When it’s hot, we can help “shave the peak”

By Gina Snyder          

“Shave the Peak,” said the email message. My local light department was asking me to join in its efforts to help reduce the summer’s peak electrical demand and with that, also reduce the cost of electricity. The highest electric use runs from June 1 through Aug. 31. There are a few really hot days when everyone is running air conditioning on top of other appliances, which causes a spike in electricity use – the peak.

Air conditioners in particular put a high demand on electricity. The email explained that about 25 GinaElectricusepercent of our electric bill is determined by how well electricity is conserved during that peak time. In my area the peak occurs on a hot weekday afternoon sometime in June through August, usually between 2 and 5 pm.

The defining hour represents the highest point of customer consumption of electricity for all of New England. The prediction of the peak is done by the Independent System Operator – New England. One of the commissioners of our local light department has said nearly $1.1 million could be saved simply by reducing “peak afternoon electricity use.” He noted that this would also cut emissions.

Why would reducing afternoon electricity use lower costs and cut emissions? Mainly because of how electricity is generated and used. Picture electricity flowing through the wires like your drinking water flows through the pipes. When you turn on the faucet, water pours out. When you turn on the switch, it’s as though electricity ‘pours’ into the appliance to make it run.

Drinking water is easy to store, so that if the water treatment plant can’t keep up with demand, there’s a storage tank that has gallons and gallons of water stored to provide water when it’s needed. But we don’t have storage like that for electricity. Instead, as demand goes up, more power plants have to come online.

This means that some power plants run all the time and some power plants only run on the hottest days of the year. The latter plants sit there year round, costing money and maintenance, only to run a few hours or a few days a year. And everyone has to pay to have those “peaking plants” available.

The result is we pay all year for the electricity to be available to us during that very brief peak time. Peaking plants typically are the least efficient and most expensive to run and often come with higher emissions per unit of electricity generated than other plants. To encourage people to avoid using electricity during those afternoons, electric companies have developed rates called “Time of Use” or TOU. In my town, you can sign up for a time of use rate and, by avoiding electric usage during those peak times, save money.

You’d also be helping the environment because peaking plants mostly run on oil or natural gas, with attendant emissions. So by cutting down on power needs during peak times, you can also help lower emissions from those extra plants going online. So, start watching your own “time of use” and see if you can help lower emissions and the cost of electricity in Massachusetts.

You can help by not using appliances like stoves/ovens or washers and dryers during the hottest time of the day, shutting off pool pumps for a few hours, turning off or raising the setting on your air conditioning thermostat a few degrees or cooking dinner on the grill.



About the author:  Gina Snyder works in the Office of Environmental Stewardship, Compliance Assistance at EPA New England and serves on her town’s climate committee. She llives in Reading, Mass.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Protecting Our Coastal Waters

By Benita Best-Wong

America’s coastal waters are a source of life for people and marine life that reside near them. While some of us may think of our coastal waters as a great place to enjoy swimming, fishing, kayaking, boating and other fun water recreation activities, for many communities, they are much more than that. Many people’s livelihoods, whether based on fishing or tourism, depend on clean and safe coastal waters. And, in the case of the Great Lakes, surrounding communities rely on coastal waters to generate precious drinking water.

Most of America’s population lives near a coastline, and that population continues to grow every year. With population growth comes increased land development and pressure on fragile coastal habitats. The National Coastal Condition Assessment (NCCA), a study conducted under the National Aquatic Resource Surveys to better understand the condition of our nation’s waters, tells us that our coastal and Great Lakes nearshore waters have a mix of good and fair health. Even with this news, it’s important that we continue to employ all of the tools available to reduce the pollutants that degrade water quality and further protect areas in good condition.

Every day at EPA, we aim to restore and protect coastal waters through a mix of regulatory and voluntary programs. We work with federal, state and local partners to control point source pollution from industrial and municipal discharges and sewer overflows, restore coastal and estuarine habitats, preserve wetlands, monitor and clean beaches, and manage dredged material to facilitate commerce. Our ocean dumping program prevents pollution caused by discarding wastes near coastal waters. We also set limits on discharges from various vessels and work with communities to prevent trash from entering waterbodies and flowing into the sea. These programs help to keep America’s waters clean.

