Economic Development

Building Community Resiliency by Training the Next Generation

by Patrick A. Barnes

In 2011, the first of the baby boomers reached retirement age.  And for the foreseeable future, boomers will be retiring at a rate of 10,000 a day, nearly a quarter million a month.

In an effort to help compensate for its retiring workforce, the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board (S&WB) launched several initiatives to reach individuals within communities of need to find future water/wastewater plant operators. One such initiative resulted in a very unique and timely partnership with Limitless Vistas, Inc. (LVI), supported by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

At LVI, our mission is to serve at-risk, underserved, and under-employed young adults, ages 18 to 29 years.  Through our program, participants obtain certifications, knowledge, skills, and hands-on experience in the environmental industry.  Near the end of their training, LVI participants serve in internships with S&WB and local environmental and engineering firms. These internships help the students learn more about potential careers within the environmental industry. It also gives potential employers a chance to work with non-traditional future employees and discover their talents and enthusiasm before offering them a job.

Granville Guillory has used this opportunity to truly excel.

Granville was 20 when he came to LVI after several personal hardships and dropping out of college. His aunt heard about the LVI program and suggested he give it a try.  During his interview, Granville indicated he wanted to work for S&WB and follow in his uncle’s footsteps.  According to Granville, his uncle had worked at the S&WB for most of his life and he was “set.” Granville was looking for the same type of stability in his life.

Granville, along with several other students, were there on June 21, 2012, when EPA announced that LVI was among the recipients of an EPA Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training grant. There, Granville discussed his desire to work for the S&WB. His sincerity and personal enthusiasm earned him a private tour of the facility after the press conference.

Later that year, Granville and seven other LVI members participated in an internship at the local facility, where he continued to impress the staff with his work ethic, curiosity, and natural intuition for the work. And his hard work paid off! After passing the Wastewater Operators State Board Exam, Granville and another student were asked to join Veolia North America (the plant operator) as full-time employees.

Now at age 23, Granville is excelling as a State of Louisiana Class III Wastewater Plant Operator and, as he puts it, “if things go wrong, it is my responsibility to help make them right before any serious damage to the furnace or an emission violation occurs.” Because of his performance and interest in furnace operations, he was asked if he would be willing to travel overseas to broaden his skills. Later this year, Granville will be traveling to Tokyo for six months to learn about a new and more efficient furnace that Veolia is planning to incorporate in its U.S. operations.

Granville also has taken on an active role in mentoring new LVI participants and interns. With his enthusiasm, they are able to see the bigger picture through discussions with him and strive harder to achieve their goals — just like Granville did.

I firmly believe that there cannot be true environmental justice without economic justice, and this tremendous need represents a unique opportunity for impacted residents to obtain meaningful jobs, thus putting them on a path to economic equality and ultimately, helping to build the socio-economic strength necessary for communities like Granville’s more resilient for the future.  It truly takes a unique team of partners working together across governments and with local communities and industry, to connect the dots for environmental workforce development and job training programs to succeed!

About the author: Patrick A. Barnes, President of BFA Environmental is a professional geologist and founder of LVI.  Patrick recently was honoured as a White House Champion of Change Community Resiliency Leader.  Patrick first envisioned LVI in 1997 after years of performing environmental engineering services to poor communities working as an EPA Technical Assistant Grant (TAG) advisor and after working on several Brownfields redevelopment projects in the Southeast.  

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 Brighter Future for My Community and Yours: A Mayor’s Perspective

By Lisa A. Wong

(c) 2015 Sentinel & Enterprise. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission of Digital First Media.

(c) 2015 Sentinel & Enterprise. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission of Digital First Media.

Fitchburg, Massachusetts, is a wonderful community that built its foundation along the Nashua River. The town flourished along the banks of this great river until the industry and jobs moved south, leaving behind abandoned mill properties that deteriorated into brownfield sites. When I first decided to run for Mayor, I had one clear vision: to promote economic growth in a manner that also improves the community’s environment and public health. The projects that I have undertaken as Mayor have been based in economics, but also in promoting environmental and health equity for all the community.

My time in office has taught me a number of things, but two really stand out. First, I have come to realize that problem solving doesn’t necessarily require more spending, but it does require innovative spending. Second, government cannot solve problems alone — you have to engage the citizens of the community to develop solutions that will improve everyone’s lives. By working with my community to connect them back to the river and focusing on environmental justice challenges, we have made a better, more sustainable future for all. Today, the city of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, prospers because we are working together to promote a cleaner environment so that all of our citizens can collectively share in that brighter future.

As chair of the Environmental Justice workgroup for EPA’s Local Government Advisory Committee (LGAC), there is a lot to reflect on for Earth Day 2015. The LGAC is a federal advisory committee comprised of 30 elected and appointed officials of state, tribal and local governments who meet regularly to advise the EPA Administrator about environmental and public health issues that affect local government. Recently, the LGAC produced the EJ Best Practices for Local Governments report that highlights best practices that local governments have undertaken in communities to address environmental justice and sustainability.

