1545: The Pisces Foundation Blog

Welcome to your source for Pisces Foundation updates and insights from our trustees & staff.

Here we will share news from the critical intersection of philanthropy and the environment, as well as highlight innovative initiatives and programs from our grantees & colleagues.

Empowering the Public with a Suite of Water Quality Monitoring Technologies

We know that clean water is essential for the health of humans, plants, animals and our economy.  Helping to move towards the goal of having safe, sufficient, secure water resources for our nation, Pisces Foundation has embarked on a path to partner with others to “employ technology to empower the engaged public to better protect water resources, in both urban and agricultural areas.”

While there are many facets to this body of work, I am pleased to report the latest on two of these efforts.

As noted in my blogs in November 2015 and February 2016, the Pisces Foundation has joined forces with the Intel Corporation to conduct a national survey of watershed organizations, schools and citizen volunteers to determine how they use monitoring equipment and information technologies to collect and disseminate water quality information and their interest and awareness of emerging technologies that could bring down the cost or improve the quality of the information that they collect and use to monitor and protect water quality.

With deep appreciation to those who helped distribute and respond to the survey, and to the project’s Steering Committee and staff, we report that 84% of respondents believe “widespread availability of low-cost equipment could affect major improvements in water quality.”

Attached are links to the survey results (Summary and more detailed draft), but some of the take home points are:

  • The top 4 needs for low-cost monitoring equipment are to: target problem areas; use as a screening tool for advanced/expert level monitoring/investigation; report pollution incidents; use as part of monitoring and verification protocols for watershed protection and restoration projects, etc.
  • The top 5 desired parameters to monitor using low-cost equipment: nutrients (forms of nitrogen and phosphorus and associated chlorophyll A concentrations; bacteria (fecal coliform, E.coli, etc.); dissolved oxygen; electrical conductivity and turbidity. Quite a few survey respondents also monitor for macroinvertebrates to measure the health of the biological community in water bodies.
  • Survey respondents were particularly interested in monitoring equipment that costs less than $100 per monitoring device.
  • Most survey respondents currently use manual methods for gathering data (i.e., field kits or grab samples with lab analysis) but many would prefer to use automatic or semi-automatic means of data collection.
  • The top 4 desired features of low cost monitoring equipment are durability, in field data entry, remote sensing and data loggers, and metadata capture.

In addition to the needs of watershed organizations and others for low-cost equipment to collect water quality information, 78 % of survey respondents report that they currently lack knowledge of low-cost data access and sharing technologies that they could use to make better use of the monitoring data that they collect.

As stated in my May 2016 blog announcing the release of the survey, based on analysis of the survey results, a second phase of the project will focus on finding ways to stimulate improvements in technology development and deployment.  At this point, we are discussing next steps with our Steering Committee.  Among the items under consideration are actions to:

  • Identify available low-cost nutrient monitoring technologies identified as priorities from the survey, their capabilities, and cost
  • Identify ways to help non-governmental water quality monitoring efforts to obtain access to enhanced low-cost water quality monitoring equipment
  • Share best practices and promote the use of peer supported tools for collecting and sharing water quality information
  • Demonstrate how improved technology to collect and share information can empower citizen organizations to protect and restore their rivers, lakes and streams.
  • Promote improvements in technology and explore market incentives through collaborative efforts with nonprofits, academics, governmental entities, technology providers, and other philanthropies to ensure that the market is meeting the needs of engaged members of the public for monitoring and data sharing equipment.

We hosted a webinar in January 2017 to review the results of the survey and to provide information on next steps to address findings. You can view a recording of the webinar here.

This was also advertised on a suite of helpful citizen science list serves you may want to check out. (Citizen Science Central at Cornell, EPA’s National Volunteer Monitoring Listserv, and the National Extension for Volunteer Water Monitoring at UVM)

We are very excited about how we might link the findings of the low-cost monitoring survey with other work we are sponsoring focused on the use of remote sensing to address water pollution, which I described in my September 2016 blog.  On September 14-16, 2016 a group of experts from academia, federal and state agencies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), private companies, and foundation representatives, convened at the Wingspread conference center in Racine, Wisconsin for, “Using Remote Sensing to Empower the Public to Address Water Pollution.” The workshop generated many ideas about how researchers, technology companies, government agencies, NGOs and funders can collaborate to rapidly advance the use of remote sensing to address pollution in U.S. inland surface waters. The group focused on water pollution problems that can be tracked using publicly available remote sensing data from satellites including chlorophyll-A to detect algal blooms, turbidity, temperature and associated land-based pollution sources and sinks.

