Our Ocean 2015 Conference in Chile: EPA Launches International Marine Litter Initiative

By Jane Nishida

The world’s oceans are facing many serious environmental challenges that threaten the health of all marine life, our food security, and the air that we breathe. Land-based sources of pollution, such as marine litter, wastewater, and nutrient runoff, contribute to the deterioration of our coastal waters, habitats, and oceans. Ocean acidification, as a result of increased greenhouse gas emissions, also threatens food chains and causes coral bleaching, which destroys valuable habitats for marine life. It is imperative that we work to find solutions to these problems and encourage others to take action that helps restore the health of our oceans.

Jane Nishida with Easter Island tribal leaders in traditional dress.

Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator Jane Nishida with tribal leaders from Easter Island at the Our Ocean II Conference last week.

I joined Secretary Kerry and other distinguished experts at the Our Ocean 2015 Conference in Valparaiso, Chile the week of October 5. This conference brought together different government, policy, science, and advocacy leaders to raise awareness of the many problems affecting the global marine environment, including marine pollution, ocean acidification, sustainable fisheries, marine protected areas, and issues affecting local communities. Governments, international organizations, and NGOs committed to take actions that will address specific marine problems. Marine litter, in particular plastics, is a growing global problem with 8 tons of plastic entering the ocean annually – that is 1 ton of plastic for every 3 tons of fish.

I was proud to be able to announce a new joint partnership between EPA, the United Nations Environment Program’s Caribbean Environment Program , and the Peace Corps  to expand our Trash Free Waters strategy to the wider Caribbean region to help reduce land-based sources of marine debris. Trash Free Waters is a collaborative, stakeholder-based approach to mitigate marine litter by using regional and local strategies that reduces and prevents the amount of trash entering the waterways, and ultimately our oceans.

With EPA as the national technical focal point to the Land Based Sources Protocol to the Cartagena Convention in the wider Caribbean, this partnership will help national governments take action to prevent trash from reaching their waters. Peace Corps Volunteers will complement this strategy by providing support from on-the-ground projects in local communities that will help reduce litter and plastic trash from entering waterways and the ocean.

Jamaica and Panama will be the first countries to pilot a Trash Free Waters program to address marine litter in the wider Caribbean.  I met with the Foreign Ministers of Jamaica and Panama who were enthusiastic and noted the importance of this program in raising public awareness to the problem of marine debris. We are also working with the Peace Corps in both countries to help incorporate the Trash Free Waters approach into their programs so that the volunteers will be able to develop marine litter reduction and prevention projects in local communities.  We hope to be able to share success stories of our initial pilot work in Jamaica and Panama at the next Our Ocean Conference in Washington, DC in 2016. Our Trash Free Waters is playing an important role in getting trash out of our waterways and our oceans in the U.S. and globally.

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Unleashing Innovation for a Clean Energy Economy

By Gina McCarthy

One of America’s greatest assets is the ingenuity of its people. President Obama has been driving that theme home since the beginning of his Administration. At EPA, we’ve seen time and again that by unleashing homegrown American innovation, we can bring about big wins for both the environment and the economy.

Just look at renewable energy – today the U.S. generates three times as much wind power, and 20 times as much solar power as we did in 2008. And since the beginning of 2010, the average cost of a solar electric system in the U.S. has dropped by half. At the same time, the U.S. solar industry is creating jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy.

Photo of windmills with a blue sky.

And look at the auto industry – we’ve set historic fuel efficiency standards that promise to send our cars twice as far on a gallon of gas by the middle of the next decade—a move that will reduce pollution and save families money at the pump at the same time. Today, every major U.S. automaker offers electric vehicles. And since 2009, the American auto industry added more than 250,000 jobs.

These are wins all around. That’s why states, communities, and leading private sector companies are investing in clean energy innovation. Because it’s is good for the environment and it’s good for business. There are countless state-based projects already underway to reduce energy waste, boost efficiencies, and vastly increase the amount of energy solar panels can produce from the sun.

