climate change

We Must Work Together to Build Resilience in Communities Facing Climate Change 

By Kelly Overstreet

EPA brings in students every summer to work, learn practical environmental skills, and enhance their educational experience through our Pathways Intern Program. The Big Blue Thread is proud to feature several blogs written by these interns, focusing on what motivates them to work in the environmental sector and what attracted them to EPA. We’ve already posted blogs by Andrew Speckin and Sara Lamprise. Our third blog is by Kelly Overstreet, who continues to intern with our Program Operations and Integration staff.

151006 - CREAT logo

In August, I attended a fascinating Climate Change Workshop, sponsored by the Nebraska Silver Jackets, with my EPA colleague Robert Dunlevy. Silver Jacket groups partner with federal and state agencies to manage flood risk at the state level. Bob made a presentation on EPA’s Climate Resilience Evaluation and Awareness Tool (CREAT), a software tool to assist drinking water and wastewater utility owners and operators in understanding potential climate change threats and assessing the related risks at their individual utilities. As an intern, I went along to gain some valuable, direct experience in collaborative problem-solving.

Bob Dunlevy and Kelly Overstreet

Bob Dunlevy and Kelly Overstreet

As we drove north to the workshop at the Lewis and Clark Missouri River Visitors Center in Nebraska City, Bob used the trip as a teaching opportunity, noting sites of loess (windblown sediment), commenting on the heights of various rivers and streams, and discussing the variety of unique geological structures here in the Heartland. Many of these lessons were anecdotal, relating to his 25 years of experience working with communities as an EPA representative.

Bob reminded me of the unique position EPA plays as a U.S. regulatory agency. We have a broad mission to ensure that “all Americans are protected from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn and work.” In achieving that mission, we as federal employees must focus on our individual contributions to help achieve EPA’s overall goal.

In economics, there is the phenomena of “agglomeration economies.” While the concept can get quite technical very quickly, the general idea is that businesses are most successful when they exist in proximity to each other. This allows for the exchange of tacit knowledge between businesses that provide goods and services both laterally across sectors and vertically within.

However, such knowledge doesn’t only exist in the private sector. Upon arriving at Nebraska City, I had the opportunity to witness the power of tacit knowledge firsthand. The workshop offered a series of lectures and talks from several federal, state, and local agencies directly involved in flood resiliency and adaptation measures.

View from Lewis and Clark Missouri River Visitors Center

View from Lewis and Clark Missouri River Visitors Center

Not surprisingly, we joined representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, all with different missions and different sets of tools for accomplishing their goals. And yet, through the collaborative process of sharing knowledge and asking questions, I left with a much stronger sense of the challenges we face in coping with extreme weather events.

Sometimes our role in EPA’s mission can feel piecemeal, but to best achieve our mission, we must form partnerships and foster relationships. Each of us has a different focus and knowledge set, but as long as we continue to have conversations, like at the Silver Jackets training, we don’t have to be limited by the specific priorities that shape our service.

About the Author: Kelly Overstreet is a Student Intern at EPA Region 7, who worked full-time this summer and will continue part-time during the school year. She is a graduate student at the University of Kansas, earning master’s degrees in urban planning and human geography. Kelly’s graduate research focuses on how municipal climate planning can address issues of environmental justice and social equity. She’s a cat lady, and proud to show off her pet photos.

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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Urban Composting: It’s Always Worth It

By Barbara Pualani

Any household organic material can be composted (and used again!).

Any household organic material can be composted (and used again!).

Earth-friendly urban dwellers know just how precarious composting in the city can be. Storage bags of frozen food waste in the freezer, the subway ride overloaded with multiple bags, sometimes difficult-to-find drop-off sites. I have shared countless stories with friends about urban composting. Shenanigans abound, but we always agree that in the end it’s worth it.

Take a friend of mine that I met as a student at Columbia University. Every week she would bring her compost from New Jersey to the campus farmer’s market. She would carry a week’s worth of food waste one train ride and two subway rides every Thursday. But one day, running late, the farmer’s market closed before she could get there, leaving her stuck with the compost. She wasn’t too worried–until a student meeting ended up lasting four hours. By that time, the forgotten compost was stinking up the room and annoying her fellow students. Luckily, she eventually found a fridge to store it in. Her friends laughed it off.

Composting can sometimes seem pretty inconvenient, so why do it at all? Because food waste is actually a really big problem.

