Janet McCabe

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EPA Releases New Indoor Air Quality and Energy Efficiency Guidance for Schools

Colorado Springs School District 11 is set to save more than $928,000 on its energy bill every year, thanks to an effort to increase energy efficiency and protect indoor air quality.

This month we released our Energy Savings Plus Health: Indoor Air Quality Guidelines for School Building Upgrades, a guidance document designed to help schools reduce their environmental impact and ensure clean air for their students. Just like School District 11 in Colorado Springs, schools will likely be able to save some money, too.

Our new guidelines highlight best practices for addressing 23 critical indoor air quality topics, including moisture and mold control; hazardous materials such as asbestos and lead; building products and materials; and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. They also examine how schools can think about improving indoor air quality while doing renovations to improve energy efficiency, and how renovations can achieve both goals.

One in five people across the U.S. are in a school building during school hours. Schools are often used as recreation centers, meeting places, and emergency shelters, too. They are one of the most visited buildings in many communities, so many people are affected when schools know how to operate efficiently while maintaining healthy indoor environments.

School districts across the country will reap the benefits of improved student and staff health, and they will also save precious dollars through reduced operational costs. We know that indoor air quality plays a critical role in health, attendance, and academic performance. Improving energy efficiency can also have significant environmental and economic benefits.

In addition to all the benefits school districts will see right away, focusing in on energy efficiency and indoor air quality together can help schools to shrink their carbon footprints and energy use, and prepare for potential impacts of climate change, including people choosing to spend more time indoors.

Be sure to check out our other publications and resources on good indoor air quality in the design, construction, renovation, maintenance, and operations of school buildings.

 

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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Urban Air Toxics Report Shows Reduced Pollution in Communities

By Janet McCabe

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Reducing toxic air emissions has been a priority for EPA, and I am proud of the progress that we’ve made in communities across the country. Today, we released our Urban Air Toxics Report to Congress – the second of two reports required under the Clean Air Act (CAA) to inform Congress of progress in reducing public health risks from urban air toxics. I want to share some of the highlights with you.

The report shows significant nationwide reductions in toxic chemicals in the air in our communities. That’s good news for public health, because the Clean Air Act identifies 187 hazardous air pollutants, about half of which are known or suspected to cause cancer. Many can cause other health effects, such as damage to the immune, respiratory, neurological, reproductive and developmental systems.

And while emissions of air toxics affect everyone living in this country, the data tell us that the risk can be higher for people living in cities, and particularly those in low income and minority neighborhoods.

But, we’re making significant progress: Since 1994, we found a 66 percent reduction in benzene and a nearly 60 percent reduction in mercury from sources like coal-fired power plants. Levels of lead – a dangerous neurotoxin that can affect the brain development of children – are down nearly 85 percent in outdoor air. The report also finds that we’ve removed about three million tons of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) per year from the air in our communities by controlling emissions from smokestacks and tailpipes. We’ve also reduced toxics air pollution from businesses like dry cleaners and autobody shops that are located right in our neighborhoods.

   Click to Read the Report

Click to Read the Report

And we’re continuing our work to make communities healthier. For example, we recently proposed updates to emission standards for petroleum refineries. There are nearly 150 petroleum refineries across the country and the facilities are often located near communities. Our proposed standards would reduce emissions of chemicals such as benzene, toluene, and xylene by 5,600 tons per year. For the first time, EPA is proposing to require fenceline monitoring to help ensure that emissions standards are met and nearby communities are protected. The data will be available for the public to see – transparency helps the community understand what’s in the air and helps with compliance. Common-sense strategies such as these will help us further reduce toxic air pollution and protect public health in communities across United States.

Administrator McCarthy has said that, “EPA’s mission to protect public health and the environment is driven by a fundamental belief that regardless of who you are or where you come from, we all have a right to clean air to breathe, safe water to drink, and healthy land to call our home.” EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation works everyday to to address environmental inequity in minority and low income communities and to give everyone the opportunity to participate fully and meaningfully in the regulatory process.

We are working closely with state, local and tribal agencies to promote local, area-wide and regional strategies as we continue to address air toxics. We also support a number of community-based programs that help residents understand, prioritize and reduce exposures to toxic pollutants in their neighborhood. I am very proud of the accomplishments outlined in today’s report, but I know we still have much to do to bring clean air to our communities. I am excited to continue our work with communities, businesses and state, local and tribal governments to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals and protect public health and the environment.

About the author: Janet McCabe is the Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation (OAR), having previously served as the OAR’s Principal Deputy to the Assistant Administrator.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Join Me in Congratulating Our 2014 Indoor airPLUS Leader Award Winners!

