Rhode Island Organization and Residents Recognized by EPA for Environmental Achievements

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BOSTON -- Two winners in Rhode Island were recognized today at EPA’s 2015 Environmental Merit Awards ceremony. The environmental leaders were among 27 recipients across New England honored for helping to improve New England’s environment.

Each year EPA New England recognizes individuals and groups in the six New England states who have worked to protect or improve the region’s environment in distinct ways. The merit awards, given out since 1970, honor individuals and groups who have shown particular ingenuity and commitment in their efforts.

“New England is rich with people who understand the importance of preserving the environment, but the citizens we are recognizing today went above and beyond in working as stewards of our air, land and water,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “In addition to iconic natural beauty and vibrant communities, we New Englanders are fortunate to have neighbors who care deeply about the environment we share.”

This year’s Environmental Merit Awards program was dedicated to Mayor Thomas Menino, who died in 2014 after two decades as Boston’s mayor, and who championed environmental projects in the city he led and loved.

The Environmental Merit Awards, which are given to people who have already taken action, are awarded in the categories of individual; business (including professional organizations); local, state or federal government; and environmental, community, academia or nonprofit organization. Also, each year EPA presents lifetime achievement awards for individuals. The Environmental Merit Award Winners from Rhode Island listed by category are:

Individual

Tom Borden, Joe Costa, Heather Radcliffe; Southeast New England Coastal Watershed Restoration Program

These three individuals are being recognized for their dedicated and efficient collaboration to launch EPA’s new coastal watershed program, which promotes an ecosystem approach to protecting and restoring the coastal watersheds in southeast New England. Tom Borden, program director of the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program; Joe Costa, executive director of the Buzzards Bay National Estuary Program; and Heather Radcliffe, project officer for the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission were dedicated to collaboration across programs and state lines to launch the Southeast New England Coastal Watershed Restoration Program. This program and their work led to 12 projects getting funded and $1.5 million spent on improving environmental and water quality conditions in Southeast New England. These projects took the first steps to addressing nutrients and their impact on coastal watersheds. All three worked closely with EPA and each other, meeting immediate needs and establishing strong working relationships for the future. This collaboration marks the first time two estuary programs in New England have come together for a common goal and has spurred more collaboration among estuary programs in New England. Among the factors that led to a project’s funding was their ability to share results and be replicated.

Governmental

The Narragansett Bay Commission, Providence

The Narragansett Bay commission owns and operates Rhode Island’s two largest wastewater treatment facilities and is a leader in protecting the water quality of Narragansett Bay. Over the past year, the commission has shown its commitment to the bay by going beyond what was required of it for wastewater treatment. The commission is a leader in water quality monitoring in the state, voluntarily measuring nutrients to monitor how well its infrastructure investments work, and to find potential sources of contaminants. Monitoring showed that dissolved inorganic nitrogen levels in the bay last summer were the lowest since monitoring began. Over the past few years, the commission started a collaborative evaluation of sustainable solutions to improve water quality that brought together experts from environmental agencies and academia. In 2014, the commission also made significant progress in addressing pathogens, which led to a great improvement in shell-fishing. So far, the commission’s combined sewer overflow project has treated more than 6 billion gallons of flow that would have entered the bay untreated. The Narragansett Bay Commission has installed three wind turbines at Field’s Point, creating the first wind farm in the state and generating nearly half the energy used by the plant. The commission worked with University of Rhode Island researchers to measure greenhouse gas emissions from aeration tanks so it could correctly measure its carbon footprint. Lastly, the Commission collaborated with the state university, EPA, and several state agencies to reduce consumption of fossil fuel-based energy at each of the 19 treatment facilities in Rhode Island. This program success has led to similar analyses of state drinking water plants, public schools, and municipal buildings.

Other Recognition

In dedicating the merit awards to Menino, EPA noted that because of Menino’s robust environmental agenda, the city reduced greenhouse gas emissions, emerging as a national leader in climate action, and was first in the nation to adopt a green buildings standard for large private developments.

In addition to the Environmental Merits, EPA New England recognized two Federal Green Challenge award winners, one from Massachusetts and one from Vermont. The Federal Green Challenge is a national EPA initiative that challenges federal agencies to set goals and report on their achievements in the areas of waste, energy, transportation, purchasing, electronics management, and water conservation. The VA Boston Healthcare System was recognized for its laundry operation on the Brockton hospital campus, which processes roughly 8 million pounds of pillowcases, sheets, towels, and patient apparel each year for the 11 VA hospitals in New England. The Vermont Army National Guard Ethan Allen Training Site in Jericho, Vt., was also recognized. This training site hosts the Army Mountain Warfare School and an 11,000 acre firing range.

EPA New England also recognized winners of the 2014 National Food Recovery Challenge, part of EPA's Sustainable Materials Management Program, which seeks to reduce the environmental impact of materials through their entire life cycle. In 2013, EPA's Food Recovery Challenge participants nationally diverted more than 370,000 tons of wasted food from entering landfills or incinerators. Of this, more than 36,000 tons of food was donated to feed people in need, which equates to nearly 56 million meals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates wasted food costs America more than $165 billion annually and that the average family of four throws away $1,600 of food each year. The National Award winners represent the highest percent increase in food waste diversion over the previous year in their given categories.

National Food Recovery Challenge Award Winner: College and University: Worcester State University, Worcester Mass.

National Food Recovery Challenge Award Honorable Mention: College and University: Wellesley College, Wellesley, Mass.

National Food Recovery Challenge Award Honorable Mention: Other Sector: Parkland Medical Center, Derry, NH

EPA also recognized the 2014 National WasteWise New England Award Winners. EPA’s Wastewise program helps organizations and businesses apply sustainable materials management practices to reduce municipal and select industrial wastes. Nationally, WasteWise participants reported preventing and diverting a total of nearly 7.6 million tons of waste from being disposed in landfills or incinerators in 2013. This amount of waste diversion represents a reduction in greenhouse gases equivalent to taking more than 2.3 million passenger vehicles off the road for one year. The National Award winners represent the highest percent increase waste diversion over the previous year in their given categories.

National WasteWise College/University, Partner of the Year: University of Southern Maine, Portland, ME; National WasteWise Non-Profit Organization, Partner of the Year: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, MA; National WasteWise Non-Profit Organization, Honorable Mention: Norwalk Hospital, Norwalk, CT.

More information on this year’s Environmental Merit Award winners and photos from the event will be available at: http://www.epa.gov/region1/ra/ema/index.html

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