environmental challenges

An Inspiring Afternoon with Women Scientists and Engineers from Carnegie Mellon University

 

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon at Carnegie Mellon University with very impressive women faculty members and doctoral candidates in the engineering, environment and public policy fields.

These women of diverse backgrounds and experiences enlightened me about their work on a number of environmental challenges facing us today. They are doing important research on the life-cycle of energy systems and their impact on climate change and mitigation. Through these efforts, faculty and students are seeking to understand the social, economic and environmental implications of energy consumption tools that can be used to support sustainable energy.

I was pleased to learn that one Ph.D. candidate is studying water quality and marine life in the Monongahela River. We’re doing very similar work in our Wheeling, West Virginia office and I hope we can build on each other’s progress. There are a number of interesting and practical research projects on air quality modeling, agriculture, and natural gas – I am interested in learning about the final outcomes of these projects and how it may increase our understanding in those areas.

My visit to Carnegie Mellon is timely since we celebrate Women’s History Month in March. Women have a long history in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) that many may not realize. Women play an important role by fostering a robust and diverse scientific community that draws from a broad array of unique experiences and skills. Developing diverse world-class talent in STEM, is absolutely critical in meeting the growing environmental challenges facing our modern world.

I am inspired by the passion and creativity of the talented group of engineers and scientists at Carnegie Mellon. They are striving to make meaningful contributions to the environment for generations to come. We need to ensure more women have the opportunity to pursue degrees in the various fields of science. These women scientists and engineers are helping to move this forward.

Shawn M. Garvin is EPA’s Regional Administrator for Region 3, overseeing the agency’s operations in Delaware, D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. Shawn’s career in intergovernmental affairs spans more than 20 years at the federal and local levels.

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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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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Working Together to Tackle Environmental Challenges

By Walker Smith

The United Nations Environment Program Compound in Nairobi, Kenya, where the first meeting of the United Nations Environment Assembly of the UNEP, or UNEA, was held.

As I sat in traffic on my way back to the Nairobi airport, I watched the children weaving between the old taxis and buses that clog Nairobi’s streets, breathing in the black plumes pouring out of the tailpipes. The sight was a powerful reminder of why I’d traveled to Nairobi in the first place – for the first meeting of the United Nations Environment Assembly of the United Nations Environment Program, or UNEA.

Over 160 nations came together at the first UNEA to address the critical environmental challenges facing the world today, like air quality, marine debris, illegal trade in wildlife, and hazardous waste. UNEA provided its participants with an opportunity to discuss, learn, negotiate, and, most importantly, identify concrete ways to improve environmental quality around the globe.

One of the goals of the U.S. delegation attending UNEA was to ensure that this nearly universal group of nations strengthened the United Nations Environment Program’s (UNEP) efforts to improve air quality around the world. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 7 million people died as a result of air pollution in 2012 alone, making air pollution the world’s largest single environmental health risk. Poor air quality has a staggeringly high human cost, but it’s an issue we can, and must, do something about.

We’ve already made progress domestically and abroad. In the United States from 1970 to 2012, Clean Air Act programs have lowered levels of six common air pollutants by 72 percent! Internationally, the UNEP-led Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles (PCFV) has worked tirelessly to remove lead from fuels since its founding in 2002. Through successful efforts to eliminate leaded gas in all but 6 countries, we avoid 1.2 million premature deaths per year – 125,000 of which are children.

Looking out the car window, I thought about the progress we had made through PCFV and efforts like it, but also of the steps still to be taken. Without these efforts, the children along the road beside me would be breathing in lead, a powerful neurotoxin with irreversible health impacts; however, many of them are still exposed on a daily basis to sulfur dioxide and black carbon from vehicles and from dirty stoves in their homes. And, in the United States, we still feel the effects of air pollution, generated from both domestic sources and across the ocean.

The world faces serious environmental threats, many of which cannot be solved by one country alone. Working through UNEA and with partners like UNEP, we’ill continue to move forward, finding new solutions and forming partnerships to help us tackle these challenges. I hope one day children in Nairobi, and around the world, will live and play in a cleaner, healthier environment.

