Protecting Our Nation’s Treasured Vistas

By Administrator Gina McCarthy

Why do we enjoy exploring our national parks? Nature. Peace. Quiet. Solitude. But at the top of the trail, it’s all about the view. And there’s nothing like being in one of America’s premier national parks to remind me of why I come to work each day. This morning, joined by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, I hiked to the scenic overlook of the Upper Hawksbill Trail in Shenandoah National Park – just like the millions who visit our national parks and wilderness areas each year in search of gorgeous views.

The view from Shenandoah National Park on a clear day and on a hazy day.

The view from Shenandoah National Park on a clear day and on a hazy day.

Our trip to Shenandoah gave us an opportunity to mark progress in the effort to ensure the views in our parks across the country are clear, by reducing haze from regional air pollution.

Haze is caused when tiny pollution particles in the air encounter sunlight, resulting in degraded views of scenic features. This pollution comes from a variety of natural and manmade sources. Natural sources can include windblown dust and soot from wildfires. Manmade sources can include motor vehicles, electric utilities and industrial fuel burning, and manufacturing operations. There is less haze today than years past due to many different Clean Air Act programs, including the Regional Haze Program.

Haze makes it harder to see many of our favorite places, like Half Dome in Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and the valleys and hills of Shenandoah National Park. That’s why the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service, along with states and tribes, are working together to protect and improve visibility conditions in our most treasured parks and wilderness areas.

The Grand Canyon on a clear day and on a hazy day.

The Grand Canyon on a clear day and on a hazy day.

The Regional Haze Program has focused on reducing harmful air pollution from large, older facilities, including power plants, cement plants and large industrial boilers. Under this program, if emissions from these sources are found to cause haze at national parks or wilderness areas, then sources must take steps to reduce the pollutants contributing to haze. In addition to improving visibility in our nation’s most treasured natural areas, these steps help protect public health, while supporting local tourism and economic development.

The Regional Haze Program is designed to make improvements over time and is organized into different planning periods, the first of which covers 2008-2018. Since we are near the end of the first planning period, it is a good time to stop and take stock of what we have accomplished, and what more there is to do. In Shenandoah, for example, the average visual range has improved from under 35 miles in 1999 to over 60 miles in 2015. The natural visual range is estimated to be 120 miles at Shenandoah, so there is room for future improvement.

Improvements like this can be seen across the country, In fact, out west, the average visual range has increased – from 90 miles to 120 miles over the same period. While this is good progress, we know there is more to be done. In May 2016, we proposed revisions to the Regional Haze Program, setting the stage for more progress during the next planning period, which is from 2018-2028.

To provide a dynamic way for the public to understand the work we are doing to improve visibility and protect America’s magnificent views and scenic vistas from pollution, check out our interactive story map. Here, you can see the difference between hazy and clear days, learn how many agencies and organizations are working together to improve visibility, and explore an interactive map of protected areas to see web cams and monitoring data.

There’s nothing like climbing hundreds or thousands of feet to make you appreciate something. For me, today was about appreciating the view because of something that isn’t there – haze caused by air pollution.

It was a joy to be in Shenandoah this morning to appreciate the progress we’ve made, while renewing our commitment to keep these views clear for others to enjoy.


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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Air Pollution at Our Nation’s Ports Can be Reduced Now

By Chris Grundler

Ports are the main gateway for global trade and are critical to the U.S. economy. Thousands of diesel-powered vessels, trucks, cranes, and other equipment help transport goods to market. But as they do, they also emit greenhouse gases, smog- and soot-causing nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter, and other harmful pollutants. These emissions contribute to climate change and can cause asthma attacks, emergency room visits, heart attacks, and premature death.  People living near ports bear the brunt of this pollution, and they often live in minority or low income communities.

In 2014, I was privileged to stand beside Bob Perciasepe, then Deputy Administrator of EPA and other key port stakeholders to launch our Ports Initiative, which aims to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases from ports to improve the quality of life for all Americans working in and living near them.

