public health

Sharing Best Sustainability Practices with Communities

One of the most rewarding parts of my job here at EPA is the work we do with climate and energy program staff from communities and tribes across the country. These sustainability professionals are tireless organizers, skilled problem solvers, and endlessly enthusiastic about helping residents and businesses reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy use, improve air quality and public health, create jobs, and save money. Despite common challenges they face I am always impressed by how much local sustainability professionals are able to accomplish with so little. By taking action on climate in their own back yards, they are building stronger and healthier communities – and looking out for all of our futures.

Part of our job here is to help local government employees achieve success. Our Local Climate and Energy Program conducts continued outreach by hosting webcasts, sending out newsletters about resources and funding opportunities, and producing resources and tools of our own.
Our latest round of resources are written by communities, for communities. Each resource was driven by community needs, inspired by actual implementation experiences, and informed by staff who have developed successful climate and energy programs. They provide practical steps for communities to follow when building or growing a climate and energy program. These new resources are the result of strong relationships we have built with communities and tribes across the country who have invested in achieving climate and energy results in their own backyards.

Local Climate Action Framework

This online guide provides step-by-step guidance and resources for local governments to plan, implement, and evaluate climate, energy, and sustainability projects and programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change impacts. It captures lessons learned and effective strategies used by local governments, breaks down program implementation into concrete steps, and curates resources to help local governments find the information they need. The framework was developed with extensive input from local government stakeholders, including our Climate Showcase Communities.

Effective Practices for Implementing Local Climate and Energy Programs Tip Sheets

This series of nineteen tip sheets was developed based on the experience and feedback of our Climate Showcase Communities. Each tip sheet focuses on a different aspect of program operation and highlights best practices and helpful resources discovered or used by these communities. Topics include marketing and communications (effective messaging, traditional media strategies, community-based social marketing, and testimonial videos) and working with specific types of stakeholders (institutional partners, contractors, experts, utilities, early adopters, volunteers).

Local Climate and Energy Program Model Design Guide

This guide was developed for local climate and clean energy (i.e., energy efficiency, renewable energy, and combined heat and power) program implementers to help create or transition to program designs that are viable over the long term. The guide draws on the experience and examples of our Climate Showcase Communities as they developed innovative models for programs that could be financially viable over the long term and replicated in other communities.

Although climate change is a global issue, many critical actions to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and to promote resilience can be initiated locally. Cities and towns across the U.S. are taking real action against climate change by talking to other communities and sharing practical step-by-step advice on planning and implementing local climate and energy programs,. I am thankful for the valuable input EPA received from local and tribal government stakeholders as we developed these resources and welcome feedback about the new materials.

About the author:

Andrea Denny is the Local Climate and Energy Program Lead in the State and Local Branch of EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. The branch focuses on supporting state and local governments that are developing policies and programs to address climate change.

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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Public Health and the Environment: We’re All in this Together

By Dr. Wayne Cascio

“Public health does not exist in a vacuum. It is intrinsically linked to education, employment, the environment and our economy. There is a whole world beyond hospital corridors and clinic waiting rooms where people are struggling with issues of transportation, housing and development.”

These inspirational words were spoken by Dr. Vivek Murthy, the newly-commissioned 19th Surgeon General of the United States.

Swearing in of U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in Conmy Hall on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall April 22, 2015, in Arlington, Va. (Photo courtesy of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, PAO photo by Damien Salas)

Vice President Joe Biden administers the oath to incoming U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, April 22, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, by Damien Salas)

Dr. Murthy made the above remarks as he addressed those gathered at Fort Myers in northern Virginia on April 22, 2015 at his formal commissioning. The event included the ceremonial passing of the emblem of the U.S. Public Health Service Commission Corp, symbolizing the acceptance of responsibility to lead the more than 6,500 officers working throughout the U.S. and abroad to protect human health.

As “America’s Doctor,” Dr. Murthy brings enormous passion and understanding of challenges that face the nation and the world. Importantly for our Agency and the American people, this includes the recognition and acknowledgment that our health and the environment in which we live are inexorably linked. Dr. Murthy embraces the understanding that a healthy environment is necessary for healthy people.

