EPA’s Clean Power Plan: Lower Utility Bills, Billions in Benefits Every Year

By: Tom Reynolds

They’re at it again. Just like we predicted, critics are already claiming EPA’s Clean Power Plan will drive up utility rates, or that the cost of climate action isn’t worth it. They’re wrong.

Not only will the Clean Power Plan save families an estimated $85 a year on their utility bills in 2030; the health benefits of this rule alone outweigh the costs 4 to 1.

The transition to clean energy is happening faster than anticipated, even when we proposed the rule last year—and that’s a very good thing. It means carbon and air pollution are already decreasing, improving public health every year. The Clean Power Plan accelerates this momentum, putting us on pace to cut this dangerous pollution to historically low levels in the future.

By 2030, sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants will be 90 percent lower than 2005 levels, and emissions of nitrogen oxides will be 72 percent lower. Because these pollutants can create dangerous soot and smog, the historically low levels mean we’ll avoid 90,000 children’s asthma attacks, 300,000 missed days of school and work, and up to 3,600 premature deaths in 2030 alone.

The Clean Power Plan isn’t just about what we avoid; it’s about what we gain. Our rule is projected to lead to billions of dollars a year in benefits. They include climate benefits of $20 billion a year, health benefits of up to $34 billion a year, and net benefits of up to $45 billion a year in 2030. In short, the Clean Power Plan will protect Americans’ health and their pocketbooks.

A major reason for this rule is to protect vulnerable communities—and that includes keeping electricity rates affordable for low-income Americans. That’s why the Clean Power Plan gives states and utilities the time and flexibility they need to take carbon pollution into account while preserving affordable, reliable power.

We wouldn’t accept anything less. States and utilities told us they needed more time than the proposal gave them to make a smooth transition—and we listened. That’s why, in the final rule, required pollution reductions don’t kick in until 2022—a two-year extension. Utilities already spend $100 billion a year to generate and deliver electricity; we’ve made sure our plan gives them time to take carbon pollution into account with the investments they’re already making.

But to encourage states to stay ahead of the curve and not delay planned investments, we’re creating a Clean Energy Incentive Program that will help states transition to clean energy faster. It’s a voluntary matching fund program states can use to encourage early investment in wind or solar power projects, as well as energy efficiency projects in low-income communities.

We’re also requiring that states give vulnerable communities a seat at the table with other stakeholders as they craft their compliance plans, making sure everyone has a voice in the decision-making process.

The real threat to affordable power is climate change. More extreme heat and cold send utility bills through the roof—and force low-income families to choose between heating their homes and other essentials like food and medicine. More intense droughts, floods, fires, and storms can knock out the power for days or weeks—like we saw during Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Katrina, and the major Boston snowstorms last winter.

Despite these facts, the critics are crying wolf, just like they have for decades.

They cried wolf in the ‘90s, when they opposed our limits on acid rain-causing pollution from power plants. They said our rule would send prices up, and turn the lights off. But instead of the doomsday some critics predicted, we slashed acid rain by 60 percent, all while keeping prices stable and keeping the lights on.

EPA has proven time and time again that a safe environment is the foundation of a strong economy. Over the last 45 years, we’ve cut air pollution 70 percent—all while our economy has tripled.

The American people won’t buy into the same tired plays from the same special-interest playbook. They know better. We encourage everyone to get the facts at 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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6 Things Every American Should Know About the Clean Power Plan

By EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

Today, President Obama will unveil the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Clean Power Plan—a historic step to cut the carbon pollution driving climate change. Here are six key things every American should know:

1. IT SLASHES THE CARBON POLLUTION FUELING CLIMATE CHANGE.

Carbon pollution from power plants is our nation’s biggest driver of climate change—and it threatens what matters most – the health of our kids, the safety of our neighborhoods, and the ability of Americans to earn a living. The Clean Power Plan sets common sense, achievable state-by-state goals to cut carbon pollution from power plants across the country. Building on proven local and state efforts, the Plan puts our nation on track to cut carbon pollution from the power sector 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, all while keeping energy reliable and affordable.

