International Cooperation

Open Dialogue with North American Environmental Ministers

Last week, Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe led the U.S. delegation to the 20th Annual Council Session of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) in Los Cabos, Mexico. Each year, the North American Ministers to the CEC meet to discuss their ongoing efforts under the North American Agreement for Environmental Cooperation to address potential trade and environmental conflicts as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The two-day meeting is open to the public and is an opportunity for the environmental leaders of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico to engage the public on environmental issues of concern and what the CEC is doing to address these issues.

Traditionally, members of the public have been invited to make presentations to the ministers on environmental issues related to the theme of that year´s meeting. Last year, the Ministers incorporated a town-hall meeting into the public portion of the session to broaden the participation of the public through social media and questions over the webcast. This new format charged the dialogue, allowing much greater interaction and potential to influence the cooperative work of the CEC. This year, the three countries broadened the reach of the town hall by establishing communication hubs in each of our countries in Montreal, Vancouver, Mexico City, and in Washington D.C. at EPA headquarters.

The town hall allowed for dynamic comments and questions from students, professors, environmental NGOs, and citizens concerned with transportation and environment in North America. Some of the questions addressed to the ministers were about the plans the three countries have to develop the infrastructure for vehicle recharging, and renewable and alternative fuels. There were also questions about how the governments are working together to harmonize regulations on greenhouse gas emissions. The ministers spoke candidly about the challenges facing their respective agencies and the potential for the CEC to enable the three countries to develop a collective approach. The ministers’ responses were thorough, specific, and knowledgeable.

Opportunities to communicate with senior government officials are rare, so it is important to make the extra effort to make sure that those who have something to say or to ask about the CEC have this opportunity. EPA has hosted a series of CEC Talks broadcasts and encourages discussion by involving our experts on each topic in the conversation. We will continue to work with our Canadian and Mexican counterparts to ensure that the dialogue does not end with the close of the meeting. Like environmental issues, the dialogue with the public knows no borders and public input will continue to inform the work we do to protect human health and the environment.

To learn more about the work EPA conducts through the CEC, go to:

About the author: Patrick Huber is an international environmental program specialist in the Office of International and Tribal Affairs focusing on multilateral and bilateral environmental agreements in North America. Prior to joining EPA in 2010, Patrick completed a dual MPP/MBA from Georgetown University and the University of Geneva and has 12 years experience in international project management in the private and civil sector. Patrick lives with his wife and 2 young children in Falls Church, Virginia.

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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Green International Trade Missions

About the author: Jessica Arnold joined the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration’s Environmental Technologies Team in 2007 as an associate team member. Last spring, she spent a month in Sub-Saharan Africa with U.S. companies on a multi-sector trade mission designed to help facilitate U.S. exports to the region.

If you search the Internet for images of Lagos, Nigeria, you’ll probably find many photos. With more than 120 million people living in Nigeria, it is the most heavily populated country in Sub-Saharan Africa and, until recently, has put very little focus on the environment. Nigeria’s president, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, said in 2008 that, “the country’s annual losses stemming from environmental degradation total nearly $5.1 billion.”

In the spring of 2008, I participated in a multi-sector trade mission to three countries (Ghana, Nigeria, and South Africa) in Sub-Saharan Africa led by the International Trade Administration (ITA). Trade missions are one of the key tools ITA uses to help U.S. businesses export products and services and enter new markets.

So, with President Ya’Adua’s comment in mind, I thought, “We’re off to visit three countries that want newer and more efficient technologies to help them clean their air, their water, and their waste.” I set a goal for myself to make sure that multiple U.S. companies focused on environmental technology products were part of the trade mission and would have the opportunity to begin or expand exports to these markets where their products and services could truly be helpful.

I was very happy to find that the U.S. industry was both enthusiastic about and capable of filling this need as four of the 13 companies on the trade mission were environmental firms or involved with environmental technologies in some way. I’m also thrilled to report that as a direct result of this trade mission, at least one company, a renewable energy company based in Michigan, secured contracts to develop solar efficiency projects in Nigeria and South Africa.

As green technologies developed by U.S. industry continue to advance and the interest and demand for products and services derived from those technologies from foreign markets grows, ITA will be leading three green trade missions this spring: an environmental technology mission to Italy, Greece, and Croatia; a solar energy mission to India; and a green building products and services mission to Southeast Asia. I look forward to returning to Greenversations in the future to share experiences and report on successes from these trade missions. In the meantime, please visit us at:

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 “Greening” of the Arctic

About the authors: Bob Dyer and Ella Barnes, Office of International Affairs, have managed work on the reduction of toxic and hazardous wastes in the Arctic under both the multilateral Arctic Contaminants Action Program (ACAP) and the Arctic Military Environmental Cooperation (AMEC) Program for over 10 years. Bob Dyer chaired the ACAP Working Group under the Arctic Council from 2004 to 2008, and Ella Barnes is the U.S. Representative to the ACAP Working Group.