We’re already seeing tremendous progress across the country – including the development of smart, low-cost technologies that help households save on their energy bills. On this front, the state of Illinois is moving ahead at full speed.

Photograph of Administrator Gina McCarthy speaking at a podium.

Just last week, I was proud to join officials from the City of Chicago, utility companies, citizen groups, and two energy-technology companies – Nest and Ecobee – as they announced a major new initiative to get one million “smart” thermostats into northern Illinois homes by the year 2020.

The innovative partnership offers rebates that will nearly halve the cost of thermostats that allow residents to control the temperature of their homes via mobile device. And the technology is “smart” because it adapts to user behaviors over time. The new program is bringing together utilities, environmental organizations, consumer groups, private companies, and the state commerce chamber – all working together toward an ambitious energy efficiency goal.

The one-million smart thermostats effort is a prime example of the power of innovation and partnerships in solving tough problems. Because when we bring diverse skills, perspectives, and expertise to the table, we get creative solutions. The Illinois program will bring efficiencies that move the needle against climate change and it will help consumers’ savings on their energy bills at the same time. That’s a win-win.

And it’s precisely the kind innovative thinking that states across the country are using to help meet the requirements laid out in EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which launched this past summer.

The Plan puts the U.S. on track to slash carbon pollution from the power sector 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. And when we cut carbon pollution, we also cut harmful smog- and soot-forming pollutants that come along with it.

We’ll start seeing health benefits in the near term, and by 2030, we’ll avoid thousands of premature deaths and hospital admissions, tens of thousands of asthma attacks, and hundreds of thousands of missed school and work days.  In that same year, the average American family will see $85 a year in savings on their utility bills. That’s another win-win.

The bottom line is— America knows how to innovate, and solutions are already here. Technology and innovation are turning what used to be daunting challenges into real, profitable opportunities. The kinds of innovative thinking we’re seeing in Illinois and elsewhere are our best shot at seizing them.

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Tools Promoting Reuse-Evaluating Clean Energy for Contaminated Properties

By Mathy Stanislaus

Last month while attending the Brownfields conference in Chicago, I spoke with numerous mayors, community members, developers, financiers, and many others working to revitalize their communities. One common theme I heard was the need for tools and resources that could be deployed at the community or site level to help facilitate the cleanup or reuse of degraded or blighted properties. Toward that end I am pleased to announce the release of our RE-Powering America’s Land electronic decision tree tool. It will let communities and stakeholders examine the key considerations associated with solar or wind development on a formerly contaminated property or a landfill.

You may not have thought about siting renewable energy on a landfill or formerly contaminated property but it presents a unique opportunity to transform dormant and degraded properties into productive community assets. To date, more than 150 renewable energy installations have been installed on contaminated lands, landfills and mine sites across the U.S., providing clean energy to power cleanups, on-site operations and community electricity needs. The Agency’s RE-Powering Initiative has supported and continues to advance this trend. Because of these projects, communities across the country have saved millions of dollars in energy costs, created construction jobs, and received new property tax revenue as a result of reusing these sites for renewable energy.

The electronic decision tree is a downloadable computer application that walks users through a series of questions supplemented by tips and links to relevant tools and information sources. The user is guided through various considerations associated with the site, redevelopment process, and criteria specific to landfills and contaminated properties. In addition, it helps users explore how the regulatory context, financial incentives and future electricity usage affect projects. You would think that the amount of sun and the site conditions would mainly determine feasibility; however, these other factors tend to dominate.

This new tool helps communities and other stakeholders explore their sites, engage developers and drive their vision of productive reuse. The tools inform and empower communities to plan and align their desires for economic development within a sustainable land management strategy.

RE-Powering encourages renewable energy on contaminated lands in a variety of ways by:

  • Identifying and screening contaminated properties
  • Disseminating success stories and best practices
  • Clarifying liability
  • Articulating associated environmental, economic and community benefits
  • Disseminating financing strategies and information on incentives
  • Highlighting favorable policies; and
  • Developing partnerships and pursuing outreach

Most of all, RE-Powering brings two important ideas together: the interest in cleaning up contaminated land and in siting renewable energy. And, all this in the context of what’s appropriate for the site and what is desired by the community.

