Global Climate Action at COP-21

By EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

This week, I’m proud to be in Paris, where the United States and countries around the world are working toward an ambitious global climate agreement at the 21st Conference of the Parties, also known as COP-21.

Since day one in office, President Obama has recognized that climate change is not just an environmental concern. It’s an urgent matter of public health, our economy, and our security.

And we were reminded by Pope Francis earlier this year that acting on climate isn’t just the smart thing to do, it’s our moral responsibility—for the sake of the world’s poor and vulnerable, and on behalf of our kids and grandkids.

That’s why the work going on here Paris—where hundreds of the world’s nations are coming together and collaborating on a path forward—is so important. The global community has never before been so close to consensus on this issue. A historic agreement is at our fingertips.

Today at the State Department’s U.S. Center at COP-21, I spoke about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) role in this international effort, and how EPA is delivering on President Obama’s climate agenda.

Over the past 7 years, The U.S. has taken a series of ambitious actions to cut the carbon pollution driving climate change, and demonstrate that the U.S. is fulfilling our responsibility to act. All told, the steps we’ve taken under President Obama’s leadership will help the United States reach our national goal of cutting carbon pollution 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

Whether it’s the Department of Agriculture’s “Climate Smart Agriculture” initiative to cut carbon pollution by over 120 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent by 2025, or the several dozen utility-scale renewable energy projects that the Department of Interior has permitted on public lands, or NASA’s cutting-edge scientific efforts to monitor Earth-system changes. The list goes on and on.

A centerpiece of U.S. efforts is EPA’s Clean Power Plan, our historic rule to cut carbon pollution from the power sector, the largest source in the U.S. economy. Our plan puts the United States on track to slash carbon pollution 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. And the cuts to smog and soot that come along with these reductions will lead to major health benefits for kids and families.

And EPA is taking a host of additional steps to push our progress even further. We’re doubling the distance our nation’s cars go on a gallon of gas by 2025. We’ve taken four separate actions to curb methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. We’re acting on climate-damaging Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), domestically, internationally, and through voluntary programs with industry. We set standards for medium-and heavy-duty vehicles and are now going even further with a proposal that will reduce 1 billion tons of emissions.

I’m confident these actions will stand the test of time. Why? Because EPA has a 45-year legacy of finding lasting solutions to difficult environmental problems. In that time, we’ve cut air pollution by 70 percent while our nation’s economy has tripled.
In the U.S., we’re already seeing clean-energy innovations being rewarded. Today, the U.S. uses 3 times more wind power, and 20 times more solar than when President Obama first took office. Jobs in the solar industry are growing faster than in any other sector of our economy—good-paying jobs that grow opportunity in the communities that need it most. Our actions under President Obama’s leadership build on that trajectory.

And we’ve seen time and again the American people are ready to act on climate now. We heard from millions of people on our initial proposal for the Clean Power Plan. We heard from states, utility companies, environmental organizations, and communities across our country. What we heard is that people want to stop talking and start doing. In poll after poll, a majority of Americans say they want climate action. That’s how we know our actions will endure.

But we also know that no country can solve this challenge alone.

That’s why I’m so encouraged by the ambitious commitments we’re seeing from nations around the world. Heading into the COP-21, 180 countries, representing more than 90 percent of greenhouse gas emissions already submitted national plans to reduce their emissions. That’s big.

Here in Paris, our collective efforts are finally aligning. Now is our time.

For the sake of our children and grandchildren, it’s time to come together and do what’s necessary to protect our common home.

Stay up-to-date on U.S. Center events here, and follow my trip on Twitter @GinaEPA.

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45 Years of Fulfilling our Mission

By Gina McCarthy

Just two weeks after the EPA was established in 1970, our first-ever Administrator, Bill Ruckelshaus, issued a statement calling the birth of our agency the start of America’s “reclaiming the purity of its air, its water, and its living environment.”

Just last week, 45 years later – nearly to the day – President Obama honored Ruckelshaus with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his tireless work to get our agency up and running, protect public health, and combat global challenges like climate change.

In bestowing the award, President Obama said, “Bill set a powerful precedent that protecting our environment is something we must come together and do as a country.”

Each day, when I come to work and walk the halls at EPA, I feel proud that our agency is continuing to build on Bill’s legacy.

