greenhouse gases

What’s on Tap?

by Pam Lazos

 

Tap water flows to you with a simple twist of the wrist.

Tap water flows to you with a simple twist of the wrist.

Today in the U.S., through miracles of engineering and ingenuity, clean water is delivered right to your faucet, cheaply, efficiently and good enough to drink, bathe in and cook with. Do you know why? Since the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974, EPA has been regulating the water we drink, and that’s a beautiful thing. EPA sets legal limits, designed to protect human health, on the levels of more than 90 contaminants in drinking water. There are also rules that set how and when water must be tested. So why does tap water sometimes get a bad rap when it flows to you with a simple twist of the wrist?

Some say they prefer the taste of bottled water over tap water, and others believe bottled is safer than tap. Bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under its food safety program. But where does that bottled water come from? If you look at the label of any bottled water, you’re likely to see waterfalls and pristine lakes, or wild rivers and cool mountain springs. The scene is relaxing, energizing, soothing, and delightful, right? But what you see is not always what you get: about 25% of all bottled water is actually tap water! When you factor in the safety and convenience of tap water with the higher relative cost of bottled water, the plastic waste often associated with bottled water, and the greenhouse gases associated with transporting bottled water, the reasons to turn to tap water really start to stack up.

When you’re on the go and you need a refreshing drink, fill up your own personal bottle with tap water. Today you can find attractive and lightweight water bottle containers in every size and color so it’s no problem finding the container that you need while in the car, going for a run, or while at work. So next time, don’t reach for the bottled water. Turn on the tap! I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

About the author: Pam Lazos is an attorney in the Office of Regional Counsel in EPA Region 3, and focuses on water law. When not in the office, she keeps bees, writes books, and volunteers in her community on various projects that benefit women and children.

 

 

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

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Who Are This Year’s Innovators Tackling Climate Change and Promoting Energy Efficiency?

The 2014 winners of the Presidential Green Chemistry Awards have done it again. These scientists are helping to crack the code and solve some of the most challenging problems facing our modern society. They are turning climate risk and other problems into a business opportunity, spurring innovation and investment. They are reducing waste – energy, chemicals and water waste – while cutting manufacturing costs, and sparking investments.
Take a look at some of this year’s promising innovations:

New Bus Fuel Could Reduce Greenhouse Gases by 82%. Making and burning this new fuel could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to petroleum diesel. Amyris (in California) has engineered a yeast to make a renewable fuel replacement for petroleum diesel. Since carbon pollution increases our costs in health care and other impacts, this technology could save tens of thousands of dollars each year.

New LED Lighting Material Could Save you 36% on Energy Bills. If QD Vision, Inc’s (in Massachusetts) technology were used in just 10% of flat-screen TVs, we could save 600 million kilowatt-hours worldwide every year – enough to provide electricity for 50,000 homes for one year! Even better, producing these materials avoids the need for about 40,000 gallons of solvents per year. This technology brings massive energy savings and is good for the planet, with reduced carbon emissions, heavy metals emissions, and less use of toxic chemicals.

New Safer Firefighting foam. This new foam doesn’t contain persistent toxic chemicals that can accumulate in our blood and that of animals. The Solberg Company (in Wisconsin) used surfactants and sugars that can fight fires more effectively than before. One of the world’s largest oil and gas companies will use it to fight fuel fires and spills. The product works better and is safer – a win-win for industry and for protecting our health and the environment.

Making Pills While Reducing Chemicals and Waste. The manufacturing process for pills can create toxic waste. Professor Shannon S. Stahl at the University of Wisconsin has discovered a way to safely use oxygen instead of hazardous chemicals in a step commonly used while making medicine. If brought to market, these methods could have a big impact on the industry, reducing chemicals, reducing waste, and saving companies time and money.

Making Soaps, Laundry Detergents, Food Products, and Fuels While Reducing Energy and Water Use, Waste, and Impacts on Forests. These everyday products can now be produced with much less energy, water, and waste, thus saving money. Solazyme, Inc. (in California) has developed novel oils from sugar and engineered algae in a way that significantly reduces the environmental effects that typically occur in producing and processing some oils. Also, the company’s palm-oil equivalent can help reduce deforestation and greenhouse gases that can occur from cultivation of palm oil.

