Refining Environmental Justice

By Matt Tejada

Before joining EPA, I spent more than five years in Houston working to protect the health of the many low-income and minority communities along the Texas Gulf Coast who share their neighborhoods with oil refineries. I cannot think of a single fenceline community from my work that does not have numerous health and environmental challenges facing local residents. And while toxic emissions from refineries are not responsible for all of those challenges, the risk from refinery pollution is an ever-present part of living in these places.

A new rule we’re releasing today helps reduce these dangerous emissions – a major victory for environmental justice but more importantly for the communities living and working along the fencelines of refineries.

The rule will reduce visible smoking flare emissions and accidental releases. For the first time in a nationwide rule, it will provide important emissions information to the public and neighboring communities by requiring refineries to actually monitor emissions at key sources within their facilities and around their fencelines. The rule also increases controls for storage tanks and cokers, parts of refineries that many folks rarely think about because they have just become part of their neighborhood background. The pollution reduced from these two types of units is very significant.

The final “Refinery Rule” – as many EJ stakeholders likely know it by – will reduce 5,200 tons per year of toxic air pollutants, along with 50,000 tons per year of volatile organic compounds. That is thousands of tons of pollution that will not be coming out of our nation’s refineries every single year. The emission reductions from this final rule will lower the cancer risk from refineries for 1.4 million people. That’s not just good for the communities that live in and around refineries — it’s outstanding. And, not just for the communities, but for the folks who work inside the refineries, as well as stakeholders in the broader community whose regional air quality would otherwise be impacted by some of these pollutants.

This rule means a lot to me personally after all the time I spent in those communities in my home state of Texas. It’s one of the biggest steps we’ve taken to protect environmental justice communities under Administrator McCarthy’s leadership. But it’s not the only one – we’ve also worked to create a Clean Power Plan that protects the needs of the most vulnerable Americans, changed the way we prioritize environmental justice in our rulemaking, created EJSCREEN to help communities learn about their environmental risks, and – just this week – released new Worker Protection Standards that keep farmworkers and their families safer from over-exposure to pesticides.

As someone who has worked on the community side of these issues, I know the importance of listening to stakeholders and communities who provide valuable input as we develop rules. The final rule incorporates community feedback and has been strengthened from proposal stage to final, accounting for important concerns expressed by the very people living on the fenceline who we are trying to protect.

Our work to increase that protection is far from done, but this final Refinery Rule is a major step forward in controlling pollution from refineries to protect the health and well-being of those who live near them and it leaves the door open to continue to introduce technology as it advances and offers even greater protection. Because here at EPA we don’t see environmental justice as something to be achieved in one action – but as something we are committed to continually advancing in everything we do.

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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Protecting the People Who Help Feed Us

By Administrator Gina McCarthy and Department of Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez

We depend on our nation’s two million farmworkers to help provide the fruits and vegetables we feed our families every day. But each year, thousands of farmworkers become ill or injured from preventable pesticide exposure, leading to sick days, lost wages, medical bills, and absences from school.

Farmworkers deserve the same kinds of protections from workplace hazards that workers in other industries have enjoyed for decades.

That’s why today, EPA announced stronger protections for workers on farms, in nurseries, and in greenhouses. The updated Worker Protection Standard makes sure farmworkers know their rights through yearly training, have improved safety measures and access to information, as well as protection from retaliation for speaking out.

It’s simple: this rule helps make sure our food is produced in a way that protects farmworkers’ health and the health of their families.

The evidence is clear that managing for safety results in more productive, successful businesses. There are serious financial consequences for businesses that don’t acknowledge the importance of worker safety. They not only endanger their own workers, they reduce their competitiveness and harms their bottom line. It’s time to raise the bar for our agriculture workers in the United States. See how the 20-year old rule has been upgraded.

 

Farm worker protection standards comparison chart.

