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Smart Growth Approaches for Flood-Resilient Communities

2014 July 10
Joel Beauvais


July 10, 2014
4:30 pm EDT

Smart Growth Program LogoLast month marked the first year anniversary of the President’s Climate Action Plan. As part of that plan, EPA has been working to prepare the United States for the many impacts of climate change, including flooding. Many communities across the country are recognizing the need to prepare for more frequent and more powerful storms; others are already dealing with storm damage and looking for ways to recover that deliver the best long-term results.

Smart growth approaches to development can help communities become more resilient to flooding by protecting vulnerable undeveloped lands, siting development in safer locations, and designing development so it is less likely to be damaged in a flood. Recognizing this, the state of Vermont came to EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for assistance in 2012 following Tropical Storm Irene, which damaged many communities across the state. Together, we helped several state agencies and communities in the Mad River Valley of Vermont assess how they could incorporate smart growth principles into their policies, development regulations, and hazard mitigation plans to make them less vulnerable to extreme floods. EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities recently released a report and a handy checklist that communities seeking to prepare for or recover from a major flood can use to assess whether their codes, policies, and regulations can help them withstand floods.

The report and checklist cover a wide range of activities. Not all of these activities will be appropriate for each community. I encourage community leaders to consider them all, and then choose the activities that work best for their local conditions and circumstances.

Here are some general steps communities can take to improve their flood resilience:

  • Update and integrate community or comprehensive land use plans with hazard mitigation plans to ensure they are coordinated and that they prioritize planning for new growth in safer areas.
  • Audit policies, regulations, and budgets to ensure consistency with flood-resilience goals outlined in community plans and hazard mitigation plans.
  • Amend existing policies, regulations, and budgets or create new ones to help achieve the flood-resilience goals outlined in plans.

Here are some specific local land use policy options communities can consider:

  • Conserve land and discourage development in particularly vulnerable areas along river corridors, such as flood plains and wetlands.
  • Where development already exists in flood-prone areas, take steps to protect people, buildings, and facilities from flooding risks.
  • Plan for and encourage new development in areas that are less vulnerable to future floods.
  • Manage stormwater using watershed-wide stormwater management and green infrastructure approaches to slow, spread, and infiltrate floodwater.

State agencies can also partner to support recovery and flood-resilience planning. Specific actions states can take to improve their flood recovery and resilience efforts include:

  • Auditing all state programs to determine how well they help communities achieve flood-resilience goals.
  • Developing a comprehensive recovery plan before the next flood happens.
  • Developing a personnel plan that delineates who will assist with post-disaster recovery.

The checklist and report come on the heels of President Obama’s announcement on June 14 of a new National Disaster Resilience Competition, which will provide nearly $1 billion in funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery funds to help communities that have experienced natural disasters rebuild and prepare for future disasters. The Notice of Funding Availability for the competition will be posted on www.hud.gov.

The Office of Sustainable Communities will host a webinar on smart growth approaches for flood-resilient communities with FEMA and the state of Vermont on Wednesday, August 13, from 1:00-2:30 EDT. Find details at http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/webinars/index.html.

Joel Beauvais is the Associate Administrator for EPA’s Office of Policy.

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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Competitors team up to power down in this year’s Energy Star Battle of the Buildings

2014 July 10
Gina McCarthy


July 10, 2014
4:06 pm EDT

By Gina McCarthy

What if the key to driving down energy use in commercial buildings came down to one simple idea: Teamwork. We see the power of teamwork all around us. In sports, individuals come together to push each other, help each other, and find out how to work together for the maximum benefit. At work, we achieve more by working together than we could ever achieve alone. So why not take this concept into the realm of commercial building energy use?

This year, as part of the fifth-annual Energy Star Battle of the Buildings, competitors are harnessing the power of teamwork to reach new heights in energy performance. They’ll build on each other’s successes, learn from each other’s mistakes, and together, find new ways to unlock energy savings.

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But how much can one building really save anyway? The answer is, a lot. The buildings we see in our communities every day—offices, schools, hospitals, stores—use nearly 20% of our nation’s energy. And it costs more than $100 billion annually to keep them running. But did you know that the average building wastes 30% of the energy it consumes? People leave lights on. Equipment breaks.
Filters go unchanged for months, or years.

That’s about to change for the more than 100 teams and their respective buildings that are participating in this year’s competition. With a little competitive spirit and a lot of teamwork, these buildings are knocking down barriers and building momentum for positive change. See who’s competing near year, watch their progress, and share the excitement at www.energystar.gov/battleofthebuildings.

In the only coast-to-coast competition of its kind, dozens of different types of commercial buildings are facing off in this year’s Energy Star Battle of the Buildings. This year’s theme, “Team Challenge,” features teams of five or more buildings who will work together to reduce their collective energy use as much as possible over the course of a year. For example, “Team Staples” includes 17 Staples stores, while 15 Whole Foods stores will support each other as part of “Team Whole Foods Market.” In a county outside Wilmington, Del., 13 elementary schools will compete as part of a team, and they’re going up against their county’s five middle schools and six high schools. In Hillsborough Country, Fla., fire stations will team up to compete against libraries.

Competitors will measure and track their building’s monthly energy consumption using EPA’s Energy Star online energy measurement and tracking tool, Portfolio Manager. Over the course of the competition, building teams will work to optimize or upgrade equipment, retrofit lighting, and change occupants’ behaviors—all with help from Energy Star. The team that reduces its buildings’ average energy use the most, on a percentage basis, over a 12-month performance period, will be declared the winner. 700 buildings are also competing in a special water reduction category, and will work with EPA’s WaterSense program to apply best practices for commercial building water management.

EPA will maintain a website devoted to the competition, featuring a list of the competitors and their starting, midpoint, and final standings, a live Twitter feed where competitors will post updates on their progress and an interactive map of the competitor’s locations. Midpoint results will be posted in October, with the winner announced in April 2015.

Products, homes and buildings that earn the Energy Star label prevent greenhouse gas emissions by meeting strict energy efficiency requirements set by the U.S. EPA. From the first Energy Star qualified computer in 1992, the label can now be found on products in more than 70 different categories, with more than 4.5 billion sold over the past 20 years. Over 1.5 million new homes and 23,000 buildings have earned the Energy Star label.

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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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From Cutting Edge to Commonplace

2014 July 8
Cynthia Giles


July 8, 2014
7:34 am EDT

By Cynthia Giles

I’ve dedicated my career to working with state, local and tribal partners to enforce environmental laws to protect American communities from pollution. Looking back, we’ve come a long way in how we measure for pollution and take action to curb it. Years ago, accounting for air pollution from refineries, for instance, was unreliable and burdensome. It relied in large part on estimates, often done by the refineries themselves, which often undercounted actual emissions and the risks posed to neighbors. In those days, fully understanding refinery emissions would have required taking air samples one-by-one across many potential sources.

Over the past decade, new technologies and innovative solutions have significantly improved our enforcement and compliance efforts. Through EPA’s Next Generation Compliance strategy, we’re building these tools into settlements with companies, pushing their development and implementation in communities across America.

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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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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