Tribal

EPA: Launching a New Era of State, Tribal, Local and International Partnerships

Our work with state, tribal, local and international partners forms an “environmental enterprise” that is critical to advancing environmental and human health protection across the country and the globe.  As captured in our FY14-FY18 Strategic Plan, our New Era of State, Tribal, Local and International Partnerships is a vital pillar among our Cross-Agency Strategies. I thank everyone at EPA for working in collaboration with our partners – governors, tribal leaders, environmental and agricultural commissioners, city and county leaders, and so many others. This spring, I asked EPA employees to share their best practices, innovative solutions and successes in building partnerships. There are so many successes I learned about, ranging from the routine to multi-faceted and complicated matters.  Here are a handful of successes that I’d like to highlight.

State, Local and Other Partners Protecting School Indoor Air Quality group#– Nearly 56 million people spend their days inside elementary and secondary schools in the US. Since the mid-1990s, EPA’s Indoor Environments Division (IED) has supported states, schools and school districts in their work to improve indoor air quality in schools and protect the health of their students and staff.

In 2012, the IED schools team launched the School Health and Indoor Environments Leadership Development (SHIELD) Network, a dynamic collaboration of more than 80 leaders from school districts, state and local governments and other partners committed to improving IAQ in schools. SHIELD events have resulted in thousands of school district decision makers trained to make their school indoor environments healthier, cleaner and safer places.

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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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What Does a Tribal Liaison Do in Region 7?

By Heather Duncan, Region 7 Tribal Liaison

The relationship between a federal employee and a Tribal representative is based on the same tenets as any other: respect, trust, and lots of honest communication. A large collection of history, policy, and case law defines the relationship between the federal government and Tribal governments. Because each Tribe’s interests and concerns are unique, I have no typical days – and that’s one of my favorite things about my job.

Tribal flags logoSince November 2014, I’ve been serving in a temporary position filling a vacancy in our Region 7 Office of Tribal Affairs. As part of these duties, I serve as a liaison between EPA and five of the nine Tribal nations in our Region. I also negotiate and manage several financial agreements with our Tribal partners.

To an outsider looking in, my day may look calm, spent sitting in a meeting room or in front of a computer. Behind the scenes, most of my day as a liaison is spent translating. I translate the opportunities, needs, and requirements of the federal government into actionable goals and tasks for the Tribes to consider. Likewise, I work to understand and translate the needs and priorities of the Tribes to create better opportunities and policies at EPA.

Outside of my Agency work, I do not have a background or experience with Tribal governments or cultures. I grew up an Iowa farm girl in an agricultural community inherently skeptical of the federal government. Neighbors may disagree with one another but are quick to unite to improve their community’s resilience. At home, handshakes are binding agreements and individuals are judged by their honesty and ability to follow through on their commitments. Growing up in an agricultural community has been excellent training for my experiences in our Office of Tribal Affairs. In many ways, working with the Tribes feels like home.

In my role as a Tribal liaison, it’s important to recognize the cultural and economic influences in scientific conversations and to share those insights as EPA discusses new policies and programs.

I have about two months left in my temporary assignment. In those remaining days, my desire is to do the right thing – one day at a time.

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 for Sustainable and Healthy Tribes

Crossposted from EPA’s Leadership blog.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

By EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

Yesterday I signed the Policy on Environmental Justice for Working with Federally Recognized Tribes and Indigenous Peoples, which clarifies how EPA works with federally and state recognized tribes, indigenous community-based grassroots organizations, and other indigenous peoples to address their environmental and public health concerns.

American Indian communities have been inextricably tied to the natural environment for generations. From cultural identify to sustenance, many of those unique traditions endure. That’s why I’m so excited about the six tribal environmental health research grants to tribal communities and universities that we recently announced.

EPA is proud to have a long and rich history of supporting environmental and public health protection for all communities. These EPA supported grants will increase our knowledge of the threats posed by climate change and indoor air pollution, while incorporating traditional ecological knowledge to reach culturally appropriate and acceptable adaptation strategies to address these threats.

