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Go With the Flow—Green Infrastructure in Your Neighborhood

By Chris Kloss

Ten years ago, we didn’t see much green infrastructure for water resources around our neighborhoods. It was more of a novelty than a focused approach to sustainable development and construction. A few cities started using and experimenting with green infrastructure techniques such as rain gardens, permeable pavement, and bioswales which are landscape elements designed to remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water. The green was a complement to the gray infrastructure, the established system of underground tunnels and sewers. Together, green and gray infrastructure provided a holistic approach to manage stormwater for cleaner water.

Tools, Strategies and Lessons Learned from EPA Green Infrastructure Assistance Projects booklet coverAs the word spread about the early successes of these communities, a growing cadre of public works pioneers joined the movement to apply its principles and techniques to managing their water resources. EPA joined in their discussions, providing support to these pioneers through our technical assistance program. Today, EPA is releasing a summary report of the results from this program that we hope leads to even greater growth in green infrastructure.

Tools, Strategies and Lessons Learned from EPA Green Infrastructure Assistance Projects 

Many of the green infrastructure thinking and practices we see today are not new. Gardens, rain barrels and permeable pavement were standard practices for harnessing and managing water hundreds of years ago. They were old-time technology that let water do what it naturally does —seep back into the earth where it can flow back naturally to streams and rivers, replenish groundwater, or be absorbed by plants and trees.

Communities are now relearning these techniques, and green infrastructure is working for communities across the urban spectrum, from smaller cities like Clarksville, Georgia to midsized, midwestern cities like Milwaukee, Wisconsin and large metropolitan regions like Los Angeles, California.

The summary document outlines how these and other community green infrastructure projects are successful. It also highlights benefits, offering examples for city managers to think creatively about how they can design their communities for better health, abundant water resources and improved quality of life.

We can all be part of better design for our communities. It just takes a different way of looking at things. When I’m out with my kids, I talk about how when it rains the water runs off streets, parking lots and other hard surfaces and flows down the stormwater drains into the sewer systems where it can’t be used for anything else. Now armed with the information, they’re always on the lookout for the missed opportunities in our neighborhood for letting the water go where it wants to, where it can do the most good for the watershed where they live.

I hope this report contributes to a movement where green infrastructure becomes standard practice. Every time we set out to design or build, repair or remodel our water systems let’s remember to think green infrastructure and let water do what it naturally does.

Learn more at www.epa.gov/greeninfrastructure and check out the 2016 Green Infrastructure Webcast Series for in-depth presentations throughout the year.

About the Author: Chris Kloss is Acting Chief of the Municipal Branch in EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management. The branch oversees the wet-weather permitting programs (stormwater, combined sewer systems, and sanitary sewer systems) and the green infrastructure program. Chris has nearly 20 years of experience in the clean water field including time in the private and nonprofit sectors prior to joining EPA.

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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Protecting Communities through Superfund Enforcement

By Cyndy Mackey

December 2015 marked the 35th Anniversary of the Superfund program, the federal government’s most successful program designed to clean up the nation’s contaminated land and water and respond to environmental emergencies. I oversee EPA’s Superfund enforcement program, which focuses on cleaning up neighborhoods, ensuring that the polluter pays, and protecting human health and the environment.

The past 35 years have brought significant changes to Superfund through congressional amendments, changes to perspective through reauthorization discussions, and interpretations from the judicial system. Not only has the law changed, but technology has, too.

I am proud to have dedicated my career to cleaning up contaminated sites, and my goal in my current role is to support EPA’s work to find responsible parties and make sure that polluters pay for the cost of cleanups instead the American taxpayers.

