Working Together to Test Our Resiliency and Protect Our Critical Infrastructure

By Nitin Natarajan

Recently, I attended a full scale exercise hosted by Southern California Edison (SCE) to test their emergency preparedness and resilience in a number of scenarios. As part of this exercise, federal, state, local and industry partners gathered to discuss the potential risks to critical infrastructure due to climate change, such as:

  • increased temperatures,
  • sea level rise,
  • decreased permafrost,
  • increased heavy precipitation events, and the
  • increased frequency of wildfires

We also discussed steps that the energy sector has and will be undertaking to address those risks. Without proper protections and effective restoration, the presence of uncontrolled hazardous substances in surface water, groundwater, air, soil and sediment can cause human health concerns, threaten healthy ecosystems, and inhibit economic opportunities on and adjacent to contaminated properties.

At EPA, we strive to protect the environment from contamination through sustainable materials management and the proper management of waste and petroleum products. We work with our partners to prepare for and respond to environmental emergencies should they occur.  We also work collaboratively with states, tribes, and local governments to clean up communities and create a safer environment for all Americans.

However, climate change is posing new challenges to OLEM’s ability to fulfill its mission to protect human health and the environment. This is why we need to show leadership and take actions to make our programs more resilient now and in the future. We have developed climate change adaptation plans that describe what we’re doing and what we plan to do to address these challenges. We have also developed a climate change training program to make certain that our staff and other stakeholders are aware of the ways that climate change poses challenges to our ability to fulfill our mission.

For example, our Brownfields program has developed checklists to support community efforts to consider climate as part of their cleanup and area-wide planning activities.  And our Superfund program has developed fact sheets on adapting remediation activities to the impacts from climate change.

Additionally, our Office of Land and Emergency Management is working on:

  • incorporating climate change into future flood risks for contaminated sites,
  • linking renewable energy installations sited on contaminated lands with critical infrastructure, and
  • providing guidance on considering the effects of climate change in the land revitalization process.

As we look at investing in the rebuilding of the nation’s infrastructure, we need to begin looking at smarter investments that take climate change into account and how we can build to more resilient standards.

I’d like to thank those who set up and participated in the SCE exercise. The exercise and the roundtable discussion among federal, state, local and private sector officials showed me how important these steps are to continue to protect our nation’s lands and people in a collaborative manner and how these steps help protect the nation’s critical infrastructure. While many of these changes are half a century away, improving our nation’s resilience will not occur in months or years. Some efforts, including further enhancements to the electrical grid, will take decades. There is hard work to be done now to help ensure the future protection of human health and the environment.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Remembering an Environmental and Public Health Pioneer

By A. Stanley Meiburg

I remember meeting Leon Billings only once—at National Airport in 1984. I was traveling as staff to then-Deputy Administrator Al Alm, when he walked over to a distinguished-looking gentleman and began an animated conversation. I don’t remember the subject of their conversation, but Al told me later who he was and described the tremendous influence Mr. Billings had on the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and other environmental statutes.

Recently, Mr. Billings passed away at age 78. Throughout his life, his trailblazing status was never lost on him.

“We certainly were entrepreneurs,” he said. “And maybe to a degree revolutionaries — because, to use a cliché, we went someplace that Congress has never gone before.”

As Mr. Billings explained in an article a couple of years ago, Congress had debated various versions of legislation on pollution control beginning in the late 1940’s, but provided very limited authority to the federal government. But Mr. Billings supported the intention of the late Senator Edmund Muskie and others to “create a legally defensible structure to assure that public health-based air quality would be achieved as swiftly as possible.” That, as Mr. Billings explained it, would require federal action. Soon, the 1970 Clean Air Act would make history by establishing the protection of public health as the primary basis for America’s air pollution control efforts.

Three examples of this, from the 1970 Clean Air Act, were the creation of national health-based air quality standards, requirements for national performance standards for new stationary sources, and provisions for technology-forcing emissions reductions from motor vehicles. In the course of these accomplishments, Mr. Billings acquired a reputation as “the man who brokered the behind-the-scenes deal making that enabled Muskie to push through his signature achievement.”

