Olivia Alperstein: Trump to roll back limits on methane

The fracking process.

The fracking process.

Via OtherWords.org

September 11 is already an annual day of mourning. But while the nation grieved over victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency announced a plan future generations may well grieve as a tragedy in its own right.

While Americans attended memorial services, the EPA announced plans to roll back regulations on methane — a powerful greenhouse gas that damages the world’s climate and threatens human health.

Methane carries up to 36 times more warming potential than carbon dioxide.

More methane emissions mean more lethal heat waves, extreme storms, rising sea levels, drought, and floods. They mean worsening air quality, water quality, and crop damage. They mean certain crops will lose nutritional value, and pest- and waterborne diseases will spread.

Specifically, the White House wants to kill the Obama administration’s 2016 New Source Performance Standards, which require oil and gas drillers to limit emissions of methane during fracking and flaring (the process of burning off gas that won’t be captured and transported).

It’s yet another big present to the oil and gas industry. Meanwhile, ordinary working families will pay the price, and so will their health. Children, the poor, the elderly, and those with a weak or impaired immune system are especially vulnerable.

The EPA itself agrees: Its own analysis concludes that the new proposed rules could send hundreds of thousands more tons of methane into the atmosphere. The EPA acknowledges further this would hurt thousands of people and rack up a huge cost in health care and agricultural damage.

There are short-term threats, too. Both fracking and flaring pose serious risks to nearby communities, including possible methane leaks.

Methane leaks are frequently accompanied by volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are known to be toxic and/or carcinogenic to humans.

VOCs carry a boatload of negative health impacts. For example, when combined with particulate matter in the presence of sunlight and heat, VOCs form ground-level ozone, a pollutant that aggravates chronic lung diseases, pre-existing heart problems, and asthma.

Put simply, they’re terrible for the air you breathe and the water you drink and the ground you walk on.

Fracking itself poses a danger. This past March, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Concerned Health Professionals of New York released a report showing that fracking increases the risk of serious medical conditions such as asthma, birth defects, and cancer.

A study by the Environmental Defense Fund found that the U.S. oil and gas industry emits 13 million metric tons of methane from its operations each year — nearly 60 percent more than currently estimated by the EPA.

This attempt by the EPA to roll back the methane rule undermines the health and safety of families and communities. It flies in the face of scientific and medical evidence that methane poses serious hazards to our climate and health.

We need more regulation of methane, not less.

The EPA is directly tasked with creating policies that protect human health and the environment. It’s reckless and irresponsible to weaken a rule that directly fulfills that mission.

Olivia Alperstein is the Media Relations Manager for Physicians for Social Responsibility

Basav Sen: Ruthless coal baron helps set Trump energy and environment policuy

Removing the top of a mountain to mine for coal in Appalachia.

Removing the top of a mountain to mine for coal in Appalachia.

Via OtherWords.org

It’s common knowledge that our political system is awash with money. And that money, despite some flimsy legal barriers, comes with strings attached.

One coal baron’s efforts to set an entire administration’s energy agenda are the perfect case study.

His name is Robert Murray, and he heads Murray Energy, one of the largest coal mining companies in the United States. Murray contributed $300,000 to President Trump’s inauguration — and clearly wants a return on his investment.

The details are laid out in some memos Murray wrote to Vice President Mike Pence and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, which were reported on by The New York Times and In These Times magazine.

The memos recommend a detailed (and horrifying) energy agenda. And the administration is following it almost to a T.

Murray recommended that the administration get rid of greenhouse gas regulation. Status? Check. The White House is trying to get rid of the Clean Power Plan, the prior administration’s most significant effort to regulate greenhouse gases.

Murray recommended that ozone regulation be gutted. While the administration hasn’t succeeded in doing that yet, it’s not for lack of trying. The Trump EPA tried to delay the rule by a year, and it took the threat of a lawsuit by 15 states to compel the administration to reverse its decision.

Murray recommended that the EPA’s staff be cut by more than half. They’re well on their way, thanks to a combination of buyouts, retirements, and resignations that have brought the agency down to 1989 staffing levels.

Meanwhile, to reinforce the message to EPA employees that they aren’t wanted, the agency has censored their work and spied on them.

There’s more. Murray also recommended a convoluted idea for more regulation of energy markets — and higher costs for utility ratepayers. To justify them, he cited made-up concerns about the reliability of an electric grid that relies increasingly on renewables.