There is a unique need for tribal-focused research to identify those climate-related impacts and to reduce associated health and ecological risks. EPA has been actively engaged in supporting such research, and I’m thrilled EPA is providing grants to further that work. The grants will support the study of the impacts of climate change and indoor air pollution on tribal health and way of life. Grantees include:

  • The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium located in Anchorage, Alaska will be looking at ways to assess, monitor, and adapt to the threats of a changing climate to the sustainability of food and water in remote Alaska native villages.
  • The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community in La Conner, Washington will be examining coastal climate impacts to traditional foods, cultural sites, and tribal community health and well-being.
  • Yurok Tribe in Klamath, California will be identifying, assessing, and adapting to climate change impacts to Yurok water and aquatic resources, food security and tribal health.
  • Little Big Horn College in Crow Agency, Montana will research climate change adaptation and waterborne disease prevention on the Crow Reservation.
  • The University of Tulsa in Tulsa, Oklahoma, will examine ways to improve indoor air quality and reduce environmental asthma triggers in tribal homes and schools.
  • The University of Massachusetts-Amherst in Amherst, Massachusetts will measure indoor air quality in tents as related to wood smoke exposures and identify potential health risks in remote subsistence hunting communities in North America.

The health of our communities depends upon the health of our environment. These grants will help build prosperous and resilient tribal communities both now and for future generations. Like the enduring memories of my tour of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and tribal environmental program in North Dakota, they will have an impact long after my service as EPA Administrator.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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The EPA Toxics Release Inventory National Analysis: Celebrating 25 Years of Community-Right-to-Know

By Kara Koehrn

In 1984, when a deadly cloud of chemical gas killed thousands of people in Bhopal India, a power movement was set in motion. Back then, Americans had little access to information about chemicals in their neighborhood. The spill in Bhopal along with another accident at a sister plant in West Virginia, awakened public interest in knowing more about potential hazards. Communities demanded information about toxic chemicals being released outside facilities, and it was in this environment that the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) was created by the Emergency Planning and Community-Right-to-Know Act in 1986.

25 years later, my coworkers and I are proud to continue the community-right-to-know tradition with the publication of this year’s TRI data and analysis. The report is called the TRI National Analysis and it can tell you whether toxic chemical releases have increased or decreased nationwide, what chemicals are being released in the Denver area, which industries are releasing the highest amounts in the Los Angeles area, or whether toxic chemical releases have increased in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Take a look!

I am especially excited for this year’s analysis because it includes new features designed to make TRI data more informative and relevant. We have worked with economists to incorporate information on how the economy may be affecting TRI releases, included risks associated with TRI chemicals, more information on what facilities have done to help reduce their chemical releases, and translated even more materials than ever before into Spanish.

We publish the National Analysis every year, but EPA employees aren’t the only ones who can conduct analyses on TRI data. Any member of the public can analyze or look up what chemicals are being released in an area. My favorite tool to use for quick information about chemical releases in my zip code is myRTK (myRight-to-Know,) which I can access on my smart phone. But if I am at home and want to see long-term trends of TRI releases I use TRI Explorer or TRI.NET. Want to try? Follow this link to TRI’s tools.

We have come a long way since 1984, and I hope you take a look at the National Analysis and maybe even try a few of our analysis tools to see what chemicals are being released into your neighborhood. After all, it’s your right to know.

About the author: Kara Koehrn joined EPA’s Office of Environment Information in Washington, D.C. in 2009 and is the project leader for the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) National Analysis. She recently started a potted vegetable garden at her row house apartment in the city to grow fresh food locally without pesticides.

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.

The EPA Toxics Release Inventory National Analysis: So What’s In Your Neighborhood?

By Kara Koehrn

Have you ever wondered what’s coming out of that factory stack you pass on the way home, or whether there are chemicals being cover_national_analysis_200released upstream from your favorite fishing spot? If so, maybe I can help you. I work with the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), which was designed to help the public answer questions just like these.

