Air

Sharing Best Sustainability Practices with Communities

One of the most rewarding parts of my job here at EPA is the work we do with climate and energy program staff from communities and tribes across the country. These sustainability professionals are tireless organizers, skilled problem solvers, and endlessly enthusiastic about helping residents and businesses reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy use, improve air quality and public health, create jobs, and save money. Despite common challenges they face I am always impressed by how much local sustainability professionals are able to accomplish with so little. By taking action on climate in their own back yards, they are building stronger and healthier communities – and looking out for all of our futures.

Part of our job here is to help local government employees achieve success. Our Local Climate and Energy Program conducts continued outreach by hosting webcasts, sending out newsletters about resources and funding opportunities, and producing resources and tools of our own.
Our latest round of resources are written by communities, for communities. Each resource was driven by community needs, inspired by actual implementation experiences, and informed by staff who have developed successful climate and energy programs. They provide practical steps for communities to follow when building or growing a climate and energy program. These new resources are the result of strong relationships we have built with communities and tribes across the country who have invested in achieving climate and energy results in their own backyards.

Local Climate Action Framework

This online guide provides step-by-step guidance and resources for local governments to plan, implement, and evaluate climate, energy, and sustainability projects and programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change impacts. It captures lessons learned and effective strategies used by local governments, breaks down program implementation into concrete steps, and curates resources to help local governments find the information they need. The framework was developed with extensive input from local government stakeholders, including our Climate Showcase Communities.

Effective Practices for Implementing Local Climate and Energy Programs Tip Sheets

This series of nineteen tip sheets was developed based on the experience and feedback of our Climate Showcase Communities. Each tip sheet focuses on a different aspect of program operation and highlights best practices and helpful resources discovered or used by these communities. Topics include marketing and communications (effective messaging, traditional media strategies, community-based social marketing, and testimonial videos) and working with specific types of stakeholders (institutional partners, contractors, experts, utilities, early adopters, volunteers).

Local Climate and Energy Program Model Design Guide

This guide was developed for local climate and clean energy (i.e., energy efficiency, renewable energy, and combined heat and power) program implementers to help create or transition to program designs that are viable over the long term. The guide draws on the experience and examples of our Climate Showcase Communities as they developed innovative models for programs that could be financially viable over the long term and replicated in other communities.

Although climate change is a global issue, many critical actions to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and to promote resilience can be initiated locally. Cities and towns across the U.S. are taking real action against climate change by talking to other communities and sharing practical step-by-step advice on planning and implementing local climate and energy programs,. I am thankful for the valuable input EPA received from local and tribal government stakeholders as we developed these resources and welcome feedback about the new materials.

About the author:

Andrea Denny is the Local Climate and Energy Program Lead in the State and Local Branch of EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. The branch focuses on supporting state and local governments that are developing policies and programs to address climate change.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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EPA: Launching a New Era of State, Tribal, Local and International Partnerships

Our work with state, tribal, local and international partners forms an “environmental enterprise” that is critical to advancing environmental and human health protection across the country and the globe.  As captured in our FY14-FY18 Strategic Plan, our New Era of State, Tribal, Local and International Partnerships is a vital pillar among our Cross-Agency Strategies. I thank everyone at EPA for working in collaboration with our partners – governors, tribal leaders, environmental and agricultural commissioners, city and county leaders, and so many others. This spring, I asked EPA employees to share their best practices, innovative solutions and successes in building partnerships. There are so many successes I learned about, ranging from the routine to multi-faceted and complicated matters.  Here are a handful of successes that I’d like to highlight.

State, Local and Other Partners Protecting School Indoor Air Quality group#– Nearly 56 million people spend their days inside elementary and secondary schools in the US. Since the mid-1990s, EPA’s Indoor Environments Division (IED) has supported states, schools and school districts in their work to improve indoor air quality in schools and protect the health of their students and staff.

