Cynthia Giles

About Cynthia Giles

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Your Tips Help Us Protect Communities

Every day, I’m reminded of how important it is to protect the public from environmental violations. Despite all the progress we’ve made under laws like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, there are still people and businesses who cut corners and endanger the health of communities by misapplying pesticides, removing asbestos illegally, dumping hazardous waste in local waterways or failing to control dangerous air pollution. Our enforcement and compliance program is dedicated to holding violators accountable and protecting the communities we serve, and to do it effectively, we need your help. Just like other law enforcement programs at the local, state and federal level, we rely on tips from the public when they see something that could pose an environmental or public health threat to their community.

Our website allows anyone to report potential environmental violations, and we receive hundreds of tips every month. Reporting a tip to EPA is one of the most important ways you can be involved in protecting the environment. We take every tip from the public seriously and many have led to positive outcomes for communities across the country. Here are a few examples:

In addition to pursuing the most egregious cases, we also refer tips from the public to our partners at state and local agencies, with whom we share authority to enforce the law. They often have local knowledge and experience that’s invaluable when investigating a potential environmental violation.
Last year, people took the time to report more than 2,300 potential violations to EPA, and that’s something that I’m very proud of. It shows that people care about making sure their communities are safe and healthy places to live, work and raise families. I hope the number of tips we receive from the public only continues to increase. A healthy environment depends on it.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Modernizing Access to Environmental Data

Do you use our Enforcement and Compliance History Online database?

If you do, then you may already know about our yearlong modernization effort to make it one of the most robust government data tools in the world. If you don’t, then now is a good time to try it out. Recognized by President Obama as an exemplary federal agency data tool, ECHO houses environmental compliance information on more than 800,000 facilities nationwide. More than 2 million visitors checked it out last year.

Today I’m excited to report that we’ve just added air pollution data from our various reporting programs, known as the Air Pollutant Report. When you run a facility search, ECHO now lets you view and compare air data from our National Emissions Inventory, Toxic Release Inventory, Greenhouse Gas Reporting Tool and Acid Rain Program—along with facility compliance information—on a single, easy-to-use web page. Previously, in order to see the air pollution emissions for a given facility, you would have to search for it on four different websites and combine the data yourself. Now all of that information is presented on a single facility specific report.

NewScreenShotThis upgrade is a big boost for public transparency giving citizens, industry and government agencies an easy way to spot problems so they can play an active role in environmental protection. The Air Pollutant Report is currently in “beta” phase, and so we need your feedback on the design and contents of the tool. Adding air pollution data to ECHO is just one of many important upgrades we’ve made this year. Here are some of the others:

  • Last month, we launched a new dashboard that allows users to search for information on facility compliance with pesticide regulations.
  • In April, we launched a Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) dashboard, a user-friendly tool that presents data about violations and the compliance status of public water systems. Popular Clean Water Act data sets were reposted to ECHO last summer, making it easier to find data about water violations and inspections.
  • A new mapping feature displaying the compliance status of EPA-regulated facilities lets users create customized maps using current data.
  • ECHO now allows users to search which facilities have reported Risk Management Plans required under the Clean Air Act.
  • In the spirit of the White House’s Digital Government Strategy, ECHO’s new technology also provides web services, widgets and other features allowing web developers to incorporate data and reports into their own websites.

In addition to all of these improvements, data in ECHO is now refreshed on a weekly basis, giving you more up to date information, often only a matter of days after we receive it from the states.

We’ve made remarkable strides in our effort to make environmental data accessible and easy to use. With greater access to information, you can be better informed about what’s happening in your community, which supports engagement and participation at every level of government.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Integrating Environmental Justice Into Our Work

We work to achieve our mission to protect public health and the environment in a myriad of ways by providing for grants to states, incentive programs, and technical assistance – but we also issue rules. And, because we’re committed to environmental justice, we want to ensure that our regulations serve all people, including those who are often the most impacted by environmental harm and public health concerns.

