Contact Us


All News Releases By Date


Rhode Islanders Receive Earth Day Honors with Prestigious Regional EPA Environmental Award

Release Date: 04/22/2008
Contact Information: Paula Ballentine, (617) 918-1027

(Boston, Mass. – April 22, 2008) - Four civilians and two Rhode Island groups were honored today in Boston’s Faneuil Hall as EPA presented the 2008 Environmental Merit Awards. Recognizing significant contributions to environmental awareness and problem solving, the Rhode Island awardees included two for lifetime achievement awards, two for individual merit awards, two for work by environmental/community/academia/non-profit organizations and one for business, Industry and Professional Organizations Environmental Merit Award.

The merit awards, recognizing significant contributions to environmental awareness and problem solving, are a unique way that EPA can recognize individuals and groups that are making significant impacts on environmental quality in distinct ways.

Given out by EPA since 1970, the merit awards honor individuals and groups who have shown particular ingenuity and commitment in their efforts to preserve the region's environment. This year's competition drew 77 nominations from across New England.

“Our Environmental Merit Awards are among the highest honors EPA can bestow to recognize environmental accomplishments,” said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator for EPA’s New England Office. “I offer my gratitude to these citizens for their extraordinary contributions in protecting our shared environment. Their work reflects the best attributes of New Englanders, working to find solutions to tough environmental issues.”

The Rhode Island Environmental Merit Award winners were among 38 from across New England. Awards were given 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 may present lifetime achievement awards for individuals. The Environmental Merit Award Winners from Rhode Island are:

Lifetime Achievement Environmental Merit Award:
Peter T. Ginaitt

Former State Rep. Peter T. Ginaitt’s 16 years in the Rhode House of Representatives created a legacy of environmental protection during his 16 years in office. As chair of the Joint Committee on Environment & Energy and later the House Committee on Environment & Natural Resources, Peter showed a commitment to the environment through work on reducing mercury, curbing diesel pollution, protecting open space, restoring Narragansett Bay, treating septic waste and numerous other issues. His leadership paved the way for passing strong, environmental legislation that continues to guide the state’s major environmental programs. He received the highest graces from the Environmental Council of RI, and was honored by Clear Water Action, RI PIRG and Ocean Station Action as an Earth Day Champion. Staff from the RI Department of Environmental Management always viewed Peter as a colleague, partner and friend. The director of RI’s Department of Environmental Management, who nominated Peter, called him “one of the state’s most influential environmental leaders and natural resources advocates.”

Lifetime Achievement Environmental Merit Award:
Lori Urso

When Lori Urso retires this year from her job as executive director of the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association, she will leave behind a legacy of 15 years as a leader in watershed activities. When Lori was first hired as director of the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association in 1992, she worked to promote and protect the lands and waters of this watershed in Rhode Island. Her leadership skills helped the organization grow. When she arrived the association had about 300 members and an endowment of $8,000. During her first year there, she raised the funds to buy a riverfront headquarters, hire a full-time director and add a program director. She left the organization in good shape, returning in 2000 to launch a second capital campaign. This paid to refurbish the facility and led to an association with more than 1000 members today and endowment of more than $200,000. The group owns three parcels of land and has five staff members. Lori has helped the organization become a strong voice for the watershed, leading scientific studies, providing recreational programs and coordinating habit and fisheries restoration projects. Today, WPWA is recognized in southern New England as a leader in watershed management.

Individual Environmental Merit Award:
Sheila Dormody
Director, Rhode Island Office of Clean Water Action

Sheila Dormody, director of the Rhode Island Office of Clean Water Action, also chairs the Coalition for Water Security, a group of 11 environmental and economical development organizations working to protect the state’s water supply. In this job, Sheila has brought in more than $250,000 in grants to help assure water is available and protected. Sheila’s work in mercury cleanup and prevention has also been notable. She organized workshops on mercury contamination and was invited to serve on the Governor’s Commission on Mercury Reduction after her successful efforts to get legislation banning mercury from landfills. She worked with the state, auto salvage companies and car dealerships to negotiate legislation requiring dealers to replace mercury-containing automatic switches in old cars and properly recycle them. Sheila also chaired the state’s Mercury Reduction Group, which removed mercury switches from state vehicles and required mercury separators in dental offices. She then supported programs to remove mercury from various sources in schools. A program she backed urged the public to turn in mercury thermometers voluntarily. More than 3,000 thermometers and 97 pounds of mercury were recovered through this. As past president of the volunteer Environmental Council of Rhode Island, made up of 62 environmental organizations, Sheila co-chaired the state Department of Environmental Management Roundtable on the Environment.

