Posts by Gina McCarthy:

Water Challenges Are Actually Opportunities

By EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

Our nation needs to talk more about the future of water, which I believe is one of the top public health and economic challenges now facing our country. This is a moment of opportunity – to drive smart, equitable, resilient investments to modernize our aging water infrastructure; to invent and build the water technologies of the future; and to protect our precious water resources. To seize this opportunity, we need urgent and sustained action at all levels of government and from all sectors of the economy.

It is time to move away from the narrow 20th century view of water: as a place to dump waste; as something to just treat and send downstream in pipes; as only an expense for cities and a planning burden for communities.

We need to accelerate the move to a 21st century view – where we see water as a finite and valuable asset, as a major economic driver, as essential to urban revitalization, as a centerpiece for innovative technology, and as a key focus of our efforts to build resilience.

This shift presents tremendous opportunities – to revitalize communities, to grow businesses and jobs, to improve public health. But to achieve it, we must make water a top national priority – and we need to be bold and revolutionary.

We need to drive innovation across all dimensions of the water sector: in technology, finance, management, and regulation.

We all see how science, technology, and innovation are opening new frontiers, fueling the economy, and changing our world. We must incubate this change in the water sector as well because both the challenges and the opportunities are vast.

For example, consider that the nation’s wastewater facilities discharge approximately 9.5 trillion gallons of wastewater per year. Utilities are increasingly turning to technologies and approaches that foster greater reuse of water and recovery of resources that were previously discarded as waste.

Look at Orange County, California, where they are generating over 100 million gallons per day of recycled water. Instead of just discharging that water into the Pacific Ocean, that ultrapure water is used to replenish groundwater in Anaheim, injected in wells in Fountain Valley to ward off saltwater intrusion, and as an indirect source of tap water to 2.5 million people in the county.

Another example is the opportunities for energy efficiency and renewable generation, key areas for our planet’s long-term sustainability. The water facilities nationwide account for as much as 4 percent of national electricity consumption, costing about $4 billion a year. Now we see utilities producing energy instead – while slashing costs and carbon emissions at the same time.

Look at Gresham, Oregon, where the wastewater plant has become a net zero facility – using biogas generators and solar panels to produce more energy than it needs. Not only is that saving city taxpayers half a million dollars per year, but last year the city also earned $250,000 from fees local restaurants are paying to drop off fats, oils and grease.

There are similar opportunities to use technology for improving water monitoring, for constructing green infrastructure, for building resilience to climate change, for treating drinking water, and for recovering nutrients before they enter waterways.

These opportunities to harness innovative technology aren’t just good for public health and the environment – they can be enormous economic drivers.

In 2015, the global market for environmental technologies goods and services was more than $1 trillion. The United States environmental technologies industry exported $51.2 billion in goods and services. This same industry supports an estimated 1.6 million jobs here in the U.S.

So the soundbite that protecting the environment is bad for the economy is just patently false. It’s actually the opposite.

As our nation heads into a time of transition, we need to remember that water is a nonpartisan issue. We all depend on clean and reliable water – our families, our communities, our businesses, our society.

So, it should come as no surprise that in a Gallup poll last spring, people were asked about their environmental concerns – pollution of drinking water and pollution of rivers and lakes were the top two concerns… people care about water.

To confront the challenges we face and seize this moment of opportunity, we have to work together – all levels of government, all sectors of the economy, every community. Right now, water is an all-hands-on-deck issue.

P.S.: I’m confident that our country can succeed. Look how far we come. EPA has released an interactive storymap that highlights some of the most significant progress made since 2009. I encourage you to explore the storymap to see where EPA worked near you and to read about some of the biggest steps taken toward clean and reliable water for the American people.

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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EJ 2020: The Next Generation of Environmental Justice at EPA

By Gina McCarthy

I got my start working at community health centers in Canton, Massachusetts. That was more than 35 years ago. What motivated me then, and still drives me today, is my desire to help people lead healthier, safer lives.

Far too often, I’ve seen how minority, low-income, and indigenous groups are most affected by environmental and public health challenges. I’m proud that for more than twenty years, EPA has worked to ensure that these overburdened communities benefit from the same environmental protections as other communities. This has been a priority of mine since my first days working in Canton, and it’s been a top priority for us here at EPA.

