Monthly Archives: October 2012

Of Many, We Are One

By Jeanethe Falvey

My head was buzzing. I felt enlivened with the energy of possibility, bursting to share what I saw.

I recently had the opportunity to meet renowned artist Chris Jordan and we began a conversation that I’m eager to continue. In his artwork, our individual choices are exposed in their collective enormity. Look closer into this ocean vista and you’ll see that it is only the plastic bottles we use in the United States every five minutes. By facing the simplicity and the magnitude of his images, deflecting our own part is not so easy.

I sat there thinking, this is what it takes isn’t it? “Out of sight, out of mind” stops here.

He spoke of the human ability to comprehend numbers. How easily we are overwhelmed, deflect feeling, and turn away. His words resonated strongly: “instead of hope, let yourself feel and comprehend. Act passionately as individuals and we can shift the collective enormity of our choices toward a different outcome.”

Over one million organizations are working for a better world, just look closer into e pluribus unum. Of many, we are one indeed.

His latest work documents Midway Island’s stunning albatrosses as they face a new and lifeless predator: plastic food. The images bring incredible sadness, but someone else did not create this tragedy. Will we turn away?

Ever since I first heard of the garbage in our oceans, it has been on fire in my heart. Our things – created, used, tossed – are collecting by wind and current into places far out of mind, but not out of sight.

The Pacific garbage ‘patch’ is estimated to be twice the size of Texas. Imagine, walking across just one length of Texas seeing nothing but plastic, fishing nets, your trash multiplied by millions?

This is an opportunity waiting. Thankfully, if we choose to see, we have the technology. If we choose to feel, we have the science to understand the gravity. If we choose to act, we are individually equipped with choices, and collectively equipped to make a difference.

As Chris spoke, he said that if there were a single place on earth where all of our garbage went, we could stare and be stunned that it was a mountain larger than Everest, and maybe then we would collectively change. Maybe, this is that mountain.

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey writes from EPA’s Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education, as the project-lead for Pick 5 and the State of the Environment, two projects geared towards learning, sharing and gaining a greater collective connection to our 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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Green your Halloween

Many things we buy or use during Halloween are disposable, used only once, or synthetic. Here are some tips on how you can green your Halloween:

-Make a homemade costume out of recycled materials or spare clothing.

-Carry a reusable bag to trick or treat.

-Hand out recycled pencils or giveaways instead of candy.

-Swap costumes with friends each year before Halloween.

-Make homemade decorations out of recycled materials.

-Be sure to only use LED or solar lights to decorate.

-Reuse your decorations next year.

-Donate your costume if you are not going to wear it again.

    Wendy Dew is the Environmental Education and Outreach Coordinator for Region 8 in Denver, Colorado.

    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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    Green HALLOWEEN: NYC Weekend Activities

    Plan now for the last weekend in October with some spooky activities that will help reduce your carbon footprint and get you in Halloween mode.

    Bats at the Belvedere: Learn about the bats native to Central Park in this interactive lecture. Friday, October 26, 5-6:30 p.m.

    Canine Costume Carnival: Why should humans get to have all the fun? Bring your furry friend to Rockaway Freeway/ Beach 84 (in Rockaway Freeway), Queens for a costume contest in celebration of Halloween. Prizes will be awarded for the most creative costumes in large and small dog categories. Don’t have a dog? You can still go watch! Saturday, October 27, 11 a.m. –1 p.m.

    Central Park Pumpkin Festival: Join NYC Parks for Pumpkin Festival, New York City’s annual celebration of the fall harvest season in leafy Central Park! Saturday, October 27, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. at the Central Park band shell.

    Children’s Fall Festival at the Queens County Farm: Celebrate autumn with Halloween fun for all ages. Visit the Haunted House ($4), play traditional games like trinkets-in-the-haystack and sack races, or take a pony ride. Costumes encouraged! Sunday, October 28, 11 a.m.–4 p.m. 73-50 Little Neck Pkwy Floral Park, NY 11004, Queens

    Family Art Project: The Masked Parade of the Hairy Insects: Use materials of all shapes and sizes to create funny, fuzzy insect masks. Add a handmade musical insect instrument as demonstrated by visiting artist and musician Lisa Karrar. Then with Lisa’s lead, take your ladybug, worker ant or daddy long-legs for a stroll, as we assemble for a fall parade. Sunday, Oct 28 – 10 a.m. –1 p.m.

