emissions

Earth Day Every Day: Make the Environment Part of your Daily GRIND(s)

By Heather Barnhart

Disposable Cups

Disposable Cups

My mother always told me that it’s the little things that add up. Don’t get me wrong – BIG things matter too, big things add up to A LOT. But it seems that those big things – like improving air quality and lowering asthma rates around the city (I live next to the BQE, so I know this is a BIG thing) – take a long time, and I may not be able to do anything directly. So, what’s my job? How can I help the environment?

My job at EPA Region 2 – measuring our operational footprint and developing innovative projects to reduce those environmental impacts – is actually a big thing. Executive Orders – the latest being Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decadedefine the federal priorities and goals. The Environmental Management System program describes our local progress toward achieving national goals and reducing our operational footprint. To achieve those goals, I often ask our employees, contractors, interns, other on-site federal employees, and even visitors to do the little things. And, these little things add up. Case in point: our employees were able to reduce their printing by 55 percent last year, which offset a whopping 29 metric tons of CO2.

So, what little things am I asking from everyone working in our offices in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico? My ask is something so easy and so basic that I’m hoping it’s already done. I’m asking people to pledge to give up the disposable coffee cup (and water bottle!) for at least a week or a month or better yet, forever!

Why do I think this will make a difference here in our regional offices, and why do I care about coffee cups? Region 2 recently announced our Zero Waste Policy, which is driving us to divert more of our waste from disposal. To achieve “zero” waste, we rely on increases to recycling and reuse, but, most importantly, we want to stop generating waste (source reduction) because even recycling requires resources and has an impact.

Between contractors, employees, other federal employees and interns, we have about 1,050 people in our offices in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico. If we estimate that each person is in the office 190 days per year, and they buy and throw out one disposable cup per day, then we generate about 6,250 pounds of coffee cup waste per year.

But doesn’t EPA recycle all of their trash? Recycling rules differ depending on municipal or local ordinances – those requirements differ for home owners versus businesses in Edison (Middlesex County), New York City, and Puerto Rico. While our regional offices do recycle more than required, coffee cups are not included.

But don’t I waste water when I wash my mug? It’s true, you’ll use water to wash your mug. However, the benefits of giving up disposable cups outweigh the concerns over the amount of water used to wash reusable mugs. True that a full (and energy efficient) dishwasher conserves the most water per cup, but you can still efficiently hand wash your mug using much less water than the 8,095 gallons needed to create 10,000 disposable cups.

Still not convinced? OK – here are more numbers for you (I love numbers!).

Annually Americans throw away 25 BILLION cups per year, which means:

  • 9.4 million trees were harvested just for cups;
  • 363 million pounds of waste were generated; and,
  • 3,125,000 tons of CO2 emissions were generated.

If even half of the EPA Region 2 employees give up their cup, then we offset 12.5 tons of CO2 every year. And, Green Apple – you’re 8.4 million people strong. Together, we can pledge a little thing and make a HUGE difference!

About the Author: Heather Barnhart is the NYC EMS coordinator. She got her start studying forestry at LSU, perfected her Hausa as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger, joined Region 2 as a water quality expert, and now works on reducing the office’s footprint. For her, every day really is Earth Day.

 

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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Reducing Mercury Use for Your Family and Our Global Community

By Marianne Bailey and Karissa Kovner

At EPA, we work every day to reduce the use of mercury in products and processes, making them safer for you and your family. Lowering levels of mercury in our environment is important because at high levels, mercury can harm the brains, hearts, kidneys, lungs and immune systems of people of all ages. In the bloodstream of unborn babies and young children, high levels of methylmercury may harm the developing nervous system, making the child less able to think and learn.

We’ve been making great strides in the United States – over the last 30 years, our domestic use of mercury in products has declined more than 97 percent. The use of mercury in industrial processes has also fallen drastically. Unfortunately, large amounts of mercury are still used in products and manufacturing processes worldwide, even though there are effective alternatives available. This is important to us both personally and professionally, since we want to make sure that children at home and around the world are not exposed.

Since mercury pollution has no boundaries, the United States joined the Minamata Convention on Mercury, a global environmental agreement designed to curb the production, use, and emissions of mercury around the world. In addition to provisions to reduce and eliminate mercury use in a wide range of products and processes, the Convention calls for control of mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants and boilers, waste incineration, cement production, and non-ferrous metals production.