The effectiveness of Mr. Billings as staff director for Senator Muskie and advisor to many other members of Congress is well documented in the historical record, and left an enduring legacy in the nation’s principal environmental laws. Even after leaving the Senate staff, Mr. Billings continued to comment on proposals he thought would weaken the health-based focus of the act. For example, during the debate over the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, there was a proposal to set a cost-effectiveness threshold of $5,000 per ton of pollution reduced as a ceiling on what EPA could require. In criticizing the proposal, Mr. Billings said he thought this meant that we were now placing a price on health—clean air, at a cost of $2.50 a pound. The proposal was not enacted.

Some 40 plus years later, we owe a great debt to Mr. Billings and other 1970’s pioneers who crafted the core environmental statutes that continue to guide our work. Their willingness to move forward with new approaches was a remarkable gift. Measured by their results in cleaning up our air and water, our laws have stood the test of time and controversy amazingly well.

Pioneers like Mr. Billings could not have anticipated all the challenges that have emerged since the early 1970’s. The enduring usefulness of our environmental laws only adds to the luster of the legacy he left to us. Mr. Billings’ life work is being honorably carried on by his family—such as his son Paul, who has worked with the American Lung Association for many years to support clean air protections that prevent asthma, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and other consequences of air pollution. All of us at EPA extend our thoughts—and our gratitude—to Mr. Billings’ family and his many friends.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Recognizing Leaders in Food Waste Reduction this Holiday Season

By Mathy Stanislaus

In just a few days, households across the nation will celebrate Thanksgiving, a cherished tradition of spending time with family and friends and sharing a meal. Many households, after enjoying abundant Thanksgiving meals, throw wholesome food into landfills. Did you know that food is the largest part of our everyday trash – more than paper, plastic, and glass? Reducing food waste results in significant environmental, social and financial benefits to our communities.

Food rots quickly in landfills and produces methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Not only does wasting nutritious food exacerbate climate change, but we miss the opportunity to feed the millions of Americans that live in food insecure households. Additionally, throwing away food squanders money – an average family can spend up to $1,500 on food that is never eaten. Communities can save money, feed those in need and lessen environmental impacts by implementing strategies to prevent and reduce food loss and waste.

Innovative organizations recognize the benefits of sustainably managing food and are making real in-roads to prevent and reduce wasted food. This year’s top Food Recovery Challenge (FRC) national performers kept tons of food from becoming waste in 2015. Their creative practices range from targeting food recovery at farmers’ markets, creating food waste eco-leader volunteer programs in high schools, and adding infrastructure to better manage the distribution of perishable produce. These are a few great examples of what businesses and organizations can do to reduce food loss and waste across their operations.

The efforts of this year’s award winners, as well as the actions of all FRC participants and endorsers, will help us meet the national goal to reduce food loss and waste by 50 percent by 2030 and aligns with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The federal government, led by EPA and USDA, is calling on leaders throughout the public and private sectors to heed the Call to Action to meet the 2030 goal. To do this, we need help from every sector, organization and household across America. The FRC participants are leading the way and I encourage others to institutionalize these best practices.

What can you do? Businesses and organizations can assess their food waste and related management practices to find out what’s being thrown out and why by utilizing our tools to determine the best ways to implement reductions in their everyday operations. Individuals can make small shifts in how they shop, prepare and store food to reduce waste (e.g., use up overly ripe produce in creative recipes such as smoothies or compotes). Start by considering a new tradition this Thanksgiving of sending your dinner guests home with a container of nutritious leftovers so they don’t go to waste.