Rotting food in landfills is a substantial source of methane—a greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. In the U.S., landfills account for more than 20 percent of all methane emissions. Organic materials make up the largest portion of this waste. Paper materials comprise 27 percent while yard trimmings and food comprise 28 percent. This means that 55 percent of all waste in this country can potentially be composted rather than rotting in our landfills.

The story sounds dire, but it’s not all doom and gloom. Composting has made substantial headway in recent years.

According to EPA’s Advancing Sustainable Materials Management study released this year, Americans recycled and composted over 87 million tons of waste in 2013, which in carbon dioxide equivalent terms is equal to removing emissions for over 39 million passenger vehicles from the road in one year. The most recent numbers show that 5 percent of food is now composted annually. Over 2.7 million households are served by food composting collection programs nationwide. Even in the city, composting is becoming more convenient. New York City recently mandated composting for all hotel restaurants, arenas and wholesalers, and there are various organics collection services & drop off points for residents in all five boroughs.

On a different Thursday, my friend was again dropping off her compost. She mentioned to the man running the booth that she brought it all the way from New Jersey. Upon hearing this, he bowed his head with his hands folded in prayer and said, “You are an inspiration to us all.” Although we giggled about this later, he’s absolutely right.

This is why we compost—to inspire, to reduce our carbon footprint, and to do our fair share in taking care of this planet.

The biggest lesson we can learn is it’s not just for green-thumbed hippies. One of my favorite stories comes from a former colleague who told me (facetiously, of course) that composting had taken a toll on her marriage. After a year of picking his organics out of the garbage, she finally confronted her husband about his incorrect trash disposal methods. He explained how he didn’t really care about it, and even though he knew she had already explained how to do it, he was still unsure. Because her husband is very Catholic, she resorted to quoting the Pope who believes “everyone has a moral obligation to care for the planet.” Now her husband puts his organics in the compost bags; if he is unsure if the item is compostable, he asks. My colleague ended this story with an assurance and a wink: “I am happily married.”

I like to collect these anecdotes—laughter is the best medicine after all—but they serve to amplify the real problem: organic waste is a serious contributor to climate change, and we all need to do our part to address it. If you’re confused about what’s compostable and what’s not, check out your city’s local web page.  Or, like my friend’s husband, if you’re confused, just ask. It never hurts to research or ask around until you do find someone who knows. And it’s always worth it.

About the author: Barbara Pualani serves as a speechwriter for EPA Region 2. Prior to joining EPA, she served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic. She resides in Brooklyn and is a graduate of University of Northern Colorado and Columbia University.

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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September is Prime Time for Preparedness

by Jennie Saxe

A few key elements of a basic emergency supply kit

A few key elements of a basic emergency supply kit

One of my favorite movie quotes of all time is from the character Edna Mode in the animated movie The Incredibles: “Luck favors the prepared.” Why do I like this quote? It’s simple: luck isn’t necessarily the answer; preparation is an important factor for success in school, at work, in sports, and more.

Being prepared isn’t just for students and athletes – water systems and communities need to be prepared, too. Flooding rains, power outages, and intentional acts are emergencies that can disrupt our lives – even putting our safety at risk. As our climate changes, these types of emergencies present different, serious challenges to water and wastewater systems.

EPA has many resources for water systems to help them plan, prepare for, and respond to all types of hazards. Water utilities can also respond to climate changes underway – and prepare for changes anticipated in the future – by tapping into EPA’s Climate Ready Water Utilities program. Recently, Capital Region Water in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania made use of EPA’s Climate Resilience Evaluation & Awareness Tool (CREAT) to identify what impacts climate change has on its operations and develop options for lowering risk. This video is a great look at how water and wastewater treatment plants can incorporate resilience, climate change, and long-term sustainability into capital projects and operations.

Because there’s not a “one-size-fits-all” approach for water utilities to adapt to climate changes, EPA also developed an Adaptation Strategies Guide for Water Utilities. This guide walks users step-by-step though projected climate conditions in different regions, and provides a menu of actions that a water utility can take to be better prepared to serve its community in all types of emergencies. The guide even highlights some “no regrets” options (for example: monitoring weather conditions; diversifying water sources; and developing mutual aid agreements with other utilities) which will benefit water systems in a variety of current and future climate scenarios.

Preparedness is so important for families and communities that President Obama has declared September National Preparedness Month, a time to develop plans for all types of emergencies. Take some time this month to talk with your family about what they should do in an emergency, and put together an emergency kit that includes water. It’s easy, and it can make weathering an emergency less stressful. Check out these resources today!

 

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs.

