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New Tools and Approaches Are Reshaping Environmental Compliance

I recently joined EPA staff and leaders from across academia, industry and non-profit sectors for a conference dedicated to the latest Next Generation Compliance strategies and solutions, hosted by George Washington University Law School. With topics ranging from how to use new technologies to improve compliance, to citizen monitoring and state-federal collaboration (just to name a few), one thing was clear – there is strong momentum and lots of progress in Next Gen today that’s shaping the future of environmental enforcement and compliance.

The conference inspired me to take a moment to reflect on all of this progress. Here are a few examples of what we’ve already accomplished:

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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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Building Momentum toward a Safer Climate and a Healthier Nation

April 6-12 is National Public Health Week, which this year carries the theme: “Healthiest Nation 2030.” EPA and the American Public Health Association (APHA) are shining a light on the harmful health effects of climate change and making the case for strong climate action.

We constantly see devastating climate impacts threaten the health of communities around the country. After Hurricane Sandy left New York City dark and underwater, nurses at NYU’s Langone Medical Center had to use the glow of their cell phones to care for infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The historic drought in the West has led to forest fires and water restrictions, and is still punishing people and businesses. Climate change supercharges risks for extreme storms, floods, fires, and drought that destabilize communities, especially those least equipped to defend themselves.

Health risks from climate change are not just born from the crushing infrastructure and weather impacts. The carbon pollution fueling climate change comes packaged with other dangerous pollutants like particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide that lead to asthma and respiratory illnesses—including some cancers. As temperatures rise, smog becomes worse, and allergy seasons get longer, further risking our families’ health and making it harder for kids to breathe. Warmer temperatures also increase vector-borne diseases by expanding seasons and geographic ranges for ticks, mosquitoes and other disease carrying insects to roam.

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An Inspiring Afternoon with Women Scientists and Engineers from Carnegie Mellon University

 

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon at Carnegie Mellon University with very impressive women faculty members and doctoral candidates in the engineering, environment and public policy fields.

These women of diverse backgrounds and experiences enlightened me about their work on a number of environmental challenges facing us today. They are doing important research on the life-cycle of energy systems and their impact on climate change and mitigation. Through these efforts, faculty and students are seeking to understand the social, economic and environmental implications of energy consumption tools that can be used to support sustainable energy.

I was pleased to learn that one Ph.D. candidate is studying water quality and marine life in the Monongahela River. We’re doing very similar work in our Wheeling, West Virginia office and I hope we can build on each other’s progress. There are a number of interesting and practical research projects on air quality modeling, agriculture, and natural gas – I am interested in learning about the final outcomes of these projects and how it may increase our understanding in those areas.

My visit to Carnegie Mellon is timely since we celebrate Women’s History Month in March. Women have a long history in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) that many may not realize. Women play an important role by fostering a robust and diverse scientific community that draws from a broad array of unique experiences and skills. Developing diverse world-class talent in STEM, is absolutely critical in meeting the growing environmental challenges facing our modern world.

I am inspired by the passion and creativity of the talented group of engineers and scientists at Carnegie Mellon. They are striving to make meaningful contributions to the environment for generations to come. We need to ensure more women have the opportunity to pursue degrees in the various fields of science. These women scientists and engineers are helping to move this forward.

Shawn M. Garvin is EPA’s Regional Administrator for Region 3, overseeing the agency’s operations in Delaware, D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. Shawn’s career in intergovernmental affairs spans more than 20 years at the federal and local levels.

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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Driving toward a cleaner future

Today, EPA issued its second annual Manufacturer Performance Report on progress toward meeting the greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and light trucks. This is essentially a detailed report card telling us how the industry and individual manufacturers are doing in complying with the standards for the 2013 model year. I’m pleased to say that, for the second year of the program, the auto industry is ahead of the curve.

Because the ultimate destination for this road trip is to nearly double fuel economy by 2025, a strong start is great news for the environment and public health, family budgets and America’s energy security. When EPA and the Department of Transportation announced the standards, the program was called a “Win-Win-Win.” A win for the environment and our health because it reduces the emissions that contribute to the greatest environmental threat of our time…. climate change. In fact we expect it to cut 6 billion metric tons of GHGs. A win for consumers because the fuel efficiency goals will save families money at the pump, adding up to more than $1.7 trillion in saved fuel costs over the life of the program. And finally, a win for energy independence. The policy is expected to reduce America’s dependence on oil by more than 2 million barrels per day by 2025.