We’ve been integrating environmental justice into our rules for years. Today, we’re advancing our efforts by releasing our final Guidance on Considering Environmental Justice During the Development of a Regulatory Action. Building on our July 2010 interim guidance, this is an essential resource that gives our rulemaking teams the tools, guidance and specific strategies they need to consider environmental justice. This final guidance helps us expand the scope and impact we have in American communities.

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The guidance will also continue the commitment we’ve had to environmental justice since President Clinton signed Executive Order 12898 directing federal agencies to address disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on minority and low-income populations. Over the past year, our rulemaking teams have been hard at work engaging communities, learning about the environmental impacts that affect them, and developing rules with these considerations in mind. Here are a few examples:

  • Earlier this year, we released our final Definition of Solid Waste Rule, which addresses the disproportionate impacts on minority and low-income populations from when hazardous materials are mismanaged and sent to recycling. We conducted a rigorous environmental justice analysis that examined the location of recycling facilities and their proximity and potential impact to adjacent residents. This process led to a final rule that encourages safe and legitimate recycling, and that gives communities a voice prior to recycling operations beginning.
  • In June of 2014, we proposed an updated rule to achieve further controls on toxic air emissions from petroleum refineries. In addition to evaluating the lessons learned from enforcement settlements, and data analysis from an extensive data collection effort, we conducted robust community engagement. This included community conference calls, webinars, trainings and public hearings to learn from those affected, and help them understand how the proposed rule could help. The proposed rule includes requirements that will benefit these communities, including emission controls for storage tanks, flares and coking units; higher combustion efficiency for flaring operations; and monitoring of air concentrations at the fenceline of refinery facilities.
  • In March of 2014, we published a proposed rule to revise the current Worker Protection Standard, designed to protect the nation’s two million farmworkers and their families from exposure to pesticides. It will afford farm workers similar health protections to those already enjoyed by workers in other jobs. In developing the proposed and final rules, we sought extensive input from the farmworker community. The final rule expected this fall will help protect farm workers and their families through better training, increased access to information, improved safety precautions, and modernized compliance standards.

These are just three examples – see more by reading our memo to EPA staff announcing the final guidance. We take seriously our obligation to lead on environmental justice, and to set an example for others. Administrator McCarthy has set the tone, and this final guidance supports her leadership. It’s another way we’re doing our part to fulfill the spirit of Executive Order 12898, and to protect our environment and every American’s fundamental right to breathe clean air, drink clean water and live on clean land.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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New Tools and Approaches Are Reshaping Environmental Compliance

I recently joined EPA staff and leaders from across academia, industry and non-profit sectors for a conference dedicated to the latest Next Generation Compliance strategies and solutions, hosted by George Washington University Law School. With topics ranging from how to use new technologies to improve compliance, to citizen monitoring and state-federal collaboration (just to name a few), one thing was clear – there is strong momentum and lots of progress in Next Gen today that’s shaping the future of environmental enforcement and compliance.

The conference inspired me to take a moment to reflect on all of this progress. Here are a few examples of what we’ve already accomplished:

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Largest Superfund Settlement in History Means Cleanups from New Jersey to California

If you pollute the environment, you should be responsible for cleaning it up. This basic principle guides EPA’s Superfund cleanup enforcement program.

We just settled our largest environmental contamination case ever, for nearly $4.4 billion that will help to clean up the communities that were affected.

Here’s some background: Last April, along with the Department of Justice and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, EPA announced a historic cleanup settlement with Anadarko Petroleum Corporation. Many years ago, one of Anadarko’s subsidiaries, Kerr-McGee, conducted uranium mining and other activities that involved highly toxic chemicals at sites across the nation. These operations left contamination behind, including radioactive uranium waste across the Navajo Nation; radioactive thorium in Chicago and West Chicago, Illinois; creosote (or tar) waste in the Northeast, the Midwest, and the South; and perchlorate contamination in Nevada. All of these substances can be dangerous to people’s health.

