New England

New England Communities Ramp Up for Renewable Energy

At EPA, we’re constantly promoting sustainable development. Renewable energy is at the top of that list because it’s an upfront investment that improves the environment and saves money. It’s a win-win from every angle.

Recently, I was lucky enough to spend time driving through the tunnels of deep red maple trees and brilliant yellow birch leaves that mark New England in autumn. My purpose: see a sampling of the most impressive, innovative clean energy projects in New England. These solar, waste-to-energy and bio-mass projects are cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions, providing jobs and boosting local economies.

I’m proud to represent a region on the forefront of environmental and energy policy. Some of the projects I saw – including in New Bedford and Dennis, Mass. – were located on former landfills, making productive use of otherwise afflicted space. And the clean energy efforts in Burlington, Vt., are a reminder of what we all can achieve.

Photo of EPA Regional Administrator Curt Spalding and U.S. Congressman Bill Keating at a Dennis, MA solar installation.

EPA Regional Administrator Curt Spalding and U.S. Congressman Bill Keating at a Dennis, MA solar installation.

 

In the Massachusetts town of Dennis, on Cape Cod, I saw the launch of New England’s largest solar development – 22 megawatts of panels that will provide half the electricity used in Cape Cod and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. This project includes nine solar arrays, including seven sitting on capped landfills. Altogether, this project will reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of more than 2,700 passenger vehicles. It’s the latest piece in the state’s ambitious goal to create 1600 MW of solar energy by 2020.

Photo of solar panels in Dennis, MA.

Solar panels in Dennis, MA.

 

In Dartmouth, Mass., I stood at a city landfill where a new plant will turn food waste into energy. This bio-energy facility will be the first of its kind in the state: an anaerobic digester generating biogas for use at the Crapo Hill Landfill. The digester will initially accept up to 3,000 gallons a day, though it’s eventually expected to take 30,000 gallons. This plant was built in preparation for a state regulation that forbids commercial businesses over a certain size from discarding food waste in landfills.

In nearby New Bedford, I saw a former 12-acre landfill turned into one of the country’s most forward-thinking and innovative clean energy projects: 5,490 solar panels will create 2 MW of power, and will help meet the city’s goals of purchasing power from renewable sources. A $15 million Superfund cleanup allowed the city, working with other public and private groups, to reuse this property to produce clean, sustainable power. New Bedford’s investment installing solar panels around the city is a model for other towns and cities across the country. The trend is clear: What used to be a waste pit has become a source of energy for the city.

The highlight of my trip was a day in Burlington, Vt., once again in the forefront of environmental protection. As of this fall, Burlington became the first city in the country to get 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy. They set that goal in 2004, and met it as of September with a mix of hydroelectric, wind and a bit of bio-gas. It’s enough to give electricity to all 42,000 residents.

In addition to clear environmental benefits, Burlington will see financial advantages. The town won’t have any rate increases right now, and as the latest hydroelectric station is paid for over the next two decades, the city will see a savings. And Burlington’s energy prices are not tied to fossil fuels.

Burlington is the leader in a state that has set a goal of reaching 90 percent of energy — including heat, electricity and transportation — from renewable resources by 2050. It was wonderful to be in Burlington and see its success in leading the way, proof that it can be done.

These projects all represented the kind of innovative and practical investments we encourage at EPA. We have a moral obligation to reduce carbon pollution in this country, and in order to do that we have to lean more heavily on alternative sources of energy.

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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Keeping Warm and Cleaning our Air: Public Hearing in Boston on New Wood-Heater Standards

With a New England winter in full bloom, many of us burn wood to help heat our homes. People may not know, however, that burning wood – either in indoor or outdoor heaters – can be inefficient, as well as emit more pollution into the air than oil or natural gas heat sources.

Last month, EPA issued a proposal to update standards for wood-burning stoves and heaters used by people in homes and other residential buildings. We have proposed that, beginning next year (2015), new stoves and heaters will be a whopping 80 percent cleaner than units built and sold today.

This will mean better air quality, and better public health, in communities all across the country. It will improve winter air quality in many parts of New England, especially in rural areas where more people use wood as a fuel source to keep their homes warm. In some areas of New England, especially in valleys, fine particle pollution from wood smoke significantly reduces air quality in winter.

Wood smoke contains fine particles and toxic pollutants, which can reach levels that are harmful to peoples’ health – for your family and for your neighbors. Fine particle pollution is linked to serious health effects, including heart attacks, strokes and asthma attacks.

