Posts by Gina McCarthy:

CEC Meeting a Win for Public Health in North America

Administrator Gina McCarthy closes the 2015 CEC Council Session in Boston.

Administrator Gina McCarthy closes the 2015 CEC Council Session in Boston.

Last week, I was thrilled to host the Canadian Environment Minister and Mexican Environment Deputy Secretary at the 22nd Regular Session of the Council for the Commission on Environmental Cooperation (CEC) in my hometown of Boston.

The CEC is an organization created by the United States, Canada and Mexico to address environmental concerns in North America—because pollution doesn’t carry a passport. As Chair, I represented the U.S. Government on the Council and took the lead in discussing our future as neighbors and allies in protecting public health and the environment.

Impacts from climate change like more extreme droughts, floods, fires, and storms threaten vulnerable communities in North America and beyond. And along the way, those who have the least suffer the most. That’s why our three nations are committed to working together to tackle climate challenges. I’m looking forward to continuing our cooperation this fall in Paris as we work to bring about concrete international action on climate.

At this year’s session, the Council endorsed a new 5-year blueprint to help us tackle environmental challenges our nations face together. We’ll focus on climate change: from adaptation to mitigation; from green energy to green growth; from sustainable communities to healthy ecosystems. The plan presents our shared priorities to make the most of each other’s efforts to address environmental challenges.

Looking toward the future, we discussed the possibility of using the CEC as a way to address climate impacts on other important environmental challenges like water quantity and quality, renewable energy, energy efficiency, and oceans.

During our conversations, EPA’s Trash Free Waters program caught the interest of the other ministers on the Council. Through community outreach and education, EPA is working to reduce the amount of litter that goes into our lakes, streams and oceans. We discussed ways we could build on its success and expand it to other cities in North America.

Administrator Gina McCarthy with Leona Aglukkaq, Canada's Minister for the Environment, and Rodolfo Lacy Tamayo, Mexico's Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources, at the 22nd Annual Council Session of the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation.

Administrator Gina McCarthy with Leona Aglukkaq, Canada’s Minister for the Environment, and Rodolfo Lacy Tamayo, Mexico’s Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources, at the 22nd Annual Council Session of the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation.

The Council also reaffirmed the CEC’s Operational Plan for 2015–2016, which is focused on producing tangible outcomes and measurable results. The plan proposes 16 new projects that bring together our experts on work like reducing maritime shipping emissions to protect our health from air pollution, and strengthening protections for monarch butterflies and pollinators.

We named a new roster of experts on traditional ecological knowledge from Canada, Mexico and the United States. Alongside science, traditional knowledge helps us understand our environment, helping us better protect it. The experts will work with the CEC’s Joint Public Advisory Committee (JPAC) to advise the Council on ways to apply traditional ecological knowledge to the CEC’s operations and policy recommendations.

We also announced the third cycle of the North American Partnership for Environmental Community Action grants, a program that supports hands-on projects for low-income, underserved and indigenous communities across North America. The program supports communities’ climate-related activities and encourages the transition to a low-carbon economy.

We ended the meeting with Mexico assuming chairmanship for the upcoming year. It’s an honor to work with our neighbors to address environmental challenges head-on, and to make sure North America leads on global climate action. When we do, we protect our citizens’ health, our economy, and our way of life. Learn more here.

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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Pope Francis’ Call for Climate Action

Last month, Pope Francis released his second encyclical as pontiff, urging all people to protect our natural resources and to take action on climate change.  He makes clear our moral obligation to prevent climate impacts that threaten God’s creation, especially for those most vulnerable.

As public servants working in both domestic policy and diplomacy, we understand the urgent need for global action.  Climate impacts like extreme droughts, floods, fires, heat waves, and storms threaten people in every country—and those who have the least suffer the most.  No matter your beliefs or political views, we are all compelled to act on climate change to protect our health, our planet, and our fellow human beings.

