climate change

Alaskan Voices on Climate: Submit Your Video!

By Dianne Soderlund

In September, President Obama traveled to Alaska to see firsthand the impacts of climate change on the people who live and work here every day. During his time here, he met some of Alaska’s extraordinary people, many of whom are working every day to adapt to a changing climate. We know Alaskans are incredibly resilient and they are taking action to support their community and the environment for generations to come. Now we would like to provide an opportunity for Alaskans to share their story.

Today, we are launching Alaskan Voices on Climate and inviting Alaskans to send us their videos about the effects of a changing climate and about the work they are doing to ensure a healthy environment for future generations. How are these changes affecting your community? Have they made a difference in the way you live, work, or play? What lessons can your community share about becoming more resilient that would be helpful to other communities? We’d love to hear about all these things – and anything else you’d like to tell us about the changes you are experiencing and actions you are taking.

We will share our favorite stories by posting them on Facebook, Twitter, the EPA website, our Alaska InfoBox, and other Alaska channels. We hope you will share them with your friends and family. We anticipate lots of people inside and outside Alaska will be seeing the effects of a changing climate through your eyes. Please use this link to access the web page.

  • Who can participate? Everybody! We’re looking for videos from Alaskans from all ages and walks of life.
  • How do you participate: It’s easy! Take a 30- to 90-second video about how our changing climate is affecting you and or your community. Include in your video a sign or segment with the hashtag #AlaskanVoices and mention where the video was filmed. Then send us your video via Twitter, Facebook, or email. You can find all the details on the EPA website.

We prepared a short video about Alaskan Voices on Climate. Please pass it along! The more videos we get, the better people everywhere will understand the impacts of climate change on Alaska and what Alaskan communities are doing to adapt or become more resilient.

If you have any questions or concerns, please email us at We look forward to hearing from you, and we can’t wait to see what you submit!

About the author: Dianne Soderlund is Director of the EPA Region 10 Alaska Operations Office.

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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The Role of Biomass in Achieving Clean Power Plan Goals – A 2016 Workshop to Foster a Constructive Discussion

By Janet McCabe

Since issuing the Clean Power Plan (CPP), states and stakeholders have shown a strong interest in the role biomass can play in state plans to reduce carbon emissions under the rule. Many states are seeking to better understand how maintaining and building on their existing approaches to sound carbon- and greenhouse gas (GHG)-beneficial forestry and land management practices can yield biomass resources that will help them meet their CPP goals, and how to craft plans that will be federally approvable under the final CPP guidelines. To respond to this interest and to support state and stakeholder efforts to incorporate bioenergy in their CPP plans, we will be holding a public workshop in early 2016 for stakeholders to share their successes, experiences and approaches to deploying biomass in ways that have been, and can be, carbon beneficial.

The president’s Climate Action Plan and a range of the administration’s policies recognize that America’s forests and other lands must continue to play an essential role in mitigating the effects of carbon pollution. Biomass derived from land that is managed under programs that ensure the long-term maintenance of healthy forests can serve as an integral part of a broader forestry-based climate strategy, so the CPP expressly includes bioenergy as an option for states and utilities in CPP compliance.  It reflects the fact that, in many cases, biomass and bioenergy products in the power system can be an integral part of state programs and foster responsible land management and renewable energy.

State flexibility is a key component of the CPP. It recognizes the unique circumstances of each state’s energy mix and approaches to energy efficiency and renewable energy.  Many states already have extensive expertise in sound carbon- and GHG-beneficial forestry and land management practices, and the CPP’s flexibility will give states the ability to build in approaches to biomass and bioenergy unique to their forests and land management programs and policies.  It recognizes the importance of forests and other lands for climate resilience – in addition to the carbon benefits of biomass – fostered by a variety of land use policies, renewable energy incentives and standards, and GHG strategies. Working with stakeholders, these states promote viable forestry and agricultural product markets, which help protect and preserve healthy and productive lands and contribute to the continued and improved management of these lands.

