Air

Modernizing the Risk Management Plan Rule

Our country’s chemical industry provides necessary goods we use in our everyday lives, provides employment in many communities throughout the country, and provides key ingredients for many diverse industries nationwide. But while there are numerous chemical plants that operate safely, in the last decade nearly 60 people died, approximately 17,000 people were injured or sought medical treatment, and almost 500,000 people were evacuated or sheltered-in-place as a result of accidental releases at chemical plants. Over the past 10 years, more than 1,500 incidents were reported causing over $2 billion in property damage.

With this in mind, I’m proud to announce that EPA modernized the accidental release prevention requirements under the Clean Air Act, also known as our Risk Management Program (RMP). This rule is a crucial component of EPA’s efforts to enhance the safety and security of chemical facilities nationwide. Safer facilities can save the lives of facility workers, first responders and nearby community residents. For example, these finalized amendments will help avoid accidents, such as the explosions at the Chevron Richmond refinery in 2012 and at West Texas Fertilizer in 2013.

In the Report for the President (June 2014) on implementing Executive Order 13650, Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security (August 2013), we envisioned amending existing RMP regulations by 2016. The amendments were signed on December 21, 2016, and are available online at: https://www.epa.gov/rmp/final-amendments-risk-management-program-rmp-rule.

This rule is based on discussions and feedback spanning three years of across-the-board engagement with industry and first responders, as well as community leaders, local, tribal and state governments, environmental organizations, and other stakeholders – more than 1,800 participants in over 25 states. Taking input from first responders, facility owners and operators, state, local and tribal partners, and community members, we developed a broad request for information in 2015 and a proposed rule in February 2016. Since then, we have narrowed the proposal, after listening to concerns raised, for example the increased costs and workload to industry and first responders, security concerns regarding the public availability of information, and the need to focus on evacuation and shelter-in-place planning. This rule moves our efforts to enhance chemical facility safety forward, while listening to input from around the nation.

One contributing factor to chemical accidents is a lack of effective coordination between facilities and local emergency responders on the chemical risks at the facility. One of the most important benefits of the rule is to clarify who has response lead and who has the equipment to respond. Increasing coordination and establishing appropriate response procedures can help reduce the effects of accidents and save lives. That’s why we’re requiring annual coordination. Facilities must conduct notifications, field and tabletop exercises, and invite local responders to participate.

We are committed to preserving facility security while enabling communities to protect themselves. That’s why the final rule strikes a balance between communities’ right-to-know, for the sake of first responder, community and employee safety, and facility security concerns, for the sake of business confidentiality and broader, homeland security issues. Responders and community members can request appropriate facility chemical hazard information while allowing protection of sensitive information that could be misused. This can significantly improve community emergency preparedness and allow emergency planners to develop effective evacuation and shelter-in-place procedures.

Under this rule, facility owners/operators will better analyze why accidents happen and determine what they can do to prevent future accidents. Incident investigations will include accident and near-miss root-cause analyses. Facilities will hire an independent third-party to conduct a compliance audit of facility processes after an accident occurs, and hold a public meeting within 90 days of an RMP reportable accident so communities can talk with facility representatives directly.

Finally, facilities in chemical, petroleum/coal products, and paper manufacturing sectors will take a hard, serious look at safer technology and alternatives, to inform, but not to dictate. Decisions on which technologies are most appropriate for a facility remain with the industry experts to determine, once they have conducted the analysis.These amendments are based on years of extensive outreach with a broad array of interested parties – many events I personally participated in, traveling the country to hear what people had to say. The rule’s focus is on:

  • empowering local communities to obtain information they can use to prepare themselves for emergencies;
  • requiring facility owners/operators to examine the root-causes of chemical accidents and possible safer technologies to prevent catastrophic accidents;
  • valuing independent audits; and
  • improving coordination between chemical facilities and the local planners/responders.

It will have lasting benefits to the safety of communities nationwide.

This is a rule a long time coming and the emphasis on extensive, collaborative input has resulted in straightforward requirements that can be implemented without undue burdens on industry yet potentially saving the lives of our first responders, facility employees and local residents – which is goal for all involved.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

50,000 Kilowatt Hours of Solar Power

By Steve Donohue

On a recent sunny Sunday (appropriately enough) the meter for the solar photovoltaic (PV) system on our home showed we had produced 50,000 kWh of clean renewable electricity!

