tribes

Superfund Investigates Land Pollution from the Past…and Present

By Mathy Stanislaus

On September 7, 2016, we took steps to respond to states, tribes and citizens who asked for our help addressing contaminated sites. In response, we are adding 10 hazardous waste sites to the National Priorities List (NPL). The NPL is our list of more than 1,300 of the most contaminated sites in the country that we are addressing under the Superfund program. Superfund is one of the most important federal programs to improve the health, environment and economy of America’s communities.

As I’ve traveled across the country during my tenure as Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management, I’ve seen firsthand how the mismanagement of contamination and hazardous waste can threaten entire communities. According to census data, approximately 53 million people live within three miles of a Superfund site – roughly 17% of the U.S. population, including 18% of all children in the U.S. under the age of five. Some groups, such as children, pregnant women and the elderly, may be at particular risk. During environmental emergencies, health threats — poisoning, injuries from fires and explosions — are often urgent and immediate. At other sites, health effects of contamination — cancer, birth defects — may be more long term. Under the most difficult circumstances, communities reach out to us to use the Superfund program to protect them from these risks.

We continue to find sites where recent operations have resulted in the mismanagement of contamination that warrant our investigation. In addition to adding 10 sites to the NPL, we are proposing the addition of eight more. Nine of these 18 sites were in operation within the last two decades, including several as recently as the late 2000s. Pollution at these 18 sites came from a variety of sources, including manufacturing, mining, battery recycling and dry cleaning.

One area we are listing on the NPL is the Bonita Peak Mining District in San Juan County, Colorado. Mining began there in the 1870s and continued into the 1990s. The Bonita Peak Superfund site includes 48 sources, comprised of 35 mines (including Gold King Mine) and 13 other mining-related areas. We have drainage data on 32 of these sources and we estimate that they collectively contribute an average of 5.4 million gallons of mine-influenced water per day to the Upper Animas River watershed. This water includes metals such as cadmium, copper, manganese and zinc that threaten the health of the watershed and downstream communities.

More broadly, the addition of the sites to the NPL continues a 35-year history of EPA improving the lives of those who reside on or near Superfund sites. Academic research has shown the cleanup of Superfund sites reduces birth defects of those close to a site by as much as 25 percent. Cleanups involving lead-contaminated soil have contributed to documented reductions in children’s blood-lead levels.

In addition, Superfund cleanups have a positive impact on local economies by enabling the reuse of previously unusable land. More than 850 Superfund sites nationwide have some type of actual or planned reuse underway. Last year, we reviewed 454 Superfund sites supporting use or reuse activities and found they had approximately 3,900 businesses with 108,000 employees and annual sales of more than $29 billion.

As our recent listing demonstrates, land pollution continues to occur from a variety of sources. It is not only an issue at abandoned industrial sites riddled with buried hazardous material, or at waste sites that operated before our nation’s environmental laws were enacted. Land pollution is still an issue — often due to the mismanagement of contaminants from more recent operations. Unfortunately, the Superfund program is needed as much today as in the past to clean up communities from such mismanagement.

Our Superfund program will continue to respond to requests from states, tribes and citizens to investigate all eras of pollution — past and present — to protect communities and hold polluters accountable. I am proud of the work our Superfund program has completed to date, and I encourage you to read more about its 35-year history and its highlights.

More information about the September 2016 NPL listing can be found here. http://go.usa.gov/xZ9nP.

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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Border 2020 Commitments and Accomplishments: National Coordinators Meeting

By Jane Nishida

The United States-Mexico border region is one of the most dynamic in the world. Today, the border is home to over 14 million people. Approximately 90% of the population resides in cities, while the remaining population is found in small towns or rural communities. Over 430,000 of the 14 million people in the region live in 1700 colonias, neighborhoods in Mexican cities without jurisdictional autonomy or representation. There are 26 U.S. federally-recognized Native American tribes, many of which share extensive cultural and family ties with indigenous peoples in the border region of Mexico.

Border 2020 National Coordinators at a meeting in El Paso, Texas.