For every dollar spent by the Superfund enforcement program, private parties commit to spending eight dollars toward cleanup work leading to restoration of land and water, facilitating reuse and revitalization, and protecting communities. Since the program inception, EPA has secured over $35.1 billion in private party commitments and over $6.9 billion to recover past cleanup costs. EPA has been instrumental in helping to get the responsible parties to pay for cleanup of sites across the country. For example:

  • A 2006 enforcement agreement with General Electric resulted in a $2.7 billion cleanup of contaminated sediment and 300,000 pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) being removed from the Hudson River riverbed. The dredging of the Hudson River PCB Superfund Site was completed in October 2015.
  • A 2014 settlement to resolve fraudulent conveyance charges against Anadarko and Kerr-McGee associated with the Tronox bankruptcy means $1.9 billion will go toward cleanup of contaminated Superfund sites across the country.
  • A 2009 agreement required $975 million for the cleanup of contamination at the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee. This agreement facilitates the cleanup of 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash waste impacting the Emory River and adjacent land.
  • In 2007, EPA collected more than $124 million from Hercules Incorporated to recover costs for the Agency’s cleanup work at the Vertac Chemical and Jackson Landfill Superfund Sites in Jacksonville, Arkansas.

EPA’s Superfund enforcement program is strong and is committed to finding new solutions as we address new sites, industrial processes, and hazardous substances to ensure human health and the environment are protected in communities across the country.

More information about Superfund’s accomplishments over the past 35 years.

About the author: Cyndy Mackey oversee EPA’s Superfund enforcement program, which focuses on cleaning up neighborhoods, ensuring that the polluter pays, and protecting human health and the environment.

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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A Greener 2016

By Lina Younes

Happy New Year! As we begin the new year, we’re looking for a fresh start to a healthier and happier life. How about finding ways to embrace a greener lifestyle for 2016?

Personally, I’ve selected some green resolutions that will help me make better environmentally sound choices for my family, my community and the planet. I think they’re easy to follow now and throughout the year. I’m sharing them with you. What do you think?water

Resolution #1: Save energy.

Saving energy at home, at school, or in the office can start with one simple light bulb. I know I often sound like a broken record trying to convince my youngest to turn off the lights in her room when she leaves. This year I want both of us to make that special effort. This simple action can go a long way to save energy.
Also, at home, we’ve made sure that all our major appliances have the Energy Star label.  Are you planning to to replace an old computer or household appliance this year? You can save energy and money, too, if you choose a new appliance with the label.

Resolution #2: Save water.

We definitely cannot live without water. So, why not do our best to use this precious resource as efficiently as possible? Saving water saves energy and money. This year, I’m making a special effort to take shorter showers and turn off the faucet while I brush my teeth. These simple steps can go a long way.

Do you have a leaky faucet or toilet? Did you know that household leaks waste more than 1 trillion gallons of water every year in the U.S. alone? I’ve had problems with leaky toilets at home and learned from the experience! Don’t let a leak break the bank.  Look for the WaterSense label when buying new water efficient toilets and other plumbing fixtures to save valuable water and money every day.

Resolution #3: Use safer chemicals.

We’ve all heard the expression: “cleanliness is next to godliness.” So, why not look for safer cleaning products to protect ourselves, our family and the environment? Did you know that we have a program that helps us do just that? It’s called SaferChoice. Products with the SaferChoice label have met high EPA standards to ensure that they’re greener to better protect people, pets, workers’ health and the environment. Personally, I seek greener chemicals to help protect my family. I’m glad there will be more products available with the SaferChoice label this year.

Resolution #4: Reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Make an effort to reduce waste from the outset. Why not use reusable containers at home, at school, and at the office? Reducing disposable packaging and waste saves you money and ultimately protects the environment. Looking for additional tips on how to reduce waste? Here are more suggestions on what you can do every day.

For starters, I’m focusing on waste free lunches. When I prepare lunches for my youngest to take to school or for me to bring to work, I’m avoiding disposable plastic bags. I’m using reusable containers for the food and beverages. Not only am I preventing those bags from ending up in a landfill, but I’m saving money, too.

By the way, don’t forget the other two R’s—reuse and recycle. For additional tips, visit: http://www.epa.gov/recycle.

Resolution #5: Be more active.

While we often include losing weight as a New Year’s resolution, how about aspiring to become more active as the means to a healthier lifestyle? You don’t have to sign up for an expensive gym membership to achieve that goal. It’s much easier and less costly than you think. How about simply walking more often? Take your dog on longer walks. How about visiting your local park?

