clean water act

Case load brings recognition to EPA lawyer

By Amy Miller

Attorney Jeff Kopf was called to the deputy administrator’s office to talk about cases he had settled with towns or companies who had violated environmental laws. Getting called to the boss’s office is not an every day occurrence for a lawyer in EPA New England’s office, so he wondered why these cases were drawing attention.Kopf

When he arrived at Deb Szaro’s office, Jeff found, rather than a discussion of legal matters, a group of colleagues there to congratulate him. Jeff, now in his 19th year at EPA New England, was being recognized as “Employee of the Month” for his work in settling five separate cases that will ensure cleaner water for communities around New England.

Every month EPA recognizes an employee whose work has made a significant contribution to public health or environmental protection and most recently it was Jeff.

A native of Brookline now living in Newton, Jeff, generally handles cases involving the Clean Water Act. This focus on water is a natural outgrowth of his initial interest in environmental work.

Before joining EPA, he worked at a wildlife rehab center near Seattle, Wash. There he washed sea birds covered in oil from a large oil spill off the coast. He also learned skills related to capturing and caring for injured urban wildlife such as raccoons, opossums and seagulls, and he learned how to track released animals with radio tracking devices, including eagles, black bears and coyotes. Then he went to Boston College Law School with a focus on environmental law.

“I like working with communities to solve big waste water and stormwater infrastructure problems to come up with a solution,” said Jeff, a Brookline native now living in Newton. “I always like those cases that prevent oil spills from getting into the environment.”

In addition to the five enforcement actions Jeff finished under the Clean Water Act, he also oversaw the completion of a sixth case by an honors fellow he mentors. And besides the impressive number of cases he handled in just one recent month, Jeff was lead attorney for a total of 19 Clean Water Act cases finished in the fiscal year (which ended Sept. 30.)

“This incredible level of productivity, and the direct environmental results that he achieved in August alone, deserved recognition,” said Deputy Regional Administrator Deb Szaro

Four of the cases closed recently by Jeff – in Worcester and Halifax, Mass., and in Derby and Bridgeport, Conn., – were with municipalities. Two others – Foster Materials in Henniker, N.H., and Townsend Oil in Georgetown, Mass. – involved companies. The cases for the most part included violations involving illicit discharges, for instance an industry not fully complying with its stormwater permit, not using best management practices or not following spill prevention rules.

The cases include actions in: Worcester, which will address unauthorized discharges to Lake Quinsigamond and the Blackstone River by putting in place a plan to manage stormwater; Bridgeport, Conn., which discharged untreated sewage to the Bridgeport Harbor and Pequannock River, will address sewer overflows; Halifax, which agreed to address violations of its discharge permit at the town’s water treatment plant; Derby, Conn., which has discharged untreated sewage into the Naugatuck and Housatonic Rivers, and will put in place a program to address ongoing sewer overflows; Foster Materials, which has a sand and gravel mine and production facility in Henniker, NH, and pay a $20,000 fine for discharging sediment-laden water into the Contoocook River; and Townsend Oil, which operates a fuel oil bulk plant in Georgetown,., and to pay $30,000 to settle claims it failed to maintain and fully put in place a spill prevention plan.

Jeff acknowledged it is “certainly nice to be recognized,” but noted that enforcement cases involve collaboration, an aspect of his job he particularly values.

“Part of what I enjoy here,” he said, “is working with the technical staff the engineers who helped me put those cases together and helped in settling them.”

More information on how EPA enforces the Clean Water Act (https://www.epa.gov/enforcement/water-enforcement) and how EPA works with companies to avoid oil spills from occurring (https://www.epa.gov/oil-spills-prevention-and-preparedness-regulations)

Amy Miller works in the office of public affairs at EPA New England.

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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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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Finding Solutions the Lean Way

By Travis Robinett

Having spent more than five months as a Pathways Intern at EPA Region 7, something I couldn’t help but hear about was EPA’s focus on Lean practices. In case you haven’t heard about Lean, it’s a method for process improvement. It’s about questioning the status quo of how you work, analyzing it, and making it better. And it’s becoming part of the work culture here in Region 7. We’ve already implemented more than 25 projects since 2013, and are currently working on several more.

