Day: March 30, 2016

Listen: Are your household cleaners water friendly?

The chemicals in the household cleaners you use inevitably end up in the watershed. What does this mean for the creatures that inhabit it?

This episode of CurrentCast consults Shedd Aquarium Assistant Director Aislinn Gauchay on how the cleaners we choose affect the wildlife in our lakes.

What Happened to Sustainability?

Read the full story in Automation World.

The recent Paris climate-change summit notwithstanding, fewer manufacturers seem to be talking publicly about their sustainability programs these days. Has the sustainability movement fizzled in manufacturing, or is sustainability just becoming a standard part of doing business?

Cool Roof Rebates Database Available to the Public

The Roof Coatings Manufacturers Association has made its Reflective Roof Rebates Database, originally created exclusively for use by the association’s members, available to the public. The database allows users to search for available reflective roof incentives across the United States, and includes a list of rebates, loans, grants, and tax credits for reflective roof coatings applied to low-slope and steep-slope roofs. It includes detailed information on eligibility, links to supporting documents, key program contacts, and online applications to apply for rebates.

New urban heat island study shows surprising variation in air temperatures across Twin Cities

Read the full story from the University of Minnesota.

Some parts of the Twin Cities can spike temperatures up to 9°F higher than surrounding communities thanks to the “urban heat island” effect, according to a new study from the University of Minnesota.

The study, which was funded by the Institute on the Environment and published in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, used a network of 180 sensors deployed throughout the Twin Cities metropolitan area in residential backyards and city parks to paint the most detailed picture anywhere in the world of how temperature varies with time and place across pavement-filled metropolitan areas and surrounding communities.

Women’s History Month: Honoring EPA Women in Science

Read the full post from the EPA Blog.

March is Women’s History month and this year’s theme is “Working to Form a More Perfect Union: Honoring Women in Public Service and Government.” Working in EPA’s Office of Research and Development, I’ve gotten to meet quite a few women scientists and engineers who truly are helping us achieve a more perfect union. Some of them are featured here in this blog. To celebrate their dedication to science and protecting public health and the environment, we asked them to share a few words about what inspired them to pursue such work. Here’s what they said:

Funding opp: Small Business Technology Transfer Program Phase I (STTR)

Full Proposal Deadline(s) (due by 5 p.m. submitter’s local time): June 20, 2016
Read the full solicitation at http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2016/nsf16555/nsf16555.htm

NSF’s STTR program provides non-dilutive funds for early-stage research and development (R&D) at small businesses. This R&D should be based on innovative, transformational technology with potential for substantial commercial and/or societal benefits. The program invites proposals from small businesses across a broad range of science and engineering disciplines in collaboration with researchers at universities, Federally-Funded Research and Development Centers, and other non-profit institutions. If you are successful, you will receive a grant of up to $225,000 for a 6-12 month development/ feasibility project. You can then compete for a second grant of up to $750,000 over a 2 year period, with the aim of advancing the technology toward commercial deployment.

The award duration is 6-12 months. STTR Phase I awards previously had a duration of 12 months. Proposers will indicate their requested duration on the Cover Sheet of the proposal.

NSF encourages proposals from a diversity of entrepreneurs – new and seasoned. What is most important is that you have a transformative idea or innovation and that your team’s primary goal is the commercialization of the technology. Having no commercialization track record will not count against you – for many companies, an NSF STTR award is their first attempt at commercializing an innovation.

The NSF STTR Program is particularly interested in proposals that focus on clean energy technology including energy sources that are renewable or otherwise alternatives to traditional fossil fuels such as geothermal, solar wind, biomass, nuclear, methane and emerging sources such as water power. The program is also interested in technologies that help improve energy efficiency or reduction in energy consumption such as building efficiency, more effective distribution of electricity, and vehicle technologies that improve engine efficiency or fuel economy.

Small businesses that will be working with a research institution may also consider the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. SBIR is similar to STTR. In fact, the programs are discussed in tandem at several points throughout this solicitation and on the SBIR/STTR website. However SBIR has a separate, concurrent Phase I solicitation with a similar due date. Several important differences between SBIR and STTR are outlined on the SBIR/STTR website.

Video resources on the SBIR/STTR website provide a general program description, solicitation-specific information, and helpful proposal preparation advice. A follow-up series of Q&A webinars hosted by SBIR/STTR Program Directors will be held in the months leading up to the deadline date. Links to register for the Q&A sessions will be posted on the SBIR/STTR website.

Induced Earthquakes Raise Chances of Damaging Shaking in 2016

Read the full story from the USGS.

For the first time, new USGS maps identify potential ground-shaking hazards from both human-induced and natural earthquakes. In the past, USGS maps only identified natural earthquake hazards.