    Newtown Creek Bike Tour — Cruising the Queens Side: Did you know the largest land-based oil spill in US history happened in Greenpoint? Did you know that the creek was a dumping ground for sulphuric acid in the late 1800′s? Know what pollutes our neighborhood creek today? Ever thought environmental standards were a waste of governmental resources? Curious what Superfund status means for a modern working creek? Come and tour industrial North Brooklyn and learn about “black mayonnaise” and the other nastiness that lurks beneath the surface of Newtown Creek and discuss the future of this rapidly developing neighborhood. Sunday, October 28, 2 p.m. –5 p.m.

    Textile Recycling Greenmarkets: Check out the link provided for a location near you. Saturday and Sunday options are available at many of the locations.

    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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    Do you Know if your Waterway is Polluted?

    Doug Norton

    Pollution in the Potomac River

    “How’s My Waterway?” Can you answer this question about your favorite vacation lake, or the river where you walk with your dog?  Are streams in your community polluted, and what’s being done about it if they are?

    Most people don’t know – and are surprised to learn – that the answers have been publicly available for years.  But publicly available doesn’t always mean easily accessible and understandable.

    For decades, the Clean Water Act has required tracking of water pollution problems and restoration progress across the nation. EPA public databases include detailed information about the condition of local streams and lakes, pollutants, where they come from, and progress on fixing the problems.

    As an Office of Water scientist, I regularly use these databases in national and state studies of water pollution trends and restoration strategies. But even I had trouble answering the simple question: “How’s My Waterway?”  These data systems weren’t designed to provide a quick look at local waters or to provide a simple explanation of what the data really mean. Chances are most people would be baffled by EPA’s complex databases and scientific information.  They might say, “But all I really want to know is:  How’s MY waterway?  And please tell me in words I can understand.”

    Map View of How's My Waterway

    My project team created an exciting solution to this dilemma as part of EPA’s Water Data Project, which makes important water information more widely known and available to the general public.  We developed How’s My Waterway as a simpler pathway through the same EPA database.  You can instantly get localized information about waterways in map and list format by simply entering a zip code or place name.  Anyone can check on local waters anywhere in the nation in seconds—even at the water’s edge, for those using smart phones.

    Users can pan across the color-coded map that shows how common are the polluted, unpolluted, and unassessed waters.  Waterway-specific details include the local pollutants and progress on clean-up plans.  Plain-language descriptions about each pollutant explain where it comes from, whether it harms the environment and human health, and what people can do to help.  Related links go to the technical database if needed or to other popular sites about beaches, drinking water, fish advisories and other water topics.

    How’s My Waterway may especially help those communities where there are less resources to access and decipher complicated information from EPA’s data systems.  Learning about locally polluted areas may help people avoid illnesses from swimming or eating contaminated fish, and reading the plain language descriptions can help anyone understand risks and causes.  With better information, people are safer and communities are more able to take action.

    What’s the health of your waterway?  Now you can find out.

    About the author: Doug Norton is a watershed scientist with EPA’s Office of Water who studies national pollution patterns, helps states restore polluted waters, and designs tools to help improve public understanding of water pollution issues.

    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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    Al descubrimiento de tesoros tropicales

    Por Lina Younes  

    Recientemente, estuve en Puerto Rico para visitar a mis padres que celebraban su 57mo aniversario de bodas. Durante mi breve estadía, quería ayudarles con varias diligencias y asuntos por resolver. Como el motivo de mi visita no era pasar unas vacaciones por así decir, pasé la gran parte de mi tiempo transitando en el área metropolitana de San Juan. Cuando encontré un espacio de cuatro horas sin ningún asunto apremiante, decidí que llevaría a mis padres a explorar la Isla. ¿Por qué no nos aventurábamos a disfrutar de la naturaleza y visitábamos una maravilla tropical lejos del mundanal ruido? Decidí llevarlos al bosque pluvial del Yunque, el único bosque tropical dentro del Sistema Forestal Nacional de Estados Unidos. Queda a menos de una hora en automóvil desde la casa de mis padres.

    Hicimos la primera parada en el Centro del Portal del Yunque donde vimos un video informativo acerca de esta maravilla natural.  Yo también aprendí datos interesantes al ver la película. ¿Sabía que este bosque pluvial tropical incluye seis cuencas fluviales que suministran agua a cerca de un quinto de la población en la isla de Puerto Rico? Mientras este bosque tropical pluvial es uno de los más pequeños en comparación con otros bosques nacionales de Estados Unidos, es extremadamente rico en biodiversidad entre la cual figuran 750 especies diferentes de árboles, mas de mil especies de plantas diferentes, 11 diferentes especies de reptiles, 79 diferentes especies de aves, incluyendo la cotorra puertorriqueña que está en peligro de extinción, y 12 especies diferentes de coquí.

