The EPA Blog The EPA Blog Tue, 30 Jun 2015 15:06:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 In Perspective: the Supreme Court’s Mercury and Air Toxics Rule Decision Tue, 30 Jun 2015 14:34:05 +0000 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 the 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.

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Conservation All Around Us: The Great Swamp Mon, 29 Jun 2015 16:30:35 +0000 By Tina Wei

Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

On June 9th, I assisted David Kluesner, EPA Region 2 community affairs team leader, at an event with the Great Swamp Watershed Association  where he gave a presentation to the community members of Morristown, NJ about the significant steps the EPA is taking to clean up the lower Passaic River.

At the meeting, we heard attendees express strong support for activities to conserve the environment and protect human health. To learn about the community’s relationship with the environment and to see an example of successful, impactful conservation efforts, we visited the nearby Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

This refuge, established by Congress in 1960 and located in Morris County, NJ, is one of the 560 refuges in the Department of Interior’s U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System. We toured the wonderful Helen C. Fenske Visitor Center, featuring interactive environmental education activities, friendly rangers, and live bird-cams. The refuge’s 7,768 acres of habitat allow for wildlife viewing, photography, and hunting.

We learned that North America is divided into four key flyways for migrating birds. New York City is located in the highly trafficked Atlantic Flyway. This refuge, located only 26 miles away from Times Square, is of great importance, providing a crucial resting place for over 244 species of birds who can’t rest in NYC.

We also learned about this refuge’s unique history. Beginning in 1844, this area’s marshlands were drained and converted to agricultural fields. As these farms became unprofitable and disappeared, alternative uses for this land were proposed, including a 1959 proposal to turn this area into a major airport (what is now Newark Liberty International Airport). In response, community members raised more than one million dollars to buy almost 3,000 acres of the Great Swamp land, donating it to the Department of the Interior to be conserved and reverted back to swampland.

This history is interesting for thinking about key questions regarding conservation:

  • When, why, and how should we conserve the environment?
  • How can we understand our local histories in light of these questions?

Do you know about the local history of a National Wildlife Refuge? What do you think about conservation? Tell us in the comments section!

About the Author: Tina Wei is a summer intern in EPA’s Region 2 Public Affairs Division. She has loved this wonderful learning opportunity, and especially enjoys going on work-related fieldtrips. During the school year, she is an undergraduate student at Princeton University.

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This Week in EPA Science Fri, 26 Jun 2015 19:10:23 +0000 By Kacey Fitzpatrick

research_recap_GI_soccerAre you watching the Women’s World Cup this weekend? There may be no commercial breaks but half time is fifteen minutes—the perfect amount of time to refill drinks, get a snack, and catch up on EPA science!

Below is what we are highlighting this week.

  • Research to Support Decontamination and Containment

This week EPA researchers, in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate, held a demonstration to provide responders with a “toolbox of options” for radiological decontamination and containment technologies.

Learn more about the demonstration in the blog Developing a “Toolbox” of Technology Options. 

  • Agency Researcher Developing Water Quality “App”

EPA researcher Blake Schaeffer was featured in a recent article in The Columbus Dispatch for his work developing an “App” that will tap satellite data to help people monitor local water quality and avoid harmful algal blooms in their favorite swimming spots or fishing holes.

Read the newspaper article App will show level of algae in water.

EPA Research Photo of the Week

Researchers spray a foam developed to remove radioactive cesium and other contaminants from the surface of a building during decontamination demonstrations in Columbus, Ohio.

Researchers spray a foam developed to remove radioactive cesium and other contaminants from the surface of a building during decontamination demonstrations in Columbus, Ohio.


If you have any comments or questions about what I share or about the week’s events, please submit them below in the comments section!

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor, writer, and soccer fan working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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Summer Reading List: Learn About States’ Shapes, Social Physics, and Rust Fri, 26 Jun 2015 16:37:44 +0000 By Jeffery Robichaud

I was in Seattle for a meeting this spring and realized that my kids had only two more weeks before they were off for the summer. My wife and I would face the yearly struggle of convincing them to read for “fun” again. It was also a reminder that I needed to build my reading list for the summer!

So here’s my Big Blue Thread Summer Reading List for 2015. While you’re at it, check out my Fall 2012 Reading List and Fall 2008 Reading List.

“How the States Got Their Shapes” by Mark Stein

How States Got Their ShapesThis book has been out for a while but I picked up the paperback version for my kids at the Smithsonian earlier this year. I intended for them to read it, but I ended up being the first to crack it open. It is chock-full of the stories behind all the minor squiggles, curves, and not-so-straight lines that make up our states’ borders. If you find yourself bored at home sometime, pull up Google Maps and zoom in really, really close, and you may find that many of the straight lines you learned as a child aren’t so straight after all. There appears to be a second book from Mark Stein called “How the States Got Their Shapes Too: The People Behind the Borderlines.” If you’ve read it, jot down a comment below and tell me how it was.

“Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread – The Lessons from a New Science” by Alex Pentland

How Good Ideas SpreadI’m not entirely done with this book yet. It’s beckoning me from the nightstand, competing with all the shows that my wife and I have stored on our DVR. So far, this has been a really interesting read, focusing on the importance of social interaction in creativity and innovation in the workplace. It puts a lot of things into perspective with respect to the new “connected” workforce, or more accurately, how we might be missing some really great opportunities because of the lack of meaningful social interaction and stimulation. Definitely a headier read, so if you have little ones who will be vying for your attention, save it for another time.

“Rust: The Longest War” by Jonathon Waldman

Rust The Longest WarOK, I’ve only made it through the first few chapters of this book, and I really enjoy it. I’m going to save the rest for the beach later this year (especially since saltwater plays a prominent role). If you enjoyed other historical treatises such as “Salt,” “Water,” or “Cod” (I sense a theme), then I’m pretty sure you will enjoy “Rust.” The writing is fast-paced and funny. Waldman tells us, “rust affects everything from the design of our currency to the composition of our tap water, and it will determine the legacy we leave on this planet.”

So head out and pick up a new book for the summer. Better yet, support your local library with a visit. While you’re there, ask them how to sign up to check out e-books and audiobooks. After your visit, share some of your recent reads with us. What page-turner would you recommend we pick up this summer?

About the Author: Jeffery Robichaud is a second-generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Water, Wetlands, and Pesticides Division. Jeffery fondly remembers card catalogs from his youth and wonders what became of all those beautiful old wooden shelves. (Youngsters who have no idea what he’s talking about should check out the opening scene in “Ghostbusters.”)

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All That Summer Brings Thu, 25 Jun 2015 20:21:35 +0000 As you settle into the rhythm of summertime, we hope that you’re taking time to enjoy the wonderful outdoor activities that the New York City area has to offer! Our ‘Welcome to the Weekend’ summer series brings you a variety of green, fun, and free/affordable activities to do this weekend. We hope you will join some of them, and that you’ll let us know about other events not on our list. As you embark on your adventures, tweet us (@EPAregion2) with our ‘Welcome to the Weekend’ hashtag #WTWEPA!

 Friday – June 26, 2015 

River to River
Various locations on Governors Island
Friday, June 26, 2015
Noon 5 p.m.

Come to the final weekend of the annual, free 11-day River to River festival! There will be performances and exhibits involving dance, music, visual art, and new media projects. From this festival, you will learn about the history of Lower Manhattan’s architecture, socialize with fellow artists and art-lovers, and experience in a new way the area’s various waterfronts, parks, and historic landmarks.

Nature & Science in Dialogue
Queens Botanical Garden
Friday, June 26, 2015
8 a.m. 6 p.m.

Are you interested in the intersection of nature and science via art? If so, come to the exhibit of artist Emily Barnett! This exciting show puts science and nature into dialogue by featuring recent collages and installations about quantum corrals, snake skeletons, nests and constellations.

Parent & I Chalk Art
Staten Island
Midland Beach Splash Plaza
Friday, June 26, 2015
9:3010:30 a.m.

Engage your child in creative, hands-on learning while enjoying the outdoors! At this event, children and adults will collaborate to create outdoor chalk art masterpieces.

Tai Chi for Adults
Poe Park Visitor Center
Friday, June 26, 2015
11:30 a.m. 12:30 p.m.

Exercising is a great way to enjoy the environment while taking care of one’s health. Come to this event to learn Tai Chi, the exercise regimen which includes movement and breathing techniques for health, balance and well-being. Great for senior citizens!

 Saturday – June 27, 2015 

Family Art Project: Lavender Blooms 
Wave Hill
Saturday, June 27, 2015
10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

The calming and fragrant lavender flower makes for great arts and crafts projects and keepsakes. Join this event to make pillows, sachets, Hacky Sacks, and more out of this great flower.

Yoga on the Beach 
Rockaway Beach and Boardwalk
Saturday, June 27, 2015
8 9 a.m.

Refine your flexibility, strength, and endurance while enjoying the beach! Yoga instructor Helen Kilgallen from Elaine’s Dance School will teach this beginner Hatha Yoga class. Bring a mat, large towel, or blanket.

Insect Walk 
Highbridge Park
Saturday, June 27, 2015
9:3011 a.m.

The concrete jungle provides us many opportunities to observe wildlife. Expert naturalist Mike Feller, who has over 25 years of experience in NYC Parks, will lead a tour focusing on Highbridge Park’s insects (and the birds they attract).

Solar Observation 
Poe Park Visitor Center
Saturday, June 27, 2015
11 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Are you interested in learning about the environment beyond what the eye can see? Join the Amateur Astronomers Association members as they help visitors engage in solar observations during the day! Telescopes specially filtered to view the sun will be provided.