As you can see, the Presidential Green Chemistry Award winners are solving real-world problems through scientific innovations. These prestigious awards are challenging American researchers and innovators to use their talent to improve our health, environment, and the economy.

During the 19 years of EPA’s Green Chemistry program, we have received more than 1,500 nominations and presented awards to 98 technologies. Winning technologies are responsible for annually reducing the use or generation of more than 826 million pounds of hazardous chemicals, saving 21 billion gallons of water, and eliminating 7.8 billion pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent releases to air.

An independent panel of technical experts convened by the American Chemical Society Green Chemistry Institute formally judged the 2014 submissions from among scores of nominated technologies and made recommendations to EPA for the 2014 winners. The 2014 awards event will be held in conjunction with an industry partners’ roundtable.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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What Does Climate Change Have to do with Weather…and Baseball?

By Andy Miller

Nationals Park, Washington, DC

Nationals Park, Washington, DC

A question I often hear is whether a particular weather event or condition is caused by climate change, and my answer is almost always no.  You can’t say that a specific tornado, torrential downpour or 100 degree plus day is caused by climate change.

So if the answer is that the weird weather isn’t caused by climate change, then why are we so concerned?  Before we get to that, let’s remember what climate is.  Climate is the long-term average of the weather.  As has been said, “Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.”

Climate change means that the expected weather patterns are no longer what they used to be—that is, the long-term average weather is changing.  While the climate has changed in the past, now we are seeing changes that can only be explained by the rising level of greenhouse gases caused by human activities such as burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests.

The question about whether climate change has “caused” a particular weather event is like asking whether a baseball team scored on a specific play because it has a better win-loss record than its opponent. The win-loss record doesn’t determine the outcome of an individual play, but all those individual plays determine the win-loss record.  Climate is like a team’s win-loss record—it doesn’t determine a specific weather event, but rather all the individual events determine the weather patterns that make up climate. And with climate change, it’s becoming clearer that the losses are starting to stack up against us.

If climate doesn’t determine a specific weather event, why do we often hear that climate change is affecting the weather?  What we need to remember is that this is just shorthand for what the science is really telling us.  What the science is really saying is, “higher levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are trapping greater amounts of solar energy, which is causing a change in how the atmosphere and oceans circulate, the amount of moisture in the air, and the amount of ice, all of which are causing changes to weather patterns across the globe.”  That’s a lot to say, so you can see why we simply talk about climate change as the cause of these impacts.

The “impacts of climate change” (which we can use now that we know what that’s really saying) are discussed in considerable detail in the new National Climate Assessment that will be published in the coming weeks.  The assessment explains what changes we are seeing now, and what we expect to see in the coming years.  It shows why we’re concerned about climate change and its impacts. And most importantly, it explains why we need to take action now on climate change.

We are only starting to see the impacts of climate change.  To turn to our sports analogy again, it’s like we’re at the start of a new season.  It’s often hard to see which team is going to be the best after only a few games.  But as the season progresses, it will be easy to see which teams have prepared well by bringing in the best players and training hard before the season starts.

Likewise, taking action on climate change now means that we will be much better prepared to meet the challenges we face in the coming years.  EPA is taking action now on climate change, and that includes EPA’s scientists and engineers.  They are teaming up to develop the scientific information and tools that will help the nation and the world prepare a winning game plan to respond to climate change.

A team that waits to begin training until after it falls behind in the standings has no chance of winning, and waiting to act on climate change until the impacts are even worse is also a losing strategy.

About the Author: Andy Miller is the Associate Director for Climate in EPA’s Air, Climate, and Energy Research Program that conducts research to assess the impacts of a changing climate and develop the scientific information and tools to act on climate change.