 

EPA has worked hard to build on what we’ve learned since the original Worker Protection Standard was announced 20 years ago. From state and local partners, to the farmworker community, to farmers, ranchers, and growers—we’ve learned what works to protect farmworkers from pesticide exposure, and where we need to do more. We’re confident that today’s revisions will protect our strong farm economy and family farming traditions.
President Obama has called closing gaps of opportunity a defining challenge of our time. Meeting that challenge means ensuring clean air, clean water, and safe work environments.  Environmental justice is at the heart of EPA’s mission to protect public health—especially for vulnerable communities dealing with risks associated with pesticide exposure. And the Department of Labor is proud to support them in this effort.

The new Worker Protection Standard will help ensure strong, sensible safeguards for farmworkers, their families, and the agricultural community across America.

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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Bringing Water Protection into the Modern Age

By Cynthia Giles

Information technology is everywhere. How we communicate, and how we share with one another has gone digital, saving paper, time, money, and making it easier to get information faster and more reliably.

Paper reports can stack up – here is an example from just one EPA Region

Paper reports can stack up – here is an example from just one EPA Region

Forty-three years ago, when the Clean Water Act was enacted, things moved a little slower. But the significance and impact of this important law remains today. It has helped clean up our lakes and rivers, and ensure that Americans are drinking safe water so we can live active, healthy lives. Under the Clean Water Act, the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program requires that hundreds of thousands of regulated facilities monitor and report data on their discharges of pollutants into waters to ensure they are not negatively affecting public health or the environment.

For years, these reports were filed by paper, and regulators – state and federal – had to manually review and enter the data into computers. That is until this week, when Administrator Gina McCarthy signed the final NPDES electronic reporting rule, requiring reports to be electronically filed. More than seven years in the making, following more than 70 technical and individual meetings, and 50 webinars with over 1,200 stakeholders, we have brought clean water protection into the modern age. Here’s what that means:

  • The public will have full transparency into water quality data. Facility-specific information, such as inspection and enforcement history, pollutant monitoring results, and other data required by NPDES permits will be accessible to the public through our website. Transparency can also drive improved performance among regulated facilities; when water quality data can be easily accessed online, facilities are more inclined to avoid pollution problems that raise public concern.
  • Once the rule is fully implemented, the 46 states and the Virgin Islands Territory that are authorized to administer the NPDES program will collectively save approximately $22.6 million each year as a result of switching from paper to electronic reporting.
  • Additionally, after full implementation, we estimate that states and regulated entities will save a total combined 900,000 hours of time per year. Instead of sifting through stacks of paper, that time, in addition to the money saved, can be put toward important water protection activities.

Finalizing this rule is a major milestone, but there’s still more work to do. Over the next few months, we will schedule trainings and more webinar sessions with states and regulated entities to provide an overview of the final rule, and the next steps for implementing electronic reporting. To realize the important benefits that this rule provides, EPA and our state, tribal, and territorial partners will continue to work collaboratively to implement these changes.

Electronic reporting in this day and age is essential to effective environmental protection. It furthers our Next Generation Compliance and the E-Enterprise for the Environment strategies to take advantage of new tools, innovative approaches and to work in partnership with states to increase compliance and reduce pollution. A modernized approach to reporting means cleaner water for everyone.

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 Pope’s Visit – Renewing the Call to Act on Climate

By Administrator Gina McCarthy

This week, Pope Francis made an historic visit to Washington, DC, where he met with President Obama, addressed Congress, and lead a public rally to support moral action on climate justice.

This summer, the Pope issued a landmark encyclical emphasizingour moral obligation to act on climate change – for the sake of our kids and vulnerable populations around the world. His visit to Washington this week is a reminder that taking action is as urgent as ever to protect our “common home”.

At EPA, we couldn’t agree more. Environmental justice is at the core of everything we do – including our work to address climate change. Climate change is personal—it affects every American. But low-income and minority communities are particularly vulnerable to climate-related changes like stronger storms, floods, fires, and droughts. And on top of that, they are often the least able to rebuild after a disaster.

Low-income and minority Americans are also more likely to live in the shadow of polluting industries like power plants, and more likely to be exposed to higher levels of pollution. And the carbon pollution driving climate change comes packaged with other dangerous soot- and smog-forming pollutants that can lead to lung and heart disease.

