Yesterday I spoke with Jared Blumenfeld, the former head of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment–aka the guy who brought mandatory recycling to San Francisco and banished the phrase “Paper or plastic?” from the city’s supermarkets–by banning the plastic.
Blumenfeld now occupies a vast corner office in the EPA’s Region 9 headquarters, overseeing a territory that includes four Western states and 20 of the country’s largest cities. Born 40 years ago, just as Region 9 came into being, this week he was briefing reporters on his plans to “revolutionize” the region with a tighter focus on environmental justice, enforcement, and making small businesses more efficient.
What do these things have in common? For one thing, they’re all pretty local: specific communities with specific complaints and needs (a profile, incidentally, that fits Blumenfeld’s first initiative to a “T”).
So what about more sweeping changes on, say, climate? You could argue that it’s not the job of a regional head to get mixed up in Beltway politics. But given all the recent drama in Washington around cap and trade, maybe Blumenfeld’s local focus is intentional.
How, I asked him, has the mood in Washington affected his ambitions for EPA Region 9?
“I was looking at a recent poll that showed how many fewer people understand climate change last year than this year,” he replied. “I think the environmental movement has gotten away from the people. We’ve become overly specialized, jargony, focused on large problems no one person can solve.”
Having made San Francisco a considerably “greener” place, maybe Blumenfeld’s first task is to export small initiatives that–for the moment at least–make environmental problems feel local and solveable.
Amy Standen is the lead radio reporter for Quest, KQED’s multimedia science initiative.