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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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Greener Cleanups at Hazardous Waste Sites

To continue the Agency’s efforts to expand the conversation on climate change, we are highlighting EPA climate change research with Science Matters articles. Below, we share how EPA is leading efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions during cleanup operations at hazardous waste sites. 

Greener Cleanups at Hazardous Waste Sites

Rooftop solar panels power groundwater treatment at a cleanup site.

Rooftop solar panels power groundwater treatment at a cleanup site.

Superfund is the federal program responsible for cleaning the nation’s worst hazardous waste sites, from leaking landfills to contaminated soils at old factories. Superfund sites require a lot of energy to fuel pumps, heavy machinery, heating units, and other cleaning systems. This equipment can emit massive amounts of greenhouse gases (GHG’s) and other pollutants. Switching to alternative energy sources for even a portion of these fuel needs can dramatically increase a cleanup site’s net environmental benefits.

Thanks to EPA’s Smart Energy Resources Guide (SERG), Superfund site managers now have the tools for “greener” clean up operations. The guide covers techniques to reduce cleanup emissions in a process called green remediation, and can be used by any site remediation and redevelopment manager. It contains information on innovative approaches and new technologies for renewable energy and cleaner diesel-powered remediation systems.

“At the time SERG was released, no other resource like this existed for application to Superfund,” says EPA Superfund and Technology Liaison Michael Gill, who helped develop SERG as part of a Regional Applied Research Effort grant to EPA’s Southwest Regional office. Jennifer Wang, a student from the University of California at Berkeley was commissioned to research and write SERG, with oversight from Gill and EPA colleague Penny McDaniel.

The guide presents site managers with an overview of successful renewable energy technologies: solar, wind, landfill gas, anaerobic digestion, and gasification. These technologies convert sun, wind, or waste materials into clean energy onsite. The energy can then be used to fuel cleanup activities, routed to the electrical grid, and be a part of a site’s redevelopment.

With the information presented in the Smart Energy Resources Guide, managers can select the best practices for their site’s greener cleanup efforts. Examples of the impacts highlighted include:

  • The Frontier Fertilizer Superfund site near Davis, CA now treats contaminated groundwater with solar power generated onsite, preventing nearly 120,000 pounds of CO2 emissions each year.
  • Construction vehicles used to build a soil cap to contain acidic mine tailings at the Elizabeth Mine Superfund site in South Stratford, VT run on biodiesel fuel.
  • The Camp Pendleton Superfund Site in southern CA also used biodiesel fuels in clean up operations, cutting emission of particulate matter, carbon dioxide and other pollutants.
  • Microturbines that powered the groundwater containment and treatment system around the Operating Industries Landfill in Monterey, CA when it was in operation were powered by gases collected from the landfill itself. Instead of escaping into the atmosphere where they could contribute to climate change, the gases were a source of energy used to generate approximetly 70% of the site’s energy needs, a savings of some $400,000 per year.

The Smart Energy Resources Guide also details the costs, availability, applicability, estimated emissions reduction benefits, permitting, vendor information, funding resources, and success stories for each alternative energy technology. Efficiency strategies as simple as reducing engine idling are covered along with guidance for investing in advanced cleanup technologies for long-term environmental and economic savings.

Biodiesel powered tractor.

A biodiesel-powered tractor

Cleanup sites adopt greener cleanup practices for a variety of reasons. Gill points out that, “some [cleanup] sites in remote areas are off the grid (e.g., mines).  Renewable energy can be seen as a practical alternative to running power lines or using diesel generators for long term cleanups.  In cases like these, SERG strategies are used almost out of necessity.”

The alternative energy resources found in SERG help advance energy conservation practices at Superfund sites and beyond, and have resulted in green remediation practices across the country. In addition, they have sparked the development RE-Powering America’s Lands, an EPA and Department of Energy joint venture focusing on renewable development. Any site manager can use the guide as a starting point to implement cleaner electricity and diesel practices for greener cleanups.

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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How We Made It Through a Hot New England Summer

By Gina Snyder

It’s no wonder most of us find climate change confusing. The other day while driving to the store, I heard a radio meteorologist say that January to August in New England this year has been the hottest since 1895, when consistent record-keeping started. She went on to say that scientists don’t call this ‘climate change.’