The LGAC understands that communities with environmental justice concerns face many challenges when it comes to human health and the environment. Indeed, these communities are impacted more by environmental damage and health disparities than other communities. In our report, the LGAC highlighted several findings:

  • EJ communities need a forum to discuss and collaborate on solutions
  • EJ communities need access to resources to address community problems
  • EJ communities lack the basic infrastructure for clean drinking water, stormwater, wastewater, and utilities to meet citizen needs and promote economic prosperity

My colleagues on the LGAC are very excited to share our stories about addressing such environmental challenges to promote environmental equity for all. Our LGAC members have developed innovative strategies to close economic, environmental, and health disparity gaps. In the blog posts to follow in the coming weeks, we will present examples illustrating where local governments have made advances in closing the gap of environmental and health disparities. I sincerely hope that by sharing our stories, it will inspire individuals and local leaders to take on these challenges. It is only through a continuing and meaningful dialogue at the community level that problems can be addressed and solutions found that will benefit everybody, both in terms of economics and the environment.

About the author: Hon. Lisa A. Wong is currently serving her fourth term as Mayor of the city of Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Before then, she worked for the Fitchburg Redevelopment Authority where, as director, she managed several urban renewal projects to revitalize the city.

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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Local “Change Agent” a Catalyst for Transformation

by Blase Leven

Jack Crumbly meeting with representatives from potential funding organizations; organized by KSU TAB, on April 1, 2015.

Jack Crumbly meeting with representatives from potential funding organizations; organized by KSU TAB, on April 1, 2015.

Harriet Tubman, one of America’s greatest change agents, is credited with saying that “every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” I don’t doubt that Harriet’s words echo loudly for Jack Crumbly, who is working in four of the poorest counties in Arkansas to address high levels of school dropout rates, swelling prison populations, and poverty.

Jack is a retired school administrator and former Arkansas state senator who is leading an initiative to renovate a closed school contaminated with asbestos into a second-chance regional high school and vocational training center known as the STRIVE (Special Training in Remedial Instruction and Vocational Education) Institute of Technology. Last spring, Jack and some of the STRIVE board members attended a workshop I helped to arrange through the EPA Technical Assistance to Brownfields (TAB) Program. Since then, I’ve worked with my colleague Oral Saulters, who is the point of contact for TAB in Arkansas, to provide information about how to get the closed school eligible for federal cleanup funding. We also helped coordinate “funder’s meetings” to identify one-time startup funds.

Over the past several years, Jack and several other retired teachers and administrators have acted on their passion to improve the situation for at-risk youth in Eastern Arkansas, forming a state-approved educational non-profit organization, and creating partnerships with nine school districts that will supply the funds and bus transportation needed to operate the school. The Lee County School District deeded the former Anna Strong Elementary School, named for another Change Agent who labored to provide quality education to the African American citizens of Lee County and who was widely recognized for her efforts.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s TAB Program funds technical assistance to communities and other stakeholders on brownfields issues with the goal of increasing the community’s understanding and involvement in brownfield cleanup and revitalization, and helping to move brownfields sites forward toward cleanup and reuse. The TAB program at Kansas State University works every year with more than 100 communities in EPA Regions 5, 6, 7, and 8. We provide free advice to change agents like Jack on how to go about re-purposing abandoned or inactive properties with environmental issues. If we can’t help, we can usually find someone who can.

If successful, Jack’s project will give 125 graduating students each year and 31 permanent staff a chance to add more than $1 million to local economies in new consumer spending and tax revenues, and will save more than $3 million a year in state funds by diverting adjudicated juveniles away from the pipeline-to-prison system and instead towards productive employment. The monetary value to the greater community would be far surpassed by the value to successful graduates and their families, based on similar initiatives in other states.

I’m hoping that the help we give might be the nudge that makes all of Jack’s hard work pay off. Until then Jack will be making the rounds in the morning, picking kids up on the street and hauling them to the closest school; and in the afternoons he’ll be cleaning out the abandoned school with any helpers he can find. Amazing!

Are you a change agent in your community or want to be one? It’s a lot of work but there are resources out there to help. If you would like to learn more about how the TAB program can help in your community, come to two afternoon TAB events on September 3rd at the Brownfields 2015 Conference.

About the author: Blase Leven is the Technical Assistance to Brownfields (TAB) Program Coordinator at Kansas State University. At KSU, he has managed and served on technical assistance and outreach teams for a number of EPA-funded programs since 1997.

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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Revitalization is Good Medicine

By Stephanie Cwik

Exiting the toll road in Gary, Indiana isn’t something I would have casually done a year ago. With smoke and gas-belching steel mills to the left, and a meandering, sometimes garbage-strewn waterway on the right, it’s not the most welcoming sight to the weary traveler — this Grant Street exit that doesn’t even take you to Grant Street.

But follow the signs to the hospital (if you can find them) and keep your eyes open, because when you start to look around you find that Gary is brimming with potential. The air quality is improving. That waterway is slowly being remediated, foot by foot, with native plants and habitats taking ground faster every day. And the blight from years of disinvestment that greets you when you swing left from some street that is definitely NOT Grant Street into the Horace Mann neighborhood, is on its way out. The City’s only hospital is a major anchor here, and Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson has determined it’s time to work together with the medical community to improve the quality of life for her residents.

