Monthly Archives: June 2010

Science Wednesday: Sustainability and Leadership

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

Sustainability has become a buzzword in recent years when discussing current environmental events. On the heels of the BP Oil Spill, it has become an imperative. Last week I attended a speech by Paul T. Anastas, Ph.D., EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Research and Development. The speech was the keynote address at the American Chemical Society’s Annual Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference.

Anastas, the “father of green chemistry” and one of the founders of the conference, focused his remarks on the importance of leadership and the opportunity for innovation in the fields of green chemistry and engineering. Using the oil spill as an example, the speech was punctuated by stirring images, including the technologically impressive offshore drilling platform and the less than inventive booms, one of the tools employed during the clean-up. It made me question the decision to put all our stock into technology that is efficient at acquiring natural resources, but fails to protect or sustain them.

As a student of architecture who has worked on projects involving sustainable design I was pleased to hear Anastas champion elegant technology. His comments made me think about my own attempts to foster sustainability. With any new idea, cutting-edge technology can only get you so far. An ugly idea is unappealing to the general public. However, when technology is wrapped in an attractive and efficient package it can be successful. Clearly, technology is only one part of the equation to reach sustainable goals, and I think a lot of work must be done to bridge the gap between ideology and practice.

I was particularly struck by the remark that Anastas made about how he coined the term “green chemistry,” choosing the label green based on both environmental and economic principles (“Green is the color of money,” he pointed out.)

The terms “environmental” and “economic” seem at odds with each other in a modern context as the country continues to experience the effects of a fiscal downturn and many proposed sustainable methods have proved both costly and inefficient. The development of new technology that is successful on both levels can create the opportunity for economic growth and recovery without degrading the environment and threatening human health. However, I was inspired by the optimistic tone and the reassurance that we have the ability to reconcile these two values, that with persistence and ingenuity we can redefine a sustainable future and employ our creativity to “become the leaders we have been waiting for.”

About the Author: Hillary Kett is a student contractor with the Communications team in the Office of Research and Development.

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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Local Kid Goes Global

It never ceases to amaze me every time I hear students speak about their community and environmental involvement, how incredible these kids are, and what a difference they have made in their communities. I want to share with you about one student’s amazing commitment to her community and the environment.

I first met Grace, a 14 year old high school student, when she spoke at our regional Earth Day celebration on April 22. Grace has been involved for several years with FrontRange Earth Force, a local community service organization and she recently represented the United States and her community in Brazil at an environmental conference for kids age 12-15!

EarthForceFrontRange Earth Force, in Denver, works with teachers in local schools and advisors in community organizations to bring hands-on, youth-driven learning to their students. They help these committed educators and advisors combine service to the community with classroom learning (“service-learning”) to better illustrate important academic, social and personal lessons to young people. Through FrontRange Earth Force, young people get hands-on, real-world opportunities to practice civic skills, acquire and understand environmental knowledge, and develop the skills and motivation to become life-long leaders in addressing environmental issues.

A couple of weeks ago, Grace traveled to Brasilia, Brazil to participate in the Children and Youth International Conference – Let’s Take Care of the Planet. The conference was sponsored by Brazil’s Ministry of Education so kids from all over the world could focus on global socio-environmental problems and climate change.

If anyone ever wants to see how successful community service programs are, all they have to do is meet a young woman like Grace whose experiences have benefitted her, her local community, her country and the world.

About the author: Wendy Dew has been with EPA for 13 years and is the Environmental Education and Outreach Coordinator for Region 8.

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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Cross-Cutting Fundamental Strategies: Share Your Ideas!

Since 1997, EPA has developed four Strategic Plans, which chart the Agency’s path in protecting the environment and human health. I am especially excited to introduce the Draft FY 2011-2015 EPA Strategic Plan, and to invite you to share your ideas on a new and innovative element of the Strategic Plan: the Cross-Cutting Fundamental Strategies.