Cutting though the jargon, Murray wants you and me to pay higher energy bills to bail out the coal industry.

Career experts at the Energy Department  concluded that the alleged threat to the electric grid from solar and wind was “fake news.” But under Perry’s leadership, the department still tried to get the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to approve a scheme very much like the one Murray proposed.

Thankfully, FERC, which is an independent agency, overruled the idea unanimously.

So while Murray’s agenda has hit a roadblock, it’s not because the Trump administration hasn’t tried to implement it. (Indeed, one Energy Department staffer said he was fired after leaking a photo of Perry literally giving Murray a big hug.)

When a wealthy person gives a politician a large sum of money, and a detailed policy agenda that benefits his business interests, and the politician goes about implementing this policy agenda almost to the letter, the logical thing to call it is bribery.

Our politicized courts think that it’s “free speech.”

What’s a good way to describe a country where the formal structures of democracy don’t make the government accountable to the public interest? And instead, where a small wealthy oligarchy bribes politicians to do their bidding?

The old term for that was a banana republic. But perhaps a more “presidential” term would be a s—hole country.

Basav Sen directs the Climate Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.


Science will survive Trump


From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in GoLocal24.com:

The Trump administration has been trying to censor certain phrases  that formerly were widely used in some federal agencies, such as “global warming’’ and “human-caused climate change’’ in the Environmental Protection Agency (the fossil-fuel industry doesn’t like them) and ‘‘evidence-based,’’ “science-based,’’ “transgender’’ and “diversity’’ at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Tea Party and some Evangelical types don’t like those words.)

At the same time, the administration is trying to force out some agency scientists disinclined to follow the new regime’s line. But science is international and these phrases and the science they refer to will still be out there, although the administration’s actions will tend to move some important scientific research abroad. Too bad.

When I worked in Paris in the ‘80s we lived right next to the Institut Pasteur, the famed medical-research center, where I often went in to look at the  bulletin board to read announcements about discoveries. (Institut Pasteur scientists found the AIDS virus.) Most of the announcements were in English, the primary language for high-level scientific communications. One got a strong sense of just how global science is.

Peter Certo: Forget Russia, what about Trump's collusion with U.S. corporations?

Via OtherWords.org

I've always been a little skeptical that there’d be a smoking gun about the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia. The latest news about Donald Trump, Jr., however, is tantalizingly close.

The short version of the story, revealed by e-mails that The  New York Times obtained, is that the president’s eldest son was offered “some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary” and “would be very useful to your father.”

More to the point, the younger Trump was explicitly told this was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Donald, Jr.’s reply? “I love it.”

Trump Jr. didn’t just host that meeting at Trump Tower. He also brought along campaign manager Paul Manafort and top Trump confidante (and son-in-law) Jared Kushner.

We still don’t have evidence they coordinated with Russian efforts to release Clinton campaign emails, spread “fake news,” or hack state voting systems. But at the very least, the top members of Trump’s inner circle turned up to get intelligence they knew was part of a foreign effort to meddle in the election.

Some in Washington are convinced they’ve heard enough already, with Virginia Sen, (and failed VP candidate) Tim Kaine  suggesting that  meeting might be called “treason.”

Perhaps. But it’s worth asking: Who’s done the real harm here? Some argue thatit’s not the Russians after all.

“The effects of the crime are undetectable,” the legendary social critic Noam Chomsky says of the alleged Russian meddling, “unlike the massive effects of interference by corporate power and private wealth.”

That’s worth dwelling on.

Many leading liberals suspect, now with a little more evidence, that Trump worked with Russia to win his election. But we’ve long known that huge corporations and wealthy individuals threw their weight behind the billionaire.

That gambit’s paying off far more handsomely for them — and more destructively for the rest of us — than any scheme by Putin.

The evidence is hiding in plain sight.

The top priority in Congress right now is to move a health bill that would gut Medicaid and throw at least 22 million Americans off their insurance — while loosening regulations on insurance companies and cutting taxes on the wealthiest by over $346 billion.

As few as 12 percent of Americans support that bill, but the allegiance of its supporters isn’t to voters — it’s plainly to the wealthy donors who’d get those tax cuts.

Meanwhile, majorities of Americans in every single congressional district support efforts to curb local pollution, limit carbon emissions, and transition to wind and solar. And majorities in every single state back the Paris climate agreement.