This is a major milestone to me but what does it really mean? The EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator helps translate abstract measurements like these into concrete terms. In our case the carbon dioxide emissions we avoided with our solar panels were equal to the amount captured and stored, or sequestered, by over 33 acres of forest in a year.

That’s a big benefit for the planet and, closer to home, enough “juice” to supply over 85% of our annual electricity needs. We installed the PV system back in July 2010 and I originally wrote about it in 2012 https://blog.epa.gov/blog/2012/07/energy-independence-day/. The table below shows the results of our conservation and efficiency improvements and solar production since we first moved into our house.

Our average annual electricity bill for the last five is about $250 and in 2015 we got it down to $182. Since installation we have also had zero maintenance or operating expenses and with no moving parts I expect our system to last a long time.

That’s good since we still have about another 3 years or so until we re-coup the cost of our initial investment and the system is paid off by our savings.

Sustainability often means taking the long view and in our case it was like paying 10 years of electricity bills upfront so we could get our power from the sun and essentially never pay another bill.

Even more good news is that our system today would be about half of what we paid. This is the penalty we paid for being “early adopters” but I am happy to see my neighbors have started to join the bandwagon. In the last year I am seeing panels sprouting on roof tops all over my neighborhood. One family uses their panels to charge their electric car!

And what I’m seeing locally is a microcosm of what is happening in the world. I read that in 2015 for the first time there was more installed renewable power generating capacity, like solar and wind, than any single fossil fuel powered generating capacity. I’m hopeful that we’ve finally reached a tipping point and there is a bright future ahead for renewable power.

About the author: Steve Donohue has been a senior environmental scientist at EPA for over 25 years. Currently, he works in the Office of Environmental Innovation in Philadelphia where he is focused on improving the sustainability and climate change and improving the efficiency of EPA facilities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Why Science Matters

As someone who has utilized and appreciated science for the better part of my life, I want to take a minute to reflect on the importance of science at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Most people recognize EPA as a regulatory agency, but they may not be aware of the tremendous role EPA plays in protecting public health and its worldwide leadership in science. Without question, EPA is one of the premier public health agencies in the world, and our work helps all Americans have a clean and healthy environment to live, work, and play.

And the very foundation of everything we do comes down to one principle: using science in a factual and nonpartisan way to inform our actions to protect the American people and our environment.

As John Adams said, “facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” This remains as true today as it was when said centuries ago. As we enter a different time in American history with a new Administration and new Congress, one thing must be clear – those chosen to lead this country cannot dictate science or make changes to the way in which science is conducted simply to meet a political or policy outcome. Nor should they minimize the impacts of EPA’s science that has been and will continue to be critical to progress in keeping our kids and communities safe and healthy.

We know full well that as a regulatory agency, we often face a high degree of scrutiny from stakeholders influenced by EPA regulations and policies. That’s to be expected and welcomed. EPA is a world leader in science in critical areas like public health, toxicology, epidemiology, ecology, engineering, risk assessment, and more.

While it is understandable that there will be difference of opinions about policy and even strong opposition to some of the agency’s work, denying the science and facts as determined by a majority of scientists benefits no one. It undermines our global scientific leadership and cedes future opportunities to other nations.

And it is this use of science that fuels our vitally important work that affects every single American. Whether we are working to clean up waste sites, improve air quality, ensure safe drinking water, or advance chemical safety, science guides everything we do. For example, EPA scientists are learning more each day about how air quality impacts human health, with recent research showing that air pollution can affect cardiovascular health and even trigger heart attacks and strokes. That’s important information for all Americans, not just the millions of Americans who have heart disease and for the doctors and nurses whose job it is to keep people healthy. The more we understand the problem, the better we can be at addressing it and protecting the health and environment of our citizens.

We also use our science to keep the nation’s waters clean. For example, we recently partnered with other federal agencies to use satellite data to monitor harmful algal blooms in our rivers, lakes, and streams. These increasing algae blooms can contaminate drinking water sources, make water toxic to people and animals, cause beach closures, and raise drinking water treatment costs. EPA scientists and colleagues developed an early warning system and guidance to help alert and prepare public health officials as toxic algal blooms arise so communities can better manage the environmental, health, and economic impacts.