That is why the CPP creates a pathway for states to use biomass as part of their plans to meet their emission reduction guidelines, and we expect many states to include biomass as a component in their state plans. We look forward to reviewing plans that incorporate well-developed forestry and other land management programs producing biomass that can qualify under the guidelines laid out in the CPP, and we are confident that the CPP offers sufficient lead time and flexibility for states to develop approvable programs.

So a key goal of the workshop we’ll be holding is to provide an opportunity for states with well-developed forestry and land management practices to share their experiences.  Another is to foster a constructive dialogue about how states can best include biomass in their compliance plans if that is a path they choose to follow.  The workshop will showcase the constructive compliance approaches many states are already implementing or developing.  And to prepare for the workshop, our first step is to reach out to key stakeholders to get ideas on the agenda.

We look forward to working with states and stakeholders to ensure that biomass continues to play an important role in accomplishing our climate change goals. Open lines of communication and sharing information helped shape the final Clean Power Plan, and continued constructive engagement will be vital for us to achieve significant climate and health benefits as we implement the CPP.

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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Coming to the Table: The Importance of a Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue on Climate Justice

A diverse range of federal and local stakeholders engage in discussions about the health effects of climate change on vulnerable populations. Photo: HHS
A diverse range of federal and local stakeholders engage in discussions about the health effects of climate change on vulnerable populations.
Photo: HHS

By Timothy Fields, Jr.

About the author: Timothy Fields, Jr. is Senior Vice President of MDB, Inc., a public health and environmental management consulting firm in Washington, D.C. Previously, Tim served as EPA Assistant Administrator in charge of environmental cleanup, waste management, and emergency response (1997-2001).

Climate change is one of the major public health challenges of our time.  Certain individuals and communities are especially vulnerable, including children, the elderly, the sick, low-income residents, and people of color.  As the conversation about climate change has grown, a new emphasis on climate justice has emerged, focusing on the health impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities.  Climate justice has become a high priority focus of the environmental justice movement.

Recent calls for action to address the public health dangers of climate change have been joined by leaders such as President Barack Obama, Pope Francis, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy.  They and many other leaders agree that climate change is impacting communities across the country and around the globe, particularly those communities already disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards and social conditions.

This June, more than 100 people from a variety of government agencies, community organizations, academic institutions, and businesses came together in North Carolina to discuss the health effects of climate change as they relate to vulnerable populations.  Convened by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), the 2015 HHS Climate Justice Conference encouraged stakeholders to share community challenges and priorities, as well as promising approaches and opportunities for collaboration for responding to emerging health effects.

Although the conference focused on the strategic elements described in the 2012 HHS Environmental Justice Strategy and Implementation Plan, the dialogue reflected the larger conversation around climate justice.  Federal staff highlighted federal efforts to build climate resilience and promote climate justice.  Representatives of community groups not only offered on-the-ground examples of how climate change is impacting vulnerable communities, they pointed to how they are mobilizing to educate and empower communities to take action. Other stakeholders discussed tools and resources designed to help communities better understand the health impacts of climate change and become more resilient to these impacts.

Key themes highlighted during the conference include:

  • All stakeholders have a role in responding to the emerging health threats of climate change.
  • Community organizations and environmental justice representatives are mobilizing to educate and empower communities to take action.
  • Vulnerable communities need to be actively involved as programs, policies, and activities are developed and implemented to ensure climate justice.
  • Strategies are needed regarding how federal agencies could provide additional resources to increase the capacity of communities to address climate justice concerns.
  • Mechanisms should be developed to support workers who live and work in communities disproportionately affected by environmental hazards and are most vulnerable to climate change impacts.
  • Relationships with communities should be established as climate change research is conducted, employing mechanisms such as citizen science and community-engaged research to help empower communities to develop useful information.

Participants also discussed the need to achieve more equitable distribution of technical and financial assistance in the face of limited local resources for addressing climate change.  To achieve this, it is important that government agencies better coordinate and share information about climate resiliency services.

