Celebrating 30 years of Citizens’ Right-to-Know

30 years ago today, the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) was established through a law co-authored by the late Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey. Five years ago, the Senator recollected, “Everyone has a right to know if danger is lurking in their own backyard, but for a long time, Americans were denied this basic right.”

Senator Lautenberg was talking about the right of citizens to have access to information about which toxic chemicals industrial facilities are using and how much of each is released into the environment. EPA makes this information easily available to the public online. Most of the emissions tracked by TRI result from routine production operations, which are subject to regulatory requirements, but TRI also includes data on accidental releases and one-time remediation efforts.

Recently the program returned to its roots in EPA’s chemical safety office, and I am once again impressed by the power of disclosing this information to the public and the extent to which citizens, industry, researchers, and others have relied on it as a tool for informed decision making.

Administrator McCarthy echoed Senator Lautenberg’s statement recently when she said, “people deserve to know what toxic chemicals are being used and released in their backyards, and what companies are doing to prevent pollution. By making that information easily accessible through online tools, maps, and reports, TRI is helping protect our health and environment.”

But don’t take it from us at EPA. Here’s what others have said about the impact of the TRI:

“After 30 years, the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act has exceeded expectations in driving down the use and release of toxic chemicals. This law created the TRI Program and has given concerned citizens, researchers, and others access to information that should be a basic right to know. While it was a new approach in 1986, today more than fifty countries have established their own registries, using the TRI as a model.  These registries, in the U.S. and abroad, have allowed companies to learn best practices from each other and, simply by shining a spotlight on releases of toxic chemicals, have led to dramatic reductions.” – U.S. Senator Tom Udall

“The TRI Program provides a critical tool for informing and empowering communities to hold polluters accountable. I applaud EPA’s efforts to adapt TRI to technological advances and make the TRI data as accessible as possible.” – U.S. Representative Frank Pallone

“Having to report and having to keep a closer eye on the chemicals and the processes that we use offers an insight so that we can…look at the bigger picture and plan ahead to make reductions.” – Bette Danielson, Safety and Environmental Affairs Manager at Nordic Ware

“If you’re working for the benefit of the neighborhood, you need to identify, understand and measure the problem. Then, you can do things to improve the situation. TRI provides us a tool — that information that we need desperately in order to move anything forward.” – Wendy Menken, board president of a neighborhood association in Minnesota

The Aspen Institute called TRI one of the ten biggest ways EPA has improved America.

There’s plenty of data to support these great statements. One of the best indicators of the TRI Program’s success is the steady and significant decline in releases since 1987 – the first full year of data on toxic releases. A great example is the decreasing trend in air releases.

Air Emissions Grahic

On-Site Air Releases, 2003-2014


Find out more about the power of TRI data and the 30th Anniversary.

Happy 30th anniversary to one of EPA’s finest programs – one that has made such a positive difference in fulfilling our Agency’s mission to protect human health and the environment!

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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Air Pollution at Our Nation’s Ports Can be Reduced Now

By Chris Grundler

Ports are the main gateway for global trade and are critical to the U.S. economy. Thousands of diesel-powered vessels, trucks, cranes, and other equipment help transport goods to market. But as they do, they also emit greenhouse gases, smog- and soot-causing nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter, and other harmful pollutants. These emissions contribute to climate change and can cause asthma attacks, emergency room visits, heart attacks, and premature death.  People living near ports bear the brunt of this pollution, and they often live in minority or low income communities.

In 2014, I was privileged to stand beside Bob Perciasepe, then Deputy Administrator of EPA and other key port stakeholders to launch our Ports Initiative, which aims to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases from ports to improve the quality of life for all Americans working in and living near them.

Yesterday, in support of the Ports Initiative, we released a report titled the National Port Strategy Assessment: Reducing Air Pollution and Greenhouse Gases at U.S. Ports.  This report assessed a wide variety of strategies and technologies available to ports and port operators to reduce emissions.  The assessment shows that there are many effective, proven opportunities available right now to reduce harmful pollution at ports.  This is great news for the roughly 39 million Americans who live and breathe near these centers of commerce.  Port stakeholders including state and local governments, ports and port operators, tribes, and neighboring communities can use this information to help inform priorities and decisions about investments being planned now for their port area.

This information comes at a critical time. With the Panama Canal expansion, U.S. seaports, private-sector partners, and the federal government are primed to spend billions of dollars on port freight and passenger infrastructure over the next five years. Decisions about port investments will have a lasting impact on the health of our citizens and our planet.  It is more important than ever to make sure that port planning includes projects to reduce emissions and protect the environment.

