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EPA Awards 2 Environmental Merit Awards to Rhode Island Recipients

Release Date: 04/22/2014
Contact Information: EPA Public Affairs, (617) 918-1010

(Boston, Mass: April 22, 2014) Today, the U.S. EPA recognized one organization and one individual from Rhode Island at the 2014 Environmental Merit Awards ceremony. The Rhode Island awardees were among 26 recipients across New England honored for contributing to improving New England’s environment.

Each year EPA’s New England office recognizes individuals and groups whose work has protected or improved the region’s environment in distinct ways. The merit awards, given out since 1970, honor individuals and groups who have shown particular ingenuity and commitment in their efforts.

“We extend our congratulations and gratitude to this year’s Environmental Merit Award winners, who are helping to ensure a cleaner environment and healthier communities here in New England,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “In addition to iconic natural beauty and vibrant communities, New England is fortunate to have citizens who care deeply about the environment we share.”

The 2014 Environmental Merit Awards program was dedicated to Ira Leighton, former deputy regional administrator for EPA New England’s office who died in 2013 after 41 years of service to EPA.

“Ira truly loved the Environmental Merit Award ceremonies and deeply appreciated the environmental stewardship and commitment of citizens across New England,” said Spalding.

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 Environmental Merit Award Winners from Rhode Island listed by category are:

Lifetime Achievement
Jane Austin
Providence, RI

Jane Austin has dedicated 10 years to improving the health of Narragansett Bay, and the sustainability of its community. At Save the Bay she worked with the community, elected officials and other environmental organizations to push forward successful efforts on Climate Adaptation, wastewater management, public access and integrated environmental planning.
Jane was instrumental in creating the Coalition for Water Security and the Coalition for Transportation Choices. She exhibited exceptional leadership at the Environment Council of Rhode Island and the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program’s executive committee. She championed legislation to phase out cesspools in Rhode Island, while serving on a task force that is addressing chronic wastewater management problems in the City of Warwick. She coordinated a diverse coalition of groups to win statewide voter approval of the purchase of Rocky Point and other iconic shoreline access lands in Rhode Island.

Coastal impacts from Climate Change have driven a lot of her efforts. She has been known to urge officials to resist building hardened structures because they can exacerbate erosion and deflect problems elsewhere along the shore. More importantly, she called on officials to develop a comprehensive strategy for dealing with rising sea levels and erosion instead of reacting in piecemeal fashion when pressing issues arise. That approach began soon after, when officials began working on what has come to be called the Beach SAMP (Special Area Management Plan).

Austin took on the issues with passion, perseverance and integrity, insisting that her colleagues at Save The Bay and in government tackle issues in a holistic and responsible manner. She has tenaciously insisted that environmental agencies to do their jobs and play by the rules, and focus on the long-term consequences of policies and decisions. Jane Austin is a great champion for the environment.


Rhode Island Environmental Education Association
The Rhode Island Environmental Education Association is a terrific resource to Rhode Island students, schools, and educators. The organization works collaboratively to promote environmental education and public awareness of environmental issues throughout the Ocean State.

Kristen Swanberg and her team have been working for years to provide a forum for members to discuss and make recommendations regarding the environmental education needs of the state and to create an environmentally literate citizenry through the Rhode Island Environmental Literacy Plan. The RI Environmental Education Association promotes high quality environmental education throughout the state in order to increase the environmental literacy of all children and adults. Recently the RI Department of Education, in cooperation with the association, used the green schools construction/renovation initiative to incorporate environmental education into schools’ lesson plans. Schools work with authorized providers to weave environmental education and sustainability issues into their curriculum while meeting learning standards. Students will learn about the green and sustainable features of their schools. The RI Environmental Education Association is a front-runner in helping to prepare environmentally literate citizens to work, participate and lead in the 21st century.

Leighton “In Service to States” Award
The Ira Leighton "In Service to States" Environmental Merit Award was initiated by several environmental groups and EPA New England. The groups involved were the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission, the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, the Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association and the New England state Environmental Commissioners, along with EPA.

The award went to Ken Kimmell, who worked at the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection from 2011 to March 2014 and before that as General Counsel at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs from 2007 through 2011. During that time, Kimmell demonstrated a stellar record protecting the environment, proactively addressing climate change, promoting sustainability and innovation, and advancing clean energy technology at the state, regional, and local levels.