We’ve made tremendous progress over the past eight years. Through EJ 2014 – EPA’s first strategic plan – we built stronger relationships with local and community leaders. We integrated environmental justice into every EPA program. And we strengthened our partnerships across the federal family.

This progress is important, but we still have a lot of work to do. With EJ 2020, EPA’s next four-year strategic plan for environmental justice, we’re building on this foundation as we work together to turn this progress into even more action. This plan was developed based on robust public input – through thousands of comments on previous drafts, from more than one hundred meetings across the country, and four national webinars.

EJ 2020 has three overarching goals:

  • To deepen environmental justice practice in EPA’s programs that improve the health and environment of overburdened communities;
  • To work with federal, state, tribal, community, and industry partners to expand our impact across the country; and
  • To measure the progress we’re making on our most significant environmental justice challenges.

Each of these goals supports our efforts to expand our on-the-ground work and make an even greater and lasting impact where our help is needed the most. And as we develop more comprehensive ways to gauge our progress, we will better ensure that every American enjoys the benefits of living in a cleaner and healthier community.

Confronting our shared challenges requires innovative solutions and unwavering dedication. In a period of increasing challenges related to climate change and crumbling infrastructure, our capacity to confront our obstacles depends on the strength of our partnerships. EJ 2020 provides a roadmap for us to move forward, together, in a more productive and holistic way. This means listening to community leaders and residents and better understanding the burdens they face so that we strategically focus our resources. This is how we will truly make a difference in our country’s most overburdened communities.

EJ 2020 isn’t just about having words on paper. It’s about having concrete strategies that guide us through the next four years and beyond. And when I think back to the lessons I learned in Canton, I am proud of the lives that EPA has changed and the communities we’ve strengthened both in my hometown and in hometowns across the country. Everything we’ve accomplished makes me even more optimistic about our shared future.

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 Historic Day in Our Fight Against Climate Change

By Administrator Gina McCarthy

Protecting the air we breathe and slowing the effects of climate change are a core part of EPA’s mission. And today, I am proud to say that we, alongside nearly every country on Earth, have taken another historic step in carrying out that mission by cutting down on the use of damaging hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs.

Countries, including the United States, have long used HFCs to meet their refrigeration and air conditioning needs. These greenhouse gases can have warming impacts hundreds to thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide. In a nutshell, these HFCs cool our homes and chill our food, but they are turning up the temperature of our planet.

And over the next several years, HFC use is expected to not only grow—but multiply. Their emissions are increasing by 10 to 15 percent on an annual basis globally. That’s why, this week in Rwanda, world leaders took a giant leap forward by agreeing to a global phase-down of these harmful gases.

As head of the U.S. delegation to the Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol, I met with leaders from around the world who share a commitment to protecting the planet and scaling down these harmful gases. Together, joined by Secretary of State John Kerry, we agreed to take action and get the job done. And that’s exactly what we did.

The Montreal Protocol, a successful global environmental agreement, is already putting the world on track to heal the Earth’s ozone layer by mid-century. And this week, 197 countries agreed on an ambitious amendment that will help protect Earth’s climate by significantly reducing the consumption and production of HFCs.

By acting now, we’re avoiding up to a full half a degree centigrade of warming by the end of the century. This is a big deal, because our scientists say very clearly that we must keep our planet’s temperature from rising 2 degrees above our normal temperature. And today’s announcement brings us that much closer to avoiding that “point of no return.”

We’re also agreeing to devote more resources to finding and using safer, more climate-friendly alternatives. And we’re building on the significant gains we’ve already made to protect ourselves and our children from the dangerous effects of climate change.

At EPA, we’re doing our part to cut down on HFCs here at home.

Just two weeks ago, we finalized two rules that will reduce the use and emissions of HFCs. The first—under our Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program—adds new alternatives to the list of acceptable substitutes for HFCs. It also sets deadlines to completely stop using HFCs in certain applications where safer alternatives are available. The second rule strengthens our current refrigerant management practices and extends them to include HFCs.

This week has truly been historic. Our global commitment to protecting our planet brought us to this moment. It’s an exciting time for all of us who have worked so hard to get here. And while we have seen many significant successes under President Obama’s leadership in tackling climate change, this day will be remembered as one of the most important. I was proud to represent the United States in Rwanda this week. There is no doubt in my mind that U.S. leadership was essential to reaching this agreement.

Yes, there will be challenges ahead. But the past week reminds us that when faced with clear science, when buoyed by the strong partnership of developed and developing countries working together, we can make great strides to protect the one planet we have.

