clean water act

Cleaner Air Means Cleaner Water

by Tom Damm

photo credited to Eric Vance, EPA

Photo credit: Eric Vance, EPA

So, what does cleaner air as far away as Indiana have to do with cleaner water in the Chesapeake Bay? Plenty.

A sizable portion of the overload in nitrogen in the Bay and its surrounding waters comes from tailpipes and smokestacks in a vast area that extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the mid-West and from North Carolina to a lower slice of Canada – and even beyond.

The nitrogen pollution is carried by winds and falls directly or washes into the Bay’s waters, contributing to algal blooms that rob oxygen in water needed by fish and other aquatic life to survive.

The good news is that actions by EPA and its state partners under the Clean Air Act have led to big reductions in those airborne nitrogen oxides, or NOx.

In putting together an EPA fact sheet on the topic, we found that two side-by-side graphics were most telling.

One shows the degree of nitrogen air pollution affecting the Chesapeake Bay watershed in 1986. The other shows the state of the air in 2013. It’s as if someone lifted a dark overlay.

That’s a big deal because scientists estimate that as much as a third of the nitrogen polluting the Bay comes from the air.

The fact sheet lists some of the Clean Air Act rules that have led to the sharp declines in NOx pollution. It also highlights figures that show EPA is on track to meet air pollution reduction goals in the Chesapeake Bay “pollution diet.”

And it’s not only the Chesapeake that benefits from the decrease in NOx pollution. Coastal waters from Long Island Sound to estuaries all along the Gulf Coast benefit from reduced nitrogen loads from the air.

You can do your part, too, to help brighten the picture. When possible, walk, bike or take public transportation to reduce vehicle emissions that pollute the air – and water.

 

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.

 

 

 

 

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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Delivering on the Promise of the Clean Water Act

On January 9th of this year, concerned citizens noticed a chemical odor floating down the Elk River Valley toward Charleston, West Virginia. State inspectors traced the odor to a Freedom Industries facility, where they found a storage tank leaking the chemical MCHM, used in coal processing.

Before the day ended, drinking water supplies for more than 300,000 people were contaminated. Schools closed. Hospitals evacuated patients. And the local economy ground to a halt.

West Virginia led the response to contain the spill within days. EPA provided technical assistance to help clear the water system, helped determine a water quality level that would be protective of public health, conducted air monitoring—and sent a Special Agent from our Criminal Investigation Division to the site. The Special Agent, in coordination with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Charleston and the FBI, conducted more than 100 interviews and launched a joint investigation into the cause of the disaster.

We found a pattern of negligence by the storage tank owners, who were obligated to inspect the tank, fix corrosion, and take action to contain potential spills. Their negligence resulted in one of the nation’s worst environmental disasters in recent memory.

Today, U.S. Attorney Goodwin, along with EPA and FBI officials, announced that four former officers of Freedom Industries have been indicted on Clean Water Act negligent misdemeanor charges, as well as for violating the Refuse Act. Freedom Industries, along with two other individuals, were separately charged with Clean Water Act crimes. The four indicted defendants face multiple years in prison if they are convicted, and the two other individuals each face up to one year.

When Congress enacted the Clean Water Act, it gave states primary authority to implement the laws and protect the environment, including safeguarding drinking water supplies for American communities. EPA works with states to deliver these benefits, including through criminal investigative work that holds serious violators accountable. Our efforts send a clear message to would-be violators that we’re serious about enforcing our laws fairly, leveling the field for companies that play by the rules and follow the law.

The spill occurred in the 40th anniversary year of the Safe Drinking Water Act, which protects drinking water sources and requires that water from our taps be clean. The law has been such a success, and we so often take safe drinking water for granted, that it’s easy to become complacent. But Freedom Industries’ illegal, negligent actions serve as a reminder that we need to vigilantly enforce our laws to protect safe water.

Just last week, the Source Water Collaborative, a group of 25 national organizations united to protect America’s sources of drinking water, launched a call to action—asking utilities, states, federal agencies, and local governments to do more to protect source water, and prevent disasters like the one in Charleston before they happen. EPA provides states with technical and scientific expertise, as we did in the aftermath of the chemical spill in Charleston. We’re also developing tools and resources for prevention, preparedness and response to spills or releases, and sharing them with states so they can meet their legal responsibilities.

