Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training Success Stories: Richmond, California

EPA’s Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training (EWDJT) program is aimed at improving the environmental health of communities nationwide while improving the livelihood of the residents who live in those communities. Over the years, successful EWDJT programs have been implemented throughout the country, impacting the lives of many. In his own words, here is how the EPA Brownfields EWDJT program allowed Jonathan Brito to change his career:

Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training Success Stories: Richmond, California

Before I started on my journey at the RichmondBUILD Academy, I was a father to a beautiful 3-year-old daughter, and I had just been laid off of my 6-year career as an auto body technician. I ran into many career dead ends and depression set in. I then found myself in the middle of a heavy drug addiction.  I lost everything and found myself on the streets living a very hard life. I knew that I had to make things better and heard about a local job training program through the media. This job training program helped local residents, such as myself, start a career in the environmental remediation and construction industry with good living wages.

Jonathan Brito in his Tyvek suit during EPA funded HAZWOPER 40-hour training.

I was very fortunate to become a student at the RichmondBUILD Academy. I must admit it was not easy to get in the Academy and even harder to endure the twelve weeks of intensive training. They pushed me physically and mentally. They helped me regain my self-esteem and confidence. Through the RichmondBUILD program, I learned the skills and knowledge necessary to enter the environmental industry and earned valuable certifications, such as my Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) 40-hour certification, OSHA 10-hour, work zone safety, and first aid/CPR. The Academy also taught me to follow my passion: Solar!

Since my graduation, I’ve worked on the Freethy Industrial Park, a new, two-megawatt, ground-mounted solar project in Richmond and I’m currently employed with Ally Electric doing residential solar installation. I’ve also interviewed with firms that will install solar panels at a new 49-acre, 10.5 MW ground mount solar farm on a former brownfield site in Richmond, California. Most importantly, I have the love of my daughter and family again!

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the City of Richmond, EPA, and the RichmondBUILD Academy. I don’t know where I’d be today without them. I’m forever thankful for the opportunities that have been presented to me. As I look to the future, I would like to become a local contractor and hire people that have been in the same predicament as me. And I will definitely hire them from RichmondBUILD!

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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. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training Success Stories: Tacoma, Washington

EPA’s Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training (EWDJT) program is aimed at improving the environmental health of communities nationwide while improving the livelihood of the residents who live in those communities. Over the years, successful EWDJT programs have been implemented throughout the country, impacting the lives of many. In his own words, here is how the EPA Brownfields EWDJT program allowed Ricardo Loza to change his career:

Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training Success Stories: Tacoma, Washington

I spent over 20 years of my professional life in the transportation business, working in operations, pricing and management before losing my job during the recession in 2008. In January 2013, after being unemployed for nearly five years, I found myself in Tacoma, WA applying for food stamps for the first time in my life. Like most people, I’ve had good and bad times; this for me was the very lowest point in my life. As I walked out of the Washington Department of Social and Health Services office, I spotted a flyer for the City of Tacoma’s environmental job training program.

I went back to where I was staying and asked the person I was renting a room from to please bear with me while I took a six-week course. Thankfully, they agreed to put off my rent for two months.
On orientation day, I saw all those text books and wondered what I had gotten myself into.

What seemed like an insurmountable task turned into a step by step progression in learning the skill for each certification, thanks to my wonderful instructors, Chris Goodman and Bill Routely, who kept us focused. At age 50, I was the oldest person in my class and I felt I was at a disadvantage. A feeling that was only exacerbated when I went to look for work.

As part of the graduation ceremony, there was a sign-up sheet for TCB Industrial to attend a group interview. I got a call back from my would-be predecessor asking me to attend. With TCB being a temporary labor contractor, my thought was I could gather some money and move forward looking for permanent employment. As our group was leaving, I mentioned to her that when she reviews my resume she will see I have several years of administrative and office experience. I told her I could apply my recent training in the hazardous materials business along with my existing years of experience with the full Microsoft suite to work as temporary office help for TCB.

Unbeknownst to me, she had just submitted her two weeks’ notice to TCB Industrial the day prior. I found out later that she submitted my name and resume to the owner of TCB as her possible replacement. I was called back in for a second interview. It went well. Combining my previous experience and recent environmental training made me the perfect candidate, which has led me to where I am today: The Pacific Northwest Director Operations for TCB Industrial Corporation.