Read about this year’s Food Recovery Challenge results and winners: https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/food-recovery-challenge-results-and-award-winners

Learn more about what you can do at home to reduce food waste: https://www.epa.gov/recycle/reducing-wasted-food-home

Find creative ways your business or organization can reduce food loss and waste from the Call to Action by Stakeholders: https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/call-action-stakeholders-united-states-food-loss-waste-2030-reduction#opportunities

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Advancing Public Health Protections In Our Case Against Volkswagen

By Cynthia Giles

For years, Volkswagen’s “clean diesel” marketing campaign was geared toward environmentally-conscious consumers eager to help reduce pollution. We now know that Volkswagen duped these consumers, and that in fact its cars emit up to 40 times the legal limit of NOx pollution. But after steadfast work by colleagues across the federal government and the State of California, this distortion to the market for truly green cars in the U.S. is finally going to be remedied.

Last month, a federal judge in California approved a groundbreaking settlement that covers nearly 500,000 model year 2009-2015 2.0 liter diesel vehicles. This partial settlement holds Volkswagen accountable for its illegal actions, and puts in place remedies for the harm it caused to our air. In addition to requiring Volkswagen to offer to buy back the violating cars to stop the ongoing pollution, the settlement requires Volkswagen to mitigate the illegal emissions, and to make zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) investments that will have a lasting impact on public health and clean transportation in America.

The ZEV investment requirement delivers on the clean air promise that Volkswagen originally made but failed to deliver to its customers. Volkswagen has to invest $2 billion nationwide to accelerate growth in the ZEV market overall, under terms that ensure that all Americans benefit:

  •  VW is explicitly required to solicit and consider input from states, municipalities, tribes and other federal agencies before it makes ZEV investment decisions. VW’s investment plans will also be available on the web, and will have to include the evidence and basis for VW’s conclusion that the investments will advance use of ZEVs. This robust process of stakeholder input and public transparency will help ensure a credible and effective business investment strategy that benefits all Americans, regardless of the car they drive.
  • VW’s ZEV investments and its public outreach efforts must be brand neutral. That means that all ZEV vehicles using industry standard technology – not just the ones VW makes – have to be able to use the ZEV infrastructure. And it means that ZEV outreach cannot feature or favor VW’s vehicles. The agreement sets strict limits to make sure VW adheres to this essential requirement so that everyone interested in cleaner transportation – businesses, governments and consumers – will benefit.
  • The ZEV investment plan will be updated every 30 months, ensuring that the investments account for changes in ZEV technology and the ZEV market. The same process and opportunity for stakeholder input, and the same accountability measures, will apply every step of the way.

EPA’s role in the ZEV investment is limited but essential: EPA, working with the Justice Department, is going to ensure that VW complies with the requirements for stakeholder engagement, that the investments VW makes are truly brand neutral, and that VW complies with all the terms of the settlement. EPA does not make the investment decisions – Volkswagen makes the decisions, informed by the input it gets from stakeholders, the changing market conditions, and bound by the detailed constraints in the agreement – but we will make sure that Volkswagen plays by the rules laid out in the agreement the court approved.

This settlement can make a real difference in advancing the rapidly growing market for clean vehicles. It ensures that Volkswagen finally delivers on the promise it made for cleaner air and a cleaner transportation future.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

The Economic Power of Recycling: Sustainable Materials Management

By Mathy Stanislaus

On America Recycles Day, we’re taking a look back over the last 40 years since the passage of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and how we’ve worked to protect the health of our country’s communities through resource conservation. Here at EPA, recycling is a key element of Sustainable Materials Management (SMM), a systemic approach to using and reusing materials more productively over their entire life cycles. SMM represents a global shift in the use of natural resources and environmental protection. America’s recycling and reuse activities accounted for 757,000 jobs, produced $36.6 billion in wages and generated $6.7 billion in tax revenues in 2007, based on the most recent census data. As we continue to reduce, reuse and recycle, we are evolving our resource conservation efforts to use materials in the most productive way, with an emphasis on using less and advancing a circular economy.

Today we celebrate our successes in sustainable materials management. The national recycling rate has more than quadrupled from 7 to 34 percent, and the slogan Reduce, Reuse, Recycle has become a staple of American life. Recycling bins are now common in our homes, schools and workplaces; restaurants are composting their food waste and businesses are working with communities to offer consumers reuse and recycling opportunities.