2. IT PROTECTS FAMILIES’ HEALTH.

The transition to clean energy is happening even faster than we expected—and that’s a good thing. It means carbon and air pollution are already decreasing, improving public health each and every year. The Clean Power Plan accelerates this momentum, putting us on pace to cut this dangerous pollution to historically low levels. Our transition to cleaner energy will better protect Americans from other kinds of harmful air pollution, too. By 2030, we’ll see major reductions of pollutants that can create dangerous soot and smog, translating to significant health benefits for the American people. In 2030, we’ll avoid up to 3,600 fewer premature deaths; 90,000 fewer asthma attacks in children; 1,700 fewer hospital admissions; and avoid 300,000 missed days of school and work. The Clean Power Plan is a historic step forward to give our kids and grandkids the cleaner, safer future they deserve.

3. IT PUTS STATES IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT.

The Clean Power Plan sets uniform carbon pollution standards for power plants across the country—but sets individual state goals based on states’ current energy mix and where they have opportunities to cut pollution. States then customize plans to meet their goals in ways that make sense for their communities, businesses, and utilities. States can run their more efficient plants more often, switch to cleaner fuels, use more renewable energy, and take advantage of emissions trading and energy efficiency options.

Because states requested it, EPA is also proposing a model rule states can adopt right away–one that’s cost-effective, guarantees they meet EPA’s requirements, and will let their power plants use interstate trading right away. But states don’t have to use our plan—they can cut carbon pollution in whatever way makes the most sense for them.

The uniform national rates in the Clean Power Plan are reasonable and achievable, because no plant has to meet them alone or all at once. Instead, they have to meet them as part of the grid and over time. In short, the Clean Power Plan puts states in the driver’s seat.

4. IT’S BUILT ON INPUT FROM MILLIONS OF AMERICANS.

The Clean Power Plan reflects unprecedented input from the American people, including 4.3 million comments on the draft plan and input from hundreds of meetings with states, utilities, communities, and others. When folks raised questions about equity and fairness, we listened. That’s why EPA is setting uniform standards to make sure similar plants are treated the same across the country.

When states and utilities expressed concern about how fast states would need to cut emissions under the draft Plan, we listened. That’s why the Clean Power Plan extends the timeframe for mandatory emissions reductions to begin by two years, until 2022, so utilities will have time to make the upgrades and investments they need to.

But to encourage states to stay ahead of the curve and not delay planned investments, or delay starting programs that need time to pay off, we’re creating a Clean Energy Incentive Program to help states transition to clean energy faster.

It’s a voluntary matching fund program states can use to encourage early investment in wind and solar power projects, as well as energy efficiency projects in low-income communities. Thanks to the valuable input we heard from the public, the final rule is even more fair and more flexible, while cutting more pollution.

5. IT WILL SAVE US BILLIONS OF DOLLARS EVERY YEAR.

With the Clean Power Plan, America is leading by example—showing the world that climate action is an incredible economic opportunity. By 2030, the net public health and climate-related benefits from the Clean Power Plan are estimated to be worth $45 billion every year. And, by design, the Clean Power Plan is projected to cut the average American’s monthly electricity bill by 7% in 2030. We’ll get these savings by cutting energy waste and beefing up energy efficiency across the board—steps that make sense for our health, our future, and our wallets.

6. IT PUTS THE U.S. IN A POSITION TO LEAD ON CLIMATE ACTION.

Today, the U.S. is generating three times more wind energy and 20 times more solar power than when President Obama took office. And the solar industry is adding jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the economy. For the first time in nearly three decades, we’re importing less foreign oil than we’re producing domesticallyand using less overall.

Our country’s clean energy transition is happening faster than anyone anticipated—even as of last year when we proposed this rule. The accelerating trend toward clean power, and the growing success of energy efficiency efforts, mean carbon emissions are already going down, and the pace is picking up. The Clean Power Plan will secure and accelerate these trends, building momentum for a cleaner energy future.