Later this week, I will join the US delegation to the UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris, where our agency will play a central role in negotiations that could mark a historic turning point to protect our planet for generations to come. I’m confident that the US can get the job done.

Ruckelshaus’ well-deserved honor is a reminder of the amazing progress we’ve made as an agency in just four and a half decades. We have evolved into a world-class model of environmental protection under the law.

We’ve come so far together. Fifty years ago, we pumped toxic leaded-gas into our cars; people smoked on airplanes; and residents of cities like Los Angeles could barely see each other across the street.

Today, EPA’s work has changed all of that – and more. We’ve cut air pollution by 70 percent; we’ve phased out leaded-gasoline; we’ve removed the acid from rain, we’ve helped clear the air of second-hand smoke; and we’ve cleaned up beaches and waterways, all while our economy has tripled.

Throughout it all, EPA has embodied the concept of participatory government. We’ve engaged states, communities, industry partners, and the public. We’ve listened to the needs of people on the ground, and we’ve worked transparently, hand in hand with citizens and families to protect their health, their communities, and their ability to earn a decent living. That’s something to be proud of.

At every step of the way, we’ve followed the science and the law to tackle immensely difficult challenges. And that work is continuing every day.

I thank and congratulate everyone who has played a part in building EPA’s legacy.

Here’s to working together to fulfill our mission for another 45 years!

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Announcing a Series of Actions to Strengthen EPA’s Civil Rights Program

By A. Stanley Meiburg, Acting Deputy Administrator

Today, EPA is taking both regulatory and management actions to move its civil rights program forward and prevent discrimination.

EPA takes seriously its responsibilities under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other federal nondiscrimination laws. Today we are proposing a rule change to both improve how our Office of Civil Rights (OCR) operates and enhance our ability to help our partners comply with these laws.  In addition to the rule change, we are developing tools to help resolve cases more promptly and consistently across the country.

Over the last year and a half, we have been reevaluating our regulations to identify what data and information we currently obtain from grant recipients and how we can make our processes more effective and transparent. We have benchmarked our rules against those of twenty other federal agencies and are proposing changes to conform more closely to the best practices used by others.

One change is to remove inflexible, non-statutory deadlines from our internal rules that fail to respect the individual circumstances of each complaint. We support clear management milestones, but we also recognize that determining how pollution can impact populations is a scientifically complex process that can take longer than our previous deadlines allowed. We have also found that numerous discrimination allegations and legal theories may be asserted in a single complaint under Title VI or other nondiscrimination statutes, and we need the ability to treat each case individually.

This rule change will enable EPA to use new tools to resolve cases and protect communities, including informal resolution and Alternative Dispute Resolution, better positioning EPA to strategically manage its complaint docket and produce better case resolution outcomes.

On the management side, earlier this fall OCR released an External Compliance and Complaints Program Draft Strategic Plan 2015-2020 that set forth specific accountability measures to manage the docket of external complaints more promptly. Today we are also releasing an internal Case Resolution Manual, which we will post on line.  This manual will align OCR’s procedures with those already in place at many other federal agencies.

OCR is also strengthening its proactive compliance efforts through targeted compliance reviews, strategic policy development, and engagement with internal and external stakeholders—including recipients and communities. Proactive engagement and partnerships with recipients will let OCR address potential discrimination before it becomes a challenge for communities. This winter, we will release a Civil Rights Toolkit to help educate states, other recipients of EPA financial assistance, and communities on their rights and obligations under federal laws prohibiting discrimination in providing and utilizing federal assistance grants.

Finally, OCR will work more closely with communities to make sure they understand their nondiscrimination rights and how to work more effectively with recipients of federal financial assistance to secure those rights. For example, in the past some communities filed complaints with OCR against private companies that were not recipients of federal funds and thus were not subject to Title VI requirements. By working with communities from the beginning, we can help direct their concerns to where they can best be resolved, and strengthen transparency and accountability. Starting in 2016, OCR will publish an annual report to keep the public apprised of the office’s progress.

OCR is committed to systematically changing the way it approaches complaints, and EPA is committed to building a model civil rights program. I am confident that through the dedicated, proactive work of our staff and the efforts of recipients and communities, we will make that vision a reality.

Thank you for your interest and for sharing our commitment to both protect the environment and our civil rights as provided in federal law.  If you would like to learn more information, the website here can help.