Check out the new RE-Powering website and all its resources, its updated mapper and, of course, the new electronic decision tree tool.

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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New Greenhouse Gas Data for Large Facilities Now Available

By Janet McCabe

This week, the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program released its fifth year of detailed, facility-level data for over 8,000 large-emitters, representing approximately 50% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Why is this important? High-quality, long-term environmental data are essential to protecting human health and our environment. Environmental data are the foundation of practically everything we do, and detailed greenhouse gas emissions data are essential in guiding the steps we take to address the problem of climate change.

We have been providing national-level greenhouse gas emissions data since the early 1990s through the U.S. Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks. Submitted every spring to the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the GHG inventory is the official U.S. government estimate of annual greenhouse gas emissions. The GHG inventory is calculated using national-level data sets and provides an estimate of overall emissions for every sector.

Established by Congress in 2008, the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program complements the GHG inventory with additional detail on large emitters of greenhouse gases. While the inventory provides a bird’s-eye view of emissions sources and trends, since 2010 the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program has provided a ground-level view with a rich dataset of facility-level emissions that was previously unavailable.

The Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program is the only program that collects facility-level greenhouse gas data from major industrial sources across the United States, including power plants, oil and gas production and refining, iron and steel mills and landfills. The program also collects data on the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) predominantly used in refrigeration and air conditioning. While the reporting program does not cover every source, it provides an unprecedented level of information on the largest stationary sources of emissions.

The reporting program’s online data publication tool, called FLIGHT, is amazing—even if you’re not a veteran number-cruncher. It brings detailed emissions data to users in an intuitive, map-based format. This tool allows states, communities, businesses, and concerned citizens to view top GHG-emitters in a state or region; see emissions data from a specific industry; track emissions trends by facility, industry, or region; and download maps, list and charts.

The data can be used by businesses and others to track and compare facilities’ greenhouse gas emissions, identify opportunities to cut pollution, minimize wasted energy, and save money.  States, cities, and other communities can use our greenhouse gas data to find high-emitting facilities in their area, compare emissions between similar facilities, and develop common-sense climate policies.

I encourage you to take a look at the data and learn more.

See key facts and figures and explore Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program Data:
GHGRP Home Page: www2.epa.gov/ghgreporting/
FLIGHT: http://ghgdata.epa.gov/ghgp/main.do

Learn more about climate change, and EPA actions to address it:
www.epa.gov/climatechange

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A Really Good Day: Building the East Capitol Urban Farm

By Jeff Corbin

As much as I love my job, and as proud as I am of the work that EPA does every day, I must admit that some days are just better than others. I’m speaking of those days when you get to be part of something that just makes you feel good. Something that makes you say: “We did well today…this is what we are all about.” Two weeks ago, I had one of those days. Let me tell you how this all started.

Build day for the East Capital Urban Farm. Photo credit: Emily Simonson/EPA ORISE.

Build day for the East Capitol Urban Farm. Photo credit: Emily Simonson/EPA ORISE.

A little while ago, I started having discussions with colleagues at the U.S. Department of Interior, one of our partners in the Urban Waters Federal Partnership. That Partnership’s focus is to reconnect urban communities – particularly those who are overburdened or economically distressed – with their waterways, and collaborate with community-led revitalization efforts. While DOI and I talked, our friends at the University of the District of Columbia, including Dr. Dwane Jones and his team in UDC’s College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability, and Environmental Sciences, helped us think through next steps.

So what was the big idea? Take a vacant, 3-acre piece of land in the District’s Ward 7, an area in dire need of fresh, healthy food and economic infusion, and turn it into an urban farm. And not just any urban farm, but one that combines art, recreation, education and a general sense of community ownership. On a recent Saturday, the District of Columbia Building Industry Association officially took the project from a “big idea” to reality, adopting this project as their annual Community Improvement Day: a day of building with the help of hundreds of citizen volunteers, professional contractors, and too many partners to name.

