emissions

What’s Next for the Clean Power Plan?

On Monday, President Obama announced a huge step to fight climate change and protect our kids’ health: EPA’s Clean Power Plan. By 2030, the plan will drastically cut carbon pollution from power plants – our nation’s biggest driver of climate change – as well as the other harmful air pollutants that come along with it.

The release of the final Clean Power Plan is a historic step forward for our country, and with its launch, we begin a new chapter as we take action against climate change.

Among the many commenters, states provided critical feedback to help EPA build a final Clean Power Plan that works for everyone. And starting now, states are in the driver’s seat of putting the plan into action.

The Clean Power Plan sets uniform emissions rates for power plants across the country. They’re the same in every state for similar types of fossil fuel plants, ensuring fairness and consistency across the board. Using these rates, EPA’s plan then sets state-specific goals for cutting carbon pollution based on each state’s unique energy mix.

That’s where flexibility and a host of options come in. States can decide how best to achieve pollution reductions from power plants. The Clean Power Plan explains the state options, and EPA has also proposed a Federal Plan and Model Rule that states can adopt as a ready-made, cost-effective path forward. But states don’t have to use the EPA’s approach; they can pursue a range of other approaches. And compliance strategies are wide open, too. Utilities can improve plant efficiency, run cleaner plants more, shift toward cleaner fuels, use renewables, and take advantage of energy efficiency and interstate trading.

So, what’s next? Here are a few important milestones to look for.

2016: States have until September 6, 2016, to build and submit their customized plans for cutting       carbon pollution and meeting their goals. They’ll send those plans to EPA for review. If a year isn’t enough time, states can request an extension.

2022: This is the first year that states are required to start meeting interim goals for carbon pollution reduction. But investments and plans underway now can help states get closer to their goals even sooner, and to help them, we’ve created a Clean Energy Incentive Program to help states get a head start on reducing carbon emissions as soon as 2020.

2022 – 2029: Because we know pollution reductions won’t happen overnight, EPA is providing a path to help states make a smooth transition to clean energy future. State pollution reductions can be achieved gradually, over an interim step-down period between 2022 and 2029, before states are required to meet their final goals.

2030: This is the year that states are required to meet their full carbon pollution reduction goals under the Clean Power Plan—and the year we’ll see its full benefits to our health and our pocketbooks. In 2030, when states meet their goals, carbon pollution from the power sector will be 32 percent below 2005 levels. That’s 870 million fewer tons of carbon pollution, with even less over time. And because of reductions to other harmful air pollutants that come packaged with carbon pollution, we’ll avoid thousands of premature deaths and have thousands fewer asthma cases and hospitalizations in 2030 alone. What’s more, 2030 is the year the nation will see up to $45 billion in net benefits from the clean power plan, and the average American family will see up to $85 a year in savings on their utility bills.

The good news is, we don’t have to wait until 2030 to start seeing the Clean Power Plan’s benefits. Communities will start seeing tangible health and cost benefits as states make progress toward cutting carbon pollution and increasing efficiency.

Starting now, state planning will begin in earnest. And we hope you will get engaged. The Clean Power Plan requires states to work with communities and stakeholders to make sure the plans they build reflect your needs. And EPA will be looking to see how states are taking stakeholder input into account.

We urge you to be part of the process, get informed, and get involved. EPA received more than 4.3 million public comments on its initial proposed Plan, and we listened to your concerns. The final Clean Power Plan is stronger, more flexible, and more achievable because of your feedback. Here are some upcoming ways to get involved:

August 20, 2015: Join us for a webinar designed to provide communities with an overview of what is in the Clean Power Plan and how to participate. More details available soon HERE.

Fall 2015: EPA will hold public hearings around the country for the proposed Federal Plan and Model Rules. More details will be posted on www.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan soon.

As Administrator McCarthy has said, “climate change is personal.” It affects you no matter who you are or where you come from. That’s why we need you to be involved and have your voice heard.

Learn more about how the Clean Power Plan affects your state 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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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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CEC Meeting a Win for Public Health in North America

Administrator Gina McCarthy closes the 2015 CEC Council Session in Boston.

Administrator Gina McCarthy closes the 2015 CEC Council Session in Boston.

Last week, I was thrilled to host the Canadian Environment Minister and Mexican Environment Deputy Secretary at the 22nd Regular Session of the Council for the Commission on Environmental Cooperation (CEC) in my hometown of Boston.