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You Might Know the Next Rachel Carson

flaagRachel Carson wrote a famous book called Silent Spring, which led our country to ban DDT, a harmful pesticide, and rethink the relationship between our environment and our health. Before that, she served as a scientist and editor at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, eventually becoming Editor-in-Chief of all of the agency’s publications. In those days, it was rare for a woman to serve as a scientist, and even more rare to rise to a position of leadership.

Our country has made a lot of progress since then. In 1970, only 11% of women between the ages of 25 and 64 had a college degree. By 2012, that number had climbed to 38%. And since the late 1990s, women have been awarded about half of all bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering. But in spite of all these gains, only about one in four environmental scientists or geoscientists across the country are women – so we still have a long way to go.

EPA has been lucky to have many extraordinary women launch and grow their careers here. We make up a little more than half of EPA’s workforce, and about 44% of our supervisors and managers. Women do just about every job you can imagine — from running major research efforts to analyzing data to steering our work to protect clean air and water.

That includes environmental experts like Jane Nishida, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator in our Office of International and Tribal Affairs, and Janet McCabe, Acting Assistant Administrator for our Office of Air and Radiation, who worked to launch our international air quality monitoring effort that is helping us lead the way as we act on climate. It includes lawyers like Lorie Schmidt, who played a key role in last year’s Supreme Court win affirming our authority to regulate greenhouse gases, and who is heavily involved in finalizing our Clean Power Plan. It also includes innovative leaders like Cynthia Giles, our Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, who developed our Next-Generation Compliance program that leverages new technologies for monitoring, reporting, permitting and transparency, making it easier for companies and organizations to follow the law.

Five of our 13 Administrators since the agency was established have been women, including our current leader, Gina McCarthy. Five of our current Associate and Assistant Administrators are women, too. Three of our 10 Regional Administrators and seven of our 10 Deputy Regional Administrators are women who guide our work in different parts of the country. The women leaders here are too many to list, and for every one woman who has been in the public eye, there are dozens more driving our work forward throughout the organization.

Odds are good that you know a young woman who will soon be thinking about what she wants to study in school, and what path she wants her life to take. Encourage her to seek out a career where she can help protect the environment. That young woman you know could be the next Rachel Carson or Gina McCarthy, and she might step into a decades-long career in public service and environmental protection that changes the face of the world.

All throughout March, we’ll be highlighting women here at the EPA and at some of our sister agencies who are moving our work forward. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to join the conversation, and check out the slideshow below to meet a few of the women who work here at the EPA.

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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Moms Matter in our Fight Against Climate Change

Our children mean the world to us. So as moms, when we say we must meet our moral obligation to leave the next generation a world that is safe and healthy, we mean it. For us moms, it’s personal. It’s our children and grandchildren who are currently suffering from the effects of pollution. It’s our children and grandchildren who make up the future generations each one of us is obligated to protect. This March marks Women’s History Month; a time to recognize the unwavering strength of the mothers coming together to organize, speak out, and stand up for the health of their children.

MomsblogEPA plays a critical role in protecting our children from pollution by keeping our air and water clean and safe, and by taking historic steps to fight climate change. And it turns out, efforts to combat climate change double as public health protection, too. The carbon pollution that fuels climate change comes packaged with other dangerous pollutants that cause smog and soot. With 1-in-10 children in the U.S. today already dealing with asthma—and even higher rates in communities of color—we must do all that we can to reduce harmful exposure.

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Another Way to Act on Climate: Getting Smart on Brownfields Reuse

For 20 years, the brownfields program has worked with local communities to help support reuse and development of former and current contaminated lands. Cleaning up brownfields has put a lot of land back into use, helping communities and boosting local economies. This work has another huge benefit, too: as we redevelop brownfield sites to significantly reduce the impact of climate change.

In Milwaukee, a 5-mile strip that was once the site of several industrial facilities is going through an extensive cleanup. Over 60,000 tons of contaminated soil and more than 40 underground storage tanks have been removed. One of the community’s ideas for the land’s next use is building a green, linear park, with bike trails to encourage lower-impact forms of transit. The park will use green infrastructure elements to reduce stormwater runoff, protecting local waterways during storms that can be made more intense by climate change.