More than 10 million American children have been diagnosed with asthma. But black and Latino children, as well as children from low-income families, are more likely to suffer from asthma and respiratory problems than other kids are.

Of course, climate change isn’t just happening here in the U.S. Citizens in low-lying countries like Bangladesh and Pacific Island nations are retreating from sea level rise; parts of Africa are facing blistering drought, threatening the food supply; indigenous people in the Arctic are seeing summer sea-ice recede to unprecedented levels.

We all have roles to play in taking action on behalf of those who bear the brunt of the effects of climate change. And by working together, we can meet the challenge. This message was crystal clear in the Pope’s recent encyclical:

“Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start.”

I’m so proud to be able to say that the United States is stepping up to this call.

EPA’s Clean Power Plan puts our Nation on track to slash carbon pollution from the power sector 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030—all while keeping energy reliable and affordable. As we speak, states across the country are putting pen to paper and crafting plans for implementation.

The faith community has been an extraordinary catalyst for climate action, and we’ve seen incredible support and progress from the private sector as well. Businesses of all sizes are embracing the task, working to reduce their carbon footprints, planning for future climate change, and propelling innovative clean energy solutions forward. I also continue to be encouraged by the steps being taken by our partners around the world, including economies large and small and some of the world’s biggest emitters.

This collective momentum makes me confident that a global climate agreement will be reached in Paris later this year. And it gives me hope that we will rise to the Pope’s moral call: to protect the least of these, and to safeguard a beautiful, abundant planet full of opportunity for our kids and for generations to come.

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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What’s an ounce of prevention worth?

By Jim Jones

As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s easier to prevent something bad from happening than to fix it after it’s already happened. For me this means stopping pollution before it starts, which is the core concept behind pollution prevention (P2) or sustainability.

Here’s a couple of real world examples of how costly it can be to clean up pollution after it’s already happened:

  • Effective P2 practices could have avoided hundreds of millions of dollars of PCB cleanup costs. PCBs are a hazardous chemical that can cause cancer and were banned in 1979. Cleanup of Hudson River PCB contamination alone has cost more than $500 million.
  • If we can take effective action to slow down the rate of climate change, we can save not billions but trillions of dollars over the coming decades.

From these examples I know that an ounce of prevention is worth millions of dollars in clean-up activities and countless environmental hazards. What many people may not know is that sustainable practices started out as P2. In 1990, the Pollution Prevention Act tasked EPA with establishing a grant program to teach state and local governments and businesses about the benefits of P2. Over time, businesses, colleges, and even sports teams have realized that with P2 they can achieve their corporate objectives and help save the environment, all while improving their bottom lines. From clean energy initiatives, like the Clean Power Plan, to programs that promote the user of safer chemicals, like Safer Choice, sustainability is now part of the fabric of institutions around the world.

This week is P2 Week, and this year marks the 25th anniversary of the Pollution Prevention Act. During this week, and every week, I encourage you to find things you can do in your daily life to stop pollution before it starts. Whether it’s riding your bike instead of driving or reducing the amount of garbage you generate, you’ll be making choices that are better for you, your family and the environment. What’s an ounce of prevention worth to you?

Learn more about P2 Week and how you can prevent pollution.

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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EPA at GLACIER Summit

Last week I led our delegation to GLACIER, the Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience, in Anchorage, Alaska.  The U.S.-hosted conference convened foreign ministers of Arctic nations and key non-Arctic states with scientists, policymakers, and indigenous communities from Alaska and the Arctic to highlight opportunities and challenges in addressing climate change in this fragile region.  The conference also included public sessions on a range of issues including strengthening emergency response, development of renewable energy, and community health.

As part of the public sessions, I chaired a panel on “Protecting Communities and the Environment through Climate and Air Quality Projects,” which included discussions of the challenges of providing clean, reliable energy in remote communities; the particular environmental and public health needs of indigenous communities; and opportunities for local and global cooperation to address black carbon in the Arctic. Black carbon is the third largest warming agent globally, and because it causes ice melt, its effect on the Arctic is even more pronounced. In addition to its impact on the climate, black carbon also affects the health of local communities, causing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Our panel highlighted international mechanisms and our programs to address black carbon, including our effort to reduce black carbon emissions in the largest city in the Arctic Circle.