The CEC is an organization created by the United States, Canada and Mexico to address environmental concerns in North America—because pollution doesn’t carry a passport. As Chair, I represented the U.S. Government on the Council and took the lead in discussing our future as neighbors and allies in protecting public health and the environment.

Impacts from climate change like more extreme droughts, floods, fires, and storms threaten vulnerable communities in North America and beyond. And along the way, those who have the least suffer the most. That’s why our three nations are committed to working together to tackle climate challenges. I’m looking forward to continuing our cooperation this fall in Paris as we work to bring about concrete international action on climate.

At this year’s session, the Council endorsed a new 5-year blueprint to help us tackle environmental challenges our nations face together. We’ll focus on climate change: from adaptation to mitigation; from green energy to green growth; from sustainable communities to healthy ecosystems. The plan presents our shared priorities to make the most of each other’s efforts to address environmental challenges.

Looking toward the future, we discussed the possibility of using the CEC as a way to address climate impacts on other important environmental challenges like water quantity and quality, renewable energy, energy efficiency, and oceans.

During our conversations, EPA’s Trash Free Waters program caught the interest of the other ministers on the Council. Through community outreach and education, EPA is working to reduce the amount of litter that goes into our lakes, streams and oceans. We discussed ways we could build on its success and expand it to other cities in North America.

Administrator Gina McCarthy with Leona Aglukkaq, Canada's Minister for the Environment, and Rodolfo Lacy Tamayo, Mexico's Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources, at the 22nd Annual Council Session of the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation.

Administrator Gina McCarthy with Leona Aglukkaq, Canada’s Minister for the Environment, and Rodolfo Lacy Tamayo, Mexico’s Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources, at the 22nd Annual Council Session of the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation.

The Council also reaffirmed the CEC’s Operational Plan for 2015–2016, which is focused on producing tangible outcomes and measurable results. The plan proposes 16 new projects that bring together our experts on work like reducing maritime shipping emissions to protect our health from air pollution, and strengthening protections for monarch butterflies and pollinators.

We named a new roster of experts on traditional ecological knowledge from Canada, Mexico and the United States. Alongside science, traditional knowledge helps us understand our environment, helping us better protect it. The experts will work with the CEC’s Joint Public Advisory Committee (JPAC) to advise the Council on ways to apply traditional ecological knowledge to the CEC’s operations and policy recommendations.

We also announced the third cycle of the North American Partnership for Environmental Community Action grants, a program that supports hands-on projects for low-income, underserved and indigenous communities across North America. The program supports communities’ climate-related activities and encourages the transition to a low-carbon economy.

We ended the meeting with Mexico assuming chairmanship for the upcoming year. It’s an honor to work with our neighbors to address environmental challenges head-on, and to make sure North America leads on global climate action. When we do, we protect our citizens’ health, our economy, and our way of life. 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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The Administration Takes a Big Step in Addressing Climate-Damaging HFCs

Crossposted from the White House Blog

By Brian Deese and Dan Utech

Today, the United States took decisive action on climate change by curbing the use of the potent greenhouse gases known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). These factory-produced chemicals, which are primarily used in air conditioning and refrigeration, can pack up to 10,000 times the global warming punch of carbon dioxide. Absent ambitious action to limit their use, emissions of HFCs in the United States are expected to nearly triple by 2030.

That’s why the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today finalized a rule under the Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program that will prohibit the use of certain HFCs where safer and more climate-friendly alternatives are available. Simultaneously, the agency also listed as acceptable additional climate-friendly alternatives, expanding the options for businesses to use chemicals that are less harmful to the global climate.

EPA’s final rule will help us make a significant and meaningful cut in our greenhouse gas emissions—up to the equivalent of 64 million metric tons of carbon dioxide of avoided emissions in 2025.

Leading businesses are already stepping up to replace HFCs with safer and more climate-friendly alternatives, and these measures from EPA will go hand-in-hand with these private-sector efforts. The United States is at the cutting edge not only when it comes to developing the next generation of safe and cost-effective alternatives to HFCs, but also in terms of incorporating these alternatives into American cars, air conditioners, refrigerators, foams, and other products.

Innovative American companies are leading the charge to ensure Americans will have climate-friendly insulation in our homes, HFC-free air-conditioners in our cars, and more sustainable supermarkets and corner stores. For example, last September, the White House hosted an event at which 22 private-sector companies and organizations stepped forward with commitments to reduce emissions from HFCs. Those commitments will reduce cumulative global consumption of these greenhouse gases by the equivalent of 700 million metric tons of carbon dioxide through 2025, equivalent to 1.5% of the world’s 2010 greenhouse gas emissions and the same as taking nearly 15 million cars off the road for 10 years.

