Janet McCabe

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In Perspective: the Supreme Court’s Mercury and Air Toxics Rule Decision

The Supreme Court’s decision on EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) was disappointing to everyone working to protect public health by reducing emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants.  But as we take stock of what this decision means, there are some important factors that make me confident we are still on track to reduce this dangerous pollution and better protect America’s children, families and communities.

Most notably – the Administration remains committed to finalizing the Clean Power Plan this summer and yesterday’s ruling will have no bearing on the effort to reduce carbon pollution from the largest sources of emissions.

Second – this decision is very narrow.  It did not invalidate the rule, which remains in effect today.  In fact, the majority of power plants are already in compliance or well on their way to compliance.  The Court found that EPA should have considered costs at an earlier step in the rulemaking process than it did.  The court did not question EPA’s authority to control toxic air pollution from power plants provided it considers cost in that step.  It also did not question our conclusions on human health that supported the agency’s finding that regulation is needed.  And its narrow ruling does not disturb the remainder of the D.C. Circuit decision which unanimously upheld all other aspects of the MATS rule and rejected numerous challenges to the standards themselves.

Third – this decision does not affect other Clean Air Act programs that address other sources and types of air pollution. It hinged on a very specific section of the Act that applies exclusively to the regulation of air toxics from power plants.  This is important to understand because it means that rules and programs that reduce other types of pollutants under other sections of the Clean Air Act—like ozone and fine particles (smog and soot) can continue without interruption or delay.

The decision does not affect the Clean Power Plan, which EPA will be finalizing later this summer and which will chart the course for this country to reduce harmful carbon from its fleet of existing power plants.   That’s worth repeating: The Court’s conclusion that EPA must consider cost when determining whether it is “appropriate” to regulate toxic air emissions from utilities under section 112 of the Act will not impact the development of the Clean Power Plan under section 111.  Cost is among the factors the Agency has long explicitly considered in setting standards under section 111 of the Act.

Fourth – America’s power sector is getting cleaner year after year by investing in more modern technologies.   Since President Obama took office, wind energy has tripled and solar has grown ten-fold. The Clean Power Plan will build on these current positive trends.  That means cleaner air in communities across the country, as well as a boost to our economy as we build the clean energy system of the future.

Finally – What’s next for MATS?   From the moment we learned of this decision, we were committed to ensuring that standards remain in place to protect the public from toxic emissions from coal and oil-fired electric utilities.  We will continue to work to make that happen.  There are questions that will need to be answered over the next several weeks and months as we review the decision and determine the appropriate next steps once that review is complete.  But as I’ve already noted, MATS is still in place and many plants have already installed controls and technologies to reduce their mercury emissions.

After nearly 45 years of implementing the Clean Air Act, there have been many more victories than defeats as we’ve worked together to clean the air and raise healthier children and families.  Despite the Supreme Court’s MATS decision, the agency remains confident that the progress we’ve made so far in improving air quality and protecting public health will continue.

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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Driving responsible growth in biofuels

The renewable fuels standards (RFS) program, established by Congress in 2007, aims to increase the volumes of renewable biofuels that are used in our transportation system, helping the United States move away from fossil fuels to less carbon-intensive fuels. The program seeks to reduce the pollution that contributes to climate change and improve energy security. When Congress passed the RFS, it set annual targets for biofuel use that increase every year through 2022. Congress also gave EPA the authority to adjust those target volumes downward in certain situations.

Today we proposed renewable fuel volume standards that establish a path for ambitious yet responsible growth in biofuels. These standards would provide the certainty the marketplace needs to further develop low-carbon fuels over the coming years. The proposed volumes reflect two realities:

    • One – that Congressional intent is clear that renewable fuel production and use should grow over time. We have already seen success – renewable fuels are being produced and used in increasing volumes. This is true for both ethanol and biodiesel, and recently we have seen important developments in cellulosic biofuels (produced from sources like corn stover), which result in the lowest greenhouse gas emissions.
    • And two – that there are real limits to the actual amounts of biofuels that can be supplied to consumers at this time. These limits include lower than expected demand for gasoline and constraints in supplying ethanol at greater than 10 percent of gasoline.

