EPA Recognizes Vermont Business and Citizen with Regional Environmental Award

September 14, 2021

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for years to come. The award for Agri-Mark recognizes the company's leadership in working towards a greener transportation sector. The company not only has ensured that they are reducing their own emissions but assist and encourage their transportation partners to do so as well, creating a ripple effect in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions for Vermont and beyond."

Chuck Schwer was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from EPA for his legacy of achievements during his more than three decades of service at the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (VTDEC). Schwer started with DEC in the mid-1980s in the new leaking underground storage tanks program. Over the years, the program has prevented countless releases of hazardous materials. One of the earliest members of the Vermont Hazardous Materials Response Team, founded in 1996, Schwer remained on the team as deputy crew chief.

Schwer then took on a supervisory role, managing staff as well as contaminated sites and the Vermont Petroleum Cleanup Fund. During his tenure as fund manager, he developed important relationships and showed that industry and government can be partners for success. In addition, he was instrumental in helping to procure state funding for brownfields. Schwer was actively involved in the Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association for many years and served on its board for seven years, including one year as chair. He was also involved in the Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials since the 1990s, serving as subcommittee chair and regional representative.

Schwer's most important contributions may be around PFAS contamination. He managed staff on sites in Bennington, Pownal, and at the Rutland airport, responding to public concerns and providing safe drinking water supplies. In Bennington, he helped make sure almost 700 homes sampled for PFAS had clean drinking water. Throughout his career, Schwer demonstrated a commitment to resolving waste issues and empowering staff, leaving a legacy of competent leaders to continue to guide the department.

The Agri-Mark/Cabot Creamery Cooperative was recognized with an award in the business category from EPA for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. To address transportation equipment and dispatching practices, they outfit their trucks and trailers with the most energy efficient options available and route their trucks for top efficiency. All of their trucks are equipped with aerodynamic body modifications and low rolling resistance tires, which increases fuel economy. In addition, their sleeper trucks are equipped with a hybrid electric power unit that avoids unnecessary idling. Agri-Mark has also created a "Green Team" at each of its facilities to put in place local and companywide initiatives.

To increase implementation of these best practices for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, idle time and gas efficiency is posted in a friendly competition between drivers. The company also has put an emphasis on training dispatchers and drivers in efficient routing. Agri-Mark now requires itself to maintain certification under EPA's SmartWay program and improve yearly, as well as requires new transportation partners to be SmartWay certified and aims to have existing non-SmartWay partners become certified.

Agri-Mark has improved fuel economy by more than a mile per gallon, a savings of roughly 60,000 gallons of fuel annually, and has decreased idle time from 300 hours to 100 hours. It's estimated that the company's changes have led to an overall decrease in their greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent yearly.

Another award Merit Award was given in the government category for the COVID-19 Ensuring Safe Drinking Water Team, a conglomerate of New England's state drinking water programs, state water and wastewater agency response networks, and other water sector associations that ensured the safe operations of water utilities during the pandemic. This conglomerate consisted of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation; Vermont Water and Wastewater Response Network; and the Vermont Rural Water Association.

It also included from other New England States the Connecticut Department of Public Health; Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection; Maine Drinking Water Program - Centers for Disease Control; New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services; Rhode Island Department of Health; Connecticut Water and Wastewater Response Network; Maine Rural Water Association; Maine Water and Wastewater Response Network; Massachusetts Water Works Association; Massachusetts Rural Water Association; Massachusetts Water and Wastewater Response Network; Rhode Island Water and Wastewater Response Network; Rhode Island Water Works Association; New England Water Works Association; and Rural Community Assistance Program.

During the pandemic, water system managers and operators faced staff and chemical shortages, restricted access to assets, and health and safety challenges. In the midst of this, drinking water programs created new guidance around flushing, hydrant sampling, tap sampling and Legionella control as well as designed new protocols that enabled state staff to perform remote sanitary surveys of water utilities. The programs also issued email newsletters; helped with virtual meetings with the state drinking water staff; developed virtual training opportunities; and offered professional training to keep certified operators up to date. While the New England state drinking water programs worked to address the regulatory, policy, and technical assistance challenges of the pandemic, the state water and wastewater agency response networks worked to protect the health and safety of water system managers and operators. Because of their efforts, drinking water in New England remains safe and plentiful, even during the pandemic.

In addition to this Merit Award winner, Janet Coit, of Rhode Island, was given the Ira Leighton "In Service to States" annual award for environmental achievement that has had an outsized impact in the state, the region, and nationally. This award recognized Coit, former director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM), for being a leader in finding ways for the New England states to work as a team. Coit readily engaged in New England regional environmental challenges, including addressing PFAS, responding to climate change, improving water quality, and addressing equity and justice issues. In addition, in Rhode Island specifically, Coit focused on improving natural resource conservation, promoting locally grown food, and addressing the climate crisis. Coit continues her environmental service today, as she currently serves as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Deputy Administrator.

EPA New England each year recognizes individuals and groups in the six New England states who are distinguished by their work to protect or improve the region's environment. The merit awards, given since 1970, honor individuals and groups who have shown ingenuity and commitment. The Environmental Merit Awards, given for work or actions done in the prior year, 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.

For more information on EPA's Environmental Merit Awards, including photographs from the award ceremony: https://www.epa.gov/environmental-merit-awards-new-england

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