When we protect the environment, we protect people’s health, too.  We also work to make sure people are aware of any risks to their health due to environmental challenges.  Our ongoing Beach Watch Program and beach grants helps states improve monitoring and notification systems to alert beach goers about unsafe water quality conditions. The public can also seek our information on fish advisories to find out when certain fish from specific areas should not be eaten or eaten only in limited amounts due to toxins.

Learn more about what we at EPA are doing to protect our coastal waters and find out what you can do to help.

Benita Best-Wong is the Director of the Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds.   OWOW promotes a watershed approach to manage, protect and restore the water resources and aquatic ecosystems of the nation’s marine and fresh 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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Lungs of the Sea

As a diver and marine biologist for EPA, I spend a fair amount of time underwater. My area of expertise is in the study and conservation of seagrass. These underwater meadows can cover vast swaths of the seafloor and they serve as important nurseries for many fish and shellfish species.

Recently, I had the great fortune of taking a family trip to France and spending some time along the southern coast. It was my first visit to the Mediterranean Sea and I was looking forward to exploring the underwater realm. We stopped in the small town of Cassis, which reminded us of Gloucester, Mass. Cassis has its own fisherman’s statue. It does not have a greasy pole to climb like Gloucester, but it does have its own unique tradition. Local fishermen mount planks on the back of two dories. Boys of about 10 years old are lifted up onto the planks wearing pads on their chests and are given lances. The boats then drive directly at each other and the boys joust until one or both fall into the water.

Version 2 DSC_0728

The local culture was interesting, but Cassis is also known for “les calanques.” Calanques are inlets surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs; they also are known as mini-fjords. Within these inlets, seagrass flourishes in the clean, calm protected waters. The French refer to seagrass as “les poumons de la mer,” which translates to the lungs of the sea. Like all plants, seagrasses produce oxygen through photosynthesis. On sunny days, it is common to see bubbles of oxygen being released from the leaves of seagrass into the water.

In Cassis, protecting seagrass is taken very seriously with a variety of rules. Boaters are not allowed to anchor or place a mooring in seagrass meadows. Boaters are required to stay in the marked navigation channels and when in shallow water reduce their speed so no wakes are produced. In our three days in Cassis, we watched many boats come and go, and not one of them broke the rules.

I approached one of the local fishermen and with my limited French asked him about the local seagrass meadows. He spoke little English. I spied a shoot of seagrass floating near his boat. He scooped it up and held it close to his heart and said “les poumons de la mer.” Posidonia

We didn’t speak the same language, but our common love of the ocean easily transcended the language barrier.

More information on EPA Seagrass research: http://www2.epa.gov/sciencematters/epa-science-matters-newsletter-how-deep-are-seagrasses

Connect with EPA New England on Facebook: facebook.com/EPARegion1

Connect with EPA Divers on Facebook: facebook.com/EPADivers

About the author: Phil Colarusso is a marine biologist in the Coastal and Ocean Protection Section of EPA’s New England office, and is an avid diver.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Work That Matters to Me: Building Trust, Greener Communities

Introduction by Kathleen L. Fenton

David Doyle is a public servant’s public servant. I’ve known Dave for 24 years and if you have a “federal agency” question, Dave will either know the answer or the person to call to help you. He has mentored many of us at EPA about the intricacies of community work, and has truly “woven straw into gold” for many communities with the limited, complicated funding and layers of federal and state resources applicable to them. Dave turns over every stone and has left in his wake a sustainable legacy.

By David Doyle

A tornado devastated Greensburg, Kan. on May 4, 2007.

Aftermath of Greensburg tornado

It’s June 2007, and I’m sitting under a large red-and-white tent in Greensburg, Kan., feeling a little disoriented and anxious. I was told a week before that I had been assigned to work with the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) on developing a long-term recovery plan for the community that was wiped out by a tornado a month earlier. Once I drove to Greensburg and located the FEMA trailer, their recovery staff directed me to a community meeting.

It must have been 100 degrees under that tent. With huge fans trying to cool the place and only adding to the noise and confusion, I suddenly heard the speaker on the platform say, “EPA’s here to help.” I wasn’t sure what kind of reaction I would get from the audience in southwestern Kansas, but as I stood up and meekly waved, I got nothing but cheers and applause. I was relieved by that reaction, but I sat down wondering what I was going to do next.

Emergency response personnel make plans in the aftermath of the tornado that devastated Greensburg, Kan., on May 4, 2007.