You may often hear of the “E10 blendwall.” This term refers to the amount of ethanol that could be used if all gasoline contains 10 percent ethanol and there are no higher-level ethanol blends, such as E15 or E85. Today, nearly every gallon of gasoline sold in the United States contains 10 percent ethanol. Providing more ethanol in the system will require blends of fuel with more than 10 percent ethanol, such as E85 (fuel with up to 85 percent ethanol) or E15. While these options are growing, they are not yet available widely. So this proposal will push the renewable fuel market beyond the E10 blendwall, as Congress intended, but in a responsible manner. In developing the proposed standards, EPA considered a range of scenarios that would enable the market to achieve the proposed standards, including ones where use of E85 increases substantially.

Because of the limitations that exist today, we are using the authority Congress gave the agency to adjust the volumes below the annual targets set in the original 2007 legislation. These proposed volumes are achievable in the timeframes under consideration. At the same time, the volumes steadily increase every year, reflecting Congress’s clear intent to drive up the nation’s use of renewable fuel.

Indeed, the proposed 2016 numbers will incentivize real growth in the market.

    • The proposed 2016 standard for cellulosic biofuel – those fuels with the lowest GHG emissions profile – is more than 170 million gallons higher than the actual 2014 volumes. That’s six times higher than actual 2014 volumes.
    • The proposed 2016 standard for total renewable fuel is nearly 1.5 billion gallons more, or about 9 percent higher, than the actual 2014 volumes.
    • The proposed 2016 standard for advanced biofuel is more than 700 million gallons27 percent – higher than the actual 2014 volumes.
    • Biodiesel standards grow steadily over the next several years, increasing every year to reach 1.9 billion gallons by 2017. That’s 17 percent higher than the actual 2014 volumes.

We are committed to increasing the use of renewable fuels through the RFS. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Energy are building programs that support biofuels, biofuel infrastructure and the many U.S. companies leading the way in this industry. We know that opportunities lie ahead for the biofuels sector as we work through the challenges we face in transforming the nation’s fuel supply. These proposals reflect the Administration’s confidence that renewable fuels can continue to steadily advance and grow.

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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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It’s Don’t Fry Day– Protect Your Skin Today and Every Day

Today is Don’t Fry Day, a day designated to remind Americans about the dangers of skin cancer and how to protect themselves. As we enter the summer season, we join with the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention to remind Americans that each year more people are diagnosed with this largely preventable disease. Today, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, affecting nearly five million Americans annually with a price tag of $8.1 billion. Most skin cancers are caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.

The SunWise program works to educate Americans about the simple steps they can take to stay safe in the sun all year long. These tips include checking the UV Index to plan outdoor activities when the sun is less intense. Our free UV Index app gives you an hourly forecast from your smartphone. Seek shade during the sun’s peak hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. And, my personal favorite: Slip, Slop, Slap, and Wrap: Slip on a shirt. Slop on SPF 30+ sunscreen. Slap on a wide-brimmed hat, and wrap on sunglasses.

This month marks the 15th anniversary of SunWise. Since 2000, more than 58,000 educators have joined SunWise and used its educational resources to teach children about stratospheric ozone, UV radiation, and the health effects of overexposure to UV radiation. These educators represent more than 34,000 schools and over 7,000 other partners from state and local health departments, non-profits, science and children’s museums, camps, scouts, 4-H clubs, and universities.

I’m proud of what we, together with our partners, have achieved. As we celebrate SunWise’s anniversary, I am pleased to announce a new collaboration between EPA and the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) that will extend the reach of SunWise and keep the momentum going. In working with health professionals, weathercasters, land managers, teachers and others, NEEF connects with millions of people and will be able to bring important SunWise messages and actions to a new and broader audience.

Today, we formalized this collaborative relationship with NEEF in a Memorandum of Understanding. I’m looking forward to a bright future for SunWise but some shade for me this weekend!