EPA science is also essential to states and their efforts to protect local communities. EPA’s scientists are often called upon to assist states during emergencies such as the recent chemical spill into the drinking water in Corpus Christi, Texas. EPA worked in close partnership with the city and state to bring its technical experts to the table to help inform decisions about drinking water restrictions.
Yes, we’ve made tremendous progress over the years – we have clearer air, cleaner waterways, and we are doing all we can to protect our fellow citizens by controlling pollution. Just look at a picture of Los Angeles from a few decades ago to see the progress that we have made together. But the challenges we face today are increasingly complex and sometimes even more dangerous than those in the past. Legacy pollutants like lead and new contaminants continue to demand the best science we can offer if we hope to ensure the long-term preservation and protection of our water resources.

Climate change and discovering even new sources of pollution due to improved technologies – these are the very issues that need to be informed by the best science and the dedicated scientists at the EPA.

Through science, we can gain understanding, discover solutions, and show that a healthy environment and a healthy economy go hand in hand. Since the EPA was founded, we have cut pollution by 70 percent while our GDP has tripled.

The American people demand clean air and water, food free of harmful pesticides, products free of harmful toxics, and their communities resilient to climate change. They also demand that we use the best science and research to define challenges and come up with solutions. And while there will always be political changes in Washington, the use of science at the EPA and its core mission will continue. That is the timeless goal at the EPA – to protect public health and the environment – and with clear science as the very bedrock of those goals, EPA’s mission will continue to endure for years and years to come.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Keeping Up Our Great Lakes Momentum

A Lake Erie algae bloom seen by satellite courtesy of NOAA/NASA

A Lake Erie algae bloom seen by satellite courtesy of NOAA/NASA

We as people will always need clean water.

With more than 90 percent of the nation’s fresh surface water, few if any places tell the story of the need for and work to protect public health as it relates to fresh water than the Great Lakes.

We started down this trail together by calling for a “new standard of care for the Great Lakes,” to leave them better for the next to the next generation than the way we found them. Since then, we’ve punched the accelerator on Great Lakes protection and restoration by:

  • Establishing a “Great Lakes Trust”—If you believe like I do that clean water, air and land is our life support system, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has been a much-needed investment through thousands of projects to improve water quality, rebuild habitat, educate the next generation, and many others efforts from Duluth to Buffalo and points in between.
  • Taking a “zero tolerance policy” toward invasive species—When in 2009 evidence appeared of silver and bighead carpin the Chicago Area Waterway System, agencies scrambled to patch together their authorities to prevent an invasion of the Great Lakes. By forming the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee, they institutionalized their efforts and, so far, have kept the fish out.
  • Revitalizing the U.S.-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement—For the first time in a quarter century, the policy that guides how the two federal governments coordinate now addresses threats to the Great Lakes from climate change, habitat, invasive species, and others.There are many other accomplishments that deserve mention—such as reducing toxic mercury, rebuilding Lake Ontario coastal wetlands with International Joint Commission, and others—than can be detailed here.But maybe the most important milestone in the journey is that it has not been top-down. It is the growing partnership of states, tribes, municipalities, businesses, environmental organizations, academia and individual citizens who simply “show up.” We’ve seen this through the Agreement’s Great Lakes Executive Committee, the federal agencies’ Great Lakes Advisory Board, and others.It is through this vibrant ecosystem of people and jurisdictions that the remaining work—and there is much still to do—will carry forward the effort to protect and restore one of the Earth’s most magnificent and vital life support systems.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Smart City Air Challenge Awardees Announced

By Ann Dunkin, Chief Information Officer

In August, EPA launched the Smart City Air Challenge and asked communities to create strategies to collect, manage and share data from hundreds of air quality sensors. We understand what a challenging tasks this is and we’re pleased to report that 22 communities responded to the challenge. The depth and breadth of the responses reflect communities’ enthusiasm for managing air quality data and their commitment to collaboration.