Personally, I’m taking the stairs more often at work. I also have a new standing desk. So, I’m not as sedentary as in the past. Being more active at work, becoming healthier, and protecting the environment sound like a win-win to me!

So, what green resolutions will you embrace in 2016? We’d love to hear from you.

About the author:  Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Communications Liaison in EPA’s Office of Web Communications. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several federal and state government agencies over the 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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Will Aquaponic Gardening Help Solve Food Insecurity in the Future?

Emily Nusz-thumbnailBy Emily Nusz

EPA brings in students every summer to work, learn practical environmental skills, and enhance their educational experience through our Pathways Intern Program. The Big Blue Thread has been proud to feature several blogs written by these interns, focusing on what motivates them to work in the environmental sector and what attracted them to EPA. We’ve posted blogs by Andrew Speckin, Sara Lamprise and Kelly Overstreet. Our final blog in this series is the second one by Emily Nusz, who continues to intern with our Environmental Data and Assessment staff.

Water is an essential component of life. Without it, we cannot survive. In my previous blog, I discussed my experience building a well for clean drinking water in Africa. Many developing countries are challenged by the lack of access to clean water. In some cases, people have to walk miles each day just to reach a source, which is why my church’s mission team and I wanted to provide a water well to a village in Nairobi, Kenya.

Water is not the only essential component of life to which some communities across the globe lack access. Finding abundant food sources also may be a problem. I have thought over and over again about how we can solve food insecurity, while also being eco-friendly. During my undergraduate career, I researched and built a system that may have the potential for doing just that. In fact, my former agriculture professor travels to Haiti about once a month to teach this simple gardening technique, which can be used to provide communities with a self-sustaining food supply. This system is unique because it can work anywhere, anytime, through any season.

It’s called aquaponics, a budding technique that allows you to grow your own local, healthy food right in your backyard while using 90 percent less water  than traditional gardening. If you are wondering what aquaponics is, you are not alone. The term “aquaponics” is not part of everyday conversation, but soon it may be. I was not introduced to the idea until about a year ago when I began to build a system of my own for academic research.

How It Works

Aquaponics

Aquaponic gardening integrates fish and plant growth in a mutual recirculating cycle by combining hydroponics and aquaculture. It is an environmentally friendly way to produce food without harsh chemical fertilizers through a symbiotic relationship. To give you an idea, the fish are able to produce waste that eventually turns into nitrates, which provides essential nutrients for plant growth in a hydroponic environment without any soil. The plants, which are planted in gravel beds, take in the nutrients provided by the fish and help purify the water for the care of the fish. The purified water then flows back to the fish for reuse. Many cultures are able to use this system to not only grow crops, but have a food source of fish as well.

Many types of plants can be grown in the system, such as lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Tilapia are the most commonly used fish because they provide extra benefits other fish cannot, such as high levels of ammonia, which is important for maintaining effective system levels.

My Experiment

When I began to build an indoor aquaponic system, my goal was to research if plants and fish could sustain life in an environment lacking nutrients provided by sunlight. The system contained three separate tanks.

Tank 1 was set up as the “breeder tank.” This tank circulated the Aquaponic Research Setup - Emily Nusznutrients from the fish into the tank containing the plants. Many aquaponic systems do not include a breeder tank, but for my research it was included.

Tank 2 was set up as the “fish tank.” This tank contained all of the fish (about 50 tilapia). Tank 3 was set up as the “plant tank.” All of the plants were planted in the gravel of this tank to absorb the nutrients provided by the fish. The purified water then flowed from this tank back into tank 2 for reuse.

The water quality of the continuous cycle was observed and recorded over a 10-week period to determine the production of plant growth and water quality in an indoor aquaponic system. Measurements of water quality were collected, including pH, electroconductivity, total dissolved solids, potassium levels, nitrate levels, dissolved oxygen, and temperature.

Although my research did not support sufficient growth of plants in an indoor aquaponic system, it has been found to work indoors using ultraviolet light as a source. Year-round results can also occur by having the system set up in a greenhouse. As long as the system is set up in a controlled environment that mimics nature, fish and plant production will flourish.