Several participating organizations demonstrated how they are currently using remote sensing data for water resource protection purposes, which sparked wide-ranging discussions for the balance of the meeting about how such approaches could become more widely available to entities working to protect water resources. Discussions revolved around the challenges and opportunities associated with obtaining or collecting remote sensing data, how it can be used to complement in situ data collection, and how it can be processed and packaged to make it available to and useful for target users.

While there are a number of challenges, it is clear that remote sensing is emerging as a powerful tool that, when used in combination with other monitoring tools and data, holds the potential to transform how NGOs and the public “gather intelligence” about water quality. You can find a complete summary of the workshop findings here. We continue to work with Meridian Institute on workshop follow-up activities, looking for ripe opportunities to pursue.

Here at Pisces, we are very interested in how we can help catalyze and create mechanisms that use remote sensing and in situ monitoring technologies and data. We envision NGOs making use of a suite of tools that help them create a robust understanding of water quality in the watersheds where they work, and allow them to pursue conservation or restoration approaches in a science-based, data-driven manner. With these latest projects, we see the threads of that vision coming into view and we look forward to working with many of you to keep moving forward.

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At the Pisces Foundation, we believe that if we act now and boldly, we can quickly accelerate to a world where people and nature thrive together. We support innovators to have clean and abundant water, a safe climate and an environmentally literate society.

The Foundation seeks a part-time Office Assistant to work 19 hours per week. This position reports to the Water Program Director and will play an important role in a dynamic, growing philanthropy. The position will be located in the Foundation’s Washington D.C. office near Union Station.

Areas of responsibility:

• Administrative tasks such as scheduling, greeting guests, making travel arrangements, maintaining calendars, preparing letters, memos, and maintaining and organizing paper and electronic filing systems
• Answering phone calls and responding to requests for information
• Office management tasks such as ordering supplies, requesting IT service and support, preparation of expense reports, proofreading, editing, and similar tasks
• Troubleshoot minor computer, printer, smart phone, or other equipment issues; request IT service and support
• Execute research and special projects as requested

Skills and experience:

• Highly developed computer skills including full literacy in Microsoft Office suite, including Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and especially Outlook for scheduling purposes
• Outstanding organizational, administrative and analytical skills, with excellent attention to detail
• The ability to anticipate needs within areas of responsibility and proactively accomplish tasks
• Strong writing and editing abilities
• The ability to be a self-starter who assumes hands-on responsibility, is able to balance competing priorities and deadlines, and who demonstrates sound judgment and good problem solving skills
• Comfort with and desire to work in a “start-up” environment, and possessing an enthusiastic and collaborative approach
• Minimum two years’ experience working in a professional office environment
• An interest in the Foundation’s mission and grants programs

We offer a competitive compensation commensurate with experience. See http://www.piscesfoundation.org/ for more information on the Foundation.

Rolling Deadline for Applications through: December 15, 2016

We welcome applicants from diverse backgrounds and with a variety of skills, experiences and ideas. We are an equal opportunity employer. Employment selection and related decisions are made without regard to sex, race, age, disability, religion, national origin, color or any other protected class.

How to apply:
Applicants should send a cover letter, resume and two recent references to: admin@piscesfoundation.org. Please indicate in the subject line, “DC OFFICE ASSISTANT.”


We Are Committed.

Our Foundation believes that if we act now and boldly we can create a world where people and nature thrive together.  We support innovators who know what it takes and are doing what’s necessary to have clean and abundant water, a safe climate, and kids with the environmental know-how to create a sustainable and equitable world.

We are more committed today to this vision than ever.

My thoughts this week, with thanks to Bruce Springsteen performing No Surrender:

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Will the shipping industry join the rest of the world in fighting climate change?

