Glacier

Working to Support Communities in Alaska Native Villages

At EPA, we respect the way of life that has enabled Alaska native villages in the Arctic and subarctic to thrive for thousands of years. We take our responsibility to those communities very seriously.  Here in the Alaska Operations Office, our focus is to connect these communities with our national policies and programs, to ensure a robust future in the face of a changing climate.

Last week, President Obama, along with Secretary John Kerry and some of EPA’s senior leaders, traveled to Alaska to see firsthand the effects of climate change and other issues that affect those who live and work here in the far north.  President Obama’s closing remarks at the GLACIER conference summarized the challenges and importance of both mitigating and adapting to climate change.

More than 184 Alaskan villages are at risk from erosion, flooding and permafrost thaw, a problem exacerbated by climate change. Both coastal and interior river system communities face unique challenges.  To explore this, Tami Fordham, our deputy director, traveled to Bethel, Alaska with Jane Nishida, EPA’s Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for International and Tribal Affairs.  In Bethel, they heard from the Association of Village Council Presidents about the challenges facing many communities in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

Jane Nishida, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for International and Tribal Affairs, and Curtis Mann, Brownfields Coordinator, Orutsararmuit Native Council Kuskokwim River standing in front of water

Jane Nishida, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for International and Tribal Affairs, and Curtis Mann, Brownfields Coordinator, Orutsararmuit Native Council Kuskokwim River.

One pressing challenge is removing household hazardous waste and e-waste from remote villages that are accessible only by air or water.  Especially because the Yukon–Kuskokwim Delta is so wet, this material needs a way out of the community to prevent future contamination of important water resources.  With funds from our Indian Environmental General Assistance Program (IGAP), AVCP is actively working on the removal of e-waste. During our visit, they shared the challenges of filling a shipping container and transporting it to a facility where this material can be properly managed.

Throughout Alaska, we are supporting communities with similar solid and hazardous waste projects, and working with state, federal, and local partners to identify solutions.  Our presence in Alaska also enables us to participate with the Collaborative Community Planning for Resilient Alaska Communities and the Sustainable Northern Communities Roundtable, both of which have been working on collaborative community planning.

Alaska is a long journey from Washington, D.C. I appreciate the effort of all of the public servants who took the time to make the trip and join the dialogue with Alaskan communities.

About the author: Dianne Soderlund is the Director of the EPA Alaska Operations Office.  An Alaskan since 1980, she fulfills EPA’s federal trust responsibilities to the state’s 229 federally recognized tribes, and works on a wide range of environmental issues, including air, water, hazardous materials and energy development.

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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EPA at GLACIER Summit

Last week I led our delegation to GLACIER, the Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience, in Anchorage, Alaska.  The U.S.-hosted conference convened foreign ministers of Arctic nations and key non-Arctic states with scientists, policymakers, and indigenous communities from Alaska and the Arctic to highlight opportunities and challenges in addressing climate change in this fragile region.  The conference also included public sessions on a range of issues including strengthening emergency response, development of renewable energy, and community health.

As part of the public sessions, I chaired a panel on “Protecting Communities and the Environment through Climate and Air Quality Projects,” which included discussions of the challenges of providing clean, reliable energy in remote communities; the particular environmental and public health needs of indigenous communities; and opportunities for local and global cooperation to address black carbon in the Arctic. Black carbon is the third largest warming agent globally, and because it causes ice melt, its effect on the Arctic is even more pronounced. In addition to its impact on the climate, black carbon also affects the health of local communities, causing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Our panel highlighted international mechanisms and our programs to address black carbon, including our effort to reduce black carbon emissions in the largest city in the Arctic Circle.

Also showcased at the GLACIER Summit was the EPA-supported Local Environmental Observer (LEO) network, created by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. Alaska Native LEO members raise awareness about emerging climate change-related events and develop adaptation strategies to address environmental and public health concerns.   LEO provides a critical bridge between local knowledge, traditional knowledge, and Western science. Through our two-year U.S. Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, we are supporting the expansion of this network across the polar region.

Another discussion, “Strengthening International Preparedness and Cooperation for Emergency Response,” highlighted the efforts of the Alaska Regional Response Team (ARRT). This partnership of state and federal agencies makes plans and preparations to support the EPA, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, who are responsible for responding to oil spills and hazardous materials releases anywhere in the state.  The ARRT works with a special emphasis on overcoming the unique challenges of responding in the Arctic. The session emphasized working closely with communities to incorporate indigenous knowledge into response planning.

To close the conference, President Obama delivered an impassioned call for international action on climate change and to protect our shared Arctic. President Obama is the first president to visit America’s Arctic and to witness firsthand the impacts of climate change on this region. During his trip, President Obama also visited with Alaska Natives in Kotzebue and Dillingham.

I am proud to have represented EPA and the United States at this event, grateful for the hospitality we were shown by Arctic communities, and inspired by their commitment and resilience in meeting the climate challenge. My sincere thanks to all of them, and everyone who is contributing to the preservation and protection of our shared Arctic.

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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What Glaciers Teach Us

For as long as I can remember, my family has vacationed somewhere new every summer. We went on the typical Disney World trip, of course, as well as trips to many cities and beaches. The most memorable trips, however, were the “wild” places. We’ve visited Yellowstone National Park, the Badlands, the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and Canada, the Grand Tetons, and the Adirondacks. In each of these places, I’ve marveled at the wonder and beauty of nature, yet also feared for its survival during the continuous push for modernization.

One of the most beautiful yet sobering experiences was seeing the Athabasca Glacier in the Canadian Rockies. While driving from Banff to Jasper on the Icefields Parkway, we stopped to tour the Athabasca Glacier, part of the Columbia Icefield. Riding a snow coach onto the glacier was an amazing, albeit slightly terrifying experience, as we were educated about the huge, unseen crevasses that have killed unwitting tourists.

That ride out onto the glacier didn’t leave the biggest mark on me, though. Rather, it was walking up a winding, steep trail to the base of the glacier, seeing the markers of the glacier’s recession at a frighteningly fast pace over the last 125 years.

The glacier’s recession plainly illustrates what is happening to our natural wonders around the world. These natural wonders are coming under siege and slowly disappearing. I want to be able to take my own family to the places I’ve been, so they can see what I saw and experience the same breathless awe. However, I am afraid that when I return, these places will be a shadow of what they once were.

As much as I want to go back to the Athabasca Glacier, I am almost dreading it. How much smaller will it be?  I’ve documented all of my nature trips so far, and will continue to do so. I just hope that the before and after photos aren’t too different; if the location has changed at all, I hope it’s for the better.

With the State of the Environment project, we are hoping to document our surroundings today for two reasons: one, to look back at Documerica and see how far we’ve come, and two, to look to our future and see what we need to do.

About the author: Katherine Stodola, Office of Web Communications Intern in Washington, D.C.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.