Yet even as scientists warn large parts of the planet could soon become uninhabitable, the fossil fuel-backed Trump administration has put a climate denier in charge of the EPA, pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Accord, and signed legislation to let coal companies dump toxic ash in local waterways.

Meanwhile, as the administration escalates the unpopular Afghan war once again, Kushner invited billionaire military contractors — including Blackwater founder Erik Prince — to advise on policy there.

Elsewhere, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon and other architects of the housing crash are advising Trump on financial deregulation, while student-debt profiteers set policy at the Department of Education.

Chomsky complains that this sort of collusion is often “not considered a crime but the normal workings of democracy.” While Trump has taken it to new heights, it’s certainly a bipartisan problem.

If Trump’s people did work with Russia to undermine our vote, they should absolutely be held accountable. But the politicians leading the charge don’t have a snowball’s chance of redeeming our democracy unless they’re willing to take on the corporate conspirators much closer to home.


Peter Certo is the editorial manager of the Institute for Policy Studies and the editor of OtherWords.org. 


Jill Richardson: Trump, the EPA and chaos

Via OtherWords.org

As Donald Trump was sworn in, my inbox filled up with concerns about the future of the Environmental Protection Agency. Allegedly, scientists were being censored. References to climate change were being erased.

But all that was just a warm-up act.

Before we could really act on the EPA, down came Constitution-shredding executive orders against refugees and Muslim immigrants.

The problem, for those of us who care about due process and the rule of law, is that it’s impossible to put out one fire before the next one begins — or to even keep track of everything.

For instance, as lawyers worked to ensure that Iraqis who’d put their lives in danger working for the U.S. weren’t deported back to Iraq, Trump removed the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence from his National Security Council.

In their place, he installed the controversial white supremacist Steve Bannon (who’s stated that his goal is to “destroy the state”) and his own chief of staff, Reince Priebus.

With so much going on, some speculate that Trump is trying to create chaos, so Americans are too distracted to uncover and resist what he’s really doing.

On the environmental front, some believe that Trump is holding back on his plans until he can succeed in getting his pick for EPA administrator confirmed by the Senate. That nominee, Scott Pruitt, is a climate skeptic with several pending lawsuits against the agency he’s been picked to lead.

If that’s the case, we should re-examine what’s occurred with regard to the environment since inauguration, in preparation for what’s to come. Some changes were part of the normal change of power in Washington, whereas others were not.

For instance, any mention of climate change was wiped from the White House website.

This is in part because the entire website turns over with each new administration, removing all of the old speeches and press releases of the outgoing president. However, Trump’s new energy page presents a reality in which climate change doesn’t exist.

Moreover, the new administration froze all Obama-era regulations that hadn’t yet been finalized. In itself, this is actually a standard action new presidents take. However, the Trump administration went further than all previous presidents, also halting all EPA grants and contracts.

Another standard practice is to stop agencies from putting out press releases before the new administration has time to get its feet wet.

That said, the Trump administration has indicated it might muzzle its environmental scientists, threatening to subject their work to a case-by-case review by political appointees before their findings can be made public. That isn’t normal.

Initially, rumor had it that the EPA would remove its climate change website. This hasn’t occurred yet, but some believe it’s because Trump wants to hold back until he can get Pruitt, a longtime friend of the fossil fuel industry, confirmed.

Meanwhile, Trump has taken steps to reinstate both of the nation’s most controversial oil pipelines, the Keystone XL and the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Of course, with the Tweeter in Chief now in charge, some of the most interesting developments occurred on Twitter. When Badlands National Park tweeted data about climate change, their tweets were soon removed.

Shortly thereafter, “rogue” government twitter accounts appeared, purporting to give citizens the truth from our federal agencies.

In short, if this is the warm-up, what’s to come is scary.

The “environment” is an abstract concept, but it’s the air we breathe and the water we drink. We all must work to stay informed. Don’t get distracted by chaos when it’s used to cover up even more destructive harm to our nation and the planet it lives on.

Jill Richardson is a columnist for OtherWords.org and the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.

Sean Moulton: Speed up government rulemaking

Via OtherWords.org

One of the dirtiest words in politics is “regulation.”

It conjures up images of confusing paperwork, red tape, and obstacles to progress and innovation. However, when it comes to guaranteeing that the water we drink is lead-free, the air we breathe is clean, and that the food we buy at the supermarket won’t cause cancer, people are all for them.

