EPA: Making a Visible Difference in Communities Across the Country

Marian Wright Edelman, President and Founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, once said “We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.”

Making a visible difference in communities is at the heart of EPA’s mission of protecting human health and the environment. It is what drives our workforce to go above and beyond to find that “difference” that improves the lives of individuals, families, and communities across the country. Last month, I invited EPA employees to share stories of the creative and innovative approaches that they have used to educate, engage and empower American families and communities in environmental protection. I’d like to share some of their stories with you with the hope that you too will be inspired to make a difference in your community.

Providing timely information: Bacteria is one of the most pervasive problems facing urban waters. EPA scientists in Kansas City wanted to find a way to get timely water quality information into the hands of people in the community so that they could enjoy local streams and explore the unique waters in the metro area. Our scientists created KC Water Bug, a free water quality app for the Kansas City area. KC Water Bug gives Kansas City residents an easy way to determine if local streams are appropriate for swimming, fishing, and other recreational activities.

Environmental Education: In partnership with the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, our Dallas office is working to encourage and promote environmental education and outreach through educational programs and activities for parents, teachers and children in the Dallas area. The program has provided a number of well attended webcasts that drew students from Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Wisconsin, and New York and focused on environmental issues and challenges, environmental careers and other STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) topics. EPA and the Perot Museum are planning additional webcasts and public programming, including a SunWise training for teachers and an earth science event for children that will feature an astronaut and EPA scientists.

Superfund and Brownfields Redevelopment: EPA’s Kansas City office partnered with local governments, innovative businesses, and the state of Kansas to use flexible cleanup laws to redevelop the former Kansas City Structural Steel Superfund Site into a retail center. The project helps serve the La Plaza Argentine community, where a large and growing Hispanic population has lived in the midst of an urban “food desert”.  This successful project was completed in March 2014 and involved working closely with neighborhood groups and the local government to make sure the project put in place robust environmental controls while also meeting zoning, construction, and community acceptance requirements. The result is now turning an urban eyesore into a new, attractive and welcomed commercial center. The La Plaza Argentine project shows how EPA’s Brownfields Program helped solve the challenge of offering choices for affordable, healthy food in our cities while creating jobs for the local community.

Smart Growth: The State of Vermont and several communities in Vermont’s beautiful Mad River Valley partnered with EPA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to chart a path to recovery from Tropical Storm Irene. In 2012, the State of Vermont requested assistance from EPA through the Smart Growth Implementation Assistance Program. As part of this assistance, national experts in land use planning, disaster recovery, and flood resilience gathered in Vermont in the fall of 2012 to develop a framework and set of policies that state and local communities can implement to build more resilient communities. State and local communities have already begun implementing strategies to conserve land along river corridors, promote green infrastructure and stormwater management practices, protect vulnerable communities, and identify safer places for development and future growth.

Enforcement: In June 2013 the City of Port Arthur, TX held a ribbon cutting ceremony for the Westside Community Health Clinic. The construction of the clinic was funded by Valero as a Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP).  The SEP was part of a 2007 settlement agreement between Valero and EPA to resolve Clean Air Act (CAA) violations at Valero’s Port Arthur, TX refinery.  Valero funded the clinic from a $1 million SEP designed for the diagnosis and treatment of asthma, respiratory, cardio-pulmonary, or other illnesses that may be caused or exacerbated by exposure to air pollutants. SEPs further EPA’s goals of improving, protecting and reducing risks to public health or the environment.

I am so proud of the work being done by EPA employees.  Through partnerships with other agencies, state and local governments and community groups, you have worked to help clean up, revitalize and improve the environment in communities across the country. These diverse projects and innovative approaches are collectively making a big difference in the lives of the American public.

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