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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Climate Week NYC 2015

By Melissa Dimas

NYC residents affected by Superstorm Sandy call for action at last year’s People’s Climate March.

NYC residents affected by Superstorm Sandy call for action at last year’s People’s Climate March.

It is climate week in the U.S. and here in New York City, we are coming up on the first anniversary of the People’s Climate March. Along with 400,000 other concerned citizens from around the world, I lined up along Central Park to show support for lawmakers working to create effective climate change policy, and dismay that all across the globe we have not done enough to combat and adapt to climate change. We need an international agreement; and, we needed about 20 years ago.

People’s Climate March in New York City, September 21, 2014.

People’s Climate March in New York City, September 21, 2014.

For the past decade, and many years before that, climate experts and country negotiators have met for the Conference of Parties (COP) to attempt to come to an agreement, on how as a society, we can collectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Every year, it is two steps forward, one step back, but it is important to remember that we are still moving forward. We have come a long way from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, but here we are, almost 20 years later and no solid agreement.

This year, at the end of November the 21st conference of parties is in Paris. World leaders are attending the COP 21 and there is hope, and momentum, that the world will finally agree to legally binding greenhouse gas emission targets. There are many other critical climate change issues that will be negotiated at the COP 21, and hopefully by the end of the two-week long meeting the world will move three steps forward and never look back.

About the Author: Melissa Dimas works in Region 2 as International Affairs Program Manager. 

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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Saving the Planet from Too Much Man Made Nitrogen

By Kristina Heinemann

Planetary Boundaries: A Safe Operating Space for Humanity, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University (http://www.stockholmresilience.org/)

Planetary Boundaries: A Safe Operating Space for Humanity, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University (http://www.stockholmresilience.org/)

Environmental sustainability is all the rage right now. Much of the focus when talking about sustainability is on the global carbon cycle and climate change, but there are other global cycles that have been disturbed to an even greater extent than the carbon cycle. Since the Industrial Revolution biogeochemical flows of nitrogen and phosphorus or the Earth’s nitrogen and phosphorus cycles have been disrupted even more than the carbon cycle.   Biogeochemical flows of nitrogen and phosphorous is a scientific way of talking about the pathways and interactions the elements nitrogen and phosphorus have with the physical and biological world.  Human beings have altered these pathways and systems dramatically to the point that we and the planet are at great risk.  You can see this represented in the figure above – we are clearly in the “red zone” when it comes to disturbance of nitrogen and phosphorous cycles!

One dramatic consequence of too much nitrogen – the Peconic River Fish Kill, Riverhead (NY) Yacht Club, June 15, 2015 Photo credit: Andrew Seal

One dramatic consequence of too much nitrogen – the Peconic River Fish Kill, Riverhead (NY) Yacht Club, June 15, 2015 Photo credit: Andrew Seal

One important source of “too much nitrogen” in the coastal areas of our Region — New York, New Jersey, and the Caribbean — are conventional onsite wastewater disposal or septic systems many of which were never designed to remove or reduce nitrogen.  We face a serious need to upgrade many of these systems to technologies that will reduce nitrogen flow to our estuaries and coastal ecosystems.

Being SepticSmart Also Means Using Appropriate and Well Designed Septic Technology To Protect Water Quality

Being SepticSmart Also Means Using Appropriate and Well Designed Septic Technology To Protect Water Quality

SepticSmart Week, which kicks off this year on Sept. 21, will educate public officials and the public at large about the importance of using well designed and appropriate septic treatment technology that is protective of water quality.  Advanced onsite treatment systems can remove as much as 74 percent of nitrogen before it enters the environment.  Part of my job at EPA is to help state and local governments meet this need.  As an example Suffolk County, New York declared nitrogen public enemy #1 and launched an advanced treatment septic demonstration program to install and test nitrogen removal systems on almost 20 residential properties throughout the County.

EPA, in cooperation with states and partners, works hard during SepticSmart Week and year-round to educate local decision makers, engineers and homeowners about managing and upgrading their wastewater infrastructure in order to protect the waters they swim in, fish from, and drink. (By the way this also happens to be National Estuaries Week – take a look at all the great resources aimed at restoring estuaries like the Long Island Sound, Peconic Bay, the New York – New Jersey Harbor, Barnegat Bay, Delaware Estuary, and San Juan Bay in Puerto Rico at: https://www.estuaries.org/national-estuaries-week !)