“We will work to move from a culture of treatment to one of prevention. But while the mark of a great nation may be in how we care for our most vulnerable, the test of a strong nation is how good we are at keeping them from getting sick in the first place,” he said.

I had the great fortune to be in attendance to hear such remarks first hand. I found the experience inspirational, reaffirming the principles of why I initially chose to become a physician, and again why I chose to redirect my medical career several years ago to advancing environmental public health.

To the many members of the Commissioned Corp working within the EPA we salute you for your service and commitment to our Country and people throughout the world, most notably for your recent work in West Africa in the fight against ebola. We here at the EPA look forward to being Dr. Murthy’s partners as we strive to protect public health and our environment.

About the Author: Dr. Wayne Cascio spent more than 25 years as a cardiologist before joining EPA’s Office of Research and Development where he now leads research on the links between exposures to air pollution and public health, and how people can use that information to maintain healthy hearts.

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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Choosing Public Health in the U.S./Mexico Border City of Laredo, Texas

by Hector Gonzalez, M.D.MPH

The City of Laredo, Texas is the gateway city on the border between the United States and Mexico. The city has four international bridges crossing the Rio Grande that supports 47 percent of U.S. international trade headed for Mexico and more than 36 percent of Mexico’s international trade into the U.S.

Laredo is the second largest port of entry in the United States and is also home to the largest inland port along the border. A vibrant and diverse city, Laredo also has communities that bear disproportionate burdens of environmental harm, public health disparities, and economic problems (up to 40% of the population is uninsured). The international flow of trade, as well as potential pollutants on both sides of the border, compound health disparities already present and heighten the potential for health hazards (many of which necessitate some sort of public health response).

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In recent years, Laredo, like other U.S./Mexico Border communities, has taken important strides to improve healthier outcomes and safeguard the environment. Planning and taking strategic steps to improve the city’s economic condition and to address critical public health issues is part of the intervention. Such planning includes engaging citizens in public decision-making, providing greater access to outdoor spaces, educating people about public health and prevention through healthier choices, and establishing new developments that enhance the overall quality of life for all residents. With our “Healthy Living/Viviendo Mejor and Active Living Plan” we have challenged our community to think healthier and to build and plan with health in mind (such as walking clubs, healthier eating and nutrition education, and the Mayor’s Active Living Task Force).

One of the city’s showcase projects is the Haynes Health and Wellness Center, a state-of-the-art park in Laredo that provides open access to indoor and outdoor exercise areas and community spaces, such as a pool, rooftop gardens, and a playground equipped for special-needs children. This park, funded jointly through public funds, private funds, and EPA brownfields funds, is a prime example of how green infrastructure and engaging the community in public decision-making can uplift emerging communities.

The primary mission of the Haynes Center is to provide the public with access to recreational facilities as a way to improve their overall quality of life. The presence of a public recreation center also serves to connect the community around central values. With public access to trails and facilities comes increased public participation in regular exercise regimes and a greater appreciation for the outdoors. In addition, a building like the Haynes Center promotes unity and well-being throughout the entire community.

In 2004, Laredo passed a Green Space Ordinance, which aims to achieve both economic development and environmental protection goals. The ordinance requires developers to include green space when constructing a new development.  For instance, the new outlet mall scheduled to be built along the Rio Grande River will feature a community waterpark on the riverfront.  This development allows businesses to set up shop in Laredo, but also gives the community an outdoor public area that will entice more children to play outside.  For developments in areas that already have designated green space, developers are encouraged to make additions. Overall, the Green Space Ordinance encourages more community areas that encourage more time spent outdoors.