In a recent blog post, I wrote about new guidance EPA published to help building professionals address moisture control, which is key to controlling many indoor contaminants. Beyond providing this type of guidance, we seek to improve indoor air quality (IAQ) by encouraging builders and home energy raters to participate in EPA’s Indoor airPLUS Program. Indoor airPLUS offers construction specifications and a simple, straightforward checklist to achieve an EPA label for improved IAQ in new homes.

It has been our experience that consumers are as concerned with the health, safety, and comfort of their homes as they are with reducing utility bills and maintenance costs. EPA created Indoor airPLUS in 2009 to help builders meet this growing consumer preference for homes with improved indoor air quality. Building on the successes of the ENERGY STAR Certified Homes Program, Indoor airPLUS adds a few simple steps during construction, which can help protect homeowners from mold, pests, combustion by-products, and other airborne pollutants, while they are in the house. And, keeping our buildings healthy has never been more important as we make them more energy efficient to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. More

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

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Thousands Participate in EPA Public Hearings

EPA panelists listening to testimony in DC

EPA panelists listening to testimony in DC

Last week Administrator McCarthy wrote a blog post about EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan and the kickoff of our public hearings. Today, I am writing to report that the hearings were a great success – we heard from all kinds of people who expressed a wide variety of views.

The four multi-day public hearings took place in Atlanta, Denver, Pittsburgh, and Washington D.C. One of the important and wonderful things about our federal rulemaking process is that it gives us opportunities to collect direct feedback on our proposals through public hearings like these. People have an opportunity to interact directly with their federal government and provide input that can help shape a major rulemaking.
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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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Moisture Control: A Key Factor for a Healthy Indoor Environment

EPA’s mission is to protect public health and the environment. While a large part of this mission involves protecting the air and water outdoors, we also need to make sure that people have the tools and information they need to keep the air clean in the areas where they spend up to 90 percent of their time – indoors.  And the agency is doing that through voluntary actions and information sharing, not regulations.

Some of the biggest threats to indoor air quality stem from moisture issues. Leaking roofs, plumbing problems, condensation issues, poor indoor humidity control, and lack of drainage around the base of buildings are commonly reported causes of moisture problems in the United States. Not only does excess moisture damage the structural integrity of buildings, it can increase people’s exposure to mold and other biological contaminants. Such exposure is associated with increases in the occurrence and severity of allergies, asthma and other respiratory illnesses. And, climate change will only worsen these issues as we see an increase in the frequency and intensity of severe storms and flooding that damages homes and buildings.

The good news is moisture problems in buildings can be controlled with steps that can be taken to make buildings more moisture resilient. For example, design landscaping to slope away from building foundations. Doing simple steps like this can prevent economic losses on multiple fronts by avoiding building damage as well as negative health impacts as it makes our indoor spaces healthier and more comfortable.

That’s why EPA pulled together experts from across the country to develop new, practical, state-of-the-art guidance for controlling moisture in buildings.  EPA recently published the result of that work, entitled, “Moisture Control Guidance for Building Design, Construction and Maintenance.” Encouraging voluntary actions to control moisture and other indoor contaminants will be a critical part of our climate adaptation strategy for ensuring healthy buildings as we continue to address our changing climate.

The key to controlling mold and many other indoor contaminants is moisture control.  It’s a simple concept, but it takes attention to detail to get it right. That’s why this practical guidance will be helpful to people who design, build or keep buildings working. Building professionals who incorporate the principles provided in this guide can enhance the health and productivity of Americans and the sustainability and resiliency of our communities. While this guidance is primarily for building professionals, EPA also offers mold and moisture control guidance for homeowners and residents at epa.gov/mold.

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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Hundreds of ideas, one proposal: How EPA developed the Clean Power Plan

With all the coverage of EPA’s Clean Power Plan, I wanted to take a few minutes or a few hundred words to tell you about the process we followed to write our 645-page proposal. The bottom line is that it is the product of many months of hard thinking and data analysis by EPA staff and substantial input from literally thousands of thoughtful stakeholders.

President Obama Announces His Climate Action Plan

On June 25, 2013, President Obama announced his Climate Action Plan and issued a Presidential Memorandum directing EPA to use section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants. This wasn’t the first time the agency had considered using section 111(d). Since the 2007 Supreme Court decision in Mass vs. EPA, the agency has been considering its authorities to address carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act. In fact, a 2008 advanced notice of proposed rulemaking examined a number of regulatory approaches including section 111. And using Section 111d made a lot of sense, since the Clean Air Act established it for addressing existing sources of pollution not covered by other parts of the Act.

