Air

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: www.epa.gov/schools

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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In 2016, We’re Hitting the Ground Running

By Gina McCarthy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Global Climate Action at COP-21

By EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Moving Forward on the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards

By Janet McCabe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Working Together to Implement the Clean Power Plan

By Gina McCarthy

This summer, EPA issued our historic Clean Power Plan, one of the largest steps America has ever taken to combat climate change and protect future generations. The Plan puts the U.S. on track to significantly cut carbon pollution from power plants – our nation’s biggest single contributor to climate change.

Because greenhouse gas pollution threatens public health and welfare, EPA is using its authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate sources of these pollutants, including in the power sector. Along with the many other actions we’re taking under President Obama’s leadership, the Clean Power Plan will translate to major health benefits and cost savings for American families.

The Clean Power Plan is grounded firmly in science and the law. Science clearly shows that carbon dioxide fuels a changing climate, which in turn poses threats to our health and to the environment that sustains us all. The Plan is fully consistent with the Clean Air Act, and relies on the same time-tested state-federal partnership that, since 1970, has reduced harmful air pollution by 70 percent, while the U.S. economy has tripled.

What makes the Plan so effective is that it reflects the voices of those who are closest to the issues on the ground. Extensive input from states, industry representatives, energy regulators, health and environmental groups, and individual members of the public helped us get to a plan that we know works for everyone.  In fact, we considered over 4.3 million comments received in response to our initial proposal.

And we listened.

It was feedback from utilities that made sure our plan mirrors how electricity moves around the grid, so that we could open up opportunities. It was input from states that made sure we set fair and consistent standards across the country. And it was comments from many folks that told us that we needed to extend the timeframe for mandatory cuts by two years, until 2022. States and utilities told us they needed more time, and we listened.

As a result of this unprecedented amount of outreach, the Plan is fair, flexible, affordable, and designed to reflect the fast-growing trend toward cleaner American energy.

With strong but achievable standards for power plants, and customized goals for states to cut the carbon pollution that is driving climate change, the Clean Power Plan provides national consistency, accountability, and a level playing field while reflecting each state’s energy mix.

But our engagement hasn’t stopped with the signing of the rule. Since issuing the Clean Power Plan in August, we’ve reached out to all 50 states, making sure every state has multiple opportunities to hear from us and to ask questions.

We’ve also held dozens in-person meetings and calls with states, tribes, communities, industry representatives, and elected officials, and we’ve held or participated in a number of widely-attended conferences about the Plan.

Staff at each of EPA’s 10 regional offices and our headquarters have responded to hundreds of questions about the final rule, and questions continue to come in through meetings, our website, and other venues.

We’ve seen firsthand that when diverse voices are brought to the table, environmental protection works. For nearly 45 years, our interactions and engagement with states and stakeholders has resulted in tremendous progress to cut down air pollution and protect Americans’ health – including tangible benefits for communities, families, and kids.

We are committed to helping everyone better understand the Clean Power Plan and have been impressed – but certainly not surprised – by the remarkable level of constructive engagement across the board. Conversations are happening across the country. And we’re encouraged to see that many states are beginning their own planning processes because that means they’re preparing to take action.

We have every interest in helping states succeed, and every confidence that the Clean Power Plan provides states the options, time and flexibility to develop plans that meet their unique needs and goals.

We look forward to continuing our work with states, the energy sector, and many other groups to follow the science, implement the law, and build a healthy future for our kids and grandkids – together.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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New Greenhouse Gas Data for Large Facilities Now Available

By Janet McCabe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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EPA’s Rigorous Auto Oversight Will Get Even Stronger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Refining Environmental Justice

By Matt Tejada

Before joining EPA, I spent more than five years in Houston working to protect the health of the many low-income and minority communities along the Texas Gulf Coast who share their neighborhoods with oil refineries. I cannot think of a single fenceline community from my work that does not have numerous health and environmental challenges facing local residents. And while toxic emissions from refineries are not responsible for all of those challenges, the risk from refinery pollution is an ever-present part of living in these places.

A new rule we’re releasing today helps reduce these dangerous emissions – a major victory for environmental justice but more importantly for the communities living and working along the fencelines of refineries.

The rule will reduce visible smoking flare emissions and accidental releases. For the first time in a nationwide rule, it will provide important emissions information to the public and neighboring communities by requiring refineries to actually monitor emissions at key sources within their facilities and around their fencelines. The rule also increases controls for storage tanks and cokers, parts of refineries that many folks rarely think about because they have just become part of their neighborhood background. The pollution reduced from these two types of units is very significant.