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 Our Nation’s Treasured Vistas

By Administrator Gina McCarthy

Why do we enjoy exploring our national parks? Nature. Peace. Quiet. Solitude. But at the top of the trail, it’s all about the view. And there’s nothing like being in one of America’s premier national parks to remind me of why I come to work each day. This morning, joined by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, I hiked to the scenic overlook of the Upper Hawksbill Trail in Shenandoah National Park – just like the millions who visit our national parks and wilderness areas each year in search of gorgeous views.

The view from Shenandoah National Park on a clear day and on a hazy day.

The view from Shenandoah National Park on a clear day and on a hazy day.

Our trip to Shenandoah gave us an opportunity to mark progress in the effort to ensure the views in our parks across the country are clear, by reducing haze from regional air pollution.

Haze is caused when tiny pollution particles in the air encounter sunlight, resulting in degraded views of scenic features. This pollution comes from a variety of natural and manmade sources. Natural sources can include windblown dust and soot from wildfires. Manmade sources can include motor vehicles, electric utilities and industrial fuel burning, and manufacturing operations. There is less haze today than years past due to many different Clean Air Act programs, including the Regional Haze Program.

Haze makes it harder to see many of our favorite places, like Half Dome in Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and the valleys and hills of Shenandoah National Park. That’s why the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service, along with states and tribes, are working together to protect and improve visibility conditions in our most treasured parks and wilderness areas.

The Grand Canyon on a clear day and on a hazy day.

The Grand Canyon on a clear day and on a hazy day.

The Regional Haze Program has focused on reducing harmful air pollution from large, older facilities, including power plants, cement plants and large industrial boilers. Under this program, if emissions from these sources are found to cause haze at national parks or wilderness areas, then sources must take steps to reduce the pollutants contributing to haze. In addition to improving visibility in our nation’s most treasured natural areas, these steps help protect public health, while supporting local tourism and economic development.

The Regional Haze Program is designed to make improvements over time and is organized into different planning periods, the first of which covers 2008-2018. Since we are near the end of the first planning period, it is a good time to stop and take stock of what we have accomplished, and what more there is to do. In Shenandoah, for example, the average visual range has improved from under 35 miles in 1999 to over 60 miles in 2015. The natural visual range is estimated to be 120 miles at Shenandoah, so there is room for future improvement.

Improvements like this can be seen across the country, In fact, out west, the average visual range has increased – from 90 miles to 120 miles over the same period. While this is good progress, we know there is more to be done. In May 2016, we proposed revisions to the Regional Haze Program, setting the stage for more progress during the next planning period, which is from 2018-2028.

To provide a dynamic way for the public to understand the work we are doing to improve visibility and protect America’s magnificent views and scenic vistas from pollution, check out our interactive story map. Here, you can see the difference between hazy and clear days, learn how many agencies and organizations are working together to improve visibility, and explore an interactive map of protected areas to see web cams and monitoring data.

There’s nothing like climbing hundreds or thousands of feet to make you appreciate something. For me, today was about appreciating the view because of something that isn’t there – haze caused by air pollution.

It was a joy to be in Shenandoah this morning to appreciate the progress we’ve made, while renewing our commitment to keep these views clear for others to enjoy.

 

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 New Effort to Save the Ozone Layer and Protect the Climate

By Ernest Moniz and Gina McCarthy

As world leaders gathered at the United Nations this week, the Obama administration and global partners today announced several unprecedented steps to secure an ambitious amendment to the Montreal Protocol. This successful global agreement is already putting Earth’s fragile ozone layer back on track to full restoration. But an ambitious amendment would dramatically cut down on the usage of damaging greenhouse gases known as hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs.

HFCs are commonly used in air conditioning and refrigeration applications around the world. They can be hundreds to thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide and their emissions are increasing by 10 to 15 percent on an annual basis globally. That’s why we must continue working to replace HFCs with more climate-friendly alternatives. And an amendment to the Montreal Protocol is the best way to do that.

Last year, global leaders agreed to “work within the Montreal Protocol to an HFC amendment in 2016.” Coming to an agreement among nearly 200 countries is never easy, and considerable differences still need to be bridged. But we’re confident that an amendment will be reached during final negotiations at the next Montreal Protocol conference in Rwanda next month.