About the Author: Kristina Heinemann is EPA Region 2’s Decentralized Wastewater Treatment Coordinator and lives on Long Island’s North Shore where she is the not-so-proud owner of two antiquated cesspools one of which often acts more like a holding tank than a wastewater disposal system!   

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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Working to Support Communities in Alaska Native Villages

At EPA, we respect the way of life that has enabled Alaska native villages in the Arctic and subarctic to thrive for thousands of years. We take our responsibility to those communities very seriously.  Here in the Alaska Operations Office, our focus is to connect these communities with our national policies and programs, to ensure a robust future in the face of a changing climate.

Last week, President Obama, along with Secretary John Kerry and some of EPA’s senior leaders, traveled to Alaska to see firsthand the effects of climate change and other issues that affect those who live and work here in the far north.  President Obama’s closing remarks at the GLACIER conference summarized the challenges and importance of both mitigating and adapting to climate change.

More than 184 Alaskan villages are at risk from erosion, flooding and permafrost thaw, a problem exacerbated by climate change. Both coastal and interior river system communities face unique challenges.  To explore this, Tami Fordham, our deputy director, traveled to Bethel, Alaska with Jane Nishida, EPA’s Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for International and Tribal Affairs.  In Bethel, they heard from the Association of Village Council Presidents about the challenges facing many communities in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

Jane Nishida, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for International and Tribal Affairs, and Curtis Mann, Brownfields Coordinator, Orutsararmuit Native Council Kuskokwim River standing in front of water

Jane Nishida, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for International and Tribal Affairs, and Curtis Mann, Brownfields Coordinator, Orutsararmuit Native Council Kuskokwim River.

One pressing challenge is removing household hazardous waste and e-waste from remote villages that are accessible only by air or water.  Especially because the Yukon–Kuskokwim Delta is so wet, this material needs a way out of the community to prevent future contamination of important water resources.  With funds from our Indian Environmental General Assistance Program (IGAP), AVCP is actively working on the removal of e-waste. During our visit, they shared the challenges of filling a shipping container and transporting it to a facility where this material can be properly managed.

Throughout Alaska, we are supporting communities with similar solid and hazardous waste projects, and working with state, federal, and local partners to identify solutions.  Our presence in Alaska also enables us to participate with the Collaborative Community Planning for Resilient Alaska Communities and the Sustainable Northern Communities Roundtable, both of which have been working on collaborative community planning.

Alaska is a long journey from Washington, D.C. I appreciate the effort of all of the public servants who took the time to make the trip and join the dialogue with Alaskan communities.

About the author: Dianne Soderlund is the Director of the EPA Alaska Operations Office.  An Alaskan since 1980, she fulfills EPA’s federal trust responsibilities to the state’s 229 federally recognized tribes, and works on a wide range of environmental issues, including air, water, hazardous materials and energy development.

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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EPA at GLACIER Summit

Last week I led our delegation to GLACIER, the Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience, in Anchorage, Alaska.  The U.S.-hosted conference convened foreign ministers of Arctic nations and key non-Arctic states with scientists, policymakers, and indigenous communities from Alaska and the Arctic to highlight opportunities and challenges in addressing climate change in this fragile region.  The conference also included public sessions on a range of issues including strengthening emergency response, development of renewable energy, and community health.

As part of the public sessions, I chaired a panel on “Protecting Communities and the Environment through Climate and Air Quality Projects,” which included discussions of the challenges of providing clean, reliable energy in remote communities; the particular environmental and public health needs of indigenous communities; and opportunities for local and global cooperation to address black carbon in the Arctic. Black carbon is the third largest warming agent globally, and because it causes ice melt, its effect on the Arctic is even more pronounced. In addition to its impact on the climate, black carbon also affects the health of local communities, causing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Our panel highlighted international mechanisms and our programs to address black carbon, including our effort to reduce black carbon emissions in the largest city in the Arctic Circle.

Also showcased at the GLACIER Summit was the EPA-supported Local Environmental Observer (LEO) network, created by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. Alaska Native LEO members raise awareness about emerging climate change-related events and develop adaptation strategies to address environmental and public health concerns.   LEO provides a critical bridge between local knowledge, traditional knowledge, and Western science. Through our two-year U.S. Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, we are supporting the expansion of this network across the polar region.

Another discussion, “Strengthening International Preparedness and Cooperation for Emergency Response,” highlighted the efforts of the Alaska Regional Response Team (ARRT). This partnership of state and federal agencies makes plans and preparations to support the EPA, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, who are responsible for responding to oil spills and hazardous materials releases anywhere in the state.  The ARRT works with a special emphasis on overcoming the unique challenges of responding in the Arctic. The session emphasized working closely with communities to incorporate indigenous knowledge into response planning.