About the author: Walker Smith has served as the Director of the Office of Global Affairs & Policy in the Office of International & Tribal Affairs since 2009. She previously served as Director of the Office of Civil Enforcement at EPA and as the Principal Deputy Chief of the Environmental Enforcement Section in the Department of 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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At the Intersection of Human Health and Environmental Protection

A community’s health, safety, and productiveness is dependent on the protection of its environment. This intersection, between environmental stewardship and community growth, is one of the most important aspects of the work we do every day at EPA. That’s why one of Administrator McCarthy’s key themes is making a visible difference in communities across the country. However, it’s not just cities and towns here in the U.S. that benefit from environmental protection. Worldwide, our homes are safer, our children are healthier, and our economies are stronger when we invest in environmental stewardship.

During my time at EPA, I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing the impact of environmental protection in communities worldwide. When I traveled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I saw firsthand the environmental challenges that communities were facing in Africa and other parts of the world. 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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Recognizing Students for Innovative Environmental Solutions

By Bob  Perciasepe

How would you change the world with $90,000? That’s what we asked students from colleges and universities across the country as part of an annual competition to come up with innovative solutions to some of today’s toughest public health and environmental challenges. And the responses we received were remarkable.

EPA’s People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) award competition was held this past spring at the 9th Annual National Sustainable Design Expo. Three hundred student innovators from 45 teams convened on the National Mall in Washington, DC to showcase sustainable projects to protect people’s health and the environment, encourage economic growth, and use natural resources more efficiently.

Each award winning team will receive a grant of up to $90,000 to further develop their design and potentially bring it to the marketplace. About a quarter of P3 award winners have started new companies or nonprofit organizations, and many have used their P3 grant funds to attract investment capital, additional grants and competitive awards.

A panel of expert judges convened by the American Association for the Advancement of Science helped select the winners following two days of judging. It is my honor to announce this year’s winners:

  • Loyola University of Chicago for developing a greener way, through a wetland and a distillation process, to treat and reuse byproducts of biodiesel.
  • University of Massachusetts, Lowell for creating nontoxic, biodegradable surfactants from fruit peels and algae, and seeing how they are effective.
  • Radford University for designing a naturally-occurring coating that would allow sand to absorb water pollutants, such as arsenic and cadmium.
  • San Jose State University for using saw dust instead of plastic to create inexpensive building materials, customized for local climates, with 3D printer technology.
  • Georgia Southern University for further innovating the Low Temperature Combustion diesel engine, to operate on locally sourced n-buthanol and cottonseed oil; thus designing a diesel engine that could create even lower NOx and soot emissions.
  • Cornell University for designing a simple, low-cost, lower-maintenance water filtration device for Honduras communities, using a stacked-rapid sand filter.
  • Cornell University for evaluating and improving cookstove fuel resources in Kenyan communities, by burning solid fuel without oxygen, which can create biochar for soil enrichment.

The students that participated in this competition – and young people across the country – continue to give me confidence that our next generation of American scientists and engineers are up to the task of solving the world’s most pressing environmental problems.

About the author: Bob Perciasepe is acting administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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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Recognizing EPA’s Extraordinary Team of Public Servants

By Bob Perciasepe, Acting Administrator

This week is Public Service Recognition week, and as acting administrator at EPA, I wanted to take this opportunity to acknowledge the extraordinary public servants I work alongside every day. Public service is a high calling. I know how keenly aware my colleagues are of the service they provide every day to our country. They are answering the call to duty and heeding the words of President Kennedy, “Ask what you can do for your country.”

Thanks to the hard work of the men and women who serve at EPA, the Agency has helped cut pollution and improve health benefits at a record level, while delivering more assistance and making more investments to help businesses and state and local governments meet health standards. In the 43 years since the EPA opened its doors, the American population has grown by more than 50 percent. During the same time frame, we have cut harmful air pollution by more than half. And as our country’s air, water and land have become cleaner, we have also seen our national gross domestic product (GDP) grow more than 200 percent since 1970.