We are proud to announce that the City of Baltimore and Lafayette, Louisiana, Consolidated Government were selected as the two awardees of the Smart City Air Challenge. Additionally, four other projects were recognized as honorable mentions for their innovation and potential: New York, New York; Mesa County, Colorado; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota.

The projects were evaluated on four criteria: data management, data use, sensor procurement and deployment and project sustainability. The two awardees will receive $40,000 each to deploy air sensors, share data with the public and develop data management best practices. After a year of implementing the projects, both communities will be eligible to receive up to an additional $10,000 based on their accomplishments and collaboration. You can read about the details of the challenge on the challenge.gov website.

We are excited to work with these awardees in the next year. Here are some of their plans:

Baltimore, Maryland: This community intends to engage several partners and neighborhoods to deploy a network of 300 ozone and nitrogen sensors in a phased approach, leveraging a scalable cloud platform for data management. They aim to assemble commercially-available components to build their sensor system and distribute the data on a City of Baltimore website. Partners in this project include Johns Hopkins University, BmoreCool and the Baltimore Office of Sustainability.

Lafayette, Louisiana: This submission proposed a partnership between a university, local government and a nongovernment organization to deploy a network of 300 ozone and particulate matter sensors. The project has a strong data management plan utilizing a scalable cloud platform. They plan to use commercially-available sensors for the project and make the data available to the partners and public in a variety of ways. Partners in this project include the Lafayette Consolidated Government, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and CGI Technology and Solutions.

We received many strong submissions, and we’re recognizing four additional projects with an honorable mention because of their innovation and potential:

New York, New York: has a strong sensor network and platform. The team plans to integrate air quality and weather data. The project has an indoor/outdoor air component and has the potential for other communities to learn from their experience with a network of 380 sensors and the management and use of the resulting data.

Mesa County, Colorado: has a strong grassroots effort with the community taking a proactive ownership role in the project. This project is in a geographically remote county, which will provide ideas for other rural or growing regions.

Raleigh, North Carolina: is a partnership between researchers and the community to better understand air quality, asthma and lung function. They proposed a sensor that is in a watch-like device that requires low energy.

Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota: hopes to collaborate with university, city and community partners. The project engages cyclists to carry the sensors, which will clarify pollution levels in specific areas of the cities.

We look forward to working with the awardees and honorable mention projects to share knowledge about how they collect, store and manage large amounts of data. This challenge is experimental in nature and we hope to learn how communities manage data using hundreds of sensors for non-regulatory purposes. The sensors will produce as much as 150 gigabytes of open data per year, which can benefit all communities and researchers. We will encourage these communities and others to share their findings so other communities can learn from their successes, challenges and findings.

I would like to thank everyone who submitted an application. I encourage all the submitting communities to implement your projects. Build upon the collaboration you’ve established with your communities and partners. Please keep us informed of your progress, because EPA and other communities want to learn about your successes and best practices too.

As I mentioned in the post announcing this challenge back in August, I firmly believe that data can make a difference in environmental protection. I look forward to seeing the difference Baltimore and Lafayette and the honorable mention projects make in the coming year. Communities, show us how it’s done!

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Embracing Data for a More Efficient Government

By Robin Thottungal

Innovators across the federal government are leveraging the power of data to address some of our most complex national challenges.

Data allow us to discover patterns, connect the dots and identify opportunities for innovation. Data should not be buried in spreadsheets, filing cabinets and static reports; they should be accessible at the push of a button or a quick internet search.

For the past year, I have had the privilege of representing EPA in the Federal Data Cabinet, a community of over 100 innovators across approximately 50 agencies. Together, we identify which tools and guidance are needed to sustain the people, practices and policies of a data-driven government.

Looking with a bird’s eye view at government-sized programs

To see a single, integrated view of our operations, we need to be able to explore data visually. Interactive dashboards and platforms can cut through increasing data volume and complexity.

For example, my team is building a data analytics platform to further enable evidence-based decision making across EPA. By integrating all of our acquisitions data into a single dashboard, called the Spend Visualization and Strategic Sourcing Savings Tracker, we can create a clear picture of EPA’s logistics and supply chain.

EPA's Strategic Sourcing tool leverages the Agency’s full buying power in order to reduce acquisition administrative costs and develop long-term, mutually beneficial partnerships with best-in-class providers of products and services.

