Clean Air Act

Remembering an Environmental and Public Health Pioneer

By A. Stanley Meiburg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Taking Stock of EPA’s Work Helping the Mystic River

By Curt Spalding, Regional Administrator, US EPA New England

Today’s blog post celebrates the great work done by EPA and many partners to improve water quality in Boston’s urban waters. EPA has focused for more than two decades on improving the water quality here. It’s hard to overstate the turnaround in Boston Harbor, and the improvements to urban river watersheds like the Mystic and Charles are nothing short of remarkable.

The Mystic River offers a view of Boston.

The Mystic River offers a view of Boston.

While water quality improvements to the Charles River and Boston Harbor may get more attention, the work and the resulting advances in urban waters like the Mystic, have been equally impressive. A huge amount of progress has been made improving water quality in the Mystic River and the differences can be seen in communities throughout the watershed.

The Mystic suffered from high bacteria levels just like other urban waters such as the Charles and the Neponset. And in all three rivers, we used the same tools to tackle sources of bacterial contamination by aggressively enforcing the law to halt industrial pollution and the discharge of sewage mixed in with storm overflow. In each case, we eliminated illicit connections to storm drains, and found ways to limit stormwater pollution.

Our results speak volumes. This past summer, the water quality in the main stems of both the Mystic and Charles rivers were graded roughly equal. In the main stem of the Mystic (including Chelsea Creek, the fresh water and salt water portions of the river and the upper lakes), the water quality met Massachusetts water standards for boating and swimming over 86 percent of the time, and in the areas closer to Boston Harbor, the grade rises to nearly 90 percent of the time. These results are on par with the Charles River’s water quality grade of B+ this year for the main stem of the Charles. Some of the tributaries of the Mystic still need to see further improvement, and those areas are our focus.

EPA Regional Administrator announces 2016 Mystic River Report Card results.

EPA Regional Administrator announces 2016 Mystic River Report Card results.

Of course, the Mystic and the Charles each have different geography, development history, and vastly different population density. For example, the Mystic River is part of a large watershed, but contains a much smaller river stem. The challenges that exist in this river are heavily concentrated in the smaller tributaries that feed the river. The Mystic Watershed is far more densely populated, with about 6,600 people per square mile compared to 2,900 people per square mile in the Charles Watershed.

The differences among these rivers means EPA must tailor its work to respond to the unique characteristics of each river’s area and pollution sources. Our concerted work on the Charles began in the 1990s, and the lessons we learned there provided knowledge and experience that has brought faster improvements in other urban waters like the Mystic.

The power of the 44-year-old Clean Water Act has provided many of the tools EPA needed to achieve the superb results we have seen in Boston’s urban waterways. In 2007, EPA gave the Mystic a D for its first water quality grade. That year we also ordered the City of Revere to stop discharging pollutants into the Mystic watershed. Additional enforcement with several other Mystic municipalities, as well as the Suffolk Downs racetrack and a criminal prosecution of Exxon Mobil for a diesel spill followed. All of the municipal enforcement required the entities to identify and eliminate illicit discharges of pollutants to storm drains discharging to the Mystic River and its tributaries. And our enforcement cases have resulted in other valuable investments in the watershed. Resolution of the Exxon Mobil case provided over $2.6 million for environmental projects in the Mystic River and Chelsea Creek.  Another settlement provided over $1 million toward the 4.5 acre Condor Street Urban Wild along the heavily industrialized Chelsea Creek, providing an urban oasis for the citizens of East Boston.  And thanks to a settlement requiring installation of a boardwalk in Belle Isle Marsh, citizens will soon be able to explore the largest surviving salt marsh in Boston in greater detail.

Sun shines on the shores of the Mystic.

Sun shines on the shores of the Mystic.

If the Mystic River was going to get healthier, we knew it would need many champions. So, in 2009 EPA led the formation of a Mystic River Watershed Steering Committee. The Steering Committee, including community groups, nonprofit organizations, local, state and federal partners, since then has guided the improvements of the Mystic River Watershed, establishing strategy, priorities and key projects and actions needed to improve the Mystic. The focus of this group has certainly helped us realize the tremendous improvements we have seen on the Mystic, and they continue to work diligently on water quality improvement. For example, the Mystic River Watershed Association just received a national EPA Urban Waters grant to help create a multi-media stormwater education collaborative to increase awareness of stormwater pollution throughout the watershed.