In 2012, the IED schools team launched the School Health and Indoor Environments Leadership Development (SHIELD) Network, a dynamic collaboration of more than 80 leaders from school districts, state and local governments and other partners committed to improving IAQ in schools. SHIELD events have resulted in thousands of school district decision makers trained to make their school indoor environments healthier, cleaner and safer places.

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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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Celebrating Asthma Awareness Month and Environmental Education: EPA Region 7’s Partnership with Children’s Mercy Hospital

Introduction by Kathleen Fenton

There’s just something special about working with people who are very passionate about what they do. I feel that way every time my work brings me into contact with the top-notch medical professionals at Children’s Mercy Hospital (CMH) in Kansas City. Their vision is “Be a national and international leader recognized for advancing pediatric health and delivering optimal health outcomes through innovation and a high-value, integrated system of care.” It’s a big vision that CMH delivers on a daily basis.

It’s a good thing they are here because our children need them. Nearly seven million children in the U.S. have asthma, according to the American Lung Association. CMH works tirelessly with families and children who are suffering from a myriad of medical issues, including those caused by the environment, like asthma, pesticide and lead poisoning, and exposures to chemicals. They identify problems and find solutions to help sick children, worried parents, schools with environmental concerns, and communities at risk. CHM strives to find the right solutions for frequently unique challenges.

May is Asthma Awareness Month. Children’s Mercy Hospital and EPA are partners in a collective effort to help reduce asthma attacks and deaths and instruct others on how to prevent asthma attacks for the long term. Read on to understand how Dr. Jennifer Lowry and her team of professionals work closely together, as one of EPA’s many partners and grantees, to address environmental health concerns and protect human health.

By Jennifer Lowry, MD

Jennifer Lowry, MDThe Center for Environmental Health (CEH) at Children’s Mercy houses multiple entities focused on improving the environmental health in the Heartland and across the country. Specifically, the Mid-America Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU) serves Region 7 (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska) by providing education, consultation, and referrals for children with environmental exposures. Additionally, the CEH, led by Director Kevin Kennedy, has been successful in delivering Healthy Homes and Healthy Schools training throughout the region andPEHSU nationally. Through two current grant initiatives, EPA Region 7 has partnered with Children’s Mercy to expand these activities into education of health care professionals (Environmental Education to Healthcare Initiative – EEHI) and offer additional healthy school training courses in all areas of Region 7.

By incorporating Healthy Homes training with the PEHSU program, the EEHI can be replicable to each of EPA’s 10 Regions and standardized across the U.S., using the PEHSU network.

The EEHI has broadened the knowledge base of students in health care and will better prepare them for their future careers. In addition, it has offered resources for students, residents, and practicing health care providers (physicians, nurses, and ancillary staff) to use when an environmental concern for a patient arises in their practice. These didactics include a 1-hour “Lunch and Learn” targeted to working health care professionals and a 2-hour presentation for health care students (such as nursing and medical students). Each of the didactics uses case study presentations from the PEHSU and offers tools for each provider to use when health care decisions (diagnosis and treatment) need to be made regarding environmental exposures. By using case-based learning, each student and practitioner can acquire useable knowledge about environmental exposures that sometimes lead to adverse health outcomes.

Now in its second year of funding, more than 700 health care students and 275 health care professionals have been educated to advocate for home-based environmental changes that can improve children’s health. In addition to continuing didactic learning in schools and offices, an e-learning platform is being developed to enhance the scope of delivery. By delivering an integrated PEHSU and Healthy Homes/Healthy Schools curriculum regionally (and ultimately, nationally), the EEHI curriculum can become a standard framework to educate health care students and practitioners about environmental health.

This increased knowledge will advance and strengthen the field of pediatrics and lead to better health for children in our homes, schools, and communities.

In addition to homes, children spend a large portion of their time in schools. In fact, surveys show that children can spend 70-90 percent of their time indoors with much of their time within schools. As school environments play an important role in the health and academic success of children, unhealthy school environments can affect children’s health, attendance, concentration, and performance, as well as lead to expensive, time-consuming cleanup and remediation activities.