EPA’s Strategic Sourcing tool leverages the Agency’s full buying power in order to reduce acquisition administrative costs and develop long-term, mutually beneficial partnerships with best-in-class providers of products and services.

 

The EPA Spend Tool enables our Office of Acquisitions Management (OAM) to accurately monitor, compare and answer questions regarding EPA spending.

The EPA Spend Tool enables our Office of Acquisitions Management (OAM) to accurately monitor, compare and answer questions regarding EPA spending.

Looking beyond EPA, there are many other stories to tell from Federal Data Cabinet members. For example, the General Services Administration is empowering business analysts to manage and support basic federal agency functions with their Data-2-Decision (D2D) platform. D2D moves analysis beyond describing the past; it allows users to diagnose reasons for events, prescribe ways to achieve desired outcomes and forecast future scenarios.

Increasingly, federal agencies are working together to see an even bigger picture, and these collaborations are causing positive advances across the board. In an effort to improve health outcomes, strengthen food security programming and monitor land use change, the U.S. Agency for International Development partnered with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to create GeoCenter, a geospatial analysis platform. The platform was immediately useful for pinpointing the most effective methods for preventing the spread of malaria in Mozambique.

Placing information in the hands of decision-makers

What happens when tech platforms unveil the patterns behind the data? Policymakers across the government can establish smarter, evidence-based policy. Decision-makers can target interventions and focus on the biggest opportunities. Researchers can design studies with more insightful results.

EPA has been a leader in sharing data with researchers, businesses and the environmental community. For the past 20 years, we have published much of our data on EnviroFacts, a single point of access to environmental activities that may affect air, water and land across the U.S. By enabling users to find, map and analyze information, we facilitate others to make informed decisions that rely on cross-cutting information.

Health and Human Services also set a precedent by publishing an interactive map that uncovers geographic discrepancies in chronic disease among Medicare beneficiaries. The Mapping Medicare Disparities Tool provides policymakers and researchers with a quick and easy way to identify vulnerable populations and target interventions that address racial and ethnic disparities.

The Mapping Medicare Disparities (MMD) Tool is a user friendly way to explore and better understand disparities in chronic diseases.

The Mapping Medicare Disparities (MMD) Tool is a user friendly way to explore and better understand disparities in chronic diseases.

Federal employees are not the only decision-makers who benefit from a data-driven government though. Citizens benefit too! Who else better understands the important issues impacting communities across America? Opening government data has empowered citizens to track trends and make informed personal decisions.

Do you want to ensure that you’re supporting businesses with a proven commitment to labor rights? The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has an online enforcement database for that. The data, covering more than four decades, include details on the roughly 90,000 OSHA inspections conducted every year.

Or do you want to understand more about the environment around your home or school? EPA’s online tool, My Environment, allows the public to learn more about air, water and land based on a search location. It also provides key resources that address local environmental challenges for citizens wanting to engage more with their communities.

Data is key to improving performance and services

The best government is one that delivers the right services, using the most cost-effective methods. By unleashing innovative technology, we are getting deeper, more meaningful insights about federal services and processes—and we are getting more efficient at delivering what citizens need most.

Take, for example, how the Internal Revenue Service is using data to enhance some of their important services. Processes for tax preparers, tax software developers and taxpayers have all improved. In addition to improving processes, their data-driven approach has resulted in a total of almost $1.7 billion dollars in revenue protected over just four years.

As another example, look at how the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) incentivizes high performance for all health insurance providers that participate in the Federal Employee Health Benefit (FEHB) program. OPM uses a data approach to benchmark clinical quality, customer satisfaction and resource use. With this approach, OPM reinforces quality health care for all its 8.2 million FEHB federal employees, retirees and family members, and holds 97 health insurance carriers accountable.

A multiplier effect across the government

We have already seen what a tremendous impact the data-driven approach has made in the services provided by individual government agencies. What we are seeing now is the multiplier effect, sparking change across the federal government.

This multiplier effect explains the success of the Department of Commerce (DOC)’s Data Academy, which educates and empowers DOC employees to make data-driven decisions. The agency is improving its service delivery to businesses, which strengthens America’s competitiveness.