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Working for Clean Water is a Dream Come True

By Joel Beauvais

I grew up in rural Connecticut in the Housatonic River watershed. My childhood revolved around water, whether it was swimming and fishing in the lakes and streams near my home or hiking in the forested foothills of the Berkshires. It’s a remarkably beautiful part of the country and its waters are a big part of that. But I also learned that problems can lurk beneath the surface, as we were taught early on not to eat the fish we caught because of legacy contamination.

My first job out of college was in Central America, where I worked for several years with indigenous communities to protect the BOSAWAS Biosphere Reserve, the second largest tropical forest in the Western Hemisphere. I spent much of my time traveling by river, living a couple days travel by dugout canoe from the nearest road, electricity or running water. For the communities with whom I worked, water is everything – not just drinking water, but their primary mode of transportation, source of food, and the key to understanding their whole landscape. That experience really brought home to me how critical water is – and how vulnerable poorer communities can be to environmental degradation.

These days, I work in an office instead of the jungle, but I find myself returning to the water again and again. My family loves to canoe and we get out to hike trails by the water every chance we get. Like many families, we visit the ocean every summer – in our case, the Maine coast. When I look at our family photos, it seems every other one is on the water – those experiences are a touchstone for us, as for so many others across the country and the world.

While I’ve worked most of my career on energy and climate issues, my real passion is environmental conservation. Water, to me, is at the heart of that. It’s central to our health, our communities, and our economy.

So I am absolutely thrilled at the opportunity to lead EPA’s Office of Water. I have immense respect for the office and those who work here, as well as for our regional water offices and all of our partners across state and local government and the private sector. I’m really looking forward to listening to, learning from, and partnering with all of you.

During the past two years leading EPA’s Office of Policy, I’ve had the opportunity to play a key role in finalizing some of our key water rules, including the Clean Water Rule to better protect our nation’s streams and wetlands, the Steam Electric rule that keeps 1.4 billion pounds of toxic pollutants out of waterways each year, and the Cooling Water Intake rule that protects fish and shellfish in rivers.

I’ve also played a leadership role on the Agency’s efforts to help communities grow sustainably and to adapt to the impacts of climate change, which has given me a lot of exposure to the Office of Water’s work on green infrastructure, stormwater management and sustainable water infrastructure.

As we look to the year ahead, this is an exciting time for the Office of Water and there’s no question that there’s a tremendous amount to get done. We must continue to help communities build resilience to climate change, finance improvements to infrastructure, provide safe drinking water, and reduce pollution in waterways where people fish and swim. EPA’s continued support for the work of our state, local, and tribal partners and for innovation and technology in the water sector will be critical.

I’m looking forward to working with all of you on all these fronts.

Joel Beauvais serves as the acting Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water at EPA. Prior to his appointment in the Office of Water, Joel served as Associate Administrator for EPA’s Office of Policy, the agency’s primary arm for cross-cutting regulatory policy and economics. He also served as Associate Assistant Administrator in EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, where he oversaw a broad portfolio of domestic and international air quality and climate policy issues, and as Special Counsel to the Office of the Administrator in EPA’s Office of General Counsel. He previously served as counsel to the Committee on Energy and Commerce in the U.S. House of Representatives, worked in private practice, and clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court of the United States.

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Moving Forward on the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards

By Janet McCabe

Today, we are proposing a notice that supplements the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). Specifically, we are proposing to find that including a consideration of cost does not change the agency’s determination that it is appropriate to regulate air toxics, including mercury, from power plants.

Power plants are the largest source of mercury in the United States. Mercury is a neurotoxin that can damage children’s developing nervous systems, reducing their ability to think and learn.  Three years ago, we issued MATS, which requires power plants to reduce their emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollutants as well, protecting Americans from a host of avoidable illnesses and premature death. All told, for every dollar spent to make these cuts, the public is receiving up to $9 in health benefits. The vast majority of power plants began making the pollution reductions needed to meet their MATS requirements in April of this year and the rest will begin doing so in April of 2016.

After MATS was issued, the federal Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and the Supreme Court both upheld the standards in the face of a host of challenges – but in a narrow ruling the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA should have considered costs when determining whether to regulate toxic air emissions from the power sector.

With today’s proposal, we are addressing the Supreme Court’s decision: we have evaluated several relevant cost metrics, and we are proposing to find that taking consideration of cost into account does not alter our determination that is appropriate to set standards for toxic air emissions from power plants.

