In 2016, We’re Hitting the Ground Running

By Gina McCarthy

Heading into 2016, EPA is building on a monumental year for climate action—and we’re not slowing down in the year ahead. Last August, President Obama announced the final Clean Power Plan, EPA’s historic rule to cut carbon pollution from power plants, our nation’s largest driver of climate change. Then in Paris last month, nearly 200 countries came together for the first time ever to announce a universal agreement to act on climate.

So we’re hitting the ground running. Under the Paris Agreement, countries pledge to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius at most, and pursue efforts to keep it below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Science tells us these levels will help prevent some of the most devastating impacts of climate change, including more frequent and extreme droughts, storms, fires, and floods, as well as catastrophic sea level rise. This agreement applies to all countries, sets meaningful accountability and reporting requirements, and brings countries back to the table every five years to grow their commitments as markets change and technologies improve. It also provides financing mechanisms so developing economies can move forward using clean energy.

This year, we’ll build on these successes to ensure lasting climate action that protects Americans’ health, economic opportunity, and national security. EPA staff will provide their technical leadership to ensure consistent, transparent greenhouse gas reporting and inventory requirements under the Paris Agreement. Our domestic expertise in air quality monitoring and greenhouse gas inventories will help countries make sure they’re meeting their greenhouse gas reduction goals. Similarly, we’ll use our expertise to identify and evaluate substitutes in the U.S. to reduce hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), another potent climate pollutant. This work domestically will help us lead global efforts to finalize a requirement in 2016 for countries to reduce production and use of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol.

We will finalize a proposal to improve fuel economy and cut carbon pollution from heavy-duty vehicles, which could avoid a billion metric tons of carbon pollution and save 75 billion gallons of fuel by 2027. We’ll also finalize rules to limit methane leaks from oil and gas operations—which could avoid up to 400,000 metric tons of a climate pollutant 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide by 2025. Meanwhile, we’re doubling the distance our cars go on a gallon of gas by 2025.

In 2016, EPA will defend and implement the Clean Power Plan by working closely with states and stakeholders to help them create strong plans to reduce their carbon pollution. We wrote this plan with unprecedented stakeholder input, including hundreds of meetings across the country and 4.3 million public comments. The result is a rule that’s ambitious but achievable, and falls squarely within the four corners of the Clean Air Act, a statute we have been successfully implementing for 45 years. We’re confident the Clean Power Plan will stand the test of time—the Supreme Court has ruled three times that EPA has not only the authority but the obligation to limit harmful carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act.

Just as importantly, the Paris Agreement and the Clean Power Plan are helping mobilize private capital all over the world toward low-carbon investments. The U.S. has sent a clear signal that a low-carbon future is inevitable, and that the market will reward those who develop low-carbon technologies and make their assets resistant to climate impacts. That’s why 154 of the largest U.S. companies, representing 11 million jobs and more than seven trillion dollars in market capitalization, have signed the White House American Business Act on Climate Pledge. Companies like Walmart, AT&T, Facebook, and Coca-Cola recognize that climate impacts threaten their operations, while investing in a low-carbon future is an unprecedented business opportunity.

Americans know climate action is critical—they’re seeing its impacts with their own eyes. Hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, and storms are growing more frequent and extreme. Streets in cities like Miami now flood on sunny days due to sea level rise. Climate change is a moral issue, a health issue, and a jobs issue—and that’s why the strong majority of Americans want the federal government to do something about it, and support the strong outcome in Paris.

We’ve got a lot more work to do, and we’re not slowing down. Over the past year, we’ve seen remarkable climate achievements that once seemed impossible—and that’s thanks to President Obama’s leadership. His climate legacy is already impressive, but we will build on it in 2016 by continuing to protect health and opportunity for all Americans. At EPA, we’ve got our sleeves rolled up.