Every type and size of port, whether they are seaports or Great Lakes and river ports, can use the information in the assessment to better understand how to reduce emissions now and into the future.  The assessment found that replacing and repowering older, dirtier vehicles and engines with ones that meet our cleaner diesel standards achieves large emission reductions in NOx, particulate matter, and other pollutants that affect air quality.  For example, replacing older drayage trucks could reduce NOx emissions by almost half, and particulate matter emissions by up to 62 percent in 2020 as compared to continuing with no changes.  With regard to greenhouse gases, the report highlights that electrification of port vehicles and equipment can effectively reduce the magnitude of greenhouse gas emissions growth below what would happen in the absence of this replacement.

Certainly, there are things that are already having a positive impact on pollution from ports.  For one, our emissions standards for new trucks, locomotives, cargo handling equipment, and ships are reducing diesel emissions from the vehicles and engines that are so critical to many port operations.   In addition, our Diesel Emissions Reduction Act grant program has accelerated turnover of older diesel equipment at ports and goods movement hubs resulting in additional reductions.  And finally, some port areas are taking proactive steps to reduce emissions.

Despite these gains, more work is needed to fully address the ongoing public health and climate impacts of the projected growth at U.S. ports.   I look forward to continuing our efforts to provide data and information to inform decisions that effectively reduce pollution and result in more sustainable ports for the 21st century.  This report is another important step in that direction.

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 Partners Leading the Way On Climate Action

By Janet McCabe

Climate change is one of the most critical challenges of our time. We are committed to partnering with industry, communities, and government at all levels to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change, and to prepare for the changes that are already underway.

Some important collaborations are our voluntary climate partnership programs. For decades, we have been partnering with the private sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote the use of cleaner energy sources, and improve energy efficiency efforts. These voluntary programs have achieved significant environmental benefits: in total, more than 19,000 organizations and millions of Americans have participated in our climate partnerships and, together in 2013 they prevented greenhouse gas emissions equal to the annual electricity use of more than 57 million homes.

Today, we launched a new voluntary program to reduce harmful methane emissions from the oil and gas sector and 41 companies have stepped up as founding partners. Our Natural Gas STAR Methane Challenge Program builds on the success of our Natural Gas STAR Program and encourages partner companies to make company-wide commitments to cut emissions from sources within their operations by implementing a suite of best management practices.

We expect program participation to grow over time and are actively working to expand the options for participation by finalizing an additional Emissions Intensity Commitment option through the ONE Future Coalition. The ONE Future coalition is a group of companies from across the natural gas industry focused on increasing the efficiency of the natural gas supply chain.

To understand the potential of this program, let’s look at the successes of the Natural Gas STAR Program. When Gas STAR began in 1993, it promoted six best management practices that companies could take to reduce methane emissions; that list has increased to over 50 mitigation best practices. In 2015, a total of 103 oil and gas companies from across the natural gas value chain were U.S. Natural Gas STAR Partners. Since the Natural Gas STAR program started, our partners have collectively achieved over 1.2 trillion cubic feet of methane emission reductions, equivalent to the emissions savings associated with the use of over 1.4 million barrels of oil or reducing over 606 million metric tons of C02 equivalent emissions.

Our other voluntary programs are making similar strides. Since 1992, ENERGY STAR has helped consumers save $362 billion on their utility bills while significantly reducing their greenhouse gas emissions at the same time. Since the Green Power Partnership was introduced in 2001, more than 1,200 organizations have committed to using about 33 billion kilowatt-hours of clean, renewable green power each year. Through the Combined Heat and Power Partnership, more than 480 partners have installed nearly 6,800 megawatts of new combined heat and power since 2001. And in 2013 alone, our methane and fluorinated greenhouse gas program partners used our tools and resources to prevent emissions equal to the annual electricity use from more than 12 million homes in 2013.

Our country has been building momentum towards a cleaner energy economy for quite a while, and with the help of our voluntary programs, our partners have been helping to pave the way. To address the global challenge of climate change, we need to use all the tools in our toolbox, and voluntary programs are an important complement to regulatory action. Through the innovation and leadership of our partners, our voluntary climate partnership programs have proven to be an important lever for 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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Leadville, Colorado: Some great environmental happenings

by Wendy Dew

I’ve spent a lot of time in Leadville, Colorado.   Also known as the Two-Mile-High City, Leadville is the highest incorporated city and the second highest incorporated municipality in the United States. In the late 19th century, Leadville was the second most populous city in Colorado, after Denver.

