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Hundreds of ideas, one proposal: How EPA developed the Clean Power Plan

2014 July 7
Janet McCabe


July 7, 2014
11:14 am EDT

With all the coverage of EPA’s Clean Power Plan, I wanted to take a few minutes or a few hundred words to tell you about the process we followed to write our 645-page proposal. The bottom line is that it is the product of many months of hard thinking and data analysis by EPA staff and substantial input from literally thousands of thoughtful stakeholders.

President Obama Announces His Climate Action Plan

On June 25, 2013, President Obama announced his Climate Action Plan and issued a Presidential Memorandum directing EPA to use section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants. This wasn’t the first time the agency had considered using section 111(d). Since the 2007 Supreme Court decision in Mass vs. EPA, the agency has been considering its authorities to address carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act. In fact, a 2008 advanced notice of proposed rulemaking examined a number of regulatory approaches including section 111. And using Section 111d made a lot of sense, since the Clean Air Act established it for addressing existing sources of pollution not covered by other parts of the Act.

What We Heard

Immediately following the President’s announcement and at his direction, the agency embarked on an extensive public outreach process—one that reached thousands of people through hundreds of meetings, listening sessions, video conferences, phone calls, conference calls, and almost two thousand emails from individuals across the country. We talked to states, power companies, local communities, environmental groups, associations, labor groups, Tribes, and many more. This process was a critical component in developing this rule because it helped focus our attention on what was going on—on the ground—in states and communities across the country, and it generated public discussion and ideas from numerous groups and individuals that helped inform our thinking.

So, What Did We Hear?

  • We heard that flexibility is key, so we maximized flexibility in our proposal letting states chart their own course that builds on the progress they’ve already made.
  • We heard that states could cut pollution more cost-effectively if we, and they, looked at the energy system as a whole, so we allowed states to look across the system to find reductions.
  • We heard that the power sector is interconnected and it crosses state lines, so in addition to proposing that each state develops its own plan, we also proposed to allow states to work together to develop plans, depending on what suits their situation.

We didn’t just hear these ideas from one group or even one sector; we heard them from just about everyone. And what emerged was a collection of ideas—or threads—that guided us as we crafted our proposal.

Weaving it All Together

Over the past year, dozens of EPA scientists, lawyers, economists, health experts, policy analysts, and many others wove the threads we heard along with our own extensive analysis, data, and information into the proposal we announced on June 2.  If you look closely you may see some of the threads you contributed or heard throughout the outreach process.

One of the great values of the transparent process we used, and will continue to use, to collect input from the public is that no one person or group has the only, or best, idea.  It takes all of us contributing our information and suggestions to fashion a good, workable rule that meets the requirements of the law and achieves meaningful public health and environmental benefits.  And EPA’s proposal does just that. It is a proposal that is based on what’s going on in the real world, cuts carbon pollution, protects public health and moves us toward a cleaner, healthier environment for future generations, while supplying the reliable affordable power needed for economic growth.

More info: www.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan

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 Beachgoers is Top Priority for EPA

2014 July 3
Nancy Stoner


July 3, 2014
1:48 pm EDT

People swim at a beach with a city skyline in the distance.Summer’s here, and it’s time to celebrate the 4th of July! Many of us will celebrate by going to the beach –over 307 million of us took trips to the beach last year, according to the U.S. Lifesaving Association. This is a good opportunity for me to tell you about EPA’s work to protect swimmers at America’s beaches.

Protecting public health is a top priority for EPA, and we rely on the best science to do that. We also work closely with our partners at the state and local level, to make sure we learn from their experience and help support their programs.

Setting Safer Standards for Recreational Water

In 2012, we recommended new water quality criteria to better protect the health of Americans engaging in a variety of recreational activities such as swimming, surfing and paddling. The criteria are based on the latest science and improve protection of public health by addressing a broader range of illness symptoms, better accounting for pollution after heavy rainfall, ensuring equal protection for coastal and Great Lakes waters, encouraging early alerts to beachgoers and promoting rapid water testing.