Here at EPA, data enthusiasts have formed communities of practice to build capacity to operate in a data-driven manner. For example, EPA’s Geospatial program provides regular training, workshops and webinars on Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Going forward, my team will further empower the agency with training and support to visualize and analyze data using advanced, innovative methods.

We have worked hard to create a safer, smarter, more responsive government – one that keeps pace with our quickly changing world – by better leveraging our data. With data in our toolbox, we can answer new questions, arrive at deeper insights and make better decisions to improve outcomes.

All citizens benefit when the government saves time, talent and resources; becoming more efficient paves the way for new economic activity and social benefits.

Data are some of our most valuable national assets, and we are working hard to use them even better.

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Water Challenges Are Actually Opportunities

By EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

Our nation needs to talk more about the future of water, which I believe is one of the top public health and economic challenges now facing our country. This is a moment of opportunity – to drive smart, equitable, resilient investments to modernize our aging water infrastructure; to invent and build the water technologies of the future; and to protect our precious water resources. To seize this opportunity, we need urgent and sustained action at all levels of government and from all sectors of the economy.

It is time to move away from the narrow 20th century view of water: as a place to dump waste; as something to just treat and send downstream in pipes; as only an expense for cities and a planning burden for communities.

We need to accelerate the move to a 21st century view – where we see water as a finite and valuable asset, as a major economic driver, as essential to urban revitalization, as a centerpiece for innovative technology, and as a key focus of our efforts to build resilience.

This shift presents tremendous opportunities – to revitalize communities, to grow businesses and jobs, to improve public health. But to achieve it, we must make water a top national priority – and we need to be bold and revolutionary.

We need to drive innovation across all dimensions of the water sector: in technology, finance, management, and regulation.

We all see how science, technology, and innovation are opening new frontiers, fueling the economy, and changing our world. We must incubate this change in the water sector as well because both the challenges and the opportunities are vast.

For example, consider that the nation’s wastewater facilities discharge approximately 9.5 trillion gallons of wastewater per year. Utilities are increasingly turning to technologies and approaches that foster greater reuse of water and recovery of resources that were previously discarded as waste.

Look at Orange County, California, where they are generating over 100 million gallons per day of recycled water. Instead of just discharging that water into the Pacific Ocean, that ultrapure water is used to replenish groundwater in Anaheim, injected in wells in Fountain Valley to ward off saltwater intrusion, and as an indirect source of tap water to 2.5 million people in the county.

Another example is the opportunities for energy efficiency and renewable generation, key areas for our planet’s long-term sustainability. The water facilities nationwide account for as much as 4 percent of national electricity consumption, costing about $4 billion a year. Now we see utilities producing energy instead – while slashing costs and carbon emissions at the same time.

Look at Gresham, Oregon, where the wastewater plant has become a net zero facility – using biogas generators and solar panels to produce more energy than it needs. Not only is that saving city taxpayers half a million dollars per year, but last year the city also earned $250,000 from fees local restaurants are paying to drop off fats, oils and grease.

There are similar opportunities to use technology for improving water monitoring, for constructing green infrastructure, for building resilience to climate change, for treating drinking water, and for recovering nutrients before they enter waterways.

These opportunities to harness innovative technology aren’t just good for public health and the environment – they can be enormous economic drivers.

In 2015, the global market for environmental technologies goods and services was more than $1 trillion. The United States environmental technologies industry exported $51.2 billion in goods and services. This same industry supports an estimated 1.6 million jobs here in the U.S.

So the soundbite that protecting the environment is bad for the economy is just patently false. It’s actually the opposite.

As our nation heads into a time of transition, we need to remember that water is a nonpartisan issue. We all depend on clean and reliable water – our families, our communities, our businesses, our society.

So, it should come as no surprise that in a Gallup poll last spring, people were asked about their environmental concerns – pollution of drinking water and pollution of rivers and lakes were the top two concerns… people care about water.

To confront the challenges we face and seize this moment of opportunity, we have to work together – all levels of government, all sectors of the economy, every community. Right now, water is an all-hands-on-deck issue.