Yesterday, in support of the Ports Initiative, we released a report titled the National Port Strategy Assessment: Reducing Air Pollution and Greenhouse Gases at U.S. Ports.  This report assessed a wide variety of strategies and technologies available to ports and port operators to reduce emissions.  The assessment shows that there are many effective, proven opportunities available right now to reduce harmful pollution at ports.  This is great news for the roughly 39 million Americans who live and breathe near these centers of commerce.  Port stakeholders including state and local governments, ports and port operators, tribes, and neighboring communities can use this information to help inform priorities and decisions about investments being planned now for their port area.

This information comes at a critical time. With the Panama Canal expansion, U.S. seaports, private-sector partners, and the federal government are primed to spend billions of dollars on port freight and passenger infrastructure over the next five years. Decisions about port investments will have a lasting impact on the health of our citizens and our planet.  It is more important than ever to make sure that port planning includes projects to reduce emissions and protect the environment.

Every type and size of port, whether they are seaports or Great Lakes and river ports, can use the information in the assessment to better understand how to reduce emissions now and into the future.  The assessment found that replacing and repowering older, dirtier vehicles and engines with ones that meet our cleaner diesel standards achieves large emission reductions in NOx, particulate matter, and other pollutants that affect air quality.  For example, replacing older drayage trucks could reduce NOx emissions by almost half, and particulate matter emissions by up to 62 percent in 2020 as compared to continuing with no changes.  With regard to greenhouse gases, the report highlights that electrification of port vehicles and equipment can effectively reduce the magnitude of greenhouse gas emissions growth below what would happen in the absence of this replacement.

Certainly, there are things that are already having a positive impact on pollution from ports.  For one, our emissions standards for new trucks, locomotives, cargo handling equipment, and ships are reducing diesel emissions from the vehicles and engines that are so critical to many port operations.   In addition, our Diesel Emissions Reduction Act grant program has accelerated turnover of older diesel equipment at ports and goods movement hubs resulting in additional reductions.  And finally, some port areas are taking proactive steps to reduce emissions.

Despite these gains, more work is needed to fully address the ongoing public health and climate impacts of the projected growth at U.S. ports.   I look forward to continuing our efforts to provide data and information to inform decisions that effectively reduce pollution and result in more sustainable ports for the 21st century.  This report is another important step in that direction.

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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A New Effort to Save the Ozone Layer and Protect the Climate

By Ernest Moniz and Gina McCarthy

As world leaders gathered at the United Nations this week, the Obama administration and global partners today announced several unprecedented steps to secure an ambitious amendment to the Montreal Protocol. This successful global agreement is already putting Earth’s fragile ozone layer back on track to full restoration. But an ambitious amendment would dramatically cut down on the usage of damaging greenhouse gases known as hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs.

HFCs are commonly used in air conditioning and refrigeration applications around the world. They can be hundreds to thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide and their emissions are increasing by 10 to 15 percent on an annual basis globally. That’s why we must continue working to replace HFCs with more climate-friendly alternatives. And an amendment to the Montreal Protocol is the best way to do that.

Last year, global leaders agreed to “work within the Montreal Protocol to an HFC amendment in 2016.” Coming to an agreement among nearly 200 countries is never easy, and considerable differences still need to be bridged. But we’re confident that an amendment will be reached during final negotiations at the next Montreal Protocol conference in Rwanda next month.

Today’s announcements include four main components that will help ensure a strong outcome during the conference:

  • One: Including an appropriate “early freeze date,” when production and consumption of HFC refrigerants must stop increasing in so-called Article 5 countries (i.e., those in need of assistance). During an event in New York this morning, ministers representing more than 100 countries rallied behind an ambitious amendment with an “early freeze date.”
  • Two: 16 donor countries and philanthropists announced their intent to provide $80 million in fast start support to Article 5 countries. $27 million in funding from donor countries is being offered to help Article 5 countries jump-start their efforts to design and implement programs that reduce HFCs. It will be provided as long as an ambitious amendment with a sufficiently early freeze date is adopted this year. Meanwhile, $53 million from philanthropists will help countries maximize economic benefits during this transition through various energy efficiency programs. This is the largest-ever package of fast-start philanthropic support for boosting the energy efficiency of appliances and equipment. The Energy Department’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimates that a 30 percent improvement in air conditioner efficiency can double the climate benefits of an amendment. DOE has long invested in research and development, as well as standards to improve energy efficiency, including in the air conditioning sector where transitioning to HFC alternatives is important. For example, our Super-Efficient Equipment and Appliance Deployment (SEAD) initiative of the Clean Energy Ministerial partners with governments to spur efficiency policies and programs that yield billions of dollars in consumer savings while cutting carbon pollution. Today’s announcements will super-size this work, bolstering the confidence of all countries that they can cut energy costs as they phase down HFCs.
  • Three: Today, the Energy Department also published a report with the results of a testing program to evaluate the performance of HFC alternatives in hot climates. This is important because some countries have raised questions about whether HFC alternatives can perform as well as current refrigerants in those conditions. Today’s new results demonstrate that HFC alternatives can perform just as well as current refrigerants even under the harshest conditions. In fact, they sometimes perform even better. Today’s report focuses on rooftop air conditioning units that are popular in countries such as Saudi Arabia, but a similar testing program in 2015 that focused on mini-split air conditioning units came to the same conclusion. In both cases, the testing program was conducted at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and guided by an international panel of technical experts from a broad and diverse set of countries.
  • Four: To round out the announcements today, hundreds of companies and sub-national governments – represented through associations or individually – voiced support for an ambitious amendment. That list of supporters includes major global firms that rely on air conditioning and refrigeration in their operations like 3M, Dell, Microsoft, Nike, Red Bull, Symantec, and Unilever, and it demonstrates that there is a strong coalition of stakeholders seeking a strong outcome in Rwanda next month.

In addition to taking these steps, we look forward to advancing our joint collaboration on the Energy Star program. For more than two decades, this program has helped American citizens and businesses learn more about energy-efficient products that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

We also look forward to continuing to work with our international partners as we take a giant step toward meeting the goals of the historic Paris Agreement. And we will push to secure the strongest possible HFC amendment next month in Kigali.

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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Climate Change…By the Seashore

By Andy Miller, Ph.D.

As the summer winds down, many of us return to school or work with fond memories of trips to the seashore. For me and for many others, where the ocean meets the land are places that are deeply relaxing, reminders of our connections with the natural world.

Cordgrass growing across Great Marsh, Jamestown, RI.

Cordgrass growing across Great Marsh, Jamestown, RI.

For several EPA researchers, the shores and estuaries that we value for their beauty and wonder are the sites for investigating the rich and complex ecosystems that support a multitude of species and provide us with benefits well beyond a calming walk along the shore.

Researchers have recently published results of work examining how different impacts of climate change are affecting coastal ecosystems. They demonstrate how vulnerable these natural resources are to drought, sea level rise, and other impacts of a changing climate.

Several studies looked at how the effects of climate change affected cordgrass, dominant salt marsh plants that are key to the vitality of salt marsh ecosystems in southern New England coastal wetlands. One study looked at how saltmeadow cordgrass, Spartina patens, responded to drought and sea level rise in a greenhouse set up for research. This study found that sea level rise was a threat to the long-term survival of the species. The loss of saltmeadow cordgrass would reduce the wetlands’ habitat quality, plant diversity, carbon sequestration, erosion resistance and coastal protection.

A second study examined smooth cordgrass, Spartina alterniflora, under similar stresses, and also added an additional stressor, increased levels of nitrogen in the water, an environmental pollutant resulting from agricultural runoff, urban stormwater runoff, wastewater from sewers and septic systems and other sources. EPA researchers Alana Hanson and her colleagues simulated all these plant stressors in the same research greenhouse and concluded that the effects of climate change and nitrogen runoff were likely to reduce the sustainability of salt marshes because the conditions made it more difficult for cordgrass to flourish. Without cordgrass, Atlantic coastal ecosystems would be as vulnerable as a sea turtle without its shell.

On the other side of the country, researchers on the Pacific coast have been developing an approach to evaluate how climate change is affecting coastal biodiversity. Working with experts from several federal, state, and local agencies, EPA researcher Henry Lee and his colleagues developed an approach to use environmental tolerances and other scientific information to estimate how groups of species can be expected to respond to changes in ocean temperature and acidity. Their tool, the Coastal Biodiversity Risk Assessment Tool, or CBRAT, provides an open-source platform that allows researchers and resource managers to examine the potential vulnerability of coastal Pacific fish and invertebrate species as they are impacted by climate change.