 Sunday – June 28, 2015

Saltwater Fishing
West Harlem Piers Park
Sunday June 28, 2015
11 a.m. 3 p.m.

Catch-and-release fishing is a great way to interact with the environment without depleting it. Experienced Rangers will teach the ethics of fishing and the ecology of our waterways. All equipment will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis. Children 8 years and older are welcome. Participation in a safety review led by a trained Ranger is required.

Historic New York: Native Americans
Fort Totten Park

Sunday, June 28, 2015
1 – 2 p.m.

Urban Park Rangers are experts in studying human and natural history in New York City. In this historic walking tour, Rangers will explore the neighborhood of Bayside, originally inhabited by the Matinecock (meaning “hilly country”) Indians, a tribe of the Algonquin nation. The focus will be on the historic sites within the park and Native American culture.

It’s My Park 
Brower Park
Sunday, June 28, 2015
11 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Don’t just interact with nature—volunteer to improve its health! “It’s My Park” presents a series of volunteer activities that you can participate in to care for your parks. In this event, volunteers are needed to mulch, weed, and plant a butterfly garden and tree beds. Please bring your own work gloves, and email to register for the project.

Frida Kahlo: “Art, Garden, Life”
The New York Botanical Garden
Sunday, June 28, 2015
10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

This must-see exhibit explores the ways in which nature—especially plant imagery—influences the work of renowned artist Frida Kahlo. Visitors can engage in hands-on art activities for kids, access rare photos, footage, and expert audio commentary, and create their own Frida Selfie.

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Be Prepared at the Beach Thu, 25 Jun 2015 12:08:24 +0000 by Denise Hakowski

Be prepared at the beach with BEACON. Photo credit:    Robert (Gene) E. Shaner,  DNREC.  

Be prepared at the beach with BEACON.
Photo credit:
Robert (Gene) E. Shaner, DNREC.

My beach-loving husband lives by the Boy Scout motto “be prepared.”  On our trips to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, he is always the first one out the door in the morning.  He wheels his well-packed cart to the beach, finds the perfect spot and starts to set up:  two blue and green beach umbrellas, four sand chairs, sunscreen, a cooler, a beach blanket and hand sanitizer. He even checks in with the lifeguards when they arrive for the report on rip currents. Finally, he texts us back at the house (where we are all likely still asleep) with his location and the beach report,  and settles in with his book for the day.

But, before he even puts on his bathing suit, leaves the house, and slaps on his sunscreen, he checks EPA’s beach tool, BEACON.   EPA’s BEACON (Beach Advisory and Closing Online Notification) is a national database that contains links to monitoring data and notifications of beach closures or other water quality issues reported by states, territories, and tribes. BEACON shows how often beaches are monitored, and has the ability to easily map the location of over 6,000 beaches covered by the BEACH Act, and their related water quality monitoring stations.

This is a great tool for my husband, because the only thing that makes him happier than a day at the beach is being prepared!


About the author: Denise Hakowski is the Beach Program coordinator in the region’s Office of Standards, Assessment and TMDLs.  In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family, at the beach and elsewhere.


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Planes, Trains And Automobiles — And Safely Storing The Fuel That Moves Them Wed, 24 Jun 2015 19:22:03 +0000 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

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

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My Very Own Brown Bin Tue, 23 Jun 2015 17:24:49 +0000 By Sophia Kelley

#BrownBin in Brooklyn

#BrownBin in Brooklyn

I was elated to see a flyer in my mailbox from the NYC Department of Sanitation this week. Why? Because it said that my building would be one of the 35,000 new households to be part of the city’s expanded organics collection pilot program. In other words, we’re getting our very own brown bin! Perfect timing because our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) just started summer distributions and the amount of food scraps produced in our kitchen has already increased.

All the buildings in my neighborhood received the bins for food and yard waste and each individual apartment was given a small container for collecting kitchen scraps. The brown bins go to the curb once a week with our regular recycling pick up. Until now, we had to collect our food waste and take it to a community garden or farmer’s market for composting, but now it’s easier than ever to recycle our organic waste.

This is great news because food makes up the largest percentage of waste going to landfills each year and uneaten food rotting in landfills accounts for almost 25 percent of U.S. methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas. So think about climate change the next time you toss your leftover lunch into the trash.

Instructions for the NYC Organics Collection Program

Instructions for the NYC Organics Collection Program

Instead of landfills, our organic waste is going to be turned into compost to help keep the soil in New York City’s parks healthy. Some of the scraps are also going to be collected and taken to the Newtown Creek sewage treatment plant. The waste will be put to use in an anaerobic digestion process that will capture the methane and convert it to biogas which can then be used to generate electricity… all from your old pizza crusts!