The Future

The awareness and potential for aquaponics is beginning to soar. Aquaponics may not be part of everyday conversation yet, but it could make a tremendous change in how we grow our food in the future.

In fact, today EPA tries to incorporate this type of gardening technique to redevelop contaminated Brownfield sites. They work with communities on many of the redevelopment projects to set up urban agriculture practices for food production. There are many benefits to constructing Brownfield sites into agricultural growth areas, especially using the aquaponic system. Urban agriculture has two major benefits for contaminated sites: it binds the contaminants, and it contributes to the growth of local food.

Emily Nusz-thumbnailAbout the Author: Emily Nusz is a Student Intern at EPA Region 7, who worked full-time this summer and continues to work part-time during the school year. She is a graduate student at the University of Kansas, studying environmental assessment. Emily is SCUBA certified, and one of her life goals is to scuba dive the Great Barrier Reefs off the coast of Australia.

Sources:

Emily’s First Blog Entry: https://blog.epa.gov/blog/2015/10/providing-clean-water-to-an-african-village-not-a-simple-turn-of-the-tap/

Brownfields: http://www.epa.gov/brownfields

Land Revitalization/Urban Agriculture Fact Sheet: http://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-08/documents/fs_urban_agriculture.pdf

USDA Aquaponics Information: https://afsic.nal.usda.gov/aquaculture-and-soilless-farming/aquaponics

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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“El Caño es Tuyo”: EPA Grantee unites with communities to revitalize the Martín Peña Channel and Surrounding Neighborhoods

By Estrella D. Santiago Pérez

The graffiti on the wall near the Martín Peña Channel, connecting the San Juan Bay to the San José Lagoon, reads “Drágalo ya!” – or, “Dredge it already!” Since the 1930s, when rural migrants began informally settling in the area, the channel has become increasingly blocked and polluted. Illegal dumping and a lack of sewage infrastructure have complicated matters further. Now, floods of contaminated water endanger residents’ health each time it rains due to how degraded the channel is.

My name is Estrella Santiago Perez, and I work for the Corporación del Proyecto ENLACE del Caño Martín Peña, a public corporation of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. We are working with eight underserved communities and our partners through EPA’s Urban Waters Program to revitalize the Martín Peña Channel. We have many goals, including implementing the Caño Martín Peña Ecosystem Restoration Project with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the channel and reconnect the San José Lagoon with the San Juan Bay.

Cynthia Toro, resident of Israel and Bitumul, at the Community Garden

Cynthia Toro, resident of Israel and Bitumul, at the Community Garden

A sign near the channel, created by residents, reminds us that “El caño es tuyo. ¡Protégelo!” – “The channel is yours. Protect it!”
Once dredged, the channel will be wider, and many community members near the channel will need to relocate. ENLACE works with community members to acquire and remove structures on these properties and links residents to new housing in their communities. Since relocation takes time, communities decide on interim uses for vacant lots once the structures are removed. Many choose to create community gardens and grow fresh produce and herbs.

Working so closely with community members, we know that many fear the risk of displacement once the channel is dredged. That is why the communities, along with ENLACE, worked to create the Caño Martín Peña Community Land Trust. This nonprofit establishes the public land around the channel as collectively owned by the communities. The Trust ensures that the community will directly benefit from the environmental, social, and economic gains anticipated from the channel’s revitalization.

Judith Enck, EPA’s Administrator for Region 2, called the Martín Peña Channel “One of the most important dredging projects in the history of the nation.” With our partners and the residents working thoughtfully together in Caño Martín Peña, the channel will transform from a public health liability to a source of recreation, small business, and empowerment for the 26,000 people living in this watershed.

perez3#ENLACE’s youth and community education projects received funding from EPA’s Urban Waters Small Grants. Caño Martín Peña is part of EPA’s Making a Visible Difference In Communities initiative, which provides focused support to 50 communities seeking to become more sustainable. The channel is also a key area in the San Juan Bay Estuary Program and EPA’s Trash Free Waters initiative. ENLACE and the Caño Martín Peña Community Land Trust are currently finalists for a United Nations Habitat Award.