In the proposed supplemental finding, we considered the power industry’s ability to comply with MATS and maintain its ability to perform its primary and unique function – the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity—at reasonable costs to consumers. These analyses demonstrate that the costs and impacts of MATS are reasonable and that the power sector can cut mercury and other toxics while continuing to provide all Americans with affordable, reliable electricity. And with MATS still in place today, the steps that many plants across the country have already taken to reduce toxic air emissions and comply with the final standards show that the standards really are achievable.

For 45 years the Clean Air Act has been working to clean up the air that we breathe while our economy has grown. MATS is an important step in our progress towards cleaner air and healthier children, as today’s proposal confirms. We will be accepting comments for 45 days after the proposed supplemental notice is published in the Federal Register. A copy of the proposed notice and a fact sheet are available on our website. We look forward to hearing from you.

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Greening the Federal Purchasing Machine – Leading By Example

By Jim Jones

Did you know that the Federal government is the single largest consumer in the world, spending close to $500 billion each year on a wide variety of products and services?

And did you know that in March the President issued an Executive Order directing federal agencies to meet a goal of buying 100% environmentally preferable products and services? This can make a big difference in reducing our environmental footprint. It can also spur consumers and the private sector to use and demand safer and greener products.

Of course the big challenge for federal agencies is how to sort through the hundreds of products with private labels that claim to be safe or environmentally friendly.

Now it just got easier for federal agencies.

First, the Executive Order directs feds to buy products identified by EPA’s Safer Choice, EnergyStar, WaterSense, SNAP, and SmartWay programs, USDA’s BioPreferred, and DOE’s FEMP programs to meet their needs.

Second, we are evaluating current private eco-labels to help federal buyers sort through which ones are the most credible and environmentally-preferable. We are using our draft Guidelines for Environmental Performance to do this pilot. We’re focusing on standards and ecolabels for 1) furniture; 2) flooring; and 3) paints and coatings. The results will help us with evaluations of other product categories in the future. For more information on our pilot, see http://www.resolv.org/site-guidelines/.

And third, in the meantime, we’ve released interim recommendations of standards and ecolabels to help federal buyers green their purchases. These include standards and ecolabels for construction, adhesives, flooring, insulation, paint, wood, custodial products, electronics, grounds/landscaping materials, office supplies, operations, fleets, shipping and a whole host of other products and services. These sustainability standards and eco-labels have been researched and verified by GSA and DOE, and feds can use them to ensure their purchases perform well and are readily available in the market. So if you need paper towels, there are recycled content requirements, as well as a recommended private label for paper products. We plan to regularly update these recommendations as we implement our Guidelines for non-governmental ecolabels and standards.

All of these efforts will help reduce our environmental footprint, support manufacturers that produce environmentally preferable products, and stimulate supply of greener products and services across the globe. By purchasing environmentally preferable products and services, federal agencies are leading by example, and protecting our health and the environment — for generations to come.

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Reflections on Children’s Health Month: Looking Back to Move Ahead

By Ruth Etzel, MD

In October we celebrated Children’s Health Month. As I reflect on the month, I think of the many exciting events and activities that highlighted the importance of our work to protect children’s health. One event in particular, a meeting of The President’s Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children (Task Force), stands out in my mind. Not because it was the biggest or the most visible, but because of who attended and what their participation and leadership means for the health of our nation’s children.

The Task Force was established in 1997 by Executive Order 13045 and is co-chaired by Administrator Gina McCarthy of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell of the Department of Health and Human Services. The Task Force’s 17 member agencies and offices work to accomplish the goals set out by the Executive Order, including:

  • Identifying priority risks and issues
  • Developing strategies
  • Recommending and implementing interagency actions
  • Communicating information to decision makers for use in protecting children’s environmental health and safety

The Task Force accomplishes its activities through four subcommittees focused on asthma disparities, healthy settings, chemical risks, and climate change. Recent achievements of the Task Force include the development of a Coordinated Federal Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Asthma Disparities aimed at reducing the burden of asthma among minority children and those with family incomes below the poverty level; guidance to the Federal Healthy Homes Work Group in the development of its plan, “Advancing Healthy Housing — A Strategy for Action”; and consulting on the impacts of climate change on children’s environmental health, to inform the U.S. Global Change Research Program Climate and Health Assessment.

