local government

A Brighter Future for My Community and Yours: A Mayor’s Perspective

By Lisa A. Wong

(c) 2015 Sentinel & Enterprise. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission of Digital First Media.

(c) 2015 Sentinel & Enterprise. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission of Digital First Media.

Fitchburg, Massachusetts, is a wonderful community that built its foundation along the Nashua River. The town flourished along the banks of this great river until the industry and jobs moved south, leaving behind abandoned mill properties that deteriorated into brownfield sites. When I first decided to run for Mayor, I had one clear vision: to promote economic growth in a manner that also improves the community’s environment and public health. The projects that I have undertaken as Mayor have been based in economics, but also in promoting environmental and health equity for all the community.

My time in office has taught me a number of things, but two really stand out. First, I have come to realize that problem solving doesn’t necessarily require more spending, but it does require innovative spending. Second, government cannot solve problems alone — you have to engage the citizens of the community to develop solutions that will improve everyone’s lives. By working with my community to connect them back to the river and focusing on environmental justice challenges, we have made a better, more sustainable future for all. Today, the city of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, prospers because we are working together to promote a cleaner environment so that all of our citizens can collectively share in that brighter future.

As chair of the Environmental Justice workgroup for EPA’s Local Government Advisory Committee (LGAC), there is a lot to reflect on for Earth Day 2015. The LGAC is a federal advisory committee comprised of 30 elected and appointed officials of state, tribal and local governments who meet regularly to advise the EPA Administrator about environmental and public health issues that affect local government. Recently, the LGAC produced the EJ Best Practices for Local Governments report that highlights best practices that local governments have undertaken in communities to address environmental justice and sustainability.

The LGAC understands that communities with environmental justice concerns face many challenges when it comes to human health and the environment. Indeed, these communities are impacted more by environmental damage and health disparities than other communities. In our report, the LGAC highlighted several findings:

  • EJ communities need a forum to discuss and collaborate on solutions
  • EJ communities need access to resources to address community problems
  • EJ communities lack the basic infrastructure for clean drinking water, stormwater, wastewater, and utilities to meet citizen needs and promote economic prosperity

My colleagues on the LGAC are very excited to share our stories about addressing such environmental challenges to promote environmental equity for all. Our LGAC members have developed innovative strategies to close economic, environmental, and health disparity gaps. In the blog posts to follow in the coming weeks, we will present examples illustrating where local governments have made advances in closing the gap of environmental and health disparities. I sincerely hope that by sharing our stories, it will inspire individuals and local leaders to take on these challenges. It is only through a continuing and meaningful dialogue at the community level that problems can be addressed and solutions found that will benefit everybody, both in terms of economics and the environment.

About the author: Hon. Lisa A. Wong is currently serving her fourth term as Mayor of the city of Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Before then, she worked for the Fitchburg Redevelopment Authority where, as director, she managed several urban renewal projects to revitalize the city.

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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Local Government Officials Weigh in on the Clean Water Proposal

Across the country, thousands of local governments manage our nation’s water resources, so their input is critical to shaping our proposal to protect clean water. Last spring, Administrator McCarthy asked the 28 members of EPA’s Local Government Advisory Committee (LGAC) to provide frank and candid recommendations on how the clean water proposal intersects with the important issues and priorities facing local officials.

LGAC members came together to help the EPA “make the best rule possible.” The Agency and the LGAC absolutely share that goal, and that is what we seek to achieve by engaging with thousands of stakeholders before and during the public comment period.

I thank the LGAC members for their hard work and personal commitment in gathering input on the clean water proposal. On top of their regular responsibilities of managing cities and governing counties, they volunteered countless hours and traveled thousands of miles to engage with other state, local, and tribal leaders to craft a thorough report and set of recommendations. They sought input through a series of public meetings held in St. Paul, MN; Atlanta, GA; Tacoma, WA and Worcester, MA.

These meetings demonstrated overwhelming support from local officials for clean water and the EPA partnership with state, local, and tribal governments. Bob Dixson, Mayor of Greensburg, Kansas and chair of the LGAC, said that “The proposed Waters of the U.S. rule is an important tool for federal, state, tribal and local officials to use in our collaborative role in environmental stewardship.”

Susan Hann, City Manager of Palm Bay, Florida, found that “The EPA’s engagement with the LGAC broadened the community conversations regarding the proposed rule and is indicative of the Administrator’s call for a new era of partnerships.”

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed noted, “I know how vital it is to have the local voice heard at the federal level,” and he went on to say that “this is a critical time in which water is needed to strengthen our economy.”

On November 5, LGAC concluded its six-month review of the clean water proposal and passed its recommendations to Administrator McCarthy. Their report presents more than 50 recommendations to the Agency ranging from rule language, clarity of definitions, permitting innovation, and implementation.

Input from stakeholders is critical to our activities here at EPA and we gratefully receive the LGAC’s report, along with the comments of state, local, and tribal officials from around the country. They will certainly impact the final rule as the Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers work to address concerns raised.

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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Power to the People

Over the last few weeks, I have toured sites that hold an exciting potential for the next chapter in America’s energy future. Most people don’t look at landfills, contaminated industrial sites, or parking lots with a twinkle in their eyes, but I do. I hope you will too.

Solar Panels

Solar PV array at Brockton Brightfields installation in MA

As a solar person, I am always on the look-out for prime sites for solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. In addition to solar resources, I look for a few simple things: clear southern exposures, flat or gentle grades, and close proximity to power lines. In general, I am looking for space, whether it is an open rooftop or an abandoned rail yard.

With over 13,000 sites and nearly 22 million acres of EPA-tracked potentially contaminated and underutilized properties nationwide, I see an untapped potential for large-scale deployment of renewable energy. That acreage receives a whole lot of sunshine and, in some cases, gets its fair share of wind. For communities interested in renewables, these sites offer a unique value proposition.

In many cases, these properties have blighted the community for years. From the perspective of a renewable energy developer, these sites are attractive due to their proximity to existing distribution or transmission lines, favorable zoning, and potentially lower land costs.  With this redevelopment approach, I see the potential to turn these liabilities into community assets by remediating the site and deploying pollution-free energy facilities.

Wind-Turbines-at-Steel-Winds-facility-in-NY

Wind-Turbines-at-Steel-Winds-facility-in-NY

Partnering with DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and remediation experts here at EPA, the RE-Powering team converted our collective knowledge into new tools to guide state and local governments, site owners, clean-up project managers, and other stakeholders through a process for screening potentially contaminated sites and landfills for their suitability for future redevelopment with PV or wind energy.

This knowledge is now bundled in a simple decision-tree format to enable communities to screen sites without needing renewable energy expertise. We built the screening tools to provide quick feedback on whether or not a site could be viable based on technical or economic criteria. The tools provide a thorough check than my quick check during a site walk. Throughout the process, we provide context for each of the criteria and point to additional tools and references to work through the evaluation process. Our goal is to empower communities to bring their vision of a solar array or wind farm one step closer.

While site walks at brownfields and landfills don’t always offer inspiring views, they are the next step in an inspired approach to expanding our American-made, renewable energy generation. Screen your sites. Take a walk. RE-Power America’s Land.

About the author: Katie Brown is the AAAS Science & Technology fellow hosted in the Center for Program Analysis in the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. Prior to her fellowship, Katie worked in the solar industry in product development and at NREL on device design and government-industry partnerships.

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.