EPA's Water Quality Monitoring Buoy collects and streams live water quality data on EPA’s Website (LINK: https://www.epa.gov/mysticriver).

EPA’s Water Quality Monitoring Buoy collects and streams live water quality data on EPA’s Website (LINK: https://www.epa.gov/mysticriver).

Another exciting development we are proud of is that in 2015, we launched a Mystic River water quality monitoring buoy in front of the Blessing of the Bay Boathouse in Somerville. The buoy measures water quality parameters including temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, turbidity, specific conductance, and chlorophyll. The buoy is also used to monitor for and track cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) blooms. The data can be viewed by the public in near real time on our Mystic River website.

The data collected over the years, from a number of different partners, has informed the work done to improve water quality on the River. It contributes to our understanding of the River, which is especially important when tracking toxic algae blooms, a current EPA priority.  Algae blooms are often the result of excess nutrients entering the river, and this fall, we awarded an extensive technical assistance contract to help assess and reduce phosphorus entering the Mystic watershed.   This information will help guide future water quality projects in the area.

To improve water quality we also need better, flexible yet protective permits. Last April, we updated the Clean Water Act permit for small “Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems” (MS4s) in Massachusetts, including for the 21 communities within the Mystic Watershed. Better management of stormwater will protect rivers, streams, ponds, lakes and wetlands from pollutants, including elevated levels of nutrients.

Our work to improve conditions in the Mystic Watershed has extended beyond water quality. We’ve invested nearly $16 million in cleaning and developing formerly contaminated and abandoned sites known as brownfields. This work throughout greater Boston has brought life back to long abandoned sites with industrial pollution. We’ve also been cleaning Superfund sites along the Mystic River Watershed for decades. Two of the most famous sites we’ve cleaned – the Wells G&H and Industri-plex sites in Woburn – are in the Mystic River Watershed. Both have been and continue to be cleaned up and returned to productive use.

The Boston Harbor Cleanup was just the first step in EPA’s focus on cleaning waterways in the Greater Boston Area. We’ve all made tremendous strides to reduce direct bacterial pollution harming our urban rivers, even as these rivers are still in recovery from legacy pollution. The Mystic, Neponset and Charles River watersheds have robust watershed organizations employing citizen science and leveraging public/private partnerships. Still, more work lays ahead. The tributaries that feed all three rivers continue to be investigated for sources of pollution. We now understand that stormwater runoff is a major source of pollution to our waterbodies. EPA will continue its work towards healthier and cleaner watersheds that are a valued resource for the communities.

 

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 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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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
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  • 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
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  • Ensuring that  emergency response capabilities are available to mitigate the effects of a chemical accident
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  • Improving the ability of local emergency planning committees and local  emergency response officials to better prepare for emergencies
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  • 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: http://www.epa.gov/rmp/proposed-changes-risk-management-program-rmp-rule

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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A New Subway Line to Green the Apple

Want to know more? Visit the Second Avenue Subway Community Information Center at 1628 Second Ave.

Want to know more? Visit the Second Avenue Subway Community Information Center at 1628 Second Ave.

By Elias Rodriguez

Quickly navigating New York City’s mass transit system requires time, forethought and good fortune. It is still far cheaper than a taxi and better for the environment. According to the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability 43 percent of New Yorkers travel to work by subway and commuter rail.

One particularly vexing problem has been traveling from upper Manhattan’s east side to the lower east side via the underground. Thankfully, the city’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is nearly done with the first phase of the city’s solution. Namely, the Second Avenue Subway, which will be the first major addition to the serpentine subway system in 50 years.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the $4.45 billion project was on schedule, and it is still expected to open in December 2016.

Once the dust and schist rock settles, the new line will run along 8.5 miles from 125th Street in Harlem all the way down to Hanover Square, which is in the Financial District and near the South Ferry Terminal.

There is an existing subway line that runs up the east side, but to call it overcrowded would be a serious understatement. The transit authority expects a whopping 200,000 daily riders to hop on board once the train line is activated.