P.S.: I’m confident that our country can succeed. Look how far we come. EPA has released an interactive storymap that highlights some of the most significant progress made since 2009. I encourage you to explore the storymap to see where EPA worked near you and to read about some of the biggest steps taken toward clean and reliable water for the American people.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Working Together to Test Our Resiliency and Protect Our Critical Infrastructure

By Nitin Natarajan

Recently, I attended a full scale exercise hosted by Southern California Edison (SCE) to test their emergency preparedness and resilience in a number of scenarios. As part of this exercise, federal, state, local and industry partners gathered to discuss the potential risks to critical infrastructure due to climate change, such as:

  • increased temperatures,
  • sea level rise,
  • decreased permafrost,
  • increased heavy precipitation events, and the
  • increased frequency of wildfires

We also discussed steps that the energy sector has and will be undertaking to address those risks. Without proper protections and effective restoration, the presence of uncontrolled hazardous substances in surface water, groundwater, air, soil and sediment can cause human health concerns, threaten healthy ecosystems, and inhibit economic opportunities on and adjacent to contaminated properties.

At EPA, we strive to protect the environment from contamination through sustainable materials management and the proper management of waste and petroleum products. We work with our partners to prepare for and respond to environmental emergencies should they occur.  We also work collaboratively with states, tribes, and local governments to clean up communities and create a safer environment for all Americans.

However, climate change is posing new challenges to OLEM’s ability to fulfill its mission to protect human health and the environment. This is why we need to show leadership and take actions to make our programs more resilient now and in the future. We have developed climate change adaptation plans that describe what we’re doing and what we plan to do to address these challenges. We have also developed a climate change training program to make certain that our staff and other stakeholders are aware of the ways that climate change poses challenges to our ability to fulfill our mission.

For example, our Brownfields program has developed checklists to support community efforts to consider climate as part of their cleanup and area-wide planning activities.  And our Superfund program has developed fact sheets on adapting remediation activities to the impacts from climate change.

Additionally, our Office of Land and Emergency Management is working on:

  • incorporating climate change into future flood risks for contaminated sites,
  • linking renewable energy installations sited on contaminated lands with critical infrastructure, and
  • providing guidance on considering the effects of climate change in the land revitalization process.

As we look at investing in the rebuilding of the nation’s infrastructure, we need to begin looking at smarter investments that take climate change into account and how we can build to more resilient standards.

I’d like to thank those who set up and participated in the SCE exercise. The exercise and the roundtable discussion among federal, state, local and private sector officials showed me how important these steps are to continue to protect our nation’s lands and people in a collaborative manner and how these steps help protect the nation’s critical infrastructure. While many of these changes are half a century away, improving our nation’s resilience will not occur in months or years. Some efforts, including further enhancements to the electrical grid, will take decades. There is hard work to be done now to help ensure the future protection of human health and the environment.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Remembering an Environmental and Public Health Pioneer

By A. Stanley Meiburg

I remember meeting Leon Billings only once—at National Airport in 1984. I was traveling as staff to then-Deputy Administrator Al Alm, when he walked over to a distinguished-looking gentleman and began an animated conversation. I don’t remember the subject of their conversation, but Al told me later who he was and described the tremendous influence Mr. Billings had on the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and other environmental statutes.

Recently, Mr. Billings passed away at age 78. Throughout his life, his trailblazing status was never lost on him.

“We certainly were entrepreneurs,” he said. “And maybe to a degree revolutionaries — because, to use a cliché, we went someplace that Congress has never gone before.”

As Mr. Billings explained in an article a couple of years ago, Congress had debated various versions of legislation on pollution control beginning in the late 1940’s, but provided very limited authority to the federal government. But Mr. Billings supported the intention of the late Senator Edmund Muskie and others to “create a legally defensible structure to assure that public health-based air quality would be achieved as swiftly as possible.” That, as Mr. Billings explained it, would require federal action. Soon, the 1970 Clean Air Act would make history by establishing the protection of public health as the primary basis for America’s air pollution control efforts.

Three examples of this, from the 1970 Clean Air Act, were the creation of national health-based air quality standards, requirements for national performance standards for new stationary sources, and provisions for technology-forcing emissions reductions from motor vehicles. In the course of these accomplishments, Mr. Billings acquired a reputation as “the man who brokered the behind-the-scenes deal making that enabled Muskie to push through his signature achievement.”