Earlier this year in a series of meetings at the Vatican on the Encyclical with key Papal advisors, Cardinal Turkson laid out our moral obligation to act on climate change not only from the compelling scientific data, but also from his own firsthand experience in Ghana.  The meetings ended with a sense of urgency, but also with a feeling of opportunity and hope.

The prime minister of Tuvalu, an island nation in the Pacific, spoke at a conference at the Vatican last week and called the world’s attention to the real existential threat they face—that their country may be destroyed if rising seas and stronger storms from climate change continue.

For all these reasons, the U.S. government, through the EPA, is taking steps to make good on our moral obligation.  Later this summer, the agency will finalize a rule to curb the carbon pollution fueling climate change from our nation’s largest source – power plants.

Carbon pollution comes packaged with smog and soot that can cause health problems.  When we limit carbon pollution from power plants, Americans will avoid hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks and thousands of heart attacks in 2030.

A recent EPA report found that if we take global action now, the United States alone can avoid up to 69,000 premature deaths by the year 2100 from poor air quality and extreme heat.  We will continue to partner with U.S. Catholic and other faith-based organizations, like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Climate Covenant, to get out the word about the importance of taking action to combat climate change.

President Obama and the EPA share the Pope’s concern for environmental justice—our climate crisis is a human crisis.  When we limit toxic pollution, we improve people’s health, spur innovation, and create jobs.  We owe it to vulnerable communities, to our children, and to future generations to make sure our planet remains a vibrant and beautiful home.
U.S. leadership is a crucial step, but climate change is a global problem that demands a global solution.

That’s why the United States has made joint international announcements—last year with China and more recently with Brazil—stating our commitment to strong action, including cutting carbon pollution faster than ever before, and slowing down deforestation.  Since three of the world’s largest economies have come together, we’re confident other nations will join our commitment—and the world will finally reach a worldwide climate agreement later this year in Paris.

Pope Francis is boldly building on the moral foundation laid down by Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II, and is joined by a chorus of voices from faith leaders around the globe calling for climate action—not only because it protects our health, our economy, and our way of life—but because it’s the right thing to do.  We look forward to welcoming the Holy Father to the United States in September to continue to discuss these and other issues that affect us all.

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 Promise Fulfilled: Environmental Justice at work in Spartanburg, SC

I just got back from visiting Spartanburg, South Carolina, a city of 180,000 and a national leader on environmental justice issues. Back in 1997, the neighborhoods of Forest Park and Arkwright on the south side of the city were surrounded by two Superfund sites, six Brownfields, and an active chemical plant. In Spartanburg, the soil that children played in, and that their homes were built on, were contaminated with toxic chemicals. But local resident Harold Mitchell was determined to improve the quality of life for his family and community and set out to address the root of the problems.

Mitchell went door to door, letting folks know about the health concerns they faced, and founded ReGenesis, a community organization committed to environmental justice in Spartanburg. In 1997, ReGenesis was awarded an Environmental Justice small grant of $20,000 from EPA. Over time, the city, county, state, and federal government agencies got involved—and since then, Spartanburg has turned that grant into more than $270 million in investments in the community.

Today, community health centers, affordable housing and a state-of-the-art recreation center stand because of the collaborative efforts the Superfund and Brownfields programs, the community and a host of local partners. A solar generation facility is being planned where an old chemical plant once stood. New mixed-use housing has replaced old, unsafe stock. Community members have been trained in asbestos abatement—and they’ve found work not just in Spartanburg, but in Virginia, where they helped renovate the Pentagon, and in New Orleans, where they helped rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

I had the chance to meet Harold Mitchell—now a South Carolina state representative—and visited the former Superfund and Brownfield sites with Mayor Junie White, and other county officials.

After seeing these dramatic changes for myself, I heard from the community leaders who made it happen. We met inside the new community center—a major investment in the quality of life of Spartanburg residents. It was incredible to see what they’ve achieved by putting the community in charge of its own destiny.