Climate change is a global problem that demands a global solution. With the Clean Power Plan, we’re putting America in a position to lead. Since the Plan was proposed last year, the U.S., China and Brazil – three of the world’s largest economies – have announced commitments to significantly reduce carbon pollution. We’re confident other nations will come to the table ready to reach an international climate agreement in Paris later this year.

 

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Strengthening Local Economies and the Environment Go Hand in Hand

Last week in Chicago, I participated in a series of events as part of the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership (IMCP). The IMCP works with counties and private and non-profit organizations to advance manufacturing in the U.S. by aligning a range of federal government programs with community goals. EPA has been a strong partner with the Department of Commerce and the White House, encouraging the integration of sustainability, smart growth, and industrial legacy site reuse as part of community manufacturing investment strategies.  The Chicago metro area was one of the first IMCP communities, and they’ve focused on expanding the metal fabricating sector.

The Chicago Metro region epitomizes what the IMCP can do through a coordinated redevelopment approach.   During my visit, I went to Sterling Lumber, which straddles Harvey and Phoenix, two small, economically challenged older inner ring suburbs.  To accommodate his rapidly growing and diversifying wood products business, CEO Carter Sterling relocated and consolidated his business on a brownfields site.  The site already had a large existing manufacturing building space that could be adapted for Sterling and transportation access.  Starting with an EPA assessment grant to the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association (long active in Cook County brownfields efforts) to characterize and quantify the cleanup costs, Mr. Sterling  built partnerships and leveraged considerable support from state agencies and Cook County.  Improvements included upgrading road access and adding a rail spur to the site. He also partnered with OAI (a local workforce training organization and recipient of our Environmental Workforce and Job Training grants) and the Calumet Green Manufacturing Partnership, to hire about a third of Sterling’s new workforce – about 20 individuals – from the community.

Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus and Mike O’Connell, CEO of Sterling Lumber Company

Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus and Mike O’Connell, CEO of Sterling Lumber Company

Next, we visited LB Steel, a leading steel manufacturer that employs around 300 workers.  I toured its 450,000 square foot facility and observed numerous metals products being manufactured for customers around the world. LB Steel is a great illustration of the existing strength in metals manufacturing that is the foundation for expanding metals manufacturing in the Chicago Metro area.

Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus and David Abshire, Vice President of LB Steel tour the LB steel products factory.

Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus and David Abshire, Vice President of LB Steel tour the LB steel products factory.

Before leaving, I addressed the semi-annual meeting of the Chicago Regional Growth Initiative, a bi-partisan collaboration of the elected leadership of all of the counties of the Chicago Metro area (Cook, Will, DuPage, Kendall, McHenry, Lake, and Kane Counties), established to support the IMCP designation under the leadership of Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle.

I noted that I represented the U.S at the G7 earlier this year to advance a circular economy strategy to maximize the recovery of used materials through life cycle-based sustainable materials management. The U.S. has seen a 57 percent increase in new materials acquired (e.g., mining, lumbering); 42 percent of greenhouse gases stem from materials management in the U.S. economy.  Similar statistics were shared by other G7 countries. This led to the adoption of a sustainable materials management/resources efficiency platform built on production and environmental considerations. The G7 declaration noted that global raw material use rose during the 20th century at about twice the rate of population growth. Furthermore, much of the raw material input in industrial economies is returned to the environment as waste within one year.

I recognized that the collaboration of these counties around a common manufacturing agenda is the vision of the IMCP.  I shared the role of EPA in advancing manufacturing, and why EPA is so involved in attracting new manufacturing activity, and attracting new foreign direct investment aimed at industrial production.  What better place to encourage new manufacturing investment than at old brownfields and other previously used sites?  Their location near community centers, transportation and established universities and R&D centers as well as their past industrial uses make many of these sites uniquely situated to attract new manufacturing activities.  I concluded my comments by noting that the Chicago IMPC model is a strong example of how manufacturing can advance economic, environmental and social outcomes.