It’s pleasant to see a federal agency take such a hard look at itself. It’s especially true here at EPA, because the more efficient and effective we become, the better we can fulfill our mission to protect human health and the environment.

EPA Region 7 personnel work with state partners during a Process Excellence event to improve the Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 106 work plan negotiations process for Performance Partnership Grants (PPGs) in Aug. 2016. Process Excellence (often abbreviated as PEx) is the Region’s process improvement program, staffed with trained facilitators ready to tackle employee-recommended Lean projects. These facilitators are trained in Lean Six Sigma, and by the end of the year, three Region 7 Employees will be certified Black Belts and 12 others will be certified Green Belts.

EPA Region 7 staff work with state partners at the August 2016 event to improve the Clean Water Act Section 106 work plan negotiations process for Performance Partnership Grants. Region 7’s Process Excellence program is staffed with trained facilitators ready to tackle employee-recommended Lean projects.

I saw it for myself in August 2016, when Region 7’s Chris Taylor and Doug Jones co-facilitated a four-day event to improve the Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 106 work plan negotiations process for Performance Partnership Grants (PPGs).

I was in the room with 16 participants and two facilitators. The Region 7 states of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska all sent leaders from their state water divisions, while Region 7 sent in managers and technical project officers from its Water and Wetlands programs, along with the staff who coordinate the process.

Going in, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. Trying to find solutions as a team sometimes works pretty well, but sometimes expectations aren’t met and people can leave in disagreement. With so many state agencies and EPA staff involved, all with their own unique needs, I was curious to see if everyone would be able to put their issues on the table, come up with solutions as a group, and move forward satisfied with those solutions?

Laying the Groundwork for Lean

To get the best results possible, these events are highly structured using Lean Six Sigma methodologies. Trained facilitators use certain tools in a certain order. They manage the team, keep everyone on task, and find a balance between the free expression of opinions, while still following the regimen. For example, if someone proposes a solution when the team is focusing on identifying the problem, the facilitator asks them to save the idea for later by putting it in the idea “parking lot.”

The facilitators do their best to make everyone productive and engaged. And to make that happen, they need everyone in the room to buy into Lean. So Taylor and Jones got to work.

After a basic orientation and laying the event’s ground rules, they demonstrated Lean’s effectiveness to the group by taking 30 minutes for the “Dot Activity.” Essentially it’s a game of production, where the group is assigned different roles, working together to make finished products (paper with colored dots placed in a certain order).

For the first round, the rules say to stick to the script, which is purposefully inefficient. After the 6-minute time limit, zero products were ready for the customer. Before the next two rounds, the group collaborated to change the process. By the third, they had made a natural assembly line and streamlined the process, and efficiency exploded. They made 28 products, and only took a minute to finish the first.

The Dot Activity highlighted some of the general ways a process can get bogged down, and how easy fixes can drastically increase efficiency. Just shifting around the work space saw dramatic results. It also got people into the mindset of process improvement and working as a team. Most importantly, it built comradery before really getting started, and got the team into good spirits.

The Process of Process Improvement

lean-governmentOne of the main tools used in Lean is the process map. The process is drawn out step-by-step to visualize it, analyze it, and then decide where to make it better. But before mapping, Taylor went around the room and asked everyone what they did and didn’t want out of the event, making sure everyone had their say.

The four states made it clear that nothing new should interfere with their internal work. EPA’s project officers wanted a better way to track grants through the process. EPA’s Water and Wetlands program staff wanted to make a consistent process that works with all four states. With this in mind, the mapping began. Four different maps were needed to account for the different processes with each of the states, along with a fifth map for the general timeline of the process.

Taylor drew out the maps by hand, step by step, with everyone’s input. Then he recreated them on his computer after the day was over, printing them for the next morning so everyone could double-check the results.

Once the maps were checked and edited, Taylor asked everyone for their “pain points” in the process, where they felt the process was breaking down, and for one thing they liked about the process and wanted to keep. From this, the group made three goals for the new process map: better collaboration from the start, better tracking methods, and better documentation in the process.

