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In My Grandfather’s Footsteps: A Worthwhile Summer Spent at EPA 

Every summer, EPA brings in students to work, learn practical environmental skills, and enhance their educational experience through our Pathways Intern Program. The Big Blue Thread is 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. Andrew Speckin’s blog launched this series. Our second blog is by Sara Lamprise, who has worked in our Drinking Water, Water Quality, Wastewater, and Pesticides programs.

By Sara Lamprise

My grandfather and I share the same spirit. He is what I think of as a practical idealist. Softhearted, with a deep love of nature, he is not one to turn a blind eye to struggles. As ever, he continues to shape my sense of ethics and accountability.

When I was younger, he told me that idle worry is a way of avoiding responsibility. I never heard him say, “I wish someone would …” If he thought it needed doing, he did it, which meant he was usually busy.

lamprisegrandfather

Sara’s grandfather, Paul Deshotel, on 70th birthday

As an adult, I’ve wanted to be someone my grandfather would respect. I’ve stayed busy, but not always with things I found worth doing. Countless times I thought, “I wish I could …” or “I wish I was qualified to do something else.” Idle thoughts.

I sat on them. And I definitely didn’t tell my grandfather about them.

Meanwhile, I pestered my friends about plastics in the ocean and the erosion of the Gulf coast and fish that change from male to female. It seems pretty obvious in retrospect, but I think my friends caught on before I did. Long story short, I decided to change fields. To do that, I needed to go back to school.

I see a need for skilled people who care about others and the environment. So I’m developing the skills to fill that need. I could have spent my summer learning to fetch coffee … probably. But I wanted a worthwhile experience in a positive environment. EPA was my top choice.

Sara Lamprise at Myrtle Beach, S.C., summer 2012

Sara Lamprise at Myrtle Beach, S.C., summer 2012

I heard that this was a great program, that even as an intern, my work would be relevant and meaningful. I also heard many times that I would be working with great people. Check and check.

Plus, I respect EPA’s strategy. From my perspective, a critical role of EPA is providing the information to make sound environmental decisions. Information can spur action. It can bring about voluntary changes that are enduring and contagious. I know it doesn’t always work that way, and that’s where enforcement comes in. But information is a good Plan A.

Also, I heard tales of a fish grinder that I really want to see in action. Major selling point.

Anyway, I’m stoked. I figure whatever I work on will be time well spent, and something my grandfather will be happy to hear about.

About the Author: Sara Lamprise is working as a Student Intern at EPA Region 7. She is a senior at the University of Missouri-Kansas City majoring in environmental science. Sara loves board games, hiking, and any excuse to travel.

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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Great Lakes Successes – Part 2

We’ve all made remarkable progress in the first five years of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), much of it visible. (see Opinion)

The Isle Royale Coaster-Credit Phyllis Green

The Isle Royale Coaster-Credit Phyllis Green

But behind every official success there are many other successes. Here a few of the unofficial successes that aren’t required for reporting, but are just as important:

  • The Initiative isn’t just about restoration. It’s about protection. Though the agencies don’t plan on removing “restoration” from the Initiative’s name, they understand we have to protect what’s left. Otherwise we’ll be spending much more to restore those things, too. For example, the Initiative has funded work to protect a small population of native coaster brook trout on Isle Royale for its own sake and so that it can be used to restore other populations around Lake Superior. “Thanks to GLRI funding, we are gaining critical information to help restoration efforts,” says Phyllis Green, superintendent at Isle Royale National Park, punctuating the notion that restoration and protection go hand in hand.
  • The Initiative continues to support overburdened and disproportionately impacted communities. For example, in its recent Requests for Applications under the Initiative, we provide extra points for applications that help advance environmental justice, as recommended by the agencies’ Great Lakes Advisory Board. This also helps EPA make good on its commitments under Plan EJ 2014. Check out the most recently-released Requests for Application (RFA). This means projects like the recently-completed Marquette Park Lagoon Stormwater project in Gary, Indiana, will help this important community. This means the agencies will keep cleaning up Areas of Concern, located largely around post-industrialized communities. This means we’ll keep reducing contaminant levels in fish, on which people depend for a food.
  • The Initiative is spending what comes in. This is one indicator that the demand for Initiative support remains high for attacking the most complex, long-standing threats to ecological health. In August, the Government Accountability Office published an examination of the Initiative and confirmed that in fiscal years 2010 through 2014, $1.68 billion of federal funds were made available and as of January 2015, we had allocated nearly all of the $1.68 billion.
  • As important, the Great Lakes community is cooperating in unparalleled ways. Chaired by our Administrator Gina McCarthy, the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force of 11 federal departments works with states, tribes, municipalities, environmental groups, business, academia and just about any other interest that helps to restore the Lakes.
Marquette Park Lagoon-Banneker Achievement Center