About the author: Estrella Santiago Pérez got her Bachelor of Science in Biology before pursuing her J.D. She first connected with Proyecto ENLACE in 2013 as a student volunteer and is now an Environmental Program Coordinator.

 

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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Enforcing the Superfund Law, Past and Present

By Cynthia Giles

Back in 1986, I was an assistant U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia. I was working on a variety of civil enforcement cases, and learning about the importance of holding violators accountable for pollution in American communities. That year, I took on one of the nation’s earliest Superfund trials – U.S. v. Tyson. The U.S. Government was seeking to hold several parties responsible for contaminating a dump site with hazardous substances that ultimately were released into local Pennsylvania waterways.

While holding polluters accountable is always important, this trial in particular had great significance. In the early days of the Superfund law, it was essential to demonstrate that the U.S. government was serious about following through on its commitment to Americans, and prepared to take responsible parties to trial to assure they were held accountable for cleaning up pollution they created. The trial in the Tyson case lasted for three weeks and all the parties involved were found responsible for the contamination. This trial helped to establish the foundation of Superfund’s polluter pays principle.

This winter, as we reflect on the 35th anniversary of Superfund, I’m proud of what EPA’s Superfund enforcement program has achieved. Just as in U.S. v. Tyson, EPA has followed through on its commitment to ensure that responsible parties participate in performing and paying for cleanups. This “polluter pays” principal stands strong – we are committed to making polluters, and not the taxpayer, pay for cleanup of hazardous waste sites.

By placing the burden of cleanup on those responsible for the contamination, EPA is saving American taxpayers money and protecting the environment. For every one dollar spent on Superfund civil enforcement activity, approximately eight dollars in private party cleanup commitments and cost recovery is obtained for cleaning up contaminated sites across the country.

Here are a few examples of how we’ve held responsible parties accountable for cleaning up pollution:

  • Last year EPA, along with the Department of Justice, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, and the bankrupt debtor’s trustee, settled a historic fraudulent conveyance case. The settlement put nearly $4.4 billion to work in communities from New Jersey to California.
  • A settlement last year with Eastman Kodak Company and the state of New York established a $49 million trust for cleanup. In addition to putting much needed funds into cleaning up the local environment, including the Genesee River, the cleanup dollars will support the creation of new jobs in Rochester, New York.
  • In 2009, EPA joined forces with other federal and state agencies during a corporate We pursued and achieved a $1.79 billion settlement to fund environmental cleanup and restoration at more than 80 sites around the country.

Today, just as was true back in 1986 in Philadelphia, the polluter pays for cleaning up toxic pollution in communities. Thanks to this important law and public servants across the country implementing it, America is a cleaner, safer place to live.

Learn more about EPA’s Superfund enforcement program.

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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Behind the Nutrient Recycling Challenge

By Joseph Ziobro

It’s pretty great when your job involves finding the cutting edge of innovation. Over the past few years, I’ve been looking into technologies that make it easier for livestock producers to manage manure, protect water quality, and create new sources of revenue.

One area where we see promise is in nutrient recovery technologies. These technologies extract nutrients from manure and create fertilizer products that can be applied more precisely to crops and affordably transported greater distances. Thousands of livestock producers are asking for these technologies, but they are still not efficient enough to be in wide use.

That’s where innovation challenges come in. My teammate, Hema Subramanian, and I reached out to key players in manure management and asked, “What can we do together to get producers the technologies they want, and protect water quality?” People were extremely excited, so we convened a planning committee with dairy and pork producers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, scientists and environmental experts.

Together, we identified barriers to technology adoption and began crafting a prize competition to overcome those barriers. The Nutrient Recycling Challenge was born.

In a nutshell, we’re asking innovators to develop better and cheaper nutrient recovery technologies. A major draw of prize competitions is that they reach innovators from different backgrounds who can bring fresh perspectives to the table. We want outside-the-box thinking from innovators of all stripes — tenured scientists or weekend garage tinkerers.

Phase I of the Challenge is open now through Jan. 15, and we are looking for your concept papers describing technology ideas. Later in 2016, EPA and partners will identify the most promising entries and support semi-finalists as they turn their concepts into working technologies.