For me, the Cross-Cutting Fundamental Strategies are about changing the very fabric of our Agency, including what we do and how we do it. Inspired by the Administrator’s priorities and the ethos of accountability, openness, and inclusion that guide EPA’s work, the Cross-Cutting Fundamental Strategies articulate and set a framework for our commitment to:

  • Expanding the conversation on environmentalism
  • Working for environmental justice and children’s health
  • Advancing science, research, and technological innovation
  • Strengthening state, tribal, and international partnerships
  • Strengthening EPA’s workforce and capabilities

Through our Discussion Forum, we are using web 2.0 technologies to provide a space for your engagement in the development of the Cross-Cutting Fundamental Strategies. Each week, we will be hosting a focused discussion around one of the Strategies. Your feedback will be used by senior Agency leaders who are “championing” the Strategies as we implement ideas and actions to tangibly change the way we do our work.

I am eager to hear your ideas on the Cross-Cutting Fundamental Strategies Discussion Forum— please share your input!

About the author: Kathy O’Brien is the Director of EPA’s Office of Planning, Analysis, and Accountability and leads the efforts to develop and measure progress towards the Agency’s Strategic Plan. She lives in Virginia with her husband and two daughters.

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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EcoLogical

region10_09When we started our project in a small town called Homer, Alaska, we had no possible notion of what we were actually getting ourselves into. We were simply four young teenage girls truly wanting to alter the way our town was living. We wanted to see change, both in family homes and the general public.

We got our local middle school lunchroom to switch from using polystyrene trays to reusable plastic trays. We also introduced a “Tin Bin” to our local landfill and we held a community-wide “Trash into Fashion” show.

Then we won the President’s Environmental Youth Award and suddenly we were going to Washington, DC, to accept our award. When we flew over Washington, DC, we all looked at each other and grinned. Even after the plane touched the ground we kept asking each other if this was really happening.

Soon enough it was the Awards Ceremony. As we walked through the Willard Hotel, I remember thinking I had never seen such a beautiful place. It was like a palace. Everything was gold. Before the awards ceremony, we got to talk with Lisa Jackson, the Administrator of EPA. She was authentically interested in what we did, and what we had to say.

The award ceremony itself blew my mind. We, as region 10, were the last to go up on stage. We were handed the largest plaque I’ve ever seen. Finally, it seemed to hit me that this was real. After that, there was a luncheon at which Mr. Philippe Cousteau talked about his work and of how he was trying his best to stop the oil spill in his own way. He was inspiring, completely and totally inspiring.

Finally, it was the day that we went to the White House to meet President Obama. All of the winners stood in front of the White House on risers (note: do not wear a black dress on a hot day if you are going to meet the president). He simply walked around the corner. He was sincere, talking to us as one completely normal person might talk to another, as if he had forgotten that he was the president, and was simply a friend. He talked of how great our accomplishments were, and also of how important it was that we didn’t stop here, that we kept going, because “we are the future”. Each and every winner shook his hand, and got to look him in the eye. I wanted to talk, to thank him for his hard work, to chat about the world, and to ask what being the president of the United States is like, but even if I had the chance, I don’t know if I would have been able to get the words out. I was in awe.

This has been something we, the members of EcoLogical, will remember for the rest of our lives. And as President Obama said, it doesn’t stop here. Thank you, everyone who has helped make this happen. It was a life-changing experience.

About the author: Hannah Baird is a middle school student from Homer, Alaska. Hannah, along with one high school student and two other middle school students, recently received recognition for their environmental EcoLogical project.

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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Control Your Stormwater and Save Money, Use a Rain Barrel

Did you know that lawn and garden watering make up nearly 40% of total household water use during the summer? Rain barrels provide free water to use during these high water usage periods, saving most homeowners about 1,300 gallons of water as well as saving money and energy. A rain barrel collects and stores rainwater from your roof that would otherwise be lost to runoff and diverted to storm drains and streams. Usually a rain barrel is a 55 gallon drum with a vinyl hose, PVC couplings, a screen grate to keep debris and insects out, and other off-the-shelf items.


