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A Call to Public Service: Civil Rights and Environmental Justice

2014 July 31
Bob Perciasepe


July 31, 2014
5:00 pm EDT

As a child growing up in the 1950s in upstate New York, my days were filled with school, baseball, and playing in the woods. In my early years, I was mostly unaware of the broader social issues of the time.

Coming of age in the ‘60s, all of that changed.

The 24-hour news cycle didn’t exist yet, and it took more effort to keep up with current events back then. But as a young teenager, I began to pay more attention—and in 1963 the world came crashing in. The March on Washington, Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech, and President Kennedy’s assassination suddenly made me aware of a greater struggle beyond the world I knew.

As I started high school, I tried to understand how these events fit together—but I couldn’t comprehend why, in the United States of America, it was a struggle to pass a law to assure equal rights. But justice finally prevailed and the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964.

Like the civil rights movement, the environmental movement was made up of ordinary people who faced injustice and focused public attention to confront it. Unbearable smog in Los Angeles and a burning river in Ohio were a wake-up call to Americans that pollution threatens our health, and that we have a responsibility to fight it.

Our nation’s major environmental laws were passed in the early 1970s, but they too were a struggle, with many critics claiming they would kill the economy.

Now, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, hindsight helps us appreciate where these years of struggle have led. As I got older, I came to understand that any problem worth tackling is difficult in the moment—but that we should do things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

Civil rights and environmental protection were hard-won out of the same desire for a stronger, more equal America. Both have transformed our nation for the better.  Today, the air in Los Angeles is breathable. Fish swim again in Ohio’s Cuyahoga River. And despite the naysayers, the U.S. has cut air pollution 70 percent since 1970, while GDP has tripled.

But there’s still more work to do.

We have less pollution than we did in decades past, but the benefits of our collective cleanup are still unequal.  Poor and underserved communities are still unfairly impacted by pollution—leading to illness and missed days of school and work that disadvantaged families can’t afford. Whether it’s smog that causes asthma, toxic chemicals that foul our water, or carbon pollution that fuels climate change, our job is to right that wrong.

That’s where civil rights and environmental protection converge today, and it’s why EPA’s commitment to environmental justice is so important. This summer, our country took a huge step forward. Although we limit pollutants like mercury, sulfur, and arsenic, currently, there are no limits on carbon pollution from power plants, our nation’s largest source. Under President Obama’s direction, the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan will cut carbon pollution from power plants 30 percent by 2030.  At the same time, we’ll cut other dangerous pollutants like particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide.

During this 50th anniversary year of the Civil Rights Act, we must recommit to justice in all its forms, and for us at EPA, this means making sure everyone has equal access to the benefits of our work, regardless of who they are or where they come from. I know our team is up to the task.

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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Acting on Climate Change: Nurses Managing Patient Care in their Communities

2014 July 31
Gina McCarthy and Katie Huffling


July 31, 2014
12:00 pm EDT

Health care workers strive day in and day out to provide the best care for their patients. Yet too many Americans are still exposed to air pollution, which can lead to illnesses like asthma. Carbon pollution from power plants comes packaged with other dangerous pollutants like particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide, putting our families’ health at risk.  Rising temperatures from climate change bring more smog, more asthma, and longer allergy seasons—and the elderly, children, and the infirm are most vulnerable.

That’s why health practitioners like, the nurses with Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE), have such an important role to play in managing environmental risks that impact human health.  EPA recently took part in a briefing hosted by ANHE and spoke with nurses about mentorship opportunities through the Asthma Community Network and the EPA Breathe Easies asthma education campaign – a great resource for school and pediatric nurses.

Nurses from the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE) talking with a mother and a child.

ANHE nurse counseling family on how to manage asthma on days with poor air quality.

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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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Protecting Americans’ Health at the Beach

2014 July 31
Nancy Stoner


July 31, 2014
10:00 am EDT

You may have read my post on July 3 about EPA’s work to protect swimmers at America’s beaches. Protecting public health is a top priority for EPA, and I want to let you know about an updated guidance document we recently published to support this priority. We developed the National Beach Guidance and Required Performance Criteria for Grants, 2014 Edition to help state, territorial and tribal governments do a better job at keeping beaches safe for swimming. We worked with these partners to make sure that the guidance included workable requirements while also better protecting the health of beachgoers.

Putting in Place Safer Standards for Recreational Waters

There are 38 states, territories, and tribes on our coasts or around the Great Lakes that are eligible for federal grants under the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act (BEACH Act). Since 2001, EPA has made available nearly $130 million to help those governments monitor recreational waters and notify the public of beach advisories or closures. In order to receive the grants, eligible governments must meet the performance criteria we establish.
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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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Sustainable Materials Management: A Life-cycle Perspective

2014 July 29
Mathy Stanislaus


July 29, 2014
12:07 pm EDT

As companies and decision-makers seek sustainable ways to manage resources and meet consumer needs, they are confronted with an array of choices, labels and practices that claim to be better for the environment. Terms such as “recyclable,” “recycled-content,” “biodegradable,” or “organic,” all suggest a more sustainable use of resources, but all focus on a limited set of environmental impacts. At EPA, we found that asking which of these practices is better for the environment may not be the right question. We’ve found benefit by taking a broader perspective that considers the full “life cycle” of a product.