We’ve developed and supported the most efficient and effective environmental enforcement programs in our history. We’ve advanced our science and our approaches to testing chemicals – and met challenges like Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Sandy and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill by helping to keep those regions clean and the people there safe and healthy. We’ve expanded our partnerships with local communities and tribal nations, and consequently, we’ve been able to target our resources more effectively to address the most pressing environmental problems they face. And we’ve doubled down on our own commitment to sustainability by dramatically cutting the Agency’s overall energy use, reducing our water use, and slashing greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 80 percent. That’s the equivalent of taking 21,700 cars off the road or planting more than 2.7 million trees.

EPA employees have also found innovative and unprecedented ways to address the complex environmental challenges – and tight budgets – Americans face today. For example, in 2011, EPA announced a new water technology innovation cluster in Cincinnati, a public/private partnership to develop and commercialize technologies to solve water quality challenges, encourage sustainable economic development and create jobs. Last year EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance announced the public release of an online mapping tool called NEPAssist to help make federal agencies conduct environmental reviews and project planning more efficiently and more effectively. And just recently EPA launched the Green Button on our Home Energy Yardstick. Now American homeowners can measure – and improve – their home’s energy efficiency using this free online energy-assessment tool.

This is exciting work, and you don’t have to take my word for it: Last week the Partnership for Public Service ranked EPA as third in innovation among large federal agencies, according to a survey they conducted of federal employees. In the many ways they contribute to EPA’s mission of protecting human health and the environment, my colleagues are remarkable public servants. I’m proud to work with them, and this week, to celebrate them.

About the author: Bob Perciasepe is Acting Administrator of the U.S. EPA.

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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Earth Day with the Home Team

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Dave Deegan

Happy Earth Day!

The first Earth Day was held in 1970. It was organized as a series of “teach-ins” to hold conversations about the serious environmental challenges of the day. Here at EPA, celebrating Earth Day on April 22 sometimes feels like the biggest holiday of the year.

Today, our celebration will be especially memorable as several dozen EPA employees will volunteer their evening hours to be the recycling “Green Team” at Fenway Park.

Since 2008, I’ve been one of dozens of EPA employees from our local Boston office who have occasionally volunteered to help with the Red Sox’ recycling efforts. And the results are impressive – this goes way beyond the novelty of being at a game from a different vantage point. For example, in 2012 alone, the Red Sox averaged recycling approximately 3.4 tons of plastic and other items, and donated or composted 1.4 tons of food waste – at each game. That’s a lot of material being kept away from landfills, especially when you consider that there are 81 home games per season.

But wait. Isn’t climate change the biggest environmental issue? How does recycling relate to that? Building, moving and using the products and food we rely on in our daily lives – and then managing the waste left behind – requires a lot of energy.  This energy mostly comes from burning fossil fuels, which are the largest global source of heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions.

Recycling everyday objects, such as paper, bottles, and magazines saves energy and helps to slow climate change. The materials that you recycle are used to create the products you buy. This means less virgin material need to be mined or harvested, processed, manufactured, and transported—all of which consume energy.

To make tonight’s game even more green, the Red Sox this year are actually undertaking a carbon-neutral game in addition to promoting recycling of all plastic bottles, cups and containers.

On Earth Day, people often ask us how they can make a positive difference for a clean environment. Recycling is actually one of the best things we can all do in our daily lives. Just as Earth Day in 1970 led to creating major laws including the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, maybe the activities held on this year’s Earth Day will spur greater action on the biggest environmental challenge facing us today: climate change.

What will you do to make an Earth Day difference?

About the author: Dave Deegan works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. When he’s not at work, you might find him working in his yard or being outdoors in one of New England’s many special places.

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

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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

By Jeanethe Falvey

To date, most of the photos submitted to State of the Environment have been stunningly beautiful; artistic landscapes and captivating creatures. If that’s what the cumulative picture of our planet is right now, incredible! However, I know there is work to be done and that beauty is one side of the story. You know this too and we’re OK with that. We’re OK with photos that show the environmental challenges and problems that exist. That’s part of the picture and that’s what made Documerica great.

This photographic documentary is an unprecedented opportunity for every one of us to make a statement about our environmental quality right now. What is our drinking water like? Can we fish without overfishing? Swim and enjoy our lakes and beaches without getting sick? Is our air healthy to breathe? Where is our food coming from and what does it take to get it there? Are we protecting wildlife and conserving open space?

