EPA Awards Six Environmental Merit Awards to Rhode Island Recipients
BOSTON (Oct. 12, 2022) – Today, the U.S. EPA recognized four individuals and two organizations in Rhode Island at the virtual 2022 Environmental Merit Awards ceremony. The awardees were among 20 recipients across New England honored for contributing to improving New England's environment.
New England's annual Environmental Merit Awards are given to community leaders, scientists, government officials, business leaders, schools, and students who represent different approaches, but a common commitment to environmental protection.
"EPA is proud to recognize and congratulate Rhode Island awardees', for their great accomplishments and their continued efforts towards combatting climate change, bringing cleaner air and water to neighborhoods, and ensuring our underserved communities' voices are being heard," said EPA New England Regional Administrator David W. Cash. "Their ingenuity and commitment truly make a difference in our New England communities."
The Environmental Merit Awards, which are given to people who have already taken action, are awarded in the categories of individual; business (including professional organizations); local, state or federal government; and environmental, community, academia or nonprofit organization. Also, each year EPA presents lifetime achievement awards for individuals. The 2022 Environmental Merit Award Winners from Rhode Island listed by category are:
University of Rhode Island Coastal Institute, Narragansett
Judith Swift, the retiring Director of the University of Rhode Island Coastal Institute, is a leader dedicated to interdisciplinary collaboration, science communication, and finding creative solutions to help ecosystems across New England.
Among the initiatives she has led were the North Atlantic Coast Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit, a consortium of federal partners, universities, and nonprofit organizations; a network, allowing the use of URI personnel and resources for environmental emergencies; a state coastal and ocean magazine, where she was writer, editor, and co-publisher; a report analyzing 13 sectors in the Narragansett Bay watershed that rely on natural resources; and a federal program addressing the threat of PFAS to human health.
Judith's contributions to the bi-state Narragansett Bay Estuary Program span many years. Over a decade ago, she recognized the struggles, as well as the untapped potential, of the estuary program. With support from EPA, Judith made changes that improved the program's reputation at local, state, and federal levels. Guided by historical perspective and an understanding of the parties involved, Judith steered the program through a lengthy process that led to a scientific report called, "The State of Narragansett Bay and Its Watershed." She led a conference to fulfill the plans laid out by consolidating under one host organization, improving relationships between Rhode Island and Massachusetts, emphasizing science, enhancing partnerships, aligning the budget, prioritizing staffing, and strengthening the governance structure.
As chair of the program's steering and executive committees, Judith served with perseverance and dedication. She devoted countless hours to discussions with the former host, the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission, to reinvigorate the program.
Judith's belief in partnerships made her service to the states vital. Her role as chair ended in 2019, but she continues to serve the region with commitment to the interconnected ecosystem and indirectly through the work of her successors, students, and mentees, some of whom she never knew she motivated.
George W. Loomis
University of Rhode Island Cooperative Extension, Kingston
George Loomis will retire this fall after 36 years with the University of Rhode Island Cooperative Extension. A soil scientist by training, George dedicated his career to leveraging the latest scientific knowledge to advance the onsite wastewater treatment system field. George literally wrote the book on Onsite Wastewater Treatment: In 2018, he and Jose A. Amador published the book "Soil-Based Wastewater Treatment," with essential information for onsite industry professionals.
Throughout his career George brought together politicians, developers, engineers, land surveyors, septic installers, septage haulers, septic and home inspectors, advanced technology vendors, realtors, and, most importantly, homeowners to change Rhode Island's onsite wastewater treatment industry.
George was the driving force behind improvements in onsite wastewater in Rhode Island and the region. He changed the entrenched way of doing business and was instrumental in building trust among public officials, builders, contractors, realtors, engineers and land surveyors.
As director and creator of the New England Onsite Wastewater Training Program at URI, George trained thousands of professionals. He directed the design and installation of nearly 70 innovative onsite systems under the auspices of state and federally funded demonstration projects in Rhode Island. He has worked with several communities to develop wastewater management programs as well as ordinances to establish inventories and inspection programs.
George was instrumental in developing the Rhode Island Septic System Check Up Handbook to standardize the way systems are inspected, which helps protect consumers. George also co-authored the state's sand filter guide, the bottomless sand filter guide, and the pressurized drainfield guide, which have since been integrated into state regulations.
George served on committees at local to national levels, helping establish new regulations and training curricula across the northeastern U.S. and the U.S. Virgin Islands. George's contributions and impact as an industry leader, teacher, mentor, collaborator, researcher, and advocate for environmental protection are immeasurable.
Audubon Society of Rhode Island, North Kingston
Meg Kerr, long a staunch advocate for the environmental movement, retired in 2021 after a career of climate leadership and service to the State of Rhode Island.
Raised in Westchester County by parents who were environmentalists even before Earth Day existed, Meg got her bachelor's in marine biology at Brown University. After getting her master's from the University of North Carolina, Meg began her career as a scientist. She worked for the Environmental Protection Agency across North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., where she partnered with states to standardize water quality reporting aligned with the Clean Water Act.