The final “Refinery Rule” – as many EJ stakeholders likely know it by – will reduce 5,200 tons per year of toxic air pollutants, along with 50,000 tons per year of volatile organic compounds. That is thousands of tons of pollution that will not be coming out of our nation’s refineries every single year. The emission reductions from this final rule will lower the cancer risk from refineries for 1.4 million people. That’s not just good for the communities that live in and around refineries — it’s outstanding. And, not just for the communities, but for the folks who work inside the refineries, as well as stakeholders in the broader community whose regional air quality would otherwise be impacted by some of these pollutants.

This rule means a lot to me personally after all the time I spent in those communities in my home state of Texas. It’s one of the biggest steps we’ve taken to protect environmental justice communities under Administrator McCarthy’s leadership. But it’s not the only one – we’ve also worked to create a Clean Power Plan that protects the needs of the most vulnerable Americans, changed the way we prioritize environmental justice in our rulemaking, created EJSCREEN to help communities learn about their environmental risks, and – just this week – released new Worker Protection Standards that keep farmworkers and their families safer from over-exposure to pesticides.

As someone who has worked on the community side of these issues, I know the importance of listening to stakeholders and communities who provide valuable input as we develop rules. The final rule incorporates community feedback and has been strengthened from proposal stage to final, accounting for important concerns expressed by the very people living on the fenceline who we are trying to protect.

Our work to increase that protection is far from done, but this final Refinery Rule is a major step forward in controlling pollution from refineries to protect the health and well-being of those who live near them and it leaves the door open to continue to introduce technology as it advances and offers even greater protection. Because here at EPA we don’t see environmental justice as something to be achieved in one action – but as something we are committed to continually advancing in everything we 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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EPA’s Clean Power Plan Protects Low-Income and Minority Communities

When President Obama announced the final Clean Power Plan earlier this month, he predicted that some cynical critics would claim the plan harms minority and low-income communities. Then he chuckled and shook his head, because the truth is, failing to act on climate is what stands to hurt vulnerable Americans the most.

Just as the President predicted, in the weeks since the announcement, we’re seeing the usual cast of special interest critics roll out the usual tired, worn out, and frankly, false arguments. Put simply, the Clean Power Plan will not impact affordable, reliable power. It will protect vulnerable communities. And it will save consumers money.

This week marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina—a powerful reminder that low-income and minority communities are the most vulnerable to climate-related impacts like stronger storms, floods, fires, and droughts, and the least able to rebuild after a disaster. And the carbon pollution driving climate change comes packaged with other dangerous soot- and smog-forming pollutants that can lead to lung and heart disease. Low-income and minority Americans are more likely to live in the shadow of polluting industries like power plants, and more likely to be exposed to higher levels of pollution.

When we cut carbon pollution, we also reduce other dangerous pollutants and protect public health. Under the Clean Power Plan, in 2030 alone, the U.S. will avoid up to 90,000 asthma attacks in children and 300,000 missed days of school and work due to respiratory symptoms—saving families the costs of medical treatment and hospital visits.

Martin Luther King III, son of the civil rights icon Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., recently said “The poor and disenfranchised—too often those in communities of color—still disproportionately bear society’s harms through no fault of their own. That truth has compelled the fight for social justice across the spectrum: labor rights, women’s rights—and yes—environmental rights. Because no matter who we are or where we come from, we’re all entitled to the basic human rights of clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and healthy land to call home. Make no mistake, the injustice of climate change and the pollution that fuels it are among this century’s most debilitating engines of inequality.”

Through its Clean Power Plan, EPA is striving to protect low-income and minority Americans. We received more than 4.3 million public comments on our draft rule, and hosted hundreds of meetings with stakeholders, including vulnerable communities. We heard loud and clear that we needed to make sure our rule didn’t disproportionately impact low-income Americans—and we worked with the Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to ensure that’s the case.

By 2030, the average family will save $85 a year on electricity, thanks to increased energy efficiency measures. In the interim, any small, short-term increase in electricity bills would be well within normal price fluctuations—roughly the cost of a gallon of milk per month. For each dollar spent on the Clean Power Plan, families will see 4 dollars in health benefits alone. And in all, we’ll see $45 billion a year in net benefits thanks to EPA’s plan.

Climate action is an incredible economic opportunity, and to make sure its benefits extend to every community, we’re creating a Clean Energy Incentive Program that will help states transition to clean energy faster. It’s a voluntary matching fund program states can use to encourage early investment in wind or solar power projects, as well as energy efficiency projects in low-income communities.

EPA is also requiring states to demonstrate how they are engaging with communities as they craft customized state plans to meet their carbon pollution reduction goals.

The real threat to affordable, reliable electricity is climate change. More extreme heat and cold cause utility bills to skyrocket, which hurts low-income families the most. And storms, floods, fires, and drought can knock out the power for days or weeks, threatening public health.  That’s why we need to act.

