climate change

New Greenhouse Gas Data for Large Facilities Now Available

By Janet McCabe

This week, the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program released its fifth year of detailed, facility-level data for over 8,000 large-emitters, representing approximately 50% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Why is this important? High-quality, long-term environmental data are essential to protecting human health and our environment. Environmental data are the foundation of practically everything we do, and detailed greenhouse gas emissions data are essential in guiding the steps we take to address the problem of climate change.

We have been providing national-level greenhouse gas emissions data since the early 1990s through the U.S. Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks. Submitted every spring to the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the GHG inventory is the official U.S. government estimate of annual greenhouse gas emissions. The GHG inventory is calculated using national-level data sets and provides an estimate of overall emissions for every sector.

Established by Congress in 2008, the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program complements the GHG inventory with additional detail on large emitters of greenhouse gases. While the inventory provides a bird’s-eye view of emissions sources and trends, since 2010 the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program has provided a ground-level view with a rich dataset of facility-level emissions that was previously unavailable.

The Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program is the only program that collects facility-level greenhouse gas data from major industrial sources across the United States, including power plants, oil and gas production and refining, iron and steel mills and landfills. The program also collects data on the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) predominantly used in refrigeration and air conditioning. While the reporting program does not cover every source, it provides an unprecedented level of information on the largest stationary sources of emissions.

The reporting program’s online data publication tool, called FLIGHT, is amazing—even if you’re not a veteran number-cruncher. It brings detailed emissions data to users in an intuitive, map-based format. This tool allows states, communities, businesses, and concerned citizens to view top GHG-emitters in a state or region; see emissions data from a specific industry; track emissions trends by facility, industry, or region; and download maps, list and charts.

The data can be used by businesses and others to track and compare facilities’ greenhouse gas emissions, identify opportunities to cut pollution, minimize wasted energy, and save money.  States, cities, and other communities can use our greenhouse gas data to find high-emitting facilities in their area, compare emissions between similar facilities, and develop common-sense climate policies.

I encourage you to take a look at the data and learn more.

See key facts and figures and explore Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program Data:
GHGRP Home Page: www2.epa.gov/ghgreporting/
FLIGHT: http://ghgdata.epa.gov/ghgp/main.do

Learn more about climate change, and EPA actions to address it:
www.epa.gov/climatechange

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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Giving Grants to Make a Difference

By Sheila Lewis

About the Author: Sheila Lewis has dedicated more than 30 years to federal service and has worked to support community-based efforts since 1999. She currently serves as the Deputy Director of EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice in Washington, D.C.

EJ_Collage_Pic

I am ecstatic that EPA today announced our latest round of Environmental Justice Small Grant projects. Take a moment to look at the project summaries that we have selected because they are a true reflection of what is happening in the environmental justice arena around the country.

One thing you’ll notice is how communities throughout the country are finding innovative ways to adapt to climate change and build resilience in their neighborhoods.  From Northern New Mexico to Chicago and Newport News, Virginia to Chickaloon, Alaska, community leaders have recognized both the challenges of preparing their communities for the impacts of climate change, while seizing the opportunity to bring the benefits of renewable energy and efficiency to the places that need it most.

Something that you might notice is the number of gardening projects in both urban and rural settings, which will be used to teach people about resiliency, soil contamination, environmental stewardship, public health, entrepreneurship, and water conservation.  These projects are environmental justice through and through — aimed at improving the local environment by engaging, educating, organizing, empowering in efforts driven BY the community FOR the community.

A focus on youth inclusion and project leadership also stands out among this year’s projects.  We’re exci2008_EarthMonth_026ted to support so many projects that will bring local youth into environmental decision-making, helping to better position them to work toward improving their communities.  It goes along with what we’ve heard as a priority from our stakeholders around the country and is reflected in the Agency’s commitment to focus on youth engagement on climate change through our National Environmental Justice Advisory Council.

It’s great that we can support so many projects and partners from across the entire country, support that is bolstered this year through funding of additional projects in the Gulf Coast area, thanks to our colleagues in the EPA Gulf of Mexico Program.

But what’s even more exciting than what these discreet projects can achieve over the next year, is how they can build on this funding to leverage work that can be accomplished towards bigger solutions and real change in their communities.

At EPA, we recognize that making such change happen takes community leadership, long-term commitment, and a collaborative effort much bigger than just EPA and its grants to a specific organization.  In the more than 20 years since the inception of this grant program, we have been learning how to better work with communities and other partners to improve our ability to support such growth and change, most recently through Administrator McCarthy’s “Making a Visible Difference in Communities” initiative. We also will soon announce a call for proposals for our Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem Solving cooperative agreements, which support community driven efforts at growing effective collaborations to identify and address larger issues in the community.

Evidence of the power of starting with a little support and growing partnerships towards larger solutions is evidenced in communities throughout the country. Whether in the port areas of San Diego or an industrial neighborhood in northern New York, communities with a little bit of support can make a lot happen.

Congratulations to those organizations selected to receive such support. We look forward to continuing to work with you on your path towards making change happen in your 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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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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