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Your Tips Help Us Protect Communities

Every day, I’m reminded of how important it is to protect the public from environmental violations. Despite all the progress we’ve made under laws like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, there are still people and businesses who cut corners and endanger the health of communities by misapplying pesticides, removing asbestos illegally, dumping hazardous waste in local waterways or failing to control dangerous air pollution. Our enforcement and compliance program is dedicated to holding violators accountable and protecting the communities we serve, and to do it effectively, we need your help. Just like other law enforcement programs at the local, state and federal level, we rely on tips from the public when they see something that could pose an environmental or public health threat to their community.

Our website allows anyone to report potential environmental violations, and we receive hundreds of tips every month. Reporting a tip to EPA is one of the most important ways you can be involved in protecting the environment. We take every tip from the public seriously and many have led to positive outcomes for communities across the country. Here are a few examples:

In addition to pursuing the most egregious cases, we also refer tips from the public to our partners at state and local agencies, with whom we share authority to enforce the law. They often have local knowledge and experience that’s invaluable when investigating a potential environmental violation.
Last year, people took the time to report more than 2,300 potential violations to EPA, and that’s something that I’m very proud of. It shows that people care about making sure their communities are safe and healthy places to live, work and raise families. I hope the number of tips we receive from the public only continues to increase. A healthy environment depends on it.

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American Innovators are Cracking the Code to Solve Environmental Problems

Two weeks ago, I visited the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, which is across the street from my office here at EPA. Its new American Enterprise exhibition in the museum’s recently opened Innovators wing is packed with breakthroughs of the last few centuries. From the light bulb to medical and farm devices to personal computers you’re struck by how creativity and ingenuity played a role in our country’s history and progress.

The same is proving to be true for environmental progress. American innovation is playing a pivotal role in helping us solve environmental issues such as climate change, limited water resources, waste and chemical safety, turning these problems into business opportunities and spurring investment.

Today we’re announcing the winners of the 20th Annual Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards, another opportunity to celebrate the power of American innovation and entrepreneurs that bring these technologies to the marketplace.

Take a look at the 2015 innovative winning technologies and pictures from the award ceremony!

Developing Safer Floors, Wood Furniture and Foam Insulation. Hybrid Coating Technologies/Nanotech Industries (Daly City, California) developed a safer polyurethane that isn’t made with isocyanates, which causes skin and breathing problems and workplace asthma. Isocyanates have always been used in making polyurethane, most often a flexible plastic material used in many consumer products, and last year the U.S. produced 5.5 billion pounds of it. So, this is clearly a breakthrough technology. The technology is also reducing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and manufacturing costs and making the end products safer for people and the environment.

Producing Safer Additives for Car Lubricants and Gasoline. SOLTEX (Synthetic Oils and Lubricants of Texas, Houston, Texas) has developed a technology that, if widely used, could eliminate millions of gallons of wastewater per year and reduce the use of a hazardous chemical by 50 percent. The technology has the potential to improve the production of other products such as caulks, adhesives, and personal care products.

Using Waste Gas to Create Products.
LanzaTech (Skokie, Illinois) is using waste gas from steel plants to create fuels and chemicals while reducing the carbon footprint. A facility captures and converts the gas, which would otherwise be emitted into the air, into a substance with commercial value. Two facilities already use the technology to produce 100,000 gallons per year of ethanol. This technology is an excellent example of creating valuable fuel from waste.

Creating Fuel from Algae
Algenol (Fort Myers, Florida) developed a blue-green algae that can be used to create valuable fuel. The technology combines sunlight with waste carbon dioxide from air or industrial emitters to create fuel while dramatically reducing costs, water usage, and carbon footprint. The ethanol and green crude produced are substitutes for petroleum-derived fuels and chemicals.

Using Consumer and Municipal Trash to Make Products. Renmatix (King of Prussia, Pennsylvania) developed a cost-effective process using high temperature and high pressure water to break down woody biomass, plant material, and even some municipal waste into sugars to make plant-based chemicals and fuels. Production can be set up with whatever plant-based material is available. The production also can be set up anywhere, which makes the technology easy to replicate regionally and globally. The technology could significantly reduce dependence on petroleum-based chemicals and fuels.