Today’s announcements include four main components that will help ensure a strong outcome during the conference:

  • One: Including an appropriate “early freeze date,” when production and consumption of HFC refrigerants must stop increasing in so-called Article 5 countries (i.e., those in need of assistance). During an event in New York this morning, ministers representing more than 100 countries rallied behind an ambitious amendment with an “early freeze date.”
  • Two: 16 donor countries and philanthropists announced their intent to provide $80 million in fast start support to Article 5 countries. $27 million in funding from donor countries is being offered to help Article 5 countries jump-start their efforts to design and implement programs that reduce HFCs. It will be provided as long as an ambitious amendment with a sufficiently early freeze date is adopted this year. Meanwhile, $53 million from philanthropists will help countries maximize economic benefits during this transition through various energy efficiency programs. This is the largest-ever package of fast-start philanthropic support for boosting the energy efficiency of appliances and equipment. The Energy Department’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimates that a 30 percent improvement in air conditioner efficiency can double the climate benefits of an amendment. DOE has long invested in research and development, as well as standards to improve energy efficiency, including in the air conditioning sector where transitioning to HFC alternatives is important. For example, our Super-Efficient Equipment and Appliance Deployment (SEAD) initiative of the Clean Energy Ministerial partners with governments to spur efficiency policies and programs that yield billions of dollars in consumer savings while cutting carbon pollution. Today’s announcements will super-size this work, bolstering the confidence of all countries that they can cut energy costs as they phase down HFCs.
  • Three: Today, the Energy Department also published a report with the results of a testing program to evaluate the performance of HFC alternatives in hot climates. This is important because some countries have raised questions about whether HFC alternatives can perform as well as current refrigerants in those conditions. Today’s new results demonstrate that HFC alternatives can perform just as well as current refrigerants even under the harshest conditions. In fact, they sometimes perform even better. Today’s report focuses on rooftop air conditioning units that are popular in countries such as Saudi Arabia, but a similar testing program in 2015 that focused on mini-split air conditioning units came to the same conclusion. In both cases, the testing program was conducted at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and guided by an international panel of technical experts from a broad and diverse set of countries.
  • Four: To round out the announcements today, hundreds of companies and sub-national governments – represented through associations or individually – voiced support for an ambitious amendment. That list of supporters includes major global firms that rely on air conditioning and refrigeration in their operations like 3M, Dell, Microsoft, Nike, Red Bull, Symantec, and Unilever, and it demonstrates that there is a strong coalition of stakeholders seeking a strong outcome in Rwanda next month.

In addition to taking these steps, we look forward to advancing our joint collaboration on the Energy Star program. For more than two decades, this program has helped American citizens and businesses learn more about energy-efficient products that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

We also look forward to continuing to work with our international partners as we take a giant step toward meeting the goals of the historic Paris Agreement. And we will push to secure the strongest possible HFC amendment next month in Kigali.

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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Addressing climate change and unleashing innovation with cleaner trucks

By Gina McCarthy and Secretary Anthony Foxx, Department of Transportation

In 2013, President Obama announced his Climate Action Plan, a bold plan that is now on track to reduce emissions from nearly every sector of our economy.  Today, we are fulfilling one of the central promises in this plan — finalizing the second phase of greenhouse gas emissions and fuel efficiency standards for medium and heavy duty vehicles for model years 2018 and beyond.

The trucking sector is an engine of the U.S. economy. It hauls about 70 percent of all freight in this country, and is also our nation’s second largest segment of U.S. transportation in terms of emissions and energy use.

Today’s final standards will promote a new generation of cleaner and more fuel efficient trucks. That means 1.1 billion fewer tons of CO2 will be emitted into the atmosphere, and operators will save 2 billion barrels of oil and $170 billion in fuel costs. The additional cost of a new truck will be recouped within 2-4 years, saving truck owners more over the long haul.

These standards will not only benefit our climate, but also modernize America’s trucking fleet, cut costs for truckers, and help ensure the U.S trucking industry is a global leader in fuel efficient heavy duty vehicle technology. We developed the standards to allow multiple technological pathways to compliance, so that manufacturers can choose the technologies they believe are right for their products, their customers, and the market.

As with every rule, we relied on the input from the public, industry and many other stakeholders to build something that is both ambitious and achievable. More than 400 stakeholder meetings helped improve this program from the proposal: reducing more tons of pollution, strengthening compliance to ensure that the standards get real emissions reductions and improved fuel efficiency, and increasing flexibility for small businesses and manufacturers throughout the industry.  We also continued our close collaboration with our partners in California throughout the process to ensure we finalized standards that will result in a truly national program.