In 2001, to encourage the development of an economic market for recycling, we supported the creation of a national Recycling Economic Information (REI) Project and the related REI
report. The REI report was a groundbreaking national study demonstrating the economic value of recycling and reuse to the U.S. economy. Compiled through a cooperative agreement with the National Recycling Coalition, the study confirmed what many have known for decades: there are significant economic benefits associated with recycling.

That is why I am excited to announce the release of the 2016 REI Report. This report includes updated information about recycling jobs, wages, and tax revenue. We have found that recycling and reuse of materials creates jobs while also generating local and state tax revenues. According to the latest Census data available, in 2007 recycling and reuse activities in the United States accounted for:
•

  • 757,000 jobs;
  • $36.6 billion in wages; and
  • •$6.7 billion in tax revenues.

These are enough recycling jobs to employ more than the entire population of the city of Seattle, Washington. To break down those numbers a little more, every 1,000 U.S. tons of recyclable materials generates:
•

  • 1.57 jobs;
  • •$76,030 in wages; and
  • •$14,101 in tax revenues.

Along with the new economic impacts, the 2016 REI report used an updated analytical framework and a new waste input-output methodology, which focused on the life cycle of materials and defining recycling. These refinements offered significant improvements over the 2001 REI study in terms of a better definition of recycling and more precise data. This new methodology will help decision makers and researchers more accurately estimate the economic benefits of recycling and create a foundation upon which additional studies can be built.

In addition to the economic benefits, we must recognize the major environmental benefits of recycling and SMM as a whole. Recycling reduces pollution and greenhouse gases, while generating positive economic benefits. For example, in 2014, 89 million tons of municipal solid waste were recycled and composted. That’s equivalent to removing the carbon dioxide emissions of 38 million passenger cars from the road annually. How our society uses materials is fundamental to our economic and environmental future. Global competition for our limited resources will only intensify as the world population and economies grow. A more productive and less impactful use of materials will help our society remain economically competitive, contribute to our prosperity and protect the environment in a resource-constrained future. We want to make sure we have sufficient resources to meet not only today’s needs, but those of the future as well. As we celebrate our nation’s commitment to recycling our materials today, let’s shoot for 40 more years of continuing to sustainably conserve and manage our resources.

To read the REI Report, visit: https://www.epa.gov/smm/recycling-economic-information-rei-report

To read the President’s Proclamation: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/11/14/presidential-proclamation-america-recycles-day-2016

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Keeping International Communities Safe — One Hazardous Waste Shipment at a Time

By Mathy Stanislaus

Here at EPA we are not only focused on responsibly and safely managing our country’s waste, but it’s also our responsibility to ensure that our country’s waste isn’t a danger to human health or  the environment of communities abroad. That is why I am excited to announce today’s publication of the Hazardous Waste Export-Import Revisions Final Rule. This rule will provide greater protection to global human health and the environment by providing for increased transparency, data sharing and more complete and efficient tracking for international hazardous waste shipments.

When hazardous waste is shipped across multiple countries to be disposed of or recycled, there can be a higher risk of mismanagement, which endangers the health and safety of surrounding communities. Abandoned shipments — or shipments sent to unapproved facilities that are not able to manage the wastes appropriately — present the biggest dangers to people and the environment. Other risk factors may include:

  • Increased number of people who are handling and transferring the international shipments
  • Entry and exit procedures
  • Temporary storage at ports and border crossings
  • Varying degrees of environmental controls and worker safety practices.

As the Assistant Administrator of the Office of Land and Emergency Management, I am committed to making sure that hazardous waste entering or leaving the United States is safely and correctly handled. That is why I am so proud of this new rule.