I am certain I wouldn’t have been considered by my current employer without the direct HAZWOPER training provided by the EPA funded brownfields program. It’s a great honor, pleasure and privilege to continue to work with Clover Park Technical College, Goodwill of the Olympics, and EPA. Our combined efforts have allowed TCB Industrial to hire several EPA job training graduates and place them with brownfields projects throughout the Puget Sound region.

None of this would have been possible without the EPA Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training program. For that I will be forever grateful.

Sincerely,
Ricardo Loza

 

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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. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

How One Bus Ride Led Me To Public Service

By Elle Chang

“If you look to the right, you’ll see power plants and waste incinerators have been positioned next to elementary school playgrounds, where mercury and lead exposure are harming children, and little is being done to address it. These are environmental justice communities,” our guide explained. Ten years ago, I was on a bus driving through a neighborhood off of North Capitol Street, not too far from where I live now in Washington, DC. It was freshman year of college and that weekend, I had joined thousands of other social justice advocates, student government leaders, and other community representatives at a national conference about climate justice, environmental racism, lobbying, voter education, and becoming empowered citizens to inspire others to plug into movements they cared about.  

The images from that bus ride stick with me to this day as a reminder that we have much to accomplish in terms of protecting human health and the environment. Understanding the relationship between communities and their natural environments has been a theme that I have found myself attempting to understand in each major phase of my life. Seeing many environmental issues with health implications for communities made friends of mine so upset in college that they were willing to skip class to chain themselves to doors of buildings. Potentially telling my mother that I had been arrested for trespassing because I cared about protecting the environment wasn’t an option, so I took a less radical approach and began attending community meetings to listen and see where my intentions could be more useful. The intersection of public participation, good governance, sustainable development, and cooperative management models are what led me to get a degree in political science and work as a Peace Corps volunteer, graduate student, United Nations staffer, climate change researcher, and in my current role as an EPA analyst.

With a deep belief in public service, community engagement, policy and science-based facts, my role in the American Indian Environmental Office involves managing the partnership with the National Tribal Caucus that includes a national group of tribal environmental leaders who advise EPA on policies affecting Indian country. One of the best aspects about my job is that I get to work with the tribal offices in the regions, at headquarters, and throughout the federal family and it pushes me to continuously learn about new issues in highly diverse communities from a social justice and environmental policy perspective. Though the work can feel overwhelming, I am always inspired by the positivity, passion, and necessity to persevere and protect our shared environment by our tribal partners who are a reminder that our policies and actions here in Washington, DC have wider and deeper implications than we will ever experience.

Prior to joining EPA’s Office of International and Tribal Affairs, Elle Chang graduated from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University with a master’s degree in International Development where she explored the intersection of integrated conservation solutions and indigenous issues as it relates to natural resource management. Ms. Chang served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in East Java, Indonesia where she focused on secondary school education and gender empowerment programs.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

My Journey from Peace Corps to Minamata

By Marianne Bailey

Every day at EPA, I have the privilege of working with our staff to advance public health and environmental protection through international cooperation. As a high school student in the 1970s, I knew that diplomacy in some form was my path. As it turns out, diplomacy comes in many guises, and the kind we do at EPA is the most fulfilling kind I could have imagined.

After getting some work experience under my belt after college, I got an MPA degree then joined the Peace Corps in Mali, where I worked on agroforesty and nutrition. After that, EPA became my home. I worked on our Asia and Africa programs early in my EPA career. EPA’s expertise is unrivalled in the world, and is in big demand.

Working in close cooperation with our program and regional offices, and with strong management involvement, we achieved a very rapid phase out of leaded gasoline in China and many other countries in both regions, started air monitoring programs, and advanced environmental health initiatives such as the Chemical Information Exchange Network.

More recently, I was proud to have been involved in negotiating the Minamata Convention on Mercury. The Convention requires all countries to meet the same obligations to reduce the globally circulating emissions which impact the food Americans consume.

The Convention even addresses an informal sector, artisanal and small-scale gold mining, which has emerged as the largest source of global mercury emissions. It addresses that sector in a way that respects miners and their families, and should allow them to continue this important income-generating activity without facing the severe health impacts caused by inhaling mercury when the mercury-gold amalgam is burned to make pure gold.

And now, I am so proud of how our newer staff members have put their intelligence and leadership qualities to work on today’s most pressing challenges. Because what has stuck with me the most about this work over the years is that we can make such a big, positive difference in peoples’ lives through our public service.

My advice to those thinking about public service, including careers in environmental protection, and to those embarking on their careers: be willing and eager to take on new challenges, to stretch, to reach for something that might seem unachievable at first look. Look again – there is no challenge too big for your vision!

