Clean Air

Advancing Public Health Protections In Our Case Against Volkswagen

By Cynthia Giles

For years, Volkswagen’s “clean diesel” marketing campaign was geared toward environmentally-conscious consumers eager to help reduce pollution. We now know that Volkswagen duped these consumers, and that in fact its cars emit up to 40 times the legal limit of NOx pollution. But after steadfast work by colleagues across the federal government and the State of California, this distortion to the market for truly green cars in the U.S. is finally going to be remedied.

Last month, a federal judge in California approved a groundbreaking settlement that covers nearly 500,000 model year 2009-2015 2.0 liter diesel vehicles. This partial settlement holds Volkswagen accountable for its illegal actions, and puts in place remedies for the harm it caused to our air. In addition to requiring Volkswagen to offer to buy back the violating cars to stop the ongoing pollution, the settlement requires Volkswagen to mitigate the illegal emissions, and to make zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) investments that will have a lasting impact on public health and clean transportation in America.

The ZEV investment requirement delivers on the clean air promise that Volkswagen originally made but failed to deliver to its customers. Volkswagen has to invest $2 billion nationwide to accelerate growth in the ZEV market overall, under terms that ensure that all Americans benefit:

  •  VW is explicitly required to solicit and consider input from states, municipalities, tribes and other federal agencies before it makes ZEV investment decisions. VW’s investment plans will also be available on the web, and will have to include the evidence and basis for VW’s conclusion that the investments will advance use of ZEVs. This robust process of stakeholder input and public transparency will help ensure a credible and effective business investment strategy that benefits all Americans, regardless of the car they drive.
  • VW’s ZEV investments and its public outreach efforts must be brand neutral. That means that all ZEV vehicles using industry standard technology – not just the ones VW makes – have to be able to use the ZEV infrastructure. And it means that ZEV outreach cannot feature or favor VW’s vehicles. The agreement sets strict limits to make sure VW adheres to this essential requirement so that everyone interested in cleaner transportation – businesses, governments and consumers – will benefit.
  • The ZEV investment plan will be updated every 30 months, ensuring that the investments account for changes in ZEV technology and the ZEV market. The same process and opportunity for stakeholder input, and the same accountability measures, will apply every step of the way.

EPA’s role in the ZEV investment is limited but essential: EPA, working with the Justice Department, is going to ensure that VW complies with the requirements for stakeholder engagement, that the investments VW makes are truly brand neutral, and that VW complies with all the terms of the settlement. EPA does not make the investment decisions – Volkswagen makes the decisions, informed by the input it gets from stakeholders, the changing market conditions, and bound by the detailed constraints in the agreement – but we will make sure that Volkswagen plays by the rules laid out in the agreement the court approved.

This settlement can make a real difference in advancing the rapidly growing market for clean vehicles. It ensures that Volkswagen finally delivers on the promise it made for cleaner air and a cleaner transportation future.

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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Cleaner Air Means Healthier Hearts

By EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

February is Healthy Heart Month. There’s no better time than now to learn how to protect your heart.

Air pollution can affect heart health, and even trigger heart attacks and strokes. That’s important information for the one in three Americans who have heart disease, and for the people who love them.

And it’s why EPA is working with other government agencies, and with private and nonprofit health organizations, on the Million Hearts® national initiative to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. This month, and every month, we want to make sure people understand how heart disease is linked to air pollution – and what people can do to protect themselves.

Scientific studies, including research by EPA scientists, shows that there’s not just an association between air pollution and heart disease, but that this association can have life-threatening consequences.

In a recent study in Environmental Research, EPA scientists looked at data from NASA satellites and EPA ground-based air monitors, and confirmed that heart disease and heart attacks are more likely for individuals who live in places with higher air pollution.  The study found that exposure to even small additional amounts of fine particle pollution averaged over a year could increase a person’s odds of a heart attack by up to 14 percent.

So, what can you do to help keep your heart healthy?