The momentum we are making both through the final rule EPA announced today and also through these private-sector commitments advances global climate action. In April, the United States joined with Canada and Mexico to propose an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to tackle HFCs globally. Last month, G-7 Leaders committed to continue efforts to phase down HFCs and to negotiate a Montreal Protocol amendment this year, and the African Group, India, island countries, and the European Union all support an amendment. We have also made HFCs a key element of our bilateral climate discussions, and our bilateral announcements with China, India, and Brazil all recognize the need to advance progress on managing HFCs in the Montreal Protocol. Scientists predict that such strong international action would help shave off up to half a degree of warming by the end of the century, substantially furthering our goal to limit global temperature rise.

Today’s announcement takes a big step toward a more sustainable future and demonstrates to other countries that we are making serious efforts at home to complement the global solutions that we are advocating for internationally.

Here are some early examples of what companies and organizations have to say about EPA’s action today:

“We are delighted to see these final SNAP regulations. The action offers clarity to the industry and very positive, long term impact for the environment.”

– Steven Trulaske, Owner, True Manufacturing

“Honeywell applauds the EPA on their landmark action to restrict the use of high-global-warming HFCs, which are among the most potent greenhouse gases in use today. EPA’s action will accelerate the adoption of solutions with far less impact on the atmosphere while also spurring private sector innovation and creating jobs.”

– Ken Gayer, Vice President and General Manager of Honeywell’s Fluorine Products business, Honeywell

“AHAM applauds the EPA decision in its final SNAP rule to adjust certain compliance deadlines, which demonstrates the Administration’s flexibility and desire to work with the appliance industry to make the most impactful environmental gains. It also reflects the voluntary steps that home appliance manufacturers are taking to end the use of HFCs as foam-blowing agents. The home appliance industry is committed to delivering the most energy efficient and environmentally responsible products to American homes.”

– Joseph M. McGuire, President, Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers

“Chemours continues to support the President’s Climate Action Plan and EPA’s commitment and action using existing EPA authority to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in applications that have readily available lower global warming potential options. We believe it is critical that we reduce high global warming potential emissions in a manner that ensures that we are still able to deliver the critical societal services that HFCs provide today.”

– Diego Boeri, Global Business Director, Chemours Fluorochemicals

“Ingersoll Rand applauds the U.S. efforts to prioritize a transition away from high global warming potential refrigerants and it further reinforces the significance of our climate commitment to significantly increase energy efficiency and reduce the climate impact of our products and operations.”

– Paul Camuti, Chief Technology Officer, Ingersoll Rand

“We appreciate EPA’s partnership with manufacturers during this rulemaking process and EPA’s willingness to work with the Department of Energy to acknowledge the impacts of each other’s regulations and reduce burdens on U.S. companies.”

– David Szczupak, Executive Vice President, Global Product Organization, Whirlpool Corporation

Brian Deese is a senior advisor to the President. Dan Utech is the Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Earth Day Every Day: Make the Environment Part of your Daily GRIND(s)

By Heather Barnhart

Disposable Cups

Disposable Cups

My mother always told me that it’s the little things that add up. Don’t get me wrong – BIG things matter too, big things add up to A LOT. But it seems that those big things – like improving air quality and lowering asthma rates around the city (I live next to the BQE, so I know this is a BIG thing) – take a long time, and I may not be able to do anything directly. So, what’s my job? How can I help the environment?

My job at EPA Region 2 – measuring our operational footprint and developing innovative projects to reduce those environmental impacts – is actually a big thing. Executive Orders – the latest being Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decadedefine the federal priorities and goals. The Environmental Management System program describes our local progress toward achieving national goals and reducing our operational footprint. To achieve those goals, I often ask our employees, contractors, interns, other on-site federal employees, and even visitors to do the little things. And, these little things add up. Case in point: our employees were able to reduce their printing by 55 percent last year, which offset a whopping 29 metric tons of CO2.

So, what little things am I asking from everyone working in our offices in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico? My ask is something so easy and so basic that I’m hoping it’s already done. I’m asking people to pledge to give up the disposable coffee cup (and water bottle!) for at least a week or a month or better yet, forever!

Why do I think this will make a difference here in our regional offices, and why do I care about coffee cups? Region 2 recently announced our Zero Waste Policy, which is driving us to divert more of our waste from disposal. To achieve “zero” waste, we rely on increases to recycling and reuse, but, most importantly, we want to stop generating waste (source reduction) because even recycling requires resources and has an impact.