Marquette Park Lagoon-Banneker Achievement Center

Though there’s still so much more progress needed—a century of abuse doesn’t disappear in five years—there’s little doubt that the first five years of the Initiative have made historic progress.

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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Great Lakes Successes Take Front & Center – Part 1

It’s official. The first five years of the precedent-setting Great Lakes Restoration Initiative are history. And the Initiative has made history.

The Initiative is the largest Great Lakes-only investment in restoring and protecting the ecosystem in U.S. history. Recently, the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force chaired by U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy sent its progress report covering the first five years of the program to Congress and President Obama. Not all such reports inspire you to stand up and cheer, but this one should.

When President Obama proposed the Initiative and a bi-partisan Congress stepped up to fund it, the reason was clear. After more than a century of abuse, the integrity of the ecosystem that comprises some 95 percent of the nation’s fresh surface water—the supply for tens of millions of Americans—was unravelling fast. Decades of projects needed to bring back the health of the ecosystem and fulfill our international obligations with Canada had remained unfunded.

The Initiative changed all that. In the 25 years before the Initiative, only one of the then 31 Areas of Concern—waterfront communities with ecological or health impairments—had been taken off the cleanup list. In the first five years of the Initiative, the Presque Isle Area of Concern (AOC) in Pennsylvania has been taken off the list and cleanup has been completed in five more for ultimate delisting. Waukegan Harbor, once called the “world’s worst Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB) mess,” is now a case study in persistent restoration action prevailing over persistent toxic pollution. In other AOCs, people who once thought cleanup would never be completed are now finding hope that it will be completed, and in their lifetime.

Asian carp. Asian carp, which can eat many times their body weight in plankton—one base of the food chain—could further undermine the Great Lakes ecosystem if they ever get in and become established. Within months after my appointment in the summer of 2009, a newer monitoring technique called “environmental DNA” was turning up genetic material from two kinds of Asian carp—silver and bighead—further upstream toward Lake Michigan than previously expected. We used the Initiative, whose first funding came through only months before, to provide emergency funding to plug holes in the permeable Chicago Area Waterway System. That, and tenacious work by representatives from agencies in the United States and Canada, has meant that in the past five years, these equally tenacious fish have not made it to Lake Michigan to become established.

With the shutdown of the Toledo metro area’s water supply from toxic cyanobacteria having taken place a year ago, the thick, almost florescent green growth is a reminder along too many coastlines that phosphorus doesn’t just fertilize crops on land. Too much of it washing downstream fertilizes dangerous algal growth in the water. Under the first five years of the Initiative, the amount of farmland acreage under conservation program management in three priority watersheds—the Maumee and Western Lake Erie Basin, Saginaw Bay and Green Bay watersheds—has increased by more than two thirds from previous levels.

That’s the official report. Check it out at http://glri.us.

But if you want to know some of the unofficial successes under the first five years of the Initiative, check out the next post for Part 2.

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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Making Hazardous Waste Regulations Work for Today’s Marketplace

The pace of technology and change in the modern world can be dizzying. As new medicines and treatments are developed, new types of waste emerge. However, our hazardous waste generator regulations were written in the 1980s and haven’t changed much over the years.
Well, today we’re taking steps toward changing that. I’m excited to announce that we are proposing two rules to provide businesses with the certainty and flexibility they need to successfully operate in today’s marketplace.

Over the last 35 years, we’ve heard from states and the regulated community that our hazardous waste generator regulations, which were designed for manufacturing, don’t fit all sectors and especially not the healthcare sector. We’ve listened and these two proposals make a number of updates and improvements to the existing regulations. We have proposed over 60 changes to the regulations to improve the effectiveness of and compliance with the hazardous waste generator program. This includes rearranging some of the generator regulations that had outgrown their original numbering system so it will be easier for facilities of all sizes that generate hazardous waste to find everything they need to know in one place.

