regulations

Integrating Environmental Justice Into Our Work

By Cynthia Giles and Jim Jones

We work to achieve our mission to protect public health and the environment in a myriad of ways by providing for grants to states, incentive programs, and technical assistance – but we also issue rules. And, because we’re committed to environmental justice, we want to ensure that our regulations serve all people, including those who are often the most impacted by environmental harm and public health concerns.

We’ve been integrating environmental justice into our rules for years. Today, we’re advancing our efforts by releasing our final Guidance on Considering Environmental Justice During the Development of a Regulatory Action.

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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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Making Regulations Work for the Environment and the Economy

In March of 2011, I participated in a video town hall meeting to talk about finding ways to improve EPA regulations to make compliance easier and less expensive, without sacrificing protection of the environment and human health. In that meeting I encouraged participants to share their ideas about how EPA could streamline regulations and which regulations we should review. I also shared a Web page where you can find information on the status of priority rulemakings, retrospective reviews of existing regulations, and information on how to comment on rulemakings. The very first suggestion I received during the video town hall that day was for EPA to modify regulations on the management of solvent-contaminated rags and wipes used by various industrial sectors, such as publishing, printing, and automobile manufacturing.

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I’m pleased to say that we have acted on that suggestion and released a final regulation that reduces burden on tens of thousands of facilities that use solvent-contaminated wipes, while still being protective of human health and the environment. Based on the best available science, we’ve provided a regulatory framework for managing solvent-contaminated wipes at the appropriate level of risk. Not only does this reduce uncertainty for these regulated communities, this rule will result in an estimated net savings of $18 million per year in avoided regulatory costs and between $3.7 million and $9.9 million per year in other expected benefits, including pollution prevention, waste minimization and fire prevention benefits.

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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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On Change

Marcus Peacock is EPA’s Deputy Administrator.

My mother was born two weeks before Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic. She has witnessed amazing changes in her life: the advent of air transportation, the proliferation of television, the near eradication of scourges like small pox and polio, men walking on the moon, the internet. Yet when I asked her how she felt about these changes, I did not get the response I expected. She shrugged. “Yes, things have improved a lot.” That was it.

Deep in middle age, I now understand that answer. The time scale our brains work with is easily swamped by the broader march of technology. After a dash of initial wonder, we just assimilate advances and move on. A few decades ago, every Christmas Day my family would crowd around a phone in our house and have hurried static-filled ‘long distance’ conversations with relatives in other lands. Two weeks ago one of my kids got a call from a friend. My daughter was walking in the woods. Her friend was sitting in a cafe in Florence, Italy. This does not amaze them. It no longer amazes me. In fact, I can’t really remember how we got to this place. It just happened.

Today the Administrator signed a proposed rule modifying how EPA determines the Air Quality Index for fine particle pollution. As proposals go, it is not terribly notable. And yet . . . this will be the first proposed rule issued by a federal agency that will allow the public to comment on the rule using a blog. The blog will be open from March 2 to March 11 which corresponds to public hearings on the proposal. Stay tuned to Greenversations for more information on how to participate. Mark it as a small step on the way to what I believe will be a dramatic change in the way the federal government crafts rules and regulations. A small step, but one that, with others, will accumulate to the point where the government will be able to produce better quality rules much more quickly than in the past.

We live in the Information Age. It is sweeping over us like advancing waves on a beach. Federal agencies can either seize the tools that are coming from this change or just let the tide pick us up and deposit us in a new place. EPA is choosing to seize the day. We are not doing this because we want to amaze people with whiz-bang Web 2.0 technology. We do this because when someone in the future is asked about the changes they have seen in the environment, they will just shrug their shoulders and say, “Yes, things have improved a lot.”

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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Playing By The Rules

About the author: Karen Reshkin manages the Web site in EPA’s Chicago office. She’s been there since 1991, and can still remember life before the Internet.

A few weeks ago, I declared that I’d try to diminish my ignorance about some of the things EPA does. Turns out it’s hard to write about things you don’t know! I hope you’ll bear with me if some of this seems a bit elementary. I want to understand better how enforcement works at EPA, so I’ll start with laws and regulations.

EPA is charged with implementing federal environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. Statutes like these are passed by Congress and signed into law by the President. They may get amended, as happened with the Clean Water Act in 1972, 1977, 1981…

Those laws look quite, um, legal to me. Why would you need regulations on top of that? Turns out the statutes usually don’t contain the details you’d need to actually enforce them (e.g. allowable concentrations of particular substances in water). EPA is a regulatory agency, which means Congress has authorized it to write regulations that explain how to implement a statute. There’s a whole process for doing that, and it generally includes an opportunity for the public to comment on a proposed rule (regulation).

The Web provides an excellent way for people to get involved in rulemaking. You can view the proposed rule online and provide comments online as well. (More traditional methods like paper mail still work, too.) The collection of documents related to a rulemaking is called a docket and it includes public comments, background reports, Federal Register notices, and other supporting documents. Dockets are accessible to the public and Regulations.gov serves as EPA’s electronic public docket and online comment system.

This didn’t really bring us to enforcement yet, but I’m getting there.

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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In Need of Some Guidance

About the author: Barbara Hostage is the Director of the Policy Analysis and Regulatory Management Staff in the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. She has been with EPA for 30 years, spending most of those 30 years involved in EPA rulemakings.

Anyone who’s ever worked with a real estate agent knows that it helps to let them know what you want. For example, if you’re looking for a three bedroom ranch on a quiet street, you should say so, or else you’ll spend a lot of time driving to five bedroom colonials next to busy shopping malls. There are a lot of houses out there and a lot of factors to consider. The more guidance you provide, the more effective your search becomes.

It’s a simple idea: providing guidance early leads to more effective work. It’s a good rule to follow when working with a real estate agent, hair stylist, or mechanic. It’s also a principle that we try to incorporate into our work here at EPA.

I help EPA put this principle into practice by arranging Early Guidance Meetings for my office. Developing an action (such as a regulation) is a detailed process. At the beginning of the process, a workgroup that includes all relevant parts of EPA is formed. The workgroup then proceeds to investigate the topic and identify what may need to be done. It is during this early phase that an EPA workgroup will turn to EPA senior managers for guidance…hence the name “Early Guidance Meeting.” In these meetings, senior managers help the workgroup identify priorities and establish expectations. Getting senior managers involved early in the process helps the workgroup avoid missteps and dead ends, which leads to a quicker and more efficient process.

It’s a simple step, but I’m convinced that these meetings make us a better agency. Early Guidance Meetings save taxpayers’ money by minimizing the amount of time spent pursuing dead ends, documenting decisions in case we need to revisit them later on, and completing regulations in a timelier manner. It’s only logical: a better process produces better actions. And during the early phases of the process – when a workgroup is looking for some ”warmer/colder” advice to nudge them in the right direction – a little guidance can go a long way.

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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