President Obama

Celebrating Two Legendary Environmental Champions

By Gina McCarthy

Today, President Obama named this year’s recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian honor. I am thrilled and proud that two environmental champions—William Ruckelshaus and Billy Frank, Jr.—are among the seventeen honorees.

William Ruckelshaus

William Ruckelshaus

William Ruckelshaus was the first Administrator of the EPA, appointed by President Nixon when the agency was created in 1970. He compiled an astonishing list of accomplishments in three short years: banning the dangerous pesticide DDT; setting the first air quality standards to protect public health under the fledgling Clean Air Act; establishing standards for cleaner cars and lead-free gasoline; building an environmental law-enforcement program with teeth; creating clean-water-permit requirements for cities and industries; and building a foundation for so many of the environmental protections we now take for granted.

During the 1960s, smog in many cities had become deadly and rivers were so polluted they caught on fire. Ruckelshaus helped set the nation on a new path to protect and preserve our environment, and in turn, our health. And he established a set of core values that still drive this agency today: respecting the law, following the science, and operating openly and transparently.

In 1973, he was tapped to serve as Acting FBI Director, and soon after as Deputy Attorney General—a position which spanned the Watergate crisis and from which he resigned as a matter of integrity and principle. In 1983, Ruckelshaus returned to EPA for a second stint in which he launched our Superfund program—initiating clean-up of thousands of contaminated sites across America. He also started work on Chesapeake Bay protections, and set the agency on a course to address the challenge of acid rain.

Ruckelshaus is remembered at EPA for his integrity and his commitment to protecting public health and the environment. Today, he continues to advance his legacy of collaborative problem solving on tough environmental issues at the University of Washington and Washington State University.

Billy Frank Jr. - Photo: Washington LSS

Billy Frank Jr. – Photo: Washington LSS

Similarly, Billy Frank, Jr., a Nisqually tribal member, was a tireless advocate for environmental stewardship and Indian treaty rights, which we continue to work on today. Frank’s work on tribal management of salmon resources helped paved the way for the 1974 “Boldt decision.” This was a hugely important legal precedent requiring the federal government to honor tribal treaty rights.

During the tribal Fish Wars of the 1960s and 1970s, when activists from dozens of Northwest tribes demanded that the treaties their ancestors signed with white settlers be honored, Frank led “fish-ins,” modeled after the sit-ins of the civil rights movement. His magnetic personality and tireless advocacy over more than five decades made him a revered figure both domestically and abroad.

Frank chaired the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission for more than 30 years, supporting natural resource management among the 20 treaty Indian tribes in western Washington. Upon his death in 2014, the Nisqually tribe stated, “Billy dedicated his life to protecting our traditional way of life and our salmon for more than 60 years.” Washington governor Jay Inslee wrote, “Billy was a champion of tribal rights of the salmon, and the environment. He did that even when it meant putting himself in physical danger or facing jail.”

Frank was the recipient of many awards, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Distinguished Service Award for Humanitarian Achievement. Frank left an Indian Country strengthened by greater sovereignty and a nation fortified by his example of service to one’s community, his humility, and his dedication to the principles of human rights and environmental sustainability.

I am proud that one of our nation’s most extraordinary public servants and one of its most extraordinary environmental advocates are receiving this high honor. Americans today are healthier, the environment is safer, and tribal treaty rights are intact thanks to the tireless efforts of these two leaders. Please join me in congratulating Bill Ruckelshaus and the family of Billy Frank, Jr.

 

 

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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Embracing Environmental Justice: Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of E.O. 12898

Cross posted from EPA’s Environmental Justice blog

EPA’s mission to protect public health and the environment is driven by a fundamental belief that regardless of who you are or where you come from, we all have a right to clean air to breathe, safe water to drink, and healthy land to call our home. At the heart of that belief is our unwavering pursuit of environmental justice for minority, low-income, and tribal communities that have been long overburdened by environmental threats.

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Moms Acting on Climate

I recently participated in the #CleanAirMoms Twitter chat with Moms Clean Air Force, a great group of moms making sure we’re keeping our environment safe and healthy for all of our kids.

As a mom, I was thrilled with the enthusiasm for the chat and the energy folks are showing afterwards online and offline to make a difference in their communities. Some moms asked why President Obama cares so much about climate change.

That’s easy enough to answer. When the President unveiled his Climate Action Plan last June to young people at Georgetown University, he made it clear that he wasn’t just speaking as our President but as a parent. As our caregivers for our children, our first responsibility is making sure the world around them is safe and healthy. The President believes it, and I believe it too.

Other moms had questions about the link between climate change and children’s health.

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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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President Obama Honors Outstanding Early-Career EPA Scientist

Modified from White House, Office of the Press Secretary release

President Obama addressing past PECASE winners.

President Obama addressing past winners of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers.

President Obama today named EPA’s Dr. Steven Thomas Purucker one of 102 recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.  The winners will receive their awards at a Washington, DC, ceremony in the coming year.

“The impressive achievements of these early-stage scientists and engineers are promising indicators of even greater successes ahead,” President Obama said. “We are grateful for their commitment to generating the scientific and technical advancements that will ensure America’s global leadership for many years to come.”