We’ve put in place strong engine standards, which are critical because they help ensure that manufacturers implement engine technologies that continue to improve. Our detailed technical analysis based on the most recent data shows that the required five percent efficiency improvement in diesel engines by 2027 is feasible, cost effective, and will lead to the continued carbon emissions reductions we need—millions of tons of reductions. We heard concerns about the stringency of engine standards, and we took that into account. To ensure a smooth transition, the engine standards are designed with substantial lead times, a gradual phase-in over the course of nine years, and expanded emissions credit flexibilities that allow manufacturers to tailor their own phase-in schedule. All this will enable manufacturers to develop and implement technologies that ensure reliability, and that are sound investments for the trucking industry.  And for the first time, the rules will cover trailers as well as tractors—ensuring that innovation will continue into aerodynamic features, next generation tires and other features so that trailers can contribute to fuel and emissions savings.

The rules don’t just cover line-haul trucks.  They will ensure that buses that carry school children and commuters, vehicles like snowplows, garbage trucks and delivery vans that travel our city streets, and even heavy-duty pickup trucks and large passenger vans will all be cleaner and more fuel efficient over the next decade.

Medium and heavy duty trucks help drive the American economy. Today we are ensuring that we drive down carbon pollution and save on petroleum costs from freight transport as the trucking industry continues to innovate, and to play their part in protecting the climate for future generations.

To learn more about the final heavy duty standards visit: https://www3.epa.gov/otaq/climate/regs-heavy-duty.htm

http://www.nhtsa.gov/fuel-economy

 

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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One Year Later: Climate Action and the Clean Power Plan

By Administrator Gina McCarthy

2016 is on pace to be the hottest year ever recorded – by a significant margin – while 2015 currently holds the title, and 2014 before that. The facts and the trends are clear, and the threat is real.

Just yesterday, the latest climate indicators report confirmed that the impacts of climate change are getting stronger and stronger—average temperatures and sea levels keep rising, coastal flooding is getting worse, and Arctic sea ice is melting at alarming rates.

As President Obama has made very clear, we are the first generation to feel the effects of climate change, and we may be the last generation who can do something about it.

That’s why in 2013, President Obama announced his Climate Action Plan, a bold and achievable plan that does everything in our power to combat climate change – from reducing emissions in nearly every sector of our economy, to increasing energy efficiency, to investing in renewable energy. And taking action here at home has allowed the United States to lead the world in getting a historic international agreement in Paris last year an agreement that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and limits global warming to two degrees Celsius.

One of the centerpieces in U.S. efforts to limit the effects of climate change and lead the world on this issue was reducing dangerous carbon pollution from power plants. One year ago today, I signed the Clean Power Plan, which set the first-ever national standards on reducing carbon pollution from existing power plants. EPA’s charge from the President was clear: to exercise our statutory authority to lay out steady, responsible steps to cut carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act. And that’s what we did – by setting limits that reflected the growing momentum in the power sector to provide the American public with cleaner sources of energy.

The trend toward investment in renewables and energy efficiency is unfolding all around us:

  • Electricity generated from renewables is expected to grow by 9% in 2016 alone;
  • Utilities are investing $8 billion a year in energy efficiency, a four-fold increase from just eight years ago, and more companies than ever are leveraging EPA’s ENERGY STAR platform;
  • States are leading the way—29 states have adopted mandatory renewable portfolio standards, and an additional eight states have voluntary renewable goals.  Twenty-three states have mandatory energy efficiency provisions and 10 states have implemented market-based trading programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and
  • The private sector is also stepping up.  Google, Apple, Goldman Sachs, Walmart, and Unilever – and other large U.S. companies are choosing to cut emissions and committing hundreds of billions of dollars to finance clean energy innovation.

It’s not an accident that the Clean Power Plan mirrors this trend. It is by design and it’s the result of our unprecedented outreach and engagement with states, utilities, energy regulators, environmental groups, communities, tribes and the public. Through this process we committed to listen and learn. We did. We committed to put the states in the driver’s seat. We did. We committed to cutting carbon pollution in a way that is in line with where the power sector is headed. We did. We committed to lead on climate action. And that’s exactly what we did.