In late September my team and I joined EPA’s Region 6 Administrator, Ron Curry, and Region 9 Administrator, Jared Blumenfeld, at the National Coordinators meeting under the Border 2020 U.S.-Mexico Environmental Program held in El Paso, Texas. This was the first National Coordinators meeting for the new Border 2020 Program. Together, we reexamined the goals, objectives, and operations of the program as we renewed our bi-national partnership.

During the working sessions, we discussed strategies to reach program goals and maximize resources throughout the two-year work plan. These sessions focused on the five goals of the Border 2020 program – air pollution reduction, improvement of access to clean and safe water, enhancing joint preparedness for environmental response, materials and waste management and clean sites and enhancing compliance assurance and environmental stewardship.

Not only was it an exciting opportunity to hear about the important projects along the U.S.-Mexico border, we also committed to continuing the strengthening of our partnership and collaboration with the ten border states, 26 U.S.-border tribes and indigenous communities, local governments, industry, and the public, and to define a new course of action for making a visible difference for our border communities.

EPA and the Border Health Commission (BHC), one of the exciting partnerships, are working together on important issues to improve the environment and public health in the U.S.-Mexico border region. We have established Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units (PEHSU) along the border to improve children’s health by enhancing educational and consultative services to communities. Our new 2015-2016 agreement has identified public health and environmental leadership, building environmental health capacity, and strengthening institutional resiliency and accountability as priority areas.

Next year is an important one under the Border 2020 Program because we start the mid-term evaluation of the Program and we plan to develop and publish the 2016 Border Indicators Report. These important milestones would help ensure that our border collaboration translates into environmental benefits for the inhabitants of the United States-Mexico border region.

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 Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination: An International Human Right

by Danny Gogal

“Sure, I’ll serve as EPA’s lead for international human rights agreements.” That was my response to my Office Director this past April, although I knew very little of what this new responsibility would entail. However, I was intrigued by the potential opportunities to engage the international community on issues of environmental justice.

Fortunately, I had some previous exposure to international human rights processes in 2010, when the U.S. Government (USG) initiated its first Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of its human rights record. During this time, the USG was engaged in a concerted effort to meet with a wide range of interested parties throughout the country to get input and comments on efforts to provide for human rights. These included consultations with federally recognized tribal government officials and indigenous peoples.

Four years later, I found myself once again fully engrossed in our government’s preparation for its review by the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). For the first time, EPA was asked to participate as an official member of the U.S. delegation. Although the USG completed and submitted its report to the CERD in June 2013, the presentation to the UN wasn’t until August 2014. The environmental section of our report highlights the re-establishment and activities of the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice (Section 28), a variety of environmental justice projects, such as federal agencies’ EJ strategies (Section 144), and EPA’s use of indigenous traditional ecological knowledge in a pollution permit decision (Section 173).

The day before our presentation, the U.S. delegation met with U.S.-based non-governmental organizations (NGO) and tribes at the United Nations’ Palais des Nations in Geneva. More than 80 individuals attended the three-hour meeting, which provided the opportunity for the NGOs, many of whom had submitted “shadow reports,” to share their perspectives on human rights in the United States and the USG’s implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). The meeting and interactions after the meeting proved to be beneficial to many of the NGOs, as well as the U.S. delegation.

The meeting with the CERD was held over a two-day period, consisting of two 3 hour sessions which opened with remarks from the US Ambassador for Human Rights, Keith Harper. The key environmental issues raised by the CERD included:

  • Water shut-offs in Detroit and Boston
  • Impacts of resources extraction on water and drinking water
  • Pollution in foreign countries caused by multi-national companies
  • Addressing environmental and public health impacts to minority, low-income and indigenous communities living along the coasts, particularly the Vietnamese communities in Louisiana and indigenous communities.
  • General concerns included need for:
    • USG to actually seek “transformation” to address discrimination
    • Greater education within the United States about the ICERD and its principles

In its initial report, the CERD also expressed concern about “the large number of tribes that remained unrecognized by the Federal Government and the obstacles to recognition…, and ongoing problems to guarantee the meaningful participation of indigenous people…” These concerns drew my attention given EPA’s newPolicy on Environmental Justice for Working with Federally Recognized Tribes and Indigenous Peoples, which speaks to how EPA works to provide the meaningful participation of state-recognized and non-recognized tribes, indigenous peoples, as well as others, in EPA’s decision making processes.