States and local public health officials use recreational criteria to determine when water quality meets public health standards for safe recreation. The criteria also provide optional thresholds for when to issue swimming advisories or beach closures.

Encouraging States to Incorporate the Safer Standards

This year, we are working to update our guidance for states and territories that receive grants from EPA to help monitor their beaches for bacterial pollution. A major goal for this revision is to encourage states to adopt a more comprehensive approach to monitoring and public notification plans by using better information and new tools. In the draft version, we incorporated key aspects of the 2012 recreational water quality criteria.

In an effort to increase protection of the public while swimming or otherwise enjoying activities in or near the water, the draft guidance proposed a new grant requirement for states to use a beach notification threshold value that would provide enhanced public health protection to beachgoers.

We asked for public comments, and since May have been working to address the comments we have received.  We will be continuing to work with state and local officials to make sure that we have an approach that is workable for them and also protects the public health and safety of beachgoers.

Gathering and Providing Information about Local Beaches

To help you plan your next trip to the beach, we’re making sure you have access to information we collect about beaches around the country. The BEACON (Beach Advisory and Closing Online Notification) is a national database that contains beach monitoring and notification data reported by states, territories, and tribes. If BEACON does not have recent water quality information, contact your state, territory, or tribe’s beach program or EPA’s regional beach contact person.

Our How’s My Waterway? app can help you find information about local waters using your mobile device.

We want you to enjoy your summer and we want your experience to be as safe as possible. Our priority is to use the best science to ensure that swimmers are adequately protected while in the water at our nation’s spectacular coastlines.

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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Celebrating 50 Years of Civil Rights and Environmental Justice

2014 July 2
Gina McCarthy


July 2, 2014
2:45 pm EDT

The Environmental Protection Agency is driven by a fundamental belief that everyone has a right to clean air to breathe, safe water to drink, and healthy land to call our home. At the heart of that conviction is our unwavering pursuit of equality and environmental justice for all.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, EPA is celebrating with the theme Honoring Our Past, Embracing Our Present, and Building Our Future. I’m pleased to join with others to mark this enduring legacy as we work toward a more just future. 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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Setting the Record Straight on Waters of the US

2014 June 30
Nancy Stoner


June 30, 2014
4:56 pm EDT

Nancy Stoner, Acting Assistant Administrator for Water

Updated July 7, 2014

There’s been some confusion about EPA and the Corps’ proposed “Waters of the U.S.” rule under the Clean Water Act, especially in the agriculture community, and we want to make sure you know the facts.

We know that we haven’t had the best relationship with the agriculture industry in the past, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t and we can’t do better.  We are committed to listening to farmers and ranchers and in fact, our proposed rule takes their feedback into account.

The rule keeps intact all Clean Water Act exemptions and exclusions for agriculture that farmers count on. But it does more for farmers by actually expanding the list of up-front exemptions. We worked with USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service and the Army Corps of Engineers to exempt 56 additional conservation practices. These practices are familiar to many farmers, who know their benefits to business, the land, and water resources.

Farmers and ranchers are on the land every day, and they are our nation’s original conservationists. The American agriculture economy is the envy of the world, and today’s farmers and ranchers are global business professionals—relying on up-to-the minute science to make decisions about when to plant, fertilize, and irrigate crops.

Both EPA and farmers make decisions based on facts—so here are the facts about the proposal.
When Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, it didn’t just defend the mighty Mississippi or our Great Lakes; it also protected the smaller streams and wetlands that weave together a vast, interconnected system. It recognized that healthy families and farms downstream depend on healthy headwaters upstream.  But two Supreme Court cases over the last 15 years confused things, making it unclear which waters are “in,” and which are “out.”

That confusion added red tape, time, and expense to the permitting process under the Clean Water Act. The Army Corps of Engineers had to make case-by-case decisions about which waters were protected, and decisions in different parts of the country became inconsistent.