What We Heard

Immediately following the President’s announcement and at his direction, the agency embarked on an extensive public outreach process—one that reached thousands of people through hundreds of meetings, listening sessions, video conferences, phone calls, conference calls, and almost two thousand emails from individuals across the country. We talked to states, power companies, local communities, environmental groups, associations, labor groups, Tribes, and many more. This process was a critical component in developing this rule because it helped focus our attention on what was going on—on the ground—in states and communities across the country, and it generated public discussion and ideas from numerous groups and individuals that helped inform our thinking.

So, What Did We Hear?

  • We heard that flexibility is key, so we maximized flexibility in our proposal letting states chart their own course that builds on the progress they’ve already made.
  • We heard that states could cut pollution more cost-effectively if we, and they, looked at the energy system as a whole, so we allowed states to look across the system to find reductions.
  • We heard that the power sector is interconnected and it crosses state lines, so in addition to proposing that each state develops its own plan, we also proposed to allow states to work together to develop plans, depending on what suits their situation.

We didn’t just hear these ideas from one group or even one sector; we heard them from just about everyone. And what emerged was a collection of ideas—or threads—that guided us as we crafted our proposal.

Weaving it All Together

Over the past year, dozens of EPA scientists, lawyers, economists, health experts, policy analysts, and many others wove the threads we heard along with our own extensive analysis, data, and information into the proposal we announced on June 2.  If you look closely you may see some of the threads you contributed or heard throughout the outreach process.

One of the great values of the transparent process we used, and will continue to use, to collect input from the public is that no one person or group has the only, or best, idea.  It takes all of us contributing our information and suggestions to fashion a good, workable rule that meets the requirements of the law and achieves meaningful public health and environmental benefits.  And EPA’s proposal does just that. It is a proposal that is based on what’s going on in the real world, cuts carbon pollution, protects public health and moves us toward a cleaner, healthier environment for future generations, while supplying the reliable affordable power needed for economic growth.

More info: www.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan

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 Clean Power Plan – Following a Consistent Approach to Setting State Goals

The Clean Power Plan – following a consistent approach to setting state goals
EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan is continuing to get plenty of attention and lots of good questions. That’s great because it means people are digging into the proposal to see how it works.  We have heard a number of questions about the proposed state goals – and rightly so.  The proposed state goals are fundamental to how the program will cut pollution, so it’s important that you understand how we developed them, why they are different from state to state, and how states can meet them.  So let me provide a little more information.

How did EPA calculate the state goals?
As I mentioned last week, the Clean Power Plan works by setting state goals that gradually reduce each state’s carbon intensity rate, or “pollution-to-power ratio.” To do that, the state goals are determined by using a formula that takes the amount of CO2 emitted and divides it by the megawatt-hours of electricity generated (lbs/MWh). This is what we call a rate-based approach. Many other Clean Air Act rules have used emissions rates in the past to reduce other pollutants from power plants and many other types of facilities.

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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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Understanding State Goals under the Clean Power Plan

The Clean Power Plan is about getting all the power we need, with less of what we don’t need: pollution.  Many people are now looking more closely at the plan and want to know a little more about how it all works, especially about what role their state will play in reducing carbon pollution.

Because the agency is looking for well-informed comments and input on the proposed plan, I wanted to explain a few key aspects of the proposal.  By answering a few questions such as – 1) what’s the baseline? 2) how is EPA using the Clean Air Act? 3) how can the power sector cut carbon pollution?  4) how did EPA set goals for each state? and 5) what flexibilities do states have? – I hope you’ll come away with a better understanding of the Clean Power Plan and how it will achieve significant air pollution reductions. As more questions come up, we’ll use this space and epa.gov/cleanpowerplan to answer them.  Now, on to the questions!

What baseline did EPA use to determine how much pollution must be reduced?

EPA did not set a baseline. Remember, the plan is about generating the power we need, but with less pollution.  So instead of setting a baseline, the Clean Power Plan works by setting state goals to reduce the “pollution-to-power ratio” of the covered fossil-fuel fired power plants in a given state.  EPA projects that by 2030, when states meet these goals, the U.S. power sector will emit 30 percent less carbon pollution than it did in 2005.  But 2005 – or any other year – is not used as a “baseline” year for a fixed percentage of reductions.  We are using that statistic only because people need to know how much pollution we’ll reduce by when and compared to what, so we’re just comparing where we will be in 2030 to where we were in 2005.

How does the Clean Air Act work to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants?