To that end, staff at Children’s Mercy Hospital will work in conjunction with EPA staff to publicize and present up to 10 Healthy School Specialist Training courses throughout our four-state region and provide at least two training courses near Region 7 tribal communities. The courses are planned to be offered during the next two fiscal years.

Topics of discussion at these interactive, hands-on sessions will include: ventilation, chemical use in schools, integrated pest management, school safety issues, and best practice guidelines on how to plan, implement, and create a Healthy Schools management plan – one that includes the goal of building a teamwork structure at each school site.

For additional information about the Mid-America Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU), please call 1-800-421-9916 (toll-free) or visit www.childrensmercy.org/mapehsu.

For additional information about all of the CMH Environmental Health Training Courses, please contact Erica Forrest, education and training coordinator, at 816-960-8919 or visit www.childrensmercy.org/ceh.

To learn more, see EPA’s Environmental Education page and information on how to ensure a Healthy School through our online Healthy Schools Toolkit. Also, if you are interested in having your school assessed or an EPA expert providing a Healthy Schools presentation, please contact Kathleen Fenton at 913-551-7874 or fenton.kathleen@epa.gov.

 

Kathleen Fenton serves as the Environmental Education Program Coordinator in EPA Region 7’s Office of Public Affairs in Lenexa, Kan. She has worked with communities on environmental health issues, environmental education grants, and Healthy Schools projects for over 20 years.

Jennifer Lowry, MD, is the Medical Director of the Mid-America Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, among several other prestigious titles. She served on EPA’s Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee from 2012 to 2014.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Community-Based Programs are Key to Addressing Asthma Triggers

Did you know that May is Asthma Awareness Month? If you or a family member are among the nearly 23 million Americans who are affected by this chronic respiratory disease, you probably already knew. Each year, in May, we increase our public awareness efforts, further strengthen our partnerships with community–based asthma organizations, and recognize exceptional asthma programs.

The chart below shows the prevalence of asthma, its cost to us as a society and what is called the “asthma disparity.” As you can see, poor and minority children suffer a greater burden from asthma and we need to work together to ensure everyone has access to the care they need to get their asthma under control.

What’s the best way to address the asthma disparity? The medical and public health communities have found that the key is a comprehensive, community-based approach that incorporates medical treatment and the management of environmental triggers like secondhand smoke, mold, dust mites and pet dander. This approach can lead to fewer asthma episodes and better quality of life for children and families struggling with asthma.

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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 Does Air Quality Mean for Your Exercise Routine?

By Alison Davis

We read or hear about it every day: exercise plays a critical role in keeping us healthy. So, what do you do when you want to exercise outside, but the air quality forecast is Code Orange – or higher? Does that mean you shouldn’t exert yourself outdoors?

Unless you’re looking for a reason to head for the couch, there’s good news. On most days, you can exercise outside – even if air quality isn’t the best. By using the Air Quality Index (AQI) to make simple changes to your workout plan, you can still get physical activity outdoors, while reducing the amount of pollution you take into your lungs.

If checking the AQI isn’t part of your daily routine, this is the perfect time to start. Air Quality Awareness Week is April 27 through May 1.

Join us at 1 p.m. EDT Thursday, April 30 for a Twitter chat about air quality and physical activity. EPA’s experts will be joined by experts from CDC, the National Weather Service and the National Park Service to answer your questions about how using the AQI can help you get the exercise you need to stay healthy when air quality is poor. Join the conversation: follow the #AirQualityChat hashtag @EPAlive, @CDCenvironment, @NWS, and @NPSair. If you don’t have a Twitter account, you can post your questions in the comments below and follow the #AirQualityChat hashtag during the chat. We look forward to talking with you!

About the author: Alison Davis is a Sr. Advisor for Public Affairs in EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning & Standards.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Safeguarding Public Health by Addressing Climate Change

In his State of the Union Address this year, President Obama said, “no challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.” The science is clear and getting clearer: climate change threatens our health, our economy, our environment and our way of life in dangerous and costly ways – from superstorms and heat waves to devastating droughts, floods and wildfires. At EPA, our mission is to safeguard public health and the environment and addressing climate change is major priority.