Rain Barrel connected to a gutter downspout

Rain Barrel connected to a gutter downspout

It’s relatively simple and inexpensive to construct one and it can sit conveniently under any residential gutter down spout collecting and storing water for when you need it most — during periods of drought — to water plants, wash your car, or top off a swimming pool.

Do you use rain barrels? If so, we invite you to comment to us about it. If you don’t currently use one, would you ever consider installing one? If not, why not?



Check out some of these projects in Maryland, Virginia and other Mid Atlantic States.

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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Leave the Car!!!

bakeLast month, I challenged myself to lower my carbon footprint so I decided to work out my first big step: overcoming car dependency.  I live in the San Juan metropolitan area, where you have everything so near that sometimes using the car is ridiculous.  First of all, I tuned up my old bike and skateboard.  I started going almost everywhere with them:  grocery store, drugstore, university, concerts, and even on Friday nights hanging out with my friends.  I used my car only to go to work, because the distance between work and my apartment is significant.   But I realize that other options where available, like the bike/train program, which gave me the opportunity to use the train with my bike and cut a run of approximately 45 minutes to one of 10 minutes to work.   Unfortunately, it was no easy feat.  Here in Puerto Rico the infrastructure to support the use of bicycles is almost zero.  Even though, there are many recreational cyclists here, there is still a lot to be learned about promoting the use of the bicycle as transportation means.  While we have a local Cyclist Bill of Rights, it is not enforced all the time.  Cyclists, recreational or not, are a big group, and agencies need to provide the necessary infrastructure to guarantee our safety.

We all know that cars & trucks are among the largest sources of air pollution.  Vehicles emit about one-third of all volatile organic compounds and half of the nitrogen oxides and air toxics that contribute to poor air quality.  They release carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas and known contributor to climate change.

Our Agency has taken various steps to help employees reduce their impact on the environment. EPA offers its employees a Transit Subsidy which is an excellent way to promote the use of mass transportation.  Also programs like Flexiplace, Alternate Work Locations and Compressed Work Schedules give us the opportunity to limit or eliminate our commute days, thus lowering our carbon footprint.
For now, I am working towards becoming car independent.  I strive to lower my carbon footprint by making this and other changes in my daily routine.  While I am changing my life, I am improving my health and contributing to making Earth a better place.

About the author: Alex Rivera joined EPA in 2007.  He works as an environmental engineer in the Municipal Waters Division of the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division.

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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Deja el auto!

bakeDurante el mes pasado, me puse como meta el reducir mi huella de carbón, lo que me llevó a trabajar con mi primer paso: superar mi dependencia al automóvil.  En la actualidad vivo en San Juan, área metropolitana, donde todo esta tan cerca que en ocasiones el utilizar el auto resulta ridículo.  Antes que nada, le realicé varios arreglos a mi bicicleta y patineta.  Luego empecé a ir a todos lados en ellas: al supermercado, a la farmacia, a la universidad, a conciertos y hasta para estar con mis amigos durante un viernes social.  Solo andaba usando mi auto para ir al trabajo por que la distancia entre el trabajo y mi apartamento es significativa.  Pero luego de analizar la situación, logré identificar que hay otras opciones disponibles, como el programa bici/tren, la cual me da la oportunidad de montar la bicicleta al tren y de esa forma reducir una carrera de aproximadamente 45 minutos a una de 10 minutos de camino al trabajo.  Desafortunadamente, no todo resulta ser fácil.  Acá en Puerto Rico la infraestructura para promover el uso de la bicicleta es casi nula.  Aunque existen muchos ciclistas recreacionales acá, nos queda mucho por aprender en cuanto a promover el uso de la bicicleta como un medio de transporte.  Mientras se tiene una Carta de Derechos del Ciclista local, no es aplicada todo el tiempo.  Los ciclistas, recreacionales o no, somos un gran grupo, y las agencias necesitan proveernos la infraestructura necesaria para garantizar nuestra seguridad.