About the author: Marianne Bailey is the Deputy Director for Global Affairs and Policy at the US Environmental Protection Agency, which works on a wide range of global environmental issues. Marianne has worked on global mercury issues for over a decade and was the US negotiator for the Minamata Convention’s ASGM provisions. She has previously managed US EPA’s bilateral efforts in Africa and Asia; served as a US Peace Corps agroforestry volunteer in Mali; and worked for the US House of Representatives.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Supporting Economic Recovery in Former Automotive Communities

By: Greg Rudloff

The Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response trust (RACER) was created by a U.S. Bankruptcy Court to clean up and position for redevelopment former General Motors (GM) properties. EPA and state environmental programs work with RACER to review, approve and undertake response actions to address contamination at each property. Here are a few of our success stories.

Drawing of buildings, a road, and a parking lot

Artist’s concept of the M1 Concourse facility

One redevelopment project is the RACER Pontiac Validation site located in Pontiac, MI. This 87-acre site is a former GM automotive manufacturing and assembly facility. We issued a Prospective Purchaser Agreement (PPA) in 2013 to assist with sale and redevelopment of the property.

 

Photo of a gray building lined with garage doors

Banks of automotive condos under construction

In 2015, ground was broken for the construction of an auto enthusiast’s development which includes a performance track, more than 250 private garages, restaurants, and an auto-focused shopping village and office space. Over 135 units have been sold and we expect more than 100 workers to be employed at the facility. The facility opened in August, 2016.

Black and white photo of several planes under construction

WW II Bomber Plant

 

A redevelopment project involving the preservation of history is the RACER Willow Run facility located in Ypsilanti, MI. This facility was a former bomber manufacturing plant that was constructed in 1941. After WWII, operations at the plant switched to the production of automobiles and operations continued until 2010. The facility was demolished in 2014-2015 except for the southeast corner. In 2014, we issued a comfort letter to facilitate the purchase of a 3.4-acre parcel containing the undemolished portion of the plant. On December 5, 2014, we issued a PPA to further facilitate the purchase of the parcel. On October 30, 2014, the Yankee Air Museum completed the purchase of the parcel. Construction is currently underway to enclose this portion of the plant for redevelopment as a historical aircraft museum.

Digital illustration of a hangar filled with different types of aircraft

Yankee Air Museum Concept

Photo of a worker in protective gear operating equipment

Interior of Fuyao plant

A redevelopment project that created a significant number of new jobs is the RACER Moraine facility located in Moraine, OH. This 465-acre former GM facility operated from the 1920s to 2008. Many of the buildings have since been demolished. In 2014, we facilitate Fuyao Glass America, Inc.’s purchase of 95 acres of the facility for construction of an automotive glass plant. In July, 2015, Fuyao unveiled the first automotive windshield produced at the former GM Moraine plant. Fuyao has hired 1,400 new employees to date, and plans to hire an additional 500 employees.

Greg Rudloff has worked at EPA’s Region 5 office since 1991. He has spent his EPA career in the Land and Chemicals Division supporting the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Program as both a Permit Writer and a Corrective Action Project Manager.  In recent years, he has also served as the RACER Coordinator for the corrective action program.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

50,000 Kilowatt Hours of Solar Power

By Steve Donohue

On a recent sunny Sunday (appropriately enough) the meter for the solar photovoltaic (PV) system on our home showed we had produced 50,000 kWh of clean renewable electricity!

This is a major milestone to me but what does it really mean? The EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator helps translate abstract measurements like these into concrete terms. In our case the carbon dioxide emissions we avoided with our solar panels were equal to the amount captured and stored, or sequestered, by over 33 acres of forest in a year.

That’s a big benefit for the planet and, closer to home, enough “juice” to supply over 85% of our annual electricity needs. We installed the PV system back in July 2010 and I originally wrote about it in 2012 https://blog.epa.gov/blog/2012/07/energy-independence-day/. The table below shows the results of our conservation and efficiency improvements and solar production since we first moved into our house.

Our average annual electricity bill for the last five is about $250 and in 2015 we got it down to $182. Since installation we have also had zero maintenance or operating expenses and with no moving parts I expect our system to last a long time.

That’s good since we still have about another 3 years or so until we re-coup the cost of our initial investment and the system is paid off by our savings.

Sustainability often means taking the long view and in our case it was like paying 10 years of electricity bills upfront so we could get our power from the sun and essentially never pay another bill.

