Embracing Data for a More Efficient Government

By Robin Thottungal

Innovators across the federal government are leveraging the power of data to address some of our most complex national challenges.

Data allow us to discover patterns, connect the dots and identify opportunities for innovation. Data should not be buried in spreadsheets, filing cabinets and static reports; they should be accessible at the push of a button or a quick internet search.

For the past year, I have had the privilege of representing EPA in the Federal Data Cabinet, a community of over 100 innovators across approximately 50 agencies. Together, we identify which tools and guidance are needed to sustain the people, practices and policies of a data-driven government.

Looking with a bird’s eye view at government-sized programs

To see a single, integrated view of our operations, we need to be able to explore data visually. Interactive dashboards and platforms can cut through increasing data volume and complexity.

For example, my team is building a data analytics platform to further enable evidence-based decision making across EPA. By integrating all of our acquisitions data into a single dashboard, called the Spend Visualization and Strategic Sourcing Savings Tracker, we can create a clear picture of EPA’s logistics and supply chain.

EPA's Strategic Sourcing tool leverages the Agency’s full buying power in order to reduce acquisition administrative costs and develop long-term, mutually beneficial partnerships with best-in-class providers of products and services.

EPA’s Strategic Sourcing tool leverages the Agency’s full buying power in order to reduce acquisition administrative costs and develop long-term, mutually beneficial partnerships with best-in-class providers of products and services.

 

The EPA Spend Tool enables our Office of Acquisitions Management (OAM) to accurately monitor, compare and answer questions regarding EPA spending.

The EPA Spend Tool enables our Office of Acquisitions Management (OAM) to accurately monitor, compare and answer questions regarding EPA spending.

Looking beyond EPA, there are many other stories to tell from Federal Data Cabinet members. For example, the General Services Administration is empowering business analysts to manage and support basic federal agency functions with their Data-2-Decision (D2D) platform. D2D moves analysis beyond describing the past; it allows users to diagnose reasons for events, prescribe ways to achieve desired outcomes and forecast future scenarios.

Increasingly, federal agencies are working together to see an even bigger picture, and these collaborations are causing positive advances across the board. In an effort to improve health outcomes, strengthen food security programming and monitor land use change, the U.S. Agency for International Development partnered with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to create GeoCenter, a geospatial analysis platform. The platform was immediately useful for pinpointing the most effective methods for preventing the spread of malaria in Mozambique.

Placing information in the hands of decision-makers

What happens when tech platforms unveil the patterns behind the data? Policymakers across the government can establish smarter, evidence-based policy. Decision-makers can target interventions and focus on the biggest opportunities. Researchers can design studies with more insightful results.

EPA has been a leader in sharing data with researchers, businesses and the environmental community. For the past 20 years, we have published much of our data on EnviroFacts, a single point of access to environmental activities that may affect air, water and land across the U.S. By enabling users to find, map and analyze information, we facilitate others to make informed decisions that rely on cross-cutting information.

Health and Human Services also set a precedent by publishing an interactive map that uncovers geographic discrepancies in chronic disease among Medicare beneficiaries. The Mapping Medicare Disparities Tool provides policymakers and researchers with a quick and easy way to identify vulnerable populations and target interventions that address racial and ethnic disparities.

The Mapping Medicare Disparities (MMD) Tool is a user friendly way to explore and better understand disparities in chronic diseases.

The Mapping Medicare Disparities (MMD) Tool is a user friendly way to explore and better understand disparities in chronic diseases.

Federal employees are not the only decision-makers who benefit from a data-driven government though. Citizens benefit too! Who else better understands the important issues impacting communities across America? Opening government data has empowered citizens to track trends and make informed personal decisions.

Do you want to ensure that you’re supporting businesses with a proven commitment to labor rights? The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has an online enforcement database for that. The data, covering more than four decades, include details on the roughly 90,000 OSHA inspections conducted every year.