Greensburg community meeting 

What I had learned up to then in working with communities is that building trust is by far the most important thing to do. I also understood that being patient with people, listening to their concerns, and being honest and responsive to their needs are key things to keep in mind. Work I had done in Stella, a southwestern Missouri town with a population of 150, prepared me to some extent for what I was asked to do in Greensburg.

EPA had performed a “miracle” in Stella, as described by some of the residents, by demolishing an abandoned hospital that sat in the middle of their downtown, using our authority under the Superfund law. We then brought in architectural students from Kansas State University to design reuse plans for the site and later developed a master plan for the community. The local officials recognized my work, along with other EPA staff, by presenting us with award plaques hand-carved from local walnut trees during the annual Stella Days Fair.

In Greensburg, we decided to form a “Green Team” that came up with recommendations for turning it into the greenest community in the country. The team had representatives from the business community, school district, and a number of local citizens, along with representatives from several state and federal agencies. We met on a regular basis to bounce ideas off each other. Our recommendations were incorporated into FEMA’s Long-Term Community Recovery Plan, and all of them were eventually adopted by the city council and implemented.

The redeveloped Greensburg, Kan., now has more LEED Platinum buildings than any other community in America.

Redevelopment in Greensburg, the greenest community in America

The most important recommendation adopted was that all new municipal buildings over a certain size had to be built to meet Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum standards, the highest certification level for new buildings. As a result, Greensburg (population 800) now has more LEED Platinum buildings than any other community in the United States.

Since my time in Greensburg, I have provided assistance to many other communities here in the Heartland. These collaborative efforts resulted in a new medical clinic surrounded by new businesses in Ogden, Iowa; plans for a new sustainable downtown in Sutherland, Neb.; redevelopment of former gas stations in south St. Louis; new, complete streetscapes in Lincoln, Neb.; plans for a mixed-use neighborhood in Iowa City, Iowa; and improvements in other communities.

I still remember those hot, windy and dusty days in Greensburg when a local citizen named Jack would often come up to me with a big smile on his face, shake my hand, and say how much he appreciated EPA being there and helping out.

About the Introducer: Kathleen Fenton has worked with communities on environmental health issues, environmental education grants, and Healthy Schools projects for over 20 years.

About the Author: David Doyle serves as the Sustainable Communities Coordinator at EPA Region 7. David has a Bachelor of Science in environmental engineering from Syracuse University, and a Master of Science in environmental health engineering from the University of Kansas.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

In My Grandfather’s Footsteps: A Worthwhile Summer Spent at EPA 

Every summer, EPA brings in students to work, learn practical environmental skills, and enhance their educational experience through our Pathways Intern Program. The Big Blue Thread is proud to feature several blogs written by these interns, focusing on what motivates them to work in the environmental sector and what attracted them to EPA. Andrew Speckin’s blog launched this series. Our second blog is by Sara Lamprise, who has worked in our Drinking Water, Water Quality, Wastewater, and Pesticides programs.

By Sara Lamprise

My grandfather and I share the same spirit. He is what I think of as a practical idealist. Softhearted, with a deep love of nature, he is not one to turn a blind eye to struggles. As ever, he continues to shape my sense of ethics and accountability.

When I was younger, he told me that idle worry is a way of avoiding responsibility. I never heard him say, “I wish someone would …” If he thought it needed doing, he did it, which meant he was usually busy.


Sara’s grandfather, Paul Deshotel, on 70th birthday

As an adult, I’ve wanted to be someone my grandfather would respect. I’ve stayed busy, but not always with things I found worth doing. Countless times I thought, “I wish I could …” or “I wish I was qualified to do something else.” Idle thoughts.

I sat on them. And I definitely didn’t tell my grandfather about them.

Meanwhile, I pestered my friends about plastics in the ocean and the erosion of the Gulf coast and fish that change from male to female. It seems pretty obvious in retrospect, but I think my friends caught on before I did. Long story short, I decided to change fields. To do that, I needed to go back to school.

I see a need for skilled people who care about others and the environment. So I’m developing the skills to fill that need. I could have spent my summer learning to fetch coffee … probably. But I wanted a worthwhile experience in a positive environment. EPA was my top choice.

Sara Lamprise at Myrtle Beach, S.C., summer 2012

Sara Lamprise at Myrtle Beach, S.C., summer 2012

I heard that this was a great program, that even as an intern, my work would be relevant and meaningful. I also heard many times that I would be working with great people. Check and check.