EPA is proposing carbon pollution guidelines using section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act.  Basically, this part of the law requires EPA to identify the best and cheapest ways to reduce pollution from a given source – in this case, power plants that burn fossil fuels.   The key to reducing carbon pollution from the power sector is to generate and use power more efficiently.  Put another way, the goal is to reduce the carbon pollution emitted for each megawatt-hour of electricity generated. That provides power with less pollution. The amount of carbon pollution per megawatt-hour produced is called an emission rate.  It is the rate at which pollution is emitted per unit of power generated.  If a source emits a lot of carbon dioxide but produces relatively little energy, then its “carbon intensity” is considered high. Using section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, EPA is proposing that states develop plans to reduce the carbon intensity of the power sector.  The goal is not to limit the amount of power we produce.  It’s about reducing the overall amount of carbon pollution from power plants, while still producing the energy we  need.

How can the power sector reduce carbon emissions?

EPA found that there are a wide variety of commercially available, technically feasible, and cost-effective ways that states, cities and businesses across the country are already using to reduce carbon pollution from the power sector.  EPA identified four measures–that are the commonly used, technically sound,  affordable, and that result in significant reductions in carbon intensity.  They are – 1) improving efficiency at existing coal-fired power plants, 2)increasing utilization of existing natural gas fired power plants, 3) expanding the use of wind, solar, or other low- or zero-emitting alternatives, and 4) increasing energy efficiency in homes and businesses. By applying some or all of these measures a state can reduce the carbon intensity of its power system.  These aren’t the only approaches that states can use, but EPA determined that—taken together—they are the best system of emission reduction, as that term is defined in the Clean Air Act.

How did EPA set goals for each state?

By looking at the mix of power sources and the ability of each state to take advantage of any of the four carbon pollution reduction measures, the EPA calculated goals for each state. The proposed state goals are based on a consistent national formula and calculated using specific information about the state or its region’s individual power profile.  The result of the equation is the state goal.  Each state goal is a rate – a pollution-to-power ratio – for the future carbon intensity of covered existing fossil-fuel-fired power plants in a given state.  States can meet their goal using any measures that make sense to them—they do not have to use all the measures EPA identified, and they can use other approaches that will work to bring down that carbon intensity rate.  I hope this explanation makes clear that EPA is not setting goals based on percentage reductions against a baseline year. But when states meet their goals in 2030, EPA projects that the increased efficiency and reduced carbon intensity will result in a 30 percent less carbon pollution when compared with 2005 levels.

How do the state goals give states flexibility?

EPA has set a goal for each state based on an analysis of the best system of reductions, based on estimates of the potential in each state for efficiency improvements and increased utilization of cleaner generation.  Once the state has a goal, however, it is free to meet that goal in the way that works best for that state.  It can rely more or less heavily on specific measures such as efficiency or renewable energy, or even pursue others such as increases in transmission efficiency or new gas generation.  The state can also choose the policy or portfolio of policies that works best to achieve the goal.

Learn more about the Clean Power Plan

The Clean Air Act and the state planning process offer enough time and flexibility for every state to cut wasted energy, improve efficiency, and reduce pollution – while still having all the reliable and affordable power we need to grow our economy and maintain our competitive edge. In the coming months, we’ll be seeking comments and feedback on the proposed Clean Power Plan, and I encourage you to learn more and join the discussion: http://www2.epa.gov/carbon-pollution-standards

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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Recognizing Exceptional Asthma Programs

May is Asthma Awareness Month! Did you know that nearly 26 million Americans, including seven million children, are affected by this chronic respiratory disease? And, did you know that low income and minority populations have the highest asthma rates? Each year, EPA takes this opportunity to ramp up our public awareness campaign, strengthen our partnerships with community–based asthma organizations and highlight exceptional asthma programs.

This year we’re recognizing health plans, health providers and community-based programs with our National Environmental Leadership Award in Asthma Management  for their important contributions to close the gap in asthma disparities. It is the only national award program that recognizes organizations for exceptional leadership in developing and delivering environmental asthma management as a key component of asthma care. I am proud to recognize the organizations from Georgia, Massachusetts and Oregon for the impact that they are having on their communities:

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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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Check Your AQI IQ: It’s Air Quality Awareness Week

After the winter that felt like it would not end, the weather is finally warming up in many parts of the country. And now that we can get outside without freezing, many of us are exercising more and sending our children out to play, a step that’s great for improving our health. But there’s another step we can take to protect our health, and this week is the perfect time to start: That’s paying attention to air quality.

This week is Air Quality Awareness Week  – the week each spring when we join with our partners at the CDC, NOAA and at state, local and tribal air agencies to remind people to use the Air Quality Index (AQI)  to reduce their exposure to air pollution. Even for those of us who check air quality regularly, this is a good time to refresh our knowledge of how to use the AQI to plan our outdoor activities. When air quality is good – get outside and play or exercise. When it’s not, change the type or length of your activity, or plan it for a day or time when air quality is expected to be better. 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.