Or do you want to understand more about the environment around your home or school? EPA’s online tool, My Environment, allows the public to learn more about air, water and land based on a search location. It also provides key resources that address local environmental challenges for citizens wanting to engage more with their communities.

Data is key to improving performance and services

The best government is one that delivers the right services, using the most cost-effective methods. By unleashing innovative technology, we are getting deeper, more meaningful insights about federal services and processes—and we are getting more efficient at delivering what citizens need most.

Take, for example, how the Internal Revenue Service is using data to enhance some of their important services. Processes for tax preparers, tax software developers and taxpayers have all improved. In addition to improving processes, their data-driven approach has resulted in a total of almost $1.7 billion dollars in revenue protected over just four years.

As another example, look at how the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) incentivizes high performance for all health insurance providers that participate in the Federal Employee Health Benefit (FEHB) program. OPM uses a data approach to benchmark clinical quality, customer satisfaction and resource use. With this approach, OPM reinforces quality health care for all its 8.2 million FEHB federal employees, retirees and family members, and holds 97 health insurance carriers accountable.

A multiplier effect across the government

We have already seen what a tremendous impact the data-driven approach has made in the services provided by individual government agencies. What we are seeing now is the multiplier effect, sparking change across the federal government.

This multiplier effect explains the success of the Department of Commerce (DOC)’s Data Academy, which educates and empowers DOC employees to make data-driven decisions. The agency is improving its service delivery to businesses, which strengthens America’s competitiveness.

Here at EPA, data enthusiasts have formed communities of practice to build capacity to operate in a data-driven manner. For example, EPA’s Geospatial program provides regular training, workshops and webinars on Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Going forward, my team will further empower the agency with training and support to visualize and analyze data using advanced, innovative methods.

We have worked hard to create a safer, smarter, more responsive government – one that keeps pace with our quickly changing world – by better leveraging our data. With data in our toolbox, we can answer new questions, arrive at deeper insights and make better decisions to improve outcomes.

All citizens benefit when the government saves time, talent and resources; becoming more efficient paves the way for new economic activity and social benefits.

Data are some of our most valuable national assets, and we are working hard to use them even better.

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Keeping Our Communities Safe from Pesticide Poisonings

By Jim Jones

You might remember hearing the tragic news in 2015 about a Delaware family vacationing in the U.S. Virgin Islands that had their lives changed forever when they were poisoned by a fumigant illegally applied in their rental complex.

… Or the Florida boy in 2016 who suffered brain damage after his home was fumigated with pesticides.

Each time we hear about such tragic cases of pesticide poisoning, the obvious question is, “how can we prevent this from happening again?”

To try to do just that, we took action this week to strengthen the standards for workers who apply certain pesticides called “restricted use pesticides.”  These pesticides require special handling and are not available for purchase or use by the general public.

If stronger standards had been in place incidents like these might have never happened in the first place. We need stricter standards and oversight to ensure pesticides are not misapplied so that our families are safe and are spared from the illnesses and pain caused by preventable exposure to pesticides.

EPA’s final rule raises the standard for peoples who buy and use restricted use pesticide by requiring:

  • New, specialized licensing for workers using certain application methods that can pose greater risks if not handled properly, such as fumigation and aerial application. This is in addition to general training and certification.
  • A minimum age requirement of 18 years old to be able to apply restricted use pesticides.
  • Re-certification at least every 5 years by taking training and/or passing an exam to make sure worker knowledge is up-to-date on applying them safety to protect themselves and the public.  Changes in labeling and application technology will also be covered.
  • First time annual safety training and increased oversight for persons working under the direct supervision of a certified applicator.  Workers will also learn how to reduce take-home pesticide exposure to protect their families.
  • Record-keeping for two years by the pesticide dealer of the product sold, the seller, and the certified applicator buying the product. The dealer must also get verification that the buyer is certified before selling the product.