Region 5 EPA has been working closely with Mayor Freeman-Wilson on issues of blight and abandonment, redevelopment, and economic development since 2012. Through the Partnership for Sustainable Communities Gary Northside Redevelopment Project, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and EPA have engaged the City and its medical providers in recreating the concept of a Medical District in the Horace Mann neighborhood. Surprisingly, health care has become one of the largest employment sectors in the City, and is growing. With four major health providers within walking distance of each other, the creation of a formal district just made sense.

Initially, the Gary Medical District existed only as a fleeting idea within the City’s planning department but, after great success engaging a growing and broad range of stakeholders at a workshop about Employer-Assisted Housing in February 2014, the Partnership team wanted to do more to formalize the brewing cooperative interest in revitalization. The collaboration included local medical providers and non-profit organizations, many of whom are long-time Gary residents, as well as federal agencies.

Architects from HUD and EPA designed and conducted a four-hour charrette to examine the potential to actually create a medical district in Gary’s west side Horace Mann- Ambridge neighborhood. Crucially, local citizens joined the Mayor, her staff, and the City’s medical providers to examine physical and design changes to improve the quality of life for Horace Mann residents as well as to determine where these multiple agencies might partner to achieve greater results with the community. These early conversations built consensus among local leadership and addressed concerns about the increasing amounts of real estate speculation in Gary that too often derails the local redevelopment process. Discussions about creating a long-lasting district in the neighborhood initially examined the existing and overlapping services already provided, and identified possible efficiencies that could be created through cooperation. During the charrette, conversations about gaps in services, district branding, and how to engage the stakeholders required to implement and sustain this district were examined and shared.

Six assorted teams presented recommendations, as well as identified ways to improve the built environment with sustainable development features such as: bike lanes, sidewalks, green infrastructure, street trees, improved transit connections and wayfinding (I’m looking at you, Grant Street exit), ecological restoration, and single and multi-family housing that address vacant and blighted brownfields. In addition, the teams addressed the role of grocery stores and retail and commercial needs in addressing access to food and encouraging economic stimulus.

Charged with excitement, the Mayor agreed to match any potential planning funding provided by Methodist Hospital to create a plan for a medical district. And although they may not have seen eye-to-eye in the past, these two powerhouses of potential are eagerly entering into a new era of teamwork. The resulting excitement has caused the City and its partners to include the Medical District in two new planning efforts:

  • Gary Public Transit Corporation’s Livable Broadway Plan, which will assess opportunities for improving bus service while enhancing economic development, environment and land use and promoting livability; and
  • Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission’s Livable Centers Initiative, which promotes investment and redevelopment in the places where people already live and work to create an improved working and living environment that is supported by travel choices.

The Partnership team has summarized the results of the charrette, and will reconvene its participants and new planning contacts to discuss how to move toward concrete next steps, funding opportunities, and cultivating these new relationships that will carry the Gary Medical District into the future. Word of mouth is spreading the news of the emerging partnerships, and as the two planning efforts come together, the City stresses that the continued involvement of local residents is key to the long term sustainability of this historic neighborhood.

About the Author: Stephanie Cwik has been working in EPA Region 5’s Superfund – Community and Land Revitalization Branch on sustainable redevelopment issues since 2007, and is now a full time member of the Strong Cities, Strong Communities team housed in City Hall in Gary, Indiana. She has a Master’s Degree in Hydrology from the University of Arizona.

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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More Bang for the Green Buck: Using Green Infrastructure to Revitalize Water Systems and the Community

by Mike Shapiro

Lancaster, Pennsylvania’s small but historic Crystal Park is located in a racially diverse and economically distressed neighborhood rich in history. The neighborhood once served as a welcome gate to the southwest corner of the city but suffered neglect. The park was no different, and long had been underutilized by local residents. When Lancaster implemented its Green Infrastructure Plan, neighbors of the park considered it an important focus for the city’s redevelopment efforts. Nearly one year later, neighbors love the space. Use of the park, which had been non-existent before this revitalization effort, has outpaced all expectations.

Revitalization of the park is just a part of Lancaster’s efforts to recreate itself into a sustainable city. In fact, Lancaster was the first community to receive the Sustainable Pennsylvania Community Certification under the Pennsylvania Municipal League’s new statewide program. The certification acknowledges Lancaster for its progress in addressing areas of community design and land use, energy efficiency, health and wellness, mitigating blight, intergovernmental cooperation, recycling and waste reduction, fiscal controls, and internal management and operations.

Students tour green infrastructure projects around the city

Students tour green infrastructure projects around the city

Lancaster, a diverse city of 60,000 in southern Pennsylvania faces many of the infrastructure challenges prevalent in older communities across the country. Located within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the city operates a combined sewer system, which manages both wastewater and stormwater, as well as a separate storm sewer system. As with many urban centers, the city is largely paved—nearly half of the city is covered by impervious surfaces such as parking lots, buildings, and roadways. Stormwater runoff from these paved areas overflows the city’s combined sewers during heavy rainstorms, becoming a major source of pollution in local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay.