Also showcased at the GLACIER Summit was the EPA-supported Local Environmental Observer (LEO) network, created by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. Alaska Native LEO members raise awareness about emerging climate change-related events and develop adaptation strategies to address environmental and public health concerns.   LEO provides a critical bridge between local knowledge, traditional knowledge, and Western science. Through our two-year U.S. Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, we are supporting the expansion of this network across the polar region.

Another discussion, “Strengthening International Preparedness and Cooperation for Emergency Response,” highlighted the efforts of the Alaska Regional Response Team (ARRT). This partnership of state and federal agencies makes plans and preparations to support the EPA, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, who are responsible for responding to oil spills and hazardous materials releases anywhere in the state.  The ARRT works with a special emphasis on overcoming the unique challenges of responding in the Arctic. The session emphasized working closely with communities to incorporate indigenous knowledge into response planning.

To close the conference, President Obama delivered an impassioned call for international action on climate change and to protect our shared Arctic. President Obama is the first president to visit America’s Arctic and to witness firsthand the impacts of climate change on this region. During his trip, President Obama also visited with Alaska Natives in Kotzebue and Dillingham.

I am proud to have represented EPA and the United States at this event, grateful for the hospitality we were shown by Arctic communities, and inspired by their commitment and resilience in meeting the climate challenge. My sincere thanks to all of them, and everyone who is contributing to the preservation and protection of our shared Arctic.

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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Making Hazardous Waste Regulations Work for Today’s Marketplace

The pace of technology and change in the modern world can be dizzying. As new medicines and treatments are developed, new types of waste emerge. However, our hazardous waste generator regulations were written in the 1980s and haven’t changed much over the years.
Well, today we’re taking steps toward changing that. I’m excited to announce that we are proposing two rules to provide businesses with the certainty and flexibility they need to successfully operate in today’s marketplace.

Over the last 35 years, we’ve heard from states and the regulated community that our hazardous waste generator regulations, which were designed for manufacturing, don’t fit all sectors and especially not the healthcare sector. We’ve listened and these two proposals make a number of updates and improvements to the existing regulations. We have proposed over 60 changes to the regulations to improve the effectiveness of and compliance with the hazardous waste generator program. This includes rearranging some of the generator regulations that had outgrown their original numbering system so it will be easier for facilities of all sizes that generate hazardous waste to find everything they need to know in one place.

The second rule will make it easier for healthcare providers to comply with hazardous waste rules while protecting the nation’s water. We’re proposing to remove the traditional manufacturing-based hazardous waste generator requirements and instead provide a new set of regulations designed to be workable in a healthcare setting while ensuring safe management and disposal of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals. The primary focus for nurses, doctors and pharmacists is providing healthcare – they are not experts in hazardous waste identification and management. This rule seeks to reduce the burden and increase compliance by proposing a more flexible, common sense approach for healthcare providers and the elimination of unnecessary management practices.

Pharmaceuticals entering the environment, through flushing or other means, are having a negative effect on aquatic ecosystems and on fish and animal populations. Our proposal is keeping pace with today’s environmental issues by banning the sewering, or flushing down the toilet or sink, of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals from healthcare facilities. It is projected to prevent the flushing of more than 6,400 tons of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals annually making our drinking water safer.

In order to keep our world safe and healthy, regulations should not only effectively manage sources of environmental harm, but also be flexible and clear enough for newcomers to understand. The updates and tailoring of the hazardous waste generator regulations by these two proposed rules increases compliance, which then increases environmental benefit. The new rules respond to the needs of both the environment and businesses, benefitting both sides.

Our proposals will be available for public comment online in the coming weeks once they are published in the Federal Register. We’d love to hear your thoughts. To review these proposed rules now, visit: www2.epa.gov/hwgenerators.