And the most notable feature of Laredo’s decision to put public health as “our choice,” is that we have engaged citizens through the Citizen’s Environmental Advisory Committee (CEAC) and the Laredo Health Coalition. CEAC is a group of professionals and environmental advocates hailing from a diverse range of backgrounds who weigh in on proposed city plans and ordinances, effectively providing a voice for the people. These meetings are publicly announced, and there is a time for community issues to be brought before the committee. Once consensus is reached on an issue, a recommendation letter is drafted and sent to the decision-making body, and the city council takes action. The CEAC played a tremendous role in the plastic bag ban ordinance, as well as a program to offer deposits on used tires to prevent tire discards into the Rio Grande River and the environment.

In Laredo, putting citizens first is our public responsibility and one we feel very proud of. And when you put citizens first, it becomes a healthier community for all.

About the author: Dr. Hector Gonzalez is the director of the City of Laredo Health Department. He has more than 30 years experience in public health and is committed and determined to ensuring the protection, well-being, and disease control in Laredo and Webb County.

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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Linking Up: Making Every Day Earth Day

By Tom Burke, Ph.D.

Today marks my first Earth Day as the Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. This is the one day of the year when people around the world unite to celebrate our planet, and I’m thrilled to be at a place where strengthening the links between a healthy environment and healthy communities are at the forefront of everything we do.

Eagle parents tend to their eaglets.

Eagle parents tend to their eaglets.

I began my day today checking in on the month-old eaglets up near Codorus State Park in Pennsylvania. The chicks are flourishing and provide a wonderful metaphor for the remarkable progress that has been made since the first Earth Day 45 years ago. What started as a collective unease about the state of local waterways, polluted lands, and haze-obscured views across urban neighborhoods was soon amplified in screaming national headlines about rivers on fire, and Rachel Carson’s best-selling book Silent Spring outlining the dangers of the indiscriminant use of the chemical pesticide DDT.

Such events helped spark the realization that when it comes to our environment, we are all in this together. And it was science—much of it led or conducted by EPA researchers—that taught us how to turn environmental concerns into action.

By understanding how particulate matter and other pollutants in the air relate to asthma rates and longevity, between lead exposure and childhood development, and between disease and contaminated water, local public health officials know what steps they can take to better protect people.

That track record for responsive science is why EPA labs are always among the first called when environmental emergencies strike, such as the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico or when harmful algal blooms threatened Toledo’s drinking water supply. EPA expertise is counted on to help local officials identify hazards, know what tests to conduct, and when to issue or lift health advisories.

And what’s more, that same expertise is also driving innovative research that is not only helping communities become more resilient today, but developing the tools, models, and solutions to lower risks and advance sustainability for the future. Just a small sampling of examples include:

  • Our researchers have teamed up with colleagues at NASA, NOAA, and the U.S. Geological Survey to develop ways to tap satellite data to monitor water quality and better predict harmful algal blooms.
  • Empowering scientists and communities alike to tap a new generation of small, inexpensive, and portable air sensors to track air quality through The Village Green Project and others.
  • Our Healthy Heart campaign helps cardiac healthcare professionals use existing and emerging research to educate their patients about the link between air quality and their health—and to take action to avoid exposures during “ozone alert” days.
  • Advancing sophisticated computational toxicology methods and technologies through partnerships such as Tox21 to usher in a new paradigm of faster and far less expensive chemical screening techniques.
  • Providing data and mapping tools such as EPA’s EnviroAtlas that help community planners and other citizens identify, quantify, and sustain the many benefits they get from the natural ecosystems that surround them.

I started my own career conducting environmental investigations and epidemiological studies, and working closely with county and city health officials. These officials are on the front lines of environmental health and our communities depend upon them. Providing support by linking them to the data, tools, and innovative solutions mentioned above is one of my top priorities as EPA’s Deputy Assistant Administrator for our Office of Research and Development.

That will take a continued commitment to communications and translation of our science to action, all part of keeping the critical link between a healthy environment and healthy people at the forefront of our thinking. Sharing our work with public health professionals is one way we can work together to make every day Earth Day. And that’s something we can all celebrate.

EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator Tom Burke

EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator Tom Burke

 

About the Author: Thomas Burke, Ph.D. is the Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Office of Research and Development as well as EPA’s Science Advisor. Prior to coming to EPA, he served as the Jacob I. and Irene B. Fabrikant Professor and Chair in Health, Risk and Society and the Associate Dean for Public Health Practice and Training at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

 

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

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New Tools and Approaches Are Reshaping Environmental Compliance

I recently joined EPA staff and leaders from across academia, industry and non-profit sectors for a conference dedicated to the latest Next Generation Compliance strategies and solutions, hosted by George Washington University Law School. With topics ranging from how to use new technologies to improve compliance, to citizen monitoring and state-federal collaboration (just to name a few), one thing was clear – there is strong momentum and lots of progress in Next Gen today that’s shaping the future of environmental enforcement and compliance.

The conference inspired me to take a moment to reflect on all of this progress. Here are a few examples of what we’ve already accomplished:

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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.

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FracFocus Report: Helping us Paint a Fuller Picture

By Tom Burke

Only a few years ago, very little was known about the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources. Congress asked us to embark on a major effort to advance the state-of-the-science to accurately assess and identify those risks. Today, we are releasing a new report to provide a fuller picture of the information available for states, industry, and communities working to safeguard drinking water resources and protect public health.

The Analysis of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Data from the FracFocus Chemical Registry 1.0. is a peer-reviewed analysis built on more than two years of data provided by organizations that manage FracFocus, the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. Operators disclosed information on individual oil and gas production wells hydraulically fractured between January 2011 and February 2013 and agency researchers then compiled a database from more than 39,000 disclosures.

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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.

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Driving toward a cleaner future

Today, EPA issued its second annual Manufacturer Performance Report on progress toward meeting the greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and light trucks. This is essentially a detailed report card telling us how the industry and individual manufacturers are doing in complying with the standards for the 2013 model year. I’m pleased to say that, for the second year of the program, the auto industry is ahead of the curve.

Because the ultimate destination for this road trip is to nearly double fuel economy by 2025, a strong start is great news for the environment and public health, family budgets and America’s energy security. When EPA and the Department of Transportation announced the standards, the program was called a “Win-Win-Win.” A win for the environment and our health because it reduces the emissions that contribute to the greatest environmental threat of our time…. climate change. In fact we expect it to cut 6 billion metric tons of GHGs. A win for consumers because the fuel efficiency goals will save families money at the pump, adding up to more than $1.7 trillion in saved fuel costs over the life of the program. And finally, a win for energy independence. The policy is expected to reduce America’s dependence on oil by more than 2 million barrels per day by 2025.

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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.

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What to Know about the President’s FY2016 Budget Request for EPA

 

1. The President’s Fiscal Year 2016 budget request for EPA demonstrates the Administration’s commitment to protecting public health and the environment. The $8.6 billion request is about $450 million above last year’s enacted amount, and will protect our homes and businesses by supporting climate action and environmental protection.

2. Investments in public health and environmental protection pay off. Since EPA was founded in 1970, we’ve seen over and over that a safe environment and a strong economy go hand in hand. In the last 45 years, we’ve cut air pollution 70 percent and cleaned up half our nation’s polluted waterways—and meanwhile the U.S. economy has tripled.

3. The largest part of EPA’s budget, $3.6 billion or 42%, goes to fund our work with our state and tribal partners—because EPA shares the responsibility of protecting public health and the environment with states, tribes, and local communities.

4. President Obama calls climate change one of the greatest economic and public health challenges of our time. So the FY16 budget prioritizes climate action and supports the President’s Climate Action Plan. The budget request for Climate Change and Air Quality is $1.11 billion, which will help protect those most vulnerable from both climate impacts and the harmful health effects of air pollution.
States and businesses across the country are already working to build renewable energy, increase energy efficiency, and cut carbon pollution. Our top priority in developing the proposed Clean Power Plan, which sets carbon pollution standards for power plants, has been to build on input from states and stakeholders.

So in addition to EPA’s operating funding, the President’s Budget proposes a $4 billion Clean Power State Incentive Fund. EPA would administer this fund to support states that go above and beyond Clean Power Plan goals and cut additional carbon pollution from the power sector.

