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Since January 2016, KMUW's Engage ICT: Democracy on Tap has convened free community conversations on topics that touch our daily lives. Democracy on Tap went digital in April 2020. Viewers can stream the live conversations here at EngageICT.org or KMUW's Facebook page.

Engage ICT: Environment

April 12, 2016 at Loft 150

Our April Democracy On Tap panel, held at Loft 150 above River City Brewing Company in Old Town, focused on environmental issues—which, for Wichita and Kansas, meant recycling, trash, renewable energy, water and the future of food.


Tanya Bronleewe, program manager at Wichita State University’s Environmental Finance Center, offered a “10,000-foot view” of national environmental laws and policies that impact us today. It’s only since the 1960s and 70s, she said, that the government shifted away from a “hands-off” view of the environment. A key question remains of just how much intervention is appropriate for the government to have in business in regards to environmental safety.

A major focus today, she said, is “non point-source issues,” including the individual cars we drive.

“Add them up all together, you’ve got a lot of pollution,” Bronleewe said.

Nancy Larson, director of Kansas State University’s Pollution Prevention Institute, says her organization’s role is to “make a business case for reducing emissions at the source,” promoting both economic and environmental sustainability. At least three Wichita industries—Coleman, Dillon’s, and Via Christi—have worked with the institute to reduce their environmental footprint.

Kent Rowe, conservation co-chair and energy chair of the Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club, asked rhetorically what we as people of this country are doing to deal with “a warmer and warmer planet.”

He said “there is hope, and there are things we can do,” but it will take a cultural shift.

Locally, the City of Wichita has been taking measures to meet new, stricter federal ozone restrictions. The EPA recently set ozone limits to 70 parts per billion, down from 75 parts per billion; Laura Quick, environmental compliance officer for the city, said Wichita had already exceeded the ozone limit on one day of the ozone season, which runs from April through October.

But the city has hired a new ozone specialist and adopted an ozone action plan, and Wichita officials have said the city is prepared to meet the new standards. Susan Erlenwein, director of Sedgwick County Environmental Resources, said the county has also been improving, particularly with the amount of material it recycles: from just over 5,000 tons of material in 2000 to nearly 47,000 tons in 2015. (Quick noted that though 1 in 4 Wichita households are enrolled in a recycling program, we’re still under the national average as far as participation.)

Other issues that came up on the panel included water use (“having enough water is a big concern to a lot of the state,” Bronleewe said) and renewable energy.

Kansas is third in the nation for wind energy, Rowe said, and the state is on track to have 25 percent of our energy come from wind, but much of the energy we power is shipped out of state.

“But we’re top in potential,” he said.

Bronleewe said environmental issues might not be the most important election issue, but she encouraged audience members to go to candidates’ websites and “see what they’re saying about the environment” before heading to the polls in the fall.