    Después de visitar El Portal, paseamos en auto hasta la cima del Yunque tomando fotos. No hay duda que la visita al bosque pluvial despertó todos nuestros sentidos. La cacofonía de sonidos provenientes del coquí, las aves e insectos, el dulce aroma de la flora tropical, y acogedor rocío tropical que nos rodeaba todos trabajaron al unísono para crear una experiencia inmemorable. De hecho, mis padres todavía recuerdan con cariño nuestra visita al Yunque y la mencionan con frecuencia. 

    Es increíble que muchas veces tenemos tesoros escondidos en nuestra propia comunidad que tomamos por sentado. ¿Ha tenido la oportunidad de explorar algunos de los tesoros naturales locales últimamente? Yo sé que tengo que visitar El Yunque nuevamente la próxima vez que vaya a Puerto Rico. Espero poder dedicar el tiempo necesario para aventurarme por los caminos a lo largo del bosque pluvial.

    Mientras tanto, quisiera compartir algunas fotos que tomé de esta maravilla natural.

    Acerca de la autora: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la Agencia de Protección Ambiental de EE.UU. desde el 2002 y se desempeña, en la actualidad, como portavoz hispana de la Agencia, así como enlace de asuntos multilingües de EPA. Además, ha laborado como la escritora y editora de los blogs en español de EPA durante los pasados cuatro años. Antes de unirse a la Agencia, dirigió la oficina en Washington, DC de dos periódicos puertorriqueños y ha laborado en varias agencias gubernamentales a lo largo de su carrera profesional en la Capital Federal.

    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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    Discovering Our Tropical Treasures

    Haga clic en la imagen para unirse a la conversación en nuestro blog en español... ¡No olvide de suscribirse!

    By Lina Younes

    Recently, I went to Puerto Rico to visit my elderly parents who were celebrating their 57th wedding anniversary. While I was there for a short period of time, I wanted to help them with errands and issues that had to be resolved. Since I didn’t plan my visit to Puerto Rico as “a vacation,” I spent most of my time running errands in the San Juan metropolitan area. When I found a four hour time slot with nothing pressing to do, I decided I was going to take my parents on “an adventure.” Why not connect with nature and visit a tropical wonder away from the maddening crowd? So, we drove to El Yunque, the only tropical rain forest in the United States National Forest System. It was less than an hour away from my parents’ home.

    Our first stop was at the El Portal Rain Forest Center where we saw an informational video on this natural wonder.  Even I learned interesting facts about El Yunque. Did you know that this tropical rainforest encompasses six watersheds that supply water to about the one fifth of the population on the main island? While this tropical rainforest is one of the smallest by national forest standards, it is extremely rich in biodiversity boasting 750 different tree species, more than 1000 different plant species, 11 different reptiles, 79 different birds, including the endangered Puerto Rican parrot, and 12 different types of coquí frogs

    After touring the visitors’ center, we drove all the way to the top stopping to take plenty of pictures along the way. There is no doubt that a trip to the rainforest awakens all your senses. The cacophony of sounds coming from the coquí frogs, birds and insects, the fresh aroma of the tropical flora, and the embracing warm mist all work in unison to create a memorable experience. In fact, my parents are still raving about our trip to El Yunque.

    It’s incredible that we often have local hidden treasures in our own backyard that we take for granted. Have you explored any local natural treasures lately? I know that another visit to El Yunque is on my to-do-list for my next Puerto Rico visit. This time I’ll dedicate the right amount of time to venture through the hiking trails. In the meantime, I would like to share some of the pictures I took of this natural wonder.

    About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

    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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    What’s App? Two New Water Apps!

    By Christina Catanese

    Two new water apps have recently app-eared on the scene that will help make the health of local waterways more app-arent to citizens everywhere.  It seems app-ropriate that both have been launched around the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act – yes, we’re still celebrating clean water!

    Check out the How's My Waterway App from your smartphone, tablet, or PC!App-ease your app-etite for data by checking out EPA’s new How’s My Waterway App.  This app is a new tool that helps users find information on the condition of their local waters quickly using a smart phone, tablet, or desktop computer.  This tool app-roximates your current location with GPS technology (or you can search for the zip code or city of your choice) and shows the assessment status and reported condition of the nearest streams.  The app is designed to make water quality data available, and its meaning app-arent, to everyone, with plain-English terms and explanations.  How’s My Waterway is app-licable anywhere, from the App-alachian Mountains to App-leton, CA.  More background on the tool is available here.