Worldwide, one of the largest man-made sources of mercury pollution is artisanal and small scale gold mining. Although many of these miners use mercury, it is possible to safely and economically recover gold without it. Many are achieving high rates of gold recovery without mercury, benefitting their health, the health of their communities, and the environment.

To help miners reduce their mercury use, last week we launched a new website describing techniques for gold mining not requiring mercury. With the Argonne National Laboratory, we have also developed and field tested a mercury vapor capture system for gold processing shops, which can be used to reduce a significant source of mercury emissions. EPA also leads the UNEP Global Mercury Partnership Products Area, which aims to reduce and eventually eliminate the use of mercury in products. The partnership has completed numerous global projects to improve and monitor data baselines, and to demonstrate mercury-free alternatives. For example, we have worked with Health Care without Harm and the World Health Organization to reduce the use of mercury-added instruments in health care facilities worldwide.

We also want to address the remaining uses of mercury in the United States. To get started, EPA recently released the EPA Strategy to Address Mercury‐Containing Products. We will gather and analyze data about how mercury is used in products and certain processes in the United States, plan and prioritize additional mercury reduction activities, and take action to further reduce mercury use.

Mercury can cause serious health challenges in the United States and around the world. Our efforts are leading to safer products and a cleaner environment for you, and for all the members of our global community.

About the authors:

Marianne Bailey is the Senior Advisor for the Environmental Media Program in EPA’s Office of Global Affairs and Policy, Office of International and Tribal Affairs. She serves as the agency staff lead for EPA’s involvement in the Minamata Convention on Mercury and the UNEP Global Mercury Partnership, and was the lead U.S. negotiator for the convention’s provisions on artisanal gold mining.

Karissa Taylor Kovner is a Senior Policy Advisor for International Affairs in EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. She was the lead U.S. negotiator for the United States in the areas of products and storage for the Minamata Convention on Mercury and contributed to a number of other areas, including trade and supply.

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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U.S. Lessons Help Inform Chinese Policies to Improve Air Quality

As I stepped off the plane in Beijing, I immediately recognized the environmental challenges facing China today. The air quality during our visit ranged at times between “very unhealthy” and “hazardous”; at its worst, we could not see the tops of buildings in downtown Beijing shrouded in smog. We are reminded that many years ago we faced similar challenges in some cities in the U.S., before we took a comprehensive approach to environmental protection.

My colleague Steve Wolfson and I traveled to Beijing as part of the 19th Annual U.S.-China Legal Exchange sponsored by the U.S. Department of Commerce, January 13-15, 2015. Our task was to address legal tools for improving air quality, and the importance of transparency and public participation in implementing and enforcing environmental laws.

Drawing on our experience in the U.S., we highlighted how environmental protection need not come at the expense of economic growth — and indeed how environmental policies can be a driver for a healthy and sustainable economy. And we emphasized the critical need for public access to clear and accurate environmental data, as well as public access to a fair and even-handed court system, as pillars of sound environmental governance.

The response we got back was resounding. During our trip we met with our counterparts from the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection, as well as the National Development and Reform Commission, Ministry of Commerce, Supreme People’s Court, and other government agencies. We also engaged in lively discussions with representatives of several of China’s leading universities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), as well as with the U.S. business community. In every forum we heard common themes: the urgent need for China to continue to develop an effective environmental law regime, and the critical importance of effective implementation and enforcement mechanisms, all in support of a strong desire by China to maximize its efforts to tackle its pressing environmental challenges and embark on a sustainable path that integrates economic growth, environmental protection, and public health. We also witnessed a genuine eagerness to draw lessons from the successes that the U.S. and other countries have achieved implementing environmental laws that have significantly reduced pollution levels.

These issues were particularly timely as China is in the process of reforming and improving its environmental legal framework. The revisions to China’s framework Environmental Protection Law (EPL) enacted in April 2014 and taking effect on January 1, 2015, constitute one important milestone in this legal reform effort. A key provision of the revised EPL authorizes registered social organizations to bring environmental lawsuits in the public interest against polluters, potentially opening the door for civil society organizations to play a crucial role in addressing China’s environmental challenges.