Spartanburg is a shining beacon of what’s possible when folks impacted by community decisions have a seat at the table. As the Superfund program celebrates 35 years of revitalizing communities, I was thrilled to celebrate such an amazing success story because at the core of EPA’s mission is the belief that no matter who you are or where you come from, you have the right to clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and healthy land to call home.

That said, we’ve still got work to do. Too often, low-income neighborhoods and communities of color are disproportionately burdened by pollution and health risks. Those same communities are vulnerable to the devastating floods, fires, storms and heat waves supercharged by climate change.

To make matters worse, the carbon pollution fueling climate change comes packaged with other dangerous pollutants that cause chronic disease and chase away local businesses and jobs. Power plants, our biggest source of carbon pollution, are often located in these areas, casting their shadow over communities already vulnerable to environmental health hazards.

That’s why EPA is doubling down on efforts to fulfill the promise of environmental justice. Spartanburg’s success helped us develop a collaborative problem-solving program for vulnerable communities, helping communities give a voice to those who’ve too often been left out of important planning decisions.

EPA recently released EJScreen, a tool that lets anyone see the pollution burden in their neighborhoods, and explore how various decisions could improve their quality of life. We’ve also awarded more than 1,400 EJ small grants to date, and we’ll continue to give local communities the training and expertise they need to address pollution challenges.

And this summer, we’re finalizing a Clean Power Plan to cut the carbon pollution fueling climate change from our nation’s power plants. Under our standards, our nation will avoid more than 100,000 asthma attacks and 2,100 heart attacks in 2030—and will protect vulnerable communities from climate impacts.

Last week in Charleston, President Obama gave a eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a victim of this month’s tragedy at Emmanuel AME Church and a champion for Spartanburg’s revitalization, as well as renewable energy, in the South Carolina Senate. Speaking to Rev. Pinckney’s legacy, the President called on all Americans to fulfill the promise of a more equal, more just society.

By putting environmental justice at the heart of what we do, EPA is responding to that call.

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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Protecting Clean Water While Respecting Agriculture

Rule does not create any new permitting requirements, maintains all previous exemptions and exclusions

By Administrator Gina McCarthy and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy

Today, EPA and the Army finalized a rule under the Clean Water Act to protect the streams and wetlands we depend on for our health, our economy, and our way of life.

The Clean Water Act has protected our health for more than 40 years—and helped our nation clean up hundreds of thousands of miles of waterways that were choked by industrial pollution, untreated sewage, and garbage for decades.

But Supreme Court cases in 2001 and 2006 put protection of 60 percent of our nation’s streams and millions of acres of wetlands into question. At the same time, we understand much more today about how waters connect to each other than we did in decades past. Scientists, water quality experts, and local water managers are better able than ever before to pinpoint the waters that impact our health and the environment the most.

Members of Congress, farmers, ranchers, small business owners, hunters, anglers, and the public have called on EPA and the Army to make a rule to clarify where the Clean Water Act applies, and bring it in line with the law and the latest science. Today, we’re answering that call.

Every lake and every river depends on the streams and wetlands that feed it—and we can’t have healthy communities downstream without healthy headwaters upstream. The Clean Water Rule will protect streams and wetlands and provide greater clarity and certainty to farmers, all without creating any new permitting requirements for agriculture and while maintaining all existing exemptions and exclusions.

The agencies did extensive outreach on the Clean Water Rule, hosting more than 400 meetings across the country and receiving more than a million public comments. EPA officials visited farms in Arizona, Colorado, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Vermont.

Our nation’s original conservationists—our farmers, ranchers, and foresters—were among the most crucial voices who weighed in during this process. Farmers have a critical job to do; our nation depends on them for food, fiber, and fuel, and they depend on clean water for their livelihoods.

Normal farming and ranching—including planting, harvesting, and moving livestock—have long been exempt from Clean Water Act regulation, and the Clean Water Rule doesn’t change that. It respects producers’ crucial role in our economy and respects the law. We’d like give a few more specifics on our final rule, starting with what it doesn’t do.

