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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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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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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The Importance of Education and Outreach

Every day at EPA we are focused on two things: protecting public health and improving the environment for all Americans. As part of that effort we have the responsibility to explain this work to every American and make clear why it is relevant to their lives and the lives of their families.

Like almost every government, business or non-profit organization these days, we use social media like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, to stay connected and to inform people across the country about our work.

It lets us communicate directly with the public and to get their feedback. We also use these platforms to correct the record and clarify misinformation that is often injected in the discussion about important policies, rules and regulations.

One recent example has been around the development of our Clean Water Rule. The issue itself is a complicated one, admittedly. It involves science, complicated decisions from the Supreme Court, and very strong opinions on all sides. To ensure Americans had the facts directly from us about the proposed rule, the value of protecting streams and wetlands, and the need for clearly defined protections under the Clean Water Act, we used social media.

Our goal is to inform and educate. We encourage folks from all perspectives to participate so we can understand more, learn more and finalize a stronger rule. Every stakeholder — whether they supported or opposed the rule — were provided the same link to our Clean Water Rule webpage in education and outreach materials, emails, and presentations, and were told the deadline for submitting public comments and how to do so.

A public outreach effort to increase awareness and support of EPA’s proposed Clean Water Rule is well within the appropriate bounds of the agency’s mission to educate and engage Americans. As noted in a recent Comptroller General opinion, “agency officials have broad authority to educate the public on their policies and views, and this includes the authority to be persuasive in their materials.”

Because that is a fundamental step in developing smart, pragmatic regulations that allow us to protect public health and the environment while at the same time allowing the economy to continue to grow.

After releasing the proposed Clean Water Rule in March 2014, EPA conducted an unprecedented outreach effort that included holding more than 400 meetings across the country and visiting farms in nine states. The input helped us understand the genuine concerns and interests of a wide range of stakeholders and think through options to address them. As outlined in a recent blog by Administrator McCarthy, the key changes made to the proposed rule were actually driven in large part by outreach to agriculture, local government, states, and utilities.

About the author: Liz Purchia is the Deputy Associate Administrator for EPA’s Office of Public Affairs.

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, a savings of $650,000.

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

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

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

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

Madam’s Organ — Washington, DC

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

– Bill Duggan, Manager

 

Fine Violins — St. Paul, Minnesota

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

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

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Commitment and Innovation: Serving America at EPA

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

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

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

Bob Kavlock

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

Stephanie Hogan

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

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

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

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

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Preparing Communities for the Impacts of Climate Change

The Earth’s climate is rapidly changing. Temperatures are rising and precipitation patterns are changing. We’re seeing more storms, floods, and droughts, and the frequency of intense weather events is increasing. Sea levels are rising more rapidly and storm surges are becoming more severe.

These changes are concerning because they can affect our health, rivers, beaches, and access to food, water, and energy. All of these risks can also lead to significant economic damages if communities are not adequately prepared. For instance, hurricane Sandy caused approximately $65 billion in damages to New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. More frequent droughts are also a cause of more wildfires that are destroying homes in many parts of the country and increasing the costs of fire suppression to federal, state and local governments.

We must take action now to protect public health, the environment and the economy. We have an opportunity to slow the rate of climate change and make it more manageable by cutting emissions of the carbon pollution that contributes to global warming. At the same time, we have an opportunity to anticipate, prepare, and adapt to climate change to protect the things we care about.

Photo of a coastal town

Communities like this are vulnerable to sea level rise and storm surges, which can threaten homes, businesses, and ecosytems.

 

EPA is taking action now in three important ways to help states, tribes, and local communities anticipate and prepare for climate change. First, we are working to increase people’s awareness and understanding of how climate change can affect the things they care about and the actions they can take to avoid negative impacts. For example, as part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, EPA is releasing an online training module to help local government officials take actions to increase their communities’ resilience to a changing climate.

Second, we are providing financial resources to communities to help them identify common sense solutions. In Connecticut, the Bridgeport Regional Planning Authority is using brownfields funds to identify the risks posed by sea level rise to clean up sites and to help avoid redeveloping in harm’s way. Finally, we’re providing communities with the tools and technical assistance they need to make a difference. For example, EPA’s Climate Resiliency Evaluation and Awareness Tool helps drinking water and wastewater system operators understand, assess, and evaluate alternative strategies for delivering services to their communities even as the climate changes.

On a national level, EPA has proposed the Clean Power Plan, which for the first time seeks to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants, the single largest source of carbon pollution in the United States. The proposal, which we will finalize later this year, will protect public health, move the United States toward a cleaner environment and fight climate change while supplying Americans with reliable and affordable power.