The Presidential Early Career Awards embody the high priority the Obama Administration places on producing outstanding scientists and engineers to advance the Nation’s goals, tackle grand challenges, and contribute to the American economy. The recipients are employed or funded by the following departments and agencies: Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of the Interior, Department of Veterans Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Science Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Intelligence Community, which join together annually to nominate the most meritorious scientists and engineers whose early accomplishments show the greatest promise for assuring America’s preeminence in science and engineering and contributing to the awarding agencies’ missions.

The awards, established by President Clinton in 1996, are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. Awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach.

To learn more, and see a list of all the winners, please see the White House announcement.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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The Impacts of a Changing Climate on Our Tribes

In Golovin, Alaska a storm caused damage to subsistence fishing camps. The sea ice destroyed the closest berry picking and beach green harvesting areas. Credit: Toby Anungazak Jr., LEO

 

Tribes in the United States are uniquely vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate due to the integral nature of the environment within their traditional ways of life and culture. These impacts include erosion, temperature change, drought and various changes in access to and quality of water. As part of EPA’s Climate Adaptation Plan, and in support of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the Office of International and Tribal Affairs (OITA) has been working closely with tribal partners to provide funding and technical guidance to assist tribes in adapting to these changes.

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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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Stewardship and a Moral Obligation to Act on Climate

I recently had the chance to sit down with students and faculty at Gordon College in my home state of Massachusetts. Thanks to everyone at the college for a great visit. I look forward to continuing the dialogue with faith leaders nationwide who, through their faith, have a commitment and deep respect for the environment we all share.

Young and old and across different denominations and faiths, our common ground is our shared sense of stewardship and responsibility to address a changing climate that affects us all, especially the most vulnerable among us.

In June and in front of an audience of young people, President Obama spoke about this challenge and moral calling, reaffirming what he said in his second inaugural address that America must strive to “preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God.”

We know that climate change is about the environmental and public health impacts of extreme weather. We know it’s about our economy—about crop shortages and higher food prices; less tourism in snow-capped states and disaster relief in flooded ones. But it’s also about a moral obligation to act and to protect those most affected by its destruction.

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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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Listening to Heartland Voices: The President’s Climate Action Plan

Leader Blog

This month, Region 7 will be doing a lot of what this agency does best: listen, learn, and lead.  The reason:  the President has tasked the EPA to take the point on one of the most important  challenges facing our generation of Americans:  cutting carbon pollution that harms our health, impedes our industrial competitiveness, and poses serious challenges to Heartland communities that depend on agriculture.

The President in June announced a national Climate Action Plan.  The President’s Plan assigns EPA a big job in accomplishing these vital goals: cutting carbon pollution from power plants, building a transportation sector for the 21st century, encouraging use of cleaner and avoidance of dirtier energy, and preparing this country for climate change’s impacts on weather and water.

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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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Vigorous Public Outreach to Cut Carbon Pollution and Fight Climate Change

In carrying out President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, EPA is conducting unprecedented and vigorous outreach and public engagement with key stakeholders and the general public. That’s especially true with our proposed commonsense standards to cut carbon pollution from new power plants—and it’s the case leading up to next year when we propose guidelines for states to use in addressing carbon pollution from existing power plants.

In preparing the guidelines for existing power plants, EPA leadership, including Administrator McCarthy, has been meeting with industry leaders and CEOs from the coal, oil, and natural gas sectors. We’ve been working with everyone from governors, mayors, Members of Congress, state and local government officials – from every region of the country — to environmental groups, health organizations, faith groups, and many others. We’re doing this because we know that carbon pollution guidelines for existing power plants require flexibility and sensitivity to state and regional differences. We want to be open to any and all information about what is important to each state and stakeholders. That’s what this process is all about.

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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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Building Climate Resilience and Adapting to a Changing Climate

Just a few days ago, we observed the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. We remain committed as ever to helping communities along the eastern coast recover and rebuild after one of our country’s worst natural disasters.

A key part to this recovery and rebuilding is making sure our communities are resilient to a changing climate, and can better adapt to devastating climate-related impacts.  With a mission as critical to protecting public health and the environment, EPA is helping communities across the country do just that.

Earlier today President Obama signed an executive order directing federal agencies to take a series of steps to make it easier for our neighborhoods and communities to strengthen their resilience to extreme weather and other impacts of a changing climate. And that’s why today EPA is releasing its draft Climate Change Adaptation Implementation Plans for public review and comment.

Whenever I travel the country, I see the steps cities, states, and businesses are already taking to prepare and adapt to climate change. The plans offer a roadmap for our Agency’s work to support those ongoing, local efforts. They will inform brownfields investments and local cleanup activity, build climate resilience into Hurricane Sandy recovery activities, and support city programs to strengthen water infrastructure facing the threat of climate-related impacts like floods, droughts, and storm surges.

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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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A Look Back at EPA’s work in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy

Among the communities devastated by Hurricane Sandy exactly a year ago today was Sayreville, New Jersey and its wastewater pumping station. As the super storm pounded the East Coast, untreated sewage from a pump station for the Sayreville station began flowing into the Raritan River and Bay system – a source of drinking water for many in the area.

In order to stop the toxic flow, two highly-trained EPA contractors were called in to install a six thousand pound gate under water. They performed extremely dangerous dives into 25 feet of raw sewage in a confined space with no visibility and hazardous debris.

They succeeded in installing the gate, which accelerated the restart of the Sayreville Pump station and prevented the discharge of hundreds of millions of gallons of more raw sewage into local waters. This critical work is just one example of countless EPA efforts rising to the occasion during one of nation’s most destructive natural disasters.

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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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