So EPA and the Corps are bringing clarity and consistency to the process, cutting red tape and saving money. The proposed Waters of the U.S. rule does not regulate new types of ditches, does not regulate activities on land, and does not apply to groundwater. The proposal does not change the exemption for stock ponds, does not require permits for normal farming activities like moving cattle, and does not regulate puddles.

The agencies’ goals align with those of farmers: clean water fuels agriculture—and we all depend on the food, fuel, and fiber that our farmers produce. We at EPA and the Corps welcome input on the proposed rule to make sure we get it right.

Here are clarifications on a few points of confusion about the proposed rule. For further information, check out:

http://www2.epa.gov/uswaters/questions-and-answers-about-waters-us-pdf

The EPA and the Army Corps are NOT going to have greater power over water on farms and ranches.

  • The Clean Water Act and its regulations have multiple exclusions and exemptions from jurisdiction and permit requirements.  The proposed rule does not change or limit any of them.
  • The agencies also worked with USDA to develop and publish through an interpretive rule, a list of NRCS agricultural conservation practices that will not be subject to CWA permitting requirements.  These practices encourage conservation while protecting and improving water quality.

The proposed rule will NOT bring all ditches on farms under federal jurisdiction.

  • Some ditches have been regulated under the Clean Water Act since the 1970s.
  • The proposed rule does not expand jurisdiction.
  • For the first time, the agencies are clarifying that all ditches that are constructed in dry lands, that drain only dry lands, and don’t flow all year, are not “waters of the U.S.” This includes many roadside ditches, and many ditches collecting runoff or drainage from crop fields.
    • Ditches that are IN are generally those that are essentially human-altered streams, which feed the health and quality of larger downstream waters. The agencies have always regulated these types of ditches.
    • Ditches that are OUT are those that are dug in dry lands and don’t flow all the time, or don’t flow into a jurisdictional water.
  • Farmers, ranchers and foresters continue to receive their exemptions from Clean Water Act Section 404 permitting requirements when they construct and maintain their ditches, even if ditches are jurisdictional.

The proposed rule does NOT mean permits are needed for walking cows across a wet field or stream.

  • Normal farming and ranching activities are not regulated under the Clean Water Act.

The proposed rule will NOT apply to wet areas on fields or erosional features on fields.

  • Wet areas on crop fields are not jurisdictional.
  • The proposal specifically excludes erosional features from being “waters of the U.S.”

EPA and the Corps are NOT taking control of ponds in the middle of the farm.

  • The proposed rule does not change existing practice regarding farm ponds.
  • The rule does not affect the existing exemption Congress created under section 404 for construction and maintenance of farm or stock ponds.
  • The proposed rule would for the first time specifically exclude stock watering ponds from jurisdiction in rule language.

http://www2.epa.gov/uswaters/questions-and-answers-about-waters-us-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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Restoring Our Monuments

2014 June 27
Cameron Davis


June 27, 2014
9:30 am EDT

monumnetsOn a recent morning run around the National Mall, I took my first swing by the newly-restored Washington Monument since it had closed after an August 2011 earthquake. From afar and up close, patches show where the tower has been revitalized, resuscitated and renewed. The goal was never to restore it to its original look and condition. Nothing can ever be truly “restored” in the pure sense; I’ve sometimes wondered why the word even exists. But that was never the goal. The goal was to restore its functionality.

When President Obama first proposed the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in 2009 that was the goal, too. These magnificent natural monuments—shared by Canada, eight states, dozens of tribes and thousands of municipalities, and home to some 95 percent of the nation’s fresh surface water—had been crumbling ecologically. Decades of habitat loss, alien species invasions, phosphorus runoff that causes mats of harmful algae, and industrial pollution had caused extreme wear such that we needed to accelerate progress in restoring their functionality.

