maps

Equity: A Strong Model for Environmental Justice

 

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/79543319[/vimeo]

By Makara Rumley

Our country’s immigration boom has been sustained by the dream of opportunity threaded with equity. When community residents have access to an equitable standard of housing, occupation, education, and healthy and safe environments, this idyllic dream becomes reality and creates a space where people can thrive. But what do we really mean when we talk about equity? How is equity distinct from equality?

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Equity can be used to describe the quality of fairness and inclusion that people receive.  Equity attempts to deliver justice without partiality, while equality seeks to deliver homogeneity across recipients. This idea can be portrayed with a simple anecdote. If I give two children, Sally and James an apple, it may appear that the distribution of both apples is equal. However, if James has not eaten in several days and Sally is on schedule to receive a small snack, James’s degree of satisfaction received from consuming his apple will be much less than Sally’s.  Not only does equity seek to level the playing field, it also ensures runners are prepared to race when they kneel at the starting blocks.

The objective of the Metro Atlanta Equity Atlas (MAEA) – the first equity mapping system of its kind in the Southeast – is simple. MAEA seeks to make clear the ways to unlock regional prosperity and growth. This only occurs when communities have equitable access to a range of highly interconnected resources; see www.atlantaequityatlas.com for more information.

As  a new regional online data tool, MAEA was designed to connect local stakeholders to timely, accurate data. By examining eight key areas of community well-being –demographics, economic development, education, environment, health, housing, public safety and transportation – the MAEA offers fascinating insight into the state of our region, particularly as it relates to issues of access and opportunity. The MAEA also provides local change makers with the information they need to provide vital facts and data to enhance their community efforts.

By browsing the site’s nearly 200 maps, it will become increasingly clear how “place matters.” In other words, where you live has consequences for where you end up in life. Georgia suffers from a range of environmental challenges. These challenges impact the quality of air, land, and water.  Equity can be used to filter these challenges through an environmental justice (EJ) lens.

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Map: Life Threatening Asthma Attack Rate in Atlanta

As an EJ Attorney for GreenLaw, I use this equity paradigm to serve the counties surrounding the city of Atlanta. It assists me in communicating with policy makers to help them understand that minorities are disproportionately exposed to pollution. Other EJ and equitable development stakeholders can use these multitudes of maps and data to make the case for fairer development, or providing new resources to communities based on the conditions of specific neighborhoods. A neighborhood saturated with pollutants creates barriers for residents from contributing 100% of their efforts to the economy by producing capital.  Visits to the doctor, missed days at work, and children’s absence from school are all examples of non-economic and economic costs. These costs all lead to a less productive society and the Equity Atlas can be a vital instrument for helping account for these costs in planning and public policy. 

Equity is a wonderful lens through which to view regulatory issues such as air pollution permits and industry siting decisions.  Let’s use the lens of equity to remove this heavy burden on some of our nation’s most vulnerable communities!

Biography:  MaKara Rumley serves as the Environmental Justice Attorney for GreenLaw, a non-profit environmental law firm. Using the law to reduce disproportionate exposure to environmental pollution has been maintained her enthusiasm since 1996.

 

 

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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RE-Powering America: Updated Project Tracking Matrix and Map

 By Marc Thomas

I’ve always loved maps because each map tells a story. In my living room is a framed map from 1860 of where I live: Washington, DC. I often stop and stare at it, and I usually notice something new. I also think about what life must have been like in our nation’s capital during the Civil War.

I love that I get to explore lots of maps as part of my work with the RE-Powering America’s Land Initiative. For example, there’s the RE-Powering Mapper that uses Google Earth to screen sites all over the country for contaminated lands, landfills, and mines that have renewable energy potential. We’ve also developed a series of static maps that illustrate the significant opportunities that exist nationwide for siting solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass projects on these properties.

 

We just updated our project tracking matrix, which is a list of 85 completed renewable energy projects on contaminated lands. As part of this update, we created a new map of these sites. Projects have been developed in 27 states, from Hawaii to Georgia to Vermont. Examples range from small solar arrays that power cleanup activities onsite, such as the 10 kW project at the Refuse Hideway Landfill in Wisconsin, to huge, utility-scale projects like the 237 MW wind project on the Dave Johnston Mine Reclamation site in Wyoming.

Looking at this new map, I was quickly struck by one yellow dot in western North Carolina, where I’m from. I learned that a 555-kW solar PV project had been built on a former landfill not ten minutes down I-40 from the house where I grew up. This project provides power to the homes of my friends and neighbors and is also a productive use of a closed landfill. Seeing that dot on the map reminded me that these projects offer real benefits to the communities surrounding them: each one has its own story. To learn more about this and other completed projects, see our updated project tracking matrix and map.

About the author:  Marc Thomas has served as a program analyst with EPA for over 8 years. For most of his career, he has identified ways to encourage the cleanup and revitalization of contaminated sites. Since January 2013, he has worked with the RE-Powering America’s Land Initiative.

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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Career Advice from Paisly

By: Kelly Siegel

I am currently taking a GIS class as part of my Masters program.  I am learning so many GIS skills, I decided to sit down with GIS Specialist, Paisly Di Bianca, turn learn how these skills could turn into a career.  After hearing more about Paisly’s career, I decided to take an intermediate GIS course next semester!

What is your position at the EPA?

I am a GIS Specialist. GIS is Geographic Information Systems. It is used to analyze and display spatial data.

What is a typical day like for you?

I don’t have a typical day! One day I might be giving a training class on GIS, another I might be making a map to support another program or division.  This week, for example, I am correcting areas in a database of visited facilities.  This is a resource available to the public. 