Even more good news is that our system today would be about half of what we paid. This is the penalty we paid for being “early adopters” but I am happy to see my neighbors have started to join the bandwagon. In the last year I am seeing panels sprouting on roof tops all over my neighborhood. One family uses their panels to charge their electric car!

And what I’m seeing locally is a microcosm of what is happening in the world. I read that in 2015 for the first time there was more installed renewable power generating capacity, like solar and wind, than any single fossil fuel powered generating capacity. I’m hopeful that we’ve finally reached a tipping point and there is a bright future ahead for renewable power.

About the author: Steve Donohue has been a senior environmental scientist at EPA for over 25 years. Currently, he works in the Office of Environmental Innovation in Philadelphia where he is focused on improving the sustainability and climate change and improving the efficiency of EPA facilities.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Environmental Justice Comes to Salt Creek

By Michael Wenstrom

Several years ago I traveled to Pueblo, Colorado in response to a request from a local resident. I was asked to sit in on a meeting to hear a discussion about the presence of a legally-permitted auto dismantling yard and aluminum smelter in a residential neighborhood. The neighborhood was Salt Creek.

Salt Creek Neighborhood, Pueblo, Colorado

Salt Creek Neighborhood, Pueblo, Colorado

The Salt Creek neighborhood contains about one hundred homes and is predominantly Latino. Most of the residents are third generation Americans of Mexican descent. Someone in the community reached out to the Region 8 Environmental Justice Program to ask for help, not knowing just what “environmental justice” was, but knowing something needed to change.

Among Salt Creek residents, there was little understanding of what government did and how and why they made the decisions they made. In this case, residents knew that things were happening in and around their community that were wrong and they wanted to know what to do to protect themselves.

Salt Creek is flanked by a steel mill which emitted more than forty percent of Colorado’s airborne mercury, and by a major coal-fired power plant and, additionally, was home to the smelter noted above.
As I sat in that meeting, in the basement of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, listening to the community share their concerns, little did I know that this would be the beginning of a fifteen year-long odyssey. This meeting was the first of many.

Over time I learned that Salt Creek residents are strong and proud people. They persisted, even in the face of adversary.

The EJ Program began to work to help the community find its voice. We co-sponsored community meetings and invited local businesses, representatives from the city and county and from law enforcement. We talked (in English and Spanish) about what the community cared most about. In most cases, the invited guests listened and learned. In some cases, they tried to deflect the concerns and occasionally, they attempted to bully or confuse the residents. But, Salt Creek would not be deterred.

Among other things, EPA brought a Collaborative Problem Solving grant to the community, engaged with our RCRA Program to address nearby contamination, facilitated meetings with the steel mill and under an enforcement action,  $400,000 in community-based Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) benefitted the neighborhood.

Together, over the years, we saw the steel mill dramatically reduce its mercury emissions, and the local power utility implement ground-breaking emissions controls. Oh, and, yes, the aluminum smelter was moved to a more appropriate location.

In that time, I became friends with some remarkable people, who began to raise their voices and make their community safer, cleaner and healthier. And, on a personal level, I was both proud and humbled by the fact that, together, we were able to make a real difference in the lives of community residents. Through collaboration, persistence and caring, I and my EPA colleagues were able to help a community transform itself.

The attached video is one example of how one Salt Creek resident helped to effect this transformation. Nadine Triste used her common sense, her network of neighbors and, support from the EPA to make a difference. Because of Nadine, and others like her, Salt Creek is forever changed.

 

About the author: Michael Wenstrom has been working in the Region 8 Environmental Justice Program for almost twenty years. In that time, he has focused on working in communities facing an amazing variety of environmental insults and challenges. Most recently, he has been assisting Region 5 in its ongoing work to assist the residents of Flint, Michigan to address their immediate concerns relating to the water crisis and other threats to their environment and their health.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Free is free. But Hungry is hungry

By Mike Frankel

I was in line at the supermarket and two women in front of me were talking about their lack of freezer space.  Like many supermarkets, if you spend X dollars by a certain date before Thanksgiving and before Xmas you get a free a turkey, ham or lasagna.

One of the women demanded, “Why can’t they just give us cash? I still have the free turkey from Thanksgiving, and we go to my daughters now for the holidays. So what am I going to do with another 13-lb. bird?”

“Well, you could take the ham,” her buddy suggested.  “But I understand. And at our age who needs the salt. Besides, my freezer is just as jammed.  But free is free!!”