These research efforts help us understand more than just the impacts of climate change on coastal ecosystems—they also help us understand how we can respond to those changes in ways that will help protect them. Francis Bacon is credited with the saying, “The best part of beauty is that which no picture can express.” Although we see the natural beauty of our coasts and shores, the best part of that beauty may well be the unseen ways in which they nurture and support nature as a whole.

About the Author: Andy Miller is the Associate Director for Climate in EPA’s Air, Climate, and Energy Research Program that conducts research to assess the impacts of a changing climate and develop the scientific information and tools to act on climate change.


Hanson, A., R. Johnson, C. Wigand, A. Oczkowski, E. Davey and E. Markham (2016). “Responses of Spartina alterniflora to Multiple Stressors: Changing Precipitation Patterns, Accelerated Sea Level Rise, and Nutrient Enrichment.” Estuaries and Coasts: 39: 1376–1385.

Watson, E. B., K. Szura, C. Wigand, K. B. Raposa, K. Blount and M. Cencer (2016). “Sea level rise, drought and the decline of Spartina patens in New England marshes.” Biological Conservation 196: 173-181.

Lee II, H., Marko, K., Hanshumaker, M., Folger, C., and Graham, R. 2015. User’s Guide & Metadata to Coastal Biodiversity Risk Analysis Tool (CBRAT): Framework for the Systemization of Life History and Biogeographic Information. EPA Report. EPA/601/B-15/001. 123 pages.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Let’s Talk About Wildfire Smoke and Health

By: Alison Davis

With more than 20 wildfires currently burning in the western U.S., this is a good time to learn more about wildfire smoke and health – and what you can do to protect yourself.

People with heart or lung disease, older adults, pregnant women and children are at greater risk from wildfire smoke – but even healthy people can be affected. Join our live Twitter chat at 1:30 p.m. EDT Monday, Aug. 22, to learn more about steps you can take to reduce your smoke exposure. Follow @EPAair and the #WildfireSmoke hashtag to join the conversation.

EPA research cardiologist Dr. Wayne Cascio and health effects scientist Susan Stone will be joined by experts from the U.S. Forest Service and the Centers for Disease Control to discuss:

  • What we know about wildfire smoke and health
  • How to find out if wildfire smoke is affecting air quality where you live
  • What steps you can take, before and during a fire, to protect your health

Post questions now in the comment section below, or tweet them when you join us for the chat on Aug. 22. We’ll answer as many question as we can during the chat.

About the author: Alison Davis is a Senior Advisor for Public Affairs in EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning & Standards.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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EPA: “Aim High” – Working Toward a Sustainable Future

By Administrator Gina McCarthy

Last month, I asked EPA employees to share how their work at EPA is contributing to a sustainable future for our kids and grandkids. I wanted to hear about the many ways our staff are going above and beyond EPA’s foundational work to limit harmful pollution, and taking proactive steps to build healthy, economically vibrant communities.

Our teams responded in force, with 55 stories about the diverse, creative, and innovative ways they are building a sustainable future. Our best ideas are those that can be shared, replicated, and built upon. And we have so much to learn from each other’s successes. Here are some team highlights from across the agency:

Sustainable city planning: A team based in EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, in partnership with a number of EPA offices and regions, is looking at the connection between green infrastructure, energy consumption, and improved air quality. The team is providing technical assistance to Kansas City, MO-KS, to help better quantify the changes in pollution that result from “greening” of urban infrastructure in the area (i.e., green streets, green roofs, trees). This project will ultimately help promote green infrastructure projects that demonstrably improve water quality and advance sustainability – so that they can be incorporated into future city planning.

Green Remediation: EPA Region 1 is using strategies to make the cleanup of contaminated sites more sustainable, including by promoting, tracking, and considering green and sustainable remediation practices for Brownfield sites and Superfund sites. These efforts are helping to minimize the impacts of remediation and cleanup efforts, and ensure long-term, sustainable outcomes.