On August 18, Charlotte Katzenmoyer, Lancaster’s Director of Public Works, visited EPA headquarters to discuss the series of innovative, green approaches the city has adopted to improve its water infrastructure and enhance the community for the benefit of all residents. For Crystal Park, enhancements include a porous asphalt basketball court, a plaza and picnic area constructed of permeable pavers, and rain gardens that help capture stormwater runoff. The porous plaza doubles as an amphitheater where local theaters have brought plays to this underserved community this past summer for the first time in the city’s history.

Lancaster has built over 100 green infrastructure projects designed to reduce stormwater runoff. Green infrastructure uses vegetation, soils, and natural processes to manage stormwater runoff at its source, protecting water quality and benefiting communities through improved air quality, enhanced recreational opportunities, revitalized neighborhoods, and even enhanced climate resiliency. Increasingly, it is being used to complement and enhance gray infrastructure investments such as pipes and ponds.

The city has creatively integrated green infrastructure into other public works improvements, actively engaging community groups in selecting and developing these projects. The city worked to ensure that residents from around the city were represented and engaged in the process, convening an advisory committee, with representatives from the city’s civic and community groups, to provide input into its green infrastructure plan and throughout project selection and development. In addition, the city has used demonstration projects and outreach efforts to seek out community input and educate community members on the benefits of green infrastructure.

The public works department has used this approach to cost-effectively improve the city’s overall infrastructure and neighborhoods and improve a range of amenities for local residents—incorporating plants and infiltration trenches into “green” alleys and parking lots; building community rain gardens; and creating basketball courts with permeable surfaces through which stormwater can drain. Lancaster estimates that its green infrastructure projects will capture about 45 million gallons of stormwater runoff annually. In addition to managing stormwater runoff and helping enhance neighborhoods and residential amenities, Lancaster has found that green infrastructure approaches can cost significantly less than gray infrastructure investments—enlarging the city’s wastewater treatment plant and building holding tanks to adequately store stormwater overflows would cost the city an estimated $300 million, compared with $140 million to manage the same volume of stormwater using green infrastructure approaches.

Building green infrastructure has been instrumental in allowing Lancaster to improve its infrastructure with the least possible impact to wastewater utility rates, a concern for the city’s many economically distressed ratepayers. In addition, to further pay for these stormwater improvements equitably, the city adopted a stormwater utility fee in February based on each parcel’s impervious cover, meaning those properties that generate proportionally more stormwater pay a higher utility fee. This also provides relief for individual ratepayers, whose properties generally have lower levels of impervious cover.

Importantly, Lancaster has looked to optimize the many community benefits that green infrastructure can provide. Increasing green space in environmentally overburdened, underserved, and economically distressed communities, enhancing tree canopy, and improving recreational facilities have provided public health benefits and improved the overall livability of Lancaster. We were grateful to have Charlotte share many of Lancaster’s successes and to see how communities are making green infrastructure work for their residents, providing both environmental and social benefits.

About the Author: Mike Shapiro is the Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water and leads the office’s efforts with regard to Environmental Justice.

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

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Taking a Seat at the Table: Your Involvement in the Future of Our Legacy Cities

By Charlene Dwin Vaughn, AICP

America’s Legacy Cities were once industrial powerhouses and hubs of business, retail, and services scattered across New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and the Midwest. Their factories provided jobs, and downtown areas were alive with department stores, professional offices, and financial institutions that served large regions. Since the mid-20th century, however, these cities have seen sustained loss of jobs and population, and now face daunting economic, social, physical, and operational challenges. This loss has fallen disproportionately on minority and low-income neighborhoods that have seen a greater degree of disinvestment and abandonment. But the revitalization of these neighborhoods in collaboration with, and for the benefit of, their residents is not only an imperative of equitable redevelopment but also enshrined in the Federal statutes that guide it.

Earlier this year, I attended the Historic Preservation in America’s Legacy Cities Conference which focused on public policies, programs, and planning issues associated with Legacy Cities and challenges managing shrinking populations, changing demographics, physical alterations, loss of resources, and declining tax bases. Participants agreed Legacy Cities need to revitalize their communities in the 21st century.

While many agree that change is inevitable, there are those who have not fully accepted that planning for change should be inclusive and take advantage of all available tools. Looking back over the last twenty years, the non-inclusive planning practices of the past resulted in older, minority, and low-income neighborhoods bearing the brunt of the negative impacts of dynamic physical and socio-economic changes – changes that were prompted, in part, by federal actions.

Dr. Clement Price, Vice Chair of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), an independent federal agency established by Congress to advise the President and Congress and oversee the Section 106 review process, moderated a provocative panel discussion entitled Identifying, Celebrating, and Preserving African-American Landmarks. The presentation was timely as many were grappling with how to protect historic properties, particularly those in communities of color. They wanted to be clear about what qualifies African-American landmarks for the National Register of Historic Places. Is the criteria used by the National Register in evaluating historic properties appropriate for an ethnically and racially-diverse nation? Should African American or other ethnic landmarks be evaluated based on their physical characteristics or on the stories drawn from the history of these properties?