The second rule will make it easier for healthcare providers to comply with hazardous waste rules while protecting the nation’s water. We’re proposing to remove the traditional manufacturing-based hazardous waste generator requirements and instead provide a new set of regulations designed to be workable in a healthcare setting while ensuring safe management and disposal of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals. The primary focus for nurses, doctors and pharmacists is providing healthcare – they are not experts in hazardous waste identification and management. This rule seeks to reduce the burden and increase compliance by proposing a more flexible, common sense approach for healthcare providers and the elimination of unnecessary management practices.

Pharmaceuticals entering the environment, through flushing or other means, are having a negative effect on aquatic ecosystems and on fish and animal populations. Our proposal is keeping pace with today’s environmental issues by banning the sewering, or flushing down the toilet or sink, of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals from healthcare facilities. It is projected to prevent the flushing of more than 6,400 tons of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals annually making our drinking water safer.

In order to keep our world safe and healthy, regulations should not only effectively manage sources of environmental harm, but also be flexible and clear enough for newcomers to understand. The updates and tailoring of the hazardous waste generator regulations by these two proposed rules increases compliance, which then increases environmental benefit. The new rules respond to the needs of both the environment and businesses, benefitting both sides.

Our proposals will be available for public comment online in the coming weeks once they are published in the Federal Register. We’d love to hear your thoughts. To review these proposed rules now, visit: www2.epa.gov/hwgenerators.

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 Last Year of an Environmental Educator’s Career: Reflections on Sustainability

Introduction by Kathleen L. Fenton

I’m fortunate to manage EPA Region 7’s Environmental Education Program. I get to meet folks like Dr. Michael Hotz, who work tirelessly to ensure today’s students understand, value and enjoy learning. Dr. Hotz is one of those exceptional teachers who students remember long after they’ve graduated, an educator who makes a lasting impression. Most importantly, he’s influenced students to realize that science, technology, engineering and math are subjects they can understand and have fun doing, while actually learning – and it’s knowledge they can keep and use for years to come.

Dr. Hotz is a model teacher and representative of many fine teachers across the Heartland. I had the honor of watching him receive his Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators. I wish him well on his career’s final year, and hope the teaching profession can employ more teachers like him. Thank you, Dr. Hotz, for an impressive 31-year run!

By Dr. Michael Hotz

As I begin the last of 31 years of teaching young people, I reflect on sustainability. Through the last 19 years in the Kansas City, Kan., Public School District, I’ve had the opportunity to create a school garden/outdoor classroom, conduct long-term watershed studies, create an aquaponic system where tilapia grow and greenhouse plants are nourished, and conduct energy audits to save more than $100,000 in utility costs.

Dr. Hotz and his wife, Catherine, at PIAEE award ceremony

Dr. Hotz and his wife, Catherine, at PIAEE award ceremony

It’s been a great experience, and I have an EPA employee to thank for, as she says, “planting the seed of ideas.” Roberta Vogel-Luetung sat with me as we brainstormed ideas over 15 years ago at an in-service meeting conducted by EPA. We discussed how an empty, unused courtyard at Wyandotte High School could be used for teaching environmental content. Since that meeting, the courtyard has been turned into a school garden and outdoor classroom with 20 raised beds, an automated sprinkler system, all-weather walkways, flower gardens, a water feature, and composting facilities.

Students were challenged and stepped up to the task of designing, building, and financing this area, which they also help plant and maintain. These students, as well as others, have reaped the fruits of their labors. Joanne Postawait has taken over the responsibility of planting and harvesting this area, while I continue to help with its hardscape maintenance.

School garden/outdoor classroom

School garden/outdoor classroom

The EPA video “After the Storm” inspired me to create a “challenge-based” learning experience for the Small Learning Community in which I teach at Wyandotte High School. Through collaboration with my fellow educators Ms. Hornberger (Math), Mr. Willard (English), and Mr. Zak (Engineering), we created a long-term project around Big Eleven Lake in Kansas City, Kan.

