Economy

Sustainability for All

By Deeohn Ferris

Untitled-2In many of our communities, if sustainability is going to be sustainable, our nation’s green economy and the investments that flow from those policies must reflect the undeniable fact that all communities are not at the same starting point.  In far too many of our neighborhoods, people who are raising families and working hard to make ends meet face a combination of environmental, social and economic challenges that result in grave hardship.  If the race to sustainability is a race to the top, some of our communities can take the elevator.  Others only have stairs, and some of them have asthma too!

Regarding what’s going on locally and on-the-ground, equitable development is the central point from where the hard issues within sustainability must be dealt with up front.   The real on-ramp to sustainability means recognizing and addressing the inter-relationship of the challenges in our communities. Negative environmental impacts, disproportionate impacts, vacant properties, brownfields, health disparities, blight — these conditions are ubiquitous in neighborhoods where people of color and people with low incomes and less wealth live, work, learn, worship, and play.  Achieving equitable and sustainable development means thoroughly rebuilding our communities – not just the bricks and mortar – but really rebuilding the country’s social and economic fabric.

Untitled-2Thus, to make a fairer starting line for all in our country, we need to recognize opportunities to support the communities that have the greatest proportion of pollution and public health problems. For example, minimizing health disparities by deliberately providing fairer access for health care in low income and minority communities would save these residents billions of dollars in averted medical costs and gained productivity. Ameliorating such persistent inequities is critical for bringing about stability in communities—increasing fair access to housing choices, better schools, better jobs, sustained economic growth – and thus improving their overall ability to achieve community sustainability.

All across the country, dedicated folks are working to address these disparities.  But people of color and low-and-moderate income populations are still struggling for opportunity. Reversing this unfortunate trend necessitates a national transition to sustainability and the emerging green economy, which provides important new ways to tackle community revitalization as well as opportunities to do so in an equitable manner. Some examples of green economy priorities and tools that could address these disparities include:

  • Ensuring the right to a clean, safe environment for everyone.
  • Establishing inclusive decision making structures that provide resources and facilitate community engagement in planning and investments.
  • Making certain that decision-making is democratic, transparent and fair.
  • Distributing the economic and health benefits of energy conservation through green housing and retrofits.
  • Creating jobs that are safe, green and upwardly mobile.
  • Emphasizing workforce preparedness, development, and training.
  • Providing financial and other incentives that encourage entrepreneurship and local ownership of renewable energy and renewable energy technologies.
  • Guaranteeing that there are sufficient transportation options, including affordable public transit that gets people to jobs.
  • And ensuring the highest quality education and food security for all of our children.

Untitled-3Which neighborhoods are built and rebuilt and how they are built and rebuilt have far-reaching consequences in the race towards sustainability. Prioritizing historically disadvantaged and distressed communities to engage and benefit from sustainability outcomes is an investment in the future.  I believe everyone in our nation should have the same opportunity to flourish.  But achieving such a lofty goal requires community sustainability with conscious linkages to social and economic equity goals, green economy tools and environmental justice.

About the author: Deeohn Ferris is President of Sustainable Community Development Group, a not-for-profit national research and policy innovator dedicated to advancing sustainability and public health through equitable neighborhood development, smart growth and the green economy.  She is a former EPA enforcement lawyer, now a renowned provider of equitable development expertise and technical assistance that tackles sustainability in communities of color and low wealth neighborhoods.   Deeohn was on the ground floor of drafting the Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898 and the first Chair of NEJAC’s Enforcement Subcommittee.   

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 Quarter Century of Clean Water Projects

By Tom Damm

With EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund program, there are projects you can see and those you can’t.

But whether it’s adding the latest pollution-reduction technology to a wastewater treatment plant or building underground sewer lines to eliminate leaky septic systems, the projects all have something in common – they improve water quality and give a nice boost to the local economy.

The program – which is marking its 25th anniversary – is impressive in sheer numbers alone.

Since its inception, nearly $8.5 billion has been invested in more than 6,000 clean water infrastructure projects in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region; more than $100 billion nationwide.

But it’s the difference the program is making in communities that’s been the real measure of success.

From every locale, large and small, you can witness the results, from improvements on farms that reduce runoff to nearby streams, to upgrades of treatment plants resulting in significant progress by  the wastewater sector in reducing pollution to local waters and the Chesapeake Bay.  Check out this map and description of projects in Maryland, for example.

We like doing groundbreaking and ribbon-cutting events to celebrate the water and wastewater projects because it allows people to appreciate the benefits of this unique federal-state partnership.