When considering how to best engage the broader public in federal planning, environmental review policies are typically applied. The two major federal environmental reviews required for major actions are the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). NEPA requires federal agencies to integrate environmental values into their decision making processes by considering the environmental impacts of their proposed actions and reasonable alternatives to those actions. NHPA is intended to preserve historical and archaeological sites in the United States.

Before implementing federally-funded activities such as abandonment, demolition, and property alterations in Legacy Cites, agencies must comply with their NEPA obligations and with NHPA. Since many cities use federal funds to develop public-private partnerships, the scope of federal environmental reviews can be broader for compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Notwithstanding the dictates of Title VI, the provisions in NEPA and NHPA require federal agencies to “stop, look, and listen” in project planning.

Residents and officials within communities must be better educated about NEPA and NHPA if they are to avoid a repeat of the failures of ‘Urban Renewal’ in the 1960s. These environmental reviews require the participation of the public; review of the “purpose and need” statement; consideration of alternatives, and selection of a preferred alternative or outcome. NEPA requires agencies to disclose environmental justice issues in their environmental documents, information that is vital to residents in communities that may be disproportionately affected by federal projects. While this is one of several key provisions in NEPA, it is important for the public to remember that environmental justice is equally about the built environment as it is about the natural environment.

In a similar manner, Section 106 of NHPA requires agencies to identify and evaluate historic properties within the project’s area of potential effects, in coordination with State Historic Preservation Officers (SHPO) and Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (THPO). Further, Section 106 is a consultative process in which diverse stakeholders, including civic groups, neighborhood groups, churches, anchor institutions, professional organizations, affinity groups, and the like, must discuss various options to avoid, minimize, and mitigate adverse effects on historic properties.

Dr. Price said that “to live, work, and play in Legacy Cities is an act of faith and perseverance.” Residents and other stakeholders must exercise their rights to comment on the merits of federal projects which have the potential to change their sense of their physical and social community. It is an essential part of the laws that have been in place for decades.

Information about the ACHP can be found at www.achp.gov, including the report, Managing Change: Preservation and Rightsizing in America. Information about the White House Council on Environmental Quality and NEPA can be found at CEQ website.

About the author: Charlene Dwin Vaughn, AICP, is a certified planner employed with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP). She received her Master’s Degree in Urban and Regional Planning from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. As an Assistant Director in the ACHP’s Office of Federal Agency Programs she manages historic preservation reviews and program improvements of federal projects that provide financial assistance; issue permits and licenses; and issue approvals.

 

 

 

 

 

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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Women and Climate Change

Long-term impacts of climate change, as well as acute disasters, exacerbate inequalities and make equity issues across the globe painfully apparent. Women particularly are at serious disadvantage. The following posts offer complementary perspectives on how women disproportionately suffer the impacts of disasters, severe weather events, and climate change as traditional gender dynamics play a significant role in determining their proximity, exposure, and ability to respond to climate change impacts.

 

Women, Water, and Climate Change

by Brittany Whited

angladeshi woman steers raft

In the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, death rates for women across the region were three times that of men. It is believed that these figures reflect that many girls and women lack the upper-body strength to climb to safety, that many had not been taught to swim, and that many mothers tending small children and the elderly were unable to flee and thus were swept away. Although the tsunami was caused by an earthquake, similar impacts can occur resulting from severe weather events, like typhoons and hurricanes, fueled by climate change.

In the United States and across the developed world, most of us have access to clean drinking water. However, people in certain U.S. communities and in many developing countries struggle to meet daily needs. In developing countries particularly, securing water (as well as food and fuel) for the household is almost exclusively the responsibility of women. When the water is brought home and meals are prepared, it’s expected that men and boys receive the lion’s share, often leaving women and girls undernourished. These chores also keep girls out of school and women from more productive economic activities. Rarely do these women have a voice in community or family decision-making, meaning even some of the basic skills we take for granted (like learning to swim or climb trees) can be denied.

Women in Africa toting drinking water

These gender roles mean women and girls are heavily impacted by climate change, paying the lion’s share for poor access to clean drinking water. During times of drought, the time needed to travel to obtain fresh water increases. For example, women in Africa carry drinking water as far as six kilometers a day (nearly 4 miles), and these distances will only increase as local sources dry up. Compounding the fact that the water brought from these distant sources rarely is enough to meet daily needs, it often is contaminated by poor sanitation or other pollutants. During floods, water sources can be contaminated even further, especially in areas with poor waste management. Polluted water supplies can cause foods, such as rice gruel used to wean infants, to be fatal. This not only has health consequences, but is also very time consuming and thus reduces the opportunity for women to engage in educational and economic activities.

As a graduate student studying public health, I have come to realize that our health is not determined exclusively by our access to doctors. Rather, some of the social factors that impact an individual’s health include gender, income, and race, as well as environmental determinants involving the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food to which we have access. We must address these root factors of vulnerability, gender equity, poverty, lack of education, and other social determinants of health before we can truly adapt to the changing climate and prevent injury and early death for women. There are growing efforts to focus attention on gender within grassroots-level adaptation projects, and to international negotiations and policy-making at the highest levels. For example, at the 2012 Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the final decision included a provision establishing the issue of gender and climate change as a standing item on future meeting agendas.

