environmental issues

American Innovators are Cracking the Code to Solve Environmental Problems

Two weeks ago, I visited the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, which is across the street from my office here at EPA. Its new American Enterprise exhibition in the museum’s recently opened Innovators wing is packed with breakthroughs of the last few centuries. From the light bulb to medical and farm devices to personal computers you’re struck by how creativity and ingenuity played a role in our country’s history and progress.

The same is proving to be true for environmental progress. American innovation is playing a pivotal role in helping us solve environmental issues such as climate change, limited water resources, waste and chemical safety, turning these problems into business opportunities and spurring investment.

Today we’re announcing the winners of the 20th Annual Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards, another opportunity to celebrate the power of American innovation and entrepreneurs that bring these technologies to the marketplace.

Take a look at the 2015 innovative winning technologies and pictures from the award ceremony!

Developing Safer Floors, Wood Furniture and Foam Insulation. Hybrid Coating Technologies/Nanotech Industries (Daly City, California) developed a safer polyurethane that isn’t made with isocyanates, which causes skin and breathing problems and workplace asthma. Isocyanates have always been used in making polyurethane, most often a flexible plastic material used in many consumer products, and last year the U.S. produced 5.5 billion pounds of it. So, this is clearly a breakthrough technology. The technology is also reducing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and manufacturing costs and making the end products safer for people and the environment.

Producing Safer Additives for Car Lubricants and Gasoline. SOLTEX (Synthetic Oils and Lubricants of Texas, Houston, Texas) has developed a technology that, if widely used, could eliminate millions of gallons of wastewater per year and reduce the use of a hazardous chemical by 50 percent. The technology has the potential to improve the production of other products such as caulks, adhesives, and personal care products.

Using Waste Gas to Create Products.
LanzaTech (Skokie, Illinois) is using waste gas from steel plants to create fuels and chemicals while reducing the carbon footprint. A facility captures and converts the gas, which would otherwise be emitted into the air, into a substance with commercial value. Two facilities already use the technology to produce 100,000 gallons per year of ethanol. This technology is an excellent example of creating valuable fuel from waste.

Creating Fuel from Algae
Algenol (Fort Myers, Florida) developed a blue-green algae that can be used to create valuable fuel. The technology combines sunlight with waste carbon dioxide from air or industrial emitters to create fuel while dramatically reducing costs, water usage, and carbon footprint. The ethanol and green crude produced are substitutes for petroleum-derived fuels and chemicals.

Using Consumer and Municipal Trash to Make Products. Renmatix (King of Prussia, Pennsylvania) developed a cost-effective process using high temperature and high pressure water to break down woody biomass, plant material, and even some municipal waste into sugars to make plant-based chemicals and fuels. Production can be set up with whatever plant-based material is available. The production also can be set up anywhere, which makes the technology easy to replicate regionally and globally. The technology could significantly reduce dependence on petroleum-based chemicals and fuels.

Using Plants to Make Plastics, Chemicals and Fuels. Professor Eugene Chen of Colorado State University developed a process that uses plant-based materials in the production of renewable chemicals and liquid fuels. This new technology is waste-free and metal-free. It offers significant potential for the production of renewable chemicals, fuels, and bioplastics that can be used in a wide range of safer industrial and consumer products.

I am confident that these types of innovative technologies will be showcased in future exhibits highlighting American innovation. The winners have great scientific expertise and keen business sense. Their innovative technologies have the potential to be “game changers” to solve important environmental problems and show that we can innovate towards a sustainable economy.

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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REC @ 25: Looking Back and Looking Ahead

I was recently a part of the official U.S. Delegation at a ministerial event celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Regional Environmental Center (REC) for Central and Eastern Europe in Budapest, Hungary. I also had the honor to represent President George H.W. Bush at the REC’s opening ceremony in Budapest on a beautiful warm and sunny day in September 1990.

Hungarian President Janos Ader meets with EPA Acting Assistant Administrator Lek Kadeli, former EPA Administrator William Reilly, U.S. Ambassador to Hungary Colleen Bell, and others.

Hungarian President Janos Ader meets with EPA Acting Assistant Administrator Lek Kadeli, former EPA Administrator William Reilly, U.S. Ambassador to Hungary Colleen Bell, and others.

The importance of engaging environmental problems on a regional scale was underscored by the issues that Central and Eastern Europe confronted in the early 1990s. Enacting new laws, setting new standards for air and water pollution, beginning to listen to non-governmental groups, creating forums for consulting citizens—all of these were novel in the immediate post-Soviet era, and every democratically elected government had to learn how to implement them.