If you stood with me at the northernmost point of the Chukotka Peninsula in Russia, on the shores of the frigid Arctic Ocean, what would we see? A star-filled sky, the Aurora Borealis, whales, walruses, perhaps a lost polar bear… But there is something that the eye cannot see: high concentrations of contaminants, from radioactive materials to pesticides.

Photo of children leaning out the window of their hazardous waste drum converted into living spaceA Chukotka family has set up residence in an abandoned hazardous waste tank.

The Arctic is fragile, and is an early warning indicator of the state of the larger planet. Almost all Russian rivers flow to the north, where contaminants accumulate in seaweed, fish, birds, and mammals. Through the subsistence food chain these contaminants quickly find their way into the bodies of indigenous people where they stay for years. Native Americans in the Arctic, who neither produced nor used these chemicals, are at risk.

Since 2004, EPA’s Bob Dyer has chaired and I have represented the U.S. at the Arctic Contaminants Action Program (ACAP), which includes the U.S., Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Russia. Working together with our partners, EPA is helping to greatly reduce environmental contamination in the Arctic.

ACAP, under EPA leadership, organized the effort which to date has resulted in inventory, analysis and safe storeage over 4,000 metric tons of obsolete and prohibited pesticides in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of Russia. Prior to this project, the contaminants were released directly into those northward-flowing Russian rivers and transported to the Arctic.

Thanks to the pesticides management program we initiated, Russian regions are now contributing their funds and manpower in development of creative solutions to pesticides storage. For example, they have converted an abandoned missile silo in Altai Krai, Southern Siberia, into an effective storage facility for legacy pesticides.

left photo, exterior of concrete bunker missile silo. right photo, interior of silo showing racks  and racks of white storage bags of pesticides

A Pokrovka former missile hangar was dismantled under the US Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. In 2007 it became an interim storage site for obsolete and prohibited pesticides under the ACAP Project.

Bob and I are particularly proud that, during the recent EPA chairmanship of ACAP, the program has created and implements a model environmental justice empowerment program in Russia called the Indigenous Peoples Community Action Initiative. This sustainable and replicable project has already resulted in the removal and safe storage of over a metric ton of PCBs and persistent organic pollutant pesticides from remote indigenous villages in Alaska and northern Russia.

A community elder in Chukotka, Russian Far East, told us that he lived with drums containing spent oils, lubricants, and transformer liquids all his life and they are a part of his landscape. EPA is helping to change that–this summer, through the ACAP Program, over 2000 drums were removed from two Arctic indigenous villages in Chukotka on the Bering Sea across from Alaska.

photo showing field full of barrels with inset photo of three men rolling barrels

Residents of Lorino and Lavrentia, Chukotka Autonomous District removing hazardous waste drums.

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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Solving the Biggest Health Risk You've Never Heard Of

About the author: Jacob Moss joined EPA’s air program in 1999 and has led a variety of air quality, energy, and international efforts since that time.

During my Peace Corps service in Togo, West Africa, in the late 1980s, I would often chat with local women while they cooked in their kitchens. These visits couldn’t last more than a short while simply because the smoke from the stoves was so dense I would start coughing, my eyes would sting, and I would have to go outside to breathe. These women, like nearly half the world’s population, cooked on rudimentary stoves using solid fuels. They typically used wood or charcoal, but in other regions of the world crop residues, coal and dung cakes are also used extensively.

In 2002, the World Health Organization ranked indoor smoke from cooking stoves as the 4th worst health risk factor in poor developing countries – after undernourishment, unsafe sex, and lack of clean water supply and sanitation. Breathing elevated levels of indoor smoke from home cooking and heating practices more than doubles a child’s risk of serious respiratory infection; it may also be associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes such as stillbirth and low birth weight.

In 2002, I helped EPA start an initiative called the Partnership for Clean Indoor Air (PCIA), to help galvanize global efforts to address these risks. Since its foundation, we’ve grown from 13 initial partners to more than 190 partners today. In India alone we have over 20 partner organizations from the government, NGO, academic and private sectors. Similarly, in the East African region (Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda), we work with over a dozen partnering organizations. EPA’s projects will bring cleaner cooking practices to over a million people, while our partners collectively plan on reaching about 30 million people in the next couple of years. We’ve worked with partners to ensure that the clean stoves and fuels being promoted are measurably and significantly reducing people’s exposure to this smoke.