Global climate change will be the most challenging and important issue for public health throughout my career. I realize that preparing for climate change by addressing underlying vulnerabilities, like inequality of women across the globe, will be paramount not only to improving quality of life but for actually saving lives.

 

Cooking Shouldn’t Kill

by Corinne Hart

A women cooks over an open fire

Rwanda hosts more than 60,000 refugees, many of them fleeing violent political clashes raging around the region. The Gihembe Refugee Camp is home to more than 20,000 of these displaced persons, all of whom are faced with the challenges of daily living, including clean and safe housing, water, and food. I recently visited the Gihembe camp to better understand how agencies like the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) are trying to address the cooking energy needs of the refugees they serve. As we walked around the camp, we saw women cooking over open fires inside small, smoke-filled brick structures, with thick black soot covering the walls. Their simple stoves burn wood, animal dung, or crop waste.

The use of inefficient technologies and cooking fuels like firewood produce high levels of indoor air pollution and force women and girls around the world to endure incredible hardships to secure the energy needed to cook their families’ meals. After walking long distances to search for fuel and carrying heavy loads of firewood, they are rewarded by being exposed to deadly smoke that kills over 4 million people every year. The World Health Organization recently reported that almost 600,000 deaths in Africa are attributable to household air pollution. Exposure is particularly high among women and young children who spend the most time near the domestic hearth. Cooking is essential. It shouldn’t be lethal.

Women and girls are the first to feel the health impacts of traditional cooking practices. In addition to the health burden from smoke inhalation, burning solid fuels releases emissions of some of the most important contributors to global climate change – carbon dioxide, methane and black carbon. In turn, the availability of water – clean water – and food, threaten the most vulnerable. For example, in South Asia, black carbon particles (more than half of which come from cookstoves) disrupt the monsoon and accelerate the melting of the Himalayan-Tibetan glaciers.

The wide-scale adoption of clean cookstoves and fuels can mitigate climate change impacts, particularly by reducing emissions of CO2 from non-renewable harvesting of biomass and by reducing emissions from short-lived greenhouse gases (GHGs) and black carbon through improved combustion efficiency. Clean cooking solutions are both effective mitigation and adaptation strategies, reducing emissions and pressures on natural resources, while at the same time strengthening energy security and empowering women. Additionally, more efficient and cleaner stoves can reduce and prevent deaths from household air pollution and can save women up to 160 hours or $200 per year, allowing women the time and income needed to pursue opportunities of their choice. In the U.S., reducing residential wood smoke is being undertaken by the U.S. EPA. This year, the agency has proposed new standards that govern the manufacture and sale of new residential wood heaters.

There is a growing sector focused on creating awareness about this issue, enhancing the performance and availability of technologies and fuels, and strengthening enterprises so they can scale production and distribution. The effort spearheaded by the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a public-private partnership of over 950 organizations across 6 continents, is taking a market-based approach to ensure that culturally-appropriate cookstoves and fuels are available and accessible to those who need them. In addition, with a 30% increase in fuel efficiency from an improved cookstove, a family in Rwanda purchasing fuel could save enough money to send two children to school.

Women are at the heart of the Alliance’s approach and we are working to ensure that women are empowered to continue to take the lead in their communities and contribute to the development of solutions that meet their needs. Fully utilizing women’s expertise, innovation, and entrepreneurial spirit can release untapped potential and lead to new approaches. Women represent a powerful force that must be leveraged if we are to address this serious global environmental health issue.

About the authors:

Corinne Hart is the Director of Gender and Humanitarian Programs at the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a public-private partnership comprised of governments, civil society groups, and corporations. She designs and manages the Alliance’s strategies and programs on gender, women’s empowerment, and humanitarian response and has experience working throughout Latin America, Africa, and South Asia. She recently spoke at the June 2014 EPA event on Women as Climate Leaders.

Brittany Whited was a summer intern in the EPA Office of Water, where she studied climate change. She is working on her Masters of Public Health in Environmental Health Science and Policy and will graduate in 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 Dream Realized: Community Driven Revitalization in Spartanburg

By Timothy Fields, Jr.

Sometimes you wake up from a bad dream. You pray it’s not real but when you open your eyes, the reality of the situation is staring you right in the face.

An abandoned fertilizer plant in Spartansburg

Harold Mitchell faced a similar situation and learned about environmental injustice when family, friends, and neighbors in his Spartanburg, South Carolina community got sick — many of whom died young from cancer and respiratory diseases. His father and sister died due to health concerns suspected to be related to exposure to environmental contamination. Harold learned even more about this issue as he experienced similar health concerns. He began to investigate the contaminated sites in his community, and with the help of his neighbors and the support of EPA Region 4, he discovered the source of the public health and environmental problems in his community. In 1997, he founded ReGenesis to help make sense of what he was discovering and to tackle what officials once called an “impossible task” of turning around streets filled with crack houses and neighborhoods impacted by numerous environmental concerns, blight, and hopelessness. In the intervening 17 years, the ReGenesis collaborative partnership grew a $20,000 EPA environmental justice small grant into more than $250 million in public and private funding through partnerships with more than 120 organizations to transform these communities.