EPA is committed to building relationships with the livestock industry through partnerships. The Nutrient Recycling Challenge exemplifies this collaborative approach. Our starting point is that EPA and farmers both want healthy waters and prosperous agriculture. And we’re looking for your innovative ideas to help us get there.

For more information and to enter, go to www.nutrientrecyclingchallenge.org.

About the author: Joseph Ziobro is a physical scientist in the Rural Branch of the Water Permits Division at EPA. Joseph supports the Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program as well as voluntary initiatives with the livestock industry.

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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Lungs of the Sea

As a diver and marine biologist for EPA, I spend a fair amount of time underwater. My area of expertise is in the study and conservation of seagrass. These underwater meadows can cover vast swaths of the seafloor and they serve as important nurseries for many fish and shellfish species.

Recently, I had the great fortune of taking a family trip to France and spending some time along the southern coast. It was my first visit to the Mediterranean Sea and I was looking forward to exploring the underwater realm. We stopped in the small town of Cassis, which reminded us of Gloucester, Mass. Cassis has its own fisherman’s statue. It does not have a greasy pole to climb like Gloucester, but it does have its own unique tradition. Local fishermen mount planks on the back of two dories. Boys of about 10 years old are lifted up onto the planks wearing pads on their chests and are given lances. The boats then drive directly at each other and the boys joust until one or both fall into the water.

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The local culture was interesting, but Cassis is also known for “les calanques.” Calanques are inlets surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs; they also are known as mini-fjords. Within these inlets, seagrass flourishes in the clean, calm protected waters. The French refer to seagrass as “les poumons de la mer,” which translates to the lungs of the sea. Like all plants, seagrasses produce oxygen through photosynthesis. On sunny days, it is common to see bubbles of oxygen being released from the leaves of seagrass into the water.

In Cassis, protecting seagrass is taken very seriously with a variety of rules. Boaters are not allowed to anchor or place a mooring in seagrass meadows. Boaters are required to stay in the marked navigation channels and when in shallow water reduce their speed so no wakes are produced. In our three days in Cassis, we watched many boats come and go, and not one of them broke the rules.

I approached one of the local fishermen and with my limited French asked him about the local seagrass meadows. He spoke little English. I spied a shoot of seagrass floating near his boat. He scooped it up and held it close to his heart and said “les poumons de la mer.” Posidonia

We didn’t speak the same language, but our common love of the ocean easily transcended the language barrier.

More information on EPA Seagrass research: http://www2.epa.gov/sciencematters/epa-science-matters-newsletter-how-deep-are-seagrasses

Connect with EPA New England on Facebook: facebook.com/EPARegion1

Connect with EPA Divers on Facebook: facebook.com/EPADivers

About the author: Phil Colarusso is a marine biologist in the Coastal and Ocean Protection Section of EPA’s New England office, and is an avid diver.

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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45 Years of Fulfilling our Mission

By Gina McCarthy

Just two weeks after the EPA was established in 1970, our first-ever Administrator, Bill Ruckelshaus, issued a statement calling the birth of our agency the start of America’s “reclaiming the purity of its air, its water, and its living environment.”

Just last week, 45 years later – nearly to the day – President Obama honored Ruckelshaus with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his tireless work to get our agency up and running, protect public health, and combat global challenges like climate change.

In bestowing the award, President Obama said, “Bill set a powerful precedent that protecting our environment is something we must come together and do as a country.”

Each day, when I come to work and walk the halls at EPA, I feel proud that our agency is continuing to build on Bill’s legacy.

Later this week, I will join the US delegation to the UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris, where our agency will play a central role in negotiations that could mark a historic turning point to protect our planet for generations to come. I’m confident that the US can get the job done.

Ruckelshaus’ well-deserved honor is a reminder of the amazing progress we’ve made as an agency in just four and a half decades. We have evolved into a world-class model of environmental protection under the law.

We’ve come so far together. Fifty years ago, we pumped toxic leaded-gas into our cars; people smoked on airplanes; and residents of cities like Los Angeles could barely see each other across the street.