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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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U.S. Lessons Help Inform Chinese Policies to Improve Air Quality

As I stepped off the plane in Beijing, I immediately recognized the environmental challenges facing China today. The air quality during our visit ranged at times between “very unhealthy” and “hazardous”; at its worst, we could not see the tops of buildings in downtown Beijing shrouded in smog. We are reminded that many years ago we faced similar challenges in some cities in the U.S., before we took a comprehensive approach to environmental protection.

My colleague Steve Wolfson and I traveled to Beijing as part of the 19th Annual U.S.-China Legal Exchange sponsored by the U.S. Department of Commerce, January 13-15, 2015. Our task was to address legal tools for improving air quality, and the importance of transparency and public participation in implementing and enforcing environmental laws.

Drawing on our experience in the U.S., we highlighted how environmental protection need not come at the expense of economic growth — and indeed how environmental policies can be a driver for a healthy and sustainable economy. And we emphasized the critical need for public access to clear and accurate environmental data, as well as public access to a fair and even-handed court system, as pillars of sound environmental governance.

The response we got back was resounding. During our trip we met with our counterparts from the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection, as well as the National Development and Reform Commission, Ministry of Commerce, Supreme People’s Court, and other government agencies. We also engaged in lively discussions with representatives of several of China’s leading universities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), as well as with the U.S. business community. In every forum we heard common themes: the urgent need for China to continue to develop an effective environmental law regime, and the critical importance of effective implementation and enforcement mechanisms, all in support of a strong desire by China to maximize its efforts to tackle its pressing environmental challenges and embark on a sustainable path that integrates economic growth, environmental protection, and public health. We also witnessed a genuine eagerness to draw lessons from the successes that the U.S. and other countries have achieved implementing environmental laws that have significantly reduced pollution levels.

These issues were particularly timely as China is in the process of reforming and improving its environmental legal framework. The revisions to China’s framework Environmental Protection Law (EPL) enacted in April 2014 and taking effect on January 1, 2015, constitute one important milestone in this legal reform effort. A key provision of the revised EPL authorizes registered social organizations to bring environmental lawsuits in the public interest against polluters, potentially opening the door for civil society organizations to play a crucial role in addressing China’s environmental challenges.

The Chinese government recently issued interpretive guidance on implementation of these provisions, clarifying how to handle these cases and providing important encouragement for courts to accept more of them. Already there are signs that Chinese NGOs and courts are employing this new legal tool. This month an environmental public interest lawsuit filed by Chinese NGOs Friends of Nature and Fujian Green Home was accepted for consideration by the court in Fujian Province. During our visit we heard about additional NGO cases soon to be filed. The environmental community in China hopes that these provisions will help leverage the growing anti-pollution sentiment in China’s civil society to supplement governmental efforts to control pollution.

This provision is not the only important legal reform. Additional provisions are designed to enhance environmental accountability in China, including requirements for public disclosure of pollutant releases, enhanced penalties for violations of environmental laws, and strengthened mechanisms for holding government officials responsible for achieving environmental objectives. The hope is that legal reform will help develop a system of sound environmental governance, including widespread public access to environmental data, stakeholder engagement in decision-making, and multiple channels of accountability, including access to fair and transparent dispute resolution mechanisms.

China’s air pollution problems have triggered substantial efforts to improve laws and regulations in order to control emissions, an effort which EPA has worked to assist. Improving environmental governance in China can help move towards a level playing field for U.S. businesses competing with Chinese firms, including those who are doing business in China. For these reasons, cooperation on environmental law and governance is a key part of EPA’s overall cooperative engagement with China.

At every turn, I was impressed with the dedication, thoughtfulness, and energy of China’s environmental experts, particularly our counterparts in the Law and Policy Department of their Ministry of Environmental Protection, as well as their openness and genuine desire for information on successful cost-effective strategies for pollution prevention and control. Fortified with first-hand knowledge of the many inspiring individuals we met, and with blue skies dramatically appearing on the last day or our trip, we left China with a sense of hope for this critically important undertaking.

About the author: Ethan G. Shenkman is EPA’s Deputy General Counsel. He was previously with the US Department of Justice, Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD), where he served as Deputy
Assistant Attorney General from 2010 until May 2014.

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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Want Less Cancer from Environmental Causes? Let’s Get Building Codes to Reduce Radon

By Jani Palmer

As part of our Indoor Environments Division, my colleagues and I work to reduce people’s exposure to radon, the leading environmental cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.

Radon comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water – where it naturally occurs. Radon gets into the air we breathe, and it can be found all over the country. It can get into any type of building — homes, offices and schools. You are most likely to get the greatest exposure at home, where you spend most of your time.