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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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Rivers, Coves, and Harbors by Rail

By Jennie Saxe

I love traveling by train. I commute to work by train and occasionally my family substitutes a train trip for a long car ride to avoid traffic and the confined space of our car (which somehow seems to shrink with each passing hour). Traveling by train also give you a unique perspective on the landscape – when you’re less concerned about the brake lights in front of you, you get a chance to really take in what’s around you.

View of the Connecticut coast from my train seat

View of the Connecticut coast from my train seat

One of the things that I was able to enjoy on a recent train trip to Boston was the amazing waterfront scenery along our route. However, on this journey – which began on the Christina River, continued across the Delaware River, glided all along the coves and harbors on Long Island Sound, and ultimately ended near Boston Harbor – I not only saw the beauty in nature, but also the many, varied connections we have with our waterways:

Recreation. Industry. Infrastructure. Homes. History.

These are just some of our links to the water. Waterways in the mid-Atlantic and in New England are rich in history and have been valued for their contributions to society for hundreds of years. Industry and agriculture depend on clean, reliable water supplies. Recreation on the water is an important element of our life and of livelihoods in the northeast. Much of our infrastructure and many communities are located near the water, a pattern established early in our nation’s history. The flip side: all of these activities also put stress on water quality and quantity. For a big-picture look at the strains on our water resources, as well as the importance of water to our economy, check out this interesting report from EPA.

Clearly, our coastal areas are vitally important to our economy and our way of life, but they are also some of the areas most vulnerable to rising sea levels associated with climate change. EPA’s climate change website chronicles some of the specific changes anticipated for the northeastern U.S. as well as some of the planning that communities in the northeast are doing to help them adapt to a changing climate. EPA also has drafted climate change adaptation implementation plans to ensure that we continue to fulfill our mission of protecting human health and the environment as we continue to adjust to a “new normal” in terms of our climate.

I’m not sure what changes I’ll see in our coastal areas on my next rail adventure, or on a train trip to New England 20 years from now. My kids will probably be the ones to notice changes during their lifetimes. I believe that when you feel connected to something, it instills in you a sense of stewardship and preservation. Every time we take this journey up the east coast, we’ll take some time to take off our earphones, put away the tablet, and just gaze out the window to appreciate our connections to the water resources in our region.

About the Author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA in 2003 and is currently a Water Policy Analyst in the Water Protection Division of EPA Region 3 in Philadelphia. When not in the office, Jennie enjoys spending time with her husband and 2 children, cheering for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, and – obviously – traveling by train.

 

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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Energized to Act Locally on Climate Change

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) provides keynote address at the New England Climate Leaders Summit, Nov. 8, 2014

 

On November 8, EPA’s New England office held a Climate Leaders Summit at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island. Leaders from municipalities, state agencies, academia, NGOs and businesses discussed how to prepare for the impacts of the changing climate. For example, in New England, we have seen a 74% increase in extreme precipitation over the last fifty years—what does that mean for our municipalities in terms of storm damage? Increases in stormwater? Overflowed water systems? Climate change is a condition we are currently living with, and it is a condition we must start adapting to.

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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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The Best and the Brightest, #NewEnglandFall

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Jeanethe Falvey

Everything is starting to taste like pumpkin, the fancy squash are out on the streets, and the cool air is bringing on thoughts of apple crisp and pie. Summer wasn’t even over on the calendar before I overdid it on the maple sugar candy. Fall is simply glorious in New England, thank goodness. Summer’s end would be downright depressing if it weren’t for the vivid tones that will soon overtake our landscape and the scent of cinnamon and spice everywhere.

Photo of fall leaves by Jeanethe Falvey, Cannon Mountain, NH

Photo by Jeanethe Falvey, Cannon Mountain, NH

The summer bunches are already replaced with early “leaf peepers.” Contrary to popular thought, these are not tiny toads, but larger, two-legged beings. You can spot them donning elongated bifocals and the latest flannel fashions from our finest outdoors outfitters. Peak season for sightings is between September and November.

We’re proud of our leaves, it’s true. So, from the Boston office, we hope you’ll join us in celebrating and embracing this beautiful time of year by sharing your photos with State of the Environment. This has been an ongoing EPA documentary of our environment today, created by your photos. While the project is not just about what’s beautiful, rather about what’s real, they’re often the same thing.

We’ll share our favorite submissions here over the coming weeks, and we have a sneaking suspicion they’ll also be shared at www.epa.gov/stateoftheenvironment as well. We do, after all, have a homegrown advantage …

Join us to document the best and brightest of our #NewEnglandFall. Here’s how: _________________________________________________________________________________

  1. Take your camera or camera-phone next time you go apple-picking, pumpkin-patching, scenic-carpooling.
  2. Sign up for Flickr (it’s free) and go to www.flickr.com/groups/ourenvironment
  3. Click “Join Group.”
  4. Upload your photos and follow the guide below to share your favorites with us.
  5. Please put #NewEnglandFall in the title, description, or as a tag. This will help us locate it among the many other photos flying in from around the world. You can also tell us where the photo was taken.

