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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REC @ 25: Looking Back and Looking Ahead

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.

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 Facts About the Clean Water Rule and Agriculture

Farmers, ranchers, and foresters depend on clean water for their operations—so as EPA and the Army developed the Clean Water Rule, we listened carefully to concerns from the agricultural community. The agencies’ priority was not only to protect clean water while making sure we didn’t negatively impact agricultural operations, but also to find ways to help.

For more than a decade, producers have faced uncertainty about which waters were covered under the Clean Water Act, and which ones weren’t. Producers don’t need regulatory uncertainty that makes their work more difficult.

That’s why the rule we finalized last month reduces red tape and provides more certainty when it comes to coverage of the Clean Water Act. Instead of confusion and case-by-case determinations about which waters are covered, the rule sets physical, measurable boundaries for the first time about where Clean Water Act coverage begins and ends. The rule does not expand the waters covered—in fact, it will actually reduce the scope of waters protected by the Clean Water Act compared to the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s.

We want to make sure our nation’s original conservationists have the facts about the new Clean Water Rule, so they can judge how effectively we addressed their concerns.

Checking the Facts in the Rule

The Clean Water Act makes it illegal to pollute or destroy a covered water without a permit. If you’re not doing either of those things, you don’t need a permit. Also, many agricultural activities have long been exempted from permitting requirements. Our rule doesn’t change those exemptions — in fact, it expands exclusions for farming, ranching, and forestry.

The rule does not regulate most ditches. It excludes farm and stock ponds, and grassed waterways and does not regulate groundwater, shallow subsurface flows, or tile drains. It does not make changes to current policies on irrigation or water transfers or apply to erosion in a field. The Clean Water Rule does not regulate land use or affect private property rights. These statements are directly supported by the text of the rule and its preamble, as found in this fact check document.

Input from Agriculture Shaped the Rule

In developing the rule, EPA and the Army heard consistently from the agriculture community, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and state Departments of Agriculture. The message was clear that farmers, ranchers, and foresters are concerned about how regulations to protect clean water can interfere with their operations. They want to be treated as partners in efforts to conserve the nation’s critical water resources.

After releasing the proposed rule last year, the agencies held more than 400 meetings with stakeholders across the country to provide information, hear concerns, and answer questions. EPA officials visited farms in Arizona, Colorado, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Vermont. Feedback from the agricultural community led to several improvements in the final Clean Water RuleLearn more in this blog.

Exemptions are Maintained and Exclusions are Expanded

We have worked hard to listen to the agricultural community to ensure the new rule reduces regulatory requirements under the Clean Water Act and protects all existing permit exemptions for normal farming, ranching, and forestry practices. The rule spells out in black and white that it does not add any additional permitting requirements on agriculture. The rule not only maintains current exemptions, but it also expands regulatory exclusions. These added exclusions now carry the force of law through the Clean Water Rule. See exemptions and exclusions in this fact sheet.

Regulation of Ditches is Reduced

We heard the concerns about ditches and the need to reduce regulation of these manmade structures. In the final rule we made clear that we’re focusing on tributaries that could carry pollution downstream, not ditches. The rule says the Clean Water Act applies to ditches that flow year-round and excludes intermittent and ephemeral ditches, except the portion built in streams or wetlands. This reduces the regulation of ditches for agriculture. Here’s the language straight from the rule:
Rule Text § 230.3(s)(2)(iii): “The following are not ‘waters of the United States… the following ditches: (A) Ditches with ephemeral flow that are not a relocated tributary or excavated in a tributary. (B) Ditches with intermittent flow that are not a relocated tributary, excavated in a tributary, or drain wetlands. (C) Ditches that do not flow, either directly or through another water, into [a traditional navigable water, interstate water, or the territorial seas.]” You only need to meet one to be excluded, not all three.

Definition of Tributary Brings Predictability, Certainty

The features we use to define “tributaries” in the rule – bed, banks, and ordinary high water mark – are exactly the same features used today by the agencies to determine the presence of a tributary, but without the regulatory certainty of being in the rule. This reliance on these same features always used by the agencies, but now codified in the Clean Water Rule, will ensure the result will not be an expansion of jurisdiction but instead more predictability and consistency.

Landowners Do Not Bear the Burden of Proof

The rule does not place the onus on the landowner to prove that their ditch qualifies for an exclusion or exemption. Quite simply, it is the responsibility of the Army Corps or EPA to prove a water is covered by the Clean Water Act; it is not the responsibility of a landowner to prove it is not a protected water.

No Change in Permits for Pesticides and Fertilizers

The Clean Water Rule does not make any changes to permitting for pesticides and fertilizers. The use of pesticides and herbicides is covered under a general permit which requires farmers to follow label instructions. Application of fertilizers on farmlands does not typically require a permit. If anything, the exclusions for ditches will reduce the need for permits. Here is more information about the general permit.

Maps Can’t Reflect Coverage of Clean Water Act

Some have asked for maps of protected waters or generated their own maps. That fact is that maps are useful tools for water resource managers, but they do not on their own determine Clean Water Act jurisdiction. The agencies have never and are not now relying solely on maps to determine jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. The Army Corps of Engineers determines jurisdiction using site specific information in response to individual requests.