The more we learn about climate change’s impacts on our health, the more urgent the need for action becomes. We know that impacts related to climate change are already evident and are expected to become increasingly disruptive across the nation throughout this century and beyond. That’s why, under the President’s Climate Action Plan, we are taking action now to reduce greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and hydrofluorocarbons. These pollutants trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere, fuel climate change and lead to health-threatening consequences for the United States and the rest of the world.

Climate change is expected to worsen air quality, including exposure to ground-level ozone, which can aggravate asthma and other lung diseases and lead to premature death. The number of extremely hot days is already increasing, and severe heat waves are projected to intensify, increasing heat-related mortality and sickness. Changes in temperature, precipitation patterns, and extreme events can enhance the spread of diseases carried by insects, animals, food and water. Climate change also contributes to longer and more severe pollen seasons, increasing the suffering of people with allergies. Climate change is expected to lead to more intense extreme weather events, which can result in direct health effects, while also affecting human health and welfare long after an event, through the spread of water-borne pathogens, exposure to mold, increased mental health and stress disorders, and weakened health and response systems.

And our most vulnerable populations – like children, minorities, communities already overburdened with pollution or poverty, and older Americans – are at greater risk from these impacts.

The good news is that we have a long history of working with states, tribes and industry to protect public health by reducing air pollution. Together, by implementing the federal Clean Air Act, we have reduced air pollution from motor vehicles and smokestacks by nearly 70 percent since 1970. Fewer emissions means less exposure to harmful pollutants such as lead, smog, or soot that directly threaten people’s health. And we’re using similar approaches to reduce the pollution affecting our climate.

We are moving forward with common-sense, cost-effective solutions that will improve Americans’ health and environment. Standards for cars, trucks and heavy duty highway vehicles will eliminate six billion metric tons of greenhouse gases, while saving consumers $1.7 trillion at the pump by 2025.

The proposed Clean Power Plan will cut hundreds of millions of tons of carbon pollution and hundreds of thousands of tons of harmful particle pollution, sulfur and nitrogen oxides now emitted by fossil-fuel fired power plants.

Together these important programs will help our economy grow and our communities thrive while protecting the health of American families now and in the years to come. Learn more about the impacts of climate change and things you can do to shrink your carbon footprint.

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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Acid rain, toxic leaded gas, and widespread air pollution? Not anymore. Thanks to EPA.

Acid rain. Dangerous DDT. Toxic leaded gas fumes. Rampant air pollution. These environmental challenges once seemed impossible to meet, and they put our nation’s air, water, and land at risk—not to mention our families’ health. The dangers they posed were real, but you probably haven’t heard about them in a while. There’s a good reason for that.

We put smart policies in place to fix them.

So this Earth Day, here’s a reminder of a few of the environmental challenges our nation has conquered with EPA leading the way, and where we’re headed next.

Acid Rain

Caused by air pollution mixing with water vapor in the atmosphere, acid rain was once poisoning our rivers and lakes, killing fish, forests, and wildlife, and even eroding our buildings.

The 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act gave EPA the authority to regulate sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, the pollutants causing acid rain, from power plants. The EPA developed the first market-based cap-and-trade pollution reduction program, and guess what—it worked.

Despite the doomsday warnings from some in the power industry that the regulations would cause electricity prices to spike and lead to blackouts, over the last 25 years, acid rain levels are down 60%—while electricity prices have stayed stable, and the lights have stayed on. Thanks to hard work by EPA, states, and industry, our nation has put policies in place to solve the problem over the long haul.

Leaded Gasoline

For decades, leaded gasoline threatened the air our kids breathed. Lead from polluted air was absorbed into their bloodstreams, endangering their brain development and risking consequences like permanent nerve damage, anemia, and mental retardation. So EPA phased out leaded gas. Back in the late 1970s, 88 percent of American children had elevated levels of lead in their blood. By the mid-2000s, that number had dropped to less than 1 percent.