Next, the group split up to find potential solutions. They wrote them on sticky notes, reviewed them as a group, and placed them on a “Difficulty-Impact Matrix,” which compares impact to difficulty. The ideal solution is one that makes a big impact and is simple to implement.

In my opinion, the best idea was to have a series of “kickoff” meetings between EPA Region 7 and the states to establish clear work plan expectations from the start. This way, the states know more about any annual updates from EPA headquarters at the beginning of the process, and have a better idea of what to prioritize in their grants. Another solution was to use a shared, online tracking system so work plan progress can be checked instantly.

The next day, they drew a new process, one that would work for all four states, with their preferred solutions mixed in and every step accounted for. But even after the map was finished, the group wasn’t done yet. They made a rollout plan and assigned everyone tasks so the new process would be integrated smoothly.

The final step was the Report Out, where senior-level managers and other staff members came to see the event’s outcome presented, followed by a Q&A session. And when the states were asked whether they maintained their independence in the process, they all resoundingly said “yes.”

So in the end, the team came up with realistic and impactful solutions, along with a plan to implement them, and no one left in disagreement. And ultimately, it’s going to improve outcomes for cleaner water across the region.

This is what Lean and Process Excellence are all about. With these events happening more frequently and having more staff involved, the word keeps spreading. EPA Region 7 is all in on Lean, continuously striving to do better, and collaborating to get there.


Additional Information: Exploring the Clean Water Act and PPGs

What’s a Performance Partnership Grant (PPG)? It’s several grants in one, dealing with water, air, hazardous waste, and other state and EPA priority activities. In the case of this Process Excellence event, the grants are focused on the Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 106, which encompasses a variety of CWA activities.

The CWA EPA Sealis complex. One of its main components provides for states to monitor their waters to see whether these water bodies are meeting different designated uses. For example, if a stream is not swimmable, or has poor habitat for wildlife, the states pinpoint the lacking water-quality metrics, then come up with a plan to fix the problem, known as Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs). And that’s just one of many tasks involved in the CWA.

Just in Section 106, funding is provided for:

  • Monitoring and assessing water quality
  • Developing water quality standards
  • Identifying impaired waters and TMDLs
  • Managing National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits
  • Ensuring compliance
  • Implementing enforcement actions
  • Protecting source water
  • Managing outreach and education programs

It’s not cheap to carry out these activities. So the federal government provides grant money to states with delegated programs. The states write the PPG work plans, which plan and budget for their fiscal year CWA 106 activities. These plans are then negotiated and ultimately approved by EPA.


About the Author: Travis Robinett has been a Student Intern at EPA Region 7 since June 2016. He is a second-year graduate student at the University of Kansas (KU), working toward a master’s degree in environmental assessment, and holds two bachelor’s degrees in journalism and English from KU. Travis has a passion for sustainability, public service, teaching, volunteering, and the great outdoors.

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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Recognizing a Milestone in Bay Cleanup

by Tom Damm

EPA Regional Administrator, Shawn M. Garvin, speaking at the Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant

EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin speaking at Blue Plains 

With a labyrinth of the most advanced wastewater treatment infrastructure glistening and churning in the background, a cadre of the region’s top environmental officials had an announcement to make this week.

Wastewater treatment plants in the Chesapeake Bay watershed together were effectively meeting their 2025 pollution limits 10 years ahead of schedule.

The announcement was made at the giant Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant in Washington, D.C. – the largest such plant not only in the watershed, but in the world.

Among the audience members were employees at the plant in their hardhats and bright green DC Water shirts, who, on behalf of their colleagues around the watershed, earned praise from the podium and applause from the crowd.

EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin said the wastewater sector was “leading the way” in the effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay and local waters, reducing nitrogen to the Bay by 57 percent and phosphorus by 75 percent since 1985.

Blue Plains workersJoining EPA at the event was Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles, District Department of Energy and Environment Director Tommy Wells and DC Water CEO and General Manager George Hawkins.