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We Won’t Back Down from our Mission

By Liz Purchia

It’s that time again. Like clockwork, mere days after the world reached a historic global climate agreement in Paris, a small but vocal group are grasping at anything to distract from and derail our progress.

The latest attempt cites EPA’s public communications about providing clean water to the American people as cause to investigate EPA’s use of social media around our Clean Power Plan-an essential rule to fight climate change by cutting carbon pollution from power plants.

Surprising no one. Their goal is to create a buzz around our social media use and draw attention away from the important work to take real action to improve our nation’s waterways and reduce carbon pollution that threatens the health of all Americans.

Let’s review the facts. Like so many other government agencies, private companies, NGO’s, universities, and yes – even Congressional offices – EPA uses various social media platforms to communicate and engage with the public about our work.

It’s almost 2016. One of the most effective ways to share information is via the Internet and social media. Though backward-thinkers might prefer it, we won’t operate as if we live in the Stone Age. EPA wants American citizens to know what we’re up to. We want to be as transparent as possible. We want to engage diverse constituents in our work. And we want them to be informed. Social media is a powerful tool to do that.

Let’s put things in perspective. Here is what this is really about. Last year, we used the GSA-approved platform “Thunderclap,” to get the word out about our historic Clean Water Rule-a law to better protect the streams and wetlands that are the foundation of our nation’s water resources.

We created a page on Thunderclap, labeled clearly, right up top, with our logo and the byline, “by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” that contained the following message: “Clean Water is important to me. I support EPA’s efforts to protect it for my health, my family, and my community.” It linked to an EPA website with information about the rule. We shared this page with all of our stakeholders – no matter what sector, geographic location, or perspective – with the goal of catalyzing our public engagement process, and getting people excited about the importance of clean water.

By visiting the page and choosing to proactively click on a link, users could decide to share the single message across their various social media accounts. Users had the opportunity to customize and edit the message any way they wanted to before they sent it. Recently, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) called this outreach approach “covert propaganda”.

The GAO also cited EPA’s use of an external hyperlink in a blog post as evidence that we violated anti-lobbying provisions. This link went to a blog about surfers and how they are impacted by pollution. It was written in 2010, four years before our Clean Water Rule even existed. We appreciate the GAO’s consideration of these matters, but respectfully disagree.

At no point did the EPA encourage the public to contact Congress or any state legislature about the Clean Water Rule. Plain and simple. The rule is an agency action, promulgated by EPA. It’s not even about congressional legislation.

We will continue to work with GAO and members of Congress to explain what this is and isn’t. And our agency is continually learning and refining our approaches, both to make our communications as effective as possible, and to ensure that we’re continuing to follow the laws governing our means of communicating our important activities to the American public.

We’re always seeking the clearest and best routes to engage Americans in our mission and inform them about the taxpayer-funded work that, each day, protects the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the environment that we all share.

Of the over 100 social media posts reviewed by the GAO, these two extremely narrow examples were plucked out to be challenged – and the case against them is tenuous. Yet those who want to block EPA’s Clean Water Rule are poring over the assessment like it’s a holiday gift. And those who question the well-established science behind climate change are piling into the fray-hoping to squeeze out any crumbs of opportunity to undermine our agency and our ability to fulfill the job that Congress gave us to do.

EPA won’t back down from our mission. We stand by our public outreach efforts on both the Clean Water Rule and the Clean Power Plan. Unfortunately, valuable time and resources are being wasted on empty attacks. The public would be better served without these deliberate distractions, and with full attention focused on meeting our mission to protect the health of kids and families, and ensure our shared environment is clean and safe.

