FORT LEE, Va. – “It’s not about the plaque on the wall,” said James Mills, Environmental Management Division supervisor here. “It’s knowing we’re doing the right thing and seeing the money saved go back into the community because that impacts everyone.”
The comment is in reference to the Virginia Environmental Excellence Award Fort Lee has now claimed for the 12th year in a row. It recognizes the community’s success in preventing waste, reducing pollution and protecting natural surroundings – all of which results in cost savings and avoidance of hefty fines.
“In order to remain in the (Virginia Environmental Excellence Program), we have to have a clean compliance record,” Mills elaborated. “We also have to have what they call an environmental management system, which is a way to look at every activity on base and identify things that have adverse impacts on the environment; then develop objectives and targets to mitigate those.”
VEEP is broken down into two categories, facility-based and organization-based initiatives. The first track assesses how an agency promotes the use of environmental management systems to drive pollution prevention for facilities in Virginia. The second one, titled the Sustainability Partners track, encourages organizations such as local governments, universities and state agencies to make environmental sustainability part of their culture through leadership, innovation and continual improvement.
Highlighting Fort Lee’s successes, Mills said individuals throughout the installation “understand the standards that are set and the goals the environmental department has established,” and they regularly search for ways to help accomplish the protection mission. One example is the language used in contracts.
“Any contracts that go out have 40 specific environmental requirements, which allow us to meet our goals and targets to mitigate adverse impacts,” Mills said.
Offering an example, he said any contracts that cover the installation of products that emit nitrous oxide, such as boilers and hot water heaters, specify the use of only EPA-certified low-emitting equipment. This prevented the release of 12,380 pounds of NOx into the atmosphere in 2020 and a reduction of over 61.4 tons over the past ten years.
Team Lee also has come up with innovative solutions that save money and reduce waste.
“The batteries for some of our larger tactical vehicles would drain over time and get so low that we couldn’t even jump them to get the motor started,” said John Allen, EMD’s Pollution Prevention Program manager. “Someone had the idea to trickle charge them, so we purchased the equipment and now can trickle charge each battery up to seven times.”
This is a major benefit, he noted, because tactical vehicles can require several batteries to operate, each one costing the government around $350 and days or weeks of ordering time. Trickle charging saves time and money, and fewer batteries need to be recycled.
Mills also touted the installation’s success with the Qualified Recycling Program. It is comprised of representatives who serve as advocates for consistent recycling practices and a team of inspectors who routinely conduct site checks to ensure compliance. The ultimate result is less waste sent to landfills, which is a money-saver for the installation. Those dollars go to community groups in need of funds for environmentally friendly projects.
The overall point the EMD team hopes they have made clear is that the entire Fort Lee community has played a role in ensuring the installation’s excellent record of environmental compliance continues.
“Without a doubt, we have a strong group of professionals in the environmental office and we set high standards for each other and Team Lee,” Mills said. “The other part of it, though, is the relationships our department has fostered throughout the years with all of the organizations on post. That is really the key because we cannot do this alone. Environmental compliance – knowing the expectations and making an effort to meet them – is a total community effort.”
DPW is scheduled to conduct their internal audit Sept. 10-30, to ensure environmental compliance, identify deficiencies and improve processes.
For further information about VEEP, and to see a complete list of current partners, visit www.deq.virginia.gov/get-involved/pollution-prevention/virginia-environmental-excellence-program.