The winds quickly change when you refer to regulations as “protections.”

Regulations, the rules that govern the laws passed by Congress, are necessary. But they present a target-rich environment for corporate and special interests.

Just because a law is passed doesn’t mean it’s going to be enforced. More often, it’s up to various federal agencies to interpret the law and write the rules — that is, the regulations — for its implementation.

This rulemaking process makes it too easy for special interests to twist a good law into something that’s more beneficial for their own interests than American taxpayers. They spend billions of dollars every year to gain access to decision-makers in government in an attempt to influence their policies.

If you want to get the money out of politics, you should also worry about the money inpolicy.

Away from public view, many players take aim at the rules  that agencies make: industry, lobbyists, lawyers, politicians, and even other agencies. Their influence and interference often leads to enormous delays and compromised standards.

For example, it took the EPA more than 10 years — and a court order — to finish rules on mercury emissions from power plants.

It was a rule about mercury. In the air. That people were breathing. If that doesn’t qualify as an urgent issue, what does? Yet it took a decade for the government to get regulations in place.

The process has become cumbersome to the point that you can never know whether agencies will finish making rules that they start — much less ensure that the final rules will match a law’s original intent. Unfortunately, all attempts by Congress to “solve” the rulemaking problem have consisted of provisions that would actually make the current system worse.

One preposterous proposal, put forward by Sen. Rand Paul, actually calls for Congress to have oversight over new rules.

Congress is surely dysfunctional. Even proposals with bipartisan support can inexplicably languish for months on the Hill and die with no action. That’s not where you go to smooth out a rocky process.

The fact is that  “reform” proposals like these aren’t meant to remedy our rulemaking dilemmas. Instead, they’re part of a campaign by powerful interests to make the process even less effective.

What we need is greater transparency and accountability in rulemaking. There should be no secret processes where political pressure can be brought to bear behind closed doors. Any changes made to a federal agency’s rule — whether by the White House, other agencies, or lawmakers — should be done on the public record, with a full explanation of why it was necessary.

Agencies should also have the authority to operate more quickly and decisively based on their expertise, including rejecting proposed changes they believe damage a rule.

As distasteful you may find regulations, we need to speed up the rulemaking process and make it less vulnerable to pressure from outside groups. Without it, our laws will only protect the highest bidders.

Sean Moulton is the Open Government Program Manager at the Project on Government Oversight (POGO.org).

Celebrating water protection in N.E.


A stretch of the Connecticut River in western Massachusetts.

From ecoRI News.


At a spot overlooking Boston Harbor, once choked with toxic pollution but now home to some of the cleanest urban beaches in the United States, advocates gathered July 1 to thank the Obama administration for closing loopholes in the Clean Water Act that previously left more than half of Massachusetts’s streams at risk of pollution.

“We’ve made so much progress in cleaning up our waterways, and we can’t afford to turn back the clock,” said Ben Hellerstein, state director for Environment Massachusetts. “The EPA’s Clean Water Rule will make a big difference in protecting Boston Harbor, the Charles River and all of the waterways we love.”

The Clean Water Rule, finalized in late May, clarifies federal protections for waterways following confusion over jurisdiction created by Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006. It restores Clean Water Act protections to thousands of miles of streams that feed into waterways that provide drinking water for millions.

“In New England, protecting our water is more important than ever, especially as we work to adapt to climate-change impacts such as sea-level rise and stronger storms,” Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Regional Administrator Curt Spalding said. “Protecting the most vulnerable streams and wetlands — a drinking-water resource for one in three Americans — helps our communities, and this rule provides clarity for businesses and industry without creating new permitting requirements.”

Before the Clean Water Rule became law, small streams, headwaters and certain wetlands were in a perilous legal limbo, allowing polluters and developers to dump into them or destroy them in many cases without a permit. In a four-year period following the rule’s creation, the EPA had to drop more than 1,500 cases against polluters, according to one analysis by The New York Times.

Prior to the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, Massachusetts waterways suffered from decades of pollution and neglect. As late as the 1980s, untreated sewage was regularly dumped into Boston Harbor, and high concentrations of industrial pollutants posed a public-health risk.

The Clean Water Act prompted a major cleanup of the harbor. Today, Boston boasts some of the cleanest urban beaches in the nation, and wildlife habitat has significantly improved, according to Environment Massachusetts.