Governments and businesses can make better-informed choices with “life-cycle thinking,” or considering the environmental impacts caused at all of the stages of a product’s life cycle. These impacts may include releases of pollutants to air or water; raw material depletion; loss of trees, vegetation and wildlife through disturbance of land and water ecosystems; and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The stages of a product’s life cycle include extraction of resources, manufacturing, use, and end-of-life management. Focusing on just one stage (such as waste management) or one effect (such as organically-raised or grown) can be misleading in total environmental impact. A broader look at life-cycle considerations can show unsuspected or surprising effects – such as high greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from washing clothes with hot as opposed to cold water (since fossil fuels were likely burned for the energy used to heat the water). read more…

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 Wants to Hear From You: Kicking Off Public Hearings on our Clean Power Plan Proposal

2014 July 28
Gina McCarthy


July 28, 2014
12:25 pm EDT

The risks of climate change to our health and our economy are clear.  The need for urgent action is clear.  That’s why, as part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, EPA proposed a Clean Power Plan to cut the harmful carbon pollution fueling climate change from our largest source—power plants.

Even before we put pen to paper on our Clean Power Plan proposal, we hugely benefited from unprecedented outreach.  We held 11 public listening sessions nationwide.  We heard from thousands of people through phone calls, emails, meetings, and more.

Since our June 2 release, we’ve officially entered the public comment period on our proposal, and we’ve been laser focused on our second phase of engagement.  We’ve met with 60 different groups in just the first 25 business days after our proposal.  We’ve received more than 300,000 comments so far, and expect many more.  We want no stone unturned; and no good idea off the table. read more…

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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Science for Sustainable and Healthy Tribes

2014 July 25
Gina McCarthy


July 25, 2014
10:30 am EDT

Yesterday I signed the Policy on Environmental Justice for Working with Federally Recognized Tribes and Indigenous Peoples, which clarifies how EPA works with federally and state recognized tribes, indigenous community-based grassroots organizations, and other indigenous peoples to address their environmental and public health concerns.

American Indian communities have been inextricably tied to the natural environment for generations. From cultural identify to sustenance, many of those unique traditions endure. That’s why I’m so excited about the six tribal environmental health research grants to tribal communities and universities that we recently announced.

EPA is proud to have a long and rich history of supporting environmental and public health protection for all communities. These EPA supported grants will increase our knowledge of the threats posed by climate change and indoor air pollution, while incorporating traditional ecological knowledge to reach culturally appropriate and acceptable adaptation strategies to address these threats.
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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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Moisture Control: A Key Factor for a Healthy Indoor Environment

2014 July 18
Janet McCabe


July 18, 2014
2:00 pm EDT

EPA’s mission is to protect public health and the environment. While a large part of this mission involves protecting the air and water outdoors, we also need to make sure that people have the tools and information they need to keep the air clean in the areas where they spend up to 90 percent of their time – indoors.  And the agency is doing that through voluntary actions and information sharing, not regulations.

Some of the biggest threats to indoor air quality stem from moisture issues. Leaking roofs, plumbing problems, condensation issues, poor indoor humidity control, and lack of drainage around the base of buildings are commonly reported causes of moisture problems in the United States. Not only does excess moisture damage the structural integrity of buildings, it can increase people’s exposure to mold and other biological contaminants. Such exposure is associated with increases in the occurrence and severity of allergies, asthma and other respiratory illnesses. And, climate change will only worsen these issues as we see an increase in the frequency and intensity of severe storms and flooding that damages homes and buildings.

The good news is moisture problems in buildings can be controlled with steps that can be taken to make buildings more moisture resilient. For example, design landscaping to slope away from building foundations. Doing simple steps like this can prevent economic losses on multiple fronts by avoiding building damage as well as negative health impacts as it makes our indoor spaces healthier and more comfortable.

That’s why EPA pulled together experts from across the country to develop new, practical, state-of-the-art guidance for controlling moisture in buildings.  EPA recently published the result of that work, entitled, “Moisture Control Guidance for Building Design, Construction and Maintenance.” Encouraging voluntary actions to control moisture and other indoor contaminants will be a critical part of our climate adaptation strategy for ensuring healthy buildings as we continue to address our changing climate.