Sometimes our efforts to protect public health and environment face opposition and/or litigation. The Clean Power Plan is no different and was stayed by the Supreme Court until the litigation is resolved. However, it will see its day in court and EPA remains fully confident in its legal merits. The Plan rests on a strong legal and technical foundation and is consistent with Supreme Court decisions, EPA’s statutory authority, and air pollution standards that have been put in place to tackle other pollution problems.  While the courts review the plan, and during the stay, no state is required to comply with it. However, many states and tribes have indicated they plan to move forward voluntarily to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. They have asked the agency to continue to develop tools to support them in their voluntary efforts. We are doing just that.

As we look to the future, let’s take stock of what we’ve done—we ’ve taken action to cut carbon pollution from power plants,extended tax credits for renewable energy, enabled the production of a new generation of clean cars and trucks, reduced methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, fostered a global climate change agreement, and so much more. These actions are rooted in science, codified in our laws, and broadly supported by our citizens. And they will make a difference! I’m excited for what the future holds. At EPA we remain ready to take advantage of smart and effective opportunities to safeguard public health and the environment for this generation and those that follow.

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 “Cool” Way to Combat Climate Change under the Montreal Protocol

By Administrator Gina McCarthy and U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz

World climate leaders are meeting this week in Vienna for the next stage of international discussions about a global phase-down of climate-damaging hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

This meeting should lay the foundation for a 2016 amendment to the Montreal Protocol – a hugely successful global agreement that has put Earth’s fragile ozone layer on track to full restoration. A 2016 amendment would leverage the same proven mechanisms that helped fix the “ozone hole” to address another serious risk to the planet – HFCs.

When scientists discovered the “ozone hole” in the 1980s, they uncovered a tangible health risk to people and the environment. The ozone layer of our upper atmosphere is a natural sunscreen that protects us from harmful ultraviolet rays. A massive and growing “hole” in the ozone layer threatened to drive up skin cancer rates, harm marine life, ruin crops and even degrade wood, plastic and other construction materials.

The 1987 Montreal Protocol mandated that countries phase out ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) and similar chemicals used widely at the time for air conditioning and refrigeration. With 197 countries signing on, it was the first UN treaty to achieve universal ratification in the United Nations.

The results have been remarkable. The peak ozone hole has shrunk dramatically by more than four million square kilometers (about the size of India), with a full recovery expected by mid-century. And despite fears of economic disruption, the private sector adjusted cost-effectively.

However, to phase out CFCs, countries needed viable alternatives. Back in the 80s and 90s, more and more sectors began moving toward hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – chemicals that performed well as refrigerants and were significantly healthier for the ozone layer. But like the chemicals they replaced, HFCs are still damaging to our climate system. In fact, they are hundreds to thousands of times more powerful in warming the planet than carbon dioxide. Rapid growth in the use of HFCs threatens to undo much of our progress in reducing other carbon emissions under the Paris Climate Agreement.

It is time to amend the Montreal Protocol and phase down the use of HFCs in air conditioning and refrigeration – an urgent priority given the explosive actual and projected growth of air conditioning and refrigeration worldwide.

If we succeed, we could avoid up to 0.5 degree centigrade of warming by the end of the century by shifting towards other, less harmful alternatives. Avoiding that half-degree is crucial for limiting global temperature rise to below 2 degrees centigrade and avoiding the most severe impacts of climate change.

Last November in Dubai, negotiators agreed on a path forward to phase down HFCs by amending the Montreal Protocol in 2016. The amendment would mandate countries to replace HFCs, in stages, with climate-friendly alternatives such as hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs) and hydrocarbons.

We have the technologies and chemicals to get this done, and are confident we can produce an HFC amendment that works.

U.S. leaders will take the results of a newly-published Department of Energy report, The Future of Air Conditioning for Buildings, to Vienna. It documents air conditioning’s explosive growth worldwide, especially in developing nations, which could lead to huge increases in the use of HFCs and emissions of greenhouse gases. The report finds that air conditioning energy consumption in countries not part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) could rise 4-1/2 times 2010 levels by 2050 – emitting more HFC greenhouse gases and undercutting the Paris Agreement. Substitute chemicals are available to avoid the use of HFCs and their global warming impacts.