  • The rule doesn’t add any new permitting requirements for agriculture.
  • It doesn’t protect new kinds of waters that the Clean Water Act didn’t historically cover. It doesn’t regulate most ditches and excludes groundwater, shallow subsurface flows, and tile drains. And it doesn’t change policy on irrigation or water transfers.
  • It doesn’t touch land use or private property rights. The Clean Water Rule only deals with the pollution and destruction of waterways.
  • Again, our rule doesn’t touch long-standing Clean Water Act exemptions and exclusions for agriculture. It specifically recognizes the crucial role farmers play and actually adds exclusions for features like artificial lakes and ponds, water-filled depressions from construction, and grass swales.

What the rule does is simple: it protects clean water, and it provides clarity on which waters are covered by the Clean Water Act so they can be protected from pollution and destruction.

Feedback from the agricultural community led us to define tributaries more clearly. The rule is precise about the streams being protected so that it can’t be interpreted to pick up erosion in a farmer’s field. The rule says a tributary has to show physical features of flowing water to warrant protection.

We also got feedback that our proposed definition of ditches was confusing. We’re only interested in the ones that act like tributaries and could carry pollution downstream—so we changed the definition in the final rule to focus on tributaries. So ditches that are not constructed in streams and that flow only when it rains are not covered.

We’ve also provided certainty in how far safeguards extend to nearby waters—the rule sets physical, measurable limits for the first time. For example, an adjacent water is protected if it’s within the 100-year floodplain and within 1,500 feet of a covered waterway. By setting bright lines, agricultural producers and others will know exactly where the Clean Water Act applies, and where it doesn’t.

Farmers and ranchers work hard every day to feed America and the world. In this final rule, we’ve provided additional certainty that they’ll retain all of their Clean Water Act exemptions and exclusions—so they can continue to do their jobs, and continue to be conservation leaders.
We appreciate everyone’s input as we’ve worked together to finalize a Clean Water Rule that keeps pollution out of our water, while providing the additional clarity our economy needs. Learn more here.

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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Reasons We Need the Clean Water Rule

By EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy

Today, EPA and the Army are finalizing a Clean Water Rule to protect the streams and wetlands we rely on for our health, our economy, and our way of life.

As summer kicks off, many of us plan to be outside with our friends and families fishing, paddling, surfing, and swimming. And for the lakes and rivers we love to be clean, the streams and wetlands that feed them have to be clean, too. That’s just one of many reasons why this rule is so important. Here are several more:

Clean water is vital to our health. One in three Americans get drinking water from streams that lacked clear protection from pollution without the Clean Water Rule. Finalizing the rule helps protect 117 million Americans’ health.

Our economy depends on clean water. Major economic sectors—from manufacturing and energy production to agriculture, food service, tourism, and recreation—depend on clean water to function and flourish. Without clean water, business grinds to a halt—a reality too many local small business owners faced in Toledo last year when drinking water became contaminated for several days.

Clean water helps farms thrive, and the rule preserves commonsense agriculture exemptions. Farms across America depend on clean and reliable water for livestock, crops, and irrigation. Activities like planting, harvesting, and moving livestock across streams have long been exempt from Clean Water Act regulation; the Clean Water Rule doesn’t change that. The final rule doesn’t create any new permitting requirements for agriculture, maintains all previous exemptions and exclusions, and even adds exclusions for features like artificial lakes and ponds, water-filled depressions from construction, and grass swales—all to make clear our goal is to stay out of agriculture’s way. Just like before, a Clean Water Act permit is only needed if a water is going to be polluted or destroyed—and all exemptions for agriculture stay in place.

Climate change makes protection of water resources even more essential. Impacts from climate change like more intense droughts, storms, fires, and floods—not to mention warmer temperatures and sea level rise—threaten our water supplies. But healthy streams and wetlands can protect communities by trapping floodwaters, retaining moisture during droughts, recharging groundwater supplies, filtering pollution, and providing habitat for fish and wildlife. With states like California in the midst of historic drought, it’s more important than ever that we protect the clean water we’ve got.