With recent agreements reached to reduce super-warming pollutants used in air conditioning and refrigeration and to limit aviation emissions, we at Pisces were watching what would happen at last week’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Would the momentum continue and the shipping industry decide to join the rest of the world in fighting climate change or would it remain exempted from reducing its greenhouse gas emissions?

In the lead up to the meeting, 51 shipping industry organizations, including Maersk, The Danish Shipowners’ Association, and the Royal Belgian Shipowners’ Association wrote all the IMO member organizations, saying

“We support the discussion at MEPC to establish the shipping industry’s fair share of the global responsibility to address climate change. We call on the IMO member countries and their Heads of State to ensure that a clear, ambitious long-term objective is established and soon followed by ambitious actions that help to drive investment in low-carbon solutions.”

In the end, the IMO did take two positive, if small, steps forward. It agreed to keep in place a 2020 switch to lower-sulfur fuel and it agreed to a roadmap for developing a strategy to reduce shipping emissions over the next 7 years. However, on energy efficiency, the IMO declined to take the easy action in front of it and tighten the existing standards, even though ships are already exceeding them years ahead of schedule. As articles in the Guardian and ClimateHome point out, this isn’t the level of ambition required to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

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Next Steps: An Action Plan for Super Pollutants

The past 12 months have seen unprecedented progress in the international response to the climate crisis.  The historic agreement reached this weekend among almost 200 nations meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, to phase down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – factory made refrigeration chemicals with supercharged global warming impact – is another big step forward.

The agreement is grounds for celebration in its own right (scientists estimate phasing out HFCs can prevent up to 0.5 degrees Celsius of warming in the next 100 years). But coming on the heels of news that the landmark climate accord in Paris last December has taken effect and that an international deal has been inked to cut climate pollution from aviation, the Kigali accord makes 2016 a banner year for climate action.

Of course, there’s always the danger that all this justified celebration could lead to complacency. We can’t let that happen.

As scientists have noted, to avert the worst-case scenarios of global disruption from a warming planet, we must not only maintain this momentum, but accelerate progress.

The first order of business should be to make sure the Kigali agreement is implemented quickly, and that developing countries get the assistance they need to do their part. But then what?

What many people may not realize is that while accelerated cuts to carbon dioxide emissions are irreplaceable, there are other powerful climate-warming pollutants like HFCs that are more potent than carbon dioxide and short-lived. So reducing them now can bring lasting benefits—a point the New York Times Editorial Board noted in its own analysis of the HFC breakthrough. Methane can leak from oil and gas drilling and pipelines, and is emitted by landfills, manure and other sources. Black carbon results from inefficient burning of fossil fuels – diesel engines on cars and trucks and oceangoing ships are key – among other sources. Cutting super-pollutants, like black carbon, has the added potential to improve health and save lives.

The good news is that there are important opportunities for progress on both methane and black carbon coming up soon. Here are three of the most promising:

  • Planes, automobiles—and ships: A committee of the International Maritime Organization is meeting in London later this month. On the agenda is whether the shipping industry joins the rest of the world’s economy in accepting a limit on their greenhouse gas emissions. Recent years have seen steady progress on pollution from planes and automobiles—it’s time for ships to get on board. Black carbon is just one of the many pollutants that ships can emit when they ply open waters. Ships can improve their efficiency, install scrubbers and switch to cleaner renewable and synthetic fuels – if the industry acts.
  • Put a filter on it: Most of the world’s top vehicle markets, like the U.S., Japan and Europe, require their trucks and buses to install diesel particulate filters. These filters trap the black carbon, so their exhaust is cleaner, and we can all breathe easier. China and India have committed to do this and other nations should follow their lead. The G20 is providing a forum for countries to collaborate with each other on how to make further progress.
  • Plug the (methane) leaks: The U.S. recently issued rules to reduce the methane pollution that leaks from new oil and gas infrastructure. Mexico and Canada have recently committed to join the U.S. in reducing this pollution 40 to 45 percent by 2025. All three countries are now in the process of determining how to limit this industrial pollution through stronger requirements for regular monitoring, leak detection and repair.

