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Sustainable Materials Management: A Life-cycle Perspective

2014 July 29
Mathy Stanislaus


July 29, 2014
12:07 pm EDT

As companies and decision-makers seek sustainable ways to manage resources and meet consumer needs, they are confronted with an array of choices, labels and practices that claim to be better for the environment. Terms such as “recyclable,” “recycled-content,” “biodegradable,” or “organic,” all suggest a more sustainable use of resources, but all focus on a limited set of environmental impacts. At EPA, we found that asking which of these practices is better for the environment may not be the right question. We’ve found benefit by taking a broader perspective that considers the full “life cycle” of a product.

Governments and businesses can make better-informed choices with “life-cycle thinking,” or considering the environmental impacts caused at all of the stages of a product’s life cycle. These impacts may include releases of pollutants to air or water; raw material depletion; loss of trees, vegetation and wildlife through disturbance of land and water ecosystems; and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The stages of a product’s life cycle include extraction of resources, manufacturing, use, and end-of-life management. Focusing on just one stage (such as waste management) or one effect (such as organically-raised or grown) can be misleading in total environmental impact. A broader look at life-cycle considerations can show unsuspected or surprising effects – such as high greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from washing clothes with hot as opposed to cold water (since fossil fuels were likely burned for the energy used to heat the water). read 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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EPA Wants to Hear From You: Kicking Off Public Hearings on our Clean Power Plan Proposal

2014 July 28
Gina McCarthy


July 28, 2014
12:25 pm EDT

The risks of climate change to our health and our economy are clear.  The need for urgent action is clear.  That’s why, as part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, EPA proposed a Clean Power Plan to cut the harmful carbon pollution fueling climate change from our largest source—power plants.

Even before we put pen to paper on our Clean Power Plan proposal, we hugely benefited from unprecedented outreach.  We held 11 public listening sessions nationwide.  We heard from thousands of people through phone calls, emails, meetings, and more.

Since our June 2 release, we’ve officially entered the public comment period on our proposal, and we’ve been laser focused on our second phase of engagement.  We’ve met with 60 different groups in just the first 25 business days after our proposal.  We’ve received more than 300,000 comments so far, and expect many more.  We want no stone unturned; and no good idea off the table. read 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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Science for Sustainable and Healthy Tribes

2014 July 25
Gina McCarthy


July 25, 2014
10:30 am EDT

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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Moisture Control: A Key Factor for a Healthy Indoor Environment

2014 July 18
Janet McCabe


July 18, 2014
2:00 pm EDT

EPA’s mission is to protect public health and the environment. While a large part of this mission involves protecting the air and water outdoors, we also need to make sure that people have the tools and information they need to keep the air clean in the areas where they spend up to 90 percent of their time – indoors.  And the agency is doing that through voluntary actions and information sharing, not regulations.

Some of the biggest threats to indoor air quality stem from moisture issues. Leaking roofs, plumbing problems, condensation issues, poor indoor humidity control, and lack of drainage around the base of buildings are commonly reported causes of moisture problems in the United States. Not only does excess moisture damage the structural integrity of buildings, it can increase people’s exposure to mold and other biological contaminants. Such exposure is associated with increases in the occurrence and severity of allergies, asthma and other respiratory illnesses. And, climate change will only worsen these issues as we see an increase in the frequency and intensity of severe storms and flooding that damages homes and buildings.

The good news is moisture problems in buildings can be controlled with steps that can be taken to make buildings more moisture resilient. For example, design landscaping to slope away from building foundations. Doing simple steps like this can prevent economic losses on multiple fronts by avoiding building damage as well as negative health impacts as it makes our indoor spaces healthier and more comfortable.

That’s why EPA pulled together experts from across the country to develop new, practical, state-of-the-art guidance for controlling moisture in buildings.  EPA recently published the result of that work, entitled, “Moisture Control Guidance for Building Design, Construction and Maintenance.” Encouraging voluntary actions to control moisture and other indoor contaminants will be a critical part of our climate adaptation strategy for ensuring healthy buildings as we continue to address our changing climate.

The key to controlling mold and many other indoor contaminants is moisture control.  It’s a simple concept, but it takes attention to detail to get it right. That’s why this practical guidance will be helpful to people who design, build or keep buildings working. Building professionals who incorporate the principles provided in this guide can enhance the health and productivity of Americans and the sustainability and resiliency of our communities. While this guidance is primarily for building professionals, EPA also offers mold and moisture control guidance for homeowners and residents at epa.gov/mold.