Today, EPA’s work has changed all of that – and more. We’ve cut air pollution by 70 percent; we’ve phased out leaded-gasoline; we’ve removed the acid from rain, we’ve helped clear the air of second-hand smoke; and we’ve cleaned up beaches and waterways, all while our economy has tripled.

Throughout it all, EPA has embodied the concept of participatory government. We’ve engaged states, communities, industry partners, and the public. We’ve listened to the needs of people on the ground, and we’ve worked transparently, hand in hand with citizens and families to protect their health, their communities, and their ability to earn a decent living. That’s something to be proud of.

At every step of the way, we’ve followed the science and the law to tackle immensely difficult challenges. And that work is continuing every day.

I thank and congratulate everyone who has played a part in building EPA’s legacy.

Here’s to working together to fulfill our mission for another 45 years!

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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Working for Clean Water is a Dream Come True

By Joel Beauvais

I grew up in rural Connecticut in the Housatonic River watershed. My childhood revolved around water, whether it was swimming and fishing in the lakes and streams near my home or hiking in the forested foothills of the Berkshires. It’s a remarkably beautiful part of the country and its waters are a big part of that. But I also learned that problems can lurk beneath the surface, as we were taught early on not to eat the fish we caught because of legacy contamination.

My first job out of college was in Central America, where I worked for several years with indigenous communities to protect the BOSAWAS Biosphere Reserve, the second largest tropical forest in the Western Hemisphere. I spent much of my time traveling by river, living a couple days travel by dugout canoe from the nearest road, electricity or running water. For the communities with whom I worked, water is everything – not just drinking water, but their primary mode of transportation, source of food, and the key to understanding their whole landscape. That experience really brought home to me how critical water is – and how vulnerable poorer communities can be to environmental degradation.

These days, I work in an office instead of the jungle, but I find myself returning to the water again and again. My family loves to canoe and we get out to hike trails by the water every chance we get. Like many families, we visit the ocean every summer – in our case, the Maine coast. When I look at our family photos, it seems every other one is on the water – those experiences are a touchstone for us, as for so many others across the country and the world.

While I’ve worked most of my career on energy and climate issues, my real passion is environmental conservation. Water, to me, is at the heart of that. It’s central to our health, our communities, and our economy.

So I am absolutely thrilled at the opportunity to lead EPA’s Office of Water. I have immense respect for the office and those who work here, as well as for our regional water offices and all of our partners across state and local government and the private sector. I’m really looking forward to listening to, learning from, and partnering with all of you.

During the past two years leading EPA’s Office of Policy, I’ve had the opportunity to play a key role in finalizing some of our key water rules, including the Clean Water Rule to better protect our nation’s streams and wetlands, the Steam Electric rule that keeps 1.4 billion pounds of toxic pollutants out of waterways each year, and the Cooling Water Intake rule that protects fish and shellfish in rivers.

I’ve also played a leadership role on the Agency’s efforts to help communities grow sustainably and to adapt to the impacts of climate change, which has given me a lot of exposure to the Office of Water’s work on green infrastructure, stormwater management and sustainable water infrastructure.

As we look to the year ahead, this is an exciting time for the Office of Water and there’s no question that there’s a tremendous amount to get done. We must continue to help communities build resilience to climate change, finance improvements to infrastructure, provide safe drinking water, and reduce pollution in waterways where people fish and swim. EPA’s continued support for the work of our state, local, and tribal partners and for innovation and technology in the water sector will be critical.

I’m looking forward to working with all of you on all these fronts.

Joel Beauvais serves as the acting Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water at EPA. Prior to his appointment in the Office of Water, Joel served as Associate Administrator for EPA’s Office of Policy, the agency’s primary arm for cross-cutting regulatory policy and economics. He also served as Associate Assistant Administrator in EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, where he oversaw a broad portfolio of domestic and international air quality and climate policy issues, and as Special Counsel to the Office of the Administrator in EPA’s Office of General Counsel. He previously served as counsel to the Committee on Energy and Commerce in the U.S. House of Representatives, worked in private practice, and clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court of the United States.

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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