The 2015 HHS Climate Justice Conference is part of the ongoing dialogue about environmental justice and climate change, occurring 21 years after the signing of the Presidential Executive Order on Environmental Justice and two years after the issuance of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.  The dialogue among all stakeholders about climate justice and public health must continue.  I encourage you to continue to engage and take appropriate actions to address the health impacts of climate change.

Check out the 2015 HHS Climate Justice Conference Report and other conference materials, including a video from the meeting:

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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Photography Tips for Citizen Scientists Capturing the 2015 King Tide

By Tammy Newcomer Johnson, ORISE Research Participant

The sidewalk is flooded at the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC.  Photo by Tammy Newcomer Johnson.

I’m a scientist working at EPA and an avid photographer. I have exhibited nature-related photography in a 2-artist show, and I occasionally shoot weddings— preferably on the beach!

“King Tides,” are the highest tides of the year and they provide a glimpse of the future challenges that climate change brings to coastal communities facing rising sea levels. The main 2015 Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Seaboard King Tides will occur on October 28th. Check out this King Tides Map for predicted times. This is a bounty for photographers and a wake-up call for local planners.

Recording King Tides is a great citizen science opportunity. Anyone with a camera can participate!  Images and video of King Tides can help local planners, elected officials, and community members visualize and prepare for future flooding events from sea level rise, high tides, and coastal storms. For example, the King Tides Project teams up with classrooms in coastal communities to empower students to educate local planners about future flooding risks. Likewise, many of the National Estuary Programs are actively engaged in capturing the King Tides. The Casco Bay Estuary Partnership in Maine has an interactive King Tides Trail and an annual King Tide Party to document high water levels. What a fun way to combine art, science, and coastal management!

Want to learn more about King Tides? Check out EPA’s Climate Ready Estuaries and NOAA’s Office of Coastal Management for some great resources.

Here are my King Tides photography tips:

  1. Location, location, location! Choose a place that is vulnerable to coastal flooding. Make sure that you include some familiar landmarks so that it is easy to identify the area.
  2. The early bird gets the worm! Arrive at your location about 45 minutes before the high tide to scout out the best shot.
  3. Quantity leads to quality! Take a lot of pictures so you can compare them and pick your favorite. During a recent wedding I photographed, I took over 2,000 photos. I found some real gems among all of these photos!
  4. Bonus points! Get some photos of the low tide to show the contrast and/or take a time-lapse video.

I encourage you to share your King Tides photography with the King Tides Project, the MyCoast App and your local National Estuary Program (if you are in one of those watersheds). Thank you for helping your community to be ready for climate change!

About the author: Tammy Newcomer Johnson is in the ORISE program with EPA’s Climate Ready Estuaries team. She has a Ph.D. in Marine Estuarine Environmental Science (MEES) program from the University of Maryland, College Park, where she explored the impacts of urbanization on the ecology and water quality of the Chesapeake Bay.


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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Working Together to Implement the Clean Power Plan

By Gina McCarthy

This summer, EPA issued our historic Clean Power Plan, one of the largest steps America has ever taken to combat climate change and protect future generations. The Plan puts the U.S. on track to significantly cut carbon pollution from power plants – our nation’s biggest single contributor to climate change.

Because greenhouse gas pollution threatens public health and welfare, EPA is using its authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate sources of these pollutants, including in the power sector. Along with the many other actions we’re taking under President Obama’s leadership, the Clean Power Plan will translate to major health benefits and cost savings for American families.

The Clean Power Plan is grounded firmly in science and the law. Science clearly shows that carbon dioxide fuels a changing climate, which in turn poses threats to our health and to the environment that sustains us all. The Plan is fully consistent with the Clean Air Act, and relies on the same time-tested state-federal partnership that, since 1970, has reduced harmful air pollution by 70 percent, while the U.S. economy has tripled.