The program works like this: EPA provides grants to the states, and the states in turn, provide affordable financing to communities, non profits and others for needed projects that improve and protect the quality of the local water.  The program is funded with annual federal grants, state contributions, loan repayments and interest.

How the Clean Water SRF Program Works. Click for more information.

Our state partners have the highest praise for the program, perhaps best expressed by Virginia State Revolving Fund Program Manager Walter Gills.  He says the initiative “combines the power of the federal seed funding with the innovation, efficiency, and customization of the various state government delivery systems.”

Keep an eye out for a project near you. And listen to our podcast to hear more about some of the visible impacts in communities in the Mid Atlantic Region from the past 25 years of the Clean Water State Revolving fund. For more information on the program, visit water.epa.gov/grants_funding.

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.

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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Water is Critical to Our Economy

When it comes to supporting the economy by spending money on water-based tourism, I do my share. Like most Americans, I love swimming, fishing, boating and even just hanging out by lakes, streams and beaches in the summertime. This past summer for example, I spent a weekend on the Delaware shore; a week in Wyoming hiking and fishing in pure mountain streams; and a week in New York swimming in the state park beaches. None of that comes cheap – but it is well worth it because I will remember these family vacations forever and my children will as well.

Water is also vital to a number of other economic sectors. Water is used to extract energy and mineral resources from the earth, refine petroleum and chemicals, roll steel, mill paper, and produce uncounted other goods, from semiconductors to the foods and beverages that line supermarket shelves. Water cools the generators and drives the turbines that produce electricity, and sustains the habitat and fish stocks that are vital to the commercial fishing industry. Rivers, lakes, and oceans provide natural highways for commercial navigation. Every sector of the U.S. economy is influenced by water.

Here at EPA, we have studied this issue more closely and are releasing a report on the Importance of Water to the U.S. EconomyMore

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

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Pollution Prevention Week: Making Every Day Earth Day

At EPA we like to say, “Make every day Earth Day.” It’s no stretch to say that millions of Americans are taking steps to prevent pollution by using less toxic substances, conserving resources, reusing materials and taking other simple steps that are good for the economy, people and the planet.

EPA recognizes Pollution Prevention (P2) Week each year during the third week in September, and we’d like to share some of our programs to prevent pollution:

Green Sports – Millions of Americans share a love of sports, but you may not realize that your favorite team is tallying victories of a different sort. Teams, sports facilities, and fans are greening sports by reducing waste, conserving water and energy, and taking other sustainability initiatives.

(left) Steve Phelps; Chief Marketing Officer, NASCAR; (center) Jim Jones, Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention; (right) Dr. Michael Lynch; and Managing Director of Green Innovation, NASCAR sign an MOU to make NASCAR greener in May 2012, photo credit: NASCAR

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

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Making Regulations Work for the Environment and the Economy

In March of 2011, I participated in a video town hall meeting to talk about finding ways to improve EPA regulations to make compliance easier and less expensive, without sacrificing protection of the environment and human health. In that meeting I encouraged participants to share their ideas about how EPA could streamline regulations and which regulations we should review. I also shared a Web page where you can find information on the status of priority rulemakings, retrospective reviews of existing regulations, and information on how to comment on rulemakings. The very first suggestion I received during the video town hall that day was for EPA to modify regulations on the management of solvent-contaminated rags and wipes used by various industrial sectors, such as publishing, printing, and automobile manufacturing.

Hazard-Regulated_084

I’m pleased to say that we have acted on that suggestion and released a final regulation that reduces burden on tens of thousands of facilities that use solvent-contaminated wipes, while still being protective of human health and the environment. Based on the best available science, we’ve provided a regulatory framework for managing solvent-contaminated wipes at the appropriate level of risk. Not only does this reduce uncertainty for these regulated communities, this rule will result in an estimated net savings of $18 million per year in avoided regulatory costs and between $3.7 million and $9.9 million per year in other expected benefits, including pollution prevention, waste minimization and fire prevention benefits.

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

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Protecting the Planet for Our Children

USEPA photo by Eric Vance

Yesterday I had the honor and privilege of speaking at Harvard Law School about the future of EPA – our challenges, and our incredible opportunities. The highlight of my day, however, wasn’t the fact that I got to speak about issues that I care very deeply about. About how working to fight climate change can serve as an economic driver, helping create new jobs, new industries and new innovation. It wasn’t even that I got to stand in front of many of the environmental heroes who have paved the way before me. The highlight for me came when one my children – my daughter, Maggie – got behind the podium and introduced me before my first speech as the new EPA Administrator, in front of my younger daughter, Julie, who was all smiles in the front row.