    What waterway is the app-le of your eye?  What did you find when you looked up your waterway on this app?  Was the water quality worth app-lause, or was it more app-alling?

    The other new water app, RiverView, gives you a more active role in app-raising the health of your waterway. Developed in partnership with EPA by San Diego-based nonprofit Below the Surface, this app allows anyone to post and view photos of rivers and comment on them using social media, all shown on a map of rivers around the country.  This fall, representatives from EPA hit the water (along with federal agencies, paddling and surfing groups, businesses and non-governmental organizations) to launch the app by paddling the entire length of the Anacostia River through Maryland and Washington D.C.  With this app, everyone can app-ly themselves to documenting visual measurements of the recreational use of their waters.  How app-ealing!

    I app-solutely hope you’ll make an app-ointment to show your app-reciation for your local waters and check these apps out!   Don’t be app-rehensive!

    And, do you app-rove of my use app puns in this blog entry?  It just seemed app-ropos.

    About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Environmental Studies, Political Science, and Hydrogeology. When not in the office, Christina enjoys performing, choreographing and teaching modern dance.

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

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    A Road Map for a Road Map: New NAS Study on Spatial Science

    By Jeffery Robichaud

    The National Academy of Science’s Committee on Spatial Data Enabling USG Strategic Science in the 21st Century (whew a mouthful) just released a report entitled Advancing Strategic Science: A Spatial Data Infrastructure Road Map for the U.S. Geological Survey.  I don’t know any of the professors that were on the committee, so I’m not sure if the use of “Road Map” is tongue in cheek but it certainly sounds like the groan-eliciting plays-on-words that I am known for. 

    The United States Geological Survey (USGS) plays an important role in geospatial activities across the country, and at EPA we rely heavily on their work, especially GIS professional fan favorites such as the National Hydrography Dataset, the National Land-Cover Dataset, and the National Elevation Dataset.  We work closely with USGS both at the national level as well as here at the regional level.   Because of this relationship and some of our overlapping goals, I was interested to read the report and understand what we at EPA could take away.  Like all National Academy of Science works, this one will take several reads to fully sink in, but I did glean some overarching themes which resonated with me especially for geospatial activities within the public sector.

    The importance of quick and meaningful data sharing and data discovery – In a world as fast as ours, decisions must get made all day, every day based on the information one has in hand.  It shouldn’t be surprising then that getting data into the hands of decision makers (either through sharing or ease of discovery) will lead us to more informed and hopefully better decisions, especially in emergency situations.     

    Maintaining data over the long haul – All technology, including GIS, seems to move at such a rapid clip, that we as a society seem to love and covet the next big thing.  However, data doesn’t go bad…unless we let it by not maintaining the systems and the access to historical information.    

    The importance of partners – It can’t be stressed enough that going it alone on a project may not yield the best results.  Strong partnerships can bring more resources to bear, tap into numerous specific and unique talents not accessible to a sole entity, and aid in the discovery of new markets for data and information.  

    I encourage you to read the report as it is a thoughtful catalogue of the spatial data infrastructure challenges facing USGS as they move forward.   And please feel free to post your thoughts below, especially as the relate to road maps for infrastructure of environmental data.     

    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 Environmental Services 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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    Going Digital: Underwater Science Photography at EPA

    By Sean Sheldrake, Rob Pedersen, and Alan Humphrey

    EPA scientific diver Sean Sheldrake takes pictures with a Nikonos V film camera. Photo by Joe Goulet.

    If you’ve followed EPA’s photo series “Documerica,” you may have noticed a drastic improvement in the quality of the images.  That evolution has been equally as dramatic for underwater photography as it has been above ground—and it’s been personal for us and our fellow scientific divers.

    Mama Don’t Take my Kodachrome Away.

    For years, we used specialty, underwater, film-based cameras.   Although they were state-of-the-art for underwater work, our cameras were rather simplistic compared to their above ground counterparts, especially with the earlier cameras which lacked even built-in light meters. It was a love/hate relationship.

    At times, one of us would forget to rewind the film, ruining the pictures from the dive.  Of course there missed shots, too: “That shark came by right after I finished my roll!”  More times that any of us can count we’d reach the end of the roll before finding an item in our survey area that needed to be photographed.

    In the end though, dialing in the focal range, previewing the depth of field, and setting the aperture settings was so classic, so pure, that we grew very attached to our equipment.

    Then, the digital photography revolution hit, and we couldn’t even get our film of choice developed locally anymore.