The story of ReGenesis is about a community and its remarkable leader being exposed to environmental contamination and then implementing collaborative problem-solving, which identifies a public health problem, brings people together to work collaboratively to envision, and implement broad solutions towards creating visible change. The story of ReGenesis is about a place that “couldn’t get any worse,” according to one resident, that is well on its way to being transformed.

Community members and partners cleaning up the Arkwright landfill

ReGenesis both represented and presented local community concerns as part of a dialogue to assess and clean up contaminated sites and address the myriad challenges facing the community. As the focus of ReGenesis evolved, the community-based environmental justice organization saw an opportunity to expand discussions with local government and environmental agencies to include equitable neighborhood revitalization. In 2000, the ReGenesis Environmental Justice Partnership was formed by representatives of ReGenesis, Spartanburg County, and the City of Spartanburg, South Carolina to promote equitable development for the Arkwright and Forest Park neighborhoods. As well, a dialogue between ReGenesis and Rhodia (now Solvay) began to address the communities’ concerns about having a chemical facility in the middle of the neighborhoods. Many felt that the chemical plant would be an impediment to redevelopment. But over several years and many discussions (both formal and informal), the local community and industry found common ground. The partnership continues today.

The new partnership brought considerable funding to the area, leveraging more than $250 million for the following reinvestment and development opportunities that benefit both residents and their industry neighbors:

One of several new healthcare centers in Spartansburg

  • Critical transportation changes now mean that the only road into the communities is no longer blocked by standing trains. With the addition of a vital second entrance into and out of the community, residents are no longer isolated. Emergency response drills mean that the community is prepared for any potential incident that could occur in the area.
  • The creation of several community health centers means that residents no longer have to travel long distances for medical care. The centrally-located facilities not only support school and behavioral health initiatives, but serve migrant healthcare needs as well.
  • More than 500 new affordable housing units for residents and workers led to the removal of severely distressed public housing and new homeownership opportunities.
  • Job training and employment programs that empower residents through economic opportunity.
  • Environmental cleanup of formerly contaminated properties have turned brownfields into viable properties, removing eyesores and affording other redevelopment opportunities, such as a solar farm that is planned.
  • Increased retail development, such as a long sought after grocery store, a pharmacy, and other shops located within the community.
  • A new state of the art community center that serves as a hub of activity for the community, from young to elderly residents.

In 2009, ReGenesis received the EPA 2009 Environmental Justice Achievement Award, for its long-term – and still ongoing projects addressing environmental hazards, economic development, health care, and housing in the Arkwright community.

Harold Mitchell listens to a community member's concerns

This transformation did not happen overnight. Nor was the journey easy. Now others are looking at ReGenesis’ work in Spartanburg as a national model of environmental justice achievement, as well as a national model of how community-private-public partnerships can work. This work has effectively addressed environmental protection and community revitalization issues in the Arkwright community in Spartanburg.

But as Harold Mitchell has said repeatedly, he could not have done it without the people of Arkwright. “The one thing that we did have was the mark of the people within the community itself. We went through three mayors, four city managers, turnover on (City) Council, but the only thing that didn’t change was a little acorn, which was the community, and that was the piece that kept everything moving here.”

About the author: Timothy Fields, Jr., is Senior Vice President of MDB, Inc., a public health and environmental management consulting firm in Washington, DC. Prior to going into environmental consulting twelve years ago, Tim served as U.S. EPA Assistant Administrator in charge of environmental cleanup, waste management, and emergency response (1997-2001).

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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Preparing for a Changing Climate – Resiliency and Brownfield Reuses

By Ann Carroll

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Shuttered strip malls, boarded main streets, abandoned gas stations and a host of other potentially contaminated sites – many of these are the focus of communities assessing and cleaning brownfields with the help of EPA’s Brownfields Grant funds. This year, communities selected to receive revolving loan fund, cleanup grants and area-wide planning grants are being asked to consider climate as part of their analysis, cleanup, and revitalization planning.

The National Climate Assessment released by President Obama this May confirmed what scientists have been telling us for years – the climate has already changed. Take a look, because the Assessment lets you examine vulnerabilities in your home region.

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Brownfields grantees are asked to look at proposed site vulnerabilities. Is the historic school, railroad spur, mill, foundry, mine, or other type of brownfield close to areas where wildfire or flooding risks are likely to increase? What contaminants have been found? What reuses are proposed? Armed with the answers to these questions and information that is available on www.climate.gov, brownfields communities are embarking on important steps to make their communities more resilient. EPA has developed a checklist to help communities consider climate change and factor it into brownfields cleanup activities and revitalization planning.