Clear protections mean cleaner water. The Clean Water Act has protected our health for more than 40 years—and helped our nation clean up hundreds of thousands of miles of polluted waterways. But Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 threw protections into question for 60 percent of our nation’s streams and millions of acres of wetlands. Using the latest science, this rule clears up the confusion, providing greater certainty for the first time in more than a decade about which waters are important to protect.

Science shows us the most important waters to protect. In developing the Clean Water Rule, the Agencies used the latest science, including a report summarizing more than 1,200 peer-reviewed, published scientific studies—which showed small streams and wetlands play an important role in the health of larger downstream waterways like rivers and lakes.

You asked for greater clarity. Members of Congress, state and local officials, industry, agriculture, environmental groups, scientists, and the public called on EPA and the Army to clarify which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act. With this rule, the agencies are responding to those requests and addressing the Supreme Court decisions. EPA and the Army held hundreds of meetings with stakeholders across the country, reviewed over a million public comments, and listened carefully to perspectives from all sides. All of this input shaped and improved the final rule we’re announcing today.

Just as importantly, there are lots of things the rule doesn’t do. The rule only protects waters historically covered under the Clean Water Act. It doesn’t interfere with private property rights, and it only covers water—not land use. It also doesn’t regulate most ditches, doesn’t regulate groundwater or shallow subsurface flows, and doesn’t change policy on irrigation or water transfers.

These are just a few of the many reasons why clean water and this rule are important—learn more here, and share yours with #CleanWaterRules.

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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EPA: Launching a New Era of State, Tribal, Local and International Partnerships

Our work with state, tribal, local and international partners forms an “environmental enterprise” that is critical to advancing environmental and human health protection across the country and the globe.  As captured in our FY14-FY18 Strategic Plan, our New Era of State, Tribal, Local and International Partnerships is a vital pillar among our Cross-Agency Strategies. I thank everyone at EPA for working in collaboration with our partners – governors, tribal leaders, environmental and agricultural commissioners, city and county leaders, and so many others. This spring, I asked EPA employees to share their best practices, innovative solutions and successes in building partnerships. There are so many successes I learned about, ranging from the routine to multi-faceted and complicated matters.  Here are a handful of successes that I’d like to highlight.

State, Local and Other Partners Protecting School Indoor Air Quality group#– Nearly 56 million people spend their days inside elementary and secondary schools in the US. Since the mid-1990s, EPA’s Indoor Environments Division (IED) has supported states, schools and school districts in their work to improve indoor air quality in schools and protect the health of their students and staff.

In 2012, the IED schools team launched the School Health and Indoor Environments Leadership Development (SHIELD) Network, a dynamic collaboration of more than 80 leaders from school districts, state and local governments and other partners committed to improving IAQ in schools. SHIELD events have resulted in thousands of school district decision makers trained to make their school indoor environments healthier, cleaner and safer places.

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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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Small Businesses: Here’s How To Act on Climate and Improve Your Bottom Line

Co-authored by David Levine, Co-founder and President, American Sustainable Business Council

Shari’s Café and Pies in Beaverton, Oregon, makes some great pies. Each of Shari’s 98 restaurants across the Pacific Northwest uses energy to make those pies. In fact, utility costs were their third highest expense, and the company went looking for a way to trim those costs. They realized they couldn’t control utility rates, but they could control their own energy and water usage.

Shari’s used the ENERGY STAR Guide for Restaurants and arranged for an energy audit. They also used the ENERGY STAR Lighting Options for Restaurants & Commercial Kitchens guide and the ENERGY STAR Commercial Kitchen Equipment Savings Calculator. Shari’s purchased ENERGY STAR certified appliances including griddles, refrigerators, freezers, water heaters, ice machines, dishwashers, fryers, convection ovens and pre-rinse sprayers. The purchase of ENERGY STAR certified appliances has earned Shari’s over $300,000 in rebates and incentives since 2010. In 2012, Shari’s estimated their electrical usage was down 6% and natural gas usage down 11%; their per-restaurant water consumption saw an 18% reduction. These changes allowed Shari’s to save $650,000.