The effectiveness of Mr. Billings as staff director for Senator Muskie and advisor to many other members of Congress is well documented in the historical record, and left an enduring legacy in the nation’s principal environmental laws. Even after leaving the Senate staff, Mr. Billings continued to comment on proposals he thought would weaken the health-based focus of the act. For example, during the debate over the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, there was a proposal to set a cost-effectiveness threshold of $5,000 per ton of pollution reduced as a ceiling on what EPA could require. In criticizing the proposal, Mr. Billings said he thought this meant that we were now placing a price on health—clean air, at a cost of $2.50 a pound. The proposal was not enacted.

Some 40 plus years later, we owe a great debt to Mr. Billings and other 1970’s pioneers who crafted the core environmental statutes that continue to guide our work. Their willingness to move forward with new approaches was a remarkable gift. Measured by their results in cleaning up our air and water, our laws have stood the test of time and controversy amazingly well.

Pioneers like Mr. Billings could not have anticipated all the challenges that have emerged since the early 1970’s. The enduring usefulness of our environmental laws only adds to the luster of the legacy he left to us. Mr. Billings’ life work is being honorably carried on by his family—such as his son Paul, who has worked with the American Lung Association for many years to support clean air protections that prevent asthma, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and other consequences of air pollution. All of us at EPA extend our thoughts—and our gratitude—to Mr. Billings’ family and his many friends.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Advancing Public Health Protections In Our Case Against Volkswagen

By Cynthia Giles

For years, Volkswagen’s “clean diesel” marketing campaign was geared toward environmentally-conscious consumers eager to help reduce pollution. We now know that Volkswagen duped these consumers, and that in fact its cars emit up to 40 times the legal limit of NOx pollution. But after steadfast work by colleagues across the federal government and the State of California, this distortion to the market for truly green cars in the U.S. is finally going to be remedied.

Last month, a federal judge in California approved a groundbreaking settlement that covers nearly 500,000 model year 2009-2015 2.0 liter diesel vehicles. This partial settlement holds Volkswagen accountable for its illegal actions, and puts in place remedies for the harm it caused to our air. In addition to requiring Volkswagen to offer to buy back the violating cars to stop the ongoing pollution, the settlement requires Volkswagen to mitigate the illegal emissions, and to make zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) investments that will have a lasting impact on public health and clean transportation in America.

The ZEV investment requirement delivers on the clean air promise that Volkswagen originally made but failed to deliver to its customers. Volkswagen has to invest $2 billion nationwide to accelerate growth in the ZEV market overall, under terms that ensure that all Americans benefit:

  •  VW is explicitly required to solicit and consider input from states, municipalities, tribes and other federal agencies before it makes ZEV investment decisions. VW’s investment plans will also be available on the web, and will have to include the evidence and basis for VW’s conclusion that the investments will advance use of ZEVs. This robust process of stakeholder input and public transparency will help ensure a credible and effective business investment strategy that benefits all Americans, regardless of the car they drive.
  • VW’s ZEV investments and its public outreach efforts must be brand neutral. That means that all ZEV vehicles using industry standard technology – not just the ones VW makes – have to be able to use the ZEV infrastructure. And it means that ZEV outreach cannot feature or favor VW’s vehicles. The agreement sets strict limits to make sure VW adheres to this essential requirement so that everyone interested in cleaner transportation – businesses, governments and consumers – will benefit.
  • The ZEV investment plan will be updated every 30 months, ensuring that the investments account for changes in ZEV technology and the ZEV market. The same process and opportunity for stakeholder input, and the same accountability measures, will apply every step of the way.

EPA’s role in the ZEV investment is limited but essential: EPA, working with the Justice Department, is going to ensure that VW complies with the requirements for stakeholder engagement, that the investments VW makes are truly brand neutral, and that VW complies with all the terms of the settlement. EPA does not make the investment decisions – Volkswagen makes the decisions, informed by the input it gets from stakeholders, the changing market conditions, and bound by the detailed constraints in the agreement – but we will make sure that Volkswagen plays by the rules laid out in the agreement the court approved.

This settlement can make a real difference in advancing the rapidly growing market for clean vehicles. It ensures that Volkswagen finally delivers on the promise it made for cleaner air and a cleaner transportation future.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.