The Chinese government recently issued interpretive guidance on implementation of these provisions, clarifying how to handle these cases and providing important encouragement for courts to accept more of them. Already there are signs that Chinese NGOs and courts are employing this new legal tool. This month an environmental public interest lawsuit filed by Chinese NGOs Friends of Nature and Fujian Green Home was accepted for consideration by the court in Fujian Province. During our visit we heard about additional NGO cases soon to be filed. The environmental community in China hopes that these provisions will help leverage the growing anti-pollution sentiment in China’s civil society to supplement governmental efforts to control pollution.

This provision is not the only important legal reform. Additional provisions are designed to enhance environmental accountability in China, including requirements for public disclosure of pollutant releases, enhanced penalties for violations of environmental laws, and strengthened mechanisms for holding government officials responsible for achieving environmental objectives. The hope is that legal reform will help develop a system of sound environmental governance, including widespread public access to environmental data, stakeholder engagement in decision-making, and multiple channels of accountability, including access to fair and transparent dispute resolution mechanisms.

China’s air pollution problems have triggered substantial efforts to improve laws and regulations in order to control emissions, an effort which EPA has worked to assist. Improving environmental governance in China can help move towards a level playing field for U.S. businesses competing with Chinese firms, including those who are doing business in China. For these reasons, cooperation on environmental law and governance is a key part of EPA’s overall cooperative engagement with China.

At every turn, I was impressed with the dedication, thoughtfulness, and energy of China’s environmental experts, particularly our counterparts in the Law and Policy Department of their Ministry of Environmental Protection, as well as their openness and genuine desire for information on successful cost-effective strategies for pollution prevention and control. Fortified with first-hand knowledge of the many inspiring individuals we met, and with blue skies dramatically appearing on the last day or our trip, we left China with a sense of hope for this critically important undertaking.

About the author: Ethan G. Shenkman is EPA’s Deputy General Counsel. He was previously with the US Department of Justice, Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD), where he served as Deputy
Assistant Attorney General from 2010 until May 2014.

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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A Public-Private Partnership That Works

 

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy participates in  a White House Industry Leader Roundtable

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy participates in a White House Industry Leader Roundtable

 

By EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to meet with private and public sector leaders to discuss ways we can significantly reduce emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), potent greenhouse gases used in refrigeration and air conditioning systems that contribute to climate change and can be hundreds to thousands of times stronger than carbon dioxide. And their use is increasing—U.S. HFC emissions are expected to nearly double by 2020 and triple by 2030.

I came away from the meeting understanding that American businesses are ready to meet this challenge. At the roundtable gathering, Carrier, a major manufacturer of air conditioning and refrigeration equipment, committed to the commercialization of HFC-free refrigerants in road transportation refrigeration by 2020, building on its expertise with HFC-free carbon dioxide refrigerant in marine container and food retail. And Lapolla committed to transitioning its entire foam product line to be high-GWP HFC free by 2016.

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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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Promoting Environmental Stewardship Among Young People: A 2009 PEYA Winner’s Story

By Apoorva Rangan

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions has evolved into a problem on a scale that no nation can afford to fight alone. There are over 190 countries. Their boundaries may be fixed, but their people breathe the same air. No matter which country contributes the most or the least to the carbon dioxide burden, all nations suffer together.

During a time when there are major differences between developed and developing nations as how to mitigate climate change, my brother and I launched Project Jatropha, an international collaboration aimed towards alleviating rural poverty and environmental destruction by promoting the biofuel shrub Jatropha curcas.

Project Jatropha provides poor farmers in southern India with enhanced technical assistance in the utility and productivity of biofuels in ways that are environmentally sustainable and economically rewarding. Additionally, this project provides a successful medium in which young people across the globe can collaborate on the implementation of sound initiatives that provide environmental and monetary benefits to impoverished farmers in need.

In 2009, Project Jatropha was awarded the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Presidential Environmental Youth Award (PEYA). The PEYA program recognizes youth who promote environmentally-conscious awareness of our nation’s natural resources and encourages community involvement in sustainability efforts.