Pesticides are often necessary to protect human health and the environment from a number of pests, such as rodents or mosquitos carrying disease or termites causing damage that could compromise the structural integrity of buildings. They are often necessary to produce a reliable, abundant and wholesome food supply.  EPA puts all pesticides through a rigorous evaluation before they can be bought and used safely in accordance with the label, and advises that they should be used as part of a comprehensive Integrated Pest Management approach.

Now, with the new, improved training and certification, those who apply “restricted use” pesticides will be more knowledgeable and equipped to use these pesticides safely.  Risks will be reduced for the individuals applying these pesticides in their jobs, for their families and communities 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. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

EPA Releases Final Report of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources

By Tom Burke

Clean and safe drinking water is central to public health—something that we work hard every day at EPA to protect.

Today, we’ve taken an important step forward in this mission. With the release of our final assessment of the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources, EPA is providing a strong scientific foundation for states and local decision makers to better protect drinking water resources in areas where hydraulic fracturing occurs or is being considered.

When EPA started this study, we were asked by Congress to scientifically assess the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water.

As part of conducting these studies, we met with stakeholders, collecting input that helped to make our work stronger. We reviewed thousands of sources of data and information. And we advanced the scientific understanding of hydraulic fracturing activities and their impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.

We passed this information on to others by publishing 13 EPA technical reports and just as many articles in scientific journals.

The report does two important things—it outlines what the scientific evidence shows and underscores what we don’t know because of gaps in the data. While these data gaps limited EPA’s ability to fully assess the potential impacts to drinking water resources locally and nationally, they too can serve as an important guide to local communities considering hydraulic fracturing.

Most importantly it provides states, tribes, and communities around the country a critical resource they can use to identify how to better protect public health and our drinking water resources.

In the end, I believe the assessment truly reflects the current state of the science. It cites over 1,200 sources including published papers, technical reports, results from peer-reviewed Agency research, and information provided by industry, states, tribes, non-governmental organizations, and other interested members of the public.

States and industry can now add the scientific understanding gained through this assessment to many other resources—including engineering capability and technology—to ensure that hydraulic fracturing is conducted in a safe and responsible manner.

But there is a last point that should not be glossed over, and that is the strength of the scientific process. I can tell you from experience, good science takes time. It involves careful planning, requires rigorous attention to detail, and relies on feedback through scientific peer review. In this instance, the Agency’s independent Science Advisory Board provided rigorous peer review and numerous constructive comments.

The final assessment is a strong, clear representation of the science that exists on the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water resources.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Water Challenges Are Actually Opportunities

By EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

Our nation needs to talk more about the future of water, which I believe is one of the top public health and economic challenges now facing our country. This is a moment of opportunity – to drive smart, equitable, resilient investments to modernize our aging water infrastructure; to invent and build the water technologies of the future; and to protect our precious water resources. To seize this opportunity, we need urgent and sustained action at all levels of government and from all sectors of the economy.

It is time to move away from the narrow 20th century view of water: as a place to dump waste; as something to just treat and send downstream in pipes; as only an expense for cities and a planning burden for communities.

We need to accelerate the move to a 21st century view – where we see water as a finite and valuable asset, as a major economic driver, as essential to urban revitalization, as a centerpiece for innovative technology, and as a key focus of our efforts to build resilience.

This shift presents tremendous opportunities – to revitalize communities, to grow businesses and jobs, to improve public health. But to achieve it, we must make water a top national priority – and we need to be bold and revolutionary.

We need to drive innovation across all dimensions of the water sector: in technology, finance, management, and regulation.

We all see how science, technology, and innovation are opening new frontiers, fueling the economy, and changing our world. We must incubate this change in the water sector as well because both the challenges and the opportunities are vast.

For example, consider that the nation’s wastewater facilities discharge approximately 9.5 trillion gallons of wastewater per year. Utilities are increasingly turning to technologies and approaches that foster greater reuse of water and recovery of resources that were previously discarded as waste.