At the end of the day, even with a few loose ends to wrap up, the site was on track for a spring harvest of a variety of produce from the private garden lots and community gardens. Food grown here will benefit the wider community via mobile food trucks and a farmer’s market.

Final design for the East Capital Urban Farm.

Final design for the East Capitol Urban Farm.

Part of EPA’s contribution to the project was a $60,000 nonpoint source program grant to install a state-of-the-art “green” system to capture the storm water that will run off the site. With urban farming growing in popularity (that’s a good thing!), it is critical that these types of operations are designed to be models for protecting nearby waterways. EPA’s investment will also help educate visitors about the importance of controlling storm water run-off. Eventually, there will even be an aquaponics facility, where fish are grown and their waste is used to fertilize the gardens. Now that’s recycling at its best!

 

Hundreds of volunteers turned out to help with planting. Photo credit: Emily Simonson/EPA ORISE.

Hundreds of volunteers turned out to help with planting. Photo credit: Emily Simonson/EPA ORISE.

If you want to see what one of my good days looks like, hop off the Metro’s blue/orange line at the Capitol Heights stop and look uphill across the street…and plan on buying some fresh produce in the spring!

About the author: Jeff Corbin is Senior Advisor for the Chesapeake Bay and Anacostia River. Before coming to EPA, he was the Virginia Assistant Secretary of Natural Resources and before that spent time in the environmental non-profit sector. He currently splits his time between Richmond, DC, Annapolis and other parts of the Chesapeake watershed. When not working, he can usually be found on his fishing skiff exploring Virginia’s rivers.

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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Celebrating Sammie Winner Jacob Moss

By Administrator Gina McCarthy

I’m thrilled to announce that our EPA colleague Jacob Moss is the winner of one of this year’s prestigious Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals, also known as the “Sammie” award. Sammies are awarded each year by the Partnership for Public Service to a small number of federal employees with impressive accomplishments. They’re a big deal, and while EPA has had fantastic nominees in the recent past, Jacob is EPA’s first winner in several years.

Jacob truly exemplifies the spirit of this Environment and Science Medal for his work spearheading a global initiative that seeks to eliminate the threat of toxic smoke from indoor cookstoves, one of the deadliest threats facing billions of people across the developing world. According to the World Health Organization, exposure to smoke from cooking fires is the developing world’s fourth worst health risk, responsible for an estimated 4.3 million premature deaths every year.

In 2010, Jacob was a driving force behind the development of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a partnership led by the United Nations Foundation with 10 U.S. federal agencies and more than 1,300 partners across the globe. He has since coordinated U.S. government efforts under the Alliance, leading the development of an initial 5-year, $50 million commitment which has since grown to over $114 million. Under Jacob’s leadership, the United States announced last November additional anticipated support that could bring this investment up to $325 million by 2020.

In total, the partners in the Alliance have committed to investments of more than $500 million (beyond the U.S. investments) to meet a goal of improving 500 million lives in 100 million households by 2020. By reaching this 2020 goal, the Alliance estimates that this work will save 640,000 lives, create 2.1 million jobs, and offset 1.6 billion metric tons of CO2-equivalent. The Alliance’s partners are on target to meet this 2020 goal, and they have already reached 28 million homes with cleaner and more efficient cooking solutions.

Jacob’s first introduction to the environmental challenges associated with cookstoves came when he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Togo, West Africa in the late 1980s. He began his work on cookstoves at EPA in 2002 when he helped launch an international partnership to address this pollution. By 2007, through EPA’s Partnership for Clean Indoor Air, EPA efforts were helping hundreds of thousands of people. In 2010 the Global Alliance was formed.

Jacob’s work is an example of many years of dedication, resourcefulness, and tenacity that we can all be inspired by and proud of. The work being honored by this Sammie Medal not only serves this country, but countries and people around the world. This is work that saves lives. Congratulations on your achievement, Jacob, and from all of us at EPA, thank you for all you do.

