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Climate Change and the Dry, Wild West Part 2

Welcome to part two of my blog on the California drought. In my last blog, I discussed how low rainfall and higher-than-average temperatures are worsening the drought and causing severe water shortages.

The changes that are affecting the drought in the Southwest – lower-than-average rain, higher temperatures, and changes in snowpack and runoff patterns – are consistent with the changes we expect to see with climate change. The Southwest is already the hottest and driest region in the United States, and, according to the National Climate Assessment this area is expected to get even hotter and drier in the future.

Impacts on Human Health
There are consequences of long periods of dryness. When vegetation is dried out or stressed, wildfires are able to start more easily and burn hotter. Wildfire data in California suggest a trend towards increasing acres burned statewide. The annual average of acres burned since 2000 is 598,000 acres, almost twice the annual average for the 1950-2000 period. This is almost the area of New York City and Los Angeles combined. Increased wildfires increase the risk of harmful respiratory and cardiovascular effects of those who are exposed to the smoke. Wildfire risks can even spread hundreds of miles downwind from burning acreage and affect the health of those many miles from the blaze. In addition, increased wildfires can cause significant damage ecosystems and property, and put firefighters and rescue workers at risk.

Impacts on the Economy
The predicted total statewide economic cost of the 2014 drought is $2.2 billion, with a total loss of 17,100 seasonal and part-time jobs. The impacts of California’s drought – water restrictions, wildfires that threaten homes and health, and financial cost – will not only affect California residents, but may have ripple effects across the country. According to a study by UC Davis, expected water shortages through 2014 are projected to cause losses of $810 million in crop revenue and $203 million in dairy and other livestock value, plus additional groundwater pumping costs of $454 million. The water shortage not only threatens California’s agricultural production, but could impact food prices felt by the rest of the country.

In short, the drought in California is serious, and climate change is increasing the odds for longer and more intense droughts like the one occurring now. Fortunately, there are numerous initiatives underway to reduce the carbon pollution driving climate change, and to better prepare for the changes that are already happening. States, like California, have taken the lead in reducing emissions through market-based initiatives, and many states are making strides with climate action plans, renewable portfolio standards, and energy efficiency resource standards. Under the President’s Climate Action Plan, EPA is promoting standards for vehicles and power plants that build on what these states have accomplished and will provide billions of dollars in climate and health benefits in the next few decades.

With our combined efforts, we can reduce the risks we all face from our changing climate. I’m proud to support EPA’s climate efforts – for the sake of my home town and all those impacted by climate change.

Learn more about the causes and impacts of climate change, what EPA is doing to address it, and what you can do about climate change on our website.

Learn more about California’s response to climate change on the state’s website.

A picture of mid- September drought conditions from the past 10 years. While drought is not something new to California, continued periods of drought have significant impacts on the state.  Image: U.S. Drought Monitor http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

A picture of mid- September drought conditions from the past 10 years. While drought is not something new to California, continued periods of drought have significant impacts on the state.
Image: U.S. Drought Monitor http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

About the author: Krystal Laymon is an ORISE Fellow in EPA’s Climate Change Division. She has a background in environmental policy and communications. Krystal received her master’s degree in environmental science and policy at Columbia University and currently resides in Washington, DC with a turtle named Ollie.

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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Protecting Children from Environmental Health Risks

By Khesha Reed

EPA’s responsibility to protect public health and the environment is driven in large part by our duty to protect our kids. October is Children’s Health Month, a time to make sure we’re doing all we can individually and as an agency to protect children from the environmental health risks they face.

Children are not little adults. They have different activity patterns, physiology, and susceptibility to environmental stressors than adults do. Kids eat, breathe, and drink more relative to their body mass than adults do, so it’s especially important that their air and water be clean and their food be healthy. And because they are still growing and developing, exposure to pollution—including mercury, lead, and chemicals—can be especially dangerous for kids.

This year, I’m proud that EPA has taken action to fight climate change, protect clean water, and promote safer pesticides—decreasing children’s health risks.

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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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Acting on Climate Change for our Children’s Sake

By Gina McCarthy and Nsedu Obot Witherspoon

The missions of the Children’s Environmental Health Network (CEHN) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) align for a simple reason: healthy people depend on a healthy environment to live, work, and play in.

Scientific research shows our children are especially vulnerable to environmental health hazards. October is Children’s Health Month, and as we work to raise awareness and act on health risks, we need to keep children’s health considerations and concerns at the forefront of our research, practice, and policy decisions. We need to be especially vigilant as we face new health risks from climate change.

