Environment Matters Podcast
EPA Region 3
Topic: Magic MIRA Tells All
Date: September 8, 2008
Host: Hi. I'm Lena Kim of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Mid-Atlantic region, and welcome to Environment Matters--our new series of podcasts.
Some of us fondly remember the children's TV show Romper Room, which really knew how to hold an audience.
It wasn't until the end of each program that the teacher looked into her Magic Mirror and identified by name some of the kids watching the show at home. "I see Steve and Lisa and Marcus. I see Linda and Johnny…" While it may have seemed a little freaky to the kids, it worked. They were on the edge of their seats waiting for their names to be called.
Though it may not generate the same sense of anticipation, EPA's mid-Atlantic region has its own magic MIRA – as in M...I...R...A. It stands for Multi-criteria Integrated Resource Assessment – clearly not kids stuff. MIRA enables the regional staff to peer out at its environmental challenges and identify areas where our limited resources can make the greatest difference.
The region’s planners are using the rich MIRA data with some other new tools like logic models and indicators to identify the biggest bang for the environmental buck. And for those of us who see great value in results-based management, this process offers the same pump-your-fist satisfaction as getting a shout-out from that Romper Room mirror.
EPA Regional Administrator Don Welsh says the system is changing the way EPA does business.
Don Welsh: Too often in the past, we would carry out the programs and responsibilities that we have without paying enough attention to the environmental results that we were getting. What we're trying to do with these new tools is take a hard look at the environment, see if the environment is getting better or worse, see if it's getting better or worse in a particular place, and then get the right mix of tools, the right mix of programs, to try to make that environmental challenge show improvement. This really changes the way we do our budget and allocate our resources. We used to just go through our list of programs and try to get as many of them done as possible until the money ran out. Now we're trying to match the money, match the resources, match our tools to the problem that we're trying to address.
Lena Kim : MIRA and its companion tools enable the mid-Atlantic region to look at environmental problem-solving in a different way.
Our various offices are working together and combining resources in areas where scientific data, relevant laws and solid professional judgment indicate they can do the most good.
Randy Pomponio, the region’s environmental assessment and innovation director, says the detailed extra analysis is worth the effort
Randy Pomponio: Our efforts with MIRA gave us some predicable results and some real surprises. The predicable results suggested that we should pay some real attention to our healthy waters, clean air and energy issues. We were surprised to learn that we need to pay some more attention to natural infrastructure. Natural infrastructure in Region 3 boils down to wetlands and forests. Those wetlands and forests provide us a bunch of services that clean our waters, clean our air and sequester carbon that we'd otherwise have to pay for. We also had some interesting surprises from the people perspective. Over 80 people were involved in the MIRA exercise. These folks normally spend their day-to-day activities doing the work that they do for their programs and don’t often have a chance to talk to each other.
Lena Kim: It may not have been magic that brought real first names from the lips of Miss Nancy or the other hostesses on Romper Room. And, truth be told, it's not magic that drives EPA's new approach – just the best efforts of EPA managers to merge science, resources and common sense to best protect public health and the environment.