Using Plants to Make Plastics, Chemicals and Fuels. Professor Eugene Chen of Colorado State University developed a process that uses plant-based materials in the production of renewable chemicals and liquid fuels. This new technology is waste-free and metal-free. It offers significant potential for the production of renewable chemicals, fuels, and bioplastics that can be used in a wide range of safer industrial and consumer products.

I am confident that these types of innovative technologies will be showcased in future exhibits highlighting American innovation. The winners have great scientific expertise and keen business sense. Their innovative technologies have the potential to be “game changers” to solve important environmental problems and show that we can innovate towards a sustainable economy.

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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Pope Francis’ Call for Climate Action

Last month, Pope Francis released his second encyclical as pontiff, urging all people to protect our natural resources and to take action on climate change.  He makes clear our moral obligation to prevent climate impacts that threaten God’s creation, especially for those most vulnerable.

As public servants working in both domestic policy and diplomacy, we understand the urgent need for global action.  Climate impacts like extreme droughts, floods, fires, heat waves, and storms threaten people in every country—and those who have the least suffer the most.  No matter your beliefs or political views, we are all compelled to act on climate change to protect our health, our planet, and our fellow human beings.

Earlier this year in a series of meetings at the Vatican on the Encyclical with key Papal advisors, Cardinal Turkson laid out our moral obligation to act on climate change not only from the compelling scientific data, but also from his own firsthand experience in Ghana.  The meetings ended with a sense of urgency, but also with a feeling of opportunity and hope.

The prime minister of Tuvalu, an island nation in the Pacific, spoke at a conference at the Vatican last week and called the world’s attention to the real existential threat they face—that their country may be destroyed if rising seas and stronger storms from climate change continue.

For all these reasons, the U.S. government, through the EPA, is taking steps to make good on our moral obligation.  Later this summer, the agency will finalize a rule to curb the carbon pollution fueling climate change from our nation’s largest source – power plants.

Carbon pollution comes packaged with smog and soot that can cause health problems.  When we limit carbon pollution from power plants, Americans will avoid hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks and thousands of heart attacks in 2030.

A recent EPA report found that if we take global action now, the United States alone can avoid up to 69,000 premature deaths by the year 2100 from poor air quality and extreme heat.  We will continue to partner with U.S. Catholic and other faith-based organizations, like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Climate Covenant, to get out the word about the importance of taking action to combat climate change.

President Obama and the EPA share the Pope’s concern for environmental justice—our climate crisis is a human crisis.  When we limit toxic pollution, we improve people’s health, spur innovation, and create jobs.  We owe it to vulnerable communities, to our children, and to future generations to make sure our planet remains a vibrant and beautiful home.
U.S. leadership is a crucial step, but climate change is a global problem that demands a global solution.

That’s why the United States has made joint international announcements—last year with China and more recently with Brazil—stating our commitment to strong action, including cutting carbon pollution faster than ever before, and slowing down deforestation.  Since three of the world’s largest economies have come together, we’re confident other nations will join our commitment—and the world will finally reach a worldwide climate agreement later this year in Paris.

Pope Francis is boldly building on the moral foundation laid down by Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II, and is joined by a chorus of voices from faith leaders around the globe calling for climate action—not only because it protects our health, our economy, and our way of life—but because it’s the right thing to do.  We look forward to welcoming the Holy Father to the United States in September to continue to discuss these and other issues that affect us all.

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 Administration Takes a Big Step in Addressing Climate-Damaging HFCs

Crossposted from the White House Blog

By Brian Deese and Dan Utech

Today, the United States took decisive action on climate change by curbing the use of the potent greenhouse gases known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). These factory-produced chemicals, which are primarily used in air conditioning and refrigeration, can pack up to 10,000 times the global warming punch of carbon dioxide. Absent ambitious action to limit their use, emissions of HFCs in the United States are expected to nearly triple by 2030.

That’s why the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today finalized a rule under the Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program that will prohibit the use of certain HFCs where safer and more climate-friendly alternatives are available. Simultaneously, the agency also listed as acceptable additional climate-friendly alternatives, expanding the options for businesses to use chemicals that are less harmful to the global climate.