Advocates pointed out that the Clean Water Act has enabled similar improvements in water quality in many of the state’s most iconic waterways, from the Charles River to the Connecticut River.

Despite broad public support for clean-water protections, polluting industries and some members of Congress are fighting to block implementation of the Clean Water Rule. In recent weeks, congressional committees have approved multiple bills aimed at rolling back the Clean Water Rule.

Frank Carini: The selfish slobs of Brown University



Photo  and article by FRANK CARINI, ecoRI News

The trashy scene above recently left behind after the Brown University Class of 2015 graduated perfectly exemplified growing U.S. selfishness.

Kindergartners leave a cafeteria with more grace than the  elite who exited the Main Green by dumping their lunch trays on the ground. It’s sickening how little we think of others and the places we share that it’s considered acceptable to leave behind an easily-avoidable mess for someone else to clean.

After celebrating the accomplishments of young men and women, the  elitists who attended the May 24 graduation left the university lawn littered with half-drunk plastic water bottles, newspapers, commencement programs, half-empty coffee carafes, pieces of lightly bitten fruit and other barely touched foods, and, of course, all things plastic.

The elitists  ignored the many bins, barrels and totes  that Brown University had thoughtfully placed throughout the area to collect trash and recyclables. Plastic crunched underfoot and litter was inadvertently kicked as graduates and their guests slowly left. The workers responsible for folding the chairs and removing the rest of the commencement infrastructure were left to navigate the debris.

It would be nice to think that the  elite kindly left their unwanted food for hungry squirrels, but, sadly, they just thought someone else should pick up their mess. The littering elite couldn’t even be bothered to freshen the trampled lawn with the water they left locked in jettisoned plastic bottles.

There’s little wonder the U.S. recycling rate is a lackluster 35 percent, our composting rate considerably less, consumption is soaring, apathy increasing and our collective concern negligible. Wasted food makes up the largest percentage of all material buried in our landfills. We throw away up to 40 percent of our sustenance, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In fact, the average American wastes 10 times as much food as the average Joe in Southeast Asia — up 50 percent from Americans in the 1970s.

Of the more than 150 million mobile devices we discard annually — many still in fine working order but no longer socially fashionable — only about 12 percent are recycled.

A mobile phone contains about 40 elements, including heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants such as flame-retardants, PVC, lead, cadmium, chromium, mercury, bromine, tin and antimony. Such chemicals have been linked to birth defects, impaired learning, liver toxicity, premature births and early puberty.

Our response to this problem has become the American Way. For instance, the United States is the only industrialized country that hasn’t ratified the Basel Convention, an international treaty that makes it illegal to export toxic e-waste. The convention’s main goal is to protect human health and the environment from hazards posed by trans-boundary movements of hazardous waste.

Since 1990, U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions have increased by about 6 percent, according to the EPA, and we have been one of the largest, if not the largest, emitter of climate-changing emissions for decades. Our response has been to blame China and India for now polluting as much as we do.

Unfortunately, thinking of others and the environment aren’t ideals that get you elected or make you rich and powerful. The trickle-down effect of our expanding self-indulgence was on full display last Sunday at Brown University. The mess is likely unseen in the background of countless selfies.

It has become increasingly OK to leave our trash at college graduations, on airplanes, in movie theaters, at ballparks, in public parks and at the beach. Someone else will pick up mess ... or birds will choke on plastic bottle caps mistaken for food ... or donations will eventually be made to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Since we can’t even be bothered to properly dispose of trash and recyclables at an event that celebrates society’s potential, what sacrifices are we truly willing to make to ensure a prosperous and healthy future for others?

Frank Carini is the editor of ecoRI News.


Frank Carini: Good news about reusing old places

Frank Carini is editor of ecoRINews, whence this piece originated The Industrial Revolution left many New England cities and towns with a legacy: manufacturing pollution that turned once-productive, and often pristine, land and water into dumps. This practice of contaminating natural resources and then leaving behind scarred remains, after the offending business went bankrupt or left for greener pastures, continued well into the 20th century.

The result: By the end of the 1980s, thousands of brownfields dotted the southern New England landscape, especially in its core urban areas. Remediating brownfields is a constant battle that pits public health and environmental concerns against cost factors. Clean-up efforts are often interrupted by hidden obstacles, such as underground storage tanks filled with waste oil, and finding the responsible party to pay the price is virtually impossible.