The CERD’s concluding observations highlighted their recommendation that the USG improve its protection of the environment and public health of minority, low-income and indigenous communities.

The upcoming USG UPR review, scheduled for May 11, 2015 also will likely bring attention to environmental justice and equitable development. This review also includes engaging with the public through various civil society consultations held throughout the country, including a consultation on environmental issues held October 7 of this year.

I am looking forward to once again engaging the NGOs, my fellow public servants, and the international community during this UPR process as we strive to identify ways to more effectively make a visible difference in vulnerable communities, particularly in environmental and public health protection. I also would be interested in hearing from NGOs about how valuable they find these international human rights processes. This work is proving to be a viable avenue for raising awareness and harnessing interest in environmental justice, both domestically and internationally.

About the author: Daniel Gogal has a public policy, environmental policy, and public administration background. He is currently serving as EPA’s lead for international human rights agreement, and has been working on tribal and indigenous peoples environmental policy and environmental justice issues for the past 28 years. He is the Tribal and Indigenous Peoples Program Manager for the Office of Environmental Justice, and has worked in various capacities for the Agency’s environmental justice program over the past twenty-two years.

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

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.
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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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Collaborative Problem Solving: A Tool to Address Fracking Concerns

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By Danny Gogal

The continuous passing of rumbling eighteen wheeler trucks, utility vehicles, pick-up trucks and cars witnessed on April 8, 2014, is a familiar site to those visiting or living in New Town, North Dakota. Located within the Fort Berthold Reservation, it is home to the Three Affiliated Tribes (TAT) – Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes. The regular flow of traffic in such a remote town is the result of the burgeoning business of oil and natural gas extraction, made possible by advances in technology for accessing oil and gas in shale formations found deep in the Earth through horizontal drilling and the fracturing of rock, commonly referred to as hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

I arrived in the afternoon to begin a three day training workshop on collaborative problem-solving, appropriate dispute resolution, and environmental laws. EPA supported the workshop in response to a TAT community-based representative’s request for an interagency meeting and training in North Dakota for tribes, indigenous organizations and tribal members on issues of environmental justice.

Untitled-3The unprecedented amount of oil and gas development has enhanced job opportunities, significantly lowered unemployment, and is bringing in substantial revenues to the TAT, resulting in the elimination of the tribes’ debt.  However, it is also straining the reservation’s infrastructure, overstretching the resources (personnel and financial) and capability of the TAT’s departments. This, of course, includes the environmental department, which is facing significant environmental and public health concerns, such as the proper disposal of hydraulic socks and fracking fluids, and concerns about the flaring of gas.

The TAT tribes’ government faces challenges that are experienced by virtually every other government: the need to grow their economy to obtain revenue to meet the needs of the community and to do it in a sustainable way.  This is not easy, and is even more challenging in Indian country due to the myriad of laws and regulations and the unique political status of federally recognized tribes.  However, experience has shown that sustainable development can be effectively accomplished when the key parties are meaningfully involved, the necessary tools are available and used, and an appropriate collaborative approach is utilized.

Untitled-1Approximately 40 tribal community-based representatives, TAT tribal government officials, academia, business and industry, state government representatives, traditional peacemakers, and federal officials from the departments of Justice, Housing and Urban Development, Bureau of Land Management, and Environmental Protection Agency, participated in the workshop.

The workshop provided training on collaborative problem-solving approaches, dispute resolution techniques, including mediation/negotiation processes, skills and tools, federal statutes that pertain to environmental and public health protection, grants/financial assistance programs, federal tribal and community-based programs, and federal Indian law and policy.  It also provided the participants the opportunity to enhance or build new working relationships and identify issues of mutual interest for which they can collaborate to address their environmental and public health concerns, as well as other quality of life interests of the TAT communities.

