Posts by Gina McCarthy:

Protecting the People Who Help Feed Us

By Administrator Gina McCarthy and Department of Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez

We depend on our nation’s two million farmworkers to help provide the fruits and vegetables we feed our families every day. But each year, thousands of farmworkers become ill or injured from preventable pesticide exposure, leading to sick days, lost wages, medical bills, and absences from school.

Farmworkers deserve the same kinds of protections from workplace hazards that workers in other industries have enjoyed for decades.

That’s why today, EPA announced stronger protections for workers on farms, in nurseries, and in greenhouses. The updated Worker Protection Standard makes sure farmworkers know their rights through yearly training, have improved safety measures and access to information, as well as protection from retaliation for speaking out.

It’s simple: this rule helps make sure our food is produced in a way that protects farmworkers’ health and the health of their families.

The evidence is clear that managing for safety results in more productive, successful businesses. There are serious financial consequences for businesses that don’t acknowledge the importance of worker safety. They not only endanger their own workers, they reduce their competitiveness and harms their bottom line. It’s time to raise the bar for our agriculture workers in the United States. See how the 20-year old rule has been upgraded.

 

Farm worker protection standards comparison chart.

 

EPA has worked hard to build on what we’ve learned since the original Worker Protection Standard was announced 20 years ago. From state and local partners, to the farmworker community, to farmers, ranchers, and growers—we’ve learned what works to protect farmworkers from pesticide exposure, and where we need to do more. We’re confident that today’s revisions will protect our strong farm economy and family farming traditions.
President Obama has called closing gaps of opportunity a defining challenge of our time. Meeting that challenge means ensuring clean air, clean water, and safe work environments.  Environmental justice is at the heart of EPA’s mission to protect public health—especially for vulnerable communities dealing with risks associated with pesticide exposure. And the Department of Labor is proud to support them in this effort.

The new Worker Protection Standard will help ensure strong, sensible safeguards for farmworkers, their families, and the agricultural community across America.

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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The Pope’s Visit – Renewing the Call to Act on Climate

By Administrator Gina McCarthy

This week, Pope Francis made an historic visit to Washington, DC, where he met with President Obama, addressed Congress, and lead a public rally to support moral action on climate justice.

This summer, the Pope issued a landmark encyclical emphasizingour moral obligation to act on climate change – for the sake of our kids and vulnerable populations around the world. His visit to Washington this week is a reminder that taking action is as urgent as ever to protect our “common home”.

At EPA, we couldn’t agree more. Environmental justice is at the core of everything we do – including our work to address climate change. Climate change is personal—it affects every American. But low-income and minority communities are particularly vulnerable to climate-related changes like stronger storms, floods, fires, and droughts. And on top of that, they are often the least able to rebuild after a disaster.

Low-income and minority Americans are also more likely to live in the shadow of polluting industries like power plants, and more likely to be exposed to higher levels of pollution. And the carbon pollution driving climate change comes packaged with other dangerous soot- and smog-forming pollutants that can lead to lung and heart disease.

More than 10 million American children have been diagnosed with asthma. But black and Latino children, as well as children from low-income families, are more likely to suffer from asthma and respiratory problems than other kids are.

Of course, climate change isn’t just happening here in the U.S. Citizens in low-lying countries like Bangladesh and Pacific Island nations are retreating from sea level rise; parts of Africa are facing blistering drought, threatening the food supply; indigenous people in the Arctic are seeing summer sea-ice recede to unprecedented levels.

We all have roles to play in taking action on behalf of those who bear the brunt of the effects of climate change. And by working together, we can meet the challenge. This message was crystal clear in the Pope’s recent encyclical:

“Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start.”

I’m so proud to be able to say that the United States is stepping up to this call.

EPA’s Clean Power Plan puts our Nation on track to slash carbon pollution from the power sector 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030—all while keeping energy reliable and affordable. As we speak, states across the country are putting pen to paper and crafting plans for implementation.

The faith community has been an extraordinary catalyst for climate action, and we’ve seen incredible support and progress from the private sector as well. Businesses of all sizes are embracing the task, working to reduce their carbon footprints, planning for future climate change, and propelling innovative clean energy solutions forward. I also continue to be encouraged by the steps being taken by our partners around the world, including economies large and small and some of the world’s biggest emitters.