A brownfield, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is an abandoned or underutilized industrial/commercial facility where redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination. And these derelict and damaged properties represent do-overs — at least that’s how the EPA sees it.

“We view these sites as opportunities,” said Frank Gardner, EPA brownfields coordinator for Region 1. “Every brownfield site is an opportunity. We provide funding to actively clean up these properties, to make them safer for the public and for economic development."

In the past few years, southern New England has been the beneficiary of considerable EPA funding to help remediate brownfields. In fiscal 2014, for example, the EPA distributed a total of $67 million to all 50 states for such projects — Rhode Island received $2.1 million, Massachusetts $5.9 million and Connecticut $5.3 million.

Brownfield remediation projects, on average, leverage $17 per EPA dollar expended, according to Gardner. He also said the federal agency’s Brownfields Program creates additional benefits, such as increasing residential property values near remediated sites by 5 percent to 12 percent, and empowering states, communities and other stakeholders to work together to prevent, assess, safely clean up and reuse brownfields. The EPA notes that since the program’s inception in 1995 it has leveraged 90,363 jobs nationwide.

But transforming blighted brownfields into community assets is no easy task. It takes money — plenty of it — patience, often a public-private partnership and some creative thinking. One Massachusetts program, for example, encourages ground-mounted solar projects on brownfields and landfills.

On a contaminated brownfield near two schools, the city of New Bedford got inventive and contracted with Con Edison Solutions and BlueWave Capital to build a solar project. This solar installation is intended to be used to help support energy education and encourage students to consider working in the renewable-energy industry.

Successfully overhauling such properties also depends largely on a site’s contamination level, according to Cynthia Gianfrancesco, who runs the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s (DEM) Targeted Brownfields Assessment Program. The program began in 1996 as a pilot in communities, such as Providence, North Smithfield and Woonsocket, with long histories of manufacturing and heavy industry.

“Most of the sites in Rhode Island are heavily contaminated,” she said. “They were once textile mills and then became sites for jewelry manufacturing. We’re dealing with an industrial history of more than 200 years.”

Those centuries of incineration, smelting, metal plating, concrete manufacturing, etching and electroplating contaminated much of southern New England’s land and water. But a number of private and/or public projects has breathed new life into long-abused properties.

Since 1994, the EPA Brownfields Program has awarded Rhode Island $34.8 million, Massachusetts $106.3 million and Connecticut $71.8 million to fund a three-state total of 1,422 remediation projects. That 20-year total of $212.9 million helped clean up 301 properties in Rhode Island, 783 in Massachusetts and 338 in Connecticut, but it represents just a slice of the money that was needed to advance those projects.

“EPA brownfields funding is just a building block, not the entire block,” Gardner said. “Most of these projects need to cobble together funding from various sources. EPA money is just a piece of it. It’s like putting a jigsaw puzzle together.”

And those 1,422 brownfield remediation projects the EPA has helped fund since 1994 represent just a fraction of the southern New England sites plagued by contaminated soil, polluted waters and abandoned properties rife with toxic waste, such as asbestos and lead. Little Rhody, for instance, has some 1,800 brownfields, according to best estimates.

But the number of properties in southern New England contaminated by the region’s industrial past is slowly declining.

A once heavily polluted property, the Steel Yard is now a Providence attraction.

(See Joanna Detz/ecoRI News) ''Providence success stories'') From locomotive manufacturers to steel mills, Providence has a long history of industrialization. While the city’s manufacturing industry gave rise to an economic boom in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, few operating mills remain today.

It was with a slight tip of the hat to those industries that made Providence economically great that the Steel Yard was founded in 2002. The visionaries who started the nonprofit artists collective also wanted to acknowledge the legacy of environmental degradation that heavy manufacturing has had on the city and state’s natural resources.

The Steel Yard is in the city’s Olneyville neighborhood, a once flourishing industrial enclave for textile, jewelry and metal manufacturers. A dozen years ago, the site was closed and in disrepair. For years, Providence Steel had sprayed its finished girders with lead-based paint, with the overspray leaving high concentrations of lead in the property’s soil.

The cost to transform this 3.5-acre brownfield on Sims Avenue into a community asset was substantial. The eight-year remediation project cost nearly a million dollars, and was completed thanks to federal and state grants, fundraising efforts, and donated materials and labor. Today, the old Providence Steel buildings have been converted into more than 9,000 square feet of workspaces for artists, and classrooms for education and job training in the industrial arts. The property has become a signature city attraction.