They spoke on a landing above one of the stops in the Blue Plains treatment process – the $1 billion Enhanced Nutrient Removal facility that helps the plant discharge water to the Potomac that’s cleaner than the river itself.  (Surprisingly, at least for a first-timer to the plant, there was only a slight whiff in the air of the action happening in the open channels below.)

The event was an opportunity to give the wastewater industry its due; to recognize the achievements driven by advances in technology, enforceable Clean Water Act permits, funding from ratepayers and local, state and federal sources, operational reforms and phosphorus detergent bans.

And while the sector will need to maintain those limits in the face of population growth, and while other sectors will need to do their share to meet the goals of the Bay “pollution diet,” it was a day of well-deserved handshakes to mark a major milestone.

 

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.

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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Triathletes get an assist from the Clean Water Act

 

by Elizabeth Gaige

Ohio River IRONMAN swimmers

Ohio River IRONMAN swimmers

My husband’s passion for the sport of triathlon began in the Schuylkill River, when we both competed – swimming, biking, and running – in the 2012 Philly Triathlon. Part of the draw of triathlon is the opportunity to swim in lakes and rivers – like the Schuylkill – that aren’t usually open to recreational swimmers for safety reasons.

Although our family and friends didn’t understand why we enjoyed our Schuylkill swim, it was simple – this part of the race was calm and beautiful, with a small current providing some free speed. And, we had peace of mind even in the middle of a grueling race, because the Philadelphia Water Department RiverCast website gave us vital information about river conditions.

The author and her husband, an IRONMAN

The author and her husband, an IRONMAN

After the Philly Tri, my husband chose to make IRONMAN Louisville his first full distance IRONMAN race – 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling and a 26.2 mile marathon run. But, as we packed the car for his race, advisories from the Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection appeared on social media and we realized the race that might only include two of three parts that the athletes had trained for.

A harmful algal bloom had formed on the Ohio River between Ohio and West Virginia weeks earlier and the effects of elevated toxins produced by the algae were being evaluated hundreds of miles downstream. Elevated nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, warm sunny days and slower-moving water fuel algal growth.  Fortunately, October’s cooler temperatures and precipitation began to flush algae and toxins from the Ohio River. To the relief of many hopeful triathletes, the recreational advisory for the swim course was lifted days before the race as multiple water quality test results showed toxins falling below Kentucky’s threshold.

On race day, 2,300 triathletes experienced first-hand the “swimmable” part of the Clean Water Act’s goals. I welcomed my Ironman at the finish line 13 hours and 52 minutes after he jumped into the Ohio River, thankful that the Clean Water Act is there to protect the nearly half-million triathletes that count on safe water for swimming at thousands of events each year.

 

About the Author: Elizabeth Gaige works in EPA’s Air Protection Division in Philadelphia.  She has completed 88 races since 2003, 16 of which involved open water swimming!

 

 

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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Bringing Water Protection into the Modern Age

By Cynthia Giles

Information technology is everywhere. How we communicate, and how we share with one another has gone digital, saving paper, time, money, and making it easier to get information faster and more reliably.

Paper reports can stack up – here is an example from just one EPA Region

Paper reports can stack up – here is an example from just one EPA Region

Forty-three years ago, when the Clean Water Act was enacted, things moved a little slower. But the significance and impact of this important law remains today. It has helped clean up our lakes and rivers, and ensure that Americans are drinking safe water so we can live active, healthy lives. Under the Clean Water Act, the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program requires that hundreds of thousands of regulated facilities monitor and report data on their discharges of pollutants into waters to ensure they are not negatively affecting public health or the environment.