This collective momentum makes me confident that a global climate agreement will be reached in Paris later this year. And it gives me hope that we will rise to the Pope’s moral call: to protect the least of these, and to safeguard a beautiful, abundant planet full of opportunity for our kids and for generations 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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Why We Must Act: For our Families’ Health and our Kids’ Future

Sanaa Brown is ten years old. Like many other girls her age, she loves playing outside. Soccer, dance, gymnastics, tennis, swimming—as her mom likes to say, there’s isn’t a sport Sanaa doesn’t like.

But these days, she finds herself stuck inside more and more often. Sanaa has asthma and environmental allergies—conditions that are only getting worse, thanks to climate change.  Increasingly extreme summer heat [and humidity] near her family’s home in North Carolina mean Sanaa has more and more trouble breathing. After less than an hour outside, she often breaks out in painful hives.

Despite all this, Sanaa refuses to give up. She’s still running all around her house, still giving it her all on the soccer field. Yet, the difficulty breathing, the painful hives—they’re not going anywhere. As her mom admits, pursuing her passion means that Sanaa now has to “deal with the consequences.”

She shouldn’t have to.

I got into public service more than three decades ago as a local public health official in Canton, Massachusetts, because I wanted to make life a little easier for kids like Sanaa. I wanted to make sure they could play outside whenever they wanted to, without having to worry about being able to breathe.

Thirty-five years later, kids like Sanaa are still the reason I come to work every day—because I know that unless we continue the fight to protect our environment, what’s happened to them could just as easily happen to my family or yours. Nothing drives home this threat more sharply than the challenge of climate change.

Climate change, driven by carbon pollution from fossil fuels, leads to more extreme weather—more extreme heat, cold, drought, storms, fires, and floods. Climate change is a global challenge, but it’s also personal. No matter who you are, where you live, or what you care about, climate change is affecting you and your family today.

Our moral responsibility to act is crystal clear—because our families are bearing the brunt of these effects.

Carbon pollution comes packaged with smog and soot that can lead to lung and heart disease. Over the last three decades, the number of Americans living with asthma has doubled. Warmer temperatures from climate change exacerbate air pollution, putting those patients at greater risk of landing in the hospital.

The facts of climate change aren’t up for debate. Scientists are as sure that humans are causing climate change as they are that cigarettes cause lung cancer. We have a responsibility to act because we have a responsibility to our kids, our grandkids, to Sanaa Brown, and to young people across the country and around the world.

As a mom, I feel the weight of this responsibility every time I look at my three children. At EPA, I feel it every time I walk the halls and remember our mission: to protect public health and the environment. That’s why we’re not shying away from this challenge. We’re not waiting. We’re taking action now.

The transition to a clean energy future is happening even faster than we expected—and that’s a good thing. It means carbon and air pollution are already decreasing, improving public health each and every year. The Clean Power Plan accelerates this momentum. It will slash carbon pollution from the power sector by nearly a third compared to where we were a decade ago. And when we cut carbon pollution, we also cut the smog and soot that come with it. That’s going to make a real difference in the lives of kids and families everywhere.

By 2030, we’ll see major reductions of pollutants that can create dangerous soot and smog, translating to significant health benefits for the American people. We’ll avoid up to 90,000 asthma attacks that would have ruined a child’s day. Americans will spend up to 300,000 more days in the office or the classroom, instead of sick at home. And up to 3,600 families will be spared the grief of losing a loved one too soon.

We’re acting now because lives are at stake.

Two years ago, President Obama told the students of Georgetown University that he “refuse[d] to condemn their generation… to a planet that’s beyond fixing.”

Two months ago, Pope Francis reminded us that “young people demand change,” and called upon “every person living on this planet” to take a stand for our children, and theirs to come.

A child born today will turn fifteen in the year 2030 – the year when the full benefits of the Clean Power Plan will be realized. The actions we take now will clear the way for that child – and kids everywhere – to learn, play, and grow up in a world that’s not only clean and safe, but full of opportunity.

 

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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6 Things Every American Should Know About the Clean Power Plan

By EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

Today, President Obama will unveil the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Clean Power Plan—a historic step to cut the carbon pollution driving climate change. Here are six key things every American should know:

1. IT SLASHES THE CARBON POLLUTION FUELING CLIMATE CHANGE.

Carbon pollution from power plants is our nation’s biggest driver of climate change—and it threatens what matters most – the health of our kids, the safety of our neighborhoods, and the ability of Americans to earn a living. The Clean Power Plan sets common sense, achievable state-by-state goals to cut carbon pollution from power plants across the country. Building on proven local and state efforts, the Plan puts our nation on track to cut carbon pollution from the power sector 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, all while keeping energy reliable and affordable.