ABOUT JACOB

Jacob grew up in Houston, Texas, went to college at Ithaca in New York state and then joined the Peace Corps in Togo, West Africa.  Jacob started at EPA as a Senior Policy Analyst in 1999.  He lives in Washington, D.C. and likes to spend time with his daughter, play tennis, and travel. Jacob has additional experience with GE Capital Corporation, Clean Water Action, the Peace Corps, and IBM.  He holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering physics from Cornell University and a Master of Public Policy degree from Princeton University.

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EPA’s Rigorous Auto Oversight Will Get Even Stronger

By Christopher Grundler, Director, Office of Transportation and Air Quality

Last month, Volkswagen admitted to EPA and the California Air Resources Board that the company employed a sophisticated device to cheat U.S. emissions standards in certain diesel cars, including the Audi A3, Beetle, Golf, Jetta, and Passat. We take this matter very seriously. It’s not only a violation of the Clean Air Act, it threatens public health and the credibility of the industry.

Our goal is to complete a comprehensive investigation and to take the appropriate steps to ensure that this never happens again. We are now testing for defeat devices and other compliance issues for model year 2015 and 2016 light-duty diesel vehicles from all manufacturers. On September 25, we notified all auto manufacturers that our testing will include additional evaluations designed to detect potential defeat devices.

We employ a rigorous, multi-layer process to test and certify new vehicle models before they can be sold, and for testing vehicles that are in production and on the road. But technologies evolve and circumstances change, and we’re constantly looking at ways to improve our compliance and oversight programs. Over the past 45 years, our oversight and testing program has developed new tools and new techniques to adapt to technology advances so we can deliver on the agency’s mission.

In the late 1990’s, the heavy-duty industry deployed defeat devices in a large number of trucks, resulting in a settlement valued at over $1 billion. We’ve done extensive on-road testing audits for compliance with the newly implemented greenhouse gas emissions standards. This effort resulted in an enforcement action and ultimately a record-setting settlement with Hyundai/Kia, and significant fuel economy adjustments by Ford and other vehicle manufacturers.

Our testing and oversight includes both in-lab testing using dynamometers and on-road testing in real-world conditions. Both are necessary as part of an active robust program. This provides a multi-layered oversight approach focused on:

  • Testing both pre-production prototypes and production vehicles on the dynamometer, which provides accurate, reliable and repeatable measurements that can be used to compare against the standard, and across vehicle types;
  • On-road testing using portable emissions monitors (PEMs) that measure emissions during real world driving situations. In recent years, on-road PEMs testing has been focused on heavy duty diesel vehicles, which account for roughly 40 percent of the NOx pollution from on-road sources.  (By comparison light duty diesel cars account for about 0.1 percent of NOx pollution from on-road sources.)
  • Laboratory audits ensuring that manufacturer, contract, and other agency test labs conform to testing protocols and data quality standards, so that the data EPA gets from these sources (including the data manufacturers provide to EPA) meet standards and that results can be compared among labs; and
  • Holding manufacturers accountable for their actions through rigorous enforcement of the Clean Air Act, which provides a strong deterrence against cheating and helps maintain a level playing field for the vast majority of automakers that play by the rules.

Air quality monitors across the country tell a clear and compelling story: U.S. air quality has dramatically improved as a result of implementing our programs as vehicle miles and the economy have grown significantly. Since EPA’s founding, we’ve cut our nation’s air pollution 70% all while the economy has tripled. A strong oversight and compliance program is critical to ensure that the clean air standards that EPA sets for vehicles to protect public health actually deliver the emissions promised to the American people.  We will learn from this Volkswagen case, and will adapt and improve — as we have before — to ensure we deliver on the Agency’s mission.

More information for owners of affected vehicles may be found here: http://www3.epa.gov/otaq/cert/violations.htm

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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Border 2020 Commitments and Accomplishments: National Coordinators Meeting

By Jane Nishida

The United States-Mexico border region is one of the most dynamic in the world. Today, the border is home to over 14 million people. Approximately 90% of the population resides in cities, while the remaining population is found in small towns or rural communities. Over 430,000 of the 14 million people in the region live in 1700 colonias, neighborhoods in Mexican cities without jurisdictional autonomy or representation. There are 26 U.S. federally-recognized Native American tribes, many of which share extensive cultural and family ties with indigenous peoples in the border region of Mexico.