Community-Based Social Marketing: Region 5 provided funding and contractor assistance to the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, as they worked with their local tribal college to improve waste management. The project used community-based social marketing (CBSM) techniques to develop positive behavior strategies that are culturally appropriate. The project focused on increasing recycling behavior at the Band’s community college. Results from the pilot showed a 41% overall increase in the recycling rate at major locations throughout the campus. The Band worked with Region 5 and contractor support to put together a Tribal CBSM Training Guide, based on the lessons learned from the pilot to encourage other tribes to use CBSM to increase sustainable behaviors.

Coordinating Across EPA Programs: EPA Region 10 staff from Superfund, Clean Water Act, TSCA and Counsel have coordinated for several years to better align and sustain efforts in reducing toxics in waters. Staff recognized that in order to achieve more sustainable and long-lasting results, they needed to work together to more efficiently and effectively reduce toxics in the environment.  This includes addressing ongoing sources of and pathways for pollutants and aligning overlapping programmatic efforts to “clean up” waters and sediments. This small ad-hoc group ensured that language was added to EPA’s National Industrial Stormwater General Permit requiring those discharging into local Superfund Sites to work with the Regional office to minimize impacts and prevent caulking and paint sources of PCBs from getting into Superfund sediment sites. Region 10 staff also wrote language included in the Washington General Fish hatchery Permit to identify and remove sources of PCBs.

CWSRF: The Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) program is a federal-state partnership that provides communities a permanent, independent source of low-cost financing for a wide range of water quality infrastructure projects. EPA, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ) and the Farmer’s Irrigation District (FID) collaborated and used the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) to convert miles of open, earthen irrigation ditch system to a pressurized and piped system for Hood River’s Farmers Irrigation District. Most recently the Farmers Irrigation District also began using the CWSRF loans to purchase equipment for production of clean, renewable energy through micro-­‐hydroelectric generation.

I couldn’t be prouder of the work EPA employees are doing across the country. Here’s to more creativity, ingenuity, and innovation in the months and years ahead.

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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Spring Cleaning Can Be Even Healthier using Green Products

The welcome return of spring sunshine makes me think of one thing – grimy, winter-weary windows. And then there’s the fridge, the baseboards, the carpets, the bathroom grout, the kitchen cabinets. All these little spots we ignored all winter are now ready for a thorough scrub. No wonder nearly 75 percent of Americans like to do a good spring cleaning.

Good thing you can use the EPA Safer Choice label to help you find cleaning and other household products that are made with ingredients that are safer for people and the environment.

Healthy Choices

That’s a great assurance, considering household cleaning products are one source of indoor air pollution, which can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.

Products with safer ingredients improve indoor air quality and can lower the risk of health hazards, including respiratory conditions like asthma; allergic reactions, which can cause skin rashes, hives or headaches; and a variety of other conditions. Children and older people, in particular, are more susceptible to risks — so they’re better off in spaces cleaned with safer products and wearing clothes cleaned with a laundry detergent that uses safer solvents and surfactants.  And what about parents and those who regularly clean and do the wash, coming in close contact with cleaners and detergents? Safer is certainly better for them. Safer Choice recognizes that everyday cleaning products make a big difference to your family’s well-being.

Cleaners also affect the quality of our local streams, rivers and lakes. When Safer Choice products get rinsed down the drain and make their way into the watershed, they are less toxic to fish and other aquatic life. That’s good news for New England’s iconic waterways, whether it’s Lake Champlain, the Charles River or Long Island Sound… or the ponds, streams and wetlands found throughout New England.


Here’s something that may surprise you. Unlike food producers, cleaning product manufacturers are not required to list ingredients on their containers or make them public. But to display the Safer Choice label, manufacturers must list all of their product’s ingredients either on the product or on an easy-access website.

Safer Choice is the first federal label for cleaning products and it is proving incredibly popular. More than 2,000 products have already earned the right to carry the logo. They’re available in local grocery stores and hardware stores, and include cleaners for use at home, offices, schools, hotels and sports venues.

The agency’s website ( lists all the products that proudly carry the Safer Choice label. We also offer interactive tools to find the best cleaning products for your home and for businesses like schools, hotels, offices, and sports venues. And my personal favorite – cleaners for those grimy windows.