What is the best part of your job?

I get to do what I studied in school every day – not everyone gets to do that!  When working with maps and geography I get to be creative and problem solve. 

Did you always have an interest in the environment?

I was always eco-conscious: I reduce/reuse/recycle, take public transportation as often as I can, ride my bike, buy recycled paper products, encourage my friends to do the same. Growing up in the 70’s, living the green life was almost inherit.  We knew the environment was important. 

What classes did you take in school that you use on the job today?

I have a certificate in GIS, which means I took 5 classes on different areas of GIS.  I am also finishing a masters degree in Geography and Environmental Studies.  Some specific classes I took and utilize include GIS for the Natural Environment and an Interactive Mapping class – this deals with websites with maps. 

Do you have any advice for kids today who have an interest in protecting our environment?

Study geography!  Embrace science and computers – don’t be afraid of them!  Think about all the maps you see today – they are all made on a computer. 

Kelly Siegel is a student volunteer in the EPA’s Air and Radiation Division in Region 5, and is currently obtaining her Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She has a passion for sustainable development, running, and traveling with friends

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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Shifting Without Datum Documentation

By Casey J. McLaughlin

Most of us take for granted that latitude and longitude always mean the same place on a map but is that true?  I started thinking about GPS points and how a simple hand held (or my phone) may have an error of +/- several feet.  Now I am wondering if the fuss I make about specifying Datum is worthwhile….

Claudius Ptolemy: The World, 1482 (Wikipedia)

A Datum, defined by Webster’s is generally “something used as a basis for calculating or measuring.”  Ah ha! I had never thought outside of the geographic usage of the word but I find understanding word roots can be quite helpful.  What I really mean is what impact a Geodetic Datum has on latitude/longitude pairs.  A Geodetic Datum is “the reference point for the various coordinate systems used in mapping the earth” (Geography.about.com).  The Earth isn’t perfectly round and geodetic datums form the mathematical basis for modeling our home.

Meades Range Marker, Kansas (geocaching.com)

There are several datums which I see most frequently; NAD27, NAD83, and WGS1984.  The NAD27 (North American Datum 1927) is interesting from a Region 7 perspective because its origin point is a survey point in Kansas – Meades Ranch (approx. 39.224087, -98.542152).   Just for reference, the geometric center of the contiguous U.S. is also in Kansas! Once we began using high precision remote sensing technology, we needed a new datum – NAD83 (North American Datum 1983) was born.  NAD83 has its origin defined by the Earth’s center of mass.  The two systems are different enough that a given latitude/longitude could be several meters off – depending on the distance from the datum!  Today, the World Geodetic System (WGS) 1984 Web Mercator is commonly used – I believe most major web platforms use it.

The main point I’m getting at here is that documenting the coordinate system information of geospatial data IS important.  I have seen more than one dataset come in without proper documentation.  To map it, I have to assume what datum is used – it wasn’t recorded.  Please, if you’re collecting spatial data, don’t complicate it with incomplete information!  Documenting our data collections is vital for using data with confidence and ensuring future data reuse.

For more information on Geodesy and such, check out:

Casey McLaughlin is a first generation Geospatial Enthusiast who has worked with EPA since 2003 as a contractor and now as the Regional GIS Lead. He currently holds the rank of #1 GISer in EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.

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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New Place, New Signs

By Jeffery Robichaud

Yesterday was the first day in the new office.  My things all arrived.  I have unpacked.  I found the restroom.  For those of you who were left with a cliffhanger based on my last post, this is my view out my new window (which actually looks out on a window which looks out on the windows across our courtyard).

In a meeting yesterday our Regional Administrator told Senior Staff about his trip to Joplin Missouri last week for an event with the City marking the additional funds EPA is providing for sampling and remediation of contaminated soils disturbed by the May 2011 Tornado.  It didn’t show in the directions he generated online, but the RA certainly noticed the lack of street signs as he doubled back a few times before making the correct turns to arrive at the event.  The city is doing a wonderful job rebuilding, but with 2000 signs to replace, the City has had its hands full.

Driving in to our new office yesterday in the dark, to a part of the metropolitan area that I rarely visit, I really had to pay attention to the signs without the benefits of the few landmarks I knew to help guide me.   It got me thinking, is reading street signs starting to become a lost art, just like reading a map?  The proliferation of GPS in cars and phones now give you turn by turn directions.  GoogleMaps or BingMaps will give you a route with turn by turn instructions and even provide you with streetside views of those turns and your destination.  Some GPS units let you even choose the voice (one of the guys here has Darth Vader…he says for his kids but I’m not too sure).

With the explosion of these devices, for those of you with kids, do you think you could hand your own kids a map and have them navigate while you drove?  I know my Dad would hand us the maps while on vacation to help navigate (partly I’m sure as a way to keep my brother and me from fighting).   Are navigation instructions from hand held devices keeping us from making sense of maps and even leading us in the wrong direction? 

My wife and I started watching a new show called Revolution a couple weeks back.  In a nutshell, it is a post-apocalyptic world, if the apocalypse was caused by all electricity ceasing to be.   The characters do quite a bit of walking and one character says to the other, something to the effect, “I’ll meet you at this small town in Indiana in a couple weeks.”  In last week’s episode, while more walking was taking place, the second character pulls out a crinkled paper map to check their progress.  It wasn’t lost on me that this character’s back story was as an executive at Google.  Just another reason to teach your kids how to read a map.

About the Author: Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.  He will miss his view of Kaw Point.

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.