Each year, one outstanding project from each of EPA’s ten regional offices is selected for national recognition. The new projects awarded continue to be impressive. To be one of the lucky recipients of this award is truly one of my biggest accomplishments as an environmentalist. This honor has given Project Jatropha invaluable visibility and exposure. More importantly, the recognition from this award has helped raise awareness about how community action is key to creating essential strategies the benefit our global community and environment.

Since receiving the award, Project Jatropha has launched a variety of sister projects focused on environmental education, solar energy programs and kitchen gardens. My experience as an environmentalist has shown me that climate change is a problem on the scale that no entity can afford to fight alone. Because collective efforts can make a difference, the environmental education and stewardship of young people is undeniably crucial in the fight to combat global warming.

About the author: Apoorva Rangan is studying Science and Management with a biotechnology sequence at Claremont-McKenna College in California. She is currently interning at the Office of Public Engagement.

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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Sustainable Materials Management: A Life-cycle Perspective

As companies and decision-makers seek sustainable ways to manage resources and meet consumer needs, they are confronted with an array of choices, labels and practices that claim to be better for the environment. Terms such as “recyclable,” “recycled-content,” “biodegradable,” or “organic,” all suggest a more sustainable use of resources, but all focus on a limited set of environmental impacts. At EPA, we found that asking which of these practices is better for the environment may not be the right question. We’ve found benefit by taking a broader perspective that considers the full “life cycle” of a product.

Governments and businesses can make better-informed choices with “life-cycle thinking,” or considering the environmental impacts caused at all of the stages of a product’s life cycle. These impacts may include releases of pollutants to air or water; raw material depletion; loss of trees, vegetation and wildlife through disturbance of land and water ecosystems; and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The stages of a product’s life cycle include extraction of resources, manufacturing, use, and end-of-life management. Focusing on just one stage (such as waste management) or one effect (such as organically-raised or grown) can be misleading in total environmental impact. A broader look at life-cycle considerations can show unsuspected or surprising effects – such as high greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from washing clothes with hot as opposed to cold water (since fossil fuels were likely burned for the energy used to heat the water). More

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

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Switch Flipped On at Largest Solar Farm on a Superfund Site

The DuPont Newport Solar Project was recently completed in December 2013 and has an installed capacity of 548 kW (Photo courtesy of DuPont USA)

The DuPont Newport Solar Project was recently completed in December 2013 and has an installed capacity of 548 kW (Photo courtesy of DuPont USA)

By Charlie Howland

I work on an EPA initiative called RE-Powering America’s Land, which encourages renewable energy development on contaminated lands, landfills, and mine sites.  I was excited to learn that the switch was recently flipped at the 10 megawatt Maywood Solar Farm on 45 acres in Indianapolis and it began pumping electricity into the grid, becoming the nation’s largest solar farm on a Superfund site.  The developer estimates that the project will reduce CO2e emissions by 13,235 metric tons per year, which is equal to the amount of carbon produced for energy use in more than 1,800 residential homes or the carbon output of 2,757 passenger vehicles. But to some folks, especially long-time EPA attorneys like me, it’s the site’s original name – Reilly Tar and Chemical – that might ring a bell. A 1982 court decision about another Reilly Tar site was one of the first to interpret Superfund’s liability provisions. The court helped determine the party responsible for paying to cleanup contamination.

The Maywood solar farm and others, such as the DuPont Newport solar farm project in Delaware, on which I recently worked, stand as examples of our efforts to help renewable energy developers. At the Newport site, a 548 kilowatt, five-acre solar installation now generates approximately 729,000 kilowatt hours of power per year — enough electricity to power about 60 homes.

There is an increasing buzz about the environmental, civic, financial and grid benefits of siting renewable energy projects on environmentally impaired lands, be they Superfund, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) or Brownfield sites. We recognize that such projects are often the best use for contaminated lands, while helping to preserve existing green open spaces. Today, we’re aware of over 100 renewable energy projects that have been developed on such sites, with over 700 MW of installed capacity. Thus far, the majority of these projects sell power back to the grid in wholesale electricity markets, and sell the accompanying Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) to utilities and interested institutions and other consumers. The remaining projects generally provide energy for onsite use. Systems range from utility-scale systems, like the 35 MW wind farm at the former Bethlehem steel mill on the shore of Lake Erie in Lackawanna, New York, to smaller scale projects that serve green remediation systems, like the 280-kilowatt Paulsboro Terminal Landfill in New Jersey.