Border 2020 National Coordinators at a meeting in El Paso, Texas.

In late September my team and I joined EPA’s Region 6 Administrator, Ron Curry, and Region 9 Administrator, Jared Blumenfeld, at the National Coordinators meeting under the Border 2020 U.S.-Mexico Environmental Program held in El Paso, Texas. This was the first National Coordinators meeting for the new Border 2020 Program. Together, we reexamined the goals, objectives, and operations of the program as we renewed our bi-national partnership.

During the working sessions, we discussed strategies to reach program goals and maximize resources throughout the two-year work plan. These sessions focused on the five goals of the Border 2020 program – air pollution reduction, improvement of access to clean and safe water, enhancing joint preparedness for environmental response, materials and waste management and clean sites and enhancing compliance assurance and environmental stewardship.

Not only was it an exciting opportunity to hear about the important projects along the U.S.-Mexico border, we also committed to continuing the strengthening of our partnership and collaboration with the ten border states, 26 U.S.-border tribes and indigenous communities, local governments, industry, and the public, and to define a new course of action for making a visible difference for our border communities.

EPA and the Border Health Commission (BHC), one of the exciting partnerships, are working together on important issues to improve the environment and public health in the U.S.-Mexico border region. We have established Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units (PEHSU) along the border to improve children’s health by enhancing educational and consultative services to communities. Our new 2015-2016 agreement has identified public health and environmental leadership, building environmental health capacity, and strengthening institutional resiliency and accountability as priority areas.

Next year is an important one under the Border 2020 Program because we start the mid-term evaluation of the Program and we plan to develop and publish the 2016 Border Indicators Report. These important milestones would help ensure that our border collaboration translates into environmental benefits for the inhabitants of the United States-Mexico border region.

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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Improving Drinking Water Infrastructure is a Priority

By Stan Meiburg

This week in Chicago, thousands of water professionals met at the Water Environmental Federation Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC) to discuss pressing issues facing America’s water sector. Maintaining America’s drinking water infrastructure has been one of the most important topics at this year’s meeting.

Cities and towns across America are facing significant drinking water infrastructure challenges.  Many of the drinking water mains in Chicago are over a century old.  The situation in my own city of Washington, DC is no different – half the drinking water mains in Washington were put in the ground before 1936.

This issue is personal for all of us.  Few things are more important than knowing that the water that comes out of the tap is safe for our children to drink.

The good news is that our nation’s 51,000 community water systems continue to do a tremendous job of meeting that challenge.  Last year, 93 percent of all community drinking water systems met all the nation’s health-based drinking water standards, all the time.

But aging drinking water infrastructure is an issue we’ll have to address to continue to provide the highest quality drinking water to the American people. The Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund (DWSRF) is a federal/state partnership designed to create, in each state, a perpetual source of financing for drinking water infrastructure.

Last year, the DWSRF financed nearly 900 projects, served over 40 million people, and provided nearly $2 billion in financing. In fact, one out every 8 Americans lives in a community that was served by the DWSRF last year alone.

Most of our nation’s community water systems are small—92 percent of them serve fewer than 10,000 residents. And most small systems consistently provide safe, reliable drinking water to their customers, but many face significant challenges in financing needed maintenance and upgrades. EPA is working with states and other federal agencies to provide targeted support to small systems through the DWSRF and other programs.  For example, over the past two years, EPA awarded approximately $32 million to provide training and technical assistance to small public water systems.

In addition, the water treatment infrastructure we build today has to withstand not only today’s realities, but tomorrow’s uncertainties. Climate change is driving more extreme storms, floods, droughts, fires, and extreme temperatures today—and water infrastructure needs to be resilient. EPA is helping water systems become resilient to climate change with practical and easy-to-use tools from our Climate Ready Water Utilities initiative.

And earlier this year, EPA formed a new Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center to identify new and creative opportunities to support the water sector, including leveraging of private funds. The Finance Center will draw on local expertise all across the U.S. to help communities move forward with important projects in the water sector.