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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Community-Based Programs are Key to Addressing Asthma Triggers

Did you know that May is Asthma Awareness Month? If you or a family member are among the nearly 23 million Americans who are affected by this chronic respiratory disease, you probably already knew. Each year, in May, we increase our public awareness efforts, further strengthen our partnerships with community–based asthma organizations, and recognize exceptional asthma programs.

The chart below shows the prevalence of asthma, its cost to us as a society and what is called the “asthma disparity.” As you can see, poor and minority children suffer a greater burden from asthma and we need to work together to ensure everyone has access to the care they need to get their asthma under control.

What’s the best way to address the asthma disparity? The medical and public health communities have found that the key is a comprehensive, community-based approach that incorporates medical treatment and the management of environmental triggers like secondhand smoke, mold, dust mites and pet dander. This approach can lead to fewer asthma episodes and better quality of life for children and families struggling with asthma.

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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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Safeguarding Public Health by Addressing Climate Change

In his State of the Union Address this year, President Obama said, “no challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.” The science is clear and getting clearer: climate change threatens our health, our economy, our environment and our way of life in dangerous and costly ways – from superstorms and heat waves to devastating droughts, floods and wildfires. At EPA, our mission is to safeguard public health and the environment and addressing climate change is major priority.

The more we learn about climate change’s impacts on our health, the more urgent the need for action becomes. We know that impacts related to climate change are already evident and are expected to become increasingly disruptive across the nation throughout this century and beyond. That’s why, under the President’s Climate Action Plan, we are taking action now to reduce greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and hydrofluorocarbons. These pollutants trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere, fuel climate change and lead to health-threatening consequences for the United States and the rest of the world.

Climate change is expected to worsen air quality, including exposure to ground-level ozone, which can aggravate asthma and other lung diseases and lead to premature death. The number of extremely hot days is already increasing, and severe heat waves are projected to intensify, increasing heat-related mortality and sickness. Changes in temperature, precipitation patterns, and extreme events can enhance the spread of diseases carried by insects, animals, food and water. Climate change also contributes to longer and more severe pollen seasons, increasing the suffering of people with allergies. Climate change is expected to lead to more intense extreme weather events, which can result in direct health effects, while also affecting human health and welfare long after an event, through the spread of water-borne pathogens, exposure to mold, increased mental health and stress disorders, and weakened health and response systems.

And our most vulnerable populations – like children, minorities, communities already overburdened with pollution or poverty, and older Americans – are at greater risk from these impacts.

The good news is that we have a long history of working with states, tribes and industry to protect public health by reducing air pollution. Together, by implementing the federal Clean Air Act, we have reduced air pollution from motor vehicles and smokestacks by nearly 70 percent since 1970. Fewer emissions means less exposure to harmful pollutants such as lead, smog, or soot that directly threaten people’s health. And we’re using similar approaches to reduce the pollution affecting our climate.

We are moving forward with common-sense, cost-effective solutions that will improve Americans’ health and environment. Standards for cars, trucks and heavy duty highway vehicles will eliminate six billion metric tons of greenhouse gases, while saving consumers $1.7 trillion at the pump by 2025.

The proposed Clean Power Plan will cut hundreds of millions of tons of carbon pollution and hundreds of thousands of tons of harmful particle pollution, sulfur and nitrogen oxides now emitted by fossil-fuel fired power plants.

Together these important programs will help our economy grow and our communities thrive while protecting the health of American families now and in the years to come. Learn more about the impacts of climate change and things you can do to shrink your carbon footprint.

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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Communities are Leading the Way on Renewable Energy

By switching to green power, cities and towns across the country are taking a leading role in taking action against climate change. Green power is electricity that comes from a subset of clean, renewable resources like solar or wind power. Many communities have discovered these clean sources of energy are important tools in cutting their carbon footprint, supporting a growing domestic clean energy economy, and better protecting our air and public health.

Today, fossil-fueled power plants are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to a third of the U.S. total emissions. Most electricity generated today comes from fossil fuels but a small and growing percentage is generated using renewable sources. Since President Obama took office, wind energy has tripled and solar has grown ten-fold. In 2015, a full 60% of the new energy that gets added to our electrical grid will come from wind and solar. The costs have come down, too.