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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Seeding the Streambanks of our Country

2014 July 18
Shawn Garvin


July 18, 2014
10:30 am EDT

With summer upon us, including the opportunity to once again enjoy the great outdoors, we are reminded of the many important roles of our nation’s water bodies. Whether it be fishing, swimming, boating, a source of drinking water, or just enjoying the view, we need to be reminded that protecting our nation’s water bodies must be a priority for each and every one of us. While there are traditional ways for ensuring that water bodies are protected by issuing permits and taking enforcement, EPA is working ever more closely with local governments, organizations and the public on more collaborative ways involving voluntary initiatives and innovative partnerships. One of the things I enjoy most about being the Regional Administrator for EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region is seeing these partnerships at work.

Several weeks ago, on my way to deliver a speech about President Obama’s Climate Action Plan at the Virginia Military Institute’s 25th Annual Environmental Symposium in Lexington, Virginia, I drove through the naturally spectacular Shenandoah Valley to visit Waynesboro, Virginia and tour Ridgeview Park.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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The New Graphic will do for Insect Repellents What SPF Labeling did for Sunscreens

2014 July 17
Jim Jones


July 17, 2014
1:55 pm EDT

Remember the days before SPF when you weren’t so sure how long your sun screen would protect you from the sun’s harmful rays? Maybe I’m dating myself. I burn easily and had no idea how to protect myself, what to apply, and when to reapply suntan lotion.

Many of us continue to experience the same problems when trying to decide which mosquito repellent to use and when to reapply it. And what about ticks?

Nowadays we know that both mosquitoes and ticks carry some serious diseases. Mosquitoes can give you West Nile virus and St. Louis encephalitis, and ticks can transmit serious diseases like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Like sunscreens, mosquito and tick repellents can provide important protection against potentially lifelong health problems.

read 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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Saving Energy and Money: Go Team Go!

2014 July 14
Gina McCarthy


July 14, 2014
5:11 pm EDT

Cross-posted from “It’s All Starts with Science”

Introduction By EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

We know that a strong economy and a healthy environment go hand-in-hand. That’s why, today, we announced that 21 small businesses in 14 states are receiving funding from the EPA to develop and commercialize innovative, sustainable technologies to address current environmental issues. Read more about one recipient, also a former winner of our agency’s People, Prosperity, and the Planet award, whose company is challenging kids to get involved and spurring competition to lower energy consumption in schools.

By Lek Kadeli

Spirited competition between local schools is a time honored tradition. From the football and soccer teams to the debate club, nothing beats taking on your arch rival to spark school spirit, get the neighbors talking, and build community pride.

That spirit of competition has helped schools here in the District of Columbia save more than 76,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity, thanks to Lucid—an EPA-supported small business started by previous winners of the agency’s People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) award.

The schools vied to see which could most dramatically reduce their energy consumption as part of the three-week “Sprint to Savings” competition. The DC Green Schools Challenge set up the competition to help schools conserve energy and save money while “engaging students in real-world learning opportunities.”

To monitor their progress and take action, students used Lucid’s “Building Dashboard,” a software program that monitors a building’s energy and water consumption in real time and presents that information in easy-to-understand graphic displays on computer screens or other devices.

Students were able to use Building Dashboard installed at their schools to gauge their progress in 15-minute intervals and help the school take corrective action, such as switching lights off when not needed, shutting down unused computers and monitors, and turning the heat down after hours. A District-wide leader board helped them keep an eye on the competition.

The idea for a data monitoring display system begin when the now principal partners of Lucid were students at Oberlin College. In 2005, their prototype won an EPA P3 Award. The P3 program is an annual student design competition that supports undergraduate and graduate student teams to research and design innovative, sustainable methods and products that solve complex environmental problems. Since then, there’s been no looking back!

Today, we are thrilled to announce that Lucid is among 20 other small businesses—including two other former P3 winners—selected to receive funding as part of the EPA’s Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program. The program was designed to support small businesses in the commercialization as well as the research and development of technologies that encourage sustainability, protect human health and the environment, and foster a healthy future. Environmental Fuel Research, LLC, and SimpleWater, LLC are the other two former P3 winning teams.

Thanks to Lucid, Environmental Fuel Research, LLC, SimpleWater, LLC and the other innovative small businesses we are supporting today, winning ideas are bringing products to the marketplace that protect our environment while sparking economic growth. I’ll bet that even arch rivals can agree that’s a win for everyone.

About the Author: Lek Kadeli is the Acting Assistant Administrator in the Agency’s Office of Research and Development.