Before I came to EPA I knew very little about TRI. However, without realizing it, I had already read about chemical releases in news articles and scientific papers that used numbers from the TRI public database of chemical releases to the environment. I have since learned that TRI is a database with detailed information on over 600 toxic chemicals from over 20,000 U.S. facilities nationwide. You and I have access to information about disposal or other releases of chemicals into the environment as well as information about how facilities manage chemicals through recycling, energy recovery and treatment!

Over the past several months I have been involved in the preparation of the 2009 TRI National Analysis, which is EPA’s annual interpretation of TRI data. I was very excited to work on this project because TRI is such a rich database. It has a seemingly endless number of ways to slice the data and reveal national and local trends of releases to the environment including by chemical, geographic region, parent company, industry sector, etc.

This year I am especially eager for the release of the National Analysis because we have incorporated some exciting new features. It now includes analyses specific to 13 of the most populous urban areas in the country. Would you like to know about toxic chemical releases in the Denver area? What about Miami? How do they compare? The National Analysis also includes analyses for tribal lands and ecosystems like the Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes and Gulf of Mexico. Take a look!

But EPA employees aren’t the only ones who can conduct analyses like these. Any member of the public can look up what chemicals are being released in an area. My favorite tool to use for quick information about chemical releases in my zip code is myRTK, which I can access on my smart phone. But if I am at home and want to see long-term trends of TRI releases for an area I use TRI Explorer or TRI.NET. Want to try? Follow this link to TRI’s tools.

I hope you take a look at the National Analysis and maybe even try a few of our analysis tools to see what chemicals are being released into your neighborhood. After all, it’s your right to know.

About the author: Kara Koehrn joined EPA’s Office of Environment Information in Washington DC in 2009 and is the project leader for the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) National Analysis. She recently started a potted vegetable garden at her row house apartment in the city to grow fresh food locally without pesticides.

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.

Leading Cultural and Sustainable Building

I first heard about Paula Allen and the Potawot Health Village in 2008, during a Regional Tribal Operations Committee meeting on green buildings. Paula’s name came up when people began discussing cultural values and a “sense of place” as a guide for sustainable building and land use practices.

These are certainly not new ideas in Indian Country.  However, the notion of local, cultural knowledge is not a major focus of today’s green building movement, so I was curious to learn more about Paula.  From what I’ve learned, she is truly deserving of her recognition as an EPA Southwest Pacific Region Environmental Award winner.

Paula is the traditional resource specialist for United Indian Health Services, Inc (UIHS),  a private, Indian owned, non-profit organization that provides out-patient health care for 15,000 Native Americans and their families in Arcata, CA.

The Potawot Health Village was completed in 2001. Paula ensured that the building and site reflected the cultural values of the local Native communities.  Potawot is located near several historic tribal villages that had been used for hunting, fishing and gathering traditional foods and medicines.  As Paula says, “Not understanding our history or being in connection with our spirituality is where a lot of our sickness comes from. It is rooted in those things.”

The design of Potawot also embodies the culture and values of the communities it serves.  From the outside, the facility looks like the traditional redwood plank houses of coastal tribes. Reclaimed redwood was creatively used on interior walls and regional native art and basketry are featured throughout the building. Restored wetlands and native grasses now grow on the site, along with gardens that provide traditional foods and medicinal herbs.

Stormwater from rooftops and parking surfaces serve as a supplemental water source for the project’s wetlands. Potawot planned their building locations to support and facilitate an optimal array of solar panels. The ultimate goal is to have the entire energy demand supplied by solar energy. The current size of the solar energy system is 42 Kilowatts and the current savings is allocated towards community outreach and educational programs.

Paula’s work is truly a unique and inspiring example of how traditional Native American culture and values can inform sustainable building design and land use decisions.  Her commitment to cultural values and wisdom, and her own sense of place have inspired many people – including me – to recognize cultural knowledge as an invaluable sustainable design resource.

About the Author: Michelle Baker works as the Tribal Green Building Coordinator in EPA’s Pacific Southwest Office. She works with the Tribal Solid Waste Team in the Office of Pollution Prevention and Solid Waste. Michelle primarily works with tribes in northern California on waste and materials management issues.

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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