Todos sabemos que los autos y camiones están entre las fuentes más grandes de contaminación de aire.  Los vehículos emiten aproximadamente un tercio de todos compuestos orgánicos volátiles y la mitad de los óxidos de nitrógeno y otros tóxicos que contribuyen a la pobre calidad del aire.  Estos descargan dióxidos de carbono, un gas de invernadero y conocido contribuidor del cambio climático.

Nuestra agencia ha tomado varios pasos para ayudar a sus empleados a reducir su impacto en el ambiente.  EPA ofrece a sus empleados un Subsidio al Tránsito, el cual es una excelente manera de promover el uso de los medios de transporte en masa.  También distintos programas que le permiten al empleado trabajar en su residencia los cuales limitan los días en que el empleado usa el transporte, reduciendo así nuestra huella de carbón.

Por ahora, me encuentro trabajando para lograr dejar el auto y ser algo independiente del mismo.  Seguiré esforzándome para seguir realizando esto y otros cambios en mi rutina diaria y así reducir mi huella.  Mientras cambio mi vida, estoy mejorando mi salud y contribuyendo a hacer de este mundo uno mejor.

Sobre la autor: Alex Rivera comenzó a trabajar en EPA en el año 2007.  Desde entonces trabaja como ingeniero ambiental para la División de Manejo de Aguas Municipales de la División para la Protección del Ambiente en el Caribe.

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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Cleaning Up Newtown Creek, New York

Since 1986, I have had the privilege to be one of EPA’s sets of eyes underwater as a member of the EPA Dive Team in Region 10.  With a dry suit, dry gloves, and full face mask, diving safely into urban waters, such as the Lower Duwamish Waterway near Seattle, to coax their secrets for EPA’s programs.  After an intriguing diving “diet” of contaminated sediment to discharging groundwater laden with volatile compounds to thick layers of organic material best described as pudding, in support of EPA’s Superfund, RCRA, and Water Permitting and Compliance Programs, this spring was a propitious time to move my cross-program experience out of the water and along the banks of those waterways.

Although I have spent many hours on and in the Lower Duwamish Waterway, I have been fortunate to be temporarily assigned to work on Urban Waters.  I was recently invited to a boat tour of the Newtown Creek (between Queens and Brooklyn) on the EPA research vessel CleanWater on April 19, 2010. The Creek has been highly modified by urbanization – the wetlands that existed vanished with the rip-rap, bulk heading, infilling, and channelization (much of which similarly occurred along the Lower Duwamish Waterway). Like other urban waters, Newtown Creek is nevertheless fished and kayaked.

riveruse

In the mid 1800s, the area adjacent to Newtown Creek was one of the busiest hubs of industrial activity in New York City. More than 50 industrial facilities were located along its banks, including oil refineries, petrochemical plants, fertilizer and glue factories, sawmills, and lumber and coal yards. The creek was crowded with commercial vessels, including large boats bringing in raw materials and fuel and taking out oil, chemicals and metals. The city later began dumping raw sewage directly into the water in 1856. During World War II, the creek had become one of the busiest ports in the nation. Some factories and facilities still operate along it, and various adjacent contaminated sites have contributed to its degradation.

Today Newtown Creek remains badly polluted. EPA is doing with our programs what we do best. We know now what the contamination is, where it is, and are developing the site-specific understanding and context, that, from my more programmatic view, allow us to move forward and clean up this urban water.