Here are some key findings:

  • For air conditioning equipment categories that account for 95 percent of global residential sales and 35 percent of global commercial sales, climate-friendly refrigerants on the market have demonstrated comparable or superior performance and energy efficiency.
  • Also, climate-friendly refrigerants are already being developed and commercialized in all other major air conditioning equipment categories.
  • The air conditioning industry has steadily improved the energy efficiency of air conditioning units over time, including during the transition out of CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances into HFCs.
  • Given that energy costs account for the majority of lifecycle air conditioning costs, energy efficiency improvements can more than offset increases in upfront purchase costs to consumers that could result from switching to HFC alternatives.

In short, the report demonstrates that the world is making rapid progress innovating toward a world without HFCs. In the near-term we can expect a wide array of air conditioning options that are climate-friendly, energy-efficient and affordable.

And also today, California is announcing that it will contribute half a million dollars toward a nearly $6 million effort launched last June to conduct critical research regarding the safe use of mildly flammable and flammable alternatives to HFCs. The U.S. made this announcement as part of the launch of the Clean Energy Ministerial’s Advanced Cooling Challenge, in order to accelerate updated safety standards to allow widespread use of these climate-friendly refrigerants in the United States and internationally.

As a part of the Challenge, DOE is working with the Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) to support the acceleration of updated safety standards to allow widespread use of climate-friendly refrigerants in the United States and internationally. In support of the Advanced Cooling Challenge, the DOE is contributing $3 million in funding, AHRI is contributing $1 million, and ASHRAE is contributing $1.2 million.

It’s time for the world to come together to address HFCs. And this week’s negotiations are an important step down that path.

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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TSCA Reform: A Bipartisan Milestone to Protect Our Health from Dangerous Chemicals


By Gina McCarthy

President Obama just signed a bipartisan bill to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the first major update to an environmental statute in 20 years. That’s great news for the environment and for the health of all Americans.

TSCA was first passed in 1976 to help keep dangerous chemicals off the market and avoid making people sick. Back then, health experts already knew that certain chemicals could cause very serious health impacts, including cancer, birth defects, and reproductive harm.

While the intent of the original TSCA law was spot-on, it fell far short of giving EPA the authority we needed to get the job done.

It became clear that without major changes to the law, EPA couldn’t take the actions necessary to protect people from toxic chemicals. Diverse stakeholders, including industry, retailers, and public health and environmental experts, recognized these deficiencies and began to demand major reforms to the law.

Today, in a culmination of years of effort from both sides of the aisle, President Obama signed a bill that achieves those reforms.

The updated law gives EPA the authorities we need to protect American families from the health effects of dangerous chemicals. I welcome this bipartisan bill as a major step forward to protect Americans’ health. And at EPA, we’re excited to get to work putting it into action.

The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (H.R. 2576) was made possible by years of hard work by both Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate, as well as EPA staff who have provided significant technical assistance. I applaud everyone who stepped up and made it happen. It’s historic, and it’ll make Americans’ lives better.

TSCA was intended to be one of our nation’s foundational environmental laws. In terms of its potential for positive impact, it should have ranked right alongside the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, which, since the 70’s, have dramatically improved water quality and helped clean up 70 percent of our nation’s air pollution. But it hasn’t.

Forty years after TSCA was enacted, there are still tens of thousands of chemicals on the market that have never been evaluated for safety, because TSCA didn’t require it. And the original law set analytical requirements that were nearly impossible to meet, leaving EPA’s hands tied – even when the science demanded action on certain chemicals.

The dangers of inaction were never more stark than in the case of asbestos, a chemical known to cause cancer through decades of research.

During the first Bush Administration, EPA tried to ban asbestos under TSCA, but the rule was overturned in court. In the law’s 40-year history, only a handful of the tens of thousands of chemicals on the market when the law passed have ever been reviewed for health impacts, and only 5 have ever been banned.

Because EPA was not empowered to act on dangerous chemicals, American families were left vulnerable to serious health impacts. At the same time, some states tried to fill the gap to protect their citizens’ health—but state-by-state rules are no substitute for a strong national program that protects all Americans. Chemical manufacturers, consumer retailers, and others in industry agreed: reform was sorely needed.

As with any major policy reform, this one includes compromises. But the new bipartisan bill is a win for the American people—because it’s a victory for EPA’s mission to protect public health and the environment.