Each year, students study their watershed in my science classes. We bring the studies down to the local level of what the students can do themselves to help the watershed. They’ve been taught how to conduct water testing, and then go into the field and test Big Eleven Lake, Kaw Point (at the convergence of the Missouri and Kansas rivers), and other lakes in the area. Comparisons are made and reported to the Kansas Health Department. All of the curriculums are tied into this experience. Standardized test scores demonstrate that significant gains have been made because of this program.

I was also a member of the EPA Urban Lake Testing Group where EPA provided water testing techniques and equipment, and samples were sent to EPA laboratories for analysis. I was then able to train residents of the Big Eleven Lake area, who belong to the Struggler’s Hill/Roots Neighborhood Association, to do the water testing. These neighborhood association members were helpful in sharing their lives and experiences around the lake, and the EPA employees were just as helpful with the testing and field work.

Aquaponics system

Aquaponic system

We developed a pilot aquaponics program where tilapia are grown. The water from these tanks is sent to trays where plants are grown, establishing a symbiotic relationship between the fish and plants. Wastes from the tilapia nourish tomatoes, herbs, squash, and other plants in our greenhouse. This type of organic, non-polluting growing system is 10 times more efficient than traditional methods and saves water.

I initiated energy audits and plans to save on utility costs. Students use testing equipment to monitor lights, electricity, and temperature and then develop plans to reduce usage. More than $100,000 was saved in a single year. A recycling program also is in place, which is operated by our Environmental Club and is part of the Green Schools Program of the Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Education.

Aquaponic system

Aquaponic system

These programs helped me to be recognized as a proud winner of the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators (PIAEE). EPA and its employees have been instrumental in the development and teaching of these programs.

I am honored that my former student and 2015 graduate, Karina Macias Leyva, wrote the following in her letter of recommendation for the award: “When Dr. Hotz teaches anything that is part of the environmental education field, even with the smallest projects, he inspires students to gain awareness of their environment and acquire knowledge, skills, values, experiences and also determination, which will enable students to act individually and collectively that will lead to solving present and future environmental problems.”

I’m currently working with Towson University, investigating how environmental education happens in and out of the classroom and what impacts student understanding and attitudes about the environment and environmental science.

As I plan for this final year of teaching, my major concern is sustaining these programs. I’m training and encouraging other teachers at Wyandotte High School to keep them going. Our environmental future depends upon the teaching of young minds here in the Heartland and across the nation.

I have enjoyed and am thankful for the relationships that have been made with EPA, and I look forward to working with all of you at EPA during this final year.

About the Introducer: Kathleen Fenton has worked with communities on environmental health issues, environmental education grants, and Healthy Schools projects for over 20 years.

About the Author: Dr. Michael Hotz has been a teacher at Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, Kan., for the past 19 years, as part of his 31-year teaching career. He was awarded the PIAEE in 2015.

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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Student Intern Looks to Make a Big Difference at EPA This Summer

Every summer, EPA brings in students to work, learn practical environmental skills, and enhance their educational experience through our Pathways Intern Program. The Big Blue Thread is proud to feature several blogs written by these summer interns, focusing on what motivates them to work in the environmental sector and what attracted them to EPA. Our first blog is by Andrew Speckin, who is lending his skills in our Clean Water Program.

By Andrew Speckin

I’m moving into my junior year at the University of Kansas, pursuing a double major in accounting and information systems technology, which is simply a term to describe the use of analytics for business purposes. In today’s workplace, there is a new phenomenon called “Big Data.” It seems that every company or organization is using some form of Big Data, including EPA.

The Agency uses data in many areas: to compare water or air quality assessments from different time periods and regions, to spot trends in ever-changing river levels, to have a better understanding of the precursors that lead to flooding, to determine how temperature affects our ecosystem, and for countless other challenges.

There’s always room for improvement. Some of the projects I’m working on this summer involve updating and enhancing the data systems currently in place. Improving those systems will allow for better decision making and, in turn, better protection of our environment.

Working for EPA gives me the chance to help safeguard the environment in which I spent so much time growing up as a kid. Being outdoors started at an early age; my father signed me up for the Boy Scouts while I was in kindergarten. I stayed with the Scouts all the way up to my senior year of high school, and eventually was presented the Eagle Scout Award.

