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Protecting Your Drinking Water for 40 Years

2014 December 16
Ken Kopocis


December 16, 2014
9:42 am EDT

As I traveled across the country this year, there’s one thing I could count on everywhere I went: tap water that’s safe to drink. Drinking water is essential for healthy families, thriving communities, and strong local economies. And this month we’re proud to celebrate an important milestone as December 16, 2014 marks the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

We’ve made incredible progress in improving drinking water safety over the past 40 years. Before Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974, EPA lacked the authority and the funding to ensure safe drinking water, and over 40% of our nation’s drinking water systems failed to meet even the basic health standards in place at the time.

Today, we almost take safe drinking water for granted. The Safe Drinking Water Act has been such a success that we sometimes lose sight of how far we’ve come. Americans drink over 1 billion glasses of tap water every day. We enjoy the cleanest drinking water in the world, with more than 90 percent of Americans receiving water that meets all standards, all the time.
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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 Our Communities through Safe and Legitimate Recycling

2014 December 12
Mathy Stanislaus


December 12, 2014
10:30 am EDT

When you drop your bottles and cans off in the recycling bin or at a recycling center, you’re helping to protect the environment and your community.

But not everything is as safe to recycle as plastic and aluminum. Some materials that get recycled are hazardous – like byproducts and substances from industrial processes. If they’re not recycled carefully they can put people’s health at risk. What’s worse, many recyclers that deal with hazardous materials are located close to minority and low-income communities that already face a lot of environmental challenges.

Our administrator just signed a new rule called the Definition of Solid Waste (DSW) rule. It’s a major environmental justice milestone that directly addresses mismanagement of hazardous materials at some of these recycling facilities.

In 2009, we held a public meeting to talk about our existing DSW rule, created in 2008. We heard from dozens of people who felt we needed to better analyze the rule’s impact on minority and low income people. We also heard from recyclers and manufacturers about the benefits of safely recycling hazardous materials – from job creation and other economic benefits to a healthier environment and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. So, we made the commitment to take a closer look at the potential environmental justice impacts of the 2008 DSW rule, and at opportunities for preserving and expanding safe recycling of hazardous materials.

We examined the location of recycling facilities and their proximity and potential impact to nearby communities. Our analysis confirmed that, in many cases, the public comments were correct. Communities needed a way to participate in the conversation about these recyclers’ activities, and recyclers needed to take more preventive steps, like being more prepared to contain spills and better training for their staff. More state and EPA oversight was needed, too.

The 2014 DSW rule adds some new requirements to ensure that hazardous waste is legitimately recycled and not being disposed of illegally. It requires recyclers to get a Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) permit or verified recycler variance from us or their state, so that the recyclers’ safety measures can be verified and nearby communities can be protected. Recyclers who seek a permit or variance will be required to give communities an opportunity to weigh in about their location and plans.

Unfortunately, there have been cases where off-site recycling has been mismanaged. In these cases, hazardous materials have been released into communities, endangering the health of people and the environment. For example, one facility in Allenport, Pennsylvania, was recycling spent pickle liquor, a highly acidic solution used to remove impurities during steel manufacturing. This recycler didn’t have a RCRA permitand, when it chose its location, the nearby community wasn’t given a chance to provide input. In 1997, hazardous sludge from the recycling process spilled and was washed into an adjacent railroad bed next to a community playground. Later in 2004, the recycler’s storage tanks failed and spilled spent pickle liquor into a surrounding asphalt-paved area and into a storm drain (see photo). The new 2014 DSW rule will help us better respond to similar cases going forward.

Like I mentioned before, there are environmental and economic benefits to recycling hazardous materials. The new DSW rule reduces risks for communities, at the same time that it helps to encourage certain types of recycling. Some higher-value hazardous spent solvents, for example, can be remanufactured and reused safely under the rule, which means that less new solvents are created. And some hazardous byproducts can be reused in the same process that generated them, through in-process recycling.

Through this new rule, we’re helping ensure that our country is recycling more, but doing it safely to protect our communities 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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New Life for Superfund Sites: From Contamination to Clean Energy

2014 December 11
Mathy Stanislaus


December 11, 2014
12:26 pm EDT

Renewable energy is growing – and as it grows, more and more wind turbines, solar farms and other projects are being built on formerly contaminated Superfund sites.

