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The EPA’s Efforts in Climate Action, Public Engagement, and Earth Month Initiatives
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The EPA’s Efforts in Climate Action, Public Engagement, and Earth Month Initiatives

We sat down with Adam Ortiz, EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator to chat about transparency and their recent work.

Are you curious about how the government considers policy and public engagement?

We recently interviewed Adam Ortiz, the EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator, to hear about the agency’s transformative approach under the Biden administration. Keep reading for Ortiz’s insights about the EPA’s mission in an era of climate urgency, from fostering transparency to redefining community involvement, inclusive environmental action, and everyday sustainability practices.

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Julie Hancher:  As we’re chatting, the Society of Environmental Journalists conference is happening in Philadelphia. What does it mean to you having all these experts from around the country observing what’s happening with the environment locally?

Adam Ortiz: Well, we welcome SEJ being here; it’s a really important organization. We take our relationships with journalists and with the media very seriously because of their important communications with the public.

But also, the more information they have, the more empowered they are to engage with us. The Biden administration has a very different relationship with the media than the previous administration. We’re highly transparent from taking interviews to FOIA (Freedom of Information Act – i.e., anybody can write a letter and ask for information about what the government is doing, working on, or a document) requests.

Those requests were taking almost a year in the previous administration. And now we have responded to those requests in just a few weeks. So that’s just an example of how seriously we take this relationship because journalists are so important to a free and independent country that we shine a light on the things that need attention.

We try to bring reporters along to when we’ve been out in the field many times. Even yesterday, during the conference, I joined a tour about the state of restoration of the Chesapeake and the role that Pennsylvania plays.

Julie Hancher: People may feel like the Chesapeake or Ocean is distant being in the city. How can people reconsider their connections to watersheds?

Adam Ortiz: Well, the environment is all connected, right? People may have never been to the Chesapeake Bay or never been to certain parts of the Delaware but there’s a local stream connected to where we are right now. Wherever you are, there’s a roof, a sidewalk, or a park where, when it rains, stormwater runoff goes into a local storm drain or a creek and then into a larger body.

One of the great things about the environment is that we can all have an impact immediately.

You talk to a property manager about ways that stormwater can be controlled a little bit better, or consider how you get rid of your waste. All those things make a big difference. And if people can just pause for a second and think ‘is there something little something I can do to take care of our environment, that can make a big difference?’

Julie Hancher: That’s a great point. What does Earth Month mean to you as the administrator of the EPA?

Adam Ortiz: It has a lot of layers of meaning. The first Earth Day was in 1970, which was also when the EPA was created and a suite of important environmental laws went into effect.

The EPA was created in response to citizen organizing and activism. That’s why transparency is so important: people are heavily invested and engaged.

Earth Day is a time to shine a spotlight and celebrate the work we have engaged in, empower more people, and be even more present. That’s also why we’re hosting our virtual Environmental Summit on May 16th.

Julie Hancher: How are you engaging with the community that cares about their local environment?  

Adam Ortiz: We’re more engaged than ever. President Biden has done a great job fighting to get us the resources that we need to fully do our work. The agency was created in the 70s and had almost 18,000 employees by 1979 working together to clean up the country.

But the staffing took a big hit in the 80s, and then again, in the 90s, when it was chopped down about 25 or 30%. Under the President’s leadership and partners in Congress, we are really getting up to the full complement that can try to carry out our work with the urgency that we need.

And what an urgent time. Climate change impacts are real, and as we’re getting into the summer time, we’re concerned about wildfires, extreme heat and more.

We’re also focusing more on communities that have been historically forgotten by the environmental burdens from industry, frequently by the people with our lowest income who are most marginalized. 40% of our resources under the President’s budget are going to historically disadvantaged communities, which have been historically redlined. We’re showing up, walking the streets with people there, listening to the leaders, and figuring out how we can work together in a way that’s most responsive to them. We’re in a 20th-floor office here, but we got to get down on the ground.

Julie Hancher: What does that mean if you successfully engage with communities?

Adam Ortiz: Well, it’s important that we deliver. It could be removing toxins, like the Baltimore bridge collapse, where we’re doing $40 million remediation of a contaminated site by an old steel mill.

Folks have pointed out that they don’t have a ton of green space, but the green space that they have floods regularly. So we’ve been working with the local government and the planning agencies to redo the park so people can have access to the outdoors in a healthy in a safe way.

Some things we have formal authority over, like we’ll clean up this or will crack down on a polluter, but sometimes we have to listen and problem solve and help with smaller stressors like flooding. We want people to feel heard and engaged when they pick up the phone or write an email and get a response.  You only do that over time by developing trusted relationships.

Julie Hancher: Definitely. So, it’s Earth Month. What can people do at home to be more sustainable everyday?

Adam Ortiz: The great thing about environmental workers is that it’s something everybody can do, like, every single day. This is something that we all actively participate in, and we create the health of the environment together. Personal practices, like having a few reusable containers or recycling. Or doing our best to reduce time in the car, like walking or biking.  

Julie Hancher: How can people continue to follow the EPA?

Adam Ortiz: We have a very active presence on social media; we recently launched our own Instagram account. If you have a question or a concern, absolutely engage with us. Our staff is highly engaged. We love connecting with people and solving problems together, so don’t be shy.

Julie Hancher: Great. Thank you, and happy Earth Month to you.

Adam Ortiz: Thank you.


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Julie Hancher is Editor-in-Chief of Green Philly, sharing her expertise of all things sustainable in the city of brotherly love. She enjoys long walks in the park with local beer and greening her travels, cooking & cat, Sir Floofus Drake. View all posts by Julie Hancher
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