Environmental Factor, May 2010, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Environmental Heroes Speak at EPA
By Laura Hall
Staff of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) invited their NIEHS neighbors to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day April 21-22 at EPA. Highlights included a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new solar panel installation, a keynote address by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and a presentation by Hunter Lovins.
Ribbon cutting ceremony
James Turner, president and chief operating officer of the U.S. Franchised Electric and Gas Duke Energy, and EPA Assistant Administrator of the EPA Office of Administration and Resources Management Craig Hooks dedicated the solar panel installation on the First Environments Early Learning Center roof by cutting the ribbon across the representative solar panel at the ceremony.
Duke Energy(http://www.duke-energy.com/north-carolina/renewable-energy/nc-solar-distributed-generation-program.asp) has supplied 476 solar panels for the roof of the EPA- and NIEHS-supported day care to generate electricity that goes back into the electric grid -- making the roof a generating plant. "What an incredible partnership this is," said Turner. This type of investment "will significantly help us reduce our green house gases over time."
Kennedy on the true costs of energy
Kennedy, who is chief prosecuting attorney for the Hudson Riverkeeper(http://www.riverkeeper.org/about-us/our-story/) and president of the Waterkeeper Alliance(http://www.waterkeeper.org/) , is a Time Magazine 1999 Hero of the Planet.
"Ever since I was 9 years old, I have considered environmental pollution a theft," said Kennedy. "Someone was stealing something from the rest of us and making himself rich by doing it." Kennedy said he remembered the times before pollution laws were enacted when rivers caught fire and thousands of Americans died every year from smog events.
"These young guys on Capitol Hill who criticize our pollution laws see only the cost to the polluters," he said. "They don't see the huge benefits that were gotten from those laws through their implementation to the public at large."
The true cost of these incumbent energy industries is hidden, Kennedy said. American taxpayers pay trillions of dollars to coal, oil, and nuclear companies in direct tax subsidies and for the cost of cleaning up their waste, paying the resulting health care costs, and protecting their foreign interests.
"[The] 630,000 children born in this country every year who have been exposed to dangerous levels of mercury in their mother's womb [are] one of the costs of coal that they don't tell you about when they say it's only 11 cents a kilowatt," said Kennedy.
It is the vast subsidies we give the incumbent energy industries that "form the principal impediment for much more efficient forms of energy from entering the marketplace," he continued. "We know that every nation that has decarbonized their society has experienced instantaneous prosperity."
Kennedy also warned that "the subversion of American democracy" accompanies "large scale destruction of the environment." He said, "The first act of tyranny always includes the privatization of the public trust resources."
Lovins on the economic benefits of sustainability
In her talk, "The Business Case for Environmental Capitalism," Hunter Lovins(http://www.natcapsolutions.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=247&Itemid=54) , the Time magazine 2000 Hero of the Planet, thanked the EPA staff for staying the course and believing "in what a government agency can do to protect the environment." She added, "What you do matters -- now as perhaps at no time in history."
Lovins, who is the president and founder of Natural Capitalism Solutions(http://www.natcapsolutions.org/) , speaks and consults with businesses, governments, and other organizations about the need to bring sustainability into all our policies and practices.
Her message is that sustainability is profitable, doable, and necessary to prevent economic collapse. Lovins gave many examples of monetary savings and job growth gained by municipalities and businesses large and small by instituting sustainable practices.
Changing our way of living and doing business will not be an option, but a necessity, she warned. "What it is that you [EPA] are trying to do in helping businesses, communities, all of us, learn how to live and do business in more sustainable ways is critical to solving the economic problems facing us."
(Laura Hall is a biologist in the NIEHS Laboratory of Toxicology and Pharmacology currently on detail as a writer for the Environmental Factor.)