Note: if you’re new to Flickr, it may take a few days for your friends to see the photo in the group. This is a normal, Flickr thing and it’s simply to verify that your account is sharing appropriate photos. _________________________________________________________________________________
In Flickr, your uploaded photos will look like this (below). The three-dot option to the right opens up the option to share further into the Flickr-sphere.

Photo of how to use Flickr.

We look forward to seeing your splendid shots. Please let us know here if you have questions or comments. In the meantime, enjoy the slideshow below: scenes from our world today, thanks to you.

State of the Environment is open to pictures of our lives and planet as you see it. Individual scenes, taken together, build the larger picture of our environment today. Photos taken from 2011 until the end of 2013 may be submitted on Flickr. All levels of photography experience and skill are welcome.

State of the Environment is open to pictures of our lives and planet as you see it. Individual scenes, taken together, build the larger picture of our environment today. Photos taken from 2011 until the end of 2013 may be submitted on Flickr. All levels of photography experience and skill are welcome.

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey, State of the Environment project lead, writes from EPA’s Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education, and is having her fill of pumpkin lattes in Boston, Massachusetts.

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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One of EPA’s Finest

A longtime leader of EPA passed away suddenly on Friday, July 26, 2013.  Ira Leighton was the Deputy Regional Administrator in New England; more importantly he was my colleague and friend.

EPA Region 1 Administrator Curt Spalding (left) and Deputy Administrator Ira Leighton (right)

EPA Region 1 Administrator Curt Spalding (left) and Deputy Regional Administrator Ira Leighton (right)

Ira started his legacy at EPA on June 11, 1972, just over two years after the Agency was created.  He participated and helped lead EPA through historic environmental progress.  Ira was an early pioneer in the Waste programs at EPA.  He began his career working with states before Superfund law existed, and he participated in not only developing but executing on our Superfund law in communities around New England.  To put that in perspective, there are 118 Superfund Sites in the region, and Ira Leighton has touched every single one of them in some way or another.

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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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Battling Bugs In Our Neighborhood Garden

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Amy Miller

The yellow wormy things are fun to smush. They are easy to spot on the underside of leaves and you know you are protecting your bean plant every time you eviscerate one. After an hour in the scorching sun, though, you realize you may never find all the 1-millimeter larvae hiding in your bounty. And after two years of head to head battle with Mexican bean beetles, I personally was ready to consult the online experts.

Our growing season in New England is short. Very short. So if a plant is decimated, we have little chance to make it up. And I have learned that the bean beetle, native to southern Mexico, is particularly pesky in the east, where it thrives in the significant rainfall.

My assignment in the garden my family shares with three other neighbors was to find an organic and effective way (not an oxymoron, we still believe) to eradicate the Mexican bean bugs as well as equally destructive squash bugs.

For two years in a row, while our red peppers, lettuce, sage, and lemon basil blossomed, the ever-so-prolific pole beans and oh-so-easy zucchini plants have become skeletal victims of insect infestations.

The squash bugs, even more evil-looking than the bean bugs, start as clusters of tiny red eggs and turn into ugly gray creatures. We have tried to control them through a duck tape removal system. It’s quite lovely – not – to see eggs and bugs clustered frantically on duct tape.

Okay, so what do the virtual masses advise?

Bad news. For both pesky insects, the organic method most often recommended we have already tried: pick the darn things off. There was also the suggestion to cover the plants until they are pushing to be freed. By that time the plants will be well enough established the veggies might outlive the onslaught.

But there are other suggestions:

  • Introduce natural predatory insects or birds or bats. Nectar plants will encourage predatory wasps, a bird bath will welcome insect-eating birds, and a bat house will let bats know they are welcome.
  • Spray the leaves with soapy water or oil, both natural insecticides that will smother the bugs. These must be reapplied repeatedly during the season.
  • Surround or infiltrate your garden with mint or other strongly-scented herbs, marigolds or other plants the bugs are apt to avoid.
  • At the end of the season, pull out the plants and shake them over a wheelbarrow of hot, soapy water to minimize the number that hang out over the winter, ready to attack again next spring.

Read more EPA information on organic farming.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, eight chickens, dusky conure, chicken-eating dog and a great community.

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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Keeping it Green on a Golf Course

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Steve DiMattei

Golf has faced the wrath of environmentalists over the years. But golf is a wonderful game and courses have changed over time. I started playing when I was nine years old and still enjoy being outside on a golf course. I will always have special memories of the times I spent with my dad playing golf.