Specifically, the Hazardous Waste Export-Import Revisions Final Rule requires:

  • Updates to some current import and export requirements to be consistent with other existing EPA requirements based on Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) procedures, so that these widely-accepted standards will apply to all U.S. hazardous waste imports and exports in a consistent and protective manner
  • A switch to mandatory electronic reporting to EPA that will enable increased sharing of hazardous waste import and export data with state programs, the general public and individual hazardous waste exporters and importers
  • Linking the consent to export with the exporter declaration submitted to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which will provide for more efficient compliance monitoring

Through these new requirements, hazardous waste imports and exports will occur under contracts between the exporters and management facilities, and with the written approval of the country of import. Additionally, this rule will require the tracking of international hazardous waste shipments from start to finish, reducing the misdirection of shipments to unapproved facilities. They will also require that the facility complete recycling or disposal of the shipments within one year of receipt. By requiring receiving facilities to document both the initial receipt of the hazardous waste shipment and when the management of hazardous waste is complete, the rule ensures the timely management of the waste and lessens the possibility of abandoned shipments, which can seriously harm both human health and the environment. In every aspect of this rule, my top priority is that all communities where hazardous waste is being managed are safe and healthy.

This rule will go into effect on December 31, 2016. However, we understand that it will take time for businesses affected by this rule to make any required changes. That is why this rule also establishes appropriate transition periods to help minimize the burden of implementing these new requirements.

Additionally, to ensure that there is transparency and access to compliance data while this rule is in the process of being implemented, the Internet Posting of and Confidentiality Determinations for Hazardous Waste Export and Import Documents rule is being proposed to require companies to post data on their public websites until they can submit it electronically to EPA. This rule also proposes to exclude certain hazardous waste import and export documents from Confidential Business Information claims. Providing this information to the public will enable interested members of the community and the government to better monitor proper compliance with EPA’s hazardous waste regulations, as well as ensure that hazardous waste import and export shipments are properly received and managed.

I am proud that we’ve taken another step toward keeping people and our environment safe. This new rule is an integral step in ensuring that internationally shipped hazardous waste is responsibly and safely handled. However, we still have more work to do. Whether it’s working with the Commission for Environmental Cooperation to develop technical guidelines for safe international recycling, or participating in the Basel Convention’s technical working groups to develop guidance for the environmentally sound management of electronic-waste, EPA continues to be at the forefront of creating innovative strategies to respond to ever evolving international waste issues.

We will be hosting a webinar on December 12, 2016 to introduce this new rule and give a broad overview of the immediate changes when the rules goes into effect on December 31, 2016. To RSVP for the webinar, visit: https://clu-in.org/training/#upcoming

To learn more about the rule, visit: https://www.epa.gov/hwgenerators/proposed-rule-hazardous-waste-export-import-revisions

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EJ 2020: The Next Generation of Environmental Justice at EPA

By Gina McCarthy

I got my start working at community health centers in Canton, Massachusetts. That was more than 35 years ago. What motivated me then, and still drives me today, is my desire to help people lead healthier, safer lives.

Far too often, I’ve seen how minority, low-income, and indigenous groups are most affected by environmental and public health challenges. I’m proud that for more than twenty years, EPA has worked to ensure that these overburdened communities benefit from the same environmental protections as other communities. This has been a priority of mine since my first days working in Canton, and it’s been a top priority for us here at EPA.

We’ve made tremendous progress over the past eight years. Through EJ 2014 – EPA’s first strategic plan – we built stronger relationships with local and community leaders. We integrated environmental justice into every EPA program. And we strengthened our partnerships across the federal family.

This progress is important, but we still have a lot of work to do. With EJ 2020, EPA’s next four-year strategic plan for environmental justice, we’re building on this foundation as we work together to turn this progress into even more action. This plan was developed based on robust public input – through thousands of comments on previous drafts, from more than one hundred meetings across the country, and four national webinars.

EJ 2020 has three overarching goals:

  • To deepen environmental justice practice in EPA’s programs that improve the health and environment of overburdened communities;
  • To work with federal, state, tribal, community, and industry partners to expand our impact across the country; and
  • To measure the progress we’re making on our most significant environmental justice challenges.

Each of these goals supports our efforts to expand our on-the-ground work and make an even greater and lasting impact where our help is needed the most. And as we develop more comprehensive ways to gauge our progress, we will better ensure that every American enjoys the benefits of living in a cleaner and healthier community.