Yes, a savings of $650,000.

Across the country, small business owners are gaining a competitive edge and improving their bottom line through energy efficiency. Many owners are even able to redirect cost savings to new investments or new positions. It’s a win-win; a win for the economy as well as the environment.

And we know that business owners are thinking about the harmful impacts from climate change, especially as climate change fuels more extreme weather events. Polling commissioned by the American Sustainable Business Council found that 87 percent of business owners named one or more consequences of climate change as potentially harmful to their businesses. These are owners from all political stripes — and they all get it.

EPA’s ENERGY STAR program partners with over 12,000 small businesses — from auto dealers and grocery stores to restaurants and lodging businesses — and is helping businesses reduce the pollution that fuels climate change while saving billions of dollars in the process. EPA resources like the new ENERGY STAR Small Business Action Workbook and EPA’s Greening Guide for Small Businesses, Smart Steps to Sustainability 2.0, can help business owners make these savings a reality.

Here are a few more examples of small business owners who are working with EPA to green their businesses:

Madam’s Organ — Washington, DC

“It’s an absolute no-brainer to sign up for [EPA’s] Green Power Partners program. The process is super simple, it saves money and we feel that we are doing our small part towards energy conservation.”

– Bill Duggan, Manager

 

Fine Violins — St. Paul, Minnesota

"One of the advantages of being a business owner is that you can mold your business to fit your values. During our lifetime we can work to make the world a better place. I've always enjoyed outdoor stamina sports, but I also have asthma so I'm extremely affected by air pollution. Using wind energy helps make a small dent in cleaning our air. Green power is good for business. Many of my clients mention their appreciation, and some have exclusively directed their purchases of several thousand dollar instruments based on our use of green power." - Andy Fein, Owner

“One of the advantages of being a business owner is that you can mold your business to fit your values. During our lifetime we can work to make the world a better place. I’ve always enjoyed outdoor stamina sports, but I also have asthma so I’m extremely affected by air pollution. Using wind energy helps make a small dent in cleaning our air. Green power is good for business. Many of my clients mention their appreciation, and some have exclusively directed their purchases of several thousand dollar instruments based on our use of green power.”
– Andy Fein, Owner

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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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Northwest Native Youth Lead on Sustainability

Last month, I got to spend time with Americans who have championed sustainability for a lot longer than the 45 years EPA has existed: our northwest tribal nations.

My trip to the Pacific Northwest was the second stop on the Generation Indigenous, or Gen I,Gen-I-LogoCabinet Tour. President Obama launched the Gen-I Initiative at the 2014 White House Tribal Nations Conference to focus on improving the lives of Native youth by removing the barriers that stand between Native youth and their opportunity to succeed. A clean, healthy environment sets tribal nations up for stronger economies and communities where young people can thrive.

groupI had the chance to sit down with the Columbia River Tribal Leadership Council, including the Lummi, Nez Perce, Warm Springs, Yakama, and Umatilla tribes, to listen to their concerns, hopes and dreams. And most importantly, I spent quality time with the tribal leaders of the future when I visited the Lummi and Swinomish nations.

The tribes in the northwest face significant water quality challenges that are threatening their ability to maintain their precious resources: the fish they rely on for nourishment and continued economic stability, as well as their way of life. The visit gave me a chance to discuss next steps in the work EPA is doing with states and tribes to protect resources, like clean water, to which many tribes retain treaty rights.

I also spent time at the Northwest Indian College, talking to students about what a college degree means for their futures and the futures of their tribes. It was amazing to see the hope and pride on their faces, as well as the faces of their remarkable teachers.

boatTribal members welcomed me as part of the extended Swinomish family—I tasted a bounty of native foods, took a boat ride along the Skagit river (the last river in the Northwest healthy enough to be home to all species of wild salmon), rowed a canoe with tribal members of all ages and sizes, and learned a traditional dance. It was a trip I will never forget and didn’t want to end.