Individual Environmental Merit Award:
Steven P. Hamburg
Center for Environmental Studies, Brown University

Steven Hamburg, an educator at Brown University and a persuasive speaker, has created meaningful ways for individuals and groups to reduce their carbon footprint. Steven convinced the CEO of a national chain that its stores should make a mission of turning CFL bulbs into the dominant light bulb used in America. Hamburg’s vision accelerated the sale of CFL bulbs, and lead to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 20 million tons in 2007. At the same time, customers who bought these bulbs saved a total of $2 billion a year. Steven’s unique combination of insight and persuasiveness convinced company executives that they could have more impact on the environment by promoting energy efficient bulbs than by simply reducing their own buildings’ greenhouse gas emissions. Steven also had a great impact in his own community when he and some students founded Project 20/20, which promotes the value of CFL lighting in low-income neighborhoods. The project installs CFLs for free and aims at making these energy saving light bulbs ubiquitous in Providence. Steven Hamburg is showing the way toward immediate high-impact carbon savings with benefits to individuals, their communities and our country.

Environmental, Community, Academic & Non-Profit Organization Environmental Merit Award:
Rhode Island Chemical Safe Schools Committee

After chemical hazards were found throughout Rhode Island schools, including improper personal protective equipment and carcinogenic and explosive materials, state agencies, colleges and non-profit organizations formed the Rhode Island Chemical Safe Schools Committee. To reduce the risks associated with chemicals in schools, the committee trained employees in related positions, built systems of oversight and helped create the resources needed to remove hazardous chemicals. The group’s efforts led to training workshops, new manuals, new regulations banning storage of hundreds of chemicals and a review of school inventories. In addition, companies that sell chemicals to the schools were encouraged to offer alternatives to chemicals on the banned list. A new website was developed so educators can exchange information. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of chemicals deemed dangerous are now gone from the schools, drastically reducing the risks for staff and students. The success of the program will be featured in a video meant to model for other states Rhode Island’s system for reducing chemical risks in schools.

Environmental, Community, Academic & Non-Profit Organization Environmental Merit Award:
Salt Ponds Coalition

The salt ponds of Rhode Island are a national treasure sitting at the very bottom of the food chain. They are critically important to Atlantic wildlife and Rhode Island’s economy. But the nine coastal salt ponds on the state’s south shore are under assault from the pressures of extensive development. They are threatened by human waste, increased bacteria and rising nutrient levels that can lead to shellfish beds closing, increased algae blooms, unpleasant smells and in some cases the death of fish, all of which hurts the tourism and fisheries of the region. Twenty years of data collected by the Salt Ponds Coalition has demonstrated the kind of pollution facing the ponds. But the coalition’s volunteer work sampling and analyzing the pond, educating the public and working to preserve the ponds has also begun to turn the tides. Through direct mail, presentations, press, websites and special events like the safari program for kids, the Salt Ponds Coalition has helped educate the public about human impacts on the ponds. The coalition has also opposed potentially damaging development. The great success of the coalition has meant more members and more grant money working for the health of Rhode Island’s ponds.

Business, Industry and Professional Organizations Environmental Merit Award
Rhode Island Water and Wastewater Agency Response Networks (WARNS)

About 1,500 public water supply systems were hurt by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the south. New England has recently faced flooding that threatened the safety of our own supplies. The New England State Water and Wastewater Response Networks involve utilities, associations and states establishing mutual aid programs in each state. These programs will allow groups to exchange information and work together when an emergency hits. Based on lessons learned, the federal government recognizes timely responses must happen first at the local and state levels. Utilities helping utilities in mutual aid is clearly the most expeditious way to deal with water emergencies. When Bethel, Maine lost its water supply in a landslide, Auburn’s Water District came to its aid with staff and tractors to build a temporary impoundment. This case study will now be played out throughout New England as mutual aid programs start up in each state. No other part of the country took on the challenge of simultaneously establishing response networks in all states. Because of this progress, New England was designated a national pilot to develop the first Inter-State WARN.