An image of Leadville, ColoradoBut what I know most about Leadville is EPA’s work on cleaning up the California Gulch Superfund site and a local conservation group’s efforts to educate citizens on energy and environmental issues.

The California Gulch site covers 18 square miles in Lake County, including Leadville and a section of the Arkansas River. Former mining operations contributed to metals contamination in surface water, groundwater, soil and sediment. Over the years, EPA has worked with the state, the local community and the site’s potentially responsible parties to clean up the site, coordinate ecological restoration work and redevelop specific portions of the site.

While there are still portions of the site that are being cleaned up, 11 miles of the Upper Arkansas River have been restored and the area was added to the Gold Medal Trout Waters in Colorado.  These fishing areas are noted by Colorado Wildlife Commission as places where trout are plentiful and larger.  The designation has been 20 years in the making, and although anglers have enjoyed the improved conditions for years, it is an official acknowledgement of the myriad efforts by state and federal agencies, local governments and stakeholders to turn an impaired river into one of the most popular fishing destinations in Colorado.

Gold medal waters are not the only great environmental happenings in Leadville. The Cloud City Conservation Center (C4) was awarded two EPA grants for environmental justice work and environmental education work.  I got the chance to visit C4 and see firsthand how they are making a difference in the community.

The environmental justice project focused on helping low-income and minority residents in Lake County reduce energy use and address under-insulated and leaky housing. It focused specifically on residents who have limited access to information due to language barriers, immigration status and other hurdles facing this EJ population. C4 conducted workshops using EPA grant funds to educate the community about conservation and efficiency measures they could implement in their homes to save energy and money. Thirty home energy audits and follow up support services provided participants the opportunity to improve the energy efficiency of their homes while becoming more knowledgeable about energy conservation.

An image of a corroding vent.

Vent that is corroding due to corrosive combustion gases coming from the boiler

As a result of this initiative, the community enjoys lower greenhouse gas emissions and more comfortable homes. Additionally, the impact of global climate change is addressed through local solutions, thereby empowering the community to make a difference on the sustainability of our environment.

The environmental education project, awarded in 2015, seeks composting materials stored in one placeto make Lake County youth the environmental leaders of the community, ultimately expanding Lake County’s capacity for environmental stewardship. Approximately 1,100 Lake County K-12 students will increase their environmental understanding through daily composting and hands on education.

This will increase capacity in each Lake County School to reduce waste, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create a valuable environmental product, establishing a model program Compost poster.for the community as a whole. The compost will be used in a future greenhouse project for the local schools.  The kids who are involved in managing the compost bins are incredible proud of the positive local environmental impact they are having at their school.

The transformation from mines to parks, gold medal trout waters, environmental justice initiatives and future environmental leaders is impressive. Visiting grantees is one of my favorite things to do in my job.  It gives me a chance to see for myself all the great work EPA grant funds make possible.  Talking to kids who are excited about the environmental changes they are making is amazing.  It motivates me and makes me feel like I am part of a very large movement to restore, protect and improve our environment.  C4 is continuing to work with the Leadville community to address environmental and public health issues.

About the author:

Wendy Dew is the Outreach and Education Coordinator for EPA Region 8.

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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Promoting Resource Efficiency By Focusing On Supply Chains

By Mathy Stanislaus

I recently attended a G7 Alliance for Resource Efficiency workshop in Yokohama, Japan on Promoting International Cooperation for Improving Global Resource Efficiency and on the Kobe 3Rs (reduce, reuse & recycle). In Yokohama, I described our current activities promoting Sustainable Materials Management (SMM), which analyzes the entire life cycle of products and services to identify the best ways to use materials while minimizing environmental impacts (e.g., use of energy, water and land). That means looking at use of resources from the point of materials extraction, through production, all the way to the end of a product’s life and beyond to reuse and recycling.

From left to right: Kazuhisa Matsuda, Japan; Benedetta Dell'Anno, Italy; Mathy Stanislaus; Gwenole Cozigou, European Commission.

From left to right: Kazuhisa Matsuda, Japan; Benedetta Dell’Anno, Italy; Mathy Stanislaus; Gwenole Cozigou, European Commission.

By advancing systems-based approaches such as SMM, we can reduce often-overlooked sources of significant greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, such as those from the supply chain of the manufacturing sector. The Paris Climate Agreement, for example, set a global goal to limit global warming to less than 2o Celsius by reducing GHG emissions. More than 40 percent of these emissions are attributable to materials management, and the G7 Alliance offers an important new mechanism to help meet the goal.