Pursuing these and other opportunities can allow us to harness the power of adding fast-acting reductions of super pollutants to existing efforts to tackle the climate crisis. Scientists agree that if we prioritize rapid cuts in super pollutants, we can improve the chance of keeping Earth’s temperature increase to less than 2 degrees Celsius.

So let’s celebrate the great news from Kigali, the promise of Paris—and salute the years of hard work by so many that made these breakthroughs possible. Then tomorrow morning, let’s keep the momentum building in the days and months ahead to ensure the safe and stable climate people need to thrive.

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It’s time to broaden the fight against climate change

World leaders are gathering in Kigali, Rwanda to make the biggest climate decision since December’s historic Paris Climate Agreement. Under the auspices of the Montreal Protocol—a 1989 treaty that phased out pollution that was eating a hole in Earth’s ozone layer—negotiators will consider phasing-down a class of factory-made coolants, referred to as hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs.

The outcome of the Kigali negotiations is critical in the effort to control climate change because, paradoxically, HFCs are extremely powerful climate warmers–some thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide. That’s why leading scientists see phasing out HFCs as a key part of implementing the Paris plan.

Last month, momentum increased as over 100 nations and scores of national and international businesses called for an ambitious phase-down, while government and philanthropic donors committed $80 million to countries in need of technical assistance.

As important, the negotiations in Africa reflect a broader strategy to rein in climate change by bolstering carbon dioxide cuts with reductions of other planet-warming pollution. This strategy is based on a simple fact with major implications for mitigation efforts: carbon dioxide is not the only pollutant we have to control to meet our climate goals.

Make no mistake: the need to aggressively cut CO2 emissions is fundamental, irreplaceable and must be accelerated. But HFCs are one of a group of other pollutants—including methane and black carbon—that often have been overlooked despite their effects on public health and significant contribution to climate change. Like many HFCs, on a relative basis, pollutants like methane and black carbon are more potent warmers than carbon dioxide, earning them the label of climate “super pollutants.”

The attention that governments, businesses and civil society are giving the HFC phase-down is a major indicator that this dynamic has begun to change. Another key signal is the passage of super pollutant legislation in California—a climate policy bellwether. The new law, signed by Governor Edmund Brown on September 19, requires a 50 percent reduction in black carbon and a 40 percent reduction in methane and HFCs by 2030 (from 2013 levels).

This strategic evolution in the climate battle can make a crucial difference for people and nature. Since super pollutants are short-lived, meaning they stay in the atmosphere for anywhere from days to decades, reducing them affects the climate quickly too. That is why a strong HFC phase-down agreement in Kigali could cut global temperature by as much as a half a degree Celsius by the end of the century.

This may sound small. But remember that the goal set in Paris is to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius overall to avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change. In that context, it becomes clear why it’s powerful to couple accelerated action to cut carbon pollution with a full-court press on super pollutants like HFCs. In fact, without it, experts believe it’s unlikely we can keep climate change below 2 degrees Celsius.

A commitment to address climate super pollutants alongside carbon dioxide can do more than help us better control climate change. It can also yield immediate public health benefits.

For example, pollution from oil and gas development can contribute to smog that can trigger asthma attacks and other public health challenges. That is why scores of organizations are pressing the Environmental Protection Agency to expand recently-adopted rules that will control leaks of methane and other harmful chemicals from new oil and gas sources to the vast network of existing facilities.

An enormous leak from a Southern California gas storage facility last October provided a vivid example of why greater oversight is necessary. Before it was capped, the leak forced thousands of people out of their homes and spewed as much greenhouse gas pollution as the annual emissions of over half a million cars.

Another climate super pollutant, black carbon, also has serious air quality and resultant public health impacts globally. Significant reductions of black carbon and other fine particles from tailpipes and additional sources could contribute to preventing millions of premature deaths.

Given the momentous impact of climate change, we need to fully commit to broadening the fight by harnessing an important, evolving approach to drive mitigation efforts. Bolstering CO2 reductions with reductions of HFCs and other super pollutants gives the world the best chance of controlling climate change and protecting public health. It’s a smart, no-regrets strategy we can and must accelerate today.