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Cleanup and Redevelopment of Superfund Sites Benefits Communities

: (left to right) EPA Region 6 Administrator Ron Curry; Tim Lott, Vice President of Capital Programs, Dallas Housing Authority; EPA Assistant Administrator, Office of Land and Emergency Management, Mathy Stanislaus

(left to right) EPA Region 6 Administrator Ron Curry; Tim Lott, Vice President of Capital Programs, Dallas Housing Authority; EPA Assistant Administrator, Office of Land and Emergency Management, Mathy Stanislaus

By Mathy Stanislaus

Thirty-five years ago, on December 11, 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed the Comprehensive Environmental, Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, the law that established the Superfund program. This anniversary has led me to reflect on the tremendous progress Superfund has made in cleaning up contaminated land, surface water and groundwater across the country.

Not only is the cleanup of contaminated sites critical to protecting human health and the environment; it also produces a healthy and vibrant community. The contamination at many Superfund sites was caused by the mismanagement of hazardous industrial and commercial wastes many years ago, but some sites are contaminated from recent activity caused by increased population and urban growth and the movement of contaminants away from their sources. With more than 51 percent of the U.S. population living within three miles of a Superfund, brownfields, or Resource Conversation and Recovery Act corrective action site, our cleanup programs are critical to restoring land and water, protecting human health, and maintaining communities’ economic growth and vitality. Using census data, we found that approximately 53 million people live within 3 miles of a Superfund site, roughly 17 percent of the U.S. population, including 18 percent of all children in the U.S. under the age of five.

Through the Superfund Redevelopment Initiative, our cleanups have helped communities across the country return over 850 of the nation’s worst hazardous waste sites to safe and productive commercial and industrial uses. Former Superfund sites also are being reused for residential development, recreational areas such as parks, and libraries and other public services. The reuse of previously contaminated land has had positive economic impacts on communities. Today, approximately 3,500 businesses are using cleaned up Superfund sites, generating annual sales exceeding $31 billion, and employing more than 89,000 people. In addition, residential property values near Superfund sites increased by 18 to 24 percent after a Superfund site was cleaned up and removed from our National Priorities List (NPL).

There is no stronger testament to the power of cleaning up contaminated land than what was accomplished in the historically underserved and economically challenged West Dallas area of Dallas, Texas, at the RSR Corporation Superfund site. Last month, I had the pleasure of attending an Excellence in Site Reuse event at the site, and it was especially rewarding to see how a cleanup has transformed a once-blighted area into a community asset.

For over 50 years, the West Dallas area was home to a major lead smelter operated by the RSR Corporation, which produced wastes that contaminated soil, sediment and groundwater, and the wind carried lead dust into nearby parks, schools, and neighborhoods. After the smelter’s closure in 1984, RSR Corporation conducted some initial cleanup of properties in area neighborhoods, but in 1991 our investigation identified additional contamination around the smelter. Between 1991 and 1994, we investigated nearly 7,000 residences and cleaned up the yards of over 400 properties, and in 1995 we placed the RSR Corporation site on the NPL. By that time, the Dallas Housing Authority (DHA) had demolished nearby 1950s-era public housing that had been affected by lead dust. In its place, DHA constructed much-needed, new affordable housing and an office complex, which employs more than 100 people. Goodwill Industries of Dallas acquired 46 acres of cleaned-up property from DHA and built a beautiful building with offices, a distribution center, continuing education facilities, meeting rooms, and a retail store.

The RSR Corporation Superfund site and the surrounding West Dallas area now provide residents with a new supermarket and shopping center, an animal care clinic, restaurants, a wider range of housing options, public and private schools, and a YMCA. With this redevelopment, West Dallas will continue to grow.

Many of these communities are home to the most vulnerable populations – children. The West Dallas cleanup contributed to reduced blood-lead levels in area children. If left unaddressed, elevated blood-lead levels may result in irreversible neurological deficits, such as lowered intelligence and attention-related behavioral problems. A study by researchers at Tarleton University found that the average blood lead levels of children in Dallas neighborhoods affected by lead smelters, including the RSR Corporation smelter, were significantly reduced between 1980 and 2002. This decrease marked an important step in creating a brighter future for West Dallas children.