I think about all of my children – Maggie, Julie and Dan – when I go to work every morning. Because after all, the work we do is about the generations that will come after us, and the planet that we will leave behind. As I mentioned yesterday, I have a lot of hope for the next generation. And it’s my goal to make sure that we get out of the way and let them do what we know they will do – which is to ensure that we have a sustainable economy and a protected environment.

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

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How Columbus Ohio Saves Money Using E3 to Reduce Waste

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

Michael-B.-Coleman – Mayor

By Mayor Michael B. Coleman

Because we want Columbus to be a green and efficient city, sustainability is a topic we take seriously. We have launched programs to encourage our residents and businesses to design smarter and reduce waste. We recently recruited manufacturers to join the movement with the help of E3. E3 stands for Economy, Energy and Environment. It is an innovative federal program designed to package federal, state and local environmental assistance programs into a one-stop shop for manufacturers seeking to reduce waste and increase profits. In 2010, six Columbus companies agreed to be part of the E3 pilot program. As a result, each received a full range of benefits including increased efficiency, profits and sustainability supporting job growth and our local economy. To gain these benefits, on-site professional audits on environmental, lean processing, waste and energy were completed to identify changes the businesses could make to avoid unnecessary costs through efficient use of resources.

Collectively, the E3 team found that more than $5 million of annual savings could be realized with a one-time capital retrofit of $5 million. This framework is versatile and can be molded to fit any community’s set of manufacturing priorities. In Columbus, E3 is helping to position our manufacturing industry, which represents approximately 20 percent of the workforce, for success and longevity.

Using the E3 framework, Columbus has more productive relationships with state and federal officials and with our manufacturing community. I encourage other city officials and business leaders to explore how they company can use the E3 framework to make progress together.

See a video on the Columbus E3 project.

Additional information on E3 is available online

About the author:  Since taking office in 2000, Mayor Michael B. Coleman has built Columbus’ reputation as one of the best cities in the nation by building stronger, safer neighborhoods and creating jobs by maintaining a high quality of life. Columbus is the 15th largest city in the nation, the largest city in Ohio and among the only growing cities in the Midwest.

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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Good Beer? It’s in the Water

By Christina Catanese

If you’re a beer drinker, when you crack open a cold bottle or sip a freshly poured draft beer, the first thing you think about probably isn’t the quality of the water that was used to create your brew.  You probably notice the color, the aroma, the head, the flavor, the hops, the malt…but what of the water?

Photo Courtesy of the CDC

Photo Courtesy of the CDC

When I was in grad school, I worked at a microbrewery for some extra cash, and it changed what I thought I knew about beer.  I became familiar with the process of making beer: from malting, to mashing, to lautering, to boiling, to fermenting, to conditioning, and to filtering.  At each point in the process, water plays a key role, and it can make up over 95% of the finished product poured into your pint.

I had a lot of discussions with our brewer about how much the source water quality affects the brewing process and product.  There’s the obvious impact of the flavor of the water used in the brewing process, but the chemistry of the water can alter the process itself.

He described how yeast convert sugars into alcohol to ferment the beer, and how changes in water chemistry impact the activity of the yeast.  The chlorine that is added to most municipal drinking water to eliminate harmful bacteria can impact the flavor and aroma of beer, but the presence of bacteria can spoil a batch of beer.

I learned that the pH of the water also affects the sugar composition, which in turn affects how strong the beer will be.  Like hoppy beers?  Harder water brings out the hops’ flavor.  Softer water can result in milder flavored beers, so some brewers add water hardeners during the brewing process to amp up the hops and flavor.

Something as simple as a change in the treatment process at the local drinking water plant can have an impact.  So, too, can a new upstream pollution source or change in the health of the source water body.

You might wonder why breweries don’t just purify their water to start with some H2O that is as neutral as possible to start with.  But the thing is, what’s in the water is what makes the process work, and what makes gives each beer a unique regional character.  Overly purifying water through filtering or other methods takes everything out of the water, even the things a brewer wants to be there.

The brewery I worked at also strived to be a sustainable operation – the spent grains from the brewing process were picked up by a farmer to be used for livestock feed.  A few times, our brewer even asked me if he could borrow my hydrology and soils text books so he could have a better knowledge of how the health of the environment would affect the beer he made.

Throughout the history of beer making, brewers have been careful to site their breweries in the places with the highest quality water, and the health of a brewery’s home watershed is of prime importance to their brewers.

To recognize the connection of good beer with good water, the Schuylkill Action Network has partnered with brewers in the watershed to develop a special brew that pays tribute to its source water.

 

 

Have you ever thought about how water quality affects your happy hour?  What other unexpected ways does water impact our lives?