Between contractors, employees, other federal employees and interns, we have about 1,050 people in our offices in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico. If we estimate that each person is in the office 190 days per year, and they buy and throw out one disposable cup per day, then we generate about 6,250 pounds of coffee cup waste per year.

But doesn’t EPA recycle all of their trash? Recycling rules differ depending on municipal or local ordinances – those requirements differ for home owners versus businesses in Edison (Middlesex County), New York City, and Puerto Rico. While our regional offices do recycle more than required, coffee cups are not included.

But don’t I waste water when I wash my mug? It’s true, you’ll use water to wash your mug. However, the benefits of giving up disposable cups outweigh the concerns over the amount of water used to wash reusable mugs. True that a full (and energy efficient) dishwasher conserves the most water per cup, but you can still efficiently hand wash your mug using much less water than the 8,095 gallons needed to create 10,000 disposable cups.

Still not convinced? OK – here are more numbers for you (I love numbers!).

Annually Americans throw away 25 BILLION cups per year, which means:

  • 9.4 million trees were harvested just for cups;
  • 363 million pounds of waste were generated; and,
  • 3,125,000 tons of CO2 emissions were generated.

If even half of the EPA Region 2 employees give up their cup, then we offset 12.5 tons of CO2 every year. And, Green Apple – you’re 8.4 million people strong. Together, we can pledge a little thing and make a HUGE difference!

About the Author: Heather Barnhart is the NYC EMS coordinator. She got her start studying forestry at LSU, perfected her Hausa as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger, joined Region 2 as a water quality expert, and now works on reducing the office’s footprint. For her, every day really is Earth Day.

 

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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Reducing Mercury Use for Your Family and Our Global Community

By Marianne Bailey and Karissa Kovner

At EPA, we work every day to reduce the use of mercury in products and processes, making them safer for you and your family. Lowering levels of mercury in our environment is important because at high levels, mercury can harm the brains, hearts, kidneys, lungs and immune systems of people of all ages. In the bloodstream of unborn babies and young children, high levels of methylmercury may harm the developing nervous system, making the child less able to think and learn.

We’ve been making great strides in the United States – over the last 30 years, our domestic use of mercury in products has declined more than 97 percent. The use of mercury in industrial processes has also fallen drastically. Unfortunately, large amounts of mercury are still used in products and manufacturing processes worldwide, even though there are effective alternatives available. This is important to us both personally and professionally, since we want to make sure that children at home and around the world are not exposed.

Since mercury pollution has no boundaries, the United States joined the Minamata Convention on Mercury, a global environmental agreement designed to curb the production, use, and emissions of mercury around the world. In addition to provisions to reduce and eliminate mercury use in a wide range of products and processes, the Convention calls for control of mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants and boilers, waste incineration, cement production, and non-ferrous metals production.

Worldwide, one of the largest man-made sources of mercury pollution is artisanal and small scale gold mining. Although many of these miners use mercury, it is possible to safely and economically recover gold without it. Many are achieving high rates of gold recovery without mercury, benefitting their health, the health of their communities, and the environment.

To help miners reduce their mercury use, last week we launched a new website describing techniques for gold mining not requiring mercury. With the Argonne National Laboratory, we have also developed and field tested a mercury vapor capture system for gold processing shops, which can be used to reduce a significant source of mercury emissions. EPA also leads the UNEP Global Mercury Partnership Products Area, which aims to reduce and eventually eliminate the use of mercury in products. The partnership has completed numerous global projects to improve and monitor data baselines, and to demonstrate mercury-free alternatives. For example, we have worked with Health Care without Harm and the World Health Organization to reduce the use of mercury-added instruments in health care facilities worldwide.

We also want to address the remaining uses of mercury in the United States. To get started, EPA recently released the EPA Strategy to Address Mercury‐Containing Products. We will gather and analyze data about how mercury is used in products and certain processes in the United States, plan and prioritize additional mercury reduction activities, and take action to further reduce mercury use.

Mercury can cause serious health challenges in the United States and around the world. Our efforts are leading to safer products and a cleaner environment for you, and for all the members of our global community.

About the authors:

Marianne Bailey is the Senior Advisor for the Environmental Media Program in EPA’s Office of Global Affairs and Policy, Office of International and Tribal Affairs. She serves as the agency staff lead for EPA’s involvement in the Minamata Convention on Mercury and the UNEP Global Mercury Partnership, and was the lead U.S. negotiator for the convention’s provisions on artisanal gold mining.