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Upgrading American Infrastructure: Smart Investments for Our Economy, Health, Climate, and Water

Safe, sufficient, secure water resources are essential to life on Earth as well as to almost every aspect of a vibrant, healthy society.  Our water infrastructure is designed to deliver safe tap water and sanitation to homes and businesses and to maintain health water supplies both above and underground.  Unfortunately, most of the infrastructure in place today was designed and constructed 50 to 100 years ago and is no longer adequate to meet the challenges of today, including population growth, urbanization, uncontrolled pollution sources, over-consumption of surface and groundwater, and, of course, climate impacts to water resources.   News reports of water-related catastrophes are pretty much constantly in the news, including contaminated drinking water in Flint and many other cities across the U.S., flooding in Louisiana and Texas, thick toxic algal blooms in Florida coastal waters, and continuing drought and wildfires in the West.  And that was just in the first 9 months of 2016.

The outmoded and decaying infrastructure currently in place thorough the United States needs to be revitalized.  With more than 155,000 public water systems and 16,000 wastewater systems serving the public, this will be a major task.  While U.S. EPA estimates that it will take nearly $384.2 billion to restore and upgrade the existing water infrastructure over the next 20 years, infrastructure investment is a bargain as compared with the public health, environmental, and social costs of failure to do so.

A solution for these issues requires us to move past 20th century solutions, and use holistic, integrated water management solutions that produce more benefits for people and nature.  Smart water infrastructure investments can create jobs, spur private investment, enhance water security, reduce climate impacts, enhance climate resiliency, and, of course, also protect public health and the environment.   I just participated in an event sponsored by the Center for American Progress and NextGen Climate America on the topics of “Upgrading American Infrastructure: Smart Investments for Our Economy, Health and Climate.”   Speakers focused on many forms of infrastructure, including energy, water and transportation, but the consensus is that water needs to be a major focus on infrastructure investment and that new technologies, new financing tools, and new approaches to community engagement can make it an even better investment for the future than ever before.

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Philanthropic Community Launches Fund to Support Energy Efficiency in Developing Nations

This morning I was in attendance as Secretary of State John Kerry and key environmental and foreign ministers met near the United Nations to voice support for phasing down one of the world’s most powerful greenhouse gases: hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Adding to new commitments from the U.S. and other countries, a group of foundations and private donors unveiled a new fund that will expand energy efficiency efforts in developing countries as HFCs are phased down. I am proud to announce that the Pisces Foundation intends to contribute $1 million to this new donor fund.

Today’s announcements come a little more than two weeks before Montreal Protocol negotiations begin in Kigali, Rwanda, where an amendment to reduce HFCs is expected. The Protocol is known as one of the word’s most effective environmental treaties, and it provides an international framework to phase down HFCs.

The new philanthropic fund responds to a request from developing nations. It has been created by a coalition of 19 foundations and donors that have pledged $53 million. These funds are specifically to bolster efforts in developing nations to pair energy efficiency improvements with HFC reductions (for example, through new energy-efficient, HFC-free appliances). It comes alongside funding commitments from supporting governments, which will help nations phase down the production and use of HFCs and replace them with newer, climate-safe coolants.

HFCs, which are chemicals used primarily in air conditioning and refrigeration, are part of a set of short-lived climate pollutants informally referred to as climate “super pollutants.” This is because pollutants like HFCs pack thousands of times the global warming punch of carbon dioxide. The growing use of HFCs could undo global progress made in addressing the threat of climate change.

The good news is solutions are in our reach that can allow us to act quickly.  We already have the technology now to create alternatives to HFCs and make products that are more energy-efficient.

Studies show that phasing down HFCs may prevent an additional 0.5°C of global average temperature rise by the end of the century. Combined with energy efficiency gains and related carbon pollution savings, this effort could result in 1°C of climate savings.

Participating in this exciting collaboration is just one of many endeavors Pisces Foundation is pursuing to quickly accelerate progress and meet the challenge of climate change. Bolstering carbon cuts with needed reductions in all pollutants driving climate change—including HFCs and other climate super pollutants like black carbon and methane—is our best hope for successfully meeting the world’s climate goals.