To close the conference, President Obama delivered an impassioned call for international action on climate change and to protect our shared Arctic. President Obama is the first president to visit America’s Arctic and to witness firsthand the impacts of climate change on this region. During his trip, President Obama also visited with Alaska Natives in Kotzebue and Dillingham.

I am proud to have represented EPA and the United States at this event, grateful for the hospitality we were shown by Arctic communities, and inspired by their commitment and resilience in meeting the climate challenge. My sincere thanks to all of them, and everyone who is contributing to the preservation and protection of our shared Arctic.

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

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EPA’s Clean Power Plan Protects Low-Income and Minority Communities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Why We Must Act: For our Families’ Health and our Kids’ Future

Sanaa Brown is ten years old. Like many other girls her age, she loves playing outside. Soccer, dance, gymnastics, tennis, swimming—as her mom likes to say, there’s isn’t a sport Sanaa doesn’t like.

But these days, she finds herself stuck inside more and more often. Sanaa has asthma and environmental allergies—conditions that are only getting worse, thanks to climate change.  Increasingly extreme summer heat [and humidity] near her family’s home in North Carolina mean Sanaa has more and more trouble breathing. After less than an hour outside, she often breaks out in painful hives.

Despite all this, Sanaa refuses to give up. She’s still running all around her house, still giving it her all on the soccer field. Yet, the difficulty breathing, the painful hives—they’re not going anywhere. As her mom admits, pursuing her passion means that Sanaa now has to “deal with the consequences.”

She shouldn’t have to.

I got into public service more than three decades ago as a local public health official in Canton, Massachusetts, because I wanted to make life a little easier for kids like Sanaa. I wanted to make sure they could play outside whenever they wanted to, without having to worry about being able to breathe.

Thirty-five years later, kids like Sanaa are still the reason I come to work every day—because I know that unless we continue the fight to protect our environment, what’s happened to them could just as easily happen to my family or yours. Nothing drives home this threat more sharply than the challenge of climate change.

Climate change, driven by carbon pollution from fossil fuels, leads to more extreme weather—more extreme heat, cold, drought, storms, fires, and floods. Climate change is a global challenge, but it’s also personal. No matter who you are, where you live, or what you care about, climate change is affecting you and your family today.

Our moral responsibility to act is crystal clear—because our families are bearing the brunt of these effects.

Carbon pollution comes packaged with smog and soot that can lead to lung and heart disease. Over the last three decades, the number of Americans living with asthma has doubled. Warmer temperatures from climate change exacerbate air pollution, putting those patients at greater risk of landing in the hospital.

The facts of climate change aren’t up for debate. Scientists are as sure that humans are causing climate change as they are that cigarettes cause lung cancer. We have a responsibility to act because we have a responsibility to our kids, our grandkids, to Sanaa Brown, and to young people across the country and around the world.

As a mom, I feel the weight of this responsibility every time I look at my three children. At EPA, I feel it every time I walk the halls and remember our mission: to protect public health and the environment. That’s why we’re not shying away from this challenge. We’re not waiting. We’re taking action now.

The transition to a clean energy future is happening even faster than we expected—and that’s a good thing. It means carbon and air pollution are already decreasing, improving public health each and every year. The Clean Power Plan accelerates this momentum. It will slash carbon pollution from the power sector by nearly a third compared to where we were a decade ago. And when we cut carbon pollution, we also cut the smog and soot that come with it. That’s going to make a real difference in the lives of kids and families everywhere.

By 2030, we’ll see major reductions of pollutants that can create dangerous soot and smog, translating to significant health benefits for the American people. We’ll avoid up to 90,000 asthma attacks that would have ruined a child’s day. Americans will spend up to 300,000 more days in the office or the classroom, instead of sick at home. And up to 3,600 families will be spared the grief of losing a loved one too soon.

We’re acting now because lives are at stake.

Two years ago, President Obama told the students of Georgetown University that he “refuse[d] to condemn their generation… to a planet that’s beyond fixing.”

Two months ago, Pope Francis reminded us that “young people demand change,” and called upon “every person living on this planet” to take a stand for our children, and theirs to come.

A child born today will turn fifteen in the year 2030 – the year when the full benefits of the Clean Power Plan will be realized. The actions we take now will clear the way for that child – and kids everywhere – to learn, play, and grow up in a world that’s not only clean and safe, but full of opportunity.

 

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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