Using mass transit benefits the goal of improving air quality. When states and cities plan these capital improvements, it’s important that they consider transportation conformity. Transportation conformity is required by the Clean Air Act and basically means that planners should work to not cause new air quality violations or against air quality standards.

Ironically, this subway path does not represent a new line of thinking. During a bygone era, Manhattan had a train that ran along Third Ave. Can you believe that it ran above ground and was elevated over the city’s streets? The famous old “EL” or elevated was a source of infamous noise pollution complaints, not to mention a feature that seriously crimped the real estate market in its immediate vicinity. Upon the demise of the “EL” in 1950, the New York Times wrote: “A small segment of Old New York disappeared last night with a screech and a clatter and not a tear was shed at its passing.”

Well, if all goes according to plan, tears of joy will soon be shed by straphangers all over the city who will soon have a brand new subway route as they navigate the Big Apple.

 

About the Author: Elias serves as EPA Region 2’s bilingual public information officer. Prior to joining EPA, the proud Nuyorican worked at Time Inc. conducting research for TIME, LIFE, FORTUNE and PEOPLE magazines. He is a graduate of Hunter College, Baruch College and the Theological Institute of the Assembly of Christian Churches in NYC.

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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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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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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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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Clean Power Plan: Power Plant Compliance and State Goals

EPA’s historic Clean Power Plan, is a first-of-its-kind step to cut the harmful carbon pollution fueling climate change from our nation’s power plants based on more than two years of extensive outreach, plus the 4.3 million public comments we received. Compared with last year’s proposal, our final plan cuts over 70 million more tons of carbon pollution, making it more ambitious, more achievable and more affordable, too.

There are two key reasons our final rule works: 1) it follows a more traditional Clean Air Act approach to reduce air pollution, and 2) it gives states and utilities even more options and more time to reach their pollution reduction goals than our proposal did.

Uniform Performance Rates

At the heart of our plan are its uniform emission rates – one for fossil steam units (coal, oil, and gas) and one for natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) units. The standards limit the amount of carbon pollution released for every power plant covered by the rule – and they are the same standards for every coal plant and for every NGCC plant in every state.

The rates are achievable because no power plant has to meet the rates on its own.  It can use the fact that it operates on an interconnected grid to access a range of low- or zero-emitting energy resources to come into compliance.

The important point to keep in mind is that power plants do not operate in isolation. Utilities have bought, sold and transmitted electricity across state lines for decades, and regional power grids are a major reason electricity is affordable and reliable. Pollution doesn’t stop at state lines either. With the Clean Power Plan, we’re cutting pollution in the same way we generate and distribute electricity—through an interconnected grid.

In fact, relying on the performance rates is one way that a state can put its power plants in a position to use emissions trading between and among power plants in different states to access those clean energy resources – and to integrate emissions reduction strategies with the way the grid moves electricity back and forth across broad multi-state regions.

State Goals

Each state’s goal represents a blend of the performance rate for coal and the performance rate for gas weighted by the number of coal and gas plants in the state. States can choose to comply simply by applying the performance rates to each unit operating within their respective borders, especially if they include emissions trading as a compliance option for their units. States can also comply with the law by using their overall emissions goals and adopting a portfolio of measures that result in emissions reductions.

While the utilities are responsible for reducing emissions, the state plans are the means of accounting for and ensuring that the reductions take place in line with the national standards and timing established by the Clean Power Plan. And the state rate- and mass-based goals are a way of giving states additional options and flexibility for implementing the two performance standards.

Emissions Trading
When we hold power plants of the same type to the same standards, it means that their reductions are interchangeable – creating a system that’s ready for trading. The built-in ability to trade emissions gives states even more flexibility in how they achieve their carbon pollution reduction goals.