For years, these reports were filed by paper, and regulators – state and federal – had to manually review and enter the data into computers. That is until this week, when Administrator Gina McCarthy signed the final NPDES electronic reporting rule, requiring reports to be electronically filed. More than seven years in the making, following more than 70 technical and individual meetings, and 50 webinars with over 1,200 stakeholders, we have brought clean water protection into the modern age. Here’s what that means:

  • The public will have full transparency into water quality data. Facility-specific information, such as inspection and enforcement history, pollutant monitoring results, and other data required by NPDES permits will be accessible to the public through our website. Transparency can also drive improved performance among regulated facilities; when water quality data can be easily accessed online, facilities are more inclined to avoid pollution problems that raise public concern.
  • Once the rule is fully implemented, the 46 states and the Virgin Islands Territory that are authorized to administer the NPDES program will collectively save approximately $22.6 million each year as a result of switching from paper to electronic reporting.
  • Additionally, after full implementation, we estimate that states and regulated entities will save a total combined 900,000 hours of time per year. Instead of sifting through stacks of paper, that time, in addition to the money saved, can be put toward important water protection activities.

Finalizing this rule is a major milestone, but there’s still more work to do. Over the next few months, we will schedule trainings and more webinar sessions with states and regulated entities to provide an overview of the final rule, and the next steps for implementing electronic reporting. To realize the important benefits that this rule provides, EPA and our state, tribal, and territorial partners will continue to work collaboratively to implement these changes.

Electronic reporting in this day and age is essential to effective environmental protection. It furthers our Next Generation Compliance and the E-Enterprise for the Environment strategies to take advantage of new tools, innovative approaches and to work in partnership with states to increase compliance and reduce pollution. A modernized approach to reporting means cleaner water for everyone.

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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Implementation of the Clean Water Rule Brings Opportunities

When the Clean Water Rule goes into effect on August 28, it marks a new era of protection for our nation’s streams and wetlands. We are enthusiastic about the opportunities provided by the rule to improve the process of identifying waters covered under the Clean Water Act and making jurisdictional determinations and permit decisions more effectively and efficiently. As EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers implement the Clean Water Rule, the agencies will be taking several steps to increase transparency, provide information, and improve the permit process.

Increasing transparency: EPA and the Army Corps will launch a publicly-accessible, online database for all jurisdictional determinations and permits issued under the rule. The database will provide information, for example, on jurisdictional determinations associated with federal permitting programs as well as statistics on the total number, waterbody type, and watershed location. Data regarding the nature and number of pending determinations will also be made publicly available. This database will provide essential transparency needed for effective implementation of the rule.

Responding to information needs: The Clean Water Rule provides clear and comprehensive direction about the process for conducting jurisdictional determinations. Because the rule is so specific, there is no need for any new manuals or guidance documents.  Instead, the agencies will prepare a comprehensive Questions and Answers document that can be routinely supplemented as experience with the rule grows.   As with any new procedures, field staff and the public will have ongoing questions about the rule, and it is important for EPA and the Corps to identify issues and provide answers as the rule takes effect. We will also ensure the public can coordinate with the field staff as new questions arise after the rule goes into effect so that answers can be provided quickly.

Improving the permit process: EPA and the Army Corps will evaluate existing permitting tools and procedures and identify the changes needed to further reduce costs, delays, and frustration in federal permitting, while improving Clean Water Act protections that benefit public health and the environment. The agencies will focus on increasing the availability of information on issued permits, and improving coordination with federal and state permitting partners to reduce overlap and redundancy in permit reviews.

The strong commitment to seizing these opportunities during implementation of the Clean Water Rule was reflected in a memo distributed across the agencies by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Assistant Secretary for the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy. We will provide updates of our efforts on a regular basis as part of our obligation to implement the rule in an efficient and effective manner.

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 Water for Everyone!

by Matt Colip

EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin with staff and volunteers from Environment Maryland showing their support of the Clean Water Rule at the National Aquarium, Baltimore, MD.

EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin with staff and volunteers from Environment Maryland showing their support of the Clean Water Rule at the National Aquarium, Baltimore, MD.

Last Tuesday, I woke up to a screaming alarm clock and the aroma of brewed coffee…yes, it was a typical weekday morning for me. However, today, rather than jumping on my bike to go to work downtown, I was traveling to Baltimore, Maryland with EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin for an event to raise public awareness about the Clean Water Rule (CWR).

Working for EPA, which partnered with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop the CWR, I already knew the rule’s purpose: to make sure that waters protected under the Clean Water Act (CWA) are more precisely defined. Clearly defining our nation’s protected waters is not only a benefit for regulators, it also helps businesses and industry understand their role under the CWA.