There was nothing simple or inevitable about the environmental commitments made and implemented among these countries trying to find their footing economically and politically. Leaders had to believe the environment was important and that environmental standards and laws would not impede economic growth. And while none of the problems faced in the early 1990s have disappeared, they have been managed and the environment is indisputably superior by all metrics.

Still, each generation must commit anew and reaffirm the rationale for environmental protection, including setting priorities together with neighboring countries. The political and environmental landscape of the region today does not display the same euphoria that we felt in 1990 after the Berlin Wall fell, but the transition has been remarkably successful. And just as the experience of engaging with similarly challenged officials from neighboring countries was a REC objective, so today it remains important.

When I spoke as head of the U.S. Delegation to the Earth Summit in Rio in June 1992, I chose to make the environmental commitments and achievements of the countries of Eastern Europe my principal theme. It was frankly the most significant and promising environmental success story of the decade. And the REC played an important unifying part in that story.

The REC has realized the hopes and aspirations of its founders and benefactors who are justly proud of its achievements and now celebrate its 25th Anniversary.

William K. Reilly worked under President George H. W. Bush (1989–1993) as the sixth administrator of EPA. While leading EPA, he initiated a program of environmental assistance to the countries of Eastern Europe as they established new environmental laws and institutions after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and he persuaded then-President George H.W. Bush to propose and fund the REC.

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

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New Online Resources Available for Local Leaders and Community Members

During my 38 years at EPA, I’ve had a chance to work here in Washington, D.C., in Research Triangle Park, in Dallas, and in Atlanta. In each of my roles, I’ve had many opportunities to meet with local leaders who are working hard to address concerns in their communities. So I know protecting environmental quality and public health happens most directly at the local level.

That’s why making a visible difference in communities is one of our top priorities for EPA. We are looking for ways we can support local officials juggling multiple responsibilities, as well as residents eager for information they can use to take action and improve local conditions.

So I’m excited about a new resource we’ve launched specifically for local officials and citizens. The Community Resources website gives visitors easy access to three unique resources that can help with a variety of local environmental and public health issues:

  • The Local Government Environmental Assistance Network (LGEAN) website offers information to help communities understand and meet federal and state environmental regulatory requirements. Developed in partnership with the International City / County Management Association, it’s one of several compliance assistance centers EPA supports. Along with media-specific information, LGEAN also includes information to help with issues ranging from sustainable environmental management to transportation to public safety.
  • The National Resource Network website offers practical solutions to help communities reach their goals for growth and economic development. Established by HUD in cooperation with the White House Council on Strong Cities, Strong Communities, it offers local government officials a Resource Library to help with practical solutions and analyses, as well as a “311 for Cities” service that enables them to request and quickly receive assistance on a wide range of topics.
  • And EPA’s Community Health website gives users resources to help improve local environmental health conditions. It provides access to information about beach closures, fish advisories, toxic emissions, and other public health issues. Visitors can also find information about applying for EPA grants and technical assistance.

We hope you’ll find this new site helpful. We invite you to check it out and then, click on the link to give us your feedback. We want to hear how we can improve the site to help local officials and community members across the country find the resources that are most important to them.

The Community Resources site is just one way we are working to make a visible difference in communities. Let me share a few examples of work happening on the ground around the country:

  • In Lawrence, Massachusetts, we awarded a brownfields grant that will help the community cleanup and revitalize a neighborhood marked by abandoned and polluted industrial properties. Check out this short video that features Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera and Massachusetts Rep. Niki Tsongas as they describe what this support will mean for the community.
  • In Wheeling, West Virginia, we joined local residents in exploring how it can transform an old apple orchard in an historic part of town into a regional hub for local foods. This work is part of the Local Foods, Local Places Initiative, which involves USDA and other federal agencies in helping communities develop local food systems as a means of revitalizing traditional downtowns and promoting economic diversification. Listen to what the Reinvent Wheeling’s Jack Dougherty has to say about this effort in this story by WV Public Radio.
  • In Fresno, California, we have been working with other state and federal agencies to help spur economic development and revitalization as part of the Obama Administration’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative. A new EPA report drawing on that work describes 30 strategies to help local governments overcome obstacles and encourage infill development, particularly in distressed communities. As many communities across the country have learned, infill development saves money through the more efficient use of tax dollars, increases property values, and improves quality of life. We’re excited about how it can help Fresno, and many other communities that recognize the benefits of reinvesting and restoring what were once vibrant neighborhoods.