Last year, President Obama visited Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, where he heard directly from Native youth who described the challenges their families and communities face. Afterward, he launched Generation Indigenous, or Gen I, an initiative to create new opportunities for our Native youth and to cultivate the next generation of Native leaders. He challenged all agencies to support those efforts.

EPA is proud to support Gen I by engaging with Native youth in a number of ways, including the Tribal ecoAmbassadors Program, which partners EPA scientists with Tribal College professors and students to solve local environmental issues. I was pleased to see the progress the Northwest Indian College Tribal ecoAmbassador Program has made, including the rehabilitation of clear-cut areas of campus into medicinal and rain gardens. A nut and berry forest is used to teach traditional ecological knowledge and is a “living lab” used by students and the community. Since 2011, the Tribal ecoAmbassadors Program has created the opportunity for hundreds of students to gain over 4500 hours of STEM training.

diggingEPA is proud of the progress we’ve made to support tribes, but there’s a lot more work to do. Native American children are more likely to suffer from asthma and other respiratory illnesses linked to air pollution than white children, while more than 1 in 10 homes on Native American reservations lack access to clean water and sanitary sewage disposal—compared to less than 1 in 100 nationwide.

Working alongside tribes to protect public health and the environment is a critical part of EPA’s mission. It’s only when we work with tribes, states, and communities that the benefits of our work will be realized by every American.

The northwest tribes are working toward a brighter future every day, using both traditional and scientific ecological knowledge to safeguard their natural resources and their way of life. EPA is proud to partner with them to help continue their commitment to sustainability for many years to come.

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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Public Service Week: Perspectives from EPA’s Inaugural Employees

My father was a teacher.  My sister is a teacher.  I grew up with the notion that public service was the noblest thing you could do. That’s why it’s such a privilege to come to work every day with my fellow EPA colleagues, dedicated to serving the American people, and determined to fulfill our mission to protect public health and the environment.

EPA has been around for 45 years.  During that time, we have been fortunate to have thousands of committed public servants call EPA home.  This Public Service Week, I wanted to take a step back, and let some of EPA’s “Charter Members” – the few and proud EPA employees who’ve been here since day one – speak to how EPA’s success in fighting pollution has led to significant progress in our country.

Ken Shuster, a charter member who has spent his career committed to resolving solid and hazardous waste issues, explains the essential and difficult task of figuring out what the problem is and why it is critical to determining how we deal with it.

“In 1974 and 1975, I was responsible for documenting damages associated with solid waste disposal. I documented 34 cases of drinking water wells being contaminated by waste disposal sites; and in all 11 cases of vapor intrusion (gases generated by waste disposal sites, mostly methane and carbon monoxide) …  in all cases resulting in fatalities by explosion or asphyxiation. These cases became part of the legislative history leading up to the passage of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) in 1976. During this study effort I visited seven sites that were ultimately listed among the top 15 Superfund National Priorities List.”

When there’s something worth fighting for–like a healthy environment for our families–you’d better be willing to fight. And that’s exactly what we’ve done from day one, especially when things get tough.  Bob Freeman, a charter member and Senior Environmental Engineer focused on wastewater treatment had the challenging and critical task of explaining a certain set of Clean Water grants to the public and the private sector:

“I learned in those [early] days that achieving the goals of our Agency was much more likely to happen if we developed positive working relationships based on competence and trust with our stakeholders.  That approach has served well throughout my career.” 

Through it all, EPA’s charter members’ sense of why we do what we do, only strengthens over time.  I speak for many when I say that I’m humbled by their lasting commitment to shield people from environmental harm, and their selfless dedication to something bigger than themselves.  To me, that’s what makes public service still among the highest of callings. Here is Carl Edlund, director of Region 6 Superfund Division:

“When I started with EPA in 1970…we knew that EPA was going to tackle immense changes in the way that people interacted with the environment … For all of human existence, the environment was an unending immensity impervious to lasting damage and something to be conquered, tamed, exploited and/or dumped on.  In 1970, huge, very visible, problems were evident ranging from polluted air, water, and land to indiscriminate use of toxic chemicals.  The enthusiasm of many EPA staff was reflected by one of our early posters that showed a babbling brook with the words ‘I believe that I can change the earth’.  Armed with a slew of new statutes, we set out to make that change … When he participated in the 40th anniversary of EPA, Bill Ruckelshaus [first EPA Administrator] commented that working at EPA was remarkable because it combined excitement, challenges, work of extreme interest and fulfillment. From my experience, I second the motion.”