By Curt Spalding, Regional Administrator, US EPA Region 1 (New England Region)

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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EPA Partners Leading the Way On Climate Action

By Janet McCabe

Climate change is one of the most critical challenges of our time. We are committed to partnering with industry, communities, and government at all levels to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change, and to prepare for the changes that are already underway.

Some important collaborations are our voluntary climate partnership programs. For decades, we have been partnering with the private sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote the use of cleaner energy sources, and improve energy efficiency efforts. These voluntary programs have achieved significant environmental benefits: in total, more than 19,000 organizations and millions of Americans have participated in our climate partnerships and, together in 2013 they prevented greenhouse gas emissions equal to the annual electricity use of more than 57 million homes.

Today, we launched a new voluntary program to reduce harmful methane emissions from the oil and gas sector and 41 companies have stepped up as founding partners. Our Natural Gas STAR Methane Challenge Program builds on the success of our Natural Gas STAR Program and encourages partner companies to make company-wide commitments to cut emissions from sources within their operations by implementing a suite of best management practices.

We expect program participation to grow over time and are actively working to expand the options for participation by finalizing an additional Emissions Intensity Commitment option through the ONE Future Coalition. The ONE Future coalition is a group of companies from across the natural gas industry focused on increasing the efficiency of the natural gas supply chain.

To understand the potential of this program, let’s look at the successes of the Natural Gas STAR Program. When Gas STAR began in 1993, it promoted six best management practices that companies could take to reduce methane emissions; that list has increased to over 50 mitigation best practices. In 2015, a total of 103 oil and gas companies from across the natural gas value chain were U.S. Natural Gas STAR Partners. Since the Natural Gas STAR program started, our partners have collectively achieved over 1.2 trillion cubic feet of methane emission reductions, equivalent to the emissions savings associated with the use of over 1.4 million barrels of oil or reducing over 606 million metric tons of C02 equivalent emissions.

Our other voluntary programs are making similar strides. Since 1992, ENERGY STAR has helped consumers save $362 billion on their utility bills while significantly reducing their greenhouse gas emissions at the same time. Since the Green Power Partnership was introduced in 2001, more than 1,200 organizations have committed to using about 33 billion kilowatt-hours of clean, renewable green power each year. Through the Combined Heat and Power Partnership, more than 480 partners have installed nearly 6,800 megawatts of new combined heat and power since 2001. And in 2013 alone, our methane and fluorinated greenhouse gas program partners used our tools and resources to prevent emissions equal to the annual electricity use from more than 12 million homes in 2013.

Our country has been building momentum towards a cleaner energy economy for quite a while, and with the help of our voluntary programs, our partners have been helping to pave the way. To address the global challenge of climate change, we need to use all the tools in our toolbox, and voluntary programs are an important complement to regulatory action. Through the innovation and leadership of our partners, our voluntary climate partnership programs have proven to be an important lever for change.

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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Preventing and Better Preparing for Emergencies at Chemical Plants is Job One

By Mathy Stanislaus

The chemical industry provides critical products we use every day, creates jobs, and is a staple of the U.S. economy. While numerous chemical plants operate safely, in the past 10 years nearly 60 people died, some 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. During that time, more than 1,500 incidents were reported causing over $2 billion in property damages.

To prevent and reduce the number of accidents and protect communities and first responders, we are proposing revisions to the accidental release prevention requirements under the Clean Air Act, also known as our Risk Management Program (RMP). In the Report to the President on implementing Executive Order (EO) 13650, Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security (August 2013), we committed to amending the RMP regulations in 2016.

This proposal is based on extensive engagement over two years with community leaders, first responders, local and state governments, industry and many other stakeholders – nearly 1,800 participants across the country in over 25 states. The Executive Order Working group reviewed existing programs, recommendations from the safety and security communities, and feedback from the EO listening session, as well as investigative reports of major incidents. In 2014 the EO Working Group published for stakeholder comment a preliminary list of options for improving chemical facility safety and security. The May 2014 Progress Report to the President, Actions to Improve Chemical Facility Safety and Security – A Shared Commitment, summarized the federal governments’ progress. Modernizing the RMP rule was identified as one of the top priorities to improve chemical facility safety and security. In July, 2014 we sought comment on potential revisions to modernize EPA’s regulations, guidance and policies by issuing a Request for Information. In 2015, prior to convening a Small Business Advocacy Review Panel, we conducted outreach with small entities potentially affected by these regulations. EPA invited the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and 32 potentially affected small entity representatives to a conference call and solicited comments from them on preliminary information. These comments and concerns have been reflected in today’s proposal.