Plus, I respect EPA’s strategy. From my perspective, a critical role of EPA is providing the information to make sound environmental decisions. Information can spur action. It can bring about voluntary changes that are enduring and contagious. I know it doesn’t always work that way, and that’s where enforcement comes in. But information is a good Plan A.

Also, I heard tales of a fish grinder that I really want to see in action. Major selling point.

Anyway, I’m stoked. I figure whatever I work on will be time well spent, and something my grandfather will be happy to hear about.

About the Author: Sara Lamprise is working as a Student Intern at EPA Region 7. She is a senior at the University of Missouri-Kansas City majoring in environmental science. Sara loves board games, hiking, and any excuse to travel.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

The ENERGY STAR LED Bulb Challenge

LED bulb challenge

By: Brittney Gordon-Williams

Did you know that nearly 70 percent of sockets in the U.S. still contain an inefficient light bulb? It may be hard to believe, but that stat proves that for the majority of consumers across the country, the message about using energy efficient lighting has yet to sink in. The upside is that there is a huge potential for energy savings that has yet to be tapped. The U.S. EPA is working to tap that potential and is hopeful that ENERGY STAR certified LEDs will be the centerpiece of a dramatic change in the lighting market.

Last Earth Day, EPA issued a bold challenge to its partners: Sell 20 million ENERGY STAR certified LEDs by Earth Day 2014, and help show your customers how to save energy, save money and prevent climate change with their lighting choices. Retailers from across the country joined in, including Ace Hardware, Best Buy, Costco, Lowe’s and The Home Depot.

They took the charge and have made educating their customers about the benefits of ENERGY STAR certified LEDs a priority in their stores across the nation. And these retailers are stocking and promoting ENERGY STAR certified LED bulbs for a reason–only bulbs with the ENERGY STAR are independently certified, undergoing extensive testing to assure they perform as promised, overcoming the traditional challenges associated with LED lighting.

The combination of high quality and rapidly declining prices (as low as $5 a bulb in some stores) has led to over 10 million bulbs being sold so far in the challenge, and momentum is gaining as we approach the Earth Day 2014 culmination.

So, have you tried an ENERGY STAR certified LED in your home yet? Here are the top seven reasons now is the time.

1.)    Energy Savings: ENERGY STAR certified LED bulbs use 70-90% less energy than a standard incandescent bulb.

2.)    Money Savings: A single ENERGY STAR certified LED can save more than $135 in electricity costs over its lifetime.

3.)    Affordability: The prices for ENERGY STAR certified LEDs are dropping big time—as low as $5 per bulb with in-store rebates.

4.)    Long Lasting: ENERGY STAR certified LED bulbs now look and light more like traditional bulbs, but can last 25 times longer—over 20 years total with typical use.

5.)    Quality and Performance: An ENERGY STAR certified bulb will give you the best LED experience. Only bulbs with the ENERGY STAR are independently certified, undergoing extensive testing to assure that they perform as promised.  To earn the ENERGY STAR, these bulbs must demonstrate that they will meet consumer expectations by delivering on brightness and producing light in all directions.

6.)    Peace of Mind: ENERGY STAR certified LED bulbs carry a three-year warranty.

7.)    Environmental Protection: By replacing 20 million traditional incandescent bulbs with ENERGY STAR certified LEDs, this country would save more than $118 million each year in energy costs, and prevent greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to that of more than 150,000 vehicles.

Believe it or not, most people spend more to light their home than to operate their refrigerator, dishwasher, and laundry equipment combined! That little fact should make it pretty clear why your lighting choices matter. Try an ENERGY STAR certified LED today, and tell us about your experience on our website. We will showcase your stories on ENERGY STAR’s Facebook and Twitter pages this spring.

Brittney Gordon-Williams is a member of the ENERGY STAR communications team. 

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Dynamic Redevelopment for Everyone


Mariposa is home to a diverse group of residents who benefit from neighborhood events, nearby amenities, and proximity to public transit. Photo courtesy of the Denver Housing Authority.

By Brett VanAkkeren

Since the mid-1990s, communities have used smart growth development strategies, such as reinvesting in areas that have been neglected or abandoned, to improve the health and welfare of residents.  These strategies make fiscal sense because communities can reuse existing infrastructure, such as roads and utilities, for new construction; environmental sense because communities can clean up and reuse abandoned sites instead of paving over farms and open space; and  economic sense because new development can attract new jobs and investment.