This is also the first one-year outlook for the nation’s earthquake hazards, and is a supplement to existing USGS assessments that provide a 50-year forecast

The report shows that approximately 7 million people live and work in areas of the central and eastern U.S. (CEUS) with potential for damaging shaking from induced seismicity. Within a few portions of the CEUS, the chance of damage from all types of earthquakes is similar to that of natural earthquakes in high-hazard areas of California.

How to Manage Carbon Emissions — and Carbon Policy — Across the Value Chain

Read the full story in Environmental Leader.

Carbon pricing, in the form of a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system, is used by businesses and governments all over the world to cut greenhouse gas emissions and, according to proponents, grow the economy.

Critics say the opposite is true, but more on that later.

EPA Needs to Collect Information and Consistently Conduct Activities to Protect Underground Sources of Drinking Water

Download the document.

What GAO Found

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not collected specific inspection and complete or consistent enforcement information, or consistently conducted oversight activities, to assess whether state and EPA-managed Underground Injection Control (UIC) class II programs are protecting underground sources of drinking water. EPA guidance calls for states and EPA regions to report certain information and for EPA to assess whether programs are effectively protecting underground sources of drinking water, but the agency does not. Specifically:

EPA annually collects summary data from state and EPA-managed programs on the types of inspections they conduct. However, these data are not specific enough to determine the number of different types of inspections that states and EPA regions are to conduct to meet their annual goals. Such goals are specified at the well level (e.g., to inspect 100 percent of wells associated with emergency responses). Under federal internal control standards, managers are to compare actual performance to planned or expected results and analyze significant differences. Without well-specific data on inspections, EPA cannot assess whether state and EPA-managed programs are meeting annual inspection goals.

EPA collects information on unresolved significant violations of state and EPA-managed programs to determine if the agency needs to take action to enforce applicable program requirements. However, GAO’s analysis of a nongeneralizable sample of 93 significant violations for fiscal years 2008 through 2013 found that state and EPA-managed programs did not report data on such violations completely or consistently. For example, of 29 such violations that had not been enforced after 90 days as required, programs reported 7 to EPA. According to EPA and state officials, the cause was inconsistent interpretations of EPA’s reporting guidance. EPA officials said they are aware that the data reported on such violations are not complete or consistent, but the agency has not clarified in guidance what data programs should report. Until it does so, EPA does not have reasonable assurance that it has the data needed to assess if it must take enforcement action.

EPA has not consistently conducted oversight activities necessary to assess whether state and EPA-managed programs are protecting underground sources of drinking water. For example, GAO found in June 2014 that EPA does not consistently conduct oversight activities, such as annual on-site program evaluations. According to EPA guidance, such evaluations should include a review of permitting and inspection files or activities to assess whether the state is protecting underground water. In California, for example, EPA did not regularly review permitting, and in July 2014, after a state review of permitting, EPA determined that the program was out of compliance with state and EPA requirements. EPA officials said that they have few resources to oversee UIC class II programs, but EPA has not conducted a workforce analysis consistent with GAO’s work on strategic human capital management to identify the resources needed for such oversight. Without conducting such an analysis, EPA will not be able identify the human capital or other resources needed to carry out oversight of the UIC class II programs to help ensure that they protect underground sources of drinking water.

Why GAO Did This Study

Since the early 2000s, increased oil and gas production has resulted in an increase in wastewater that must be managed properly. The majority of wastewater from oil and gas production is injected into underground wells known as class II wells. These wells are regulated to protect drinking water sources under EPA’s UIC class II well program and approved state class II programs. EPA oversees state programs, and EPA regions manage programs in states without approval.

GAO was asked to review EPA’s oversight of programs’ inspection and enforcement information and activities. This report examines the extent to which EPA has collected inspection and enforcement information and conducted oversight activities needed to assess that class II programs protect underground sources of drinking water. GAO reviewed federal and state laws and regulations and EPA guidance and analyzed a nongeneralizable sample of significant violations. GAO interviewed EPA and state officials from programs in a nongeneralizable sample of eight states selected based on shale oil and gas regions, among other factors.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that, among other things, EPA require programs to report well-specific inspections data, clarify guidance on enforcement data reporting, and analyze the resources needed to oversee programs. EPA generally agreed with GAO’s findings, but does not plan to require well-specific data and analyze needed resources. GAO continues to believe that EPA should take both actions to better assess if programs protect underground sources of drinking water.

We’ve changed a life-giving nutrient into a deadly pollutant. How can we change it back?

Read the full story at Ensia.

In the process of producing food, we’ve inadvertently filled our planet with toxic forms of nitrogen. But scientists say we can improve this picture.

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