These photos show our priorities and our struggles. This documentary is coming together on a scale that can’t be genuinely replicated by a small group of people no matter how well traveled you are. It’s thousands of unfiltered opinions coming right to EPA’s doorstep, resulting in a picture that just may lead to greater awareness and perhaps a better way forward that we can all take ownership in.

Not only is State of the Environment showing what our world looks like now, the result of how we’ve cared for it in the past, but it will show our actions for the future. Based on today, what might our environment look like decades from now?

Not every country is as lucky as we are. We’re an involved public. We’re involved in our government and we’re passionate about what happens inside and outside of our national boundaries. We can expect a lot for our quality of life and we CAN air our discontent. There were times and places in history where doing that would have put you into a moat of lions.

So grab your camera, even your smartphone, sign up on Flickr and show us what you see. The good, the bad, even the ugly.

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey writes from EPA’s Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education, as the project-lead for Pick 5 and the State of the Environment, two projects geared towards learning, sharing and gaining a greater collective connection to our environment.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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 in Science: EPA Reaching Out To Empower Women Around The World

By Michelle DePass

I am not a scientist, but in the world of environmental policy, science is a part of our everyday discussions and decisions. So I’m happy to help carry the message about the importance of promoting science and technology as the key to moving forward an agenda as large as protecting human health and the environment, meeting the needs of growing and rapidly urbanizing populations and increasing employment. We know that as we look to use science and technology to drive economic development and resolve health and environmental challenges, we must also ensure that our approach supports our goals for women’s equality.

Two weeks ago, I was thrilled to join Administrator Jackson, leading women scientists in Ethiopia and students pursuing science degrees at the Addis Ababa University to highlight the achievements of women scientists and the role science policy can play in helping solve the most challenging environmental and public health issues of our time.

DePasse2At the same time Administrator Jackson and I were having a conversation with future women leaders in Ethiopia, our colleagues from across the world came together to discuss the importance of promoting women in science and celebrate the launch of the new United Nations agency called ‘UN Women’. The establishment of UN Women reflects a shared global concern with the slow pace of change. We all know that it is no longer acceptable to live in a world where girls do not have equal access to education, where women’s employment opportunities are limited and where the threat of gender-based violence is a daily reality — at home, at school and at work.

To continue this global conversation on the role of women in science, on March 8, International Women’s Day, Administrator Jackson joined two leading women scientists from Indonesia for a live web chat with participants from Jakarta and the U.S. It was inspiring to hear how women in science around the world face similar challenges, but also share the same optimism for the future.

Together with colleagues from across the U.S. government and around the world, we at EPA will work to highlight the efforts of this generation of women leaders – and, I hope, by tirelessly promoting women’s access to education and science-based careers — inspire the next generation.

About the author: Michelle DePass is EPA’s Assistant Administrator for International and Tribal Affairs and continues to be a leading voice on expanding environmental justice in less advantaged communities here at home and in countries around the world.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.


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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All Politics Is Local…And The Environment, Too

As part of my job at EPA, I meet with elected officials and stakeholders who visit the Agency to discuss their local environmental challenges and concerns. Whether they are concerned about local drinking water issues, air quality concerns, site cleanups, these stakeholders often come to meet with EPA officials to discuss the Agency’s regulations and economic opportunities. EPA’s actions in the Nation’s capital or at the regional level directly affect communities across the United States and its territories.

Increasingly, I see the relevance of the popular phrase attributed to the former Speaker of the House of Representatives Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neil, “all politics is local.” With time, I’ve been able to see how the phrase also applies to environmental decisions and actions, not only at EPA but for the general public as well. For example, the things we do at home, at school, at work, or in our community have a direct impact on our environment. Every day activities can harm our immediate surroundings and areas far away. What type of activities you might ask? Well, everyday decisions such as taking a bath vs. shower, driving vs. commuting, applying fertilizers and pesticides vs. greenscaping, all have different repercussions on the environment.

What can you do at home to reduce non point source pollution
and protect the environment? Need some tips for conserving water at home?  For more info on acting locally and thinking globally, please visit our Web site.  I’m sure many of you have many green experiences that you would like to share. We want to hear from you. Have a great day.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies

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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