While reinvestment can create desirable places that attract new residents, it can also displace existing residents who can no longer afford to live there. The question in underserved communities is how to grow in ways that benefit both new and existing residents.  The answer lies in equitable development.

denver light railEquitable development is the integration of environmental justice with smart growth development strategies. (See Carlton Eley’s blog post from December 18.) Ideally, the result leads to affordable housing, easy access to nearby jobs and services, affordable public transportation, the removal of environmental health hazards, access to healthy food, and safe ways to walk and bike to everyday destinations.

In Colorado, the Denver Housing Authority supported equitable development by building an affordable housing complex called the Mariposa District near a light rail station. While planning for the Mariposa project, the Authority conducted a Cultural Audit, a health Impact Assessment, a pedestrian quality audit, and three environmental design charrettes that led to intensive community involvement. These tools allowed community members to have meaningful input into decision-making in their community. Other cities can use these tools to replicate Mariposa’s success.

(Watch a video about the Mariposa District, winner of EPA’s 2012 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement in the category of Equitable Development.)

The 2014 New Partners for Smart Growth Conference, February 13-15 in Denver, will offer opportunities for activists, community developers, local government officials, and many others to learn how communities can integrate environmental justice approaches into smart growth and community development programs. The conference kicks off with a half-day equitable development workshop on February 13.  Tours on February 13 and 16 will take participants to see a variety of equitable development projects in the Denver area, including the Mariposa district. Several conference sessions also will focus on equitable development.


Click to read the report

You can find other useful resources on equitable development and smart growth strategies in a report  by EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities (OSC) and Office of Environmental JusticeCreating Equitable, Healthy, and Sustainable Communities:  Strategies For Advancing Smart Growth, Environmental Justice And Sustainable Communities, as well as OSC’s Smart Growth and Equitable Development web page. Using equitable development approaches, smart growth practitioners all across the country have helped address the challenges of redevelopment in disadvantaged communities. By attending the New Partners for Smart Growth conference to hear from leaders in this work, you can learn new approaches to take back to your community to help it flourish in ways that benefit everyone.

About the author: Brett VanAkkeren, EPA Office of Sustainable Communities, has worked on smart growth issues at EPA for more than 15 years. 

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Quilting to Give a Community a Voice

“We would like to dedicate this blog in memory of the four Lake Apopka farmworkers, community leaders, and long-time Farmworker Association of Florida members – strong and dedicated women leaders and agricultural workers – who we lost in 2013.  In memory of Angela Tanner, Willie Mae Williams, Betty Woods, and Louise Seay.  With gratitude and remembrance from the community.  We will miss you.”

By Jeannie Economos

When I first started working for the Farmworker Association of Florida in 1996, they told me part of my job was to work on the issue of Lake Apopka.  Little did I know at the time that Lake Apopka would become my life’s work for the next 17 years. And, it would become personal…as I came to know and love the community of people I worked with – the farmworkers who fed America for generations.

Untitled-2Lake Apopka is Florida’s most contaminated large lake.  On the north shore, 20,000 acres of farmland were carved out of what was once the bottom of Lake Apopka.  Farmworkers farmed that land – they call it muck –for decades beginning in the 1940s during World War II until the farms were bought out by the state and shut down in 1998 for the purpose of trying to restore the lake’s natural wetlands.

Alligator studies in the 1980s and the tragic death of over 1,000 aquatic birds on Lake Apopka in 1998-99 were linked to toxic organochlorine pesticides that had been used on the farms prior to their being banned in the 1970s. Farmworkers were exposed to these same chemicals, but nobody was looking at their health problems from chronic occupational pesticide exposure on the farmlands. Millions were spent to study alligators, and later the birds, and to try to restore the ‘dead’ lake. But no money was ever spent to address the health concerns of the farmworkers, who were acutely exposed to these pesticides for years.

The community would not accept this, especially when they saw their friends and family members getting sick and even dying.  Thus, was born the idea of the Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilt Project.  With a lot of hard work and commitment from former Lake Apopka farmworkers from Apopka and Indiantown, it has become a reality. The quilts were created to honor the lives of the farmworkers who have been exposed to the pesticides and to keep alive their history. The artwork of each individual square weaves the personal stories, tragedies, and small victories together to speak about the environmental injustices at Lake Apopka. The Lake Apopka farmworker leaders continue to use the quilts to both raise awareness among student and church groups about environmental justice and their community, and as a tool to press their case with state and local decision makers to address the health and environmental problems facing their community members.