Whether working on tools and information to help communities address priority issues or working right alongside community leaders, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and I are proud of the work EPA is doing to help communities build a greener, healthier, more prosperous future. We look forward to sharing more examples of how we are supporting communities in reaching their goals.

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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Staying Sustainable at School

By Maddie Dwyer

As fall approaches, there’s one thing on every college kid’s mind: living on campus. Whether you’re excited or not, dorm life is coming, and it’s time to start getting ready. For me, this means using the things I learned at EPA this summer. Below are some tips for green living, which can help you whether you’re living in a dorm or an apartment, or at home.

  1. Saving Energy: It’s easy to save energy by making a few simple changes to your routine. Remember to always turn off the lights when you leave your room. If you’re lucky enough to have air conditioning, and the luxury of controlling it, make sure it’s not left on if no one’s around.
  2. Conserving Water: There are lots of ways to use water efficiently. Take shorter showers and turn off the water when you are using soap, shaving, or brushing your teeth. Also, fixing leaky faucets is an important way to reduce wasted water.
  3. Reducing Waste: College is a great time to get into sustainable habits. Make a commitment to recycle everything you can, even if it means carrying recyclables until you find a recycling bin. Most campuses offer green dining options, like reusable take out boxes, glasses, and silverware. Take advantage of all the green options your school has to offer!
  4. Getting Involved: Every school is different, and will have different environmental issues to address. For example, as part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, my school is working to construct bioswales to filter run-off before it reaches the bay. Check out EPA’s resources for students looking to be greener at school. Whether you are advocating for safer cleaning products or encouraging energy efficient appliances, your school will be better off with your involvement.
  5. Make a Green Agreement with Your Roommate: Helping one another is a great way to make both you and your roommate more sustainable. Ask if it’s okay to unplug each other’s unused electronics, do laundry together, and figure out a schedule to keep the lights and AC off. I’ve been lucky to have lovely roommates and other amazing friends who are committed to green living, and it has helped me to become more sustainable every day.
Maddie and her roommate Grace

Maddie and her roommate Grace

So when moving back to campus, be sure to keep these tips in mind and have a wonderful, sustainable school year!

About the author: Maddie Dwyer studies environmental science and policy at the University of Maryland. She works as an intern for EPA’s Office of Web Communications.

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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Saving Energy and Money: Go Team Go!

Cross-posted from “It’s All Starts with Science”

Introduction By EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

We know that a strong economy and a healthy environment go hand-in-hand. That’s why, today, we announced that 21 small businesses in 14 states are receiving funding from the EPA to develop and commercialize innovative, sustainable technologies to address current environmental issues. Read more about one recipient, also a former winner of our agency’s People, Prosperity, and the Planet award, whose company is challenging kids to get involved and spurring competition to lower energy consumption in schools.

By Lek Kadeli

Spirited competition between local schools is a time honored tradition. From the football and soccer teams to the debate club, nothing beats taking on your arch rival to spark school spirit, get the neighbors talking, and build community pride.

That spirit of competition has helped schools here in the District of Columbia save more than 76,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity, thanks to Lucid—an EPA-supported small business started by previous winners of the agency’s People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) award.

The schools vied to see which could most dramatically reduce their energy consumption as part of the three-week “Sprint to Savings” competition. The DC Green Schools Challenge set up the competition to help schools conserve energy and save money while “engaging students in real-world learning opportunities.”

To monitor their progress and take action, students used Lucid’s “Building Dashboard,” a software program that monitors a building’s energy and water consumption in real time and presents that information in easy-to-understand graphic displays on computer screens or other devices.

Students were able to use Building Dashboard installed at their schools to gauge their progress in 15-minute intervals and help the school take corrective action, such as switching lights off when not needed, shutting down unused computers and monitors, and turning the heat down after hours. A District-wide leader board helped them keep an eye on the competition.

The idea for a data monitoring display system begin when the now principal partners of Lucid were students at Oberlin College. In 2005, their prototype won an EPA P3 Award. The P3 program is an annual student design competition that supports undergraduate and graduate student teams to research and design innovative, sustainable methods and products that solve complex environmental problems. Since then, there’s been no looking back!

Today, we are thrilled to announce that Lucid is among 20 other small businesses—including two other former P3 winners—selected to receive funding as part of the EPA’s Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program. The program was designed to support small businesses in the commercialization as well as the research and development of technologies that encourage sustainability, protect human health and the environment, and foster a healthy future. Environmental Fuel Research, LLC, and SimpleWater, LLC are the other two former P3 winning teams.