A Glide Path

Further ensuring that the standards are achievable is that the final rule does not require any power plant to meet the standards – or whatever equivalent measure the state imposes – all at once. Instead, states can determine their own emissions reduction trajectories over the period between 2022 and 2029, provided that overall they meet their interim targets “on average” over that period. The final rule ensured this important flexibility by initiating the mandatory compliance period in 2022, rather than 2020 as at proposal, and phasing in the two performance standards and the accompanying state goals. This phase-in is reflected in the performance rates and in the state goals that correspond to those rates, again calculated as a weighted blend

Final Goals in 2030
Ultimately, by 2030, power plants across the country must meet the performance standards using the tools and methods available and within the context of the interconnected grid. Because some states’ power plant fleet includes more coal plants, some states 2030 goals appear more stringent than others. Some states have adopted policies or seen changes in their energy markets that have already put them on a path to lower emissions in 2030.  These states’ reduction requirements are relatively smaller. Either way, every state will be achieving emissions reductions along the timeline between 2012 and 2030. States that have already seen their emissions decline thanks to either policy choices or market shifts will have to take action to make sure that those trends continue.

These two tables tell the Clean Power Plan’s story on a state by state basis, and they provide a good sense of what states and the power system will accomplish by 2030 under the program.

With our final rule, we are setting smart, uniform targets for power plants across the country, but that’s nothing new. It’s a proven approach that EPA has used to reduce air pollution under the Clean Air Act for decades. We’re following long-standing legal precedent to create smart, achievable standards and facilitate trading among plants so the cheapest reductions come first.

More information about how and why goals changed is available at http://www.epa.gov/airquality/cpp/fs-cpp-key-changes.pdf.

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 Perspective: the Supreme Court’s Mercury and Air Toxics Rule Decision

The Supreme Court’s decision on EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) was disappointing to everyone working to protect public health by reducing emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants.  But as we take stock of what this decision means, there are some important factors that make me confident we are still on track to reduce this dangerous pollution and better protect America’s children, families and communities.

Most notably – the Administration remains committed to finalizing the Clean Power Plan this summer and yesterday’s ruling will have no bearing on the effort to reduce carbon pollution from the largest sources of emissions.

Second – this decision is very narrow.  It did not invalidate the rule, which remains in effect today.  In fact, the majority of power plants are already in compliance or well on their way to compliance.  The Court found that EPA should have considered costs at an earlier step in the rulemaking process than it did.  The court did not question EPA’s authority to control toxic air pollution from power plants provided it considers cost in that step.  It also did not question our conclusions on human health that supported the agency’s finding that regulation is needed.  And its narrow ruling does not disturb the remainder of the D.C. Circuit decision which unanimously upheld all other aspects of the MATS rule and rejected numerous challenges to the standards themselves.

Third – this decision does not affect other Clean Air Act programs that address other sources and types of air pollution. It hinged on a very specific section of the Act that applies exclusively to the regulation of air toxics from power plants.  This is important to understand because it means that rules and programs that reduce other types of pollutants under other sections of the Clean Air Act—like ozone and fine particles (smog and soot) can continue without interruption or delay.

The decision does not affect the Clean Power Plan, which EPA will be finalizing later this summer and which will chart the course for this country to reduce harmful carbon from its fleet of existing power plants.   That’s worth repeating: The Court’s conclusion that EPA must consider cost when determining whether it is “appropriate” to regulate toxic air emissions from utilities under section 112 of the Act will not impact the development of the Clean Power Plan under section 111.  Cost is among the factors the Agency has long explicitly considered in setting standards under section 111 of the Act.

Fourth – America’s power sector is getting cleaner year after year by investing in more modern technologies.   Since President Obama took office, wind energy has tripled and solar has grown ten-fold. The Clean Power Plan will build on these current positive trends.  That means cleaner air in communities across the country, as well as a boost to our economy as we build the clean energy system of the future.

Finally – What’s next for MATS?   From the moment we learned of this decision, we were committed to ensuring that standards remain in place to protect the public from toxic emissions from coal and oil-fired electric utilities.  We will continue to work to make that happen.  There are questions that will need to be answered over the next several weeks and months as we review the decision and determine the appropriate next steps once that review is complete.  But as I’ve already noted, MATS is still in place and many plants have already installed controls and technologies to reduce their mercury emissions.

After nearly 45 years of implementing the Clean Air Act, there have been many more victories than defeats as we’ve worked together to clean the air and raise healthier children and families.  Despite the Supreme Court’s MATS decision, the agency remains confident that the progress we’ve made so far in improving air quality and protecting public health will continue.

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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