At the October 14 meeting, representatives from eighteen different government agencies and offices participated and discussed their commitments related to work of the subcommittees and other children’s environmental health topics. In a time where government agencies have such varying priorities and limited resources to address the growing number of public concerns and challenges, I was proud to see that children’s health is one issue that remains a priority. Having so many different federal agencies come together to weigh-in, share accomplishments and recommit to continuing to work around this issue is a testament to how critically important children’s environmental health is at a national level. One of the highlights of the meeting was the level of support and commitment to the Task Force’s next unified goal: a new work plan to guide the group’s efforts over the next year and into the future. This product is currently in the development phase and I’m looking forward to being able to share more information with federal partners as it is finalized early next year.

This meeting reminded me of why I chose public service: to be part of an integrated and sustained effort to ensure that all children, regardless of where they live, have the opportunity to live, learn, work and play in healthy environments that enable them to reach their full potential.

As we move beyond Children’s Health month, I’m hopeful that our partnerships with other federal agencies and colleagues in communities across the nation will continue to flourish. There is still much work to be done. By working together, we can continue make the environment a better place for the next generation.

For more information about the Task Force, visit: http://www2.epa.gov/children/presidents-task-force-environmental-health-and-safety-risks-children

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Recognizing the 25th Anniversary of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments

By Janet McCabe

November 15 marked the 25th anniversary of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. A lot can change over a quarter of a century, and air quality is a good example. Our nation can be proud that we have improved our air quality dramatically during the last 25 years. This success is due to the combined efforts of state, local, tribal and federal government, regulated industries and businesses, environmental and citizen groups, and scientists and technological innovators.

In 1990, prominent environmental issues like acid rain and ozone layer depletion were frequently in the headlines. Forests, lakes and the creatures that depend on them were dying because of acid rain, and the depletion of the ozone layer was a global problem that seemed almost too big to fix. Thanks to the Clean Air Act and a lot of innovation and commitment, there has been great progress. Power plants have cut sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants dramatically, reducing acid rain and ecosystem damage, with tremendous public health benefits from cleaner air. At the same time, we have phased out the most damaging ozone-depleting substances, and the ozone layer is making a gradual recovery. Over a period of decades, this will save millions of lives by avoiding skin cancers caused by dangerous ultraviolet radiation, while also preventing hundreds of millions of cases of eye cataracts.

In 1990, many more Americans were breathing unhealthy air compared to today. For example, as Congress deliberated on the 1990 amendments, there were 41 areas of the country, home to 30 million people, with unhealthy levels of carbon monoxide (CO) pollution, which is linked to heart attack risks and other health effects. Today, there are none — all of the areas that were identified in the 1990s as having unhealthy levels of CO now meet our health-based air quality standards. Additionally, since 1990, particle pollution and ground-level ozone smog, which are associated with premature death and other serious health effects, are down by 36 percent and 23 percent respectively. As a result, millions of Americans are breathing cleaner, healthier air. And today, thanks to the AirNow program, people can get daily updates on air quality forecasts in their area; there is even an app for it.

The cars that we drove to the movie theater to see “Home Alone” (which was released 25 years ago this week) are a lot different than cars being sold today. Not only did they lack backup cameras and Bluetooth connectivity, they were a lot dirtier. Thanks to the Clean Air Act amendments almost all vehicles and engines – including passenger cars, trucks, locomotives, ships, and engines used in construction, industrial, farm and recreational equipment – have become significantly cleaner through improved performance standards. You couldn’t buy an electric or hybrid in 1990; today there are dozens of models to choose from. Cleaner fuels and vehicle emission control technologies have had a dramatic impact in cutting particle pollution and smog, especially in urban areas, cut our oil use and save money.

The scenic vistas in our national parks and wilderness areas are clearer due to reductions in pollution-caused haze. Clean Air Act programs have cut pollution over broad regions, and further visibility improvements are taking place through state regional haze plans mandated by the 1990 amendments that are now in place for virtually all the states. Toxic pollutants were another focus of the 1990 amendments. Since 1990, as a result of toxic emissions standards for industrial facilities, there are about 1.5 million fewer tons of toxic air pollution released each year, as well as large reductions due to vehicle and fuels standards. This trend will continue as we implement newer programs like our Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and the Tier 3 Vehicle and Fuel Standards to further reduce toxic pollution.