Warmer temperatures from climate change, fueled by carbon pollution, are making allergy seasons longer and worsening smog, exacerbating children’s asthma. One in ten kids in the U.S. already suffers from asthma, and these numbers could go up. Hotter weather is also increasing moisture in the air in some locations. More moisture means more mold and mildew—which also cause respiratory problems.

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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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Usability Testing, the Report on the Environment, and My Time at EPA

By Taylor Katz

As a student of Environmental Health at George Washington University, I was excited to be asked to contribute to the Agency’s Report on the Environment (ROE). The Report is a compilation of information on the best available indicators of national conditions and trends in air, water, land, human heath, ecological systems, and sustainability.

What makes the 2014 edition so unique from past versions, is that the 2014 Report on the Environment is entirely online. Through interactive graphs, maps, and charts, the website presents trends and measurements of physical and biological conditions within clearly defined geographic areas. Focal points are the Report’s six theme areas: Air, Water, Land, Human Exposure and Health, Ecological Condition, and Sustainability. It’s a hotspot for all things environmental and ecological health related.

EPA's Report on the Environment presents interactive maps and other graphics.

EPA’s Report on the Environment presents interactive maps and other graphics.

Because the Report can be a valuable resource for scientists, decisions-makers, and the public, the team that produced it wanted to ensure that users can find the exact information they want, when they need it. That’s where I come in.

I was asked to help improve the Report on the Environment website by conducting usability tests with EPA employees. To do this, we created two tests—one focused on the site’s indicators, and the other on navigating the site.

Five EPA employees participated in each test, and we gave each eight tasks to perform. For example, task one was: “your supervisor has assigned you to put together some information for a report about mercury. To start, you want to know the mercury levels in the U.S. population. Where would you look for this information?” As participants verbally communicated how they navigated through the site, we observed which tasks participants commonly struggled to complete. We recorded the results of each participant, which will ultimately help the team ensure the website is the best it can be.

Looking back on my summer, usability testing gave me more than just knowledge regarding the Report on the Environment. By meeting different EPA employees from different backgrounds, I gained an appreciation for the fact that everyone at the Agency has a core value of improving the environment and human health.

Working here allowed me to better understand the ins and outs of what really goes on at the EPA. I was able to familiarize myself with different offices, while also witnessing the real life applications of information that I study in textbooks and attend lectures on. This work helped me realize that regardless of one’s research or specialization, it takes the whole organization to produce a great product.

About the Author: Taylor Katz is currently a student at George Washington University and was a summer intern at EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment.

 

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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A Public-Private Partnership That Works

 

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy participates in  a White House Industry Leader Roundtable

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy participates in a White House Industry Leader Roundtable

 

By EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to meet with private and public sector leaders to discuss ways we can significantly reduce emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), potent greenhouse gases used in refrigeration and air conditioning systems that contribute to climate change and can be hundreds to thousands of times stronger than carbon dioxide. And their use is increasing—U.S. HFC emissions are expected to nearly double by 2020 and triple by 2030.

I came away from the meeting understanding that American businesses are ready to meet this challenge. At the roundtable gathering, Carrier, a major manufacturer of air conditioning and refrigeration equipment, committed to the commercialization of HFC-free refrigerants in road transportation refrigeration by 2020, building on its expertise with HFC-free carbon dioxide refrigerant in marine container and food retail. And Lapolla committed to transitioning its entire foam product line to be high-GWP HFC free by 2016.

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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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Day In the Life: A Visit to Boston

I went home to Boston on Tuesday to engage with public health professionals and experts to discuss the important link between the health of our environment and the health of our children. We know climate change is fueling environmental public health problems such as asthma and other respiratory ailments, which is why the agency is taking action to reduce carbon pollution and greenhouse gas emissions through the Clean Power Plan and other initiatives.

Here’s a look at my day:

Excited to have GinaEPA in Boston today: mtg w/families & healthcare workers re impacts of clean air & President Obama’s #ClimateActionPlan

— EPA New England (@EPAnewengland) August 19, 2014

I started the day at the Boston Children’s Hospital.

Administrator McCarthy and the staff from Boston Children’s Hospital Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU) show they are united on improving the health of children suffering from asthma and respiratory problems aggravated by environmental factors.

Administrator McCarthy and the staff from Boston Children’s Hospital Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU).

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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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Join Me in Congratulating Our 2014 Indoor airPLUS Leader Award Winners!