Clean, reliable water is precious. It’s what lets our children grow up healthy, keeps our schools and hospitals running, and fuels our economy. Our efforts can’t undo the damage done to public health, the local economy, and the environment in Charleston. But by working together, we can help prevent spills like this one in the future, and protect our children’s health for years 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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Your Input Helps Protect Clean Water

Clean water is essential to our health, our economy, and our way of life. And the Clean Water Act of 1972 is both an environmental success story and one of America’s greatest economic triumphs. Back in the 1970s, 2 out of 3 of our nation’s waterways were polluted. Today, 2 out of 3 are healthy. Cleaning up pollution boosts our economy—by creating jobs, lowering health care costs, and clearing the way for commerce.

That’s why we have to make sure the Clean Water Act works the way it’s supposed to. But right now, 60 percent of our nation’s streams and wetlands lack clear protection and 1 in 3 Americans get their drinking water from sources at risk. So earlier this year, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers proposed a rule to safeguard the clean water we all depend on.

Today marks the end of an extensive public comment period on our proposed rule—more than 200 days long—during which we held more than 400 meetings with stakeholders and received over a million comments on our proposal.

EPA and the Army Corps appreciate everyone’s input on the rule, and we want you to know we’re listening. We heard a variety of views.

Many brewers and business owners stressed the economic importance of clean water to their operations. Hunters and anglers reinforced that clean water is essential to recreation and tourism. Faith groups shared that clean water is central to protecting our most vulnerable citizens.

Others expressed reservations about our proposal. Some in the agriculture community raised concerns that our proposal will regulate water on their property, making it harder for them to do business. That’s not at all our intent, and we’ve been working with them to address their concerns in the final version.

We appreciate everyone who engaged with EPA. Whether they supported the proposal or wanted changes, their voices were heard and their input will help shape the final rule. That’s how this process works. By offering a draft rule and taking public comments into account, EPA and the Army Corps are considering all viewpoints and will come up with a final version that’s strong and workable. Everyone’s perspectives matter to us.

Over the coming weeks, EPA and the Army Corps will work through the comments we’ve received and decide how best to incorporate them into a final rule. We appreciate your input, and we encourage you to stay tuned.

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

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A Commitment to Keep Our Waters Clean and Safe

When Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, it gave EPA the responsibility to protect public health and the environment from pollution stemming from farms and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). We take this charge seriously and have dedicated one of EPA’s six National Enforcement Initiatives to preventing animal waste from CAFOs from contaminating water. If not managed properly, animal waste can impair drinking water sources, transmit disease-causing bacteria and parasites, and pollute the rivers and lakes on which we all depend.

In 2011, an EPA review of a poultry CAFO owned by Lois Alt in West Virginia determined that when it rained, manure and other pollutants were discharging into a nearby creek that flowed into the Potomac River. The discharge required a permit under the Clean Water Act which would have defined safeguards to minimize pollution.

EPA issued an administrative order to address this pollution. The Alt CAFO then clarified existing management practices and adopted new ones in its operations to reduce runoff of manure, and then challenged the order in court. After EPA’s follow-up inspection and correspondence with Ms. Alt confirmed that the changes would reduce pollution, EPA withdrew the order and requested the court to dismiss the case because the dispute was over. It was time to move on and focus on more pressing issues of environmental and public health protection.

The district court nonetheless heard the case. After more than a year of legal proceedings, the district court issued a decision that offers an overly broad view of the Clean Water Act’s exemption for agricultural stormwater.

Although EPA thinks that the district court decision is wrong, we also think that it is time to stop spending resources on litigation about this CAFO. EPA is not going to appeal this decision; our resources are better spent remedying more serious, ongoing pollution across the country.

The briefs we filed in this case – and many others – state that Congress established CAFOs as point sources, and that when CAFOs discharge pollutants from the production area into waters of the United States, as the Alt operation did, the law requires permit authorization.

EPA stands by this position.