Look at Orange County, California, where they are generating over 100 million gallons per day of recycled water. Instead of just discharging that water into the Pacific Ocean, that ultrapure water is used to replenish groundwater in Anaheim, injected in wells in Fountain Valley to ward off saltwater intrusion, and as an indirect source of tap water to 2.5 million people in the county.

Another example is the opportunities for energy efficiency and renewable generation, key areas for our planet’s long-term sustainability. The water facilities nationwide account for as much as 4 percent of national electricity consumption, costing about $4 billion a year. Now we see utilities producing energy instead – while slashing costs and carbon emissions at the same time.

Look at Gresham, Oregon, where the wastewater plant has become a net zero facility – using biogas generators and solar panels to produce more energy than it needs. Not only is that saving city taxpayers half a million dollars per year, but last year the city also earned $250,000 from fees local restaurants are paying to drop off fats, oils and grease.

There are similar opportunities to use technology for improving water monitoring, for constructing green infrastructure, for building resilience to climate change, for treating drinking water, and for recovering nutrients before they enter waterways.

These opportunities to harness innovative technology aren’t just good for public health and the environment – they can be enormous economic drivers.

In 2015, the global market for environmental technologies goods and services was more than $1 trillion. The United States environmental technologies industry exported $51.2 billion in goods and services. This same industry supports an estimated 1.6 million jobs here in the U.S.

So the soundbite that protecting the environment is bad for the economy is just patently false. It’s actually the opposite.

As our nation heads into a time of transition, we need to remember that water is a nonpartisan issue. We all depend on clean and reliable water – our families, our communities, our businesses, our society.

So, it should come as no surprise that in a Gallup poll last spring, people were asked about their environmental concerns – pollution of drinking water and pollution of rivers and lakes were the top two concerns… people care about water.

To confront the challenges we face and seize this moment of opportunity, we have to work together – all levels of government, all sectors of the economy, every community. Right now, water is an all-hands-on-deck issue.

P.S.: I’m confident that our country can succeed. Look how far we come. EPA has released an interactive storymap that highlights some of the most significant progress made since 2009. I encourage you to explore the storymap to see where EPA worked near you and to read about some of the biggest steps taken toward clean and reliable water for the American people.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Superfund Acts to Protect Americans from Harmful Vapors 

By Mathy Stanislaus

Under the Superfund program, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) protects people who live close to Superfund sites by addressing any threats those sites may pose to soil, air, groundwater and surface water. Approximately 53 million people in the U.S. live within three miles of a Superfund site. So when EPA conducts Superfund investigations and finds significant threats to public health or the environment, we clean them up, control them, or both.

Another environmental concern that EPA addresses under Superfund is subsurface intrusion, which occurs when hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants migrate from below the ground into overlying structures.

While subsurface intrusion can take multiple forms, vapor intrusion is the most common. Vapor intrusion generally occurs when volatile chemicals migrate from contaminated groundwater or soil into overlying structures. When someone is exposed to vapor intrusion, it can raise his or her lifetime risk of cancer or chronic disease.

EPA addresses subsurface intrusion under Superfund, but until now it was not a criterion for determining whether a site gets added to the National Priorities List (NPL). The NPL is EPA’s list of more than 1,300 of the nation’s most contaminated sites, where we conduct further investigation and possible remediation under the Superfund program.

So today, my office added subsurface intrusion to the Hazard Ranking System (HRS), which is the methodology EPA uses to evaluate and score sites for NPL inclusion. Sites receiving HRS scores above a specific threshold can be proposed to the NPL. Today’s action allows the EPA site assessment program to address two additional types of sites: those that either have only subsurface intrusion issues, and those with subsurface intrusion issues that are coincident with a groundwater or soil contamination problem. Therefore, this change expands options for EPA and our state and tribal partners to evaluate potential threats to public health and the environment from hazardous waste sites. This rulemaking only augments criteria for applying the HRS; it will not affect the status of sites currently on or proposed to the NPL.