Karissa Taylor Kovner is a Senior Policy Advisor for International Affairs in EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. She was the lead U.S. negotiator for the United States in the areas of products and storage for the Minamata Convention on Mercury and contributed to a number of other areas, including trade and supply.

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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U.S. Lessons Help Inform Chinese Policies to Improve Air Quality

As I stepped off the plane in Beijing, I immediately recognized the environmental challenges facing China today. The air quality during our visit ranged at times between “very unhealthy” and “hazardous”; at its worst, we could not see the tops of buildings in downtown Beijing shrouded in smog. We are reminded that many years ago we faced similar challenges in some cities in the U.S., before we took a comprehensive approach to environmental protection.

My colleague Steve Wolfson and I traveled to Beijing as part of the 19th Annual U.S.-China Legal Exchange sponsored by the U.S. Department of Commerce, January 13-15, 2015. Our task was to address legal tools for improving air quality, and the importance of transparency and public participation in implementing and enforcing environmental laws.

Drawing on our experience in the U.S., we highlighted how environmental protection need not come at the expense of economic growth — and indeed how environmental policies can be a driver for a healthy and sustainable economy. And we emphasized the critical need for public access to clear and accurate environmental data, as well as public access to a fair and even-handed court system, as pillars of sound environmental governance.

The response we got back was resounding. During our trip we met with our counterparts from the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection, as well as the National Development and Reform Commission, Ministry of Commerce, Supreme People’s Court, and other government agencies. We also engaged in lively discussions with representatives of several of China’s leading universities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), as well as with the U.S. business community. In every forum we heard common themes: the urgent need for China to continue to develop an effective environmental law regime, and the critical importance of effective implementation and enforcement mechanisms, all in support of a strong desire by China to maximize its efforts to tackle its pressing environmental challenges and embark on a sustainable path that integrates economic growth, environmental protection, and public health. We also witnessed a genuine eagerness to draw lessons from the successes that the U.S. and other countries have achieved implementing environmental laws that have significantly reduced pollution levels.

These issues were particularly timely as China is in the process of reforming and improving its environmental legal framework. The revisions to China’s framework Environmental Protection Law (EPL) enacted in April 2014 and taking effect on January 1, 2015, constitute one important milestone in this legal reform effort. A key provision of the revised EPL authorizes registered social organizations to bring environmental lawsuits in the public interest against polluters, potentially opening the door for civil society organizations to play a crucial role in addressing China’s environmental challenges.

The Chinese government recently issued interpretive guidance on implementation of these provisions, clarifying how to handle these cases and providing important encouragement for courts to accept more of them. Already there are signs that Chinese NGOs and courts are employing this new legal tool. This month an environmental public interest lawsuit filed by Chinese NGOs Friends of Nature and Fujian Green Home was accepted for consideration by the court in Fujian Province. During our visit we heard about additional NGO cases soon to be filed. The environmental community in China hopes that these provisions will help leverage the growing anti-pollution sentiment in China’s civil society to supplement governmental efforts to control pollution.

This provision is not the only important legal reform. Additional provisions are designed to enhance environmental accountability in China, including requirements for public disclosure of pollutant releases, enhanced penalties for violations of environmental laws, and strengthened mechanisms for holding government officials responsible for achieving environmental objectives. The hope is that legal reform will help develop a system of sound environmental governance, including widespread public access to environmental data, stakeholder engagement in decision-making, and multiple channels of accountability, including access to fair and transparent dispute resolution mechanisms.

China’s air pollution problems have triggered substantial efforts to improve laws and regulations in order to control emissions, an effort which EPA has worked to assist. Improving environmental governance in China can help move towards a level playing field for U.S. businesses competing with Chinese firms, including those who are doing business in China. For these reasons, cooperation on environmental law and governance is a key part of EPA’s overall cooperative engagement with China.

At every turn, I was impressed with the dedication, thoughtfulness, and energy of China’s environmental experts, particularly our counterparts in the Law and Policy Department of their Ministry of Environmental Protection, as well as their openness and genuine desire for information on successful cost-effective strategies for pollution prevention and control. Fortified with first-hand knowledge of the many inspiring individuals we met, and with blue skies dramatically appearing on the last day or our trip, we left China with a sense of hope for this critically important undertaking.

About the author: Ethan G. Shenkman is EPA’s Deputy General Counsel. He was previously with the US Department of Justice, Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD), where he served as Deputy
Assistant Attorney General from 2010 until May 2014.

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

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A Public-Private Partnership That Works

 

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

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

 

By EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

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

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

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

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

By Apoorva Rangan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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