Thanks to Lucid, Environmental Fuel Research, LLC, SimpleWater, LLC and the other innovative small businesses we are supporting today, winning ideas are bringing products to the marketplace that protect our environment while sparking economic growth. I’ll bet that even arch rivals can agree that’s a win for everyone.

About the Author: Lek Kadeli is the Acting Assistant Administrator in the Agency’s Office of Research and Development.

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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Improving Access to Environmental Data through ECHO

By Rebecca Kane

I work at the Environmental Protection Agency because I care about protecting communities from pollution. I believe that information is critical to taking action, be it working with stakeholders to affect local policies or empowering citizens with tools to reduce their environmental footprint.

I manage EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online website, known as ECHO, which provides information about environmental inspections, violations and enforcement actions for EPA-regulated facilities, like power plants and factories. As one of our most important and popular resources, ECHO houses information about more than 800,000 facilities nationwide, and last year, it was visited more than 2 million times. I consider it an important tool to staying informed about my community in suburban Washington, DC.

Recent updates to ECHO allow me, and all who want to stay informed about environmental issues in their community, to find information more efficiently and accurately. Here are some examples of how these upgrades help me use the data:

  • We’ve brought back the popular Clean Water Act features, and now it’s easier to find data about water violations and inspections.
  • I can search for Clean Water Act dischargers based on type of pollutants discharged. For example, I can quickly find facilities in the area that discharge metals and check to see whether they are meeting their permitted discharge limits. This matters if my family wants to fish or swim in nearby streams and rivers.
  • When I download data to analyze violations at facilities near my neighborhood, I can see information that’s been updated within the week.
  • I can now encourage web developers to build EPA’s enforcement data directly into their own web pages and apps, because ECHO reports are now built on web services.

I’m proud to be a part of ECHO’s continued development, and there’s more to come as we continue to advance our commitment to inform and empower the public. We’re always working on enhancements to ECHO, and welcome your feedback about the site.

About the author: Rebecca Kane is a program analyst who has worked at EPA for 13 years. She’s spent most of her time in the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance and is leading the ECHO modernization effort.

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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Students Lead the Way on Climate Change

In recognition of Asthma Awareness month, we recently had the pleasure of visiting Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando where we were greeted by a group of incredibly knowledgeable and passionate students enthusiastic about environmental issues. Our discussion ranged from upcoming legislation and the role of EPA in improving air and water quality to pollution and how we can live healthier, cleaner lives, especially with growing threats from climate change.

The juniors and seniors at Dr. Phillips high school explained to us how they were learning to reduce pollution and environmental health concerns such as asthma.  These kids are doing great work, but Orlando, is not the only place where these students can be found. College Board Statistics showed that at least 118,000 students were enrolled in AP Environmental Science (APES) classes across the country in 2013, which is 10,000 more students than the year before. Interest in the environment is growing among this demographic at an amazing rate. 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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A Different Way to Connect

By Curt Spalding

The calendar finally tells us that spring is coming and a long, cold winter is ending. With this welcome season of change and growth, we at EPA New England are excited to offer a new way for you to stay in touch with our office and get the latest updates on our work: our brand-new regional Facebook page.

We’re looking forward to finding new, creative, and interesting ways to broaden our environmental dialogue with our neighbors in New England, as well as with other citizens interested in how EPA works for a cleaner and healthier environment in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

While we’ve had a successful regional Twitter account for several years now, and we regularly discuss New England issues on the EPA blog, we’re only now joining “Facebook Nation” as a way to have a less formal discussion on New England environmental issues. Social media provides interesting and effective new ways for us to stay in touch with you, and vice-versa. We hope we can better explain EPA’s work to you: the citizens, who rely on our good work for clean water, good air quality, and healthful land. We’re interested in talking with you, not talking at you.

New England is home to intelligent people who care deeply about their environment. How could it not be so, when you consider our beautiful landscapes, ranging from the towering sand dunes on Cape Cod to the rocky coast of Maine, from the Berkshires to the Green and White Mountains, and everything from pastoral towns to major cities.

We hope you will check out both the EPA New England Facebook page and Twitter account. Let us know what you think, and please feel free to “Like” or “Follow” if you want to keep up to date on our work or view the latest terrific photo taken by one of our folks in the field.

About the author:  Curt Spalding is the Regional Administrator of EPA’s New England office, located in Boston.