The Reilly Tar & Chemical site in Indianapolis—now home to the Maywood Solar Farm—produced refined chemicals and treated wood products from the 1950s to 1972 (Photo courtesy of Hanwha Q CELLS and Vertellus Specialties, Inc.)

The Reilly Tar & Chemical site in Indianapolis—now home to the Maywood Solar Farm—produced refined chemicals and treated wood products from the 1950s to 1972 (Photo courtesy of Hanwha Q CELLS and Vertellus Specialties, Inc.)

In my RE-Powering work, I am often reminded of an experience I had while serving as general counsel for a renewable energy developer. The firm had learned that the township in which it had optioned a parcel of farmland for a solar project had amended its zoning ordinance, restricting solar projects such as ours to areas zoned industrial. My arguments to convince the town council to change their zoning back were unsuccessful. At the end of the evening, the mayor came to me and said, “You know, we really do like your project. But we’d rather see it on the old landfill we own, instead of on farmland. What do you think?”

This is the question that the Maywood Solar Farm helps answer for the Reilly Tar site; and it’s the same one we’re asking at other contaminated properties across the country.

About the Author: Since 1990, Charlie Howland has been a Senior Assistant Regional Counsel in Region III, specializing in cleanups under CERCLA and RCRA at private sites and federal facilities.  He serves on EPA’s RE-Powering America Rapid Response Team.  Outside of EPA he took a leave of absence in 2008 and 2009 to work for a renewable energy development firm, and he currently teaches energy law and policy at Villanova Law School.

 

 

 

 

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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From Cutting Edge to Commonplace

By Cynthia Giles

I’ve dedicated my career to working with state, local and tribal partners to enforce environmental laws to protect American communities from pollution. Looking back, we’ve come a long way in how we measure for pollution and take action to curb it. Years ago, accounting for air pollution from refineries, for instance, was unreliable and burdensome. It relied in large part on estimates, often done by the refineries themselves, which often undercounted actual emissions and the risks posed to neighbors. In those days, fully understanding refinery emissions would have required taking air samples one-by-one across many potential sources.

Over the past decade, new technologies and innovative solutions have significantly improved our enforcement and compliance efforts. Through EPA’s Next Generation Compliance strategy, we’re building these tools into settlements with companies, pushing their development and implementation in communities across America.

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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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The Clean Power Plan – Following a Consistent Approach to Setting State Goals

The Clean Power Plan – following a consistent approach to setting state goals
EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan is continuing to get plenty of attention and lots of good questions. That’s great because it means people are digging into the proposal to see how it works.  We have heard a number of questions about the proposed state goals – and rightly so.  The proposed state goals are fundamental to how the program will cut pollution, so it’s important that you understand how we developed them, why they are different from state to state, and how states can meet them.  So let me provide a little more information.

How did EPA calculate the state goals?
As I mentioned last week, the Clean Power Plan works by setting state goals that gradually reduce each state’s carbon intensity rate, or “pollution-to-power ratio.” To do that, the state goals are determined by using a formula that takes the amount of CO2 emitted and divides it by the megawatt-hours of electricity generated (lbs/MWh). This is what we call a rate-based approach. Many other Clean Air Act rules have used emissions rates in the past to reduce other pollutants from power plants and many other types of facilities.

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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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Check Your AQI IQ: It’s Air Quality Awareness Week

After the winter that felt like it would not end, the weather is finally warming up in many parts of the country. And now that we can get outside without freezing, many of us are exercising more and sending our children out to play, a step that’s great for improving our health. But there’s another step we can take to protect our health, and this week is the perfect time to start: That’s paying attention to air quality.

This week is Air Quality Awareness Week  – the week each spring when we join with our partners at the CDC, NOAA and at state, local and tribal air agencies to remind people to use the Air Quality Index (AQI)  to reduce their exposure to air pollution. Even for those of us who check air quality regularly, this is a good time to refresh our knowledge of how to use the AQI to plan our outdoor activities. When air quality is good – get outside and play or exercise. When it’s not, change the type or length of your activity, or plan it for a day or time when air quality is expected to be better. More

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

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