Here are a few highlights:

  • The new law requires EPA to evaluate existing chemicals, with clear and enforceable deadlines. Under the old law, the tens of thousands of chemicals already in existence in 1976 were considered in compliance, without any requirement or schedule for EPA to review them for safety. EPA is now required to systematically prioritize and evaluate chemicals on a specific and enforceable schedule. Within a few years, EPA’s chemicals program will have to assess at least 20 chemicals at a time, beginning another chemical review as soon as one is completed.
  • Under the new law, EPA will evaluate chemicals purely on the basis of the health risks they pose. The old law was so burdensome that it prevented EPA from taking action to protect public health and the environment–even when a chemical posed a known health threat. Now, EPA will have evaluate a chemical’s safety purely based on the health risks it poses—including to vulnerable groups like children and the elderly, and to workers who use chemicals daily as part of their jobs—and then take steps to eliminate any unreasonable risks we find.
  • The new law provides a consistent source of funding for EPA to carry out its new responsibilities. EPA will now be able to collect up to $25 million a year in user fees from chemical manufacturers and processers, supplemented by Congressional budgeting, to pay for these improvements.

Bottom line: this law is a huge win for public health, and EPA is eager to get to work.

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: “Aim High” – Working Toward a Sustainable Future

By Administrator Gina McCarthy

Last month, I asked EPA employees to share how their work at EPA is contributing to a sustainable future for our kids and grandkids. I wanted to hear about the many ways our staff are going above and beyond EPA’s foundational work to limit harmful pollution, and taking proactive steps to build healthy, economically vibrant communities.

Our teams responded in force, with 55 stories about the diverse, creative, and innovative ways they are building a sustainable future. Our best ideas are those that can be shared, replicated, and built upon. And we have so much to learn from each other’s successes. Here are some team highlights from across the agency:

Sustainable city planning: A team based in EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, in partnership with a number of EPA offices and regions, is looking at the connection between green infrastructure, energy consumption, and improved air quality. The team is providing technical assistance to Kansas City, MO-KS, to help better quantify the changes in pollution that result from “greening” of urban infrastructure in the area (i.e., green streets, green roofs, trees). This project will ultimately help promote green infrastructure projects that demonstrably improve water quality and advance sustainability – so that they can be incorporated into future city planning.

Green Remediation: EPA Region 1 is using strategies to make the cleanup of contaminated sites more sustainable, including by promoting, tracking, and considering green and sustainable remediation practices for Brownfield sites and Superfund sites. These efforts are helping to minimize the impacts of remediation and cleanup efforts, and ensure long-term, sustainable outcomes.

Community-Based Social Marketing: Region 5 provided funding and contractor assistance to the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, as they worked with their local tribal college to improve waste management. The project used community-based social marketing (CBSM) techniques to develop positive behavior strategies that are culturally appropriate. The project focused on increasing recycling behavior at the Band’s community college. Results from the pilot showed a 41% overall increase in the recycling rate at major locations throughout the campus. The Band worked with Region 5 and contractor support to put together a Tribal CBSM Training Guide, based on the lessons learned from the pilot to encourage other tribes to use CBSM to increase sustainable behaviors.

Coordinating Across EPA Programs: EPA Region 10 staff from Superfund, Clean Water Act, TSCA and Counsel have coordinated for several years to better align and sustain efforts in reducing toxics in waters. Staff recognized that in order to achieve more sustainable and long-lasting results, they needed to work together to more efficiently and effectively reduce toxics in the environment.  This includes addressing ongoing sources of and pathways for pollutants and aligning overlapping programmatic efforts to “clean up” waters and sediments. This small ad-hoc group ensured that language was added to EPA’s National Industrial Stormwater General Permit requiring those discharging into local Superfund Sites to work with the Regional office to minimize impacts and prevent caulking and paint sources of PCBs from getting into Superfund sediment sites. Region 10 staff also wrote language included in the Washington General Fish hatchery Permit to identify and remove sources of PCBs.

CWSRF: The Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) program is a federal-state partnership that provides communities a permanent, independent source of low-cost financing for a wide range of water quality infrastructure projects. EPA, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ) and the Farmer’s Irrigation District (FID) collaborated and used the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) to convert miles of open, earthen irrigation ditch system to a pressurized and piped system for Hood River’s Farmers Irrigation District. Most recently the Farmers Irrigation District also began using the CWSRF loans to purchase equipment for production of clean, renewable energy through micro-­‐hydroelectric generation.

I couldn’t be prouder of the work EPA employees are doing across the country. Here’s to more creativity, ingenuity, and innovation in the months and years ahead.

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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