2013 MLK Day Parade in Florida

Today, the quilts have been viewed by thousands of Floridians and exhibited all across the state, including in Orlando City Hall, the Orange County Public Library, the Alachua County Public Library and the African American Museum of Art. This has helped spread awareness of the injustices the farmworkers face, and has helped build attention from the state legislature, which has been working to propose legislation which would provide long-term health care services for the affected residents surrounding the lake.

Is there still a need to address health care for the farmworkers on Lake Apopka?  Yes, but the creation of the quilts has given the community a voice and a message that they didn’t have before.  And, it has been a way for members to turn their pain into folk art that memorializes the ones they love.  Validation is what the community wants.  The quilts are one way to validate their lives and their contributions to our society.  

About the author: Jeannie has worked for over 20 years on issues of the environment, environmental justice, indigenous and immigrants’ rights, labor, peace, and social justice. From 1996-2001, she worked for the Farmworker Association of Florida as the Lake Apopka Project Coordinator, addressing the issues of job loss, displacement, and health problems of the farmworkers who worked on the farm lands on Lake Apopka prior to the closing of the farms in 1998. After the bird mortality in 1998-99, her focus turned to the pesticide-related health problems of the former Lake Apopka farmworkers, who were exposed to the same damaging organochlorine pesticides that were implicated in the bird deaths.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Sustainability for All

By Deeohn Ferris

Untitled-2In many of our communities, if sustainability is going to be sustainable, our nation’s green economy and the investments that flow from those policies must reflect the undeniable fact that all communities are not at the same starting point.  In far too many of our neighborhoods, people who are raising families and working hard to make ends meet face a combination of environmental, social and economic challenges that result in grave hardship.  If the race to sustainability is a race to the top, some of our communities can take the elevator.  Others only have stairs, and some of them have asthma too!

Regarding what’s going on locally and on-the-ground, equitable development is the central point from where the hard issues within sustainability must be dealt with up front.   The real on-ramp to sustainability means recognizing and addressing the inter-relationship of the challenges in our communities. Negative environmental impacts, disproportionate impacts, vacant properties, brownfields, health disparities, blight — these conditions are ubiquitous in neighborhoods where people of color and people with low incomes and less wealth live, work, learn, worship, and play.  Achieving equitable and sustainable development means thoroughly rebuilding our communities – not just the bricks and mortar – but really rebuilding the country’s social and economic fabric.

Untitled-2Thus, to make a fairer starting line for all in our country, we need to recognize opportunities to support the communities that have the greatest proportion of pollution and public health problems. For example, minimizing health disparities by deliberately providing fairer access for health care in low income and minority communities would save these residents billions of dollars in averted medical costs and gained productivity. Ameliorating such persistent inequities is critical for bringing about stability in communities—increasing fair access to housing choices, better schools, better jobs, sustained economic growth – and thus improving their overall ability to achieve community sustainability.

All across the country, dedicated folks are working to address these disparities.  But people of color and low-and-moderate income populations are still struggling for opportunity. Reversing this unfortunate trend necessitates a national transition to sustainability and the emerging green economy, which provides important new ways to tackle community revitalization as well as opportunities to do so in an equitable manner. Some examples of green economy priorities and tools that could address these disparities include:

  • Ensuring the right to a clean, safe environment for everyone.
  • Establishing inclusive decision making structures that provide resources and facilitate community engagement in planning and investments.
  • Making certain that decision-making is democratic, transparent and fair.
  • Distributing the economic and health benefits of energy conservation through green housing and retrofits.
  • Creating jobs that are safe, green and upwardly mobile.
  • Emphasizing workforce preparedness, development, and training.
  • Providing financial and other incentives that encourage entrepreneurship and local ownership of renewable energy and renewable energy technologies.
  • Guaranteeing that there are sufficient transportation options, including affordable public transit that gets people to jobs.
  • And ensuring the highest quality education and food security for all of our children.

Untitled-3Which neighborhoods are built and rebuilt and how they are built and rebuilt have far-reaching consequences in the race towards sustainability. Prioritizing historically disadvantaged and distressed communities to engage and benefit from sustainability outcomes is an investment in the future.  I believe everyone in our nation should have the same opportunity to flourish.  But achieving such a lofty goal requires community sustainability with conscious linkages to social and economic equity goals, green economy tools and environmental justice.