I am hopeful that one or more collaborative approaches will effectively be used to address the range of concerns facing the TAT communities.  I am encouraged by a participant’s statement on the evaluation form noting that a key benefit of the workshop was “meeting people to build collaborative relationships with.”  Additionally, at the Workshop, a tribal council member noted his support for a public meeting with oil and gas developers to enhance understanding of interests and concerns among the stakeholders on the reservation.

Finally, plans for the a public meeting of the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice (IWG) to focus on the environmental justice concerns of federally recognized tribes and indigenous peoples is still being planned and is projected to be held in September 2014 in Bismarck, North Dakota.  I encourage tribal governments, indigenous community-based organizations, tribal members, and other interested parties to attend the meeting to discuss how we can work collaboratively to effectively address environmental justice issues in Indian country and in other tribal areas of interest.  Information on the IWG public meeting will be available soon on the IWG web site.

About the author:  Daniel Gogal has a public policy, environmental policy, and public administration background and has worked on tribal and indigenous environmental policy and environmental justice issues for over 25 years.  He is the Tribal Program Manager for the Office of Environmental Justice, where he has worked for the past twenty-two years.

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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EPA in the Arctic

Ice breaking off the coast of Greenland. (Credit: Ben DeAngelo)

Ice breaking off the coast of Greenland. (Credit: Ben DeAngelo)

The Arctic is changing at a faster rate than the rest of the world. Warming air and sea temperatures mean melting ice, thawing permafrost, and unpredictable seasons. These changes in turn impact the marine and terrestrial ecosystems upon which many northern indigenous families depend for food, clothing, and shelter. My office works to engage these communities in building resilience in the face of a rapidly changing climate, while at the same time, we are working at home and abroad to address the causes of these changes.

Supporting Alaska Native Villages means taking action at home and abroad to address the impacts of global warming. EPA leads efforts under the President’s Climate Action Plan and the National Strategy for the Arctic Region to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases through domestic regulation, improve the monitoring and reporting of emissions, address sources of emissions with our international partners, and support capacity building for local governments, states, and American Indian and Alaska Native communities. More

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 Impacts of a Changing Climate on Our Tribes

In Golovin, Alaska a storm caused damage to subsistence fishing camps. The sea ice destroyed the closest berry picking and beach green harvesting areas. Credit: Toby Anungazak Jr., LEO

 

Tribes in the United States are uniquely vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate due to the integral nature of the environment within their traditional ways of life and culture. These impacts include erosion, temperature change, drought and various changes in access to and quality of water. As part of EPA’s Climate Adaptation Plan, and in support of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the Office of International and Tribal Affairs (OITA) has been working closely with tribal partners to provide funding and technical guidance to assist tribes in adapting to these changes.

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EPA’s work with Tribal Nations

I’ve been spending a lot of time in New Mexico this month. It’s easy for me since it’s my long time home. Yes, I am from New Mexico and the first EPA Region 6 Administrator appointed from outside Texas.

New Mexico near Acoma Pueblo and Grants, NM

New Mexico near Acoma Pueblo and Grants, NM

Earlier in the month, I co-hosted our Regional Tribal Operations Committee meeting with Shawn Howard from Citizen Potawatomi Nation at the Isleta Pueblo. At EPA, we call it RTOC for short. The meeting brings together environmental managers from the 66 tribes located in our region and the EPA senior managers.

Quick quiz- Which state in Region 6 doesn’t have a federally recognized tribe? (Check the end of this blog post for the answer).

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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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Career Advice from Dolly

 

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Every summer my family would take a vacation to a small town in northern Wisconsin on Lake Superior to visit my great aunt.  My great aunt would love to take us to visit the Red Cliff Reservation just outside her town.  It’s not every day you meet someone who is familiar with this area, but Dolly Tong is.  She has even done a dumpster dive there!  I sat down with her to learn more about her position at the EPA.

 

 

What is your position at the EPA?

 

I am the Regional Tribal Solid Waste and Pollution Prevention Coordinator.  I work with the 35 federally-recognized tribes in our Region to manage waste issues.

 

Do you have prior work experiences that lead you to the EPA?

 

No, but I started as an intern at the EPA in what was called the Technology Transfer Program back then.  This eventually evolved into EPA’s Pollution Prevention Program which I have been involved with over many years.