EPA’s final rule will help us make a significant and meaningful cut in our greenhouse gas emissions—up to the equivalent of 64 million metric tons of carbon dioxide of avoided emissions in 2025.

Leading businesses are already stepping up to replace HFCs with safer and more climate-friendly alternatives, and these measures from EPA will go hand-in-hand with these private-sector efforts. The United States is at the cutting edge not only when it comes to developing the next generation of safe and cost-effective alternatives to HFCs, but also in terms of incorporating these alternatives into American cars, air conditioners, refrigerators, foams, and other products.

Innovative American companies are leading the charge to ensure Americans will have climate-friendly insulation in our homes, HFC-free air-conditioners in our cars, and more sustainable supermarkets and corner stores. For example, last September, the White House hosted an event at which 22 private-sector companies and organizations stepped forward with commitments to reduce emissions from HFCs. Those commitments will reduce cumulative global consumption of these greenhouse gases by the equivalent of 700 million metric tons of carbon dioxide through 2025, equivalent to 1.5% of the world’s 2010 greenhouse gas emissions and the same as taking nearly 15 million cars off the road for 10 years.

The momentum we are making both through the final rule EPA announced today and also through these private-sector commitments advances global climate action. In April, the United States joined with Canada and Mexico to propose an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to tackle HFCs globally. Last month, G-7 Leaders committed to continue efforts to phase down HFCs and to negotiate a Montreal Protocol amendment this year, and the African Group, India, island countries, and the European Union all support an amendment. We have also made HFCs a key element of our bilateral climate discussions, and our bilateral announcements with China, India, and Brazil all recognize the need to advance progress on managing HFCs in the Montreal Protocol. Scientists predict that such strong international action would help shave off up to half a degree of warming by the end of the century, substantially furthering our goal to limit global temperature rise.

Today’s announcement takes a big step toward a more sustainable future and demonstrates to other countries that we are making serious efforts at home to complement the global solutions that we are advocating for internationally.

Here are some early examples of what companies and organizations have to say about EPA’s action today:

“We are delighted to see these final SNAP regulations. The action offers clarity to the industry and very positive, long term impact for the environment.”

– Steven Trulaske, Owner, True Manufacturing

“Honeywell applauds the EPA on their landmark action to restrict the use of high-global-warming HFCs, which are among the most potent greenhouse gases in use today. EPA’s action will accelerate the adoption of solutions with far less impact on the atmosphere while also spurring private sector innovation and creating jobs.”

– Ken Gayer, Vice President and General Manager of Honeywell’s Fluorine Products business, Honeywell

“AHAM applauds the EPA decision in its final SNAP rule to adjust certain compliance deadlines, which demonstrates the Administration’s flexibility and desire to work with the appliance industry to make the most impactful environmental gains. It also reflects the voluntary steps that home appliance manufacturers are taking to end the use of HFCs as foam-blowing agents. The home appliance industry is committed to delivering the most energy efficient and environmentally responsible products to American homes.”

– Joseph M. McGuire, President, Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers

“Chemours continues to support the President’s Climate Action Plan and EPA’s commitment and action using existing EPA authority to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in applications that have readily available lower global warming potential options. We believe it is critical that we reduce high global warming potential emissions in a manner that ensures that we are still able to deliver the critical societal services that HFCs provide today.”

– Diego Boeri, Global Business Director, Chemours Fluorochemicals

“Ingersoll Rand applauds the U.S. efforts to prioritize a transition away from high global warming potential refrigerants and it further reinforces the significance of our climate commitment to significantly increase energy efficiency and reduce the climate impact of our products and operations.”

– Paul Camuti, Chief Technology Officer, Ingersoll Rand

“We appreciate EPA’s partnership with manufacturers during this rulemaking process and EPA’s willingness to work with the Department of Energy to acknowledge the impacts of each other’s regulations and reduce burdens on U.S. companies.”

– David Szczupak, Executive Vice President, Global Product Organization, Whirlpool Corporation

Brian Deese is a senior advisor to the President. Dan Utech is the Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change.