She then moved back to Rhode Island and quickly established herself as a prominent advocate for the environment, taking on roles at the Rhode Island Rivers Council, the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program, and Clean Water Action. Meg ended her career as senior director of policy for five years at the Audubon Society of Rhode Island. To add to the list of her accomplishments, Meg was a founder of the Rhode Island Green Infrastructure Coalition and helped launch the Providence Stormwater Innovation Center, a partnership between Audubon and six other organizations.
Meg also helped found the annual Land and Water Conservation Summit, which for over a decade brought together hundreds of environmentalists from the region. Meg is passionate about pollinators and organized a rally at the State House to bring attention to threats faced by bees.
A fierce and respected leader for the environment, and a familiar face at the State House, Meg is also a mother, grandmother and an avid runner, who calls her daily run her "mental thinking time." Meg's expertise, mentorship, and ability to get things done for Rhode Island's environmental community has made a real mark on the state.
Providence Parks and Recreation, Providence
Brian Byrnes, deputy superintendent of Providence Parks and Recreation, is being recognized for his leadership at the Providence Stormwater Innovation Center in Roger Williams Park. He is also being honored for his efforts to demonstrate the use of green infrastructure, reduce stormwater impacts and monitor the results of improvements in the water quality of the watershed.
Brian was instrumental establishing the stormwater center, partnering with the Audubon Society of Rhode Island and other environmental organizations and professionals. He oversaw the installation of many stormwater treatment practices in the park and hosted trainings and webinars that reached many municipal public works staff.
The Providence Stormwater Innovation Center monitors the effect of the stormwater practices on water quality downstream. Data collected on dissolved oxygen, water temperature, chlorophyll-a, pH, alkalinity, nutrients and bacteria help in the understanding of the eutrophication process. Cyanobacteria blooms are being monitored in Roger Williams Park ponds with volunteer monitoring days throughout summer. Smartphone images of algae blooms and of microscopic samples help experts identify the species.
Brian has shared his passion and knowledge with other state municipal officials and the Stormwater Design Community. The center showcases nature-based stormwater practices, provides training on green infrastructure, and tests innovative treatment technologies, all to improve urban water quality while beautifying the landscape and creating natural habitat for wildlife.
Environmental, Community, Academia, Nonprofit
Barnaby Evans and Peter Mello
WaterFire Providence, Providence
The recurring river sculptural art events that are organized by WaterFire Providence have brought over 10 million visitors to Rhode Island's capital. Barnaby Evans, founder and executive artistic director of WaterFire and an artist with a degree in environmental science, combines ecological expertise and design philosophy in solutions to public art and urban issues. The growing organization in 2012 bought a vacant industrial building requiring extensive cleanup during renovations.
Thanks to Peter Mello, managing director of WaterFire, the organization got over $700,000 in state and federal brownfields funding for redevelopment. When unexpected PCB contamination threatened to derail the project, Peter made sure tax credit and bond funding were not jeopardized. The resulting 37,000-square-foot arts center opened in 2017 with its historic beauty intact and sustainable building techniques incorporated, earning an award from the Providence Preservation Society.
WaterFire led the city's 2017 Brownfields Areawide Planning project for Woonasquatucket River Valley neighborhoods. Neighboring property owners have since done their own cleanup and renovation projects. WaterFire regularly includes paddling events in its lightings that celebrate the cleaner water and return of fish resulting from a sewer improvement project. WaterFire continues to partner with the underrepresented Olneyville/Valley neighborhood.
Barnaby and Peter showed that artistic vision, innovative economic strategies, and meaningful community engagement can result in inspiring environmental outcomes.
Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank, Providence
The Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank has been an essential partner in addressing the state's public health and natural environment. Last year, the bank created and supported more than 2,300 jobs and closed $105.9 million in grants and loans, including over $54 million in clean water and drinking water loans. The bank also led the development of Resilient Rhody, a statewide climate resilience strategy that brought together 54 members from state agencies, organizations, and research institutions to come up with 61 recommended actions.
In November, the bank released a three-year impact report that showed all of Rhode Island's municipalities now have active hazard mitigation plans or are updating plans, 20 municipalities have partnered in the Municipal Resilience Program, and $19.5 million in new funding has gone to climate resilience projects. The town of Warren, for instance, received $20 million through the Clean Water State Revolving fund to upgrade to its wastewater treatment facility.
Also with the bank's help, Newport was able to get more than $49 million through both the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and the Efficient Buildings Fund to make improvements at the Newport Water Pollution Control Plant. The Efficient Buildings Fund allowed for solar panels to be installed that will reduce the amount of energy required to operate the facility.
Ira Leighton "In Service to States" Annual Award
Every year, one individual in New England is selected to receive the Ira Leighton "In Service to States" Environmental Merit Award. It is a tribute to our long-time colleague and friend, Ira Leighton, who passed away in 2013, after serving 41 years at the U.S. EPA. Ira's dedication and passion for protecting the environment was evident to all who knew him. He was a constant presence in New England, a force who took ideas and made them actionable tasks that resulted in measurable improvements. Today, the 2022 award was presented to Melanie Loyzim of Maine.
Maine Department of Environmental Protection
Melanie Loyzim, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, has been a leader over the past two decades in promoting environmental protection and maintaining a viable economy.
For more information on EPA's Environmental Merit Awards, including a video of today's award ceremony, visit: EPA New England Environmental Merit Awards.