The key to controlling mold and many other indoor contaminants is moisture control.  It’s a simple concept, but it takes attention to detail to get it right. That’s why this practical guidance will be helpful to people who design, build or keep buildings working. Building professionals who incorporate the principles provided in this guide can enhance the health and productivity of Americans and the sustainability and resiliency of our communities. While this guidance is primarily for building professionals, EPA also offers mold and moisture control guidance for homeowners and residents at epa.gov/mold.

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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Seeding the Streambanks of our Country

2014 July 18
Shawn Garvin


July 18, 2014
10:30 am EDT

With summer upon us, including the opportunity to once again enjoy the great outdoors, we are reminded of the many important roles of our nation’s water bodies. Whether it be fishing, swimming, boating, a source of drinking water, or just enjoying the view, we need to be reminded that protecting our nation’s water bodies must be a priority for each and every one of us. While there are traditional ways for ensuring that water bodies are protected by issuing permits and taking enforcement, EPA is working ever more closely with local governments, organizations and the public on more collaborative ways involving voluntary initiatives and innovative partnerships. One of the things I enjoy most about being the Regional Administrator for EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region is seeing these partnerships at work.

Several weeks ago, on my way to deliver a speech about President Obama’s Climate Action Plan at the Virginia Military Institute’s 25th Annual Environmental Symposium in Lexington, Virginia, I drove through the naturally spectacular Shenandoah Valley to visit Waynesboro, Virginia and tour Ridgeview Park.

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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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The New Graphic will do for Insect Repellents What SPF Labeling did for Sunscreens

2014 July 17
Jim Jones


July 17, 2014
1:55 pm EDT

Remember the days before SPF when you weren’t so sure how long your sun screen would protect you from the sun’s harmful rays? Maybe I’m dating myself. I burn easily and had no idea how to protect myself, what to apply, and when to reapply suntan lotion.

Many of us continue to experience the same problems when trying to decide which mosquito repellent to use and when to reapply it. And what about ticks?

Nowadays we know that both mosquitoes and ticks carry some serious diseases. Mosquitoes can give you West Nile virus and St. Louis encephalitis, and ticks can transmit serious diseases like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Like sunscreens, mosquito and tick repellents can provide important protection against potentially lifelong health problems.

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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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Saving Energy and Money: Go Team Go!

2014 July 14
Gina McCarthy


July 14, 2014
5:11 pm EDT

Cross-posted from “It’s All Starts with Science”

Introduction By EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

We know that a strong economy and a healthy environment go hand-in-hand. That’s why, today, we announced that 21 small businesses in 14 states are receiving funding from the EPA to develop and commercialize innovative, sustainable technologies to address current environmental issues. Read more about one recipient, also a former winner of our agency’s People, Prosperity, and the Planet award, whose company is challenging kids to get involved and spurring competition to lower energy consumption in schools.

By Lek Kadeli

Spirited competition between local schools is a time honored tradition. From the football and soccer teams to the debate club, nothing beats taking on your arch rival to spark school spirit, get the neighbors talking, and build community pride.

That spirit of competition has helped schools here in the District of Columbia save more than 76,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity, thanks to Lucid—an EPA-supported small business started by previous winners of the agency’s People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) award.

The schools vied to see which could most dramatically reduce their energy consumption as part of the three-week “Sprint to Savings” competition. The DC Green Schools Challenge set up the competition to help schools conserve energy and save money while “engaging students in real-world learning opportunities.”

To monitor their progress and take action, students used Lucid’s “Building Dashboard,” a software program that monitors a building’s energy and water consumption in real time and presents that information in easy-to-understand graphic displays on computer screens or other devices.

Students were able to use Building Dashboard installed at their schools to gauge their progress in 15-minute intervals and help the school take corrective action, such as switching lights off when not needed, shutting down unused computers and monitors, and turning the heat down after hours. A District-wide leader board helped them keep an eye on the competition.

The idea for a data monitoring display system begin when the now principal partners of Lucid were students at Oberlin College. In 2005, their prototype won an EPA P3 Award. The P3 program is an annual student design competition that supports undergraduate and graduate student teams to research and design innovative, sustainable methods and products that solve complex environmental problems. Since then, there’s been no looking back!

Today, we are thrilled to announce that Lucid is among 20 other small businesses—including two other former P3 winners—selected to receive funding as part of the EPA’s Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program. The program was designed to support small businesses in the commercialization as well as the research and development of technologies that encourage sustainability, protect human health and the environment, and foster a healthy future. Environmental Fuel Research, LLC, and SimpleWater, LLC are the other two former P3 winning teams.

Thanks to Lucid, Environmental Fuel Research, LLC, SimpleWater, LLC and the other innovative small businesses we are supporting today, winning ideas are bringing products to the marketplace that protect our environment while sparking economic growth. I’ll bet that even arch rivals can agree that’s a win for everyone.

About the Author: Lek Kadeli is the Acting Assistant Administrator in the Agency’s Office of Research and Development.

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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