Now I’m leading a process to expand PCIA to make it independent, sustainable, and capable of achieving large-scale results. In the next five years, we’d like to work with partners to demonstrate the ability to reach 50 to 75 million people who are currently exposed to poor indoor air quality. In the longer-term (say, 15 years), we’d like to work with our partners to design and implement a strategy to eliminate these risks for half of the affected global population – about 1.5 billion people.

I am happy to discuss some of our lessons learned from the field in future blogs. In the meantime, let me know what you think. How do you think we can most successfully expand PCIA?

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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Reaching Out to Multilingual Communities Across the Nation and the World

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.

Lea la versión en español a continuación de esta entrada en inglés.
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In an effort to fulfill EPA’s mission, we seek community involvement in the decision-making process. We do this by engaging all interested groups through dialogue and collaboration, including those with limited financial and technical resources, English proficiency, and/or past experience participating in environmental decision-making.

By engaging the public, we aim at fostering environmental stewardship in all communities in the U.S., including those with limited English proficiency. End result–the Agency benefits, it’s advantageous to these communities, and ultimately, the environment profits as well.

Census data reveals that around 18 percent of the total population in the US over the age of 5 speak a language other than English at home. Given that language can be a barrier to environmental understanding, we want to address those barriers. Moreover, multilingual communities may live or work in areas that are subject to greater environmental hazards. Therefore, we provide environmental information on lead, pesticides, flood and mold cleanup, children’s health protection, to address many of these issues.

The Agency has been consolidating its environmental information on multilingual websites to facilitate access. Currently, we have websites in Spanish, Chinese (both Traditional and Simplified script), Vietnamese and Korean. We have several initiatives designed to reach out effectively to these communities. For example, the Hispanic environmental health page, the nail salons air quality initiative in Vietnamese and Korean; the informational materials on dry-cleaning regulations in Korean; and the Hispanic Stakeholders Initiative—Beyond Translation, and the EPA-China Environmental Law Initiative in English and Chinese to name a few.

Increasingly, we have found that these multilingual websites are receiving numerous worldwide visitors who are looking to EPA for environmental leadership. New technology such as Web 2.0 is just another valuable tool in facilitating environmental communication across the globe.

Alcanzando a las comunidades multilingües a través de la nación y del mundo

Sobre la autor: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la EPA desde el 2002 y está a cargo del Grupo de Trabajo sobre Comunicaciones Multilingües. Como periodista, dirigió la oficina en Washington de dos periódicos puertorriqueños y ha laborado en varias agencias gubernamentales.

En un esfuerzo por llevar a cabo la misión de la Agencia (EPA, por sus siglas en inglés), constantemente buscamos la participación de las comunidades en el proceso para tomar decisiones. Hacemos esto al exhortar la participación de los grupos interesados por medio del dialogo y la colaboración incluyendo a aquellos con recursos económicos y tecnológicos limitados, habilidad de hablar inglés, y/ o experiencia participando en el proceso de decisiones ambientales.

Al buscar la participación del público, tenemos como meta fomentar la capacitación ambiental en todas las comunidades d la nación, incluyendo a aquellos con la habilidad limitada de hablar inglés. Esto es beneficioso para la Agencia, es ventajoso para esas comunidades, y el medio ambiente se beneficia también.

Los datos del Censo revelan que alrededor del 18 por ciento del total de la población en los Estados Unidos sobre la edad de cinco (5) años hablan un idioma diferente al inglés en el hogar. Dado el caso que el idioma puede ser una barrera para que las persona comprendan los problemas ambientales, queremos tratar esas barreras. Además, las comunidades multilingües podrían vivir o trabajar en áreas que sujetas a gran riesgo ambiental. Por lo tanto, proveemos información ambiental acerca de plomo, pesticidas, inundaciones y limpieza de moho, protección ambiental para niños para tratas todos estos tópicos.

Con el propósito de facilitar el acceso informativo, en la Agencia, hemos estado consolidando la información ambiental en las páginas Web multilingües. Entre otros, actualmente, tenemos páginas Web español, chino (ambos caracteres tradicional y simplificado) y coreano. También tenemos varias iniciativas de alcance especialmente diseñadas para estas comunidades. Por ejemplo, El medio ambiente y su salud, la iniciativa de calidad de aire en los salones de belleza en vietnamita y coreano, materiales informativos sobre regulaciones para tintorerías y comercios de lavado en seco y la iniciativa para la comunidad hispana, Beyond Translation, – Más allá de la traducción – y la iniciativa para la Ley ambiental US-China en inglés y chino.

Cada vez más, estamos encontrando que las páginas multilingües reciben numerosas visitantes de alrededor del mundo buscando información y liderazgo de parte de la Agencia. Las nuevas tecnologías tales como Web 2.0 es otra herramienta valiosa para facilitar la comunicación ambiental alrededor del mundo.

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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