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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My Confidence in Future Young Scientists

Crossposted from “It’s All Starts with  Science”

By Thabit Pulak

I watched as the young students of Magnet Science and Technology Elementary poured the sand and rocks into their soda bottles. The kids were learning how sand water filters work, and making their own mini versions of the filter. The interest and pride the kids took in making their filters gave me confidence that the next generation of Americans would apply the same degree of care and attention to important environmental issues, such as water quality.

The students were taking part in “enrichment clusters,” sessions in which they learn about one important public issue in depth. I was invited by 2nd-grade teacher Ms. Claborn to visit her cluster on water purification and to present a real-life example of a water filter.

I had recently worked to develop an affordable filter that removed not only bacteria and contaminants from water, but also arsenic, a poisonous substance that affects nearly 150 million people across the world today. I had the opportunity to present my water filter at the 2012 Intel International Science Fair, where I won 3rd place and EPA’s Patrick J. Hurd Sustainability Award. The Hurd Award included an invitation to present my project at the annual National Sustainable Design Expo, which showcases EPA’s People, Prosperity, and the Planet (P3) program.

I presented the filter to the class and answered questions, learning just as much from them as they did from me. I was invited to stay for the remainder of the cluster, where the students were putting final touches on their own water filters. Ms. Claborn gave each of the students some muddy water to run through the filters. It was exciting for me to see the children’s smiles as they looked at the clean water slowly trickling out of the open edge of the soda bottle after traveling through the sand and rocks. The filters were based on a water filtration activity that EPA designed specifically for students.

Afterwards, I was invited to attend the upcoming STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) exhibit that the school was hosting. The students’ mini filters would be on display, and I was invited to display my filter alongside theirs. As the stream of curious parents and students came in, I gladly talked about both what the students did and my own filter, and what this means for the future of environmental sustainability issues like water.

This was my first opportunity to present my work outside of my school and science fairs. I felt very honored and happy to be able to give something back to the community. I hope to find ways to keep doing so!

About the Author: Guest blogger Thabit Pulak of Richardson, Texas was the winner of the Patrick H. Hurd Sustainability Award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) 2012. As part of this award, he was invited to attend and exhibit at the National Sustainable Design Expo, home of the P3: People, Prosperity and the Planet Student Design Competition for Sustainability in Washington, DC. He was also the recipient of the 2013 Davidson Fellows Award.

 

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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Export Promotion Work at Power Industry Conference

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

By Marc Lemmond 

I am excited to be in Orlando, FL at POWER-GEN, the largest power generation sector trade event in the world, to help showcase EPA’s export promotion efforts by highlighting EPA analysis of environmental issues for power generation in the U.S. and around the world.

According to Environmental Business International, in 2010, the United States environmental technologies industry had $312 billion in revenue, employed 1.7 million Americans, had a trade surplus of approximately $13 billion, and included 61,000 small businesses. Because of statistics like these, we know that EPA’s work to support environmental protection around the world creates a unique opportunity for U.S. businesses and economic growth. That’s why in response to the President’s National Export Initiative (NEI), EPA has partnered with the Department of Commerce to promote exports of U.S. environmental technologies by integrating EPA’s technical analysis into broader export promotion activities.

Here at POWER-GEN, EPA experts are participating in the Department of Commerce’s International Buyer Program to help promote U.S. industry to international customers. We are doing this by meeting with power industry representatives from international markets and U.S. companies at the conference’s Global Business Center. We are also participating in training for the Department of Commerce’s Commercial Service Energy Team and presenting analysis on the importance of multi-pollutant control strategies for the power generation sector.

Throughout the conference, we will be showcasing the Environmental Solutions Exporter Portal – an on-line one-stop shop for U.S. environmental companies interested in government programs that could help support their efforts to grow abroad. The portal also connects EPA’s analysis of key global environmental issues to U.S. solutions providers in an Environmental Solutions Toolkit. Right now, the analysis focuses on groundwater remediation, municipal nutrient removal in water treatment, emissions control in large marine diesel engines, and mercury control in power plant emissions, but nitrogen oxides emissions from power plants, air emissions issues for the oil and gas industry, and non-road diesel emissions are among the new focus areas that are currently being added.
It is our hope that this work will help support the export of environmental protection goods and services, which not only means a healthier global environment but also a more productive green American economy.

For more information on EPA’s export promotion strategy or the Environmental Solutions Exporter Portal, visit

About the author: Marc Lemmond works on trade and finance issues in the Office of International and Tribal Affairs. He has extensive experience with the environmental technologies industry. Marc holds a Master’s degree in Science, Technology, and Public Policy from the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University.

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

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