As we work to reduce today’s health and environmental risks from air pollution, including risks from climate change and other major environmental issues, it is encouraging to look back and see how far we have come. I imagine that our 1990 selves would be impressed by the internet, smartphones and electric vehicles. I hope that 25 years from now an EPA official will write a blog post – or whatever they write in 2040 – to commemorate how much more progress has been made. As Congress overwhelmingly agreed in 1990, clean air is a public health issue, not a political one. We all deserve to breathe clean air and to live in a safe environment.

For more information on progress cleaning the air, remaining air pollution and climate protection challenges, and the Clean Air Act, see the EPA’s CAA Overview web site.

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EPA Takes Next Steps to Protect Drinking Water from Harmful Algal Blooms

2015 brought a summer of green water, with many areas of the nation seeing a record year for the growth of harmful algal blooms (HABs) in rivers and lakes – including a 700-mile long bloom on the Ohio River and the largest bloom ever in Lake Erie. These HABs contain toxins that pose serious risks to our health and drinking water quality. EPA estimates that between 30 and 48 million people use drinking water from lakes and reservoirs that may be vulnerable to contamination by algal toxins. In 2014, the City of Toledo had to curtail drinking water use for three days as a result in Lake Erie, which supplies the city’s drinking water.

Last spring EPA issued health advisory values that states and utilities can use to protect Americans from elevated levels of algal toxins in drinking water. We also provided recommendations to water system operators on how to monitor and treat drinking water for algal toxins and notify the public if drinking water exceeds protective levels. Additionally, we are working with NASA, NOAA, and the U.S. Geological Survey to develop an early warning indicator system and mobile app powered by satellite data to detect algal blooms.

Today, we’re releasing a comprehensive strategic plan outlining ongoing actions to address algal toxins in drinking water. Solving the challenge of algal toxins in drinking water will require action at all levels of government and approaches that are collaborative, innovative, and persistent. EPA will work closely with other federal agencies, state and local governments, and the public to provide scientific and technical leadership on a number of fronts, including health effects studies. We will work on treatment techniques and monitoring technologies, develop innovative mapping tools to help protect drinking water sources, provide technical support to states and public water systems, issue health advisories, and support activities to protect drinking water sources.

In the next year alone, EPA intends to:

  • Develop and propose recreational water quality criteria for two types of algal toxins (microcystins and cylindrospermopsin), which will help protect people who paddle, swim, and spend time by the water.
  • Collaborate on workshops to address HABs’ impacts on drinking water and activities to protect drinking water sources.
  • Evaluate whether to include certain cyanotoxins in the fourth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule, which will require the collection of drinking water to better understand whether these toxins are present in drinking water systems.
  • Assist utilities in managing the risks from cyanotoxins to drinking water.
  • Publish monitoring data for cyanobacteria and microcystins in the National Aquatic Resource Survey National Lakes Assessment.
  • Accelerate development and use of technologies that can recover nitrogen and phosphorus from animal manure and generate value-added products by partnering with the dairy and swine industries on the Nutrient Recycling Challenge.
  • Improve EPA’s Drinking Water Mapping Application for Protecting Source Waters.
  • Co-lead an interagency working group to develop a Comprehensive Research Plan and Action Strategy to address marine and freshwater HABs and hypoxia.
  • Provide funding for critical projects that reduce nutrient pollution that fuels HABs in the Great Lakes.

Algal toxins are a growing problem in the United States
Naturally occurring blue-green algae in surface water can form HABs. Some species of HABs produce toxic compounds, called algal toxins or cyanotoxins, which can pose health risks to humans and animals. These blooms and their toxins are more than a nuisance – they also have the ability to cause fish kills and contaminate drinking water supplies. Their presence can disrupt recreational activities and harm the liver, kidney, and nervous system.

HABs are a national problem that is growing in frequency and duration across the country. Excess nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) pollution is a leading factor contributing to HAB formation in water bodies. These excess nutrients can originate from urban, agricultural, and industrial sources as well as from atmospheric deposition. Additionally, increased temperatures and changes in frequency and intensity of rainfall associated with climate change can also favor bloom formation. Three significant HAB events plagued parts of the nation the summer of 2015, including:

  • A massive toxic bloom in marine waters that hit the west coast extending from central California to Alaska with some of the highest bloom-related toxin levels ever reported,
  • The largest biomass of algae ever recorded on Lake Erie,
  • A river algal bloom in the Ohio River spanning over 700 miles from Wheeling, WV to Louisville, KY.

