reuse and recycle water in the country.

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From left to right: Jim Colson, Environmental Compliance Manager, Orange County Sanitation District; Nancy Stoner, Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water; Benita Best-Wong, Director of EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds; Mike Wehner, Assistant General Manager, Orange County Water District; and Dr. Robert Ghirelli, Assistant General Manager, Orange County Sanitation District. Photo credit: Jason Dadakis, Orange County Water District

 

One of the facilities I visited was the Orange County Groundwater Replenishment System, which puts highly treated wastewater collected from the county’s sewer system—and that would otherwise be discharged into the Pacific Ocean—to beneficial use in the county’s water supply. Finding innovative ways for municipalities and businesses to use water is a priority for EPA. More

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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Pollution by Design: Reducing Pollution Through Organizing


By Penny Newman

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Heavy rains cause overflow from toxic waste pits to run through a local Glen Avon school

Thirty five years ago, I joined a rag tag group of moms who gathered together to decide how we were going to stop the exposures from the Stringfellow Acid Pits, a permitted Class 1 toxic dump site that accepted chemical wastes from throughout California.  This was in response to an incident where the State of California, during a heavy rain period, released over one million gallons of liquid toxic waste into our community in order to relieve pressure on a the dam that was holding back 34 million gallons of hazardous waste. They did this without informing us, flooding our streets, and inundating our homes and school.  Our children splashed in the puddles, made beards and became snow men in the frothy mounds of gray toxic foam.

Untitled-23When we realized what had happened, we decided we’d had enough.  Concerned Neighbors in Action (CNA) formed to stop it. By 1980 we began to hear rumors of places like Love Canal and Times Beach, where communities were experiencing similar problems.  Putting our heads and hearts together we launched into a decade long battle to make the system respond to the health crisis that we, and other communities, were facing.  Our efforts changed laws, developed legal precedent and created new institutions.

In 1993, after stopping the exposures and winning a personal injury lawsuit with a $114 million settlement, CNA became the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ) to broaden our work and bring focus to the underlying factors of polluted communities.  We learned that these situations don’t just appear by accident. They are the result of a system that seeks the lowest costs, which can lead to high polluting industries locating their operations in poorer communities and communities of color.  This is why CCAEJ has developed a mission of “bringing people together to improve our social and natural environment,” as recognition that the social environment—economic, political, education— determine the fate of our community’s environment and our living conditions.

If we do not have the power to influence decisions in those systems, they will be used to advance other interests.   It is not by accident that our small rural community ended up with the Stringfellow Acid Pits – it was a decision made by powerful interests taking advantage of the system.   The goal was to find cheap places to dump their poisonous wastes in a place that is out of sight—commonly called “remote disposal.” While we knew this by instinct, our feelings were confirmed when we uncovered a report commissioned by the State of California and written by a consulting firm.  It profiled the communities that would be the easiest to site polluting facilities.  In the summary they write, “all socioeconomic groupings tend to resent the nearby siting of major facilities, but the middle and upper socioeconomic strata possess better resources to effectuate their opposition.” 

Untitled-24In other words, pick the most vulnerable communities.  Understanding that poor communities and communities of color are targeted for pollution is an important factor in how to attack the problems. That’s why CCAEJ works specifically in Inland Valley communities like Riverside and San Bernardino in Southern California; which face some of the highest levels of air pollution in the country today.  Building power for these forgotten communities through leadership development, trainings, and actions; forcing the public and politicians to see the issues so they can’t be ignored or hidden; and flexing our political power is the true pathway to environmental justice.

Penny Newman is executive director and founder of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ), which serves Riverside and San Bernardino counties. She began her fight for environmental justice with the battle of the Stringfellow Acid Pits, California’s worst toxic waste site. This 25-year battle of a small town against the pollution from the Stringfellow site is recounted in her book, “Remembering Stringfellow.” Ms. Newman has received numerous awards during her 27 years as an environmental activist, including Jurupa’s “Citizen of the Year.” Newman has also appeared on numerous television shows such as the “Remembering Your Spirit” segment of the Oprah Winfrey show. She was the subject of an HBO documentary, “Toxic Time Bomb.”

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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America’s Farmers and Ranchers: Our Original Conservationists

Earlier today, I was in Fresno, California in the San Joaquin Valley meeting with farmers—and even got to drive around a clean fuel burning tractor. One of my first trips as Administrator was to the Iowa State Fair, where the pork chop came in second only to the Iowan farmers I met. Since then, I’ve also traveled to Missouri and Indiana, attending agriculture roundtables to hear directly from local growers. In the meantime, my Deputy, Bob Perciasepe traveled to Louisiana to visit with farmers there. And when I can’t get to them on their farms, I make sure farmers can get to me. So when organizations like the National Farmers Union visit Washington, D.C., I make a point to try to visit with them, just like I did earlier this fall.

