Keeping Earth First: Environmental Issues and Laws in Grounds Maintenance Management

By Payne, Scott | Parks & Recreation, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Keeping Earth First: Environmental Issues and Laws in Grounds Maintenance Management


Payne, Scott, Parks & Recreation


Maintenance operations for parks, colleges and commercial enterprises have missions to preserve the harmony between the natural and built environments. As they strive to keep facilities and grounds in their original state, or as near as possible, maintenance managers have an opportunity to promote stewardship and encourage sustainable communities. The environmental credo for facility and grounds managers may have been best stated by the late Aldo Leopold, the acknowledged father of wildlife conservation in America: "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it does otherwise."

Rachel Carson's 1962 book, Silent Spring, served as a provocative call to arms for the modern environmental movement. The book awoke the nation to the alarming damage visited upon the natural environment by humanity and our management techniques and chemicals. Driven by the works of Carson and others, the federal government slowly began to accept and appreciate the importance of protecting the natural environment. In 1970, President Nixon declared that, "because environmental protection cuts across so many jurisdictions and because environmental deterioration is of great importance to the quality of life in our country and the world, I believe that in this case a strong, independent agency is needed."

This drive for a strong, independent agency with the mission of setting and enforcing pollution control standards resulted in the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Since its creation in 1970, the EPA has been a key, if not the lead federal agency empowered to enforce much of the historic environmental legislation:

* The Clean Air Acts of 1955 and 1970.

* The Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948 and Clean Water Act 1977.

* The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act of 1947 and 1972.

* The Endangered Species Act of 1973.

* The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

Many of these environmental laws and comparable state-specific laws have a significant impact on the maintenance of government, education and commercial properties. For the maintenance manager of public parks, educational facilities or commercial enterprises, many of the environmental laws and regulations can be grouped into four fundamental areas of concern: air and water pollution; chemical usage; solid waste and employee safety.

Air and Water Pollution

From a maintenance manager's perspective, some of the most significant federal environmental laws concerning air and water pollution are the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.

Clean Air Act: This is the comprehensive federal law that regulates air emissions from area, stationary and mobile sources. The law authorizes the EPA to establish national ambient air quality standards to protect public health and the environment. The goal of the act was to set and achieve these standards in every state by 1975. The setting of maximum pollutant standards was coupled with directing the states to develop state implementation plans applicable to appropriate industrial sources in the state.

The act was amended in 1977, primarily to set new goal dates for achieving the standards (because many areas of the country had failed to meet the deadlines). The 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act were mostly intended to meet unaddressed or insufficiently addressed problems, such as acid rain, ground-level ozone, stratospheric ozone depletion and air toxins.

Many of the operations performed to maintain facilities and grounds require the use of fossil-fuel burning equipment. The exhaust fumes from the equipment have a detrimental impact on the local, as well as global, air quality. To alleviate these impacts, some maintenance operations during their equipment-selection process have added additional selection criteria biased toward low-emissions vehicles. …

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Keeping Earth First: Environmental Issues and Laws in Grounds Maintenance Management
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