What makes the Plan so effective is that it reflects the voices of those who are closest to the issues on the ground. Extensive input from states, industry representatives, energy regulators, health and environmental groups, and individual members of the public helped us get to a plan that we know works for everyone.  In fact, we considered over 4.3 million comments received in response to our initial proposal.

And we listened.

It was feedback from utilities that made sure our plan mirrors how electricity moves around the grid, so that we could open up opportunities. It was input from states that made sure we set fair and consistent standards across the country. And it was comments from many folks that told us that we needed to extend the timeframe for mandatory cuts by two years, until 2022. States and utilities told us they needed more time, and we listened.

As a result of this unprecedented amount of outreach, the Plan is fair, flexible, affordable, and designed to reflect the fast-growing trend toward cleaner American energy.

With strong but achievable standards for power plants, and customized goals for states to cut the carbon pollution that is driving climate change, the Clean Power Plan provides national consistency, accountability, and a level playing field while reflecting each state’s energy mix.

But our engagement hasn’t stopped with the signing of the rule. Since issuing the Clean Power Plan in August, we’ve reached out to all 50 states, making sure every state has multiple opportunities to hear from us and to ask questions.

We’ve also held dozens in-person meetings and calls with states, tribes, communities, industry representatives, and elected officials, and we’ve held or participated in a number of widely-attended conferences about the Plan.

Staff at each of EPA’s 10 regional offices and our headquarters have responded to hundreds of questions about the final rule, and questions continue to come in through meetings, our website, and other venues.

We’ve seen firsthand that when diverse voices are brought to the table, environmental protection works. For nearly 45 years, our interactions and engagement with states and stakeholders has resulted in tremendous progress to cut down air pollution and protect Americans’ health – including tangible benefits for communities, families, and kids.

We are committed to helping everyone better understand the Clean Power Plan and have been impressed – but certainly not surprised – by the remarkable level of constructive engagement across the board. Conversations are happening across the country. And we’re encouraged to see that many states are beginning their own planning processes because that means they’re preparing to take action.

We have every interest in helping states succeed, and every confidence that the Clean Power Plan provides states the options, time and flexibility to develop plans that meet their unique needs and goals.

We look forward to continuing our work with states, the energy sector, and many other groups to follow the science, implement the law, and build a healthy future for our kids and grandkids – together.

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 Greenhouse Gas Data for Large Facilities Now Available

By Janet McCabe

This week, the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program released its fifth year of detailed, facility-level data for over 8,000 large-emitters, representing approximately 50% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Why is this important? High-quality, long-term environmental data are essential to protecting human health and our environment. Environmental data are the foundation of practically everything we do, and detailed greenhouse gas emissions data are essential in guiding the steps we take to address the problem of climate change.

We have been providing national-level greenhouse gas emissions data since the early 1990s through the U.S. Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks. Submitted every spring to the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the GHG inventory is the official U.S. government estimate of annual greenhouse gas emissions. The GHG inventory is calculated using national-level data sets and provides an estimate of overall emissions for every sector.

Established by Congress in 2008, the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program complements the GHG inventory with additional detail on large emitters of greenhouse gases. While the inventory provides a bird’s-eye view of emissions sources and trends, since 2010 the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program has provided a ground-level view with a rich dataset of facility-level emissions that was previously unavailable.

The Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program is the only program that collects facility-level greenhouse gas data from major industrial sources across the United States, including power plants, oil and gas production and refining, iron and steel mills and landfills. The program also collects data on the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) predominantly used in refrigeration and air conditioning. While the reporting program does not cover every source, it provides an unprecedented level of information on the largest stationary sources of emissions.

The reporting program’s online data publication tool, called FLIGHT, is amazing—even if you’re not a veteran number-cruncher. It brings detailed emissions data to users in an intuitive, map-based format. This tool allows states, communities, businesses, and concerned citizens to view top GHG-emitters in a state or region; see emissions data from a specific industry; track emissions trends by facility, industry, or region; and download maps, list and charts.