Hmmm. But, she clarified that with an interview with a climate scientist from Cornell who said this is indeed what we can expect from climate change, but the actual weather isn’t necessarily because of climate change. “Oh dear,” I thought, “These scientists make it so hard to understand!”

Then a friend of mine told me about a sports analogy made by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist. It was the best description I have heard of how greenhouse gases lead to climate change: “It’s like weather on steroids.”

Think about how a home-run hitter is expected to have a certain number of home runs during the baseball season. Then think about the same hitter on steroids: you can expect even more home runs. Heat waves and extreme weather are similarly affected by greenhouse gases. More greenhouse gases in the atmosphere make it much more likely that we’ll have heat waves and big storms, and more thunder and lightning.

If we don’t like this picture of the future, we can take all kinds of actions.

Even though this summer has been so hot in Massachusetts that we’re using record amounts of electricity to feed our air conditioners, at least an ENERGYSTAR air conditioner uses less energy, and adding a fan to make the cool air move around will make it feel even cooler. And, when you can, using only a fan – without an air conditioner – will help.

In my home, where I have many shade trees over my house, I open the windows in the evening, and then close them in the morning when I leave. I pull the shades over windows that get afternoon sun, too. I only have a single (ENERGYSTAR) window air conditioner, and we only use that on the really hot and humid days.

One of the great benefits of living in New England – with its winter snows and spring drizzling – is that summer can be so pleasant. That means we can often get away without using AC … So on the beautiful summer days when the nights are 60-ish and the days are under 85, keep the energy bills down and the fresh air blowing. And know that you are doing a small favor to the earth.

About the author: Gina Snyder works in the Office of Environmental and Compliance Assistance at EPA New England and has been a volunteer river monitor on the Ipswich River, where she also picks up trash every time she monitors the water quality.

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

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Science Wednesday: It’s Easy To Be Green (at Scientific Meetings)

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

By Stephen S. Hale

How green are scientific societies? The Council of Scientific Society Presidents represents about 60 organizations with over 1.4 million members. If they all flew once a year to meet together for four days, that’s collectively 2.8 million flights and 11.2 million dirty coffee cups from breaks. Travel to and from meetings pours large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. 1 For many frequent-flying scientists, air travel produces our biggest personal greenhouse gas impact, often making the carbon footprint of ecologists and conservation biologists exceed the U.S. per capita carbon footprint.  2 Many scientific societies are striving to make their meetings greener.

Recently, I helped prepare a green meeting policy for the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation (CERF), an international scientific organization that “advances understanding and wise stewardship of estuarine and coastal ecosystems worldwide.” The United Nations Environment Program says a green meeting is one where emissions of greenhouse gases are minimized and unavoidable emissions are compensated for, natural resource consumption is minimized, waste generation is avoided where possible and remaining waste is reused or recycled, and the local community benefits economically, socially, and environmentally.

Among other things, the policy calls for meeting attendees to make voluntary donations to a carbon offset fund. Offsets are not meant to replace reducing your emissions; offsets are to be used for emissions you cannot avoid. To be credible, it is important to buy certifiable carbon offsets that result in a real reduction of carbon dioxide emissions that would otherwise not have happened. The Nature Conservancy website lists what to look for in carbon offset programs: permanence, additionality (would it have happened anyway), no leakage (the old practice just displaced to a new area), and standards of verification by third parties. Alternatively, CERF conferences can provide environmental footprint offsets for impacts other than carbon dioxide emissions (e.g., water use, paper consumption, waste products). Donations to local projects that, while not a certifiable carbon offset, would enhance other environmental values (e.g., local oyster reef restoration, small coastal vegetated buffer), serve to engage the community and provide local benefits.

The CERF Board hopes the policy will reduce the environmental footprint of CERF meetings and encourage other scientific organizations to follow down the same green path.