DDT

The bald eagle once faced extinction. The culprit was DDT, a powerful pesticide that made birds’ eggshells too weak for the chicks to survive, and also caused liver cancer and reproductive problems in humans. EPA banned the use of DDT in 1972, and since then, bald eagles have made a huge comeback—they were removed from the Endangered Species List in 2007—and our families are safer from harmful chemicals.

Air Pollution

A newspaper headline once called the smog shrouding Los Angeles “a dirty gray blanket flung across the city.” L.A. and many other cities like this one were choked by severe air pollution—leading to asthma, respiratory illness, and certain cancers. But over the last 45 years, we’ve cut air pollution 70 percent, while our nation’s economy has tripled. It goes to show that a strong economy and a safe environment go hand in hand.

Breathing Easier

Every day, EPA works toward cleaner air. One recent study found that thanks to the strides we’ve made in cutting air pollution in just the last 2 decades, children’s lungs in Southern California are 10% bigger and stronger today than they were in children 20 years ago.

Last fall, we built on that success by proposing stricter standards for ozone pollution to protect those most vulnerable—children, the elderly, and those already suffering from respiratory illnesses like asthma. For our kids, that means avoiding up to a million missed school days, thousands of cases of acute bronchitis, and nearly a million asthma attacks. Adults could avoid hundreds of emergency room visits for cardiovascular reasons, up to 180,000 missed work days, and 4 million days where people have to deal with pollution-related symptoms. Every dollar we invest in these standards would return $3 in health benefits.

Looking Ahead

And now, EPA is taking action on another major environmental challenge—climate change. The carbon pollution driving it comes packaged with other dangerous pollutants like smog and soot that can cause asthma and certain cancers, especially for those living in the shadow of polluting industries.

When we finalize our Clean Power Plan this summer, we’ll not only cut carbon pollution from power plants, our nation’s largest source, but we’ll also reduce those other dangerous pollutants and protect our families’ health. When we act, we also help safeguard communities from the impacts of climate change—like more severe droughts, storms, fires, and floods.

Time after time, when science has pointed to health risks, EPA has obeyed the law, followed the science, protected public health, and fortified a strong American economy. We’re doing the same thing today. Our track record proves that when EPA leads the way, there’s no environmental challenge our nation can’t meet.

 

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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Communities are Leading the Way on Renewable Energy

By switching to green power, cities and towns across the country are taking a leading role in taking action against climate change. Green power is electricity that comes from a subset of clean, renewable resources like solar or wind power. Many communities have discovered these clean sources of energy are important tools in cutting their carbon footprint, supporting a growing domestic clean energy economy, and better protecting our air and public health.

Today, fossil-fueled power plants are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to a third of the U.S. total emissions. Most electricity generated today comes from fossil fuels but a small and growing percentage is generated using renewable sources. Since President Obama took office, wind energy has tripled and solar has grown ten-fold. In 2015, a full 60% of the new energy that gets added to our electrical grid will come from wind and solar. The costs have come down, too.

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Our Green Power Partnership tracks trends in voluntary green power usage. Not only have we seen steady growth in local government partners (135 and counting!), but more and more often we’re seeing that local governments, businesses, and residents are voluntarily joining together to use green power at levels that earn the distinction of an EPA Green Power Community.

EPA Green Power Communities both large and small are proving they can have a big impact by using green power. For instance in Evanston, Illinois, the residents and businesses and the local government collectively use more than 228 million kilowatt-hours of green power annually, making up more than 30 percent of Evanston’s total electricity usage. The local government runs on 100 percent green power and generates power from the Evanston Water Treatment Facility’s rooftop solar energy system. Washington, D.C., is the largest EPA Green Power Community in terms of total green power usage, with more than one billion kilowatt-hours of green power being used by District residents, businesses, institutions and government entities. Collectively, green power now supplies more than 12 percent of total electricity use in the District.