In a recent blog post, I wrote about new guidance EPA published to help building professionals address moisture control, which is key to controlling many indoor contaminants. Beyond providing this type of guidance, we seek to improve indoor air quality (IAQ) by encouraging builders and home energy raters to participate in EPA’s Indoor airPLUS Program. Indoor airPLUS offers construction specifications and a simple, straightforward checklist to achieve an EPA label for improved IAQ in new homes.

It has been our experience that consumers are as concerned with the health, safety, and comfort of their homes as they are with reducing utility bills and maintenance costs. EPA created Indoor airPLUS in 2009 to help builders meet this growing consumer preference for homes with improved indoor air quality. Building on the successes of the ENERGY STAR Certified Homes Program, Indoor airPLUS adds a few simple steps during construction, which can help protect homeowners from mold, pests, combustion by-products, and other airborne pollutants, while they are in the house. And, keeping our buildings healthy has never been more important as we make them more energy efficient to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. More

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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American Ingenuity on Display at Next Gen Tech Demo Day

•Administrator McCarthy, then-Deputy Administrator Perciasepe and Assistant Administrator Giles learn about water pollution monitoring technology.

Administrator McCarthy, then-Deputy Administrator Perciasepe and Assistant Administrator Giles learn about water pollution monitoring technology.

 

I’ve been talking a lot about the impact and promise of EPA’s Next Generation Compliance strategy. As a vital program to reduce pollution, build transparency and save costs, it has become a driving force to unleash American ingenuity and innovation. This was certainly evident last week, when EPA hosted a “Next Generation Compliance Advanced Monitoring Tech Demo Day” that convened some of the latest advances in pollution monitoring across the country. Walking through the event with Administrator McCarthy and then-Deputy Administrator Perciasepe was so much fun, not to mention inspiring. EPA, academia, industry and non-profit organizations presented so many solutions there, each with a unique approach to solve complex pollution challenges.

Here’s a quick recap of what we saw.

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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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Promoting Environmental Stewardship Among Young People: A 2009 PEYA Winner’s Story

By Apoorva Rangan

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions has evolved into a problem on a scale that no nation can afford to fight alone. There are over 190 countries. Their boundaries may be fixed, but their people breathe the same air. No matter which country contributes the most or the least to the carbon dioxide burden, all nations suffer together.

During a time when there are major differences between developed and developing nations as how to mitigate climate change, my brother and I launched Project Jatropha, an international collaboration aimed towards alleviating rural poverty and environmental destruction by promoting the biofuel shrub Jatropha curcas.

Project Jatropha provides poor farmers in southern India with enhanced technical assistance in the utility and productivity of biofuels in ways that are environmentally sustainable and economically rewarding. Additionally, this project provides a successful medium in which young people across the globe can collaborate on the implementation of sound initiatives that provide environmental and monetary benefits to impoverished farmers in need.

In 2009, Project Jatropha was awarded the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Presidential Environmental Youth Award (PEYA). The PEYA program recognizes youth who promote environmentally-conscious awareness of our nation’s natural resources and encourages community involvement in sustainability efforts.

Each year, one outstanding project from each of EPA’s ten regional offices is selected for national recognition. The new projects awarded continue to be impressive. To be one of the lucky recipients of this award is truly one of my biggest accomplishments as an environmentalist. This honor has given Project Jatropha invaluable visibility and exposure. More importantly, the recognition from this award has helped raise awareness about how community action is key to creating essential strategies the benefit our global community and environment.

Since receiving the award, Project Jatropha has launched a variety of sister projects focused on environmental education, solar energy programs and kitchen gardens. My experience as an environmentalist has shown me that climate change is a problem on the scale that no entity can afford to fight alone. Because collective efforts can make a difference, the environmental education and stewardship of young people is undeniably crucial in the fight to combat global warming.

About the author: Apoorva Rangan is studying Science and Management with a biotechnology sequence at Claremont-McKenna College in California. She is currently interning at the Office of Public Engagement.

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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Thousands Participate in EPA Public Hearings

EPA panelists listening to testimony in DC

EPA panelists listening to testimony in DC

Last week Administrator McCarthy wrote a blog post about EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan and the kickoff of our public hearings. Today, I am writing to report that the hearings were a great success – we heard from all kinds of people who expressed a wide variety of views.

The four multi-day public hearings took place in Atlanta, Denver, Pittsburgh, and Washington D.C. One of the important and wonderful things about our federal rulemaking process is that it gives us opportunities to collect direct feedback on our proposals through public hearings like these. People have an opportunity to interact directly with their federal government and provide input that can help shape a major rulemaking.
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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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