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Environmental Studies, Political Science, and Hydrogeology. When not in the office, Christina enjoys performing, choreographing and teaching modern dance.

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 Sustainability:Role of Small Manufacturers

By Natalie Hummel

Recently, I attended an urban manufacturing tour in Philadelphia with a dedicated group from Philadelphia’s Department of Labor, Commerce and Water, University of Penn, Drexel University, Peoples Emergency Center and the Pratt Center (NY). It was an exciting opportunity to step outside my busy cubicle and experience a world where products are designed and crafted locally —which provided real meaning to the logo “Made in the U.S.A.”

Our initial stop was a small family owned textile company that produced ergonomically enhanced military gear to protect the lives of our military members. Military apparel carrying grenades and high end equipment were redesigned to improve effectiveness. Our group heard how “lean manufacturing” improved operational efficiencies to eliminate or reduce waste while reducing costs.

The open conversation between management and employees enhanced productivity and team incentives and provided employees with an opportunity to enhance skills and knowledge. More importantly, the President of the company, a graduate of the University of Penn’s Wharton School of Business recognized the importance of keeping jobs in Philadelphia.

Along with many creative solutions, we highlighted E3: Economy, Energy, and the Environment, a collaborative framework by local, state, and federal partners to address manufacturing sustainability and profitability. E3 companies that have participated received technical expertise to improve processes, energy use, environmental stewardship, worker safety and competitiveness. Technical assistance through E3 can help companies make more money, retain and hire new workers, and protect public health and the environment, all at the same time.

As a result of the work that this company had done, lives will be saved, product life will be extended and operational costs will be reduced.

This is only one company and many other small and medium sized urban manufacturers are making an enormous impact promoting regional sustainability, livability, and economic competitiveness. Through collaborative programs such as E3, economic, energy and environmental improvements will benefit many.

About the author: Natalie Hummel holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and has been with the EPA for over 9 years.   Natalie joined the Agency as a Presidential Management Fellow (PMF) , and completed rotational assignments at the Chesapeake Bay Program and the National Park Service working on urban stormwater and coastal estuary environmental issues.  She has extensive experience in budgeting, performance measurement, policy, and planning.   Currently, Natalie is in the Pollution Prevention Division managing E3 efforts in NY, PA, WV, VA, and MT.

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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Revisiting Mr. Ford

By Tom Murray

I was chatting with my 11-year old Grandson, Alex recently.  I always find these discussions illuminating.  You see, Alex has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.  If you are familiar with children who have this disorder, you know that amidst significant social challenges, there can be this ribbon of super intelligence that presents itself when you least expect it.

So there we were, sitting side by side, me reading from my Kindle and he playing with some angry birds on his I-pad, when he asks me, “So, what are you working on at EPA now, Pop-Pop?”

I reply, “Oh, I don’t know, Alex, I guess I’m working on solving a puzzle of sorts.  We are trying to bring people together as a team and help people in this country who make things.  We want to help manufacturers make things that are better for them, better for you and better for the environment.”

He was quiet for a moment and I thought that perhaps I had given him TMI.  Ha!  He was just processing.

“You mean like Henry Ford when he invented the assembly line process for making cars”, he says, as he twists his I-pod to launch a particularly elusive angry bird.

“Yes, I replied, “like that.  It is hard sometimes to get the right people together and solve problems as a team.”

At this point, he put the I-pod down and I thought the conversation was over.  He popped up and announced that he was going to play on the computer.  As he left the room, he looked back at me and said, “Well, for a puzzle like that, why don’t you think like Henry Ford?”

I smiled and returned to my Kindle when I paused and then realized that Alex was right.

Over the last several decades we have become so specialized as a society that, perhaps, we have allowed it to affect the way we think.  As a result, when we address issues like jobs, advanced technology or preventing pollution as they pertain to American manufacturing, we typically confer with those in our peer groups, thought-leaders, if you will, assigned to one station within an assembly line. This may have worked well in the past, but I’m not sure it will work to solve problems illuminated for us by this new concept of sustainability.

We cannot redesign a headlight without first making sure the automobile chassis has been re-constructed to accept it.  Similarly, we cannot expect innovative ideas associated with advanced technology to be accepted by American manufacturers if they are not yet ready to pursue them.

What I’m suggesting here is that to be successful in helping American manufacturers thrive in this new era of sustainability, we need to turn traditional thinking on its side and engage with those in the sustainability assembly line with whom we traditionally have not.  Perhaps, this is why the E3: Economy, Energy and the Environment framework has been so successful.

Food for thought.

About the author: Tom Murray joined EPA way back in 1971 and has never lost the passion for pollution prevention and helping manufacturers become more sustainable.

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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