150731 - Speckin Bartle Camp Site

Andrew’s 10-day campsite at Bartle Scout Reservation

During those 12 years, I was able to partake in many diverse outdoor adventures here in the Heartland, such as spelunking in Missouri caves, canoeing down small Missouri Rivers, and participating in a 10-day summer camp at the H. Roe Bartle Scout Reservation. I also went white water rafting in Colorado. Going through Boy Scouts gave me a perspective on how truly complex our ecosystem is, and an understanding that the environment needs to be protected for the health of future generations.

One of the lessons I learned in Boy Scouts was to leave the campground in a better condition than which I found it. If everyone followed that rule in the environment, EPA would have less work to do. Sadly, that is not the case. There’s a lot of work to be done and I’m ready to get started, while hopefully making a difference in the fight to conserve our precious resources.

About the Author: Andrew Speckin is working as a Student Intern this summer at EPA Region 7. One of his main goals in life is to shoot under 100 on 18 holes of golf. Knowing Andrew, we’re sure he’ll achieve that goal, among many others in his life.

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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Implementation of the Clean Water Rule Brings Opportunities

When the Clean Water Rule goes into effect on August 28, it marks a new era of protection for our nation’s streams and wetlands. We are enthusiastic about the opportunities provided by the rule to improve the process of identifying waters covered under the Clean Water Act and making jurisdictional determinations and permit decisions more effectively and efficiently. As EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers implement the Clean Water Rule, the agencies will be taking several steps to increase transparency, provide information, and improve the permit process.

Increasing transparency: EPA and the Army Corps will launch a publicly-accessible, online database for all jurisdictional determinations and permits issued under the rule. The database will provide information, for example, on jurisdictional determinations associated with federal permitting programs as well as statistics on the total number, waterbody type, and watershed location. Data regarding the nature and number of pending determinations will also be made publicly available. This database will provide essential transparency needed for effective implementation of the rule.

Responding to information needs: The Clean Water Rule provides clear and comprehensive direction about the process for conducting jurisdictional determinations. Because the rule is so specific, there is no need for any new manuals or guidance documents.  Instead, the agencies will prepare a comprehensive Questions and Answers document that can be routinely supplemented as experience with the rule grows.   As with any new procedures, field staff and the public will have ongoing questions about the rule, and it is important for EPA and the Corps to identify issues and provide answers as the rule takes effect. We will also ensure the public can coordinate with the field staff as new questions arise after the rule goes into effect so that answers can be provided quickly.

Improving the permit process: EPA and the Army Corps will evaluate existing permitting tools and procedures and identify the changes needed to further reduce costs, delays, and frustration in federal permitting, while improving Clean Water Act protections that benefit public health and the environment. The agencies will focus on increasing the availability of information on issued permits, and improving coordination with federal and state permitting partners to reduce overlap and redundancy in permit reviews.

The strong commitment to seizing these opportunities during implementation of the Clean Water Rule was reflected in a memo distributed across the agencies by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Assistant Secretary for the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy. We will provide updates of our efforts on a regular basis as part of our obligation to implement the rule in an efficient and effective manner.

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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Talking Clean Water With My Kids … on Vacation (Yeah, They Loved It)

By Jeffery Robichaud

A couple of years ago, I wrote that we took a staycation and probably would not be able to get away with that again. I was right. We visited my folks in North Carolina this year, but at least we got a place within walking distance from the beach. So even though we flew, I was able to cut down on all the car rides from the usual condo where we stay, reducing our carbon footprint. Since the weather was perfect the entire time, we also took no extra trips down to Myrtle Beach, S.C., to kill a day.

While I was gone those few weeks, there were quite a few blog articles about the Clean Water Rule, both in our region and across the nation. Honestly, I felt bad leaving work with so much going on, but I couldn’t get away from water even if I wanted to.


We spent a week at the beach, where my kids romped in the surf, collected shells, and dug holes in the sand. Sunset Beach, N.C., is located partly on Bird Island. Its pristine shoreline, dunes, and marshland provide important habitat and nesting for species that are threatened and endangered, including two types of turtles (Loggerhead and Kemp’s Ridley).

It was easy to explain to my kiddos why protecting the backwaters and marshes of the island was so important. I think I lost them to the allure of the ocean, when I started saying that one of the things we’re working on back at EPA is a rule that more clearly explains which waters were protected by the Clean Water Act. (Some kids don’t like to hear their dad talk about work at the beach.)