 

What is a typical day like for you?

 

I work with a team to assist tribes in whatever waste management issue comes up, and analyze what kinds of technical assistance we can provide to tribes over the long term. I also communicate as a liaison for other tribal solid waste coordinators in the other EPA Regions with Headquarters to address national tribal waste issues.  I oversee two part-time Senior Environmental Employees’ work and monitor their work status. 

 

Sometimes I get to do field work on tribal reservations as well.  This is the most interesting part of my job.  We have done dumpster dives with tribes and visited their recycling facilities and household hazardous waste collection events.  When you visit tribal reservations, you can better understand what the tribes are doing, what they need, and how you can help.

 

What is the best part of your job?

 

Because EPA has a direct government-to-government working relationship with federally-recognized Indian tribes, I feel like my work directly impacts tribal communities. It is great to see the positive impacts with the work you do and see the immediate results. In addition, at the EPA we are encouraged to be creative and think of solutions on our own.  If you think something is workable, you can try it.  I like the independence and creativity.

 

Did you always have an interest in the environment?

 

Yes.  When I was little, the other kids used to call me “nature freak.”  I just loved animals and nature.  My whole family was actually like that as well.

 

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

 

I majored in Environmental Studies, which was a multidisciplinary program.  I took advantage of a variety of classes, to get a feel for what interested me.  I wish I could have taken classes on Native American Law.

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

 

It is important not to use so much stuff or buy a lot of things.  Everything you purchase has an impact on the environment because of all the pollution that comes from the extraction of materials, manufacturing, and transportation to bring you the finished product.  Using less has a direct impact on avoiding the generation of greenhouse gases that lead to climate change.

It is really important to learn about community based social marketing to promote sustainable behaviors in people. It is more than just handing out flyers to get people to change their ways.  We need more people to learn how to apply community-based social marketing techniques to get to the root causes of why people don’t practice certain sustainable behaviors, and come up with effective ways to encourage positive behaviors that are better for the environment.

 

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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Meeting Tribes in Montana!

By Leah Tai

I was energized as I woke up at 4:30 am, grabbing my bag and a handful of almonds before heading to catch my flight to Billings, Montana. After three months of assisting and learning about my branch’s grant program to provide infrastructure to Native American Tribes, I was finally going to meet tribal recipients of this funding!

After college I traveled in Asia and South America before joining the Peace Corps in West Africa, and I always found that my favorite experiences involved chatting with locals about their community (or simply attempting to learn “Hello” in a new dialect). The personal connections and cultural understanding that comes from hearing the stories and seeing the favorite places of a new acquaintance­­ is irreplaceable. In Montana, I would have the opportunity to meet members of various tribal nations, Blackfeet, Crow, Northern Cheyenne, among others, at an EPA training to improve operation and management of tribal water and wastewater infrastructure.

On the first day I immediately took a liking to one of the few training participants, Tina, as she abruptly interjected with opinions and comments gained from 13 years of experience managing the water system in a town of 250 people on the Fort Peck Reservation. Throughout the next three days, Tina never failed to make her voice heard. She and other participants slowly began interacting with one another, realizing they had lots of knowledge and experience to share. One tribal operator was surprised and excited to hear that a neighboring reservation had their own equipment to lift out well pumps in order to do maintenance and started discussing future contact and mutual support. Others discussed their communities’ resistance to increased water and wastewater rates, realizing that they face similar challenges in educating their neighbors and elders about the true cost of clean water. Two members of the Crow Water and Wastewater Authority were happy to give us a tour of their federally funded wastewater lagoon; lagoons were a popular topic during the training because many tribes in the region use them but not all knew about the regular maintenance steps they require.

It was inspiring to talk, learn and work with tribal members on improving their water and wastewater systems. I fell in love with Big Sky Montana but was happy to get back to DC on Monday and continue working to help these underserved communities.

About the author: Leah Tai began her ORISE Fellowship in May of 2011 working with the Sustainable Communities Branch in the Office of Wastewater Management. After extensive travel abroad and work with the U.S. Peace Corps, Leah is excited to work with SCB programs supporting underserved communities around the U.S.A.

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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