With the sunlit water of the Chesapeake Bay as the backdrop for this event, each of the speakers spoke passionately about the need for clean water and how the CWR protects the water they rely on.  It wasn’t until this moment that I fully understood what the CWR means to so many different groups. In addition to EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin, the event featured speakers from such varied groups as Environment Maryland, Baltimore Boating Center, Jailbreak Brewing Company, and the National Aquarium.

The benefits of the CWR add up quickly! For example, think about someone who travels to Baltimore to fish on the Chesapeake Bay from a chartered boat, and enjoys the catch-of-the-day with a cold beer from Jailbreak Brewing Company. That one person benefits from the CWR in four ways!

During the event, I began to count the ways I personally benefit from the rule.  My morning routine alone benefitted in several ways, and over the weekend, I thought of even more benefits: hiking by a protected surface water, using tap water to brush my teeth, brewing coffee, fishing, and turning on a light in my home (power plants need clean water for steam production in the electricity generation process).

How many ways do you benefit from the rule?  One hundred and seventeen million people nationwide benefit from the CWR safeguards for drinking water uses alone, and millions more benefit by having clean water for recreation (hiking, boating, fishing and more); household uses (showering, brushing teeth, and cooking); generating electricity; and meeting the many clean water needs of businesses.

Take a moment to find out more on the Clean Water Rule and leave a comment below to let us know how you benefit from clean water.

 

About the author: Matt Colip is a state and congressional liaison in the region’s Office of Communications and Government Relations. He previously worked in the region’s water programs, enforcing wastewater and stormwater regulations. In addition to SCUBA diving, Matt is an avid bicyclist and enjoys riding with friends and colleagues.

 

 

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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Modernizing Access to Environmental Data

Do you use our Enforcement and Compliance History Online database?

If you do, then you may already know about our yearlong modernization effort to make it one of the most robust government data tools in the world. If you don’t, then now is a good time to try it out. Recognized by President Obama as an exemplary federal agency data tool, ECHO houses environmental compliance information on more than 800,000 facilities nationwide. More than 2 million visitors checked it out last year.

Today I’m excited to report that we’ve just added air pollution data from our various reporting programs, known as the Air Pollutant Report. When you run a facility search, ECHO now lets you view and compare air data from our National Emissions Inventory, Toxic Release Inventory, Greenhouse Gas Reporting Tool and Acid Rain Program—along with facility compliance information—on a single, easy-to-use web page. Previously, in order to see the air pollution emissions for a given facility, you would have to search for it on four different websites and combine the data yourself. Now all of that information is presented on a single facility specific report.

NewScreenShotThis upgrade is a big boost for public transparency giving citizens, industry and government agencies an easy way to spot problems so they can play an active role in environmental protection. The Air Pollutant Report is currently in “beta” phase, and so we need your feedback on the design and contents of the tool. Adding air pollution data to ECHO is just one of many important upgrades we’ve made this year. Here are some of the others:

  • Last month, we launched a new dashboard that allows users to search for information on facility compliance with pesticide regulations.
  • In April, we launched a Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) dashboard, a user-friendly tool that presents data about violations and the compliance status of public water systems. Popular Clean Water Act data sets were reposted to ECHO last summer, making it easier to find data about water violations and inspections.
  • A new mapping feature displaying the compliance status of EPA-regulated facilities lets users create customized maps using current data.
  • ECHO now allows users to search which facilities have reported Risk Management Plans required under the Clean Air Act.
  • In the spirit of the White House’s Digital Government Strategy, ECHO’s new technology also provides web services, widgets and other features allowing web developers to incorporate data and reports into their own websites.

In addition to all of these improvements, data in ECHO is now refreshed on a weekly basis, giving you more up to date information, often only a matter of days after we receive it from the states.

We’ve made remarkable strides in our effort to make environmental data accessible and easy to use. With greater access to information, you can be better informed about what’s happening in your community, which supports engagement and participation at every level of government.