When our beach time ended, we headed back up the coastline to Wilmington, N.C. The city is near the mouth of the Cape Fear River, which circuitously winds its way west, then north, then west again and finally past my folk’s house south of Raleigh.

I tried to break up the long drive by pointing out how each of the different rivers and creeks we crossed connected to each other and the ocean (Burgaw Creek to the Northeast Cape Fear River to the Cape Fear River to the Atlantic Ocean). Basically, I made a Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game out of the system of tributaries. I’m pretty sure I only amused myself, since both boys’ heads never seemed to rise from their devices.

We rounded out our trip by heading up into the mountains just as the temperature was climbing into the triple digits. My dad took great pleasure in showing the boys that we were coming up upon the Eastern Continental Divide, quizzing them on what that meant. When they gave him the right answer, he looked a little sad that he wasn’t able to impart that bit of wisdom on them. I realized I was more like my father than I thought.


We had a great time in the Appalachians wading through some streams, skipping rocks, and enjoying the cooler weather. This was on the spur of the moment, so we weren’t able to take advantage of the rafting excursions that dotted the valleys between the peaks. However, it was pretty clear that these thriving businesses relied on the cool, clean and clear water that sprang from the mountains. I tried to point this out, but by that time, my boys were rolling their eyes and saying, “We get it, Dad. Protecting water is important!”

So even though I left for vacation as EPA announced the Clean Water Rule, I actually spent my entire summer vacation talking about it anyway – if only to an 11- and 13-year-old. From my home in the Heartland to the mountains and beyond to the ocean, clean water is a blessing we have here in the United States. It is something I am proud to be working to protect, and something that we need to be sure to safeguard for our children – if only so I can ask my grandkids someday, “Hey guys, do you know what the Eastern Continental Divide is?”

About the Author: Jeffery Robichaud is a second-generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Water, Wetlands, and Pesticides Division. His summer trips to the beach as a youth were at the decidedly colder Long Sands Beach in York, Maine.

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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CEC Meeting a Win for Public Health in North America

Administrator Gina McCarthy closes the 2015 CEC Council Session in Boston.

Administrator Gina McCarthy closes the 2015 CEC Council Session in Boston.

Last week, I was thrilled to host the Canadian Environment Minister and Mexican Environment Deputy Secretary at the 22nd Regular Session of the Council for the Commission on Environmental Cooperation (CEC) in my hometown of Boston.

The CEC is an organization created by the United States, Canada and Mexico to address environmental concerns in North America—because pollution doesn’t carry a passport. As Chair, I represented the U.S. Government on the Council and took the lead in discussing our future as neighbors and allies in protecting public health and the environment.

Impacts from climate change like more extreme droughts, floods, fires, and storms threaten vulnerable communities in North America and beyond. And along the way, those who have the least suffer the most. That’s why our three nations are committed to working together to tackle climate challenges. I’m looking forward to continuing our cooperation this fall in Paris as we work to bring about concrete international action on climate.

At this year’s session, the Council endorsed a new 5-year blueprint to help us tackle environmental challenges our nations face together. We’ll focus on climate change: from adaptation to mitigation; from green energy to green growth; from sustainable communities to healthy ecosystems. The plan presents our shared priorities to make the most of each other’s efforts to address environmental challenges.

Looking toward the future, we discussed the possibility of using the CEC as a way to address climate impacts on other important environmental challenges like water quantity and quality, renewable energy, energy efficiency, and oceans.

During our conversations, EPA’s Trash Free Waters program caught the interest of the other ministers on the Council. Through community outreach and education, EPA is working to reduce the amount of litter that goes into our lakes, streams and oceans. We discussed ways we could build on its success and expand it to other cities in North America.

Administrator Gina McCarthy with Leona Aglukkaq, Canada's Minister for the Environment, and Rodolfo Lacy Tamayo, Mexico's Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources, at the 22nd Annual Council Session of the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation.

Administrator Gina McCarthy with Leona Aglukkaq, Canada’s Minister for the Environment, and Rodolfo Lacy Tamayo, Mexico’s Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources, at the 22nd Annual Council Session of the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation.