The data can be used by businesses and others to track and compare facilities’ greenhouse gas emissions, identify opportunities to cut pollution, minimize wasted energy, and save money.  States, cities, and other communities can use our greenhouse gas data to find high-emitting facilities in their area, compare emissions between similar facilities, and develop common-sense climate policies.

I encourage you to take a look at the data and learn more.

See key facts and figures and explore Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program Data:
GHGRP Home Page:

Learn more about climate change, and EPA actions to address it:

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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Giving Grants to Make a Difference

By Sheila Lewis

About the Author: Sheila Lewis has dedicated more than 30 years to federal service and has worked to support community-based efforts since 1999. She currently serves as the Deputy Director of EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice in Washington, D.C.


I am ecstatic that EPA today announced our latest round of Environmental Justice Small Grant projects. Take a moment to look at the project summaries that we have selected because they are a true reflection of what is happening in the environmental justice arena around the country.

One thing you’ll notice is how communities throughout the country are finding innovative ways to adapt to climate change and build resilience in their neighborhoods.  From Northern New Mexico to Chicago and Newport News, Virginia to Chickaloon, Alaska, community leaders have recognized both the challenges of preparing their communities for the impacts of climate change, while seizing the opportunity to bring the benefits of renewable energy and efficiency to the places that need it most.

Something that you might notice is the number of gardening projects in both urban and rural settings, which will be used to teach people about resiliency, soil contamination, environmental stewardship, public health, entrepreneurship, and water conservation.  These projects are environmental justice through and through — aimed at improving the local environment by engaging, educating, organizing, empowering in efforts driven BY the community FOR the community.

A focus on youth inclusion and project leadership also stands out among this year’s projects.  We’re exci2008_EarthMonth_026ted to support so many projects that will bring local youth into environmental decision-making, helping to better position them to work toward improving their communities.  It goes along with what we’ve heard as a priority from our stakeholders around the country and is reflected in the Agency’s commitment to focus on youth engagement on climate change through our National Environmental Justice Advisory Council.

It’s great that we can support so many projects and partners from across the entire country, support that is bolstered this year through funding of additional projects in the Gulf Coast area, thanks to our colleagues in the EPA Gulf of Mexico Program.

But what’s even more exciting than what these discreet projects can achieve over the next year, is how they can build on this funding to leverage work that can be accomplished towards bigger solutions and real change in their communities.

At EPA, we recognize that making such change happen takes community leadership, long-term commitment, and a collaborative effort much bigger than just EPA and its grants to a specific organization.  In the more than 20 years since the inception of this grant program, we have been learning how to better work with communities and other partners to improve our ability to support such growth and change, most recently through Administrator McCarthy’s “Making a Visible Difference in Communities” initiative. We also will soon announce a call for proposals for our Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem Solving cooperative agreements, which support community driven efforts at growing effective collaborations to identify and address larger issues in the community.

Evidence of the power of starting with a little support and growing partnerships towards larger solutions is evidenced in communities throughout the country. Whether in the port areas of San Diego or an industrial neighborhood in northern New York, communities with a little bit of support can make a lot happen.

Congratulations to those organizations selected to receive such support. We look forward to continuing to work with you on your path towards making change happen in your communities.

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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We Must Work Together to Build Resilience in Communities Facing Climate Change 

By Kelly Overstreet

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 is 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 already posted blogs by Andrew Speckin and Sara Lamprise. Our third blog is by Kelly Overstreet, who continues to intern with our Program Operations and Integration staff.

151006 - CREAT logo

In August, I attended a fascinating Climate Change Workshop, sponsored by the Nebraska Silver Jackets, with my EPA colleague Robert Dunlevy. Silver Jacket groups partner with federal and state agencies to manage flood risk at the state level. Bob made a presentation on EPA’s Climate Resilience Evaluation and Awareness Tool (CREAT), a software tool to assist drinking water and wastewater utility owners and operators in understanding potential climate change threats and assessing the related risks at their individual utilities. As an intern, I went along to gain some valuable, direct experience in collaborative problem-solving.