Confronting our shared challenges requires innovative solutions and unwavering dedication. In a period of increasing challenges related to climate change and crumbling infrastructure, our capacity to confront our obstacles depends on the strength of our partnerships. EJ 2020 provides a roadmap for us to move forward, together, in a more productive and holistic way. This means listening to community leaders and residents and better understanding the burdens they face so that we strategically focus our resources. This is how we will truly make a difference in our country’s most overburdened communities.

EJ 2020 isn’t just about having words on paper. It’s about having concrete strategies that guide us through the next four years and beyond. And when I think back to the lessons I learned in Canton, I am proud of the lives that EPA has changed and the communities we’ve strengthened both in my hometown and in hometowns across the country. Everything we’ve accomplished makes me even more optimistic about our shared future.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

A Historic Day in Our Fight Against Climate Change

By Administrator Gina McCarthy

Protecting the air we breathe and slowing the effects of climate change are a core part of EPA’s mission. And today, I am proud to say that we, alongside nearly every country on Earth, have taken another historic step in carrying out that mission by cutting down on the use of damaging hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs.

Countries, including the United States, have long used HFCs to meet their refrigeration and air conditioning needs. These greenhouse gases can have warming impacts hundreds to thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide. In a nutshell, these HFCs cool our homes and chill our food, but they are turning up the temperature of our planet.

And over the next several years, HFC use is expected to not only grow—but multiply. Their emissions are increasing by 10 to 15 percent on an annual basis globally. That’s why, this week in Rwanda, world leaders took a giant leap forward by agreeing to a global phase-down of these harmful gases.

As head of the U.S. delegation to the Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol, I met with leaders from around the world who share a commitment to protecting the planet and scaling down these harmful gases. Together, joined by Secretary of State John Kerry, we agreed to take action and get the job done. And that’s exactly what we did.

The Montreal Protocol, a successful global environmental agreement, is already putting the world on track to heal the Earth’s ozone layer by mid-century. And this week, 197 countries agreed on an ambitious amendment that will help protect Earth’s climate by significantly reducing the consumption and production of HFCs.

By acting now, we’re avoiding up to a full half a degree centigrade of warming by the end of the century. This is a big deal, because our scientists say very clearly that we must keep our planet’s temperature from rising 2 degrees above our normal temperature. And today’s announcement brings us that much closer to avoiding that “point of no return.”

We’re also agreeing to devote more resources to finding and using safer, more climate-friendly alternatives. And we’re building on the significant gains we’ve already made to protect ourselves and our children from the dangerous effects of climate change.

At EPA, we’re doing our part to cut down on HFCs here at home.

Just two weeks ago, we finalized two rules that will reduce the use and emissions of HFCs. The first—under our Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program—adds new alternatives to the list of acceptable substitutes for HFCs. It also sets deadlines to completely stop using HFCs in certain applications where safer alternatives are available. The second rule strengthens our current refrigerant management practices and extends them to include HFCs.

This week has truly been historic. Our global commitment to protecting our planet brought us to this moment. It’s an exciting time for all of us who have worked so hard to get here. And while we have seen many significant successes under President Obama’s leadership in tackling climate change, this day will be remembered as one of the most important. I was proud to represent the United States in Rwanda this week. There is no doubt in my mind that U.S. leadership was essential to reaching this agreement.

Yes, there will be challenges ahead. But the past week reminds us that when faced with clear science, when buoyed by the strong partnership of developed and developing countries working together, we can make great strides to protect the one planet we have.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Protecting Our Nation’s Treasured Vistas

By Administrator Gina McCarthy

Why do we enjoy exploring our national parks? Nature. Peace. Quiet. Solitude. But at the top of the trail, it’s all about the view. And there’s nothing like being in one of America’s premier national parks to remind me of why I come to work each day. This morning, joined by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, I hiked to the scenic overlook of the Upper Hawksbill Trail in Shenandoah National Park – just like the millions who visit our national parks and wilderness areas each year in search of gorgeous views.

The view from Shenandoah National Park on a clear day and on a hazy day.

The view from Shenandoah National Park on a clear day and on a hazy day.