About the author: Dr. Bruce Duncan has been with EPA since 1984, trained as a marine biologist, and serves as senior ecologist in the Office of Environmental Assessment, Region 10, recently stepping down from the Regional dive team after 24 years. He assists with furthering the role of science in decision-making and is currently on a 4-month assignment to the Office of Brownfields and Land Revitalization assisting with the Urban Waters.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Science Wednesday: I’m an American and Environmental Protection was “My” Idea

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

The genius behind the Microsoft advertising slogan, “I’m a PC and Windows 7 was my idea,” is that it takes a basic, nonspecific truth—companies use customer feedback when updating their products—and gives it a brand-specific identity. Whether Windows 7 was developed with more user input than were other versions is besides the point. More important is that users feel ownership over the product because Microsoft made their contributions central to its Windows 7 roll-out campaign. The clever way the TV commercials do this is to have individuals claim they personally invented Windows 7, while we all know that many people had a hand in creating the product.

JeffMorrisPortrait-2010As a nation, let’s send a similar message with environmental protection. One can debate whether the roots of environmentalism can be traced back solely to the United States, since global movements nearly always have multiple origins. Yet history is clear that over the past several decades U.S. leadership has been central to the development of the environmental protection laws and practices that exist today around the world.

The value of communicating that environmental protection is an American idea is not in selling the rest of the world on the notion of U.S. environmental leadership, but rather is in reminding ourselves that taking responsibility for safeguarding the air, water, and land on which all life depends is part of who we are as Americans. We as a nation are all about stepping up to responsibilities with a positive, can-do attitude that is not content with accepting how things are, but rather demands forward movement toward what can be. 40 years ago we didn’t just create an EPA: we articulated a vision for the world of what a clean and healthy environment could be. With that vision we built an environmental protection “operating system” that for decades served us reasonably well.

Today we face new and complex environmental challenges. However, new thinking and advances in technology provide opportunities to address those challenges. Central to this new thinking is a growing recognition that environmental sustainability is an essential element of future prosperity and well-being. These challenges and opportunities require that we upgrade our environmental protection OS to version 2.0. It’s appropriate that the roll-out begin here. After all, we are Americans and we are proud to join others in claiming that environmentalism was our idea.

About the author: Jeff Morris is National Program Director for Nanotechnology Research in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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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Engage With Us On Our New Draft Strategic Plan

Barbara Bennet, EPA Chief Financial Officer

Barbara Bennett, EPA Chief Financial Officer

Last November I was confirmed as EPA’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO). For many people, I imagine my title conjures images of number crunching and spreadsheets (which are all certainly part of what I do). However, my experience in finance has taught me that numbers always tell a story.

In my role as EPA’s CFO, the numbers I look at every day help paint a picture of how EPA accomplishes its mission and goals throughout the year. One way we are able to tell a story here at EPA is through the Agency’s five-year Strategic Plan. This Plan is our way of communicating the framework for our environmental programs, the plans for our budget resources, and the progress we have made on our priorities to the U.S. public.

I am delighted to announce that the Draft FY 2011-2015 Strategic Plan is now available for your review and comment, and I invite you to engage and share your thoughts and ideas with us from now through July 30:

  • Read, review, comment, and review other comments on the Plan at www.regulations.gov (copy and paste docket number EPA-HQ-OA-2010-0486 into the search box).
  • Share your ideas on EPA’s new Cross-Cutting Fundamental Strategies on our Discussion Forum. We will be hosting a dialogue around a different Cross-Cutting Fundamental Strategy each week!

The Draft Plan presents measurable environmental and human health goals that EPA will work to achieve over the next five years. The Draft Plan also includes five Cross-Cutting Fundamental Strategies, which are integral in guiding how EPA will work to accomplish our goals, and which also foster a renewed commitment to accountability, openness, and inclusion.

I look forward to reading your ideas on the Draft Strategic Plan and how we can fundamentally change the way EPA works to protect our environment and human health in our communities, our nation, and beyond.

About the author: Barbara Bennett is EPA’s Chief Financial Officer. Prior to joining EPA, she served as Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Discovery Communications, Inc. She lives in Virginia with her husband and two children.

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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