The good news is that radon is easy to detect and fix. Some radon reduction systems can reduce radon levels in your home by up to 99%. And, part of my job at EPA is to introduce radon safety features into state and local building codes, like adding a pipe to collect radon from under the home before it has a chance to get inside. If jurisdictions and states adopt codes that require radon-reducing features to be built into new homes and buildings, far fewer Americans would be at risk of getting lung cancer. After all, building a home with radon-reducing features is much cheaper and easier than fixing elevated radon levels in a home that has already been built.

Recently, I participated in the International Code Council’s International Green Construction Code hearing. At the hearing, my task was to ask the room full of committee members to not remove radon reduction features from the code. I only had two minutes to plead my case, and I think I delivered a powerful message.

Spoiler alert: The vote on my issue was not successful. One committee member believed that radon didn’t harm people; another believed that adding radon reducing features was too expensive. Neither of these are true. This means that we need to invest more time in educating codes professionals on radon. So, while I was there, I met stakeholders that just might help us succeed in the future.

Momentum is on our side. More and more state and local jurisdictions are adopting radon building codes, and many voluntary green labeling programs require radon testing and mitigation. Builders are also including radon-resistant construction techniques in new homes.

We’ll continue to work with states, local groups and industry to spread the word about the protection that radon codes offer, and we’ll continue trying to get radon covered by the International Code Council.

About the author: Jani Palmer is a scientist in the Office of Air and Radiation at EPA. She has provided indoor air quality and industrial hygiene services for public and private alike, and is currently serving as Radon Team Leader.

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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What to Know about the President’s FY2016 Budget Request for EPA

 

1. The President’s Fiscal Year 2016 budget request for EPA demonstrates the Administration’s commitment to protecting public health and the environment. The $8.6 billion request is about $450 million above last year’s enacted amount, and will protect our homes and businesses by supporting climate action and environmental protection.

2. Investments in public health and environmental protection pay off. Since EPA was founded in 1970, we’ve seen over and over that a safe environment and a strong economy go hand in hand. In the last 45 years, we’ve cut air pollution 70 percent and cleaned up half our nation’s polluted waterways—and meanwhile the U.S. economy has tripled.

3. The largest part of EPA’s budget, $3.6 billion or 42%, goes to fund our work with our state and tribal partners—because EPA shares the responsibility of protecting public health and the environment with states, tribes, and local communities.

4. President Obama calls climate change one of the greatest economic and public health challenges of our time. So the FY16 budget prioritizes climate action and supports the President’s Climate Action Plan. The budget request for Climate Change and Air Quality is $1.11 billion, which will help protect those most vulnerable from both climate impacts and the harmful health effects of air pollution.
States and businesses across the country are already working to build renewable energy, increase energy efficiency, and cut carbon pollution. Our top priority in developing the proposed Clean Power Plan, which sets carbon pollution standards for power plants, has been to build on input from states and stakeholders.

So in addition to EPA’s operating funding, the President’s Budget proposes a $4 billion Clean Power State Incentive Fund. EPA would administer this fund to support states that go above and beyond Clean Power Plan goals and cut additional carbon pollution from the power sector.

5. EPA will invest a combined $2.3 billion in the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds, renewing our emphasis on the SRFs as a tool for states and communities.

We’re also dedicating $50 million to help communities, states, and private investors finance improvements in drinking water and wastewater infrastructure.

Within that $50 million, we’re requesting $7 million for the newly established Water Infrastructure and Resilience Finance Center, as part of the President’s Build America Initiative. This Center, which the Vice President announced on January 16th, will help identify financing opportunities for small communities, and help leverage private sector investments to improve aging water systems at the local level.

6. Scientific research remains the foundation of EPA’s work. So the President is requesting $528 million to help evaluate environmental and human health impacts related to air pollution, water quality, climate change, and biofuels. It’ll also go toward expanding EPA’s computational toxicology effort, which is letting us study chemical risks and exposure exponentially faster and more affordably than ever before.

7. EPA’s FY 2016 budget request will let us continue to make a real and visible difference to communities every day. It gives us a foundation to revitalize the economy and improve infrastructure across the country. It sustains state, tribal, and federal environmental efforts across all our programs, and supports our excellent staff. We’re proud of their work to focus our efforts on communities that need us most—and to make sure we continue to fulfill our mission for decades to come.

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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