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EPA to Increase Enforcement at New England Hospitals
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent letters to more than 250 hospitals in New England in April announcing its plans to step up enforcement at health care facilities. It launched this effort in Region 1 after its Region 2 office discovered violations at hospitals in New York and New Jersey.
The Region 1 office is concerned that some hospitals in New England also might not be in complete compliance, and it wants to make sure hospital personnel understand the regulations that impact them and help them come into compliance, says Janet Bowen, an environmental engineer in EPA’s Region 1 office.
The EPA will work extensively with staff at health care facilities to ensure they know, understand and adhere to federal environmental laws, says Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office.
The letter encourages health care facilities to participate in the EPA’s audit policy, “Incentives for Self-Policing: Discovery, Disclosure, Correction and Prevention of Violations.” Participants can use the policy to identify environmental violations, disclose those violations to the EPA and voluntarily correct them. If hospitals meet certain criteria, they can receive reductions in gravity-based penalties for environmental violations up to 100 percent. A copy of the policy is available along with interpretive guidance.
Supreme Court Backs Disabilities Act
The U.S. Supreme Court in May upheld the rights of people with disabilities, ruling that a paraplegic man who crawled up the steps of a small-town courthouse can sue over the lack of an elevator.
At issue in the case was the right of private citizens to try to pursue alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in federal courts. Advocates for the disabled claimed that the fear of hefty damage awards from lawsuits was a powerful tool to force state governments to comply with the law.
“This is a huge victory for individuals with disabilities,” says Joan Stein, president and CEO of Accessibility Development Associates Inc.
In this case, the ruling appears to be limited to the fairly narrow sphere of courthouses and court services, but the rationale could be used to allow private suits on other grounds.
Because the ruling focused on courthouses, state and local governments will continue to make arguments regarding other programs, services and policies, Stein says.
EPA Rating System Expands to Medical Offices
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has expanded its national energy performance rating system, ENERGY STAR®, to include medical office buildings. The system helps organizations benchmark their buildings’ energy efficiency by comparing its performance to similar buildings nationwide.
“Energy is the largest operating expense — about 30 percent — for medical office buildings and represents a significant opportunity for cost savings,” says Clark Reed, national health care manager for ENERGY STAR.
“Benchmarking allows you to compare building performance to industry peers, determine investment priorities across a portfolio, and set performance goals.”
The EPA recognizes buildings that score 75 or greater on the rating system with the ENERGY STAR label.
“Earning the label enables managers at medical office buildings to show fiscal responsibility and environmental leadership,” Reed says. “It is a mark of excellence.”
Florida Schools First to Use Utility Report Card
The Orange County Public Schools have launched an energy-savings initiative that helps schools reduce utility bills and save millions of dollars. U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham unveiled the nation’s first online Utility Report Card at Citrus Elementary School in Ocoee, Fla.
“The ability to pinpoint energy use in our nation’s schools will give school districts the tool to assess where they can save energy, and save money,” Abraham says.
The Web-based Utility Report Card tracks, evaluates and charts energy consumption in schools. First implemented by Walt Disney World Resort to track energy consumption throughout the parks and resorts, the modified software allows school districts to pinpoint energy use and expenditures.
The software helps districts monitor energy used by individual schools during everyday activities, allowing districts to implement operation and maintenance changes to reduce consumption. Teachers and students also can examine online data to learn more about smart energy use and efficiency as a complement to the U.S. Department of Energy’s EnergySmart Schools education program.
The pilot program for Orange County Schools was funded by the Florida Energy Office, which launched an initiative last year to reduce government energy consumption by installing energy-efficient technology, modifying behavior to use resources wisely and encouraging government’s use of hybrid vehicles.
Guidelines: Managing Old Electronics
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released a voluntary guidance, Plug-In To eCycling Guidelines for Materials Management, to its Plug-In To eCycling partners, who will test its provisions to determine the most effective and practical methods for safely recycling or disposing of used electronic equipment. The guidance describes preferred waste-management practices for used electronic products. Plug-In partners include manufacturers, retailers, government agencies, and nonprofit businesses that help in the collection, reuse, recycling or refurbishing of old electronic equipment.
Survey: Building Officials Concerned About Safety
Workload, a shortage of resources and insufficient budgets are among the biggest concerns of building safety officials across the United States, according to a survey released by the International Code Council.
“The country’s building boom has been wonderful and has helped spur the economy,” says International Code Council CEO James Lee Witt. “But at the same time, that boom has put huge pressure on local building departments.
“The increased demand for services offered by building departments and insufficient budgets can affect the long-term safety of a community. If buildings are built to code or there aren’t ample resources to conduct building inspections, public safety is at risk.”
Building officials surveyed cited additional concerns including the impact of natural disasters on communities, substandard housing, illegal construction and lack of public knowledge about building and housing safety.