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Our Green Power Partnership tracks trends in voluntary green power usage. Not only have we seen steady growth in local government partners (135 and counting!), but more and more often we’re seeing that local governments, businesses, and residents are voluntarily joining together to use green power at levels that earn the distinction of an EPA Green Power Community.

EPA Green Power Communities both large and small are proving they can have a big impact by using green power. For instance in Evanston, Illinois, the residents and businesses and the local government collectively use more than 228 million kilowatt-hours of green power annually, making up more than 30 percent of Evanston’s total electricity usage. The local government runs on 100 percent green power and generates power from the Evanston Water Treatment Facility’s rooftop solar energy system. Washington, D.C., is the largest EPA Green Power Community in terms of total green power usage, with more than one billion kilowatt-hours of green power being used by District residents, businesses, institutions and government entities. Collectively, green power now supplies more than 12 percent of total electricity use in the District.

Green Power Communities are using green power to support their economic and climate goals. Oak Ridge, Tennessee, set an ambitious goal of reducing the community’s greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2030 from 2004 baseline levels. The city launched a community challenge to encourage greater participation in their local renewable energy program, resulting in community-wide green power use of 5.5 percent, and a participation rate nearly three times the rate at the start of the challenge. The City of Beaverton, Oregon, purchases enough wind energy to power all of its facilities and operations and also invests in on-site generation, with a solar array on its main library building. The Beaverton City Council recently approved the construction of a 433 kW solar photovoltaic array, which is expected to provide approximately 55 percent of the facility’s annual power needs.

Our proposed Clean Power Plan seeks to build on this trend. Our proposal identifies tailor-made carbon pollution reduction goals for each state, but it’s up to states to choose their own low-carbon path to get there. One clear choice is to use low or zero emission sources like wind and solar. And thanks to the many cities and towns that have already blazed the trail and are currently building and using more renewable energy, we know this shift can be made.

So when you see that windmill farm or big solar array, you can feel good knowing that some of the energy used in your community is coming from homegrown, clean, sources that help protect our climate for generations to come.

And, I’m happy to report that we run on 100 percent green power!

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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Greening the Game

Millions of Americans across the country tuned into the big game a couple weeks ago, which was played for the first time under energy-efficient LED lighting. Why the switch? These lights use at least 75 percent less power than incandescent, saving the venue money on its energy bill and energy, which helps reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

The NFL isn’t alone in its journey to fight climate change by becoming more sustainable. Last week we highlighted a number of leading sports teams, organizations, and venues across the industry who are taking action, including our work with greening collegiate sports though the Game Day Recycling Challenge and the collegiate sports sustainability summit. Recycling conserves vital resources, saves energy, and, in 2012, reduced greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 33 million cars off the road for a year. Recycling also creates green jobs and provides essential resources. And during her recent visit to the X Games in Colorado, our Administrator Gina McCarthy, heard first-hand from athletes and the businesses that support them how they are working to protect their winters from climate change.

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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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Please Test for Radon to Protect Yourself and Your Family from Lung Cancer

Do you know what the second leading cause of lung cancer is, after smoking? It’s radon, an odorless gas that can seep into your home. Because it cannot be seen, tasted, or smelled, it can be easy to forget.

The fact is, though, that EPA, the U.S. Surgeon General, and multiple leading public health advocates have all announced that about 21,000 Americans each year die from radon-induced lung cancer. That should make headlines, right? You would expect people to demand that something be done to stop it from happening. The threat from radon is real and we make the announcement each year during National Radon Action Month. Many of our families have been tragically impacted by lung disease, and lung cancer is a heartbreaking diagnosis.

Testing is the only way to know if your family’s home has elevated radon. Nationally, one in 15 homes are above the level at which the U.S. Surgeon General and EPA recommend taking action, which is four picocuries per liter (pCi/L) of air. In many parts of the country high levels are even more common.