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For Some People in the U.S., Every Day is a Day without Water

Water is something that we easily take for granted. We wake up in the morning, stumble into the shower, brush our teeth, and brew our coffee without a second thought of how the abundance of clean water arrived at our tap. By the end of that routine, nearly 30 gallons of water has been used. Yet, as of 2015 more than 660 million people throughout the world still did not have access to clean water, spending large portions of the day walking miles to fetch water.

Most people within the United States do not often consider what life would be like without water for a day, let alone for most of the time.  Imagine a Day without Water, September 15, 2016, is a day to help raise awareness and educate the American population on water, our most precious resource and one that is facing serious constraints.  This campaign is sponsored by Pisces Foundation’s grantee, US Water Alliance, and is implemented by the Value of Water Coalition. Raising awareness is possible in many ways, such as issuing a press release, sharing success stories, or participating on social media with the hashtag #valuewater. A full list of ways to participate can be found here.

It is easy to assume that most water related concerns are in other countries.  But that is not always true. Within California, according to Community Water Center (CWC), a well-respected grassroots organization working to address water and equity issues in California’s Central Valley, thousands of people in the southern San Joaquin Valley have no clean drinking water due to drought or contamination of ground water supplies with arsenic, nitrates, or pesticides. In 2014, within the San Joaquin Valley, 432 public water systems did not consistently meet safe drinking standards. These poor water conditions have been exacerbated by the five-year drought that California currently faces. Many domestic wells that are the primary source of water for poor, disadvantaged communities have gone dry. Water levels at more than 2,300 wells state-wide have been deemed critically low or dry.

At the Pisces Foundation, we are working to highlight and address drinking water quality issues throughout the US, including through an important meeting this week we helped design and co-funded where the focus is on how remote sensing technology can help. At a national level, we’re supporting efforts like NRDC’s recent report examining the scope of lead in drinking water.  To address the complexity of the problems in parts of California, our grantee, the Water Foundation, is working with the Community Water Center and other partners to advance statewide and local solutions in the San Joaquin Valley to build resiliency for vulnerable communities and support all human needs. CWC uses community organizing, education, and policy advocacy to ensure communities impacted by drought and water contamination are able to secure a safe and reliable source of water.

I had the good fortune to visit the San Joaquin Valley with Laurel Firestone of the Community Water Center several years ago. We toured through the Valley in a van, meeting up with local residents at schools, which is where most people have to go to pick up water for their homes and families.  Turnout was high throughout our tour as residents came out to explain their many years of efforts to obtain access to the safe tap water that the rest of us take for granted.  It left a deep impression on me.

The Community Water Center works alongside Valley residents like Josie Nieto and Delia Martinez in Seville.  Josie, Delia, and their community dealt with nitrate-contaminated water for decades. They had to use bottled water for cooking and drinking, because the water from the taps in their homes, local school, and community places did not meet federal health standards. CWC worked alongside the Committee for a Better Seville to organize and advocate for a solution. Seville was able to drill a new well in 2014 that meets federal nitrates standards, but they are still hard at work advocating for the distribution system to be replaced to prevent water shortages and bacterial contamination.

The Pisces Foundation is proud to partner with the Water Foundation and the Community Water Center, and many other grantees committed to clean and safe drinking water.  Together, our goal is to make a day without water an imaginary world.  No one should have to live even one day without clean water.

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Now Hiring: Executive Assistant

The Pisces Foundation is hiring an Executive Assistant to work with the President and the Chief Operating Officer. The Executive Assistant will play an important role in a dynamic, growing philanthropy. The position will be located at the foundation’s San Francisco headquarters. Please follow the link below to see the full, printable job announcement.

Executive Assistant Position Announcement

Applications are encouraged by September 30th, but will continue to be accepted until the position is filled.

We welcome applicants from diverse backgrounds and with a variety of skills, experiences, and ideas. We are an equal opportunity employer. Employment selection and related decisions are made without regard to gender, race, ethnicity, age, disability, religion, national origin, color, veteran status, or any other protected class.

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