Don't Despair, Get to Work, Former EPA Chief Tells Audience at UVM

12-05-2017 | By Carolyn Shapiro

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's efforts to preserve air and water quality “are really, at this point, in jeopardy,” said Gina McCarthy, who headed the agency under President Barack Obama and spoke Friday afternoon at the University of Vermont. “It is very, very difficult today not to get a little bit down.”

Still, everyone must stop worrying, buck up and move forward, she told those who attended the speech, sponsored by UVM’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources. That’s what her father would have demanded, McCarthy said.

“When I whined, he’d say, ‘Gina, pull up your big-girl pants and do something!’” McCarthy recounted in her unmistakable Boston accent. “So, I’m going to tell all of you to do exactly the same thing.”

Mincing no words and frequently jabbing a finger at the audience, McCarthy brought humor to descriptions of the bureaucratic machinations of government policy-making. Nancy Mathews, dean of the Rubenstein School, introduced McCarthy with hopes that the talk would provide “an opportunity to be inspired by what lies ahead.”

The current administration has withdrawn the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change and approved permits for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, despite environmental concerns. On Monday, President Donald Trump announced plans to cut the size of federally protected lands in Utah, including Bears Ears National Monument, to encourage development there.

The situation, though, isn’t as dire as some fear, McCarthy said. Many hard-won rules, including those of the 1990 Clean Air Act – which McCarthy called “the most significant public health law in the history of America” – took years of negotiation, legal work, scientific study and input by the public and cannot be unraveled without the same complex steps. A mere presidential announcement via executive order can’t do it, she said.

For the most successful government initiatives McCarthy oversaw, she said, leaders overcame partisanship and embraced different political perspectives. That remains even more important amid the current divisive landscape, she said.

President Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican, started the National Park Service, she pointed out. Republican President Richard Nixon, with an executive order, created the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We can’t all of a sudden think that clean air and clean water or healthy land is somehow OK if you’re a Democrat but not if you’re a Republican,” she said. “There’s got to be ways that we connect with one another on our core values rather than the policies of what we're talking about.”

Then again, on the topic of skepticism about climate change, often a partisan issue, McCarthy was unequivocal.

“Climate change is happening,” she said. “We have to stop debating the science.”

What worries McCarthy most, she said, is the apparent shift of current EPA leadership to give greater decision-making weight to lobbyists representing the chemical and energy industries than to the staff scientists who have spent their careers studying the areas regulated. During a question-and-answer session after the speech, McCarthy referenced some agency changes covered in a recent story by UVM alum and New York Times reporter Eric Lipton ’87, about a Trump Administration EPA deputy who is pushing to revise and weaken previously agreed regulations of toxic chemicals.

Now a professor at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University, McCarthy said students constantly uplift her with their enthusiasm and commitment to social justice. Not only do they yearn to preserve natural resources, she said, but also to address unequal access to those resources within low-income and minority communities.

Grassroots action can make change, McCarthy said. In response to President Trump’s stance on the Paris Agreement, more than 300 mayors of U.S. cities have signed a pledge to continue to follow the accord. States first initiated controls on greenhouse gas emissions, leading to the federal initiative.

“It was only because it happened at other levels of government that we were able to make progress,” McCarthy said.

And, of course, individuals can vote. “We can make sure that we question our leaders when they deserve to be questioned.”

EPA: UVM Top Green Power School in America East Conference

04-25-2017 | By Gioia Thompson

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has recognized the University of Vermont as a conference champion of the 2016-17 College & University Green Power Challenge for using more green power than any other school in the America East athletic conference. 

Green power is zero-emissions electricity that is generated from environmentally preferable renewable resources, such as wind, solar, geothermal, eligible biogas, biomass, and low-impact hydro. Using green power helps accelerate the development of new renewable energy capacity nationwide and helps users reduce their carbon footprints.

Since April 2006, EPA’s Green Power Partnership has tracked and recognized the collegiate athletic conferences with the highest combined green power use within the program. The Individual Conference Champion Award recognizes the school that uses the most green power in a qualifying conference.

UVM beat its conference rivals by using nearly 60 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of green power, representing 99 percent of the school’s annual electricity usage. UVM is procuring renewable energy certificates (RECs). This demonstrates a proactive choice to switch away from traditional sources of electricity generation and support cleaner renewable energy alternatives.

According to the EPA, UVM's green power use of nearly 60 million kWh is equivalent to the electricity use of more than 5,400 average American homes annually.

In the 2016-17 challenge, the 36 collegiate conferences and 98 schools competing collectively used nearly 3.2 billion kWh of green power. EPA’s Green Power Challenge is open to any collegiate athletic conference in the United States. In order to qualify, a collegiate athletic conference must include at least two schools that qualifies as Green Power Partners, and the conference must collectively use at least 10 million kWh of green power. EPA will restart the 12th season of the College & University Green Power Challenge in the fall of 2017 and conclude in the spring of 2018.

“Buying Green-e certified RECs and joining the Green Power Partnership allows the University of Vermont to demonstrate its long-standing strategic and practical commitment to sustainability,” said William P. Ballard, associate vice president for administrative and facilities services.

The University of Vermont has long been a leader in incorporating social and environmental responsibility into many aspects of the institution's functions, including academics, culture, operations and policy. All undergraduate students are required to take at least one sustainability-focused course as part of the general education requirement. Community members take an active role in recycling and using low-carbon transportation systems. UVM has since 1990 had formal programs with local electricity and natural gas utilities, as well as the statewide energy efficiency utility, to reduce energy use and peak demand by buildings. The LEED Platinum Aiken Center, home of the Rubenstein School for Environment and Natural Resources, sources about 40% of its power from 17 solar trackers nearby. The University of Vermont has purchased Green-e certified power for all of its buildings since 2015, in conformance with its 2010 Climate Action Plan.

The Green Power Partnership is a voluntary program that encourages organizations to use green power as a way to reduce the environmental impacts associated with electricity use. The Partnership currently has more than 1,400 Partner organizations voluntarily using more than 40 billion kilowatt-hours of green power annually. Partners include a wide variety of leading organizations such as Fortune 500® companies, small and medium sized businesses, local, state, and federal governments, and colleges and universities.

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