Previously, if EPA addressed subsurface intrusion at an NPL site, it was because EPA listed the site on the NPL for a different contamination issue. Now that we factor subsurface intrusion into our HRS scoring, we have enhanced our ability to prioritize and address it.

The last HRS revision, in 1990, evaluated four exposure pathways: surface water, groundwater, air and soil. It did not include a subsurface intrusion component, as the science was not sufficiently advanced. In the interceding years the research has progressed to a point where today’s HRS revision stands on solid science.

Over its 35-year history, Superfund has made enormous contributions to improve the health, environment and economies of America’s communities. Today’s action moves the Superfund program forward and provides the public added protection and peace of mind.

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

EPA Proposes Financial Requirements for Clean-Up at Hardrock Mining Facilities

By Mathy Stanislaus

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, better known as the Superfund law) protects human health and the environment by managing the cleanup of the nation’s most contaminated lands and by responding to locally and nationally significant environmental emergencies. To further CERCLA’s mission, we are proposing a rule that will reduce taxpayer costs at hardrock-mining and mineral-processing facilities.

Historically, hardrock-mining facilities have generated large quantities of hazardous substances, often over hundreds of square miles. In some instances, releases have resulted in groundwater and surface water contamination that require long-term management and treatment, which can be costly. For example, between 2010 and 2014 alone, EPA spent $1.1 billion in removal and remedial response costs at hardrock-mining and mineral-processing facilities, and taxpayer funds contributed to much of this amount. This has been the case for decades, with industry players leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for environmental cleanups.

It’s time for a change. Our latest proposed rulemaking ensures that future polluters are better prepared to pay. Under the rule, owners and operators at certain hardrock-mining and mineral-processing facilities would be required to make financial arrangements that address the risks from hazardous substances at these facilities. Additionally, they would still have to pay the agreed-upon amount if the company closes its doors.

Specifically, owners and operators of facilities subject to the proposed rule would be required to:

  • Use the formula provided in the rule to calculate a level of financial responsibility for their facility, and provide supporting documentation for their calculation;
  • Obtain a means of covering this financial responsibility through insurance, guarantee, surety bond, letter of credit, qualification as a self-insurer, or any combination of these instruments to demonstrate to EPA that they have obtained such evidence of financial responsibility; and
  • Update and maintain the rule until EPA releases them from the CERCLA §108(b) regulations.

This proposal, was developed after extensive consultation with stakeholders, including small and large businesses, industry groups, environmental groups, and state and tribal governments.

These requirements are not meant to duplicate existing financial responsibility requirements. EPA’s proposed CERCLA 108(b) regulations will be stand-alone financial responsibility requirements that address CERCLA liability. There are significant differences between these requirements and other existing requirements for hardrock mining facilities. In particular:

  • the proposed rule does not include technical requirements regulating the operation, closure, or reclamation of hardrock mining facilities;
  • the proposed rule does not provide financial responsibility to ensure closure or reclamation requirements made applicable to hardrock mining  facilities through a permit;
  • the proposed rule is not intended to preempt state or local mining reclamation and closure requirements; and
  • the proposed rule is distinct from federal closure and reclamation bonding requirements imposed under other statutes.
  • Facilities that apply environmentally protective practices, including those required by other regulations, may be able to reduce their required amount of CERCLA 108(b) financial responsibility.

Additionally, we are publishing a notice describing the Agency’s plan to consider financial assurance requirements under CERCLA for three additional industries:

  • Chemical manufacturing;
  • Electric power generation, transmission and distribution; and
  • Petroleum and coal products.

The notice is not a determination that regulatory financial assurance requirements are necessary. We will evaluate a broad range of options in consultation with stakeholders including state and tribal governments, industry groups, and environmental groups before making such determinations. Our future activities will consist of information collection regarding each sector and an evaluation of the modern practices of these industries.This rule, and the consideration of others for additional industries, all starts with our fundamental desire to prevent the same kind of environmental contamination that has been plaguing American lands and dipping into taxpayer pockets for decades.