There isn’t a lot of privacy in the checkout line. And as I looked ahead, I saw the banner across the inside store window: “A Proud Partner – Philabundance,” my area’s largest hunger-relief
organization serving nearly 90,000 meals a week. “Ladies, excuse me. What about donating those free freezer fillers to Philabundance?”

I explained that while their kitchens were well-stocked, one-in-six people in Philadelphia and one-in-seven across the country don’t know where their next meal is coming from and are “food insecure.”  At the same time, the average American family wastes nearly 400 lbs. of food a year.  And as a country we waste a staggering 38+ million tons of food each year. And when you throw food into a landfill it rots quickly and produces toxic gases that are
bad for the environment and contribute to climate change.

By this point, the cashier had stopped ringing and was joining the conversation. “Yes — the store gives a lot of food each week to Philabundance, and some other local food cupboards. If you’d like,  I can ask the manager to send your free birds along with this week’s shipment.”

They looked a little skeptical. I chimed back in. “You could also ask your clergy if they know of families or charities in need of food this holiday season and every day.” This seemed like a good idea and my new acquaintances asked how I knew so much about hunger and food donation.

“Well, I work for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and part of my job is to help spread the word about food donation and food recovery – not usually in checkout lines – but if it works…In fact I have met the owners of this store through my job and they – like thousands of other stores, colleges, stadiums and people – are doing their part to protect the environment, save money and stamp out hunger. Now you can help too.”

About the author: Mike Frankel just celebrated his 20-year anniversary at EPA. He works as a Communications Coordinator in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office and works on a variety of programs including the Food Recovery Challenge (www.epa.gov/frc).

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Finding Value(s) in our Stories and Waters

By Emily Simonson

I’ve never had so many people wanting to talk to me in my life than I did while working the USA booth at the Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador. Drawn in by the flag towards the outside of our booth space, people browsed the EPA materials on the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, the Agency’s efforts on climate change, and guidebooks on protecting drinking water sources, materials from USAID and the State Department. A steady stream of people – the general public and conference go-ers perusing the displays at the conference exhibition – were keeping me busy.

“I love New York. I used to study there.”
“In Mexico, water is an important women’s issue, but we need to find ways to engage men.”
“I want to learn how rural and urban governments can work together to manage water here in Ecuador.”
“What can you do for the river in my city?”

 While the topics ranged from polite conversation to details on projects and technical information, a few themes struck me. Boiling it all down, each conversation was about values: opportunity, equity, participation and democracy, striving to do better.

Coming from my ORISE fellowship with the Urban Waters Program at EPA, I was in Quito to learn, volunteer at the USA booth, and support a program partner, the Caño Martín Peña Community Land Trust (CLT) from San Juan, who had just won the 2016 World Habitat Award. I got even more out of the experience than I’d hoped.

As part of the group that scheduled the programming for the USA areas, I’d arranged for members of the CLT to present their work in the exhibition space. The CLT’s story of community members organizing to grant land tenure to those living along the Martín Peña channel while working with partners to reclaim the channel from decades of pollution really reflected the values people had expressed all day. Several of those in the audience stuck around to talk with members of the CLT, because their story resonated with challenges they were facing in their own communities.

The CLT’s story and mission reminds me that water is central to both urban livability and sustainability. When people envision a better community they often talk about access to water for recreation, drinking, health and sanitation, and business. The ways people access and interact with water (especially in our cities) can reveal so much about the progress we’re making towards building cities that reflect the values we can all agree upon.

I really appreciated that our booth and the rest of the exhibition spaces were open to the public. The candid conversations happening there revealed just as much, and possibly more, as the high level conference sessions about what it’s going to take to realize the equitable, sustainable, and democratic cities of tomorrow that our communities deserve.

Moments like the ones I experienced do not just put into perspective that the issues we work on at EPA transcend the country’s boundaries. The knowledge and models we contribute at events like Habitat III are shared in a language that also crosses borders and is spoken by people of many citizenships– it’s the language of our values, our daily patterns of living, and our aspirations and actions for our communities.

The Habitat III Conference focuses on the future of our planet’s cities and how to implement the New Urban Agenda, a document on urban sustainability created by contributions from governments and civil society organizations from around the world. EPA lent expertise to this document on several topics, including lead, water, and food waste issues.

About the author: Emily Simonson is an ORISE Participant with the Urban Waters Program in EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds. Emily enjoys travel, hiking (urban and scenic), running, and reading.

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