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But we can’t stop there. Our experiences have shown that the most vulnerable – children, elderly, those that are disabled and poor with few resources – are likely to be hardest hit and experience the most difficulties in evacuating from threatened areas. Our colleagues at the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) developed a Social Vulnerability Index for public health agencies and emergency responders to help identify and map vulnerable populations for public health and emergency responders to consider in planning.

Brownfields grantees, in the course of their area-wide planning, assessment, and cleanup may want to consider vulnerable communities nearby and additional planning steps that can make these communities better prepared or more resilient, more energy and water efficient, and therefore less dependent on other operations. This is particularly important where evacuation or other systems may be vulnerable.

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Communities have used brownfields grants to clean sites now serving as fire departments, police stations and health clinics, veterinarian offices, food banks, and warehouses for food storage. Once brownfields are cleared, communities could focus on dual reuse functions, contributing to the redundant systems needed in emergencies that help meet daily needs for food and water, shelter, jobs, and social contact.

Hardened shelters in less vulnerable areas that allow people to bring service animals or pets may ensure evacuation orders are heeded. If located near health clinics or veterinary services, everyone at the shelter may get to see the doctor.

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A former brownfield that will eventually serve as emergency headquarters or marshal restoration in underserved areas could house transitional uses and serve as a location for food trucks or mobile health services. Other short- or long-term reuses may include warehouses with solar panels for backup power, or broadband and wireless ‘hotspot’ access to support communications, or a space for small businesses often hardest hit by emergencies.

Finally, revitalized brownfields can serve as mixed-use redevelopment areas that offer resilient, livable locations that ease congestion, allowing residents to work near home while meeting essential living needs with amenities and security.

Resources:

About the author: Ann Carroll has a science and public health background and has worked on environmental health issues in the US and internationally for close to 30 years and with the EPA’s Office of Brownfields and Land Revitalization for over ten years. She helps communities assess and clean brownfields and plan for their safe reuse. Ann is working on a doctorate in Environmental Health at Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health.

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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Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Environmental Justice: Majora Carter on Creative Leadership

By Sherrell Dorsey  

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Click to watch video

I had the privilege of interviewing Majora Carter—the TED Talk sensation whose Greening the Ghetto presentation catapulted her work in environmental equity into global recognition and made even the most apathetic to green living consider the consequences of climate and community neglect. Carter’s public narrative and highly visible media persona represents only a small sample of how she is self-actualizing leadership in the work towards building sustainable communities one day at a time.

Charting her own path, she has set aside the proverbial soapbox for innovative entrepreneurship in environmentalism while meeting the challenges facing under-resourced communities today. She founded Sustainable South Bronx (SSBx) in 2001, to do just that. SSBx played a major role in training local young residents to clean up massive areas of abandoned open space and transform it into the South Bronx Greenway, which has significantly increased the recreational space, expanded the waterfront access, and improved transportation safety in the South Bronx.

However, during this time she started to see the integral connection between the environmental injustices in the Untitled-1community, and the lack of sustainable jobs that help avoid unwanted pollution in the community. That’s why her new agenda is an endeavor that establishes a framework for financial literacy and entrepreneurship within the Hunts Point community. Carter has her sights set on eliminating the “digital divide” by dipping into the burgeoning technology sector with her new project, StartUp Box #SouthBronx.

The growing gap between the poor and rich in society has been evidenced by the digital divide—a concept that refers to a portion of the population who do not have access to computers or the internet.  Without access to technology, entire communities are left behind. Increasingly, computer literacy and the internet have become pathways for higher education, employment and entrepreneurship.

In the Bronx, where the median income is $34,300 (compared to $57,000 for NY State), less than 40 percent of residents have access to broadband internet. As the technology sector begins to grow, both the internet and mobile technologies provide economic development opportunities for those with the 21st century digital skills needed for the jobs that are coming.

Untitled-3With the launch of StartUp Box, Carter plans to leverage the new technology and education project to tap underutilized talents in inner cities. To do this, they have partnered with New York City-area computer games industry leaders to train local youth for quality assurance testing service jobs. This is an excellent way to train young people in jobs that will be relevant well into the 21st century, by providing them with exposure to a range of software development skills without advanced math or computer sciences education requirements.

Not only does this provide jobs to youth in areas where there may be few opportunities, but it also attracts software services businesses and other high tech investors by creating a local workforce with world-class tech, design, financial literacy, and entrepreneurship education.

Carter has established a rubric formula for creating sustainable impact that serves as a model for current and future leaders in social entrepreneurship seeking to scale their solutions to meet the needs of the communities they work in. Although she has accomplished so much to advance environmental justice, equity, and opportunity across the country, she says her work is just beginning. “We look at what is out there and not try to level the playing field. We have to get people on the field. Forget about leveling. They’re still in the parking lot. They’ve got no ticket to get into the stadium.”

Sherrell Dorsey is a writer, social entrepreneur and advocate for environmental, social and economic equity in underserved communities. Recently, Sherrell was awarded a Zoom Fellowship in public policy and serves in the office of Mayor Bill Finch in the City of Bridgeport where she leads the implementation of indoor air quality programs across the school district and coordinates the city’s green jobs task force. She contributes frequently to Inhabitat.com and Triple Pundit.

 

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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