Bob Dunlevy and Kelly Overstreet

Bob Dunlevy and Kelly Overstreet

As we drove north to the workshop at the Lewis and Clark Missouri River Visitors Center in Nebraska City, Bob used the trip as a teaching opportunity, noting sites of loess (windblown sediment), commenting on the heights of various rivers and streams, and discussing the variety of unique geological structures here in the Heartland. Many of these lessons were anecdotal, relating to his 25 years of experience working with communities as an EPA representative.

Bob reminded me of the unique position EPA plays as a U.S. regulatory agency. We have a broad mission to ensure that “all Americans are protected from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn and work.” In achieving that mission, we as federal employees must focus on our individual contributions to help achieve EPA’s overall goal.

In economics, there is the phenomena of “agglomeration economies.” While the concept can get quite technical very quickly, the general idea is that businesses are most successful when they exist in proximity to each other. This allows for the exchange of tacit knowledge between businesses that provide goods and services both laterally across sectors and vertically within.

However, such knowledge doesn’t only exist in the private sector. Upon arriving at Nebraska City, I had the opportunity to witness the power of tacit knowledge firsthand. The workshop offered a series of lectures and talks from several federal, state, and local agencies directly involved in flood resiliency and adaptation measures.

View from Lewis and Clark Missouri River Visitors Center

View from Lewis and Clark Missouri River Visitors Center

Not surprisingly, we joined representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, all with different missions and different sets of tools for accomplishing their goals. And yet, through the collaborative process of sharing knowledge and asking questions, I left with a much stronger sense of the challenges we face in coping with extreme weather events.

Sometimes our role in EPA’s mission can feel piecemeal, but to best achieve our mission, we must form partnerships and foster relationships. Each of us has a different focus and knowledge set, but as long as we continue to have conversations, like at the Silver Jackets training, we don’t have to be limited by the specific priorities that shape our service.

About the Author: Kelly Overstreet is a Student Intern at EPA Region 7, who worked full-time this summer and will continue part-time during the school year. She is a graduate student at the University of Kansas, earning master’s degrees in urban planning and human geography. Kelly’s graduate research focuses on how municipal climate planning can address issues of environmental justice and social equity. She’s a cat lady, and proud to show off her pet photos.

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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Urban Composting: It’s Always Worth It

By Barbara Pualani

Any household organic material can be composted (and used again!).

Any household organic material can be composted (and used again!).

Earth-friendly urban dwellers know just how precarious composting in the city can be. Storage bags of frozen food waste in the freezer, the subway ride overloaded with multiple bags, sometimes difficult-to-find drop-off sites. I have shared countless stories with friends about urban composting. Shenanigans abound, but we always agree that in the end it’s worth it.

Take a friend of mine that I met as a student at Columbia University. Every week she would bring her compost from New Jersey to the campus farmer’s market. She would carry a week’s worth of food waste one train ride and two subway rides every Thursday. But one day, running late, the farmer’s market closed before she could get there, leaving her stuck with the compost. She wasn’t too worried–until a student meeting ended up lasting four hours. By that time, the forgotten compost was stinking up the room and annoying her fellow students. Luckily, she eventually found a fridge to store it in. Her friends laughed it off.

Composting can sometimes seem pretty inconvenient, so why do it at all? Because food waste is actually a really big problem.

Rotting food in landfills is a substantial source of methane—a greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. In the U.S., landfills account for more than 20 percent of all methane emissions. Organic materials make up the largest portion of this waste. Paper materials comprise 27 percent while yard trimmings and food comprise 28 percent. This means that 55 percent of all waste in this country can potentially be composted rather than rotting in our landfills.

The story sounds dire, but it’s not all doom and gloom. Composting has made substantial headway in recent years.