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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A Promise Fulfilled: Environmental Justice at work in Spartanburg, SC

I just got back from visiting Spartanburg, South Carolina, a city of 180,000 and a national leader on environmental justice issues. Back in 1997, the neighborhoods of Forest Park and Arkwright on the south side of the city were surrounded by two Superfund sites, six Brownfields, and an active chemical plant. In Spartanburg, the soil that children played in, and that their homes were built on, were contaminated with toxic chemicals. But local resident Harold Mitchell was determined to improve the quality of life for his family and community and set out to address the root of the problems.

Mitchell went door to door, letting folks know about the health concerns they faced, and founded ReGenesis, a community organization committed to environmental justice in Spartanburg. In 1997, ReGenesis was awarded an Environmental Justice small grant of $20,000 from EPA. Over time, the city, county, state, and federal government agencies got involved—and since then, Spartanburg has turned that grant into more than $270 million in investments in the community.

Today, community health centers, affordable housing and a state-of-the-art recreation center stand because of the collaborative efforts the Superfund and Brownfields programs, the community and a host of local partners. A solar generation facility is being planned where an old chemical plant once stood. New mixed-use housing has replaced old, unsafe stock. Community members have been trained in asbestos abatement—and they’ve found work not just in Spartanburg, but in Virginia, where they helped renovate the Pentagon, and in New Orleans, where they helped rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

I had the chance to meet Harold Mitchell—now a South Carolina state representative—and visited the former Superfund and Brownfield sites with Mayor Junie White, and other county officials.

After seeing these dramatic changes for myself, I heard from the community leaders who made it happen. We met inside the new community center—a major investment in the quality of life of Spartanburg residents. It was incredible to see what they’ve achieved by putting the community in charge of its own destiny.

Spartanburg is a shining beacon of what’s possible when folks impacted by community decisions have a seat at the table. As the Superfund program celebrates 35 years of revitalizing communities, I was thrilled to celebrate such an amazing success story because at the core of EPA’s mission is the belief that no matter who you are or where you come from, you have the right to clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and healthy land to call home.

That said, we’ve still got work to do. Too often, low-income neighborhoods and communities of color are disproportionately burdened by pollution and health risks. Those same communities are vulnerable to the devastating floods, fires, storms and heat waves supercharged by climate change.

To make matters worse, the carbon pollution fueling climate change comes packaged with other dangerous pollutants that cause chronic disease and chase away local businesses and jobs. Power plants, our biggest source of carbon pollution, are often located in these areas, casting their shadow over communities already vulnerable to environmental health hazards.

That’s why EPA is doubling down on efforts to fulfill the promise of environmental justice. Spartanburg’s success helped us develop a collaborative problem-solving program for vulnerable communities, helping communities give a voice to those who’ve too often been left out of important planning decisions.

EPA recently released EJScreen, a tool that lets anyone see the pollution burden in their neighborhoods, and explore how various decisions could improve their quality of life. We’ve also awarded more than 1,400 EJ small grants to date, and we’ll continue to give local communities the training and expertise they need to address pollution challenges.

And this summer, we’re finalizing a Clean Power Plan to cut the carbon pollution fueling climate change from our nation’s power plants. Under our standards, our nation will avoid more than 100,000 asthma attacks and 2,100 heart attacks in 2030—and will protect vulnerable communities from climate impacts.

Last week in Charleston, President Obama gave a eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a victim of this month’s tragedy at Emmanuel AME Church and a champion for Spartanburg’s revitalization, as well as renewable energy, in the South Carolina Senate. Speaking to Rev. Pinckney’s legacy, the President called on all Americans to fulfill the promise of a more equal, more just society.

By putting environmental justice at the heart of what we do, EPA is responding to that call.

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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In Perspective: the Supreme Court’s Mercury and Air Toxics Rule Decision

The Supreme Court’s decision on EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) was disappointing to everyone working to protect public health by reducing emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants.  But as we take stock of what this decision means, there are some important factors that make me confident we are still on track to reduce this dangerous pollution and better protect America’s children, families and communities.