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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Building Partnerships to Invest in Communities and Redevelopment

2014 July 14
Mathy Stanislaus


July 14, 2014
2:47 pm EDT

We recently announced our continued commitment to invest in communities to jump-start local economic redevelopment through the award of the brownfields assessment, revolving loan fund and cleanup (ARC) grants. Since the first pilot grants were issued in the 1990s, communities across the country have successfully utilized these EPA grant funds to address the reuse and redevelopment of idle, contaminated properties. These grant awards represent a new start, a chance to empower communities to return once blighted neighborhoods into opportunities to generate jobs and spur economic growth. Many projects, past and present, which received ARC grants promote a clean environment and redevelopment.

Partnerships between neighborhoods, local developers, and governments are essential for surrounding communities to acquire the resources needed to meet revitalization goals. EPA’s Brownfields Program strives to expand the ability of all communities to recycle vacant and abandoned properties for new, productive reuses. By leveraging private resources, and the resources of other federal and state programs, communities can support site cleanup as part of the redevelopment process. EPA cannot meet every community site reuse need without the support of strong partnerships leveraging a range of resources. We want every community to have access to the resources they need to address brownfields and use them as catalysts to stimulate new economic activity and jobs, and serve as the foundation for an improved community quality of life.

Other projects these grants have affected include:

  • Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe located in South Dakota plans to clean-up the Old Swiftbird Day School and reuse the site as an eagle sanctuary. The tribe leveraged funding to oversee the project completion and leveraged $1.3 million from the Tribal Equitable Compensation Act;
  • Indianapolis’ first permanent supportive housing for homeless veterans opened on the site of a former iron foundry brownfield remediated by the City; and
  • The City of Waterloo, Iowa began a renewal initiative on many abandoned commercial and industrial properties with perceived contamination.
  • The crime-prone Greg Grant Park in Trenton, NJ was removed and replaced with award-winning housing for low income residents.
  • The investigation of the Sugar Hill site in Harlem, NY led to a remediation project that was completed in November 2012, creating a Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling that will open later this year.
  • Read all our brownfields success stories.

These are just some of many ARC grant success stories and I’m proud of the visible impacts these grants have had in communities across the country. Since the beginning of the EPA’s Brownfields program in 1995, cumulative brownfield program investments across the country have leveraged more than $21 billion from a variety of public and private sources for cleanup and redevelopment activities. This equates to an average of $17.79 leveraged per EPA brownfield dollar expended. These investments have resulted in approximately 93,000 jobs nationwide. To date, the brownfields program has assessed over 20,600 sites, and made over 30,000 acres ready for reuse.

I encourage you to share your thoughts in the comments:

  • What additional actions do you think EPA could take to further encourage the leveraging of private resources for brownfields redevelopment?
  • What steps can EPA take to build more partnerships and align resources in order to advance brownfields projects?
  • What other community uses or needs should EPA consider in project implementation?

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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Smart Growth Approaches for Flood-Resilient Communities

2014 July 10
Joel Beauvais


July 10, 2014
4:30 pm EDT

Smart Growth Program LogoLast month marked the first year anniversary of the President’s Climate Action Plan. As part of that plan, EPA has been working to prepare the United States for the many impacts of climate change, including flooding. Many communities across the country are recognizing the need to prepare for more frequent and more powerful storms; others are already dealing with storm damage and looking for ways to recover that deliver the best long-term results.

Smart growth approaches to development can help communities become more resilient to flooding by protecting vulnerable undeveloped lands, siting development in safer locations, and designing development so it is less likely to be damaged in a flood. Recognizing this, the state of Vermont came to EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for assistance in 2012 following Tropical Storm Irene, which damaged many communities across the state. Together, we helped several state agencies and communities in the Mad River Valley of Vermont assess how they could incorporate smart growth principles into their policies, development regulations, and hazard mitigation plans to make them less vulnerable to extreme floods. EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities recently released a report and a handy checklist that communities seeking to prepare for or recover from a major flood can use to assess whether their codes, policies, and regulations can help them withstand floods.

The report and checklist cover a wide range of activities. Not all of these activities will be appropriate for each community. I encourage community leaders to consider them all, and then choose the activities that work best for their local conditions and circumstances.

Here are some general steps communities can take to improve their flood resilience:

  • Update and integrate community or comprehensive land use plans with hazard mitigation plans to ensure they are coordinated and that they prioritize planning for new growth in safer areas.
  • Audit policies, regulations, and budgets to ensure consistency with flood-resilience goals outlined in community plans and hazard mitigation plans.
  • Amend existing policies, regulations, and budgets or create new ones to help achieve the flood-resilience goals outlined in plans.

