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EPA Discusses Sustainability

On March 20, ASDWA joined other organizations including ECOS, ACWA, NLC, AWWA, and NACWA in a discussion with senior EPA managers from the Offices of Policy, Research & Development, and Congressional & Intergovernmental Relations on the subject of sustainability.
The Agency’s strategic plan includes a cross-cutting strategy on Working Towards a Sustainable Future.  EPA acknowledges that sustainability has a different dynamic from the more traditional regulatory approach.  However, sustainability initiatives can be built from the regulatory foundation taking a more holistic systems-based approach.  For EPA, sustainability efforts will follow two broad themes:  a sustainable future and making a visible difference in communities.  Within those themes, the Agency is in the process of developing action plans that will provide a yearly guide for activities within the longer four year strategic plan.
For the sustainable future theme, EPA is proposing four action plan focus areas:  green infrastructure; sustainable materials management; green products and purchasing; and energy efficiency.  Each of these areas will draw on experiences and lessons learned across various media to begin to find ways to focus on tools to help identify specific benefits from ongoing and new efforts.  These areas also have a strong internal education component for EPA staff to help them incorporate concepts of sustainability into their traditional areas of responsibility.
The second theme, making a visible difference in communities, is being led by the Agency’s new Office of Sustainable Communities.  As part of an ongoing Federal collaboration with the Departments of Transportation and Housing & Urban Development, the focus here will be at the local level “where results are happening.”  This Federal leveraging may serve as a model for additional cross-sector leveraging opportunities.  The action plan for this theme has three principal components:  first, development of a platform to show geospatial data that can help identify where EPA has already undertaken work in a particular community; second, identifying where grant opportunities exist and making that information available as a centralized resource – perhaps through an external web portal.  This would provide a menu of grant opportunities for applicant communities; and third, expanded leveraging among Federal programs.
EPA’s Office of Research & Development is working on a sustainability strategy that would help the Agency transition from a risk assessment to a sustainability focus.  ORD is working toward building system-based decision support tools that would work at the community scale.  They are also working on a “sustainability dashboard” type tool that would provide one resource (similar to a TurboTax approach) for communities to use as a starting point on their journey toward greater sustainability.
Participating organizations were generally receptive to the concepts presented by EPA but offered some suggestions to help better frame the discussions and next steps such as a look back at significant efforts undertaken as long as 20 years ago that laid out a strategy for success (e.g., post consumer recycling for paper products); the need to identify performance measures as the programs are being developed rather than as an after-the-fact activity so that everyone will have the same objectives in mind; and the need to harmonize potentially competing priorities in goals and missions as the Agency moves across various statute-based programs (SDWA, RCRA, Superfund, etc.).  EPA appreciated the input and promised to continue this important dialogue.