The cost of these events is significant and impacts our ability to work, our health, and our environment.  In 2015 alone, we had numerous closures of fisheries and beaches as well as increased costs for treating drinking water for the millions of people that rely on Lake Erie and the Ohio River for their drinking water. The good news is that no drinking water systems stopped service to customers due to algal toxin contamination this year. Unfortunately, this was not the case in 2014, when another large HAB on Lake Erie impacted Toledo, Ohio’s finished drinking water. The elevated levels of a cyanotoxin called microcystin in the city’s drinking water led to a state of emergency in OH, preventing approximately half a million people access to safe public drinking water for over two days.

This wasn’t the first drinking water system to be impacted by cyanotoxins, but this event in Toledo highlighted the need to strategically address HABs in drinking water across the country.

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Celebrating Two Legendary Environmental Champions

By Gina McCarthy

Today, President Obama named this year’s recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian honor. I am thrilled and proud that two environmental champions—William Ruckelshaus and Billy Frank, Jr.—are among the seventeen honorees.

William Ruckelshaus

William Ruckelshaus

William Ruckelshaus was the first Administrator of the EPA, appointed by President Nixon when the agency was created in 1970. He compiled an astonishing list of accomplishments in three short years: banning the dangerous pesticide DDT; setting the first air quality standards to protect public health under the fledgling Clean Air Act; establishing standards for cleaner cars and lead-free gasoline; building an environmental law-enforcement program with teeth; creating clean-water-permit requirements for cities and industries; and building a foundation for so many of the environmental protections we now take for granted.

During the 1960s, smog in many cities had become deadly and rivers were so polluted they caught on fire. Ruckelshaus helped set the nation on a new path to protect and preserve our environment, and in turn, our health. And he established a set of core values that still drive this agency today: respecting the law, following the science, and operating openly and transparently.

In 1973, he was tapped to serve as Acting FBI Director, and soon after as Deputy Attorney General—a position which spanned the Watergate crisis and from which he resigned as a matter of integrity and principle. In 1983, Ruckelshaus returned to EPA for a second stint in which he launched our Superfund program—initiating clean-up of thousands of contaminated sites across America. He also started work on Chesapeake Bay protections, and set the agency on a course to address the challenge of acid rain.

Ruckelshaus is remembered at EPA for his integrity and his commitment to protecting public health and the environment. Today, he continues to advance his legacy of collaborative problem solving on tough environmental issues at the University of Washington and Washington State University.

Billy Frank Jr. - Photo: Washington LSS

Billy Frank Jr. – Photo: Washington LSS

Similarly, Billy Frank, Jr., a Nisqually tribal member, was a tireless advocate for environmental stewardship and Indian treaty rights, which we continue to work on today. Frank’s work on tribal management of salmon resources helped paved the way for the 1974 “Boldt decision.” This was a hugely important legal precedent requiring the federal government to honor tribal treaty rights.

During the tribal Fish Wars of the 1960s and 1970s, when activists from dozens of Northwest tribes demanded that the treaties their ancestors signed with white settlers be honored, Frank led “fish-ins,” modeled after the sit-ins of the civil rights movement. His magnetic personality and tireless advocacy over more than five decades made him a revered figure both domestically and abroad.

Frank chaired the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission for more than 30 years, supporting natural resource management among the 20 treaty Indian tribes in western Washington. Upon his death in 2014, the Nisqually tribe stated, “Billy dedicated his life to protecting our traditional way of life and our salmon for more than 60 years.” Washington governor Jay Inslee wrote, “Billy was a champion of tribal rights of the salmon, and the environment. He did that even when it meant putting himself in physical danger or facing jail.”

Frank was the recipient of many awards, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Distinguished Service Award for Humanitarian Achievement. Frank left an Indian Country strengthened by greater sovereignty and a nation fortified by his example of service to one’s community, his humility, and his dedication to the principles of human rights and environmental sustainability.

I am proud that one of our nation’s most extraordinary public servants and one of its most extraordinary environmental advocates are receiving this high honor. Americans today are healthier, the environment is safer, and tribal treaty rights are intact thanks to the tireless efforts of these two leaders. Please join me in congratulating Bill Ruckelshaus and the family of Billy Frank, Jr.

 

 

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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