About the author: Deeohn Ferris is President of Sustainable Community Development Group, a not-for-profit national research and policy innovator dedicated to advancing sustainability and public health through equitable neighborhood development, smart growth and the green economy.  She is a former EPA enforcement lawyer, now a renowned provider of equitable development expertise and technical assistance that tackles sustainability in communities of color and low wealth neighborhoods.   Deeohn was on the ground floor of drafting the Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898 and the first Chair of NEJAC’s Enforcement Subcommittee.   

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

It Doesn’t Take a Fireman to Spot a Fire: Fighting Pollution with Citizen Science


Shameika Jackson. Velma White and Ronesha Johnson are active reporters
to the map from Shreveport, LA.

By Molly Brackin

We have a saying at the Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LABB); “it doesn’t take a fireman to spot a fire.” Likewise, you don’t need to be a scientist to know something is wrong when you spot a black smoking flare that lasts an hour or you smell foul chemicals in the air. Since 2000, the Bucket Brigade has worked with communities and thousands of residents throughout Louisiana that neighbor oil refineries and chemical plants. Our mission is to support our communities’ use of grassroots action to create informed, sustainable neighborhoods free from industrial pollution.  To accomplish this, the Bucket Brigade model is to equip communities most impacted by pollution with easy-to-use tools that monitor their environment, inform residents, and can be used to improve industry accountability.

Untitled-1In early 2010 LABB introduced the iWitness Pollution Map to help Louisiana residents track pollution and associated health effects in their communities. Today there are over 11,000 reports of possible petrochemical pollution on the map.  The iWitness Pollution Map is an open-source online map that allows anyone with a phone to document and share their experience with pollution via voicemail, text, email or by using the online form.  Visitors of the map are able to see reports in real-time, identify possible pollution hotspots by viewing the geographic location of the reports, and sign up to get alerts.The map helps to validate a community’s experience with petrochemical pollution, but more importantly the map monitors incidents of the industry’s potential pollution impacts on the local community.

In a system that allows industry to self-report their emissions and accidents, citizens are extremely important watchdogs. There were over 1,200 citizen reports of pollution from the 17 oil refineries and two associated chemical plants in Louisiana in 2013 alone. Using the iWitness Pollution Map, citizens have reported smells, flaring events, roaring sounds coming from the facilities, and health effects among other things:

 “It’s extremely stinky outside right now, very chemically smelling.  I don’t know exactly what type of smell it is, but is very chemical and it seems to be coming from the plant off Scenic Highway.  I guess it is around 6pm in the evening.  It’s raining and no feel of anything but just definitely very smelly, very unnatural.  It’s thick outside.”– January 13th, 2013, Baton Rouge, LA

 “…That plant over there, that flare is going just like a train.   It been doing it all night long.  And I can hear it all on my porch on Broadway now.”-July 28th, 2013, Shreveport, LA 

“When I had gotten off of work at 2:30am there was a weird smell in the air. At 10am the smell woke me up it was all outside & inside my home, which brought on a migraine & nausea! I don’t know what the chemical is or if it’s even safe for us to be in our home right now. We live on the Westbank in Algiers. If someone could give us some information on this that would be fantastic. The news & fire departments are saying it’s a mystery & others say it’s coming from the Chalmette refinery.”– April 3, 2013, Algiers (New Orleans), LA

A mural painted by community members in Baton Rouge reads: “Standard Heights: Clean Air is Our Right!”

A mural painted by residents in Baton Rouge reads: “Standard Heights: Clean Air is Our Right!”

From consistent citizen reporting to the iWitness Pollution Map, the results of the data we have gathered provides crucial statements of real life everyday experiences from residents, which counter the claims of some local industries that their chemical releases have resulted in “no offsite impact.”  LABB triangulates the reports to the map with other available information (i.e. air monitoring data, facility self reports) and shares the analysis with impacted communities, federal and state enforcement officials, first responders and the media.

Some communities in Louisiana are overburdened by industrial pollution on a daily basis, but if no one reports it, it’s as if nothing ever happened.  Thanks to these innovative tools, communities impacted by pollution have a visible, public platform to get their experiences documented and their voices heard!

Molly Brackin is an AmeriCorps VISTA with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, where she serves as the Monitoring & Evaluation Associate. She holds a Master’s Degree in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of New Orleans, where she specialized in hazard mitigation and disaster planning.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.