Anadarko tried to skirt its responsibility by transferring the business assets responsible for this contamination into a now-defunct and bankrupt company called Tronox. EPA and DOJ vigorously pursued them – and the result was this new settlement. The nearly $4.4 billion that the company will pay will help to clean up toxic pollution and to turn the contaminated areas back into usable land.

This settlement took effect last week. Here are some ways that its impact will be felt:

  • In Manville, N.J., a coal tar wood treatment facility buried creosote in recreational areas. Funds will be used EPA and the state will get funds to clean up the waste left behind.
  • Not far away in Camden and Gloucester City, N.J., there’s a residential area where two former gas mantle manufacturing sites used to be. They’ve received cleanup assistance already, and this settlement means that more is on the way.
  • Funds are starting to flow to Navajo Nation territory to help clean up drinking water contaminated by radioactive waste from abandoned uranium mines.
  • Low income, minority communities in Jacksonville, Florida; West Chicago, Illinois; Columbus, Mississippi; and Navassa, North Carolina are benefiting from the settlement funds to clean up contamination from uranium and thorium, volatile organic compounds, pesticides and PCBs.

Companies that operate in American communities have an obligation to protect nearby residents from harm. That’s why we do enforcement — to protect communities and their health. We make sure that responsible parties are held accountable and pay to clean up the pollution they caused.

Learn more about our enforcement cleanup efforts at Superfund sites across the country, some of which include an enforcement component, in the December 2014 National Geographic Magazine.

Picture resources:
Federal Creosote site pictures: http://epa.gov/region02/superfund/npl/federalcreosote/images.html
Welsbach & Gas Mantle site pictures: http://www.epa.gov/region02/superfund/npl/welsbach/images.html
Map of Navajo Nation Abandoned Uranium Mines Superfund Cleanup Sites (larger poster PDF): http://www.epa.gov/region9/superfund/navajo-nation/pdf/CleanupSitesPoster.pdf
smaller image found at http://www.epa.gov/region9/superfund/navajo-nation/abandoned-uranium.html

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Today’s historic Clean Air Act settlement keeps key climate change effort on track

By Cynthia Giles

Our rules to combat climate change – like all environmental protection rules – only work when they are implemented in the real world. Today, we are delivering on our commitment to make sure that happens, through a settlement with the automakers Hyundai and Kia who sold more than 1 million vehicles that will emit close to 5 million more metric tons of GHGs than what they had certified to us.

Hyundai and Kia will forfeit 4.75 million GHG emission credits that they can no longer use to comply with the law, or sell to other automakers. That’s 4.75 million metric tons of greenhouse gases that could have been emitted if we hadn’t taken this action, equal to the emissions that come from powering more than 433,000 homes for one year.

They will also pay a $100 million penalty, the largest in Clean Air Act history. The size of this penalty demonstrates how significant these violations are, and reinforces our commitment to level the playing field for automakers that play by the rules. Hyundai and Kia will also spend millions of dollars on a series of steps—including improved vehicle testing protocols—to prevent future Clean Air Act violations.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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A Commitment to Keep Our Waters Clean and Safe

When Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, it gave EPA the responsibility to protect public health and the environment from pollution stemming from farms and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). We take this charge seriously and have dedicated one of EPA’s six National Enforcement Initiatives to preventing animal waste from CAFOs from contaminating water. If not managed properly, animal waste can impair drinking water sources, transmit disease-causing bacteria and parasites, and pollute the rivers and lakes on which we all depend.

In 2011, an EPA review of a poultry CAFO owned by Lois Alt in West Virginia determined that when it rained, manure and other pollutants were discharging into a nearby creek that flowed into the Potomac River. The discharge required a permit under the Clean Water Act which would have defined safeguards to minimize pollution.

EPA issued an administrative order to address this pollution. The Alt CAFO then clarified existing management practices and adopted new ones in its operations to reduce runoff of manure, and then challenged the order in court. After EPA’s follow-up inspection and correspondence with Ms. Alt confirmed that the changes would reduce pollution, EPA withdrew the order and requested the court to dismiss the case because the dispute was over. It was time to move on and focus on more pressing issues of environmental and public health protection.