Maps generated by external parties are typically inaccurate portrayals of jurisdiction under the Clean Water Rule and visually exaggerate the waters covered. Here are some reasons why:

  • Some maps have shown more wetlands than would be covered under the Clean Water Act. That’s because these maps use a different definition of wetlands that is broader than the Clean Water Act definition.
  • Some maps depict the entire floodplain as jurisdictional. Under the Clean Water Rule, only certain waters within the floodplain would be covered, never the land itself.
  • Some maps exaggerate the size of waterways. For streams to be visible on the maps they must be shown by a discernible line that is not to scale and does not represent the actual stream width. At national and state scales, this can give the false impression that most of the state is water.

Conversations with Agriculture will Continue

We remain committed to engaging in productive conversations with America’s farmers, ranchers and foresters. Farms across America depend on clean, reliable water for livestock, crops, and irrigation. And we depend on those farms and ranches. Our goal continues to be protecting clean water while ensuring agriculture, ranching, and forestry thrive.

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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EJSCREEN: A Tool for Putting Environmental Justice into Action

By Matt Tejada

Too often, America’s low-income and minority communities bear the brunt of our country’s pollution. These environmental and public health threats make it harder for kids with asthma to learn in school, and for people impacted from pollution to lead active and healthy lives.

There are many ways EPA is working to protect these overburdened communities. For the past two years, we’ve been using a screening and mapping tool called EJSCREEN to inform our work, whether its grant writing, policy decisions or enforcement. Today we take an important step forward by sharing EJSCREEN with the public, to broaden its impact, provide greater transparency in how environmental justice is considered, and to foster collaboration with partners.

EJSCREEN uses high resolution maps combined with demographic and environmental data to highlight places that may have higher environmental burdens and vulnerable populations. EJSCREEN can help you better understand the pollution burdens facing a community that has a high proximity to traffic, for instance, and also has a high proportion of people who are in poor health, have reduced access to care, lack resources or language skills, or are at susceptible life stages. This kind of data is essential for government agencies, non-profits, and any stakeholder working to make a positive impact in American communities affected by pollution.

EJSCREEN combines environmental and demographic information into “EJ indexes,” giving the user a way to measure impacts to better understand areas in need of environmental protection, health care access, housing, infrastructure improvement, community revitalization, and climate resilience.

We’ve been collaborating with our state and local partners for a while to make sure EJSCREEN is robust and actionable. Many states and stakeholder groups are eager to use it, but EPA is not mandating that state governments or other entities use the tool or its underlying data. Further, the tool shouldn’t be used as a basis for identifying areas as EJ communities, nor is it an appropriate standalone tool for making a risk assessment. It’s meant to inform decision making, so we all can make more complete and appropriate decisions in our goals to protect against pollution.

We hope you will participate in using the tool and provide us feedback on how we can make it better, both for use within EPA’s work but also for use by everyone in the United States.

About the author: Matthew Tejada is the Director of EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice.

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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Chemical Facility Safety and Security: A Shared Commitment

Chemical-Facility imageThe small town of West, Texas will never be the same after April 17, 2013, when the community was deeply shaken by a powerful explosion at the West Fertilizer Company storage and distribution facility that killed fifteen people and injured more than 160.  Investigators found that the explosion was caused by improperly stored Ammonium Nitrate.

In response, President Obama issued Executive Order 13650 Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security in August of 2013. The order asks the Tri-Chairs of the Chemical Facility Safety and Security Working Group (the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Labor, and the Environmental Protection Agency), to work closely together to improve the of safety and security of chemical facilities across the country. The chairs have worked diligently over the past two years on the following areas:

  • Strengthening community planning and preparedness;
  • Enhancing federal operation coordination;
  • Improving data management;
  • Modernizing policies and regulations; and
  • Incorporating stakeholder feedback and developing best practices.

The working group knows that stakeholders are essential to managing and mitigating the risks of potential chemical facility hazards and has engaged in a robust stakeholder outreach effort to identify successes and best practices.  This outreach included engagement across all levels of government, with owners and operators, industry associations, labor organizations, and communities affected by chemical plant disasters.

One year ago, the working group released a status report to the president, entitled Actions to Improve Chemical Facility Safety and Security – A Shared Commitment, which summarized the Working Group’s actions, findings and lessons learned, challenges, and short and long-term priority actions to that point. Last year’s status report was a milestone, not an end-point.

Today we are releasing another update to highlight actions that have been taken since the release of the Final Status Report last year. These highlights include:

  • Developing an on-line training module on the key requirements under Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA);
  • Initiating a multi-organization working group to identify a list of government approved training courses for first responders and emergency planners, Training Repository;
  • Institutionalizing a Federal Working Group to improve communication and coordination between agencies;
  • Establishing Regional Working Groups in all ten Federal Regions;
  • Incorporating chemical facility safety and security data into the EPA’s facility registry service (FRS);
  • Reissuing the Chemical Advisory: Safe Storage, Handling, and management of Ammonium Nitrate to incorporate stakeholder comments and concerns and the latest practices in ammonium nitrate safety;
  • Hosted a public webinar to share updates on EO activities taken in November 2014 with the next webinar planned for June 19, 2015; and
  • Launching actions to modernize OSHA’s Process Safety Management Standard and EPA’s Risk Management Program.

Safety and security are a shared commitment. We are committed to preventing more incidents like those in West, Texas, and ensuring that every worker comes home to their family safe and healthy at the end of every shift.

About the authors:
Mathy Stanislaus is the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response at EPA.
Caitlin Durkovich is the Assistant Secretary at the Department of Homeland Security National Protection and Programs Directorate, Office of Infrastructure Protection.
David Michaels is Assistant Secretary at the Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

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.