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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EPA’s Office of Civil Rights: Improving our Procedures, Education, and Expertise to Prevent Discriminatory Injustice

EPA is committed to building a model civil rights program. Our Office of Civil Rights (OCR) exists to protect people from discrimination inside and outside EPA who are affected by agency programs, polices, and activities. OCR enforces statutes related to discrimination, one of which is Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in programs or activities operated by recipients of federal financial assistance.

OCR’s External Compliance program has faced challenges in the past resolving Title VI cases. However, in the last 18 months, EPA has installed new leadership in OCR, developed a strategy to manage the docket of complaints more effectively, stepped up our emphasis on a proactive compliance program, and taken steps to make sure our employees have the training and tools they need.

Since 2014, EPA has staffed OCR with new employees that have previous civil rights experience. EPA has also appointed Deputy Civil Rights Officials in each of our 10 Regional offices around the country to act as liaisons to communities and states, to leverage OCR resources with EPA program expertise, and to help OCR collect the evidence and documentation needed for case investigations.

OCR is committed to systematically changing the way it approaches complaints. The office will soon release an External Compliance Program Strategic Plan that sets forth concrete accountability measures to manage the docket of external complaints more promptly, effectively and efficiently. It will also soon have in place a Case Resolution Manual —a comprehensive guide for OCR staff on all phases of case investigation and resolution—including complaints and compliance reviews, as well as model letters, investigative plans, and other standard operating documents for staff as they address and resolve civil rights cases. The manual will bring OCR in line with the kinds of procedures already in place at many other federal civil rights agencies, and for transparency, the manual will be posted online. By developing these tools, we’ll help make sure cases are resolved promptly and consistently across the country.

We’re also releasing a Civil Rights Toolkit, which will help educate states, other recipients of EPA financial assistance, and communities on their rights and obligations under federal nondiscrimination laws. And since every case is different, we will use all resolution options available, including informal resolution and Alternative Dispute Resolution, to promptly and effectively address communities’ concerns and bring about change. In addition, OCR is reevaluating its nondiscrimination regulations to make sure they offer the flexibility and clarity needed to manage the complaint docket more strategically, and to build a stronger proactive compliance program.

OCR is strengthening its proactive compliance efforts through targeted compliance reviews, strategic policy development, and engagement with internal and external stakeholders—including recipients and communities. Proactive engagement and partnerships with recipients will let OCR address potential discrimination before it becomes a real challenge for communities.

OCR will also work more closely with communities to make sure they understand their nondiscrimination rights, how to work more effectively with recipients to secure those rights, and how to file discrimination complaints that can withstand fundamental jurisdictional requirements. In the past, many communities filed complaints to OCR against private companies that didn’t receive federal funds. Since nondiscrimination requirements did not apply, OCR had to reject those complaints. By working with communities from the beginning, we can help make sure their concerns are directed to where they can best be resolved, and to strengthen transparency and accountability. Starting in 2016, OCR will publish an annual report to keep the public apprised of the office’s progress.

Finally, OCR is comprehensively evaluating position descriptions, skill sets, and current occupational competencies to make sure they align with OCR’s mission-critical priorities. EPA employees are the key to meeting the agency’s mission, so we’re making sure OCR staff have the training, developmental opportunities, and support they need to meet these goals.

EPA’s vision for the next five years is that OCR will have made strides toward promptly, effectively and efficiently resolving complaints. OCR will use all the tools at its disposal to resolve complaints, conduct compliance reviews and affect real change. It will have a well-established and proactive process to make sure recipients comply with nondiscrimination laws. And OCR will have a fully implemented public outreach and technical assistance program to educate recipients on their civil rights obligations, and to engage communities and empower them with civil rights information.

EPA is committed to building a model civil rights program. I’m confident that through the dedicated, expert and proactive work of our staff and the efforts of recipients and communities, we will make that vision a reality. Learn more here.

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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What’s Next for the Clean Power Plan?