Most notably – the Administration remains committed to finalizing the Clean Power Plan this summer and yesterday’s ruling will have no bearing on the effort to reduce carbon pollution from the largest sources of emissions.

Second – this decision is very narrow.  It did not invalidate the rule, which remains in effect today.  In fact, the majority of power plants are already in compliance or well on their way to compliance.  The Court found that EPA should have considered costs at an earlier step in the rulemaking process than it did.  The court did not question EPA’s authority to control toxic air pollution from power plants provided it considers cost in that step.  It also did not question our conclusions on human health that supported the agency’s finding that regulation is needed.  And its narrow ruling does not disturb the remainder of the D.C. Circuit decision which unanimously upheld all other aspects of the MATS rule and rejected numerous challenges to the standards themselves.

Third – this decision does not affect other Clean Air Act programs that address other sources and types of air pollution. It hinged on a very specific section of the Act that applies exclusively to the regulation of air toxics from power plants.  This is important to understand because it means that rules and programs that reduce other types of pollutants under other sections of the Clean Air Act—like ozone and fine particles (smog and soot) can continue without interruption or delay.

The decision does not affect the Clean Power Plan, which EPA will be finalizing later this summer and which will chart the course for this country to reduce harmful carbon from its fleet of existing power plants.   That’s worth repeating: The Court’s conclusion that EPA must consider cost when determining whether it is “appropriate” to regulate toxic air emissions from utilities under section 112 of the Act will not impact the development of the Clean Power Plan under section 111.  Cost is among the factors the Agency has long explicitly considered in setting standards under section 111 of the Act.

Fourth – America’s power sector is getting cleaner year after year by investing in more modern technologies.   Since President Obama took office, wind energy has tripled and solar has grown ten-fold. The Clean Power Plan will build on these current positive trends.  That means cleaner air in communities across the country, as well as a boost to our economy as we build the clean energy system of the future.

Finally – What’s next for MATS?   From the moment we learned of this decision, we were committed to ensuring that standards remain in place to protect the public from toxic emissions from coal and oil-fired electric utilities.  We will continue to work to make that happen.  There are questions that will need to be answered over the next several weeks and months as we review the decision and determine the appropriate next steps once that review is complete.  But as I’ve already noted, MATS is still in place and many plants have already installed controls and technologies to reduce their mercury emissions.

After nearly 45 years of implementing the Clean Air Act, there have been many more victories than defeats as we’ve worked together to clean the air and raise healthier children and families.  Despite the Supreme Court’s MATS decision, the agency remains confident that the progress we’ve made so far in improving air quality and protecting public health will continue.

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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Planes, Trains And Automobiles — And Safely Storing The Fuel That Moves Them  

This blog is not about a remake of the 1987 movie, Planes, Trains and Automobiles.  But, it’s about safely storing the vitally important fuel that moves planes, trains, and automobiles – as well as trucks, boats, and other vehicles.

Underground tanks are in every community: at gas stations and other non-retail facilities, such as school district bus fuel stations, police and fire stations, marinas, taxi fleet facilities, postal and delivery service facilities, and federal facilities such as military bases.

Did you know that even a small amount of petroleum released from underground storage tanks can contaminate land as well as groundwater?  And, groundwater is a source of drinking water for approximately 50 percent of United States’ citizens.

Because underground storage tanks are in every community, it’s important to ensure tanks don’t leak.  That’s why on Monday we issued revised regulations that will better prevent and detect underground storage tank releases. These revised underground storage tank regulations will ensure all tanks in the United States meet the same release protection standards.

The revised underground storage tank regulations improve EPA’s original 1988 tank regulation by closing some regulatory gaps, accommodating new technologies, and focusing on properly operating and maintaining existing underground storage tank systems. Many state tank programs already have some of these revised requirements in place.

For more about how we’re protecting our environment from underground storage tank leaks and the revised tank regulations, see our underground storage tank website www.epa.gov/oust

About the author:  Mathy Stanislaus is the Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.

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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