Green Power Communities are using green power to support their economic and climate goals. Oak Ridge, Tennessee, set an ambitious goal of reducing the community’s greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2030 from 2004 baseline levels. The city launched a community challenge to encourage greater participation in their local renewable energy program, resulting in community-wide green power use of 5.5 percent, and a participation rate nearly three times the rate at the start of the challenge. The City of Beaverton, Oregon, purchases enough wind energy to power all of its facilities and operations and also invests in on-site generation, with a solar array on its main library building. The Beaverton City Council recently approved the construction of a 433 kW solar photovoltaic array, which is expected to provide approximately 55 percent of the facility’s annual power needs.

Our proposed Clean Power Plan seeks to build on this trend. Our proposal identifies tailor-made carbon pollution reduction goals for each state, but it’s up to states to choose their own low-carbon path to get there. One clear choice is to use low or zero emission sources like wind and solar. And thanks to the many cities and towns that have already blazed the trail and are currently building and using more renewable energy, we know this shift can be made.

So when you see that windmill farm or big solar array, you can feel good knowing that some of the energy used in your community is coming from homegrown, clean, sources that help protect our climate for generations to come.

And, I’m happy to report that we run on 100 percent green power!

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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Climate Action Is Driving Innovation, and Our Economy

Forty-four years ago this month, EPA announced its first set of national air quality standards under the Clean Air Act. That’s 44 years of people breathing easier, staying healthier and for many, knowing they can walk outside and see the beauty of the mountains and blue skies that surround them.

There’s another big benefit of these standards and other actions we’ve taken under the Clean Air Act that we don’t talk about enough: They help grow our economy.

For every dollar we spend on clean air, our economy and our health reap huge benefits. Since the Clean Air Act passed, we’ve cut air pollution by 70 percent, and at the same time our economy has tripled in size. Cleaning up our air has contributed to that growth.

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA proposed a Clean Power Plan last summer, to cut the harmful carbon pollution fueling climate change from our largest source—our power plants. The Clean Power Plan will encourage investment in cleaner energy technologies and sources. It will boost our economy by helping us move towards a modern energy system that creates good jobs and new opportunities, and unleashes American innovation that will help us continue to lead globally.

The opportunity to act on climate is already shifting the way Americans do business. More than 1,000 of the world’s largest multinational companies call climate change “one of America’s greatest economic opportunities of this century,” and major banks like Citi Group are investing hundreds of billions in climate and clean energy financing.

Clean energy is growing like never before. Since President Obama took office, wind energy has tripled and solar has grown ten-fold. In 2015, a full 60% of the new energy that gets added to our electrical grid will come from wind and solar.

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That growth expands industries and creates an abundance of opportunities, not only for entrepreneurs, but for people who are seeking good jobs that help them make a difference in their communities. About 2.7 million people now make a living from the clean energy economy, and that number is constantly growing. These people are developing clean energy projects, crafting more energy-efficient appliances, constructing green buildings and retrofitting existing buildings, and more – saving consumers money and driving down the carbon pollution that is fueling climate change.

The Clean Power Plan sends a clear signal to the market, so our nation’s business leaders and innovators can think ahead to the technologies and investments of the future, rather than stay stuck on those of the past. A modern economy needs a modern energy system. The Clean Power Plan is key to seizing our clean energy future, while protecting our health, our environment, and our way of life from the risks of climate change.

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

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New Tools and Approaches Are Reshaping Environmental Compliance

I recently joined EPA staff and leaders from across academia, industry and non-profit sectors for a conference dedicated to the latest Next Generation Compliance strategies and solutions, hosted by George Washington University Law School. With topics ranging from how to use new technologies to improve compliance, to citizen monitoring and state-federal collaboration (just to name a few), one thing was clear – there is strong momentum and lots of progress in Next Gen today that’s shaping the future of environmental enforcement and compliance.

The conference inspired me to take a moment to reflect on all of this progress. Here are a few examples of what we’ve already accomplished:

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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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