We are working collaboratively with the G7 Alliance for Resource Efficiency (G7 members from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, with representation from the European Union) and the private and public sector to foster a circular economy, one in which materials are used for as long as possible and materials and products are recovered at the end of their life. Our work is important because, as the G7 Alliance found last year, “for every one percent increase in gross domestic product (GDP), raw material use has risen by 0.4 percent . . . much of raw material input in industrial economies is returned to the environment as waste with[in] one year. . . Unsustainable consumption of natural resources and concomitant environmental degradation translates to increased business risks through higher material costs, as well as supply uncertainties and disruptions.”

The U.S is hosting a G7 Alliance for Resource Efficiency workshop in Washington, D.C. on March 22-23, 2016. At this forum participants from across the globe will explore how to use life-cycle concepts to advance resource efficiency and focus on significant upstream impacts in supply chains, specifically the auto sector. Why focus on the auto sector? That sector is an important part of our industrial and service economies and is significant to the gross domestic product of several G7 countries. It is also a global economic driver with supply chains reaching across the world. Additionally, automobile manufacturers and their suppliers are innovatively using life-cycle concepts to identify and address significant impacts and resource use.

Sessions will address a wide range of topics designed to benefit all participants – overcoming SMM barriers, the use of innovative materials and eco-design, information tools to foster life-cycle thinking, industry “hotspot” identification, supply chain transparency, incentives for change, and more. Participants will identify best practices that are transferrable to other sectors. Follow the conversation with the #G7CircularEconomy hashtag.

Building on the results of the workshop, we plan to host subsequent workshops to support the global transition to sustainable materials management. We know that there will be challenges ahead, but I am proud we are working with our fellow G7 countries in taking actions that will be beneficial to others for years to come.

Continue the discussion by following @EPAland’s conversation on #G7CircularEconomy.

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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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:

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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Refining Environmental Justice

By Matt Tejada

Before joining EPA, I spent more than five years in Houston working to protect the health of the many low-income and minority communities along the Texas Gulf Coast who share their neighborhoods with oil refineries. I cannot think of a single fenceline community from my work that does not have numerous health and environmental challenges facing local residents. And while toxic emissions from refineries are not responsible for all of those challenges, the risk from refinery pollution is an ever-present part of living in these places.

A new rule we’re releasing today helps reduce these dangerous emissions – a major victory for environmental justice but more importantly for the communities living and working along the fencelines of refineries.

The rule will reduce visible smoking flare emissions and accidental releases. For the first time in a nationwide rule, it will provide important emissions information to the public and neighboring communities by requiring refineries to actually monitor emissions at key sources within their facilities and around their fencelines. The rule also increases controls for storage tanks and cokers, parts of refineries that many folks rarely think about because they have just become part of their neighborhood background. The pollution reduced from these two types of units is very significant.

The final “Refinery Rule” – as many EJ stakeholders likely know it by – will reduce 5,200 tons per year of toxic air pollutants, along with 50,000 tons per year of volatile organic compounds. That is thousands of tons of pollution that will not be coming out of our nation’s refineries every single year. The emission reductions from this final rule will lower the cancer risk from refineries for 1.4 million people. That’s not just good for the communities that live in and around refineries — it’s outstanding. And, not just for the communities, but for the folks who work inside the refineries, as well as stakeholders in the broader community whose regional air quality would otherwise be impacted by some of these pollutants.

This rule means a lot to me personally after all the time I spent in those communities in my home state of Texas. It’s one of the biggest steps we’ve taken to protect environmental justice communities under Administrator McCarthy’s leadership. But it’s not the only one – we’ve also worked to create a Clean Power Plan that protects the needs of the most vulnerable Americans, changed the way we prioritize environmental justice in our rulemaking, created EJSCREEN to help communities learn about their environmental risks, and – just this week – released new Worker Protection Standards that keep farmworkers and their families safer from over-exposure to pesticides.

As someone who has worked on the community side of these issues, I know the importance of listening to stakeholders and communities who provide valuable input as we develop rules. The final rule incorporates community feedback and has been strengthened from proposal stage to final, accounting for important concerns expressed by the very people living on the fenceline who we are trying to protect.

Our work to increase that protection is far from done, but this final Refinery Rule is a major step forward in controlling pollution from refineries to protect the health and well-being of those who live near them and it leaves the door open to continue to introduce technology as it advances and offers even greater protection. Because here at EPA we don’t see environmental justice as something to be achieved in one action – but as something we are committed to continually advancing in everything we do.

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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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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.