Here are some specific local land use policy options communities can consider:

  • Conserve land and discourage development in particularly vulnerable areas along river corridors, such as flood plains and wetlands.
  • Where development already exists in flood-prone areas, take steps to protect people, buildings, and facilities from flooding risks.
  • Plan for and encourage new development in areas that are less vulnerable to future floods.
  • Manage stormwater using watershed-wide stormwater management and green infrastructure approaches to slow, spread, and infiltrate floodwater.

State agencies can also partner to support recovery and flood-resilience planning. Specific actions states can take to improve their flood recovery and resilience efforts include:

  • Auditing all state programs to determine how well they help communities achieve flood-resilience goals.
  • Developing a comprehensive recovery plan before the next flood happens.
  • Developing a personnel plan that delineates who will assist with post-disaster recovery.

The checklist and report come on the heels of President Obama’s announcement on June 14 of a new National Disaster Resilience Competition, which will provide nearly $1 billion in funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery funds to help communities that have experienced natural disasters rebuild and prepare for future disasters. The Notice of Funding Availability for the competition will be posted on www.hud.gov.

The Office of Sustainable Communities will host a webinar on smart growth approaches for flood-resilient communities with FEMA and the state of Vermont on Wednesday, August 13, from 1:00-2:30 EDT. Find details at http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/webinars/index.html.

Joel Beauvais is the Associate Administrator for EPA’s Office of Policy.

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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Competitors team up to power down in this year’s Energy Star Battle of the Buildings

2014 July 10
Gina McCarthy


July 10, 2014
4:06 pm EDT

By Gina McCarthy

What if the key to driving down energy use in commercial buildings came down to one simple idea: Teamwork. We see the power of teamwork all around us. In sports, individuals come together to push each other, help each other, and find out how to work together for the maximum benefit. At work, we achieve more by working together than we could ever achieve alone. So why not take this concept into the realm of commercial building energy use?

This year, as part of the fifth-annual Energy Star Battle of the Buildings, competitors are harnessing the power of teamwork to reach new heights in energy performance. They’ll build on each other’s successes, learn from each other’s mistakes, and together, find new ways to unlock energy savings.

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But how much can one building really save anyway? The answer is, a lot. The buildings we see in our communities every day—offices, schools, hospitals, stores—use nearly 20% of our nation’s energy. And it costs more than $100 billion annually to keep them running. But did you know that the average building wastes 30% of the energy it consumes? People leave lights on. Equipment breaks.
Filters go unchanged for months, or years.

That’s about to change for the more than 100 teams and their respective buildings that are participating in this year’s competition. With a little competitive spirit and a lot of teamwork, these buildings are knocking down barriers and building momentum for positive change. See who’s competing near year, watch their progress, and share the excitement at www.energystar.gov/battleofthebuildings.

In the only coast-to-coast competition of its kind, dozens of different types of commercial buildings are facing off in this year’s Energy Star Battle of the Buildings. This year’s theme, “Team Challenge,” features teams of five or more buildings who will work together to reduce their collective energy use as much as possible over the course of a year. For example, “Team Staples” includes 17 Staples stores, while 15 Whole Foods stores will support each other as part of “Team Whole Foods Market.” In a county outside Wilmington, Del., 13 elementary schools will compete as part of a team, and they’re going up against their county’s five middle schools and six high schools. In Hillsborough Country, Fla., fire stations will team up to compete against libraries.

Competitors will measure and track their building’s monthly energy consumption using EPA’s Energy Star online energy measurement and tracking tool, Portfolio Manager. Over the course of the competition, building teams will work to optimize or upgrade equipment, retrofit lighting, and change occupants’ behaviors—all with help from Energy Star. The team that reduces its buildings’ average energy use the most, on a percentage basis, over a 12-month performance period, will be declared the winner. 700 buildings are also competing in a special water reduction category, and will work with EPA’s WaterSense program to apply best practices for commercial building water management.

EPA will maintain a website devoted to the competition, featuring a list of the competitors and their starting, midpoint, and final standings, a live Twitter feed where competitors will post updates on their progress and an interactive map of the competitor’s locations. Midpoint results will be posted in October, with the winner announced in April 2015.

Products, homes and buildings that earn the Energy Star label prevent greenhouse gas emissions by meeting strict energy efficiency requirements set by the U.S. EPA. From the first Energy Star qualified computer in 1992, the label can now be found on products in more than 70 different categories, with more than 4.5 billion sold over the past 20 years. Over 1.5 million new homes and 23,000 buildings have earned the Energy Star label.

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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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