  • You can start by making sure to eat nutritious meals and exercise (just make sure to check with your health care provider first).
  • Check the Air Quality Index every day to learn about your local air quality and how can reduce your exposure to air pollution.
  • And we can all do our part to make choices that are better for the environment and our health – like taking public transit more often and driving cleaner vehicles.

This February, and every month, remember that cleaner air means healthier hearts.

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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Walk your waterway today!

by Virginia Thompson

A view from the trail, high above the Schuylkill River

A view from the trail, high above the Schuylkill River

There’s nothing better than going for a walk in the fall to take in the cool, crisp autumn air.  We are fortunate that Southeastern Pennsylvania has an abundance of trails along the region’s waterways that make it fun and easy to explore a wide variety of scenic, historic, and cultural resources.

Along the Schuylkill River, the Cynwyd Heritage Trail demonstrates that these trails offer more than waterfront recreation: they also provide economic development, opportunities for regional coordination, and improved air quality.  The recently opened Manayunk Bridge, connecting the Cynwyd Heritage Trail – an abandoned portion of a rail line – to the Manayunk section of Philadelphia, now offers residents in both areas easier access to restaurants, parks, shops, and services, along with a breathtaking view from high above the river.  What used to be an area of manufacturing on both sides of the Schuylkill River (including the road that would become the Schuylkill Expressway) has given way to growing communities of residents, recreational opportunities, restaurants, and more. A weekly farmers’ market is now located on the Cynwyd side of the bridge, accessible to both city and suburban residents. Interpretive signs along the trail provide photos and descriptions of the history and geography of the area with information from the Lower Merion Historical Society.  The trail even incorporates green infrastructure: the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society will plant a rain garden of native flowers and shrubs in a striking palette of colors to help prevent stormwater run-off.

The trail provides easy access to all of these amenities without use of a car!  Perfect for walkers, bikers, and strollers, the trail is such a direct path between Cynwyd and Manyunk that it is now shorter and easier to walk or bike than drive between the two areas. Less traffic means cleaner air. And as we’ve blogged before, cleaner air contributes to cleaner water, too.

The Cynwyd Heritage Trail is one of many that connect to a large regional trail network that is part of the East Coast Greenway. Many of the Pennsylvania segments of this trail network snake along waterways like Darby Creek, Cobbs Creek, and the Delaware River. As more trails are built and connect to this network, more travelers can choose to walk or bike, further reducing the number of automobile trips and helping to clean our air.

I am looking forward to more walks–in all seasons–to explore the rich trail system and the waterways of the Philadelphia area.

 

About the Author:  Virginia Thompson works at EPA Region 3 to help protect the natural resources of our country.  She enjoys walking and biking whenever and wherever she can.

 

 

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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The Clean Power Plan: Protecting Public Health While Safeguarding Affordable, Reliable Electricity

Since the day EPA began working on the Clean Power Plan, we have committed to cutting the carbon pollution causing climate change, while ensuring grid reliability. Misleading claims from a few special-interest critics may try to convince folks otherwise, but we know reliability is a top issue for states, utilities, and energy regulators. And that means it’s a top issue for EPA. As always, we are committed to working with stakeholders to make sure reliability is never threatened.

Last week, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) held the first in a series of technical conferences on electricity reliability to discuss this issue. We appreciated the chance to take part.

As our Acting Assistant Administrator for Air Janet McCabe said, “Over EPA’s long history of developing Clean Air Act pollution standards for the electric power sector, including the proposed Clean Power Plan, the agency has consistently treated electric system reliability as absolutely critical. Because of this attention, at no time in the more than 40 years that EPA has been implementing the Clean Air Act has compliance with air pollution standards resulted in reliability problems.”

We’re going to continue the constructive dialogue we’ve had with states, utilities, energy regulators, and the public as we finalize our proposal this summer to cut carbon pollution from the power sector 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. We worked carefully to make our proposal flexible, offering states and electric generators a wide variety of approaches to meet their pollution reduction goals.