On Monday, President Obama announced a huge step to fight climate change and protect our kids’ health: EPA’s Clean Power Plan. By 2030, the plan will drastically cut carbon pollution from power plants – our nation’s biggest driver of climate change – as well as the other harmful air pollutants that come along with it.

The release of the final Clean Power Plan is a historic step forward for our country, and with its launch, we begin a new chapter as we take action against climate change.

Among the many commenters, states provided critical feedback to help EPA build a final Clean Power Plan that works for everyone. And starting now, states are in the driver’s seat of putting the plan into action.

The Clean Power Plan sets uniform emissions rates for power plants across the country. They’re the same in every state for similar types of fossil fuel plants, ensuring fairness and consistency across the board. Using these rates, EPA’s plan then sets state-specific goals for cutting carbon pollution based on each state’s unique energy mix.

That’s where flexibility and a host of options come in. States can decide how best to achieve pollution reductions from power plants. The Clean Power Plan explains the state options, and EPA has also proposed a Federal Plan and Model Rule that states can adopt as a ready-made, cost-effective path forward. But states don’t have to use the EPA’s approach; they can pursue a range of other approaches. And compliance strategies are wide open, too. Utilities can improve plant efficiency, run cleaner plants more, shift toward cleaner fuels, use renewables, and take advantage of energy efficiency and interstate trading.

So, what’s next? Here are a few important milestones to look for.

2016: States have until September 6, 2016, to build and submit their customized plans for cutting       carbon pollution and meeting their goals. They’ll send those plans to EPA for review. If a year isn’t enough time, states can request an extension.

2022: This is the first year that states are required to start meeting interim goals for carbon pollution reduction. But investments and plans underway now can help states get closer to their goals even sooner, and to help them, we’ve created a Clean Energy Incentive Program to help states get a head start on reducing carbon emissions as soon as 2020.

2022 – 2029: Because we know pollution reductions won’t happen overnight, EPA is providing a path to help states make a smooth transition to clean energy future. State pollution reductions can be achieved gradually, over an interim step-down period between 2022 and 2029, before states are required to meet their final goals.

2030: This is the year that states are required to meet their full carbon pollution reduction goals under the Clean Power Plan—and the year we’ll see its full benefits to our health and our pocketbooks. In 2030, when states meet their goals, carbon pollution from the power sector will be 32 percent below 2005 levels. That’s 870 million fewer tons of carbon pollution, with even less over time. And because of reductions to other harmful air pollutants that come packaged with carbon pollution, we’ll avoid thousands of premature deaths and have thousands fewer asthma cases and hospitalizations in 2030 alone. What’s more, 2030 is the year the nation will see up to $45 billion in net benefits from the clean power plan, and the average American family will see up to $85 a year in savings on their utility bills.

The good news is, we don’t have to wait until 2030 to start seeing the Clean Power Plan’s benefits. Communities will start seeing tangible health and cost benefits as states make progress toward cutting carbon pollution and increasing efficiency.

Starting now, state planning will begin in earnest. And we hope you will get engaged. The Clean Power Plan requires states to work with communities and stakeholders to make sure the plans they build reflect your needs. And EPA will be looking to see how states are taking stakeholder input into account.

We urge you to be part of the process, get informed, and get involved. EPA received more than 4.3 million public comments on its initial proposed Plan, and we listened to your concerns. The final Clean Power Plan is stronger, more flexible, and more achievable because of your feedback. Here are some upcoming ways to get involved:

August 20, 2015: Join us for a webinar designed to provide communities with an overview of what is in the Clean Power Plan and how to participate. More details available soon HERE.

Fall 2015: EPA will hold public hearings around the country for the proposed Federal Plan and Model Rules. More details will be posted on www.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan soon.

As Administrator McCarthy has said, “climate change is personal.” It affects you no matter who you are or where you come from. That’s why we need you to be involved and have your voice heard.

Learn more about how the Clean Power Plan affects your state HERE.