The West Dallas site is just one example of how Superfund Redevelopment helps communities reclaim and reuse formerly contaminated land. Through an array of tools, partnerships and activities, Superfund redevelopment continues to provide communities with new opportunities to grow and prosper. We at EPA are committed to working with local groups and agencies to support redevelopment and revitalization efforts and, thereby, ensure the long-term protection of public health and the environment.

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A New Name, Same Important Mission

By Mathy Stanislaus, Assistant Administrator, Office of Land and Emergency Management

Over the last year, my staff and I have been working diligently to identify a new name for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER). We wanted a name that reflects the breadth and depth of our programmatic footprint in protecting human health and the environment. We asked for input from our personnel and key regional staff. After compiling and reviewing responses, I am pleased to share that the new name is the Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM) with the unchanged mission of restoring land, preventing releases, and conserving resources.

The evolution of the “waste office’s” work has resulted in an office that not only addresses waste issues but one that protects human health and the environment through diverse ways. These are some examples of our work and how we’ve grown:

  • We advance recycling and adopting a sustainable materials management approach. Sustainable materials management (SMM) represents a change in how our society thinks about the use of natural resources and environmental protection. Partnerships with the public and private sector have helped EPA launch innovative recycling initiatives such as the Electronics Challenge, the Food Recovery Challenge, and the Federal Green Challenge. We’ve also gone global and are working with the world’s leading economic countries to advance SMM through the G7 Alliance for Resource Efficiency.
  • We invest in efforts that create sustainable community revitalization. For nearly two decades, we have been on the forefront of transforming communities. We have established critical relationships with local government leaders, local residents, community organizations, and local businesses to convert blighted properties into economic and social opportunities. Additionally, through programs like the Investing in Manufacturing Communities initiative, we are leveraging the financial and technical resources of federal agency partners to breathe new life into growing and thriving American neighborhoods in a way that’s environmentally and economically sustainable. Learn about land revitalizationbrownfields, using cleanups for alternative energy, and other cleanup programs such as SuperfundRCRA Corrective Action, and cleaning up underground storage tank releases.
  • We enhance the agency’s emergency preparedness and response capabilities to better ensure the safety of communities. Most recently, through Executive Order (EO) 13650 “Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security”, we are strengthening the capacity of the emergency response community, enhancing coordination with federal partners, modernizing rules and regulation, and remaining in close dialogue with stakeholders involved in emergency management.

These are, of course, examples: there is so much more we are called to do. I want to reiterate that while our name has changed, our mission has not.

More information about the name change is on our website. In the meantime, be sure to follow us on twitter @EPALand to stay up to date on all the great work we’re doing! You can also learn more about our impact by viewing our interactive FY14 Accomplishments Report.

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Working with Local Governments and Communities to Fight Food Waste

By Mathy Stanislaus

After returning from our first Food Recovery Summit in Charleston, South Carolina where we announced the 2015 Food Recovery Challenge winners, I found myself thinking about food, and not just the wonderful Charleston restaurants. In 2013, an estimated 35 million tons of food went to landfills and incinerators, accounting for 21% of the American waste stream.

Excessive food waste results in:

  • Social Costs: 48 million Americans, of which roughly 16 million are children, live in homes without enough food. We need to redirect wholesome, nutritious food that otherwise is wasted to families in need.
  • Economic Costs: at the retail and consumer levels food loss and waste is estimated at $161 billion dollars in the U.S.
  • Environmental Costs: Organic material in landfills decomposes and generates methane, a very powerful greenhouse gas. This disposed food is a main contributor to the roughly 18% of total U.S. methane emissions that come from landfills – contributing directly to climate change.

EPA and USDA announced an ambitious 2030 U.S. domestic goal to cut in half food loss and waste by 2030. By Earth Day 2016, we will announce a food loss & waste plan of action to serve as a roadmap for tackling wasted food and to meet the 2030 goal.

Heather McTeer Toney, Regional Administrator for EPA’s Southeast Region (far left) and Mathy Stanislaus, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (far right) with Food Recovery Summit attendees.