Administrator Gina McCarthy on a farm tour at Melkonian Brothers Ranch in Fresno, California

Administrator Gina McCarthy driving a cleaner fuel burning tractor in the San Joaquin Valley, California

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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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1 Millionth Refrigerator Recycled

Gene Rodrigues, Southern California Edison

Gene Rodrigues, Southern California Edison

By: Gene Rodrigues, Southern California Edison

Yesterday was a huge milestone for Southern California Edison (SCE) — we recycled our 1 millionth refrigerator. A million refrigerators is enough to fill a football stadium.

While we’d like to take all the credit, we can’t. The thanks goes first to our customers, who led the nation in saving energy through our programs and services. With the help of our partners at EPA’s ENERGY STAR and Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) programs, SCE has been able to deliver our customers the education and resources they need to make a difference in our environment by recycling their old refrigerators. More than 60 million refrigerators in this country are more than 10 years old and cost consumers $4.4 billion a year in energy costs. By properly recycling their old refrigerator and replacing it with a new refrigerator that has earned the ENERGY STAR, our customers can save between $200 and $1,100, and prevent 4,000 to 26,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions over the product’s lifetime.

Our Appliance Recycling Program has saved customers 7.9 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity since 1994.

How do you wrap your mind around 7.9 billion kilowatt-hours? It’s the equivalent of:

  • Avoiding the emissions equal to nearly 1.1 million cars for a year
  • Planting 140 million trees
  • Saving enough energy to power 13.5 million California homes for a month, or 1.1 million California homes for a year.
  • Enough energy to save customers $1 billion dollars on their electricity bills.

In celebrating this milestone, SCE must also give credit to the California Public Utilities Commission and the Natural Resources Defense Council, both forward-thinking agencies that provide incredible support for policies that encourage energy efficiency. And of course, without the Appliance Recycling Centers of America (ARCA), and our other recycling partners, a million refrigerators could be disposed improperly, creating extensive damage to the environment.

ARCA began operations in California in 1993 as part of the Rebuild Los Angeles initiative following the civil unrest that occurred at that time. Since then, SCE’s recycling program provided nearly 75 percent of this facility’s business, with 63 full-time employees dedicated to the SCE work – with a 25 percent increase in staff during the busy summer months. For many of these employees, it’s the first time they’ve worked for a company that offered healthcare, educational and vacation benefits.

And finally, thank you to our customers and to utility customers across the nation who understand that the cleanest, cheapest kilowatt hour is the one you never use.

Gene Rodrigues is the Director of  Energy Efficiency and Solar programs at Southern California Edison. He has been with the company for over 22 years.  For more information on SCE’s refrigerator recycling program, click here.

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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Science Wednesday: Better Together: Wind and Solar Power in California

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

About the author: Matthias Fripp is a doctoral student in the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley. His work is funded by an EPA Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Graduate Research Fellowship.

Before I started my studies, I thought that graduate students were free to study any topic they liked. That’s true in principle, but in practice we need to find funding for our research. Fortunately, I was granted an EPA STAR fellowship in 2006, allowing me to pursue a question I consider particularly important: how much wind and solar power should we use in the electricity system in upcoming decades?

Over the last couple of years, I’ve gathered data on the amount of power that could be produced every hour at potential wind farm sites and solar power facilities all over California. I’ve also collected information on existing power plants and transmission lines, and forecasted the cost of building new wind, solar or conventional power plants or transmission lines in the future.

Next, I built a computer model that determines which combination of new and existing power plants and transmission lines will give the least expensive electricity between 2010 and 2025, while also ensuring that the state has enough power every hour. I also use this model to see how much our power bills might change if we work seriously on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

wind farm turbines on hillThe results of this research are exciting. I found that wind and solar power are available at complementary times in California, so we can use them together to make a more reliable (and cheaper) power system than we could if we just used wind or solar alone. I also found that even if we didn’t care about greenhouse gas emissions, we should still plan to use a lot of wind power, because it is beginning to be less expensive than power from natural gas plants. Finally, I found that there is no sharp limit to the amount of renewable power we could use in California: power bills rise slowly as we build more and more renewables, but emissions could be reduced substantially with little or no extra cost.

The EPA STAR fellowship has made a huge difference, freeing me to focus all my efforts on this work, and providing the resources to do it right.

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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