Some communities across the nation are already preparing for climate change. We cannot afford to wait, because the longer we do, the harder and more costly it will be to adapt and avoid the negative impacts of climate change. The good news is that everyone can make a big difference in simple ways. There’s a perception that the climate change problem is so huge that the actions we take as individuals can’t make a difference. That’s not the case. In the same way that all of our individual actions added up to cause the climate to change so rapidly, we can all be part of the solution. When we do things like conserve water, buy Energy Star labelled products, and take public transportation we can slow the rate of climate change and help prepare for its impacts.

Working together, we can make a difference to deal with the climate change problem. That’s why EPA is taking action now.

More information on how to slow the rate of climate change and anticipate and prepare for its impacts: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/

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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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Acid rain, toxic leaded gas, and widespread air pollution? Not anymore. Thanks to EPA.

Acid rain. Dangerous DDT. Toxic leaded gas fumes. Rampant air pollution. These environmental challenges once seemed impossible to meet, and they put our nation’s air, water, and land at risk—not to mention our families’ health. The dangers they posed were real, but you probably haven’t heard about them in a while. There’s a good reason for that.

We put smart policies in place to fix them.

So this Earth Day, here’s a reminder of a few of the environmental challenges our nation has conquered with EPA leading the way, and where we’re headed next.

Acid Rain

Caused by air pollution mixing with water vapor in the atmosphere, acid rain was once poisoning our rivers and lakes, killing fish, forests, and wildlife, and even eroding our buildings.

The 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act gave EPA the authority to regulate sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, the pollutants causing acid rain, from power plants. The EPA developed the first market-based cap-and-trade pollution reduction program, and guess what—it worked.

Despite the doomsday warnings from some in the power industry that the regulations would cause electricity prices to spike and lead to blackouts, over the last 25 years, acid rain levels are down 60%—while electricity prices have stayed stable, and the lights have stayed on. Thanks to hard work by EPA, states, and industry, our nation has put policies in place to solve the problem over the long haul.

Leaded Gasoline

For decades, leaded gasoline threatened the air our kids breathed. Lead from polluted air was absorbed into their bloodstreams, endangering their brain development and risking consequences like permanent nerve damage, anemia, and mental retardation. So EPA phased out leaded gas. Back in the late 1970s, 88 percent of American children had elevated levels of lead in their blood. By the mid-2000s, that number had dropped to less than 1 percent.

DDT

The bald eagle once faced extinction. The culprit was DDT, a powerful pesticide that made birds’ eggshells too weak for the chicks to survive, and also caused liver cancer and reproductive problems in humans. EPA banned the use of DDT in 1972, and since then, bald eagles have made a huge comeback—they were removed from the Endangered Species List in 2007—and our families are safer from harmful chemicals.

Air Pollution

A newspaper headline once called the smog shrouding Los Angeles “a dirty gray blanket flung across the city.” L.A. and many other cities like this one were choked by severe air pollution—leading to asthma, respiratory illness, and certain cancers. But over the last 45 years, we’ve cut air pollution 70 percent, while our nation’s economy has tripled. It goes to show that a strong economy and a safe environment go hand in hand.

Breathing Easier

Every day, EPA works toward cleaner air. One recent study found that thanks to the strides we’ve made in cutting air pollution in just the last 2 decades, children’s lungs in Southern California are 10% bigger and stronger today than they were in children 20 years ago.

Last fall, we built on that success by proposing stricter standards for ozone pollution to protect those most vulnerable—children, the elderly, and those already suffering from respiratory illnesses like asthma. For our kids, that means avoiding up to a million missed school days, thousands of cases of acute bronchitis, and nearly a million asthma attacks. Adults could avoid hundreds of emergency room visits for cardiovascular reasons, up to 180,000 missed work days, and 4 million days where people have to deal with pollution-related symptoms. Every dollar we invest in these standards would return $3 in health benefits.

Looking Ahead

And now, EPA is taking action on another major environmental challenge—climate change. The carbon pollution driving it comes packaged with other dangerous pollutants like smog and soot that can cause asthma and certain cancers, especially for those living in the shadow of polluting industries.

When we finalize our Clean Power Plan this summer, we’ll not only cut carbon pollution from power plants, our nation’s largest source, but we’ll also reduce those other dangerous pollutants and protect our families’ health. When we act, we also help safeguard communities from the impacts of climate change—like more severe droughts, storms, fires, and floods.

Time after time, when science has pointed to health risks, EPA has obeyed the law, followed the science, protected public health, and fortified a strong American economy. We’re doing the same thing today. Our track record proves that when EPA leads the way, there’s no environmental challenge our nation can’t meet.

 

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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