The district court nonetheless heard the case. After more than a year of legal proceedings, the district court issued a decision that offers an overly broad view of the Clean Water Act’s exemption for agricultural stormwater.

Although EPA thinks that the district court decision is wrong, we also think that it is time to stop spending resources on litigation about this CAFO. EPA is not going to appeal this decision; our resources are better spent remedying more serious, ongoing pollution across the country.

The briefs we filed in this case – and many others – state that Congress established CAFOs as point sources, and that when CAFOs discharge pollutants from the production area into waters of the United States, as the Alt operation did, the law requires permit authorization.

EPA stands by this position.

Pollution from CAFOs flowing into local waterways when it rains is an environmental and public health risk. The law gives EPA the authority to require that agriculture operations with large numbers of animals in a small area that discharge pollutants to U.S. waters obtain a permit, to reduce their environmental impact. EPA remains committed to working with the agricultural community to ensure compliance with this legal requirement and to pursue enforcement when necessary. One district court decision does not change either the law across the country or EPA’s commitment to protecting water quality.

A smart and strategic enforcement program requires us to make choices about where to spend our time for the biggest benefit to the public. We stand firm on this commitment to protect public health and the environment.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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American Ingenuity on Display at Next Gen Tech Demo Day

•Administrator McCarthy, then-Deputy Administrator Perciasepe and Assistant Administrator Giles learn about water pollution monitoring technology.

Administrator McCarthy, then-Deputy Administrator Perciasepe and Assistant Administrator Giles learn about water pollution monitoring technology.

 

I’ve been talking a lot about the impact and promise of EPA’s Next Generation Compliance strategy. As a vital program to reduce pollution, build transparency and save costs, it has become a driving force to unleash American ingenuity and innovation. This was certainly evident last week, when EPA hosted a “Next Generation Compliance Advanced Monitoring Tech Demo Day” that convened some of the latest advances in pollution monitoring across the country. Walking through the event with Administrator McCarthy and then-Deputy Administrator Perciasepe was so much fun, not to mention inspiring. EPA, academia, industry and non-profit organizations presented so many solutions there, each with a unique approach to solve complex pollution challenges.

Here’s a quick recap of what we saw.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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From Cutting Edge to Commonplace

By Cynthia Giles

I’ve dedicated my career to working with state, local and tribal partners to enforce environmental laws to protect American communities from pollution. Looking back, we’ve come a long way in how we measure for pollution and take action to curb it. Years ago, accounting for air pollution from refineries, for instance, was unreliable and burdensome. It relied in large part on estimates, often done by the refineries themselves, which often undercounted actual emissions and the risks posed to neighbors. In those days, fully understanding refinery emissions would have required taking air samples one-by-one across many potential sources.

Over the past decade, new technologies and innovative solutions have significantly improved our enforcement and compliance efforts. Through EPA’s Next Generation Compliance strategy, we’re building these tools into settlements with companies, pushing their development and implementation in communities across America.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Enforcing the Law to Protect Children from Lead Poisoning

Years ago, when I needed to have my house painted, I called local contractors to submit bids for the work. My daughter was four years old at the time, and so I was acutely aware about dangers of lead paint exposure. It can cause a range of health issues, including behavioral disorders, learning disabilities and other serious problems, putting young children at the greatest risk as their nervous systems are still developing. So I paid close attention to the bids to make sure the one I chose would be lead-safe.  In those days, finding a lead-safe contractor wasn’t easy.

But today, it’s easier. Other families shared the same concern I had, prompting the adoption of new regulations for lead safe practices in 2010. EPA is working to protect children from lead poisoning by enforcing these regulations. A case in point: Today we’ve announced a major settlement that requires Lowe’s Home Centers to enact a corporate-wide compliance program to ensure that the contractors it hires to perform work in customers’ homes follow the law and protect children from lead paint exposure. Lowe’s is taking responsibility to police the contractors it hires, which we think sends an important message to renovation companies across the country: Follow the rules on lead-safe practices and make sure the contractors you hire do the same. More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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