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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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Want Less Cancer from Environmental Causes? Let’s Get Building Codes to Reduce Radon

By Jani Palmer

As part of our Indoor Environments Division, my colleagues and I work to reduce people’s exposure to radon, the leading environmental cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.

Radon comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water – where it naturally occurs. Radon gets into the air we breathe, and it can be found all over the country. It can get into any type of building — homes, offices and schools. You are most likely to get the greatest exposure at home, where you spend most of your time.

The good news is that radon is easy to detect and fix. Some radon reduction systems can reduce radon levels in your home by up to 99%. And, part of my job at EPA is to introduce radon safety features into state and local building codes, like adding a pipe to collect radon from under the home before it has a chance to get inside. If jurisdictions and states adopt codes that require radon-reducing features to be built into new homes and buildings, far fewer Americans would be at risk of getting lung cancer. After all, building a home with radon-reducing features is much cheaper and easier than fixing elevated radon levels in a home that has already been built.

Recently, I participated in the International Code Council’s International Green Construction Code hearing. At the hearing, my task was to ask the room full of committee members to not remove radon reduction features from the code. I only had two minutes to plead my case, and I think I delivered a powerful message.

Spoiler alert: The vote on my issue was not successful. One committee member believed that radon didn’t harm people; another believed that adding radon reducing features was too expensive. Neither of these are true. This means that we need to invest more time in educating codes professionals on radon. So, while I was there, I met stakeholders that just might help us succeed in the future.

Momentum is on our side. More and more state and local jurisdictions are adopting radon building codes, and many voluntary green labeling programs require radon testing and mitigation. Builders are also including radon-resistant construction techniques in new homes.

We’ll continue to work with states, local groups and industry to spread the word about the protection that radon codes offer, and we’ll continue trying to get radon covered by the International Code Council.

About the author: Jani Palmer is a scientist in the Office of Air and Radiation at EPA. She has provided indoor air quality and industrial hygiene services for public and private alike, and is currently serving as Radon Team Leader.

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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Time and Flexibility: Keys to Ensuring Reliable, Affordable Electricity

In the EPA’s 40-year history, emissions from power plants have decreased dramatically, improving public health protection for all Americans, all over a period when the U.S. economy has grown dramatically. Throughout this entire period, there has never been an instance in which Clean Air Act standards have caused the lights to go out. During the development of power sector air emissions rules, including the proposed Clean Power Plan, EPA has devoted significant attention to ensuring that important public health and environmental protections are achieved without interfering with the country’s reliable and affordable supply of electricity.

From day one in the development of the Clean Power Plan, reaching out and engaging with the public, industry, environmental groups, other federal agencies, and state and regional energy reliability officials has been the agency’s top priority. EPA also worked with technical staff at FERC and the Department of Energy in crafting the proposal and we continue to consult with those agencies. For years we’ve heard from the utility sector that what they need from EPA is enough time, plenty of flexibility, and clear and certain emission reduction requirements in order to plan for and fulfill the country’s electricity needs. Thanks to the ideas, suggestions and information we gleaned from our public engagement, we were able to build broad flexibility into the proposed Clean Power Plan. For example, our proposal includes:

  • A 10-year compliance timeline (beginning in 2020) that allows states and authorities to plan compliance strategies that work to ensure reliability: The Clean Power Plan’s compliance period plays out over a ten-year horizon and begins five years from now; thus, system operators, states and utilities will have the time to do what they are already doing – looking ahead to spot the potential changes and contingencies that pose reliability risks and identify the actions needed to mitigate those risks.
  • A system-wide approach to emissions reductions that provides a wide range of options to meet the state targets: From plant-specific efficiency improvements, to increased dispatch of cleaner units, to the building out of renewable sources of generation, to transmission system upgrades, to modulating demand via energy efficiency programs, states and utilities can adopt emissions reductions strategies that in and of themselves help mitigate reliability risks or that allow states and utilities the latitude to accommodate the dual emissions reduction and reliability objectives.
  • An approach that maintains the full-range of tools states and planning authorities have available to them: State and regional organizations responsible for ensuring reliability, as well as utilities, enjoy a large and diverse toolbox that they have been using, and can and will continue to use, in carrying out their collective mission. The Clean Power Plan’s approach is designed to ensure that the full toolbox can continue to be used by the system’s operators.

