Research for Environmental Agencies
The Regulated Community Compliance Project has become the Directed Study Course Research for Environmental Agencies. Each semester, students perform research tasks that assist environmental and public health officials in achieving their missions, sometimes continuing projects begun in previous semesters. The students work in teams, each taking a leadership role in one project, and a supportive role in others. Each week the entire class meets to review progress and to consider various strategies for addressing questions encountered. Team members communicate as needed with government officials, and end the class by presenting their work to them.
Thus far, students have helped the Department of Environmental Protection pinpoint waste sites vulnerable to flooding, the Office of Technical Assistance to use chemical reporting data to locate chemical storage requiring securing against storms, the Environmental Protection Agency in developing a model municipal environmental justice policy, the Department of Energy Resources in understanding the costs of building net-zero buildings, and the state’s facilities in erecting solar panels and using electrical lawn care equipment.
The work is supervised by Richard Reibstein, lecturer in environmental law and policy, who spent 27 years as a state environmental official, (part of the time as a federal environmental attorney).
For the Civil Rights Division of the New England Region of the US Environmental Protection Agency, students wrote an example of a municipal EJ policy to serve in the development of a model policy. The sample policy includes requirements for transparency, active efforts to inform and engage the public, and the implementation of an “Environmental Justice Community Impact Assessment” triggered by disproportionate impact. The impact assessment also includes strong provisions for good faith examinations of alternatives. The policy, a work in progress, is below. Please send comments or suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
At the request of the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources’ Leading by Example (Lbe) program, students were tasked with collecting and analyzing information on the practical aspects of installing solar canopies. Solar canopies are ground-mounted solar panels placed above parking lots or other non-building locations. Student researchers gathered data from numerous solar canopy vendors and sellers throughout the region, specifically regarding the design/structure, construction costs and operations of solar canopy installation, in order to garner a better understanding of the advantages and setbacks associated with establishing canopies. The goal of this project was to provide the Department of Energy Resources with a set of practical recommendations based on the students’ evaluation of the data, as Lbe prepares to launch its’ Solar Incentive Program.
Also for the Leading by Example program, students gathered information on replacing gas-powered leaf blowers and lawn care equipment with new electrical versions, which are quieter and which do not have air-polluting emissions. The information, sufficient for the writing of specifications in purchase contracts, was also provided to the state’s purchasing office, which will query existing vendors on whether they can supply such equipment. That office informed the students that the information provided was sufficient for the process to be begun.
Students used Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) and the EPA’s Discharge Monitoring Report (DMR) to identify facilities that were non-compliant and whose discharging pollutants could be contributing to the impairment of their respective water-bodies. This data was both graphed and mapped, using GIS, to analyze these trends, isolating cases of noncompliance and areas for TMDL remediation. The students also took note of discrepancies between data sets and usability of the programs to provide suggestions/improvements to EPA. Moving forward, we are looking forward to more in-depth analysis into the already identified water-bodies and new ones.
WASTE SITE VULNERABILITY TO CLIMATE CHANGE
At the request of the Bureau of Waste Site Cleanups of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), students examined information about existing waste sites where clean up has not been completed, and information about areas where increased storm frequency and intensity is likely to cause flooding, to identify waste sites where action should be taken to prevent the dispersal of contaminants. This was a continuation of a project begun in Spring, 2016, that demonstrated the value of using GoogleEarth for this task. In this semester, students used a GIS system, which DEP uses, and narrowed the analysis to sites where particular operations are in progress that require continued power to operate. DEP asked if it would be possible to present the results to the Licensed Site Professionals Association, as it would be of value for all cleanup professionals to see it.