Our RE-Powering America’s Land Initiative encourages renewable energy development on current, former and potentially contaminated land, landfills and mine sites. The initiative develops screening and mapping tools, drafts technical resources and best practices, and highlights case studies and success stories.

Siting renewable energy facilities on formerly contaminated land can not only be done safely, it can also benefit communities, as these projects create new, low cost sources of clean power, and can bring new resources to the table to get cleanups done faster. The projects support property values, more jobs, more tax revenue to support public services and a better local economy. They also help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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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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Want Kids to Do Better in School? This Environmental Approach Can Help

2014 December 9
Jim Jones


December 9, 2014
9:51 am EDT

Schools are busy places, with bustling schoolyards, kitchens full of lunchboxes and trays, and kids and adults who constantly come and go. These busy environments can sometimes have pest problems that need to be addressed – like flies, spiders, yellow jackets, roaches and ants, for example.

As a parent, I know how important it is to me that my kids and their classmates have a healthy environment to learn, thrive and grow. Unhealthy school environments – including poor air quality — can affect children’s health, attendance, concentration and performance. Pest exposure can also trigger asthma, which can cause kids to miss class and a chance to learn.

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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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2014 Green Power Leadership Awards

2014 December 4
Jared Blumenfeld


December 4, 2014
4:22 pm EDT

By Jared Blumenfeld

Today, I was in Sacramento, Calif., to present EPA’s Green Power Leadership Awards. By showing leadership in buying and using green power, as well as making it more widely available, today’s honorees are building a cleaner and brighter future while helping to strengthen the economy.

Since its inception in 2001, the Green Power Partnership has engaged with all types of organizations—Fortune 500 companies, cities, academic institutions, nonprofits and others—to encourage them to voluntarily use more green power. The partnership now has more than 1,300 partners using billions of kilowatt-hours (kWh) of green power annually.

These organizations go the extra mile in growing the green power market. For example, the City of Las Vegas—awarded for generating green power on-site–recently installed 3.3 megawatts of solar photovoltaic panels at its wastewater treatment facility. It’s the largest project of its type in the region. The installation saves Las Vegas approximately $600,000 per year and stabilizes the cost of power needed to run the facility. Cities in Oregon, Texas, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Tennessee also got awards for their green power projects.

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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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Your Engagement Protects Public Health, Bolsters Climate Action

2014 December 1
Janet McCabe


December 1, 2014
2:38 pm EDT

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. That’s why a year and a half ago, President Obama announced a national Climate Action Plan to cut the carbon pollution fueling climate change, prepare communities across America for climate impacts, and lead the world in our global climate fight.

A centerpiece of the President’s strategy is EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan. In June, we proposed a plan that would cut carbon pollution from power plants to protect public health and move us toward a cleaner, healthier environment for future generations, while supplying the reliable and affordable power our country needs for a healthy economy and job growth. 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 Releases New Indoor Air Quality and Energy Efficiency Guidance for Schools

2014 November 26
Janet McCabe


November 26, 2014
1:19 pm EDT

Colorado Springs School District 11 is set to save more than $928,000 on its energy bill every year, thanks to an effort to increase energy efficiency and protect indoor air quality.

This month we released our Energy Savings Plus Health: Indoor Air Quality Guidelines for School Building Upgrades, a guidance document designed to help schools reduce their environmental impact and ensure clean air for their students. Just like School District 11 in Colorado Springs, schools will likely be able to save some money, too.

Our new guidelines highlight best practices for addressing 23 critical indoor air quality topics, including moisture and mold control; hazardous materials such as asbestos and lead; building products and materials; and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. They also examine how schools can think about improving indoor air quality while doing renovations to improve energy efficiency, and how renovations can achieve both goals.

One in five people across the U.S. are in a school building during school hours. Schools are often used as recreation centers, meeting places, and emergency shelters, too. They are one of the most visited buildings in many communities, so many people are affected when schools know how to operate efficiently while maintaining healthy indoor environments.