2. IT PROTECTS FAMILIES’ HEALTH.

The transition to clean energy is happening even faster than we expected—and that’s a good thing. It means carbon and air pollution are already decreasing, improving public health each and every year. The Clean Power Plan accelerates this momentum, putting us on pace to cut this dangerous pollution to historically low levels. Our transition to cleaner energy will better protect Americans from other kinds of harmful air pollution, too. By 2030, we’ll see major reductions of pollutants that can create dangerous soot and smog, translating to significant health benefits for the American people. In 2030, we’ll avoid up to 3,600 fewer premature deaths; 90,000 fewer asthma attacks in children; 1,700 fewer hospital admissions; and avoid 300,000 missed days of school and work. The Clean Power Plan is a historic step forward to give our kids and grandkids the cleaner, safer future they deserve.

3. IT PUTS STATES IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT.

The Clean Power Plan sets uniform carbon pollution standards for power plants across the country—but sets individual state goals based on states’ current energy mix and where they have opportunities to cut pollution. States then customize plans to meet their goals in ways that make sense for their communities, businesses, and utilities. States can run their more efficient plants more often, switch to cleaner fuels, use more renewable energy, and take advantage of emissions trading and energy efficiency options.

Because states requested it, EPA is also proposing a model rule states can adopt right away–one that’s cost-effective, guarantees they meet EPA’s requirements, and will let their power plants use interstate trading right away. But states don’t have to use our plan—they can cut carbon pollution in whatever way makes the most sense for them.

The uniform national rates in the Clean Power Plan are reasonable and achievable, because no plant has to meet them alone or all at once. Instead, they have to meet them as part of the grid and over time. In short, the Clean Power Plan puts states in the driver’s seat.

4. IT’S BUILT ON INPUT FROM MILLIONS OF AMERICANS.

The Clean Power Plan reflects unprecedented input from the American people, including 4.3 million comments on the draft plan and input from hundreds of meetings with states, utilities, communities, and others. When folks raised questions about equity and fairness, we listened. That’s why EPA is setting uniform standards to make sure similar plants are treated the same across the country.

When states and utilities expressed concern about how fast states would need to cut emissions under the draft Plan, we listened. That’s why the Clean Power Plan extends the timeframe for mandatory emissions reductions to begin by two years, until 2022, so utilities will have time to make the upgrades and investments they need to.

But to encourage states to stay ahead of the curve and not delay planned investments, or delay starting programs that need time to pay off, we’re creating a Clean Energy Incentive Program to help states transition to clean energy faster.

It’s a voluntary matching fund program states can use to encourage early investment in wind and solar power projects, as well as energy efficiency projects in low-income communities. Thanks to the valuable input we heard from the public, the final rule is even more fair and more flexible, while cutting more pollution.

5. IT WILL SAVE US BILLIONS OF DOLLARS EVERY YEAR.

With the Clean Power Plan, America is leading by example—showing the world that climate action is an incredible economic opportunity. By 2030, the net public health and climate-related benefits from the Clean Power Plan are estimated to be worth $45 billion every year. And, by design, the Clean Power Plan is projected to cut the average American’s monthly electricity bill by 7% in 2030. We’ll get these savings by cutting energy waste and beefing up energy efficiency across the board—steps that make sense for our health, our future, and our wallets.

6. IT PUTS THE U.S. IN A POSITION TO LEAD ON CLIMATE ACTION.

Today, the U.S. is generating three times more wind energy and 20 times more solar power than when President Obama took office. And the solar industry is adding jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the economy. For the first time in nearly three decades, we’re importing less foreign oil than we’re producing domesticallyand using less overall.

Our country’s clean energy transition is happening faster than anyone anticipated—even as of last year when we proposed this rule. The accelerating trend toward clean power, and the growing success of energy efficiency efforts, mean carbon emissions are already going down, and the pace is picking up. The Clean Power Plan will secure and accelerate these trends, building momentum for a cleaner energy future.

Climate change is a global problem that demands a global solution. With the Clean Power Plan, we’re putting America in a position to lead. Since the Plan was proposed last year, the U.S., China and Brazil – three of the world’s largest economies – have announced commitments to significantly reduce carbon pollution. We’re confident other nations will come to the table ready to reach an international climate agreement in Paris later this year.

 

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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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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