Heather McTeer Toney, Regional Administrator for EPA’s Southeast Region (far left) and Mathy Stanislaus, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (far right) with Food Recovery Summit attendees.

Many local communities are leading the way with novel, game-changing ways to reduce waste while building communities. For example, MB Financial Park in Rosemont, Illinois, one of the 2015 Food Recovery Challenge Winners, developed the “Green for a Reason” program, in which 1,000 employees and 1.6 million visitors recovered more than 150 tons of organic materials.

Other examples of best practices identified at the Food Recovery Summit include: businesses and other organizations donating excess wholesome food to food banks, shelters and soup kitchens; creative re-use of trimmings by a university dining staff; composting in urban settings; and using wasted food to produce electricity. A complete list of the 2015 awardees is at http://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/food-recovery-challenge-results-and-award-winners#2015awards.

It will take every level of government, non-profits, businesses, universities and, most importantly, individuals to make real change in how we view and value food. Making this shift happen relies on changes in all of our behaviors.

Here at EPA, we are working to identify opportunities for achieving responsible and sustainable management of America’s food resources and find the barriers that must be tackled to make progress. We want to partner with states, communities, businesses, NGOs, and charities to help use food in a socially, environmentally, and economically beneficial manner. I believe we can get there and build and energize communities at the same time.

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Enforcing the Superfund Law, Past and Present

By Cynthia Giles

Back in 1986, I was an assistant U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia. I was working on a variety of civil enforcement cases, and learning about the importance of holding violators accountable for pollution in American communities. That year, I took on one of the nation’s earliest Superfund trials – U.S. v. Tyson. The U.S. Government was seeking to hold several parties responsible for contaminating a dump site with hazardous substances that ultimately were released into local Pennsylvania waterways.

While holding polluters accountable is always important, this trial in particular had great significance. In the early days of the Superfund law, it was essential to demonstrate that the U.S. government was serious about following through on its commitment to Americans, and prepared to take responsible parties to trial to assure they were held accountable for cleaning up pollution they created. The trial in the Tyson case lasted for three weeks and all the parties involved were found responsible for the contamination. This trial helped to establish the foundation of Superfund’s polluter pays principle.

This winter, as we reflect on the 35th anniversary of Superfund, I’m proud of what EPA’s Superfund enforcement program has achieved. Just as in U.S. v. Tyson, EPA has followed through on its commitment to ensure that responsible parties participate in performing and paying for cleanups. This “polluter pays” principal stands strong – we are committed to making polluters, and not the taxpayer, pay for cleanup of hazardous waste sites.

By placing the burden of cleanup on those responsible for the contamination, EPA is saving American taxpayers money and protecting the environment. For every one dollar spent on Superfund civil enforcement activity, approximately eight dollars in private party cleanup commitments and cost recovery is obtained for cleaning up contaminated sites across the country.

Here are a few examples of how we’ve held responsible parties accountable for cleaning up pollution:

  • Last year EPA, along with the Department of Justice, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, and the bankrupt debtor’s trustee, settled a historic fraudulent conveyance case. The settlement put nearly $4.4 billion to work in communities from New Jersey to California.
  • A settlement last year with Eastman Kodak Company and the state of New York established a $49 million trust for cleanup. In addition to putting much needed funds into cleaning up the local environment, including the Genesee River, the cleanup dollars will support the creation of new jobs in Rochester, New York.
  • In 2009, EPA joined forces with other federal and state agencies during a corporate We pursued and achieved a $1.79 billion settlement to fund environmental cleanup and restoration at more than 80 sites around the country.

Today, just as was true back in 1986 in Philadelphia, the polluter pays for cleaning up toxic pollution in communities. Thanks to this important law and public servants across the country implementing it, America is a cleaner, safer place to live.

Learn more about EPA’s Superfund enforcement program.

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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.

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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