A pre-publication version of the proposed rulemaking is available at:
https://www.epa.gov/superfund/pre-publication-copy-proposed-financial-responsibility-requirements-under-cercla-section

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

EPA is Ready to Launch New Water Finance Program

By Joel Beauvais

There’s a lot of discussion right now about the need to reinvest in America’s infrastructure, and there’s no question that our aging water infrastructure needs to be at the top of the list. EPA’s surveys of communities across the country show that the U.S. needs about $660 billion in investments for drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure over the next 20 years.  This infrastructure is critical to the protection of public health and the environment, and to the functioning of every aspect of our national economy.  As a country, we need to invest more in modernizing this infrastructure, we need to make our dollars work smarter and harder, and we need to do it in a way that supports all communities across the country.

Many people don’t know that EPA plays a central role in supporting water infrastructure development in large and small communities nationwide.  We administer the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Fund programs which, life-to-date, have supported over$151 billion in low-interest loans and other critical support for water infrastructure. FY 2016 alone accounted for $9.5 billion of such support. We also provide millions of dollars each year in training, technical assistance and direct support for small communities and communities in need.  In 2015, we set up a Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Finance Center, that serves as a “think-and-do” tank to spur innovation in water infrastructure finance and support communities in need.

Now, we’re getting ready to implement an innovative new program that could provide billions of additional dollars to support water infrastructure investment across the country.  The Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) of 2014 created a new federal loan and guarantee program at EPA to accelerate investment in our nation’s water infrastructure. It was designed after the proven and highly successful TIFIA infrastructure loan program at the US Department of Transportation. WIFIA authorizes EPA to provide long-term, low-cost rate loans, at U.S. Treasury rates, for up to 49 percent of eligible project costs for projects that will cost at least $20 million for large communities and $5 million for small communities (population of 25,000 or less).  WIFIA is structured to work hand-in-hand with the State Revolving Funds – giving states and prospective borrowers the opportunity to decide which program is best to support a given project, or whether both together should do so.  The President’s FY17 Budget Proposal called for a $20 million investment in this program, which – because of the innovative way in which it’s structured – would be expected to support nearly $1 billion in loans for new water projects.

Over the past two years, EPA has been working hard to lay the foundations for this new program, so that we’re ready to implement it when Congress appropriates funding. We’ve made significant progress.  We’ve brought on new staff with the expertise and background to run the program effectively. This week we’re taking another big step, by issuing two rules to provide the administrative structure for the program.  The WIFIA Implementation Rule outlines the WIFIA program’s administrative framework, including the eligibility requirements, application process, project priorities and federal requirements for borrowers. It also explains the criteria EPA will use to select among project applicants, as well as EPA’s key priorities in this program, including adaptation to extreme weather and climate change, enhanced energy efficiency, green infrastructure, and repair rehabilitation, and replacement of aging infrastructure and conveyance systems.

The second rule we’re announcing today proposes fees to reimburse the agency for the cost of retaining financial, engineering and legal expertise needed to administer the program and underwrite loans effectively.  Congress provided for these fees when it enacted WIFIA, and this rule will ensure the program can be run sustainably. Next, we’ll publish a “Borrower’s Handbook” to help prospective borrowers determine whether WIFIA loans are the right choice for their projects and better understand the application process and program requirements.

WIFIA has the potential to substantially expand available federal funding for water infrastructure, and we at EPA are excited about this new opportunity.  This is about supporting our communities and the safe drinking water and clean water services upon which our public health and economic vitality depends.  We’re ready to get this program off the ground and begin providing low-cost loans for regionally and nationally significant projects.

For more information about the WIFIA program, visit www.epa.gov/wifia or contact WIFIA@EPA.GOV.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

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. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

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. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

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. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.