If your neighborhood has not been included yet in the organics recycling program, don’t worry – the city’s goal is to provide all New Yorkers access to organics recycling by 2018. Until then, do your best to prevent food waste and take your kitchen scraps to the nearest compost collection project.

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Solar Panels and “Scrape Metel”… Tue, 23 Jun 2015 15:00:18 +0000 By Wendy Dew

You have to love it when you walk up to a school and kids are planting trees and a 1st grader is waiting at the door to inform you where you should put your “scrape metel”.  I had not yet identified myself as  an EPA employee there to photograph the amazing kids who received a grant to put solar panels on the roof of their school.  Any visitor to Mackintosh Academy that day would be astounded at the amount of environmental work occurring at the school.  After almost a decade in environmental education at EPA you would think I could no longer be amazed by kids…think again!

“Scrape metel” collection box Photo by Wendy Dew

“Scrape metel” collection box
Photo by Wendy Dew

Mackintosh Academy in Littleton, Colorado is leading the pack in environmental education.  Numerous projects have been accomplished and many more are in the works.  The most notable project was recently completed right before Earth Day 2015.  A group of students at the school decided that they needed to do more to help the environment.  They decided to apply for a grant through State Farm Youth Advisory Board’s service learning grant and were able to get $96,000 to put solar panels on their school.  The panels, now installed, save the school money and reduce carbon emissions.  The school will even be able to put energy back onto the grid.

Nicholas, Sydney, Delia and Skyler the 7th graders who made the solar project happen Photo by Wendy Dew

Nicholas, Sydney, Delia and Skyler the 7th graders who made the solar project happen
Photo by Wendy Dew

The kids involved in the project, 7th graders, are very excited to have solar panels on the roof of their school.  Talking with the kids it is clear that they understand the importance of what they have been able to accomplish for the school and for the environment.

The school is also planting trees, recycling, composting and learning about how these actions help to protect the environment.  Every time I visit a new school to see what kids are doing to green their own school, the bar gets raised.  When we   visit schools to do talks we often find out the kids know  more about the environment than we thought.   My colleague was  worried that 2nd graders would not understand recycling, they then proceeded to show  us their composting program!  I do not worry about the future.  Soon kids like the ones at Mackintosh Academy will be leading the way in environmental protection and telling us how to get it done!

About the author: Wendy Dew is the Outreach and Education Coordinator for EPA Region 8.

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REC @ 25: Looking Back and Looking Ahead Tue, 23 Jun 2015 14:45:22 +0000 I was recently a part of the official U.S. Delegation at a ministerial event celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Regional Environmental Center (REC) for Central and Eastern Europe in Budapest, Hungary. I also had the honor to represent President George H.W. Bush at the REC’s opening ceremony in Budapest on a beautiful warm and sunny day in September 1990.

Hungarian President Janos Ader meets with EPA Acting Assistant Administrator Lek Kadeli, former EPA Administrator William Reilly, U.S. Ambassador to Hungary Colleen Bell, and others.

Hungarian President Janos Ader meets with EPA Acting Assistant Administrator Lek Kadeli, former EPA Administrator William Reilly, U.S. Ambassador to Hungary Colleen Bell, and others.

The importance of engaging environmental problems on a regional scale was underscored by the issues that Central and Eastern Europe confronted in the early 1990s. Enacting new laws, setting new standards for air and water pollution, beginning to listen to non-governmental groups, creating forums for consulting citizens—all of these were novel in the immediate post-Soviet era, and every democratically elected government had to learn how to implement them.

There was nothing simple or inevitable about the environmental commitments made and implemented among these countries trying to find their footing economically and politically. Leaders had to believe the environment was important and that environmental standards and laws would not impede economic growth. And while none of the problems faced in the early 1990s have disappeared, they have been managed and the environment is indisputably superior by all metrics.

Still, each generation must commit anew and reaffirm the rationale for environmental protection, including setting priorities together with neighboring countries. The political and environmental landscape of the region today does not display the same euphoria that we felt in 1990 after the Berlin Wall fell, but the transition has been remarkably successful. And just as the experience of engaging with similarly challenged officials from neighboring countries was a REC objective, so today it remains important.

When I spoke as head of the U.S. Delegation to the Earth Summit in Rio in June 1992, I chose to make the environmental commitments and achievements of the countries of Eastern Europe my principal theme. It was frankly the most significant and promising environmental success story of the decade. And the REC played an important unifying part in that story.

The REC has realized the hopes and aspirations of its founders and benefactors who are justly proud of its achievements and now celebrate its 25th Anniversary.

William K. Reilly worked under President George H. W. Bush (1989–1993) as the sixth administrator of EPA. While leading EPA, he initiated a program of environmental assistance to the countries of Eastern Europe as they established new environmental laws and institutions after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and he persuaded then-President George H.W. Bush to propose and fund the REC.

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