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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Protecting Clean Water While Respecting Agriculture

Rule does not create any new permitting requirements, maintains all previous exemptions and exclusions

By Administrator Gina McCarthy and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy

Today, EPA and the Army finalized a rule under the Clean Water Act to protect the streams and wetlands we depend on for our health, our economy, and our way of life.

The Clean Water Act has protected our health for more than 40 years—and helped our nation clean up hundreds of thousands of miles of waterways that were choked by industrial pollution, untreated sewage, and garbage for decades.

But Supreme Court cases in 2001 and 2006 put protection of 60 percent of our nation’s streams and millions of acres of wetlands into question. At the same time, we understand much more today about how waters connect to each other than we did in decades past. Scientists, water quality experts, and local water managers are better able than ever before to pinpoint the waters that impact our health and the environment the most.

Members of Congress, farmers, ranchers, small business owners, hunters, anglers, and the public have called on EPA and the Army to make a rule to clarify where the Clean Water Act applies, and bring it in line with the law and the latest science. Today, we’re answering that call.

Every lake and every river depends on the streams and wetlands that feed it—and we can’t have healthy communities downstream without healthy headwaters upstream. The Clean Water Rule will protect streams and wetlands and provide greater clarity and certainty to farmers, all without creating any new permitting requirements for agriculture and while maintaining all existing exemptions and exclusions.

The agencies did extensive outreach on the Clean Water Rule, hosting more than 400 meetings across the country and receiving more than a million public comments. EPA officials visited farms in Arizona, Colorado, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Vermont.

Our nation’s original conservationists—our farmers, ranchers, and foresters—were among the most crucial voices who weighed in during this process. Farmers have a critical job to do; our nation depends on them for food, fiber, and fuel, and they depend on clean water for their livelihoods.

Normal farming and ranching—including planting, harvesting, and moving livestock—have long been exempt from Clean Water Act regulation, and the Clean Water Rule doesn’t change that. It respects producers’ crucial role in our economy and respects the law. We’d like give a few more specifics on our final rule, starting with what it doesn’t do.

  • The rule doesn’t add any new permitting requirements for agriculture.
  • It doesn’t protect new kinds of waters that the Clean Water Act didn’t historically cover. It doesn’t regulate most ditches and excludes groundwater, shallow subsurface flows, and tile drains. And it doesn’t change policy on irrigation or water transfers.
  • It doesn’t touch land use or private property rights. The Clean Water Rule only deals with the pollution and destruction of waterways.
  • Again, our rule doesn’t touch long-standing Clean Water Act exemptions and exclusions for agriculture. It specifically recognizes the crucial role farmers play and actually adds exclusions for features like artificial lakes and ponds, water-filled depressions from construction, and grass swales.

What the rule does is simple: it protects clean water, and it provides clarity on which waters are covered by the Clean Water Act so they can be protected from pollution and destruction.

Feedback from the agricultural community led us to define tributaries more clearly. The rule is precise about the streams being protected so that it can’t be interpreted to pick up erosion in a farmer’s field. The rule says a tributary has to show physical features of flowing water to warrant protection.

We also got feedback that our proposed definition of ditches was confusing. We’re only interested in the ones that act like tributaries and could carry pollution downstream—so we changed the definition in the final rule to focus on tributaries. So ditches that are not constructed in streams and that flow only when it rains are not covered.

We’ve also provided certainty in how far safeguards extend to nearby waters—the rule sets physical, measurable limits for the first time. For example, an adjacent water is protected if it’s within the 100-year floodplain and within 1,500 feet of a covered waterway. By setting bright lines, agricultural producers and others will know exactly where the Clean Water Act applies, and where it doesn’t.

Farmers and ranchers work hard every day to feed America and the world. In this final rule, we’ve provided additional certainty that they’ll retain all of their Clean Water Act exemptions and exclusions—so they can continue to do their jobs, and continue to be conservation leaders.
We appreciate everyone’s input as we’ve worked together to finalize a Clean Water Rule that keeps pollution out of our water, while providing the additional clarity our economy needs. Learn more here.

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

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