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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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Time and Flexibility: Keys to Ensuring Reliable, Affordable Electricity

In the EPA’s 40-year history, emissions from power plants have decreased dramatically, improving public health protection for all Americans, all over a period when the U.S. economy has grown dramatically. Throughout this entire period, there has never been an instance in which Clean Air Act standards have caused the lights to go out. During the development of power sector air emissions rules, including the proposed Clean Power Plan, EPA has devoted significant attention to ensuring that important public health and environmental protections are achieved without interfering with the country’s reliable and affordable supply of electricity.

From day one in the development of the Clean Power Plan, reaching out and engaging with the public, industry, environmental groups, other federal agencies, and state and regional energy reliability officials has been the agency’s top priority. EPA also worked with technical staff at FERC and the Department of Energy in crafting the proposal and we continue to consult with those agencies. For years we’ve heard from the utility sector that what they need from EPA is enough time, plenty of flexibility, and clear and certain emission reduction requirements in order to plan for and fulfill the country’s electricity needs. Thanks to the ideas, suggestions and information we gleaned from our public engagement, we were able to build broad flexibility into the proposed Clean Power Plan. For example, our proposal includes:

  • A 10-year compliance timeline (beginning in 2020) that allows states and authorities to plan compliance strategies that work to ensure reliability: The Clean Power Plan’s compliance period plays out over a ten-year horizon and begins five years from now; thus, system operators, states and utilities will have the time to do what they are already doing – looking ahead to spot the potential changes and contingencies that pose reliability risks and identify the actions needed to mitigate those risks.
  • A system-wide approach to emissions reductions that provides a wide range of options to meet the state targets: From plant-specific efficiency improvements, to increased dispatch of cleaner units, to the building out of renewable sources of generation, to transmission system upgrades, to modulating demand via energy efficiency programs, states and utilities can adopt emissions reductions strategies that in and of themselves help mitigate reliability risks or that allow states and utilities the latitude to accommodate the dual emissions reduction and reliability objectives.
  • An approach that maintains the full-range of tools states and planning authorities have available to them: State and regional organizations responsible for ensuring reliability, as well as utilities, enjoy a large and diverse toolbox that they have been using, and can and will continue to use, in carrying out their collective mission. The Clean Power Plan’s approach is designed to ensure that the full toolbox can continue to be used by the system’s operators.

As of the December 1 deadline for submitting comments on the proposed Clean Power Plan, EPA received more than 2 million comments, covering a wide range of issues including system reliability, and we are absolutely committed to reviewing those comments and ensuring that the final Clean Power Plan reflects and responds to them. In fact, EPA continued its outreach and engagement process after we issued the proposal in June and received significant response and information from states and stakeholders during the summer and fall, including suggestions that the agency consider certain changes to the timing of the plan’s compliance period so that the program could better succeed in affording states and utilities the intended flexibility. Thanks in part to this information, EPA issued a notice in late October presenting for public comment several ideas, including ways to ensure that states and utilities could develop their own “glide paths” for complying with their emissions reductions obligations while managing costs and further addressing reliability needs.

Over the years, we have heard critics claim that regulations to protect our health and the environment would cripple our economy, turn the lights out, or cause the sky to fall. Time after time, EPA has obeyed the law, followed the science, protected public health, and fortified a strong American economy. And over the past four decades, none of these doomsday predictions came true. In fact, just the opposite happened—we have been able to cut air pollution by nearly 70 percent, while our economy has tripled in size.

Thanks to this experience and to the rich record of public comments we are already turning to for ideas and information, we remain confident in the conclusion we reached when we proposed the Clean Power Plan in June: that the emissions reductions called for in what will be the Clean Power Plan will be able to be achieved while preserving a reliable and affordable supply of electricity for all Americans.

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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Your Engagement Protects Public Health, Bolsters Climate Action

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. That’s why a year and a half ago, President Obama announced a national Climate Action Plan to cut the carbon pollution fueling climate change, prepare communities across America for climate impacts, and lead the world in our global climate fight.

A centerpiece of the President’s strategy is EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan. In June, we proposed a plan that would cut carbon pollution from power plants to protect public health and move us toward a cleaner, healthier environment for future generations, while supplying the reliable and affordable power our country needs for a healthy economy and job growth. More

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

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