About the author: Stephen S. Hale joined EPA’s Office of Research and Development as a Research Ecologist in 1995. He is currently serving on the Governing Board of the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation.

  1. H.E. Fox. 2009. Front Ecol Environ 7(6): 294-296.
  2. T.M. Hamill. 2007. Bull Am Meteorol Soc, Nov 2007. pp. 1816–1819; B. Lester. 2007. Science 318:36–38.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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 post.

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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Attention On line Young Environmentalists

By Wendy Dew

Climate change is a problem that is affecting people and the environment. In the U.S., our energy-related activities account for over 85 percent of our human-generated greenhouse gas emissions, mostly in the form of carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels. If greenhouse gases continue to increase, climate models predict that the average temperature at the Earth’s surface could increase from 3.2 to 7.2ºF above 1990 levels by the end of this century.

While adults tend to debate everything to the extreme, younger generations are taking the lead. Chloe Maxmin, now 18, formed the Climate Action Club at her high school to help residents of her rural town fight global warming. In two years, Chloe and club members established a “No Idling” policy on campus, installed smart strips and vending misers in school computer labs and on vending machines, and recycled 4,000 batteries and 20 pounds of cartridges in her hometown. The club recently won a $5,000 community impact award, which they are using to purchase solar panels for the school.

Most notably, Chloe’s club launched Maine’s largest student-led reusable bag campaign, which has kept 700,000 bags out of local landfills. The group raised $4,300 from fourteen businesses, purchased 1,900 reusable bags featuring sponsors’ names and logos, and then sold out of the bags soon after they began selling them. The project is ongoing and self-sustaining, with each year’s profits used to fund the next year’s batch of bags. The state’s largest supermarket chain recently came onboard to sell the bags. Additionally, Maine has launched a state-wide reusable bag campaign, using the Climate Action Club’s project as a model.

Chloe also started and maintains an online network of young environmentalists called First Here, Then Everywhere, which has spread to eight countries. Her mission: “ My personal mission it to make global warming the defining mission of my generation. My generation enters adulthood at a crucial point in the history of humanity. We are the first to see the devastating effects of climate change. The responsibility to mitigate global warming, change human behavior, and save our world will fall to us. “

About the author: Wendy Dew has been with EPA for 14 years and is the Environmental Education and Outreach Coordinator for Region 8.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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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Climate for Action: Energy Efficiency

About the author: Ashley Sims, a senior at Indiana University, is a fall intern with EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection and Environmental Education through the Washington Leadership Program.

My weekly blog is part of EPA’s campaign to engage middle and high school students in a discussion on global climate change and its effects on children’s health. As mentioned before, it’s my privilege to give students the opportunity to express their own thoughts on this issue. I look forward to hearing your comments. Now let’s get started on this week’s topic – energy efficiency.

Some of you may have heard of the ENERGY STAR label – you can find it on qualified light bulbs, cordless phones, and other electronics. If I may say so myself, ENERGY STAR qualified products are great to have because they use less energy, save money, and help protect the environment and health. The ENERGY STAR label means a product has met the energy-efficient standards set by EPA and the Department of Energy.

We use electricity for lighting, operating appliances, and producing hot and cold water. When coal and other fossil fuels are burned to create electricity, greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere. In fact, according to the greenhouse gas calculator on the EPA website, the average household of two produces about 16,290 pounds a year of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Did you know that different power plants use different types of fuel, and a power plant that runs on coal gives off more greenhouse gases per unit of electricity than a power plant that uses natural gas? The build up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is causing the climate to change.

It’s really important for us to be energy conscious and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Here’s what you can do –

  • Get involved today and encourage your parents to replace their light bulbs with ones that have the ENERGY STAR label. According to the ENERGY STAR website, if every American home replaced one light with an ENERGY STAR qualified light bulb, the reduction in greenhouse gases would be the same as taking 800,000 cars off the road.
  • Get your parents to take the ENERGY STAR pledge.
  • Check out how you can save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emission in your own room.
  • Join the campaign to create a new climate for action.

And make sure to let me know what you’re doing to save energy.

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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