The Steel Yard, however, isn’t the only Providence brownfield to enjoy an expensive makeover. Two Octobers ago, community members, neighbors and representatives from Groundwork Providence gathered to celebrate the completion of the Hope Tree Nursery, in an industrial area on the city’s West Side that once housed metal manufacturers.

Situated on the former Sprague Industries site, a brownfield still laden with residual toxins from its factory days — no soil can be removed, so the trees are grown in pots — Hope Tree Nursery now provides the Elmwood neighborhood access to affordable trees grown locally. The nursery’s physical presence also has improved the look and feel of Sprague Street.

Two distressed areas along the Woonasquatucket River have been revitalized and turned into community assets. Riverside Park, a former brownfield and high-crime area, is now a 6-acre neighborhood oasis. Its redevelopment brought with it a bike path, new housing and the opening of small grocery store, and crime has fallen sharply.

Contamination from the former Lincoln Lace and Braid factory — petroleum, metals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) — had spread to this industrial river. It cost $991,000 — funded by state and federal money — to cealn up the property, which is now a passive greenspace connected via a bike path to other urban parks.

WaterFire Providence will soon make its new home on a three-parcel site on Valley Street once occupied by a rubber manufacturer and machine shop. The ongoing renovation includes a stormwater management system. The property also will be used as an incubator for artists and businesses, and will host after-school programs.

A 25-acre site on the Providence/Johnston line and bordered by the Woonasquatucket River, had been contaminated by lead and arsenic, until the early 2000s, when the Button Hole Golf Course opened. Today, the nine-hole course is a teaching center that brings golf to urban youth.

The city’s neighbor to the north, Pawtucket, another community with a rich industrial history, recently announced that renovations to the Festival Pier waterfront park off School Street will be completed at the end of November. The park is expected to open to the public Dec. 1.

When finished, the $2 million brownfield remediation of the Old State Pier property, a former oil terminal along the Seekonk River and home to the popular Chinese Dragon Boat Races, will feature a new plaza, lighting, benches, a canoe/kayak launching area and a boat ramp.

xxx  Mosaico, a nonprofit community development corporation, has owned the the former National India Rubber Co. on Wood Street in Bristol for four years. Before  that, the brownfield was in receivership, several buildings were in disrepair and there were outstanding DEM violations tagged to the 14-acre former Kaiser Mill Complex.

During its heyday, this industrial complex employed more than 1,200 people, and local families set their clocks to the mixture of solids, liquid particulates and gases belched from its smokestack at 7 a.m., noon and 5 p.m.

Mosaico applied for and received Targeted Brownfields Assessment Program funding from DEM to complete an environmental assessment of the property. The nonprofit then applied for and received a $200,000 EPA brownfields grant. The money is being used to clean up contamination, address stormwater management requirements and cap portions of the site with new landscaping.

Mosaico is seeking additional funding to complete improvements on the remainder of the site, which would allow for increased occupancy and economic development opportunities. About 60 percent of the space is occupied by some 25 companies, which range from boat builders to sign and skateboard makers.

The Thames Street Landing transformed an abandoned waterfront property in Bristol into a commercial development. (BETA Group Inc.)This popular waterfront town also features two other ambitious brownfield redevelopment projects — Thames Street Landing and Premier Thread.

Thames Street Landing was empty for three years before this redevelopment project began in 1999, on property originally used as a lumberyard. Most of the site’s contamination — lead, arsenic, petroleum and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) — resulted from production of coal, coke and lumber in the last 40 years of the 1800s. Some 20,000 yards of contaminated soil was removed from the 2.2-acre site, and the entire project cost $8.3 million, most of it privately funded.

This waterfront property now features retail establishments, a restaurant, offices, apartments and a hotel, transforming a once highly contaminated, abandoned lot into a central part of the town’s economic and social structure.

“The project spurred development around it, and the neighborhood took off,” said Kelly Owens, an associate supervising engineer for DEM and one of seven agency employees devoted to brownfield work. “It created some true economic development.”

The Thames Street site of the former Premier Thread factory and old Narragansett Electric manufactured gas plant is now high-end condominiums. This project, Owens said, also helped stimulate neighborhood development.

“We hope our funding helps fill in the blanks and reduce some uncertainty,” said the EPA’s Gardner. “Just about every town in New England had a mill or manufacturing facility. The Industrial Revolution certainly left a mark.”