Our trip to Shenandoah gave us an opportunity to mark progress in the effort to ensure the views in our parks across the country are clear, by reducing haze from regional air pollution.

Haze is caused when tiny pollution particles in the air encounter sunlight, resulting in degraded views of scenic features. This pollution comes from a variety of natural and manmade sources. Natural sources can include windblown dust and soot from wildfires. Manmade sources can include motor vehicles, electric utilities and industrial fuel burning, and manufacturing operations. There is less haze today than years past due to many different Clean Air Act programs, including the Regional Haze Program.

Haze makes it harder to see many of our favorite places, like Half Dome in Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and the valleys and hills of Shenandoah National Park. That’s why the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service, along with states and tribes, are working together to protect and improve visibility conditions in our most treasured parks and wilderness areas.

The Grand Canyon on a clear day and on a hazy day.

The Grand Canyon on a clear day and on a hazy day.

The Regional Haze Program has focused on reducing harmful air pollution from large, older facilities, including power plants, cement plants and large industrial boilers. Under this program, if emissions from these sources are found to cause haze at national parks or wilderness areas, then sources must take steps to reduce the pollutants contributing to haze. In addition to improving visibility in our nation’s most treasured natural areas, these steps help protect public health, while supporting local tourism and economic development.

The Regional Haze Program is designed to make improvements over time and is organized into different planning periods, the first of which covers 2008-2018. Since we are near the end of the first planning period, it is a good time to stop and take stock of what we have accomplished, and what more there is to do. In Shenandoah, for example, the average visual range has improved from under 35 miles in 1999 to over 60 miles in 2015. The natural visual range is estimated to be 120 miles at Shenandoah, so there is room for future improvement.

Improvements like this can be seen across the country, In fact, out west, the average visual range has increased – from 90 miles to 120 miles over the same period. While this is good progress, we know there is more to be done. In May 2016, we proposed revisions to the Regional Haze Program, setting the stage for more progress during the next planning period, which is from 2018-2028.

To provide a dynamic way for the public to understand the work we are doing to improve visibility and protect America’s magnificent views and scenic vistas from pollution, check out our interactive story map. Here, you can see the difference between hazy and clear days, learn how many agencies and organizations are working together to improve visibility, and explore an interactive map of protected areas to see web cams and monitoring data.

There’s nothing like climbing hundreds or thousands of feet to make you appreciate something. For me, today was about appreciating the view because of something that isn’t there – haze caused by air pollution.

It was a joy to be in Shenandoah this morning to appreciate the progress we’ve made, while renewing our commitment to keep these views clear for others to enjoy.

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Modernizing Our Country’s Drinking Water Monitoring Data

By Joel Beauvais

We live in a society that allows us to get information through our phones, TVs, and computers from across the world in a matter of seconds. Although we’ve come a long way in the information age, some of our country’s most important public health information is still collected and shared using antiquated methods like manual data entry and even paper reporting.

That’s why I’m excited to announce of the launch of EPA’s  new Compliance Monitoring Data Portal (CMDP), which allows water laboratories and public drinking water systems to electronically share drinking water data with their states and tribal agencies. The portal will allow us to replace the paper-based system, leading to more timely and higher-quality monitoring data. By reducing the hours previously spent manually entering data, identifying data-entry errors, and issuing data resubmittal requests, states and tribes will now be able to free up more time to focus on preventing and responding  to public health issues in their communities. Once fully implemented by all states nationwide, we expect the new portal could reduce state data entry and data management work by work by hundreds of thousands of hours per year.

CMDP’s launch marks the completion of the first phase of our agency’s multi-year Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS) modernization project. We are also making improvements in the development of a system called SDWIS Prime.  Prime will improve state decision making by using the sample data received from CMDP to develop new reports and provide automated notifications.  Prime is currently scheduled to be released in 2018.

Together, CMDP and Prime will help increase the timeliness and accuracy of drinking water data transferred between drinking water systems, primacy agencies, and EPA.  Systems like these can help move our country closer to a future where all Americans will have faster and better access to information about the quality of the water that is piped into their homes.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.