School districts across the country will reap the benefits of improved student and staff health, and they will also save precious dollars through reduced operational costs. We know that indoor air quality plays a critical role in health, attendance, and academic performance. Improving energy efficiency can also have significant environmental and economic benefits.

In addition to all the benefits school districts will see right away, focusing in on energy efficiency and indoor air quality together can help schools to shrink their carbon footprints and energy use, and prepare for potential impacts of climate change, including people choosing to spend more time indoors.

Be sure to check out our other publications and resources on good indoor air quality in the design, construction, renovation, maintenance, and operations of school buildings.

 

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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Learning Firsthand the Interconnectedness of Native Culture to the Land from the Hualapai Tribe in the Grand Canyon

2014 November 25
Mathy Stanislaus


November 25, 2014
1:28 pm EDT

Recently, my wife and I were fortunate to take a vacation to the great American Southwest. A day spent at Grand Canyon West in Arizona was the highlight of the trip.  We both agreed that the beauty of the canyon is unparalleled, but I didn’t realize how long Native Americans from the Hualapai Tribe (pronounced WALL-uh-pie) have called this unique area of the Southwest home, with its deep gorges, canyon lands, rugged mesas, and ponderosa pine forests.

Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus and his wife at Grand Canyon West in Arizona.

I was hosted by the Hualapai Tribe, known as the “People of the Tall Pines,” whose homelands once covered an area from the Grand Canyon in northwest Arizona to the Bill Williams River in west-central Arizona and from the Black Mountains bordering the Colorado River to the San Francisco Peaks. Today, the Hualapai Reservation is nearly 1 million acres. Until 1988, the Hualapai’s tribal lands were not open to visitors; however, in order to secure economic stability and independence, the Hualapai have shared their lands of spectacular beauty with millions of people from around the world.

Challenging aspects of increased tourism are waste generation and increased water usage. Many of the tourists visiting the area leave trash and other waste behind, creating a problem for the tribe. With the assistance of the Department of Defense’s C130 cargo aircraft, the tribe removed waste from the canyon floor. The Tribe’s Natural Resources Department is a leader among tribal communities for their work in water conservation and ensuring water quality.

During my vacation I experienced one unforgettable day with the Hualapai when native dancers performed ancient dances in the shadow of the canyon as I imagine they have for centuries. The visit solidified my commitment to the importance of our longstanding partnership with tribal environmental programs to protect ecosystems where natural landscape and native culture are interwoven and equally irreplaceable as the Grand Canyon is to the Hualapai tribe.

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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Reducing Food Waste and Promoting Food Recovery Globally

2014 November 25
Jane Nishida


November 25, 2014
10:00 am EDT

As we approach Thanksgiving, some of you will be sitting down with family and friends over a bounty of delicious food, while others may use this occasion to donate their time volunteering in food pantries or kitchens supporting efforts to distribute a meal to those less fortunate.

An estimated one third of food available goes uneaten, much of it going to landfills where it produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas, contributing to climate change. Food waste now represents the single largest category of materials sent to landfills in the U.S. Globally, nearly one-third of the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, which would be enough to feed approximately 2 billion people worldwide, and accounts for 6-10 percent of human-generated greenhouse gases.

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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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Combating Wasted Food: Good for the Environment, Good for Your Bottom Line

2014 November 24
Mathy Stanislaus


November 24, 2014
3:50 pm EDT

Here’s a really smart way for businesses – from restaurants to grocery store chains to hotels and more – to boost their bottom lines: Reduce wasted food.

This week we’re holding a week of action on wasted food. It’s all about sustainability – environmentally and economically – and how we meet the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet the needs of tomorrow.

In 2012, the United States threw away about 35 million tons of food – more than any other type of waste going to landfills. When that wasted food gets to the landfill, it rots, generating methane gas – one of the most potent contributors to climate change. All of this waste also squanders the water, energy, nutrients and money used to transport that food.

At the same time, many Americans don’t know where their next meal will come from. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that, in 2012, 14 percent of households regularly did not have enough food to live active, healthy lifestyles.

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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.

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.