As of the December 1 deadline for submitting comments on the proposed Clean Power Plan, EPA received more than 2 million comments, covering a wide range of issues including system reliability, and we are absolutely committed to reviewing those comments and ensuring that the final Clean Power Plan reflects and responds to them. In fact, EPA continued its outreach and engagement process after we issued the proposal in June and received significant response and information from states and stakeholders during the summer and fall, including suggestions that the agency consider certain changes to the timing of the plan’s compliance period so that the program could better succeed in affording states and utilities the intended flexibility. Thanks in part to this information, EPA issued a notice in late October presenting for public comment several ideas, including ways to ensure that states and utilities could develop their own “glide paths” for complying with their emissions reductions obligations while managing costs and further addressing reliability needs.

Over the years, we have heard critics claim that regulations to protect our health and the environment would cripple our economy, turn the lights out, or cause the sky to fall. Time after time, EPA has obeyed the law, followed the science, protected public health, and fortified a strong American economy. And over the past four decades, none of these doomsday predictions came true. In fact, just the opposite happened—we have been able to cut air pollution by nearly 70 percent, while our economy has tripled in size.

Thanks to this experience and to the rich record of public comments we are already turning to for ideas and information, we remain confident in the conclusion we reached when we proposed the Clean Power Plan in June: that the emissions reductions called for in what will be the Clean Power Plan will be able to be achieved while preserving a reliable and affordable supply of electricity for all Americans.

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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Teach Kids the Triple R’s

By Toni Castro

Being young and feeling invincible can be hazardous to your health, or even deadly. There have been other asthma stories here on the Big Blue Thread, but I wanted to share my family’s crisis because it was a very close call that really made us think about our asthma plan. Hopefully, our story will help you or a loved one take heed and review your asthma plan, too. Remember the basics: review your asthma plan, refresh your medicines if needed, and remind yourself how serious asthma is.

Our daughter Shanice was diagnosed with asthma 18 years ago at the age of 3 and we’ve managed it pretty well without many incidents. Managing it consists of medication and close monitoring by an asthma/allergy specialist.

Asthma awareness!

Shanice lives with asthma everyday.

One evening last fall, we got a phone call from Shanice, who was away from home for the first time at college. She began by explaining that she had been hospitalized and was waiting for a ride back to her dorm room. My husband and I knew she’d been struggling with asthma symptoms brought on by a cold, so we were communicating with her regularly to check on her condition. Apparently, she had an asthma attack and still wasn’t feeling 100 percent but was ready to leave the emergency room. This was not her first attack but it was the first one away from home, so it was especially frightening to us because we felt helplessly far away.

Shanice’s breathing became increasingly harder as the day progressed and by evening, she was weak and lethargic. The medicine she typically uses when in the asthma danger zone was not effective. She was fortunate enough to have a good friend and dorm mate who insisted she go to the campus clinic. After seeing her blue lips, which indicated dangerously low oxygen levels, the clinic staff recommended that she be immediately transported to the hospital emergency room. At the hospital, Shanice was given oxygen, an IV (intravenous injection) for medicine, and a breathing treatment. After a few hours, she was finally stable enough to go back to her dorm.

Now that Shanice is on her own, we are hoping that she will remember to keep these critical things in mind, in addition to the Triple R’s:

  • Be aware of your triggers, environmental or otherwise.
  • Always take your medicines as directed, if prescribed.
  • Have emergency phone numbers readily available.

Statistics (American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology) show that in 2008, 48 percent of adults who were taught how to avoid triggers did not follow most of that advice. For young adults and parents of young adults with asthma, managing asthma is nothing new, but managing it without the guidance and monitoring by a parent or guardian may be. As your children become young adults, make the Triple R’s – review, refresh and remind – a mantra as part of their asthma plan. The mantra may someday save their life.