The Council also reaffirmed the CEC’s Operational Plan for 2015–2016, which is focused on producing tangible outcomes and measurable results. The plan proposes 16 new projects that bring together our experts on work like reducing maritime shipping emissions to protect our health from air pollution, and strengthening protections for monarch butterflies and pollinators.

We named a new roster of experts on traditional ecological knowledge from Canada, Mexico and the United States. Alongside science, traditional knowledge helps us understand our environment, helping us better protect it. The experts will work with the CEC’s Joint Public Advisory Committee (JPAC) to advise the Council on ways to apply traditional ecological knowledge to the CEC’s operations and policy recommendations.

We also announced the third cycle of the North American Partnership for Environmental Community Action grants, a program that supports hands-on projects for low-income, underserved and indigenous communities across North America. The program supports communities’ climate-related activities and encourages the transition to a low-carbon economy.

We ended the meeting with Mexico assuming chairmanship for the upcoming year. It’s an honor to work with our neighbors to address environmental challenges head-on, and to make sure North America leads on global climate action. When we do, we protect our citizens’ health, our economy, and our way of life. Learn more here.

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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Technology Innovation for a Sustainable Water Future

Alan Johnston from the City of Gresham Wastewater Services Division gives a tour of the energy positive Gresham Wastewater Treatment Plant in Oregon. In the background is the receiving station for fats, oils, and grease from local food establishments that increase biogas production for conversion to electricity Photo credit: Jim Swenson, New Media Magic LLC

Alan Johnston from the City of Gresham Wastewater Services Division gives a tour of the energy positive Gresham Wastewater Treatment Plant in Oregon. In the background is the receiving station for fats, oils, and grease from local food establishments that increase biogas production for conversion to electricity
Photo credit: Jim Swenson, New Media Magic LLC

By  Jeff Lape

This week, I visited the City of Gresham, Oregon’s wastewater treatment plant. This year the plant became the second facility in the country this year and the first in the Pacific Northwest to generate more energy than it needs to treat its water. Gresham has joined the growing number of facilities across the country and the world to value all of the inputs to the plant not as waste, but as a resource, and to capitalize on those resources, in the form of clean water, renewable energy, and nutrients that can be used to grow our food.

It’s vital that we continue to support innovative efforts like Gresham’s. The challenges that increasingly face our water resources will require new ways of doing things, holistic ways of managing water, and valuing water in all forms for the resources contained within in order to maintain a clean source of water for this generation and the ones to come.

Alan Johnston shows me the treatment plant is generating 112% of their total energy demand at that moment. Photo credit: Jim Swenson, New Media Magic LLC

Alan Johnston shows me the treatment plant is generating 112% of their total energy demand at that moment.
Photo credit: Jim Swenson, New Media Magic LLC

In April 2014, Administrator Gina McCarthy issued Promoting Technology Innovation for Clean and Safe Water: Water Technology Innovation Blueprint – Version 2, to demonstrate the extent of risks to water sustainability, the market opportunities for innovation, examples of innovation pioneers and actions to promote technology innovation. These actions included ways that we will be a positive contributor to the effort along with utilities, industry, investors, academics, technology developers and entrepreneurs.

This week, we released “Promoting Innovation for a Sustainable Future – A Progress Report.” This document highlights even more examples of innovative pioneers and their efforts towards water sustainability over the past 12 months. You can find the Progress Report on our website, where we continue to showcase utilities and cities across the country who are getting creative in the ways they manage water.

If you have examples from your community, we’d love to hear from you! We’ll be at WEFTEC 2015 this year collecting stories from communities across the country on ways folks are working towards water sustainability. Come see us in September to tell us yours.

About the Author: Jeff Lape serves as Deputy Director of the Office of Science and Technology, Office of Water (EPA) where he helps lead water quality criteria development, water quality standards implementation and development of technology based standards. Jeff also leads efforts to promote technology innovation for clean and safe water. 

Previously with EPA, Jeff served as Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program. He has supported water resource protection efforts with the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and three private sector firms. Jeff has a Bachelor’s in Environmental Science (SUNY Plattsburgh) and Master’s in Environmental Science and Engineering (Virginia Tech). Jeff grew up in the Adirondacks of New York, on Lake George and Lake Champlain, where he gained an early and keen appreciation for the natural 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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