The states are also responding to the urgent need to support drinking water infrastructure. EPA has worked with the states to greatly increase the rate of spending under the DWSRF, achieving a 40 percent, or $500 million reduction in the amount of DWSRF unliquidated obligations in the last two years alone.

As I listened to the presentations this week, I was reminded that the American people enjoy the cleanest drinking water in the world. EPA looks forward to continuing to work with the water sector to make sure this is always the case.

 

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Explaining How We Address Contaminated Sites – Learn About the Superfund National Priorities List

By Mathy Stanislaus

Love Canal. Valley of the Drums. In the late 1970s, these sites created a growing national awareness that if hazardous waste was released into the environment and left abandoned, it presented potential human health and environmental risks. On December 11, 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA, better known as “Superfund”) into law. Finally, the federal government had a statutory authority to clean up sites where releases had occurred or threatened to occur.

EPA maintains a list of the nation’s most serious abandoned and uncontrolled hazardous sites, the National Priorities List (NPL). The NPL helps us determine which sites warrant further investigation and cleanup. There is a statutory requirement to update the NPL annually, though as a matter of policy, we typically update the NPL twice a year. Recently, we added five and proposed seven hazardous waste sites to the NPL.

Only sites on the NPL are eligible for federal funding for long-term cleanup. The Superfund program operates on the principle that polluters should pay for the cleanups, rather than passing the costs to taxpayers. We search for parties legally responsible for the contamination at sites and the law holds them accountable for the cleanup costs. For the newly added sites without viable potentially responsible parties, we will investigate the full extent of the contamination before starting substantial cleanup at the site.

We undertake removal actions to address more immediate threats, including emergencies that require on-scene arrival within hours, and time-critical situations, where a response is needed within six months. Removal actions may speed up the cleanup of portions of a site or eliminate the need for long-term actions at portions of a site.

Listing a site on the NPL is a multi-step process. To propose a site to the NPL depends on many factors such as:

  • site complexity;
  • extent of stakeholder interest;
  • state and tribal support; and
  • availability of other cleanup options.

After initial investigation and sampling determines the site warrants further evaluation and potential remediation, the data gathered is used to   evaluate a site’s relative threat to human health or the environment through the Hazard Ranking System.

In addition, if the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) issues a health advisory recommending removing people from the site and we determine it will be more cost-effective to use our remedial authority rather than our emergency removal authority, a site can be placed on the NPL. Further, each state can designate one top-priority site for addition to the NPL (16 states or territories have yet to designate a top-priority site). Sites are proposed for addition to the NPL as a rulemaking published in the Federal Register. EPA generally accepts comments for 60 days, responds to the comments, and places those sites on the NPL.. For most sites, the time between proposal and final listing is six months.

State partnership is critical to the cleanup of Superfund sites. We often work with states to conduct site assessments, and as a matter of policy, we request state support to place sites on the NPL. In some cases, states lead the remedial action work with our oversight. As a statutory requirement, states contribute a “cost share” equal to 10 percent of the fund-financed costs of the remedial action, and are responsible for long-term operation and maintenance of the site remedy. When we list sites on the NPL, federally recognized tribes are afforded the same treatment as states at sites for which they have jurisdiction.

Superfund cleanups protect communities’ health, environment and economic wellbeing. The study Superfund Cleanups and Infant Health, shows that investment in Superfund cleanups reduces the incidence of congenital abnormalities in infants by as much as 25 percent for those living within 2,100 yards of a site. Another study found that once a site has all cleanup remedies in place, nearby property values reflect a significant increase as compared to their values prior to the site being proposed for the NPL.

Superfund not only protects health and the environment, it can serve as a catalyst for beneficial reuse.  Today hundreds of communities are reusing Superfund sites for ecological, recreational, industrial, military, commercial, residential, and other productive uses. At the end of FY 2014, based upon data from 450 of the of the 850 sites that have some type of reuse, ongoing operations of more than 3,400 businesses are generating sales of more than $30 billion and employing over 89,000 people representing a combined income of $6 billion.

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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