According to EPA’s Advancing Sustainable Materials Management study released this year, Americans recycled and composted over 87 million tons of waste in 2013, which in carbon dioxide equivalent terms is equal to removing emissions for over 39 million passenger vehicles from the road in one year. The most recent numbers show that 5 percent of food is now composted annually. Over 2.7 million households are served by food composting collection programs nationwide. Even in the city, composting is becoming more convenient. New York City recently mandated composting for all hotel restaurants, arenas and wholesalers, and there are various organics collection services & drop off points for residents in all five boroughs.

On a different Thursday, my friend was again dropping off her compost. She mentioned to the man running the booth that she brought it all the way from New Jersey. Upon hearing this, he bowed his head with his hands folded in prayer and said, “You are an inspiration to us all.” Although we giggled about this later, he’s absolutely right.

This is why we compost—to inspire, to reduce our carbon footprint, and to do our fair share in taking care of this planet.

The biggest lesson we can learn is it’s not just for green-thumbed hippies. One of my favorite stories comes from a former colleague who told me (facetiously, of course) that composting had taken a toll on her marriage. After a year of picking his organics out of the garbage, she finally confronted her husband about his incorrect trash disposal methods. He explained how he didn’t really care about it, and even though he knew she had already explained how to do it, he was still unsure. Because her husband is very Catholic, she resorted to quoting the Pope who believes “everyone has a moral obligation to care for the planet.” Now her husband puts his organics in the compost bags; if he is unsure if the item is compostable, he asks. My colleague ended this story with an assurance and a wink: “I am happily married.”

I like to collect these anecdotes—laughter is the best medicine after all—but they serve to amplify the real problem: organic waste is a serious contributor to climate change, and we all need to do our part to address it. If you’re confused about what’s compostable and what’s not, check out your city’s local web page.  Or, like my friend’s husband, if you’re confused, just ask. It never hurts to research or ask around until you do find someone who knows. And it’s always worth it.

About the author: Barbara Pualani serves as a speechwriter for EPA Region 2. Prior to joining EPA, she served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic. She resides in Brooklyn and is a graduate of University of Northern Colorado and Columbia University.

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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September is Prime Time for Preparedness

by Jennie Saxe

A few key elements of a basic emergency supply kit

A few key elements of a basic emergency supply kit

One of my favorite movie quotes of all time is from the character Edna Mode in the animated movie The Incredibles: “Luck favors the prepared.” Why do I like this quote? It’s simple: luck isn’t necessarily the answer; preparation is an important factor for success in school, at work, in sports, and more.

Being prepared isn’t just for students and athletes – water systems and communities need to be prepared, too. Flooding rains, power outages, and intentional acts are emergencies that can disrupt our lives – even putting our safety at risk. As our climate changes, these types of emergencies present different, serious challenges to water and wastewater systems.

EPA has many resources for water systems to help them plan, prepare for, and respond to all types of hazards. Water utilities can also respond to climate changes underway – and prepare for changes anticipated in the future – by tapping into EPA’s Climate Ready Water Utilities program. Recently, Capital Region Water in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania made use of EPA’s Climate Resilience Evaluation & Awareness Tool (CREAT) to identify what impacts climate change has on its operations and develop options for lowering risk. This video is a great look at how water and wastewater treatment plants can incorporate resilience, climate change, and long-term sustainability into capital projects and operations.

Because there’s not a “one-size-fits-all” approach for water utilities to adapt to climate changes, EPA also developed an Adaptation Strategies Guide for Water Utilities. This guide walks users step-by-step though projected climate conditions in different regions, and provides a menu of actions that a water utility can take to be better prepared to serve its community in all types of emergencies. The guide even highlights some “no regrets” options (for example: monitoring weather conditions; diversifying water sources; and developing mutual aid agreements with other utilities) which will benefit water systems in a variety of current and future climate scenarios.

Preparedness is so important for families and communities that President Obama has declared September National Preparedness Month, a time to develop plans for all types of emergencies. Take some time this month to talk with your family about what they should do in an emergency, and put together an emergency kit that includes water. It’s easy, and it can make weathering an emergency less stressful. Check out these resources today!


About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs.

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

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