Learn more by visiting EPA’s Asthma Triggers website.

Toni Castro works in the Office of Public Affairs as a Visual Information Specialist. She has worked in Region 7 for just under 27 years and the last 8 in the Office of Public Affairs. She is married and has 3 daughters, 1 grandson and a 2 year old Yorkie. While an active family keeps her busy, she does enjoy reading, traveling, cooking and music.

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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From Cutting Edge to Commonplace

By Cynthia Giles

I’ve dedicated my career to working with state, local and tribal partners to enforce environmental laws to protect American communities from pollution. Looking back, we’ve come a long way in how we measure for pollution and take action to curb it. Years ago, accounting for air pollution from refineries, for instance, was unreliable and burdensome. It relied in large part on estimates, often done by the refineries themselves, which often undercounted actual emissions and the risks posed to neighbors. In those days, fully understanding refinery emissions would have required taking air samples one-by-one across many potential sources.

Over the past decade, new technologies and innovative solutions have significantly improved our enforcement and compliance efforts. Through EPA’s Next Generation Compliance strategy, we’re building these tools into settlements with companies, pushing their development and implementation in communities across America.

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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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Our Clean Power Plan Will Spur Innovation and Strengthen the Economy

It’s an important day.  Today, at the direction of President Obama and after an unprecedented outreach effort, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is releasing the Clean Power Plan proposal, which for the first time cuts carbon pollution from existing power plants, the single largest source of carbon pollution in the United States. Today’s proposal will protect public health, move the United States toward a cleaner environment and fight climate change while supplying Americans with reliable and affordable power.

By leveraging cleaner energy sources and cutting energy waste, this plan will clean the air we breathe while helping slow climate change so we can leave a safe and healthy future for our kids. And we don’t have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment–our action will sharpen America’s competitive edge, spur innovation, and create jobs. More

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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Science & EPA: From Cutting Edge to Commonplace

Yesterday, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy gave a speech at the National Academy of Sciences to talk about the role that science plays in EPA’s work. She shared some of her thoughts on EPA Connect, the official blog of EPA’s leadership. We have reposted that blog below. 

By Gina McCarthy

Official photo of EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy: “When we follow the science—we all win.”

Today I had the honor of giving a speech at the National Academy of Sciences to talk about the role that science plays in the work we do at EPA.

Science has been the backbone of the most significant advancements EPA has made in the past four decades and continues to be the engine that drives American prosperity and innovation for the future.

Through science, we uncovered secondhand smoke’s deadly link to lung disease. We set air quality standards to protect our children, our elderly, and our infirmed. Through science we learned that toxic fumes from leaded gasoline harm our kids’ brain development.

With science as our North Star, EPA has steered America away from health risk, and toward a higher quality of life. That’s why it’s worrisome that our science is under assault by a very small—but very vocal—group of critics.

Those critics are playing a dangerous game by discrediting the sound science our families and our businesses depend on everyday—And that’s what doesn’t make sense. I bet when those same critics get sick, they run to doctors and hospitals that rely on science. I bet they check out air quality forecasts from EPA and the National Weather Service—to see if their kids should be playing outside. I bet they buy dishwashers with Energy Star labels, take FDA approved medicine, and eat USDA approved meats.

To those calling EPA untrustworthy and unpopular—I’d like to remind them that without EPA, they wouldn’t have safe drinking water or healthy air. And we have these things because we follow the science—like the law demands.

In addition to ensuring public health, businesses are able to keep their competitive edge on the global stage because science fosters innovation. From smoke-stack scrubbers to catalytic converters—America inspires and innovates the world’s leading pollution control technologies—accounting for more than one and a half million jobs and $44 billion dollars in exports in 2008 alone. That’s more than other big U.S. sectors like plastics and rubber products. I want to encourage us to continue putting our faith in American ingenuity and innovation. The great thing is—our environmental laws recognize the need to cultivate that innovation.

When we follow the science—we all win. We all move forward. We have to keep trusting the leading role of science in America’s continuing story of progress.

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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