The cynics’ claims are nothing new. We heard the same tired arguments back in the 1990s, when some critics opposed EPA’s limits on acid rain-causing pollution from power plants. They warned electricity bills would go up, and the lights would go off. But they were wrong. Instead of the economic doomsday some predicted, we slashed acid rain by 60 percent—while prices stayed stable, and the lights stayed on. EPA has been limiting harmful pollution from power plants for 45 years, and we have a proven track record of keeping energy affordable and reliable.

We still have work to do to protect vulnerable communities from pollution, but EPA’s Clean Power Plan is a historic step in the right direction. In his announcement, President Obama spoke about our moral obligation to vulnerable communities, to our children, and to future generations to act on climate. The Clean Power Plan will help build a safer, brighter future for all Americans.

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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What’s Next for the Clean Power Plan?

On Monday, President Obama announced a huge step to fight climate change and protect our kids’ health: EPA’s Clean Power Plan. By 2030, the plan will drastically cut carbon pollution from power plants – our nation’s biggest driver of climate change – as well as the other harmful air pollutants that come along with it.

The release of the final Clean Power Plan is a historic step forward for our country, and with its launch, we begin a new chapter as we take action against climate change.

Among the many commenters, states provided critical feedback to help EPA build a final Clean Power Plan that works for everyone. And starting now, states are in the driver’s seat of putting the plan into action.

The Clean Power Plan sets uniform emissions rates for power plants across the country. They’re the same in every state for similar types of fossil fuel plants, ensuring fairness and consistency across the board. Using these rates, EPA’s plan then sets state-specific goals for cutting carbon pollution based on each state’s unique energy mix.

That’s where flexibility and a host of options come in. States can decide how best to achieve pollution reductions from power plants. The Clean Power Plan explains the state options, and EPA has also proposed a Federal Plan and Model Rule that states can adopt as a ready-made, cost-effective path forward. But states don’t have to use the EPA’s approach; they can pursue a range of other approaches. And compliance strategies are wide open, too. Utilities can improve plant efficiency, run cleaner plants more, shift toward cleaner fuels, use renewables, and take advantage of energy efficiency and interstate trading.

So, what’s next? Here are a few important milestones to look for.

2016: States have until September 6, 2016, to build and submit their customized plans for cutting       carbon pollution and meeting their goals. They’ll send those plans to EPA for review. If a year isn’t enough time, states can request an extension.

2022: This is the first year that states are required to start meeting interim goals for carbon pollution reduction. But investments and plans underway now can help states get closer to their goals even sooner, and to help them, we’ve created a Clean Energy Incentive Program to help states get a head start on reducing carbon emissions as soon as 2020.

2022 – 2029: Because we know pollution reductions won’t happen overnight, EPA is providing a path to help states make a smooth transition to clean energy future. State pollution reductions can be achieved gradually, over an interim step-down period between 2022 and 2029, before states are required to meet their final goals.

2030: This is the year that states are required to meet their full carbon pollution reduction goals under the Clean Power Plan—and the year we’ll see its full benefits to our health and our pocketbooks. In 2030, when states meet their goals, carbon pollution from the power sector will be 32 percent below 2005 levels. That’s 870 million fewer tons of carbon pollution, with even less over time. And because of reductions to other harmful air pollutants that come packaged with carbon pollution, we’ll avoid thousands of premature deaths and have thousands fewer asthma cases and hospitalizations in 2030 alone. What’s more, 2030 is the year the nation will see up to $45 billion in net benefits from the clean power plan, and the average American family will see up to $85 a year in savings on their utility bills.

The good news is, we don’t have to wait until 2030 to start seeing the Clean Power Plan’s benefits. Communities will start seeing tangible health and cost benefits as states make progress toward cutting carbon pollution and increasing efficiency.

Starting now, state planning will begin in earnest. And we hope you will get engaged. The Clean Power Plan requires states to work with communities and stakeholders to make sure the plans they build reflect your needs. And EPA will be looking to see how states are taking stakeholder input into account.

We urge you to be part of the process, get informed, and get involved. EPA received more than 4.3 million public comments on its initial proposed Plan, and we listened to your concerns. The final Clean Power Plan is stronger, more flexible, and more achievable because of your feedback. Here are some upcoming ways to get involved:

August 20, 2015: Join us for a webinar designed to provide communities with an overview of what is in the Clean Power Plan and how to participate. More details available soon HERE.

Fall 2015: EPA will hold public hearings around the country for the proposed Federal Plan and Model Rules. More details will be posted on www.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan soon.

As Administrator McCarthy has said, “climate change is personal.” It affects you no matter who you are or where you come from. That’s why we need you to be involved and have your voice heard.

Learn more about how the Clean Power Plan affects your state HERE.

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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