For some people, cutting down trees and clearing out large areas of land for golf courses was bad enough. But widespread use of fertilizers and pesticides really upset many environmentally-conscious people. While pesticides made golf courses greener than green, they were not necessarily environmentally friendly.

A funny thing happened around the millennium, though, as golf courses began to consider environmental impacts. Courses were designed using more natural landscape and minimizing the amount of earth moved around by heavy construction equipment. Wetlands were incorporated into course features, and alternatives to heavy fertilizer and pesticide applications were used. These concepts have caught on, and are spreading.

In New England, where development pressures have been intense, golf courses have at times provided an economically sound alternative to development on former farms.

Since 1995, EPA has been working to find common ground between the golf industry and environmentalists. Meetings including representatives of both groups yielded environmental principles for golf courses. Meetings now underway involve efforts to put these principles in place. A “Collaboration Guide” will suggest how golf course managers and communities can work together towards the ecological sustainability of golf courses.

Golf courses pride themselves on being good neighbors and some have even received prestigious accolades for environmental efforts. For instance, Widow’s Walk in Scituate, Mass., in 2002 became a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary golf course. Widow’s Walk voluntarily provides benefits to the environment. They have established avian nesting boxes and provided habitats for numerous other species. The course uses an integrated pest management program to apply the least amount of water, pesticides and fertilizer possible and thus minimizing its impact to the surrounding environment.

Other courses are also making efforts to be more eco-friendly. I’ve seen several courses stake wetlands or water hazards as environmentally sensitive areas where golfers are banned. So go ahead, enjoy a round of golf knowing that chasing a little white ball around on a beautiful landscape is probably going to do more damage to your ego than to the environment.

Bio: Steve DiMattei works in the Quality Assurance Unit at EPA New England’s Lab, and is an avid golfer.

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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Science Wednesday: Increasing Our Focus on Green Chemistry in New England

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Curt Spalding

New England is abuzz with discussions and planning to position the Northeast as a green chemistry force for the country and the world.

What is Green Chemistry? Simply put, it seeks to design and invent the next generation of everyday materials and products by reducing or eliminating the use or generation of hazardous substances. Green chemistry means less waste, better energy efficiency and reduced risks for us and our environment. It’s an ongoing process of applying innovation, creativity and intelligence.

I believe green chemistry will be a powerful economic engine for the U.S. and for New England.

Last summer, along with my colleague Paul Anastas, we began brainstorming how to bring together green chemistry leaders from the Northeast. We sought out John Warner of Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry , Amy Cannon of Beyond Benign , and New England leaders in government, academia and business to strategize what a sustainable green chemistry future might look like – and how we could make it happen in New England.

The first step for making green chemistry an economic driver in New England was providing an opportunity for a variety of people involved in the subject to gather. With this goal first goal set, EPA hosted a Green Chemistry Networking Forum on Dec. 16, 2010.

For green chemistry to really take off, we need a lot of well-coordinated aspects of society to engage. Education is essential, not only in universities, but also in early science education. At the Forum, we had both college students presenting their green chemistry work, and high school students participating. We were gratified to have all the New England state departments of environmental protection attend.

Business and industry leaders who are adopting the 12 principles of green chemistry were there. Venture capitalists, who understand that innovative businesses that are guided by the green chemistry principles are a sound investment, were there. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) seeking safer, less-toxic chemicals to advance sustainability in our society were also there.

The conversations that began at the Networking Forum will continue. Six groups that began talking about how to bring green chemistry into the future will continue to meet and create plans that they can implement. It’s a collaboration between government, business, academia and the NGOs that’s going to make New England the Green Chemistry Corridor. This is what the buzz is all about. Green chemistry is a way towards a sustainable future.

About the Author: H. Curtis “Curt” Spalding is the Regional Administrator for EPA New England. Spalding has extensive experience in the environmental protection field as an advocate, policy analyst and administrator.

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.

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OSV BOLD Tweets Its Way Up the New England Coast

Hi there! Each day thousands of people are working at EPA to help clean up our environment. I’m one of the lucky few that gets to see how this work is done out on the ocean! My name is Jeanethe Falvey, I’m 24 years old and have worked for EPA for just over two years since I graduated from Bates College in 2007. This week, from July 30 – August 6, I will be onboard the OSV BOLD, EPA’s only ocean research ship. Scientists will be studying the health of New England’s coastline from Boston Harbor to Penobscot Bay in Maine, and I’m here to help show you what life is like onboard the ship. Learn more at http://www.epa.gov/ne/boldkids/ and follow me on Twitter @epalive!

Jeanethe Falvey works in EPA’s Boston office.

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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