    It turned out to be just the kick we needed.  Digital has been a whole new world. It’s a lot easier when you can shoot 1,000 pictures on a memory card instead of 36 on a roll of film.  For subjects that don’t move, you can literally shoot and check your photo quality underwater—as long as your air supply (and dive buddy) will allow.

    Underwater video housing.

    Rob Pedersen shooting video with an older video camera in a large silver housing.

    Video was a similar evolution.  Taking early video cameras underwater involved using heavy, bulky housing to keep the ravages of salt and fresh water damage out. Whatever we shot required “dubbing” the original tape to another format for sharing with research partners, often taking days of work. Today, sharing is as easy as downloading to a DVD or a thumb drive. And what’s more, it’s common place these days for still cameras to shoot video, and visa-versa—no more need for two cameras.

    Read more about the latest in EPA scientific diving at facebook.com/EPADivers.

    See our photos on Flickr.

    About the authors: Sean Sheldrake is part of the Seattle EPA Dive unit and is also a project manager working on the Portland Harbor cleanup in Oregon.  Sean Sheldrake and Alan Humphrey both serve on the EPA diving safety board, responsible for setting EPA diving policy requirements.  In addition, they both work to share contaminated water diving expertise with first responders and others.  Rob Pedersen is an EPA diver with decades of experience in underwater photography, and has also served on the EPA safety board.

    Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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    New Energy Stars Capture Attention at the New York State Fair

    By:  Dayle E. Zatlin

    Every year, hundreds of thousands of families come to the Great New York State Fair. Drawn by the glow of fast rides on the midway, tempting food treats around each corner, and the excitement of blue ribbon contests, people just know they’re guaranteed a memorable time.

    As in years past, 2012 was marked by famous stars like Justin Bieber, Aerosmith, and Journey, who took turns each night lighting up the grand stand. In the packed exhibit hall of Building 5, however, a group of new stars also captured considerable attention. These were the newest members of Team ENERGY STAR, a diverse group of adults and children brought together by a commitment to join the fight against climate change.

    For many fair goers, taking the Change the World, Start with ENERGY STAR Pledge and/or signing their families up for Team ENERGY STAR was just the first step in understanding how they can adapt their behavior to make a significant impact on our environment. The second step is to learn the simple measures they can do each day to recycle, reuse, and reduce the amount of energy they consume.

    To help jump start this process, the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA) partnered with the EPA to offer an educational booth that leveraged the programs and expertise of both agencies. At the core of this collaboration was the goal to make it easy for people to take the ENERGY STAR pledge and get started on their energy-saving journey. Visitors to the booth took the pledge onsite, committing to making simple changes to make their homes more energy efficient. By taking the pledge these participants will receive quarterly emailed updates from ENERGY STAR, helping them along as they work to protect the climate. NYSERDA will also keep in touch with these pledge takers, sharing specifics on the energy efficiency programs and incentives available to those living in New York. We know from experience that regular communication helps to keep behavior change top of mind, and that visible reminders aid both awareness and action.

    Because lighting accounts for 12% of the energy use in a home, and it’s one of the easiest places to make a change, the booth also highlighted lighting options. For consumers, picking out bulbs at the store can be confusing. To help people select the most appropriate product for their needs, NYSERDA launched an educational campaign called Bulbology at the fair. Bulbology provides a useful guide that explains all things relative to lighting: the new packaging labels, the transition from watts to lumens, the different color ranges you can choose from, and available product features—from instant on, dimmable, and three-way style bulbs to those that come with sensors. Visitors to the booth received their very own Bulbology pocket guide. But, you can get the same information and more lighting tips online here.

    As a result of the synergy between NYSERDA and the EPA, we were able to bring the Change the World, Start with ENERGY STAR campaign to a significant number of New Yorkers. In fact, 285 individuals took the pledge and walked away with just a few of the tools that will help them get started saving energy. It’s our hope that they’ll share this wonderful experience after the fair with friends, family and colleagues to help get even more people to take the ENERGY STAR Pledge across New York. It’s this type of momentum that will encourage the focus and collective effort needed to protect our climate, today and well into the future.

    If you’d like to join the nearly three million people who have taken the Change the World, Start with ENERGY STAR pledge, click here.

    Dayle Zatlin is Assistant Director of Communications at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). Prior to joining NYSERDA, she was a senior executive focusing on strategic communications, media relations and crisis communications for nearly 20 years at an Albany, N.Y.-based public relations agency.

    NYSERDA, a public benefit corporation, offers objective information and analysis, innovative programs, technical expertise, and funding to help New Yorkers increase energy efficiency, save money, use renewable energy, and reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.

    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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