What Does Leo DiCaprio Love About Paula Castano? 9th Annual William K. Reilly Award Winners, EPA Salutes Houston TX’s Energy Innovation, Houston Approves Historic Brownfield Solar Project

by | Jun 29, 2021 | Podcasts, The Climate Daily

Why does Leo DiCaprio love Paula Castano and why we should care, plus it’s the ninth annual William K. Reilly awards. The EPA touts energy innovation leadership in Houston, TX, and the Houston city council approves the largest brownfield solar project in America.



Well, if you’re one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s 19.3 million Twitter followers, then you may already know who Paula Castano is. On May 21, as part of announcing a $43 million pledge that he, the Galapagos National Park Directorate, Island Conservation and Re:Wild collaborated on to restore and rewild the Galapagos Islands, DiCaprio turned over access to his social media to her for a day. Paula is a wildlife veterinarian with an MSc in conservation medicine and a background in raptor medicine and island restoration. Since 2013, she has been working in the Galapagos Islands with Island Conservation providing technical assistance to the Galapagos National Park to prevent extinctions and restore Galapagos ecosystems. Currently, she’s involved with the Floreana Island Ecological Restoration Project as a Native Species Specialist, and coordinates all environmental aspects of the project, including species reintroduction.

 Paula grew up in Colombia. According to an interview she did with National Geographic, Since childhood she dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. But it was her teacher and mentor Dr. Claudia Brieva who exposed her to the sub-specialty of wildlife veterinary medicine. And this is why Paula Castano matters to us. Through her experiences, Paula has rehabilitated Colombian condors and jaguars, healed raptors in the American Midwest, and has grown to understand the larger impact she has on the plant through wildlife conservation, restoring ecosystems and helping human communities cohabitate with those ecosystems and that wildlife, in balance with nature.

DEEPER DIVE: Paula’s IG, Castano Articles, Island Conservation



The Center for Environmental Policy at the American University, School of Public Affairs in Washington, DC awarded the 2021 William K. Reilly Awards for Environmental Leadership on June 16th. This year’s honorees included Peggy Shepard, Co-Founder and Executive Director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, and on behalf of all EPA career civil servants, EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. The career staff of the United States Environmental Protection Agency has been so important to the quality of our environment for over half a century now, and its career staff was recognized for their commitment to quality science, effective decision making, clean air and safer water chemicals and so much more.

Peggy Shepard began her environmental activism career in 1988. The North River Sewage treatment plant on the Hudson River Greenway up by 130 Fifth 135th Street was originally planned to be located in a white upper middle class neighborhood. But facing resistance, the plant was moved to West Harlem as has often happened to a predominantly low income, black and Hispanic community. After the plant’s completion and operation began, the residents of West Harlem were exposed to the odors and fumes from the plant and began experiencing respiratory, asthma symptoms. Shepard and her colleagues led protests against the plant and filed a lawsuit against the city. In 1993, they won a major victory for the community in West Harlem. 

It included a $1.1 million environmental benefit fund for the neighborhood, and a big commitment from then Mayor David Dinkins to allocate $55 million to fix the plant. When a co-plaintiff in the suit joked that the settlement money would mean an awful lot of trees would now get planted in Harlem, Peggy responded, “No, we’re going to build a mini National Resources Defense Council for our community.” And she did, and WE ACT for Environmental Justice was born.  

Congratulations to Peggy Shepard and the career staff of the EPA! The more we report on Climate Champions, the more hopeful I get about the future.  

DEEPER DIVE: Reilly Awards, Facebook

EPA Recognizes Houston’s Continued Leadership in Energy Innovation

The Environmental Protection Agency has recognized the Houston region as a national leader in energy innovation across multiple categories. Last week, the EPA announced that the city has more ENERGY STAR-certified buildings than any other city in Texas, ranking seventh in the country. According to the EPA, last year, the Houston-Sugarland-The Woodlands area’s 195 ENERGY STAR certified commercial and multifamily buildings saved more than $41 million and 242,992 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to taking nearly 53,000 passenger vehicles off the road. 

According to a Green Houston press release, while some cities require ENERGY STAR-certification for new construction, the program remains voluntary in Houston. All 194 buildings that meet the criteria in the city have done so of their own accord. There are also many buildings in the city that meet the requirements for certification, but have not applied for the program. “As the energy capital of the world, Houston is proud to be leading a global energy transition,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “I’m thrilled our business community is embracing energy efficiency as a tool to reduce our emissions and reach our ambitious local and national climate goals.”

This news follows an earlier report that Houston is the top city on the EPA’s “Green Power Partnership” list, using more renewable energy than other municipalities in the United States. As of July 1, 2020, all municipal facilities are powered by 100% renewable energy. Why this matters to us is it shows despite the obstructionism of the current Texas governor and republican-led legislature, there are communities in the Lone Star state fighting to combat climate change.

 DEEPER DIVE: Green Houston, Climate Mayors


Houston City Council Approves Largest Brownfield Solar Project in the Nation

2021 has been a busy green year for Houston, TX. Mayor Sylvester Turner and the city council earlier this year unanimously approved a lease agreement with Sunnyside Energy, LLC to advance the Sunnyside Solar Project –- an innovative public-private partnership to convert the 240-acre closed landfill in Sunnyside into the largest brownfield solar installation in the nation.

According to the city’s press release, the project will be anchored by a 50 megawatt (MW) ballasted solar array that will generate enough renewable energy to power 5,000 homes and offset 120 million pounds of CO2 each year. The array is expected to be installed and operational by the end of 2022 – at no cost to the City. The project is a product of the City’s Climate Action Plan and Complete Communities Initiative.

“The Sunnyside landfill has been one of Houston’s biggest community challenges for decades, and I am proud we are one step closer to its transformation,” said Mayor Turner. “I thank the Sunnyside community because this project would not have come together without its support. This project is an example of how cities can work with the community to address long-standing environmental justice concerns holistically, create green jobs and generate renewable energy in the process.”

As part of the City’s Complete Communities initiative, the project also contains sustainability, resilience, and economic development components, requested by the community and will:

  •   Prevent potential future environmental hazards posed by the landfill
  •   Provide power discounts for low-income residents in the neighborhood
  •   Train and employ local labor
  •   Store and filter stormwater on the tract to help reduce flooding

DEEPER DIVE: Climate Mayors, HoustonTX.gov