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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Clean Power Plan: Power Plant Compliance and State Goals

EPA’s historic Clean Power Plan, is a first-of-its-kind step to cut the harmful carbon pollution fueling climate change from our nation’s power plants based on more than two years of extensive outreach, plus the 4.3 million public comments we received. Compared with last year’s proposal, our final plan cuts over 70 million more tons of carbon pollution, making it more ambitious, more achievable and more affordable, too.

There are two key reasons our final rule works: 1) it follows a more traditional Clean Air Act approach to reduce air pollution, and 2) it gives states and utilities even more options and more time to reach their pollution reduction goals than our proposal did.

Uniform Performance Rates

At the heart of our plan are its uniform emission rates – one for fossil steam units (coal, oil, and gas) and one for natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) units. The standards limit the amount of carbon pollution released for every power plant covered by the rule – and they are the same standards for every coal plant and for every NGCC plant in every state.

The rates are achievable because no power plant has to meet the rates on its own.  It can use the fact that it operates on an interconnected grid to access a range of low- or zero-emitting energy resources to come into compliance.

The important point to keep in mind is that power plants do not operate in isolation. Utilities have bought, sold and transmitted electricity across state lines for decades, and regional power grids are a major reason electricity is affordable and reliable. Pollution doesn’t stop at state lines either. With the Clean Power Plan, we’re cutting pollution in the same way we generate and distribute electricity—through an interconnected grid.

In fact, relying on the performance rates is one way that a state can put its power plants in a position to use emissions trading between and among power plants in different states to access those clean energy resources – and to integrate emissions reduction strategies with the way the grid moves electricity back and forth across broad multi-state regions.

State Goals

Each state’s goal represents a blend of the performance rate for coal and the performance rate for gas weighted by the number of coal and gas plants in the state. States can choose to comply simply by applying the performance rates to each unit operating within their respective borders, especially if they include emissions trading as a compliance option for their units. States can also comply with the law by using their overall emissions goals and adopting a portfolio of measures that result in emissions reductions.

While the utilities are responsible for reducing emissions, the state plans are the means of accounting for and ensuring that the reductions take place in line with the national standards and timing established by the Clean Power Plan. And the state rate- and mass-based goals are a way of giving states additional options and flexibility for implementing the two performance standards.

Emissions Trading
When we hold power plants of the same type to the same standards, it means that their reductions are interchangeable – creating a system that’s ready for trading. The built-in ability to trade emissions gives states even more flexibility in how they achieve their carbon pollution reduction goals.

A Glide Path

Further ensuring that the standards are achievable is that the final rule does not require any power plant to meet the standards – or whatever equivalent measure the state imposes – all at once. Instead, states can determine their own emissions reduction trajectories over the period between 2022 and 2029, provided that overall they meet their interim targets “on average” over that period. The final rule ensured this important flexibility by initiating the mandatory compliance period in 2022, rather than 2020 as at proposal, and phasing in the two performance standards and the accompanying state goals. This phase-in is reflected in the performance rates and in the state goals that correspond to those rates, again calculated as a weighted blend

Final Goals in 2030
Ultimately, by 2030, power plants across the country must meet the performance standards using the tools and methods available and within the context of the interconnected grid. Because some states’ power plant fleet includes more coal plants, some states 2030 goals appear more stringent than others. Some states have adopted policies or seen changes in their energy markets that have already put them on a path to lower emissions in 2030.  These states’ reduction requirements are relatively smaller. Either way, every state will be achieving emissions reductions along the timeline between 2012 and 2030. States that have already seen their emissions decline thanks to either policy choices or market shifts will have to take action to make sure that those trends continue.

These two tables tell the Clean Power Plan’s story on a state by state basis, and they provide a good sense of what states and the power system will accomplish by 2030 under the program.

With our final rule, we are setting smart, uniform targets for power plants across the country, but that’s nothing new. It’s a proven approach that EPA has used to reduce air pollution under the Clean Air Act for decades. We’re following long-standing legal precedent to create smart, achievable standards and facilitate trading among plants so the cheapest reductions come first.

More information about how and why goals changed is available at http://www.epa.gov/airquality/cpp/fs-cpp-key-changes.pdf.

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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