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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Commitment and Innovation: Serving America at EPA

Every day, EPA employees go above and beyond the call of duty to protect public health and the environment. And three EPA all-stars, Bob Kavlock, Stephanie Hogan, and Jacob Moss, are truly exceptional. They are finalists for the 2015 Sammies (Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals), a highly respected honor with a rigorous selection process. Only 30 finalists are chosen from across the federal government.

I had the chance to meet with them recently and hear about their experiences at EPA and their commitment to public service. We had such an awesome conversation—and they had such great insight—that I asked them if we could share it publicly.

BlogSammiesBelow I’m proud to pass on their reflections—in their own words—on their time at EPA and the crucial work our agency does. We’re extremely proud of them, and we’re thrilled they’re being recognized for their great work. – Gina

Bob Kavlock

It’s fascinating to me to look back on a single day and realize how it changed my life. It was a Friday afternoon during my senior year in college when a friend asked me if I wanted to keep him company when he went to apply for a job. We drove down to the edge of the Everglades and went into the Perrine Primate Pesticide Effects Laboratory. While he was applying, the women asked if I was interested too, as they had a number of positions. Without thinking too much about it, I filled an application, and needless to say, was hired to work in a laboratory studying the effects of pesticides on fetal development. The rest is history. I wound up changing my graduate school research emphasis to developmental toxicology (from Everglades ecology), although I lost the job when the laboratory was moved to Research Triangle Park as part of the consolidation of the newly formed EPA research facilities. I did, however, manage to rejoin EPA upon getting my PhD and have thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated my career here ever since. Having been a work study student, a principal investigator, section chief, branch chief, division director, and center director, I have seen many levels of the EPA, albeit within the relatively sheltered confines of our Office of Research and Development (ORD). At least that was until I moved to headquarters three years ago to become the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Science in ORD, when I really got to experience the remarkable organization that is EPA. What we do affects virtually every person every day in positive ways, and I much more now appreciate the strength, intelligence and diligence of our remarkable workforce. I can’t imagine having spent a career anywhere else.

Stephanie Hogan

I’ve had a longstanding interest in environmental issues, so I welcomed the opportunity to work at EPA four years ago. I was fortunate to be asked early in my career at EPA to work on important Clean Air Act issues including the challenging question of how to regulate pollution originating in one state that affects air quality – and therefore public health — in another state. Before joining the agency, I was working for a small public interest law firm that represented communities affected by toxic pollution. I appreciate that my work had the potential to directly benefit those communities and that now, at EPA, I contribute to and defend agency actions that provide even more substantial environmental and public health benefits. Above all, I value working with a supportive, creative, and motivated community of colleagues across the agency.

Jacob Moss
I got fascinated at how environmental pressures shape our lives while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa. I came back and worked on a range of water, air quality, and waste issues at the state and local level, and eventually decided to join EPA to explore opportunities to solve these problems on a national scale. Working at EPA has been a joy in so many ways: I’m passionate about the mission; I love the people; and I thrive on the culture of solving important environmental problems in innovative, yet practical ways. But what’s been most amazing for me personally has been the risk the agency took with regard to my cookstoves work. Neither my superiors nor I were sure we could succeed, but our collective risk has paid off in a meaningful way.

We still have a long ways to go, but I’m not sure there are many other organizations who would give an employee the time and freedom to try something so unusual and ambitious.
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These exceptional public servants represent the best EPA has to offer, and we wish them luck at the award ceremony this fall.

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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