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 Takes Important Step in Assessing Chemical Risk

2014 June 25
Jim Jones


June 25, 2014
2:19 pm EDT

Earlier today, EPA made public a final risk assessment on a number of uses of the chemical, Trichloroethylene, or TCE, as it is more commonly known. The risk assessment indicated health risks from TCE to consumers using spray aerosol degreasers and spray fixatives used for artwork. It can pose harm to workers when TCE is used as a degreaser in small commercial shops and as a stain remover in dry cleaners. It has been more than 28 years since we last issued a final risk assessment for an existing chemical.

EPA conducted the TCE risk assessment as part of a broader effort to begin assessing chemicals and chemical uses that may pose a concern to human health and the environment under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). TSCA is this country’s 38-year old chemicals management legislation, which is badly in need of modernization

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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Under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, a Year of Progress at EPA

2014 June 25
Gina McCarthy


June 25, 2014
9:53 am EDT

Climate change supercharges risks to our health, our economy, and our way of life. On behalf of our kids and future generations—we have a moral obligation to act. That’s why in June, 2013, President Obama unveiled his Climate Action Plan to cut the harmful carbon pollution fueling climate change, build a more resilient nation to face climate impacts today, and lead the world in our global climate fight.

As part of the President’s plan—he called on EPA to act. And over this past year, we’ve been answering that call.

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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Reducing the Impact of Stormwater Challenges

2014 June 24
Nancy Stoner


June 24, 2014
2:00 pm EDT

Acting Assistant Administrator for the EPA Office of Water

Stormwater pollution is a dilemma all across the country – even in beautiful mountain towns like Aspen, Colorado. Pollutants such as oils, fertilizer, and sediment from the steep mountains that tower over the town, can be carried via stormwater and snowmelt and deposited into waterways like the Roaring Fork River. This has a huge impact on the ecosystem.

Last month, I toured the Jennie Adair wetlands, a bio-engineered detention area designed to passively treat stormwater runoff in Aspen. I saw firsthand how the city is working to deal with its stormwater challenges. Before this project, stormwater did not drain to a water treatment facility. It used to flow directly into the Roaring Fork River and other water bodies within the city limits, having significant impacts on the water quality.

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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Consumer Product Companies Leading the Way to Greener Products

2014 June 24
Jim Jones


June 24, 2014
9:00 am EDT

Getting a tour of Earth Friendly Products in Southern California.

Getting a tour of Earth Friendly Products in Southern California.

 

During some recent travel, I spent time with several consumer product companies and retailers who are stepping up as  safer product leaders and innovators, advancing industry beyond the safety “floor” set by the outdated Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)

In Southern California, I met with Earth Friendly Products. All their products are manufactured in the U.S. and 90% have earned the Design for the Environment (DfE) label.

I also took part in the Safer Consumer Product Summit in California followed by a visit to the Consumer Specialty Product Association (CSPA) meeting in Chicago.Then, outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I met with BerkleyGreen (Berkley Packaging Company Inc.), a family- and woman-owned DfE partner with 29 DfE-labeled products.

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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Another Favorable Opinion from the Supreme Court

2014 June 23
Avi Garbow


June 23, 2014
4:08 pm EDT

Today’s Supreme Court decision is a resounding win for EPA. At issue was how certain Clean Air Act permitting programs apply to carbon pollution. Justice Scalia, writing for seven of the nine justices, largely upheld EPA’s approach to requiring that carbon pollution be addressed in permits for large emitters, such as power plants and refineries. As Justice Scalia reportedly noted from the bench, “EPA is getting almost everything it wanted in this case.”

EPA’s inaugural suite of carbon pollution rules have now been fully vetted in federal court, and have emerged victorious, and largely unscathed. In fact, the most significant pieces of the Agency’s approach were not even granted Supreme Court review, having been found sound and upheld by the D.C. Circuit. EPA’s scientific finding that carbon pollution endangers public health and welfare was upheld by the D.C. Circuit, and the Supreme Court denied cert on issues related to it. Similarly, the D.C. Circuit upheld EPA’s first set of rules limiting carbon pollution from cars and trucks (and simultaneously saving consumers money at the pump), and the Supreme Court denied cert on issues related to those rules.

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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