5. EPA will invest a combined $2.3 billion in the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds, renewing our emphasis on the SRFs as a tool for states and communities.

We’re also dedicating $50 million to help communities, states, and private investors finance improvements in drinking water and wastewater infrastructure.

Within that $50 million, we’re requesting $7 million for the newly established Water Infrastructure and Resilience Finance Center, as part of the President’s Build America Initiative. This Center, which the Vice President announced on January 16th, will help identify financing opportunities for small communities, and help leverage private sector investments to improve aging water systems at the local level.

6. Scientific research remains the foundation of EPA’s work. So the President is requesting $528 million to help evaluate environmental and human health impacts related to air pollution, water quality, climate change, and biofuels. It’ll also go toward expanding EPA’s computational toxicology effort, which is letting us study chemical risks and exposure exponentially faster and more affordably than ever before.

7. EPA’s FY 2016 budget request will let us continue to make a real and visible difference to communities every day. It gives us a foundation to revitalize the economy and improve infrastructure across the country. It sustains state, tribal, and federal environmental efforts across all our programs, and supports our excellent staff. We’re proud of their work to focus our efforts on communities that need us most—and to make sure we continue to fulfill our mission for decades to come.

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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The Importance of Effective Community Engagement for Sustainable Infrastructure

By Hiwot Gebremariam

Maintaining water infrastructure is a constant challenge, but effective community engagement practices can help. I am a first-hand witness of the usefulness of these practices. Growing up in Ethiopia, I saw community bathrooms and water wells properly maintained only when communities were appropriately consulted and empowered.

I notice parallel situations in my career, too. While working for the United Nations in 2009/2010 on promoting public-private partnerships, I remember a water and sewerage project in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania that failed because consumers were not properly consulted on user rates.

At EPA, I am part of the Infrastructure Task Force’s solid waste sub-workgroup that investigates strategies for engaging with American Indian/Alaska Native tribes and villages to promote sustainable solutions for solid waste issues, including open dumps. Indeed, evidence shows that utilities need to undertake effective community engagement to achieve sustainability goals.

This is also seen in some programs that I work on: the Clean Water Indian Set-Aside, Alaska Rural and Native Village Grant Program and the U.S.-Mexico Tribal Border Infrastructure Grant Program. The positive impacts of these programs, which increase access to safe drinking water and wastewater services, are being seen in public health and ecosystems’ improvements.

To sustainably maintain this infrastructure, effective community engagement practices are universally essential. Community engagement should consider communities’ specific needs, technical capacities, cultural and socioeconomic conditions. They should involve community members and social institutions at all phases in the decision-making process from the design, construction and completion to the operation and maintenance of projects.

At the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council public meeting held in early October this year, participants, including tribal representatives, echoed this argument. EPA is undertaking initiatives to enhance meaningful community engagement. As we observe Native American Heritage Month this November, I remain proud to participate in EPA’s initiatives that provide needed infrastructure in tribal areas and to work with people who constantly aim to make a difference.

About the author: Hiwot Gebremariam has two graduate degrees in economics and environmental science and policy analysis. She currently works as an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) research participant in EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management. She grew up in Ethiopia and now lives in Maryland with her husband and three boys.

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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Protecting Children from Environmental Health Risks

By Khesha Reed

EPA’s responsibility to protect public health and the environment is driven in large part by our duty to protect our kids. October is Children’s Health Month, a time to make sure we’re doing all we can individually and as an agency to protect children from the environmental health risks they face.

Children are not little adults. They have different activity patterns, physiology, and susceptibility to environmental stressors than adults do. Kids eat, breathe, and drink more relative to their body mass than adults do, so it’s especially important that their air and water be clean and their food be healthy. And because they are still growing and developing, exposure to pollution—including mercury, lead, and chemicals—can be especially dangerous for kids.

This year, I’m proud that EPA has taken action to fight climate change, protect clean water, and promote safer pesticides—decreasing children’s health risks.

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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.

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