The proposed amendments are intended to improve existing risk management plan requirements to enhance chemical safety at RMP facilities by:

  • •Requiring the consideration of safer technologies and alternatives by including the assessment of Inherently Safer Technologies and Designs in the Process Hazard Assessment
  • Requiring third party audits and root cause analysis to identify process safety improvements for accident prevention
  • Enhancing emergency planning and preparedness requirements to ensure coordination between facilities and local communities
  • Ensuring that  emergency response capabilities are available to mitigate the effects of a chemical accident
  • Improving the ability of local emergency planning committees and local  emergency response officials to better prepare for emergencies
  • Increasing public access to information to help the public understand the risks at RMP facilities, and increase community involvement in accident planning for when communities need to evacuate or shelter-in-place during an accident

I participated in many of the listening sessions and stakeholder conferences and heard first-hand from local responders and communities about their concerns about accidental chemical releases and their ideas to improve planning and prevent emergencies. Together we can work to strengthen preparedness and prevention efforts in our communities.

This proposal is a step in the right direction.  We want to build on the success of leaders in the chemical industry by enhancing their operations to prevent accidents, and we want to make sure that communities are fully prepared for a chemical plant accident, so that first responders, workers, and neighboring community members are protected.

The proposed rule is just one of the actions the U.S. government has undertaken to enhance the safety and security of chemical facilities under EO 13650. In addition to these revisions, we continue our work under EO 13650 by assisting local communities in developing local emergency contingency plans and facilitating a dialog between communities and chemical facilities on chemical accident prevention and preparedness.

Learn more about the proposal here:

Follow us on Twitter at @EPAland.


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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Cars and Trucks and Things That Go…Put the Brakes on Traffic-Related Pollution Exposure at Schools

By Ruth Etzel, MD

School bus with black smoke.

Many scientific studies have found that people who live, work, or attend school near major roads appear to be more at risk for a variety of short- and long-term health effects, including asthma, reduced lung function, impaired lung development in children, and cardiovascular effects in adults. For example, a study by researchers at the University of Southern California found that children who live within 500 meters (that’s about one-third of a mile) from a freeway incur substantial and long-lasting deficits in lung development and function compared to children living at least 1500 meters (a little under 1 mile) from a freeway.

Yet nearly 17,000 of our country’s schools are located within steps of a heavily-traveled road, potentially exposing more than 6 million children to traffic-related pollution at a time when their developing lungs are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of air pollution.  Because one in ten children in the U.S. suffer from asthma, that number includes many kids who may already be struggling to breathe. What’s more, low-income and minority children are disproportionately impacted by asthma and are more likely to live and attend school near major roadways. Many communities are also facing difficult decisions about where to put new schools to serve a growing student population and how to design those schools to maintain a healthy learning and teaching environment.

To help schools, parents, and communities reduce students’ exposure to traffic-related air pollution, EPA has just released a new resource: Best Practices for Reducing Near-Road Pollution Exposure at Schools. In this document, best practice solutions that schools across the country are employing to reduce kids’ exposure to traffic-related air pollution are described. This “Best Practices” document summarizes several strategies that can be used to reduce exposures including ventilation, filtration, voluntary building occupant actions, school transportation policies, school siting and site layout decisions, and the use of sound walls and vegetative barriers. The document also contains a school ventilation checklist and links to additional resources for achieving clean, green and healthy school environments, such as EPA’s Voluntary School Siting Guidelines.

EPA and our partners have had tremendous success cleaning the air over the past 45 years, cutting air pollution by 70% while our nation’s economy tripled. That’s good news for our children; research published this year found that the improving air quality in Southern California over the past 20 years has led to healthier lungs for children in the region. But we still have work to do. While vehicle emissions have decreased over the past several decades due to EPA’s emission standards, schools may still be located in areas where air pollution levels are elevated.  We hope that this new resource will help schools and parents across the country find ways to reduce exposure to traffic-related air pollution at schools.

Learn what you can do:

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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