Pollution from CAFOs flowing into local waterways when it rains is an environmental and public health risk. The law gives EPA the authority to require that agriculture operations with large numbers of animals in a small area that discharge pollutants to U.S. waters obtain a permit, to reduce their environmental impact. EPA remains committed to working with the agricultural community to ensure compliance with this legal requirement and to pursue enforcement when necessary. One district court decision does not change either the law across the country or EPA’s commitment to protecting water quality.

A smart and strategic enforcement program requires us to make choices about where to spend our time for the biggest benefit to the public. We stand firm on this commitment to protect public health and the environment.

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

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Road Tripping Through Watersheds

Road trips are a great way to take in scenery like this.

Road trips are a great way to take in scenery like this.

by Bonnie Turner-Lomax

All across the country Americans enjoy taking to the road to popular vacation spots; visiting family or friends; or on day-trips to favorite destinations. My husband and I recently completed what has been an annual ritual for the last four years…driving my daughter from our home in New Jersey to college, just outside Pittsburgh.

The roughly five hour road trip (each way) covers almost the entire east-west length of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, taking us from one end of the state to the other. The more than 300-mile journey is an experience of spectacular and varied scenery from the densely populated and urbanized Philadelphia suburbs to the rolling hills, mountains and valleys of the western end of the state.

More than half of the trip goes through the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. A watershed is an area of land that drains into a particular river, lake, bay or other body of water. Encompassing 64,000 square miles, with more than 17 million people living in its midst, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed is one of largest watersheds in the country. It is supported by thousands of smaller creeks, streams and rivers. Each of these smaller waterways has its own watershed, sometimes referred to as sub or local watersheds.

When Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, it didn’t just defend the big mighty waters like the Chesapeake Bay, the Mississippi River, or the Great Lakes, it also protected the smaller streams and wetlands that flow into rivers and lakes. The law recognized that to have healthy communities downstream, we need healthy headwaters upstream.

Under the Clean Water Act, EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released the proposed Waters of the U.S. Rule, in March that strengthens protection for clean water that’s vital to our health and our economy. Science shows what kinds of streams and wetlands impact water downstream – so our proposal says that these waters should be protected.

One in 3 Americans—117 million of us—get our drinking water from streams, creeks, and wetlands currently lacking clear protection. Safeguarding smaller streams is also crucial for our economy in areas like tourism, manufacturing, energy, recreation and agriculture.

So even when “just driving through” an area, be mindful that actions in one place can impact waterways hundreds of miles away.

 

About the author: Bonnie Turner-Lomax is the communications coordinator for the Region’s Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division. She enjoys theater, traveling, and taking long road trips with her family.

 

 

 

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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Mapping the Truth

Since releasing our proposal in March to better protect clean water, there have been some questions raised in the press, most recently about maps that use data developed by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Fish & Wildlife Service and show locations and flow patterns of many of the nation’s waterways.

Before discussing the truth about the history and purpose of the maps, let’s review some basic facts. The Clean Water Act was passed by Congress to protect our nation’s water bodies from pollution. This law has nothing to do with land use or private property rights, and our proposal does not do anything to change that. The idea that EPA can use the Clean Water Act to execute a land grab or intrude on private property rights is simply false. 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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A Revolutionary Resolution in Philadelphia

by Randy Pomponio

Fairmount Water Works   Randy Pomponio with representatives from: Philadelphia City Council, Clean Water Action, Tookany/Tacony Frankford Watershed Partnership, Sustainable Business Network

EPA’s Randy Pomponio with representatives from: Philadelphia City Council, Clean Water Action, Tookany/Tacony Frankford Watershed Partnership, Sustainable Business Network

One does not have to look far to find history in the City of Philadelphia. Whether it’s the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the Betsy Ross House, or America’s first zoo, Philadelphia has played a pivotal role throughout our nation’s history.

Earlier this year, Philadelphia again made history when its City Council unanimously passed a resolution, sponsored by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, supporting EPA’s and the Army Corps of Engineers’ proposed Waters of the U.S. rule clarifying streams and wetlands protected under the Clean Water Act. This environmentally historic event gives Philadelphia the distinction of being the first U.S. city to pass such a resolution in support of clean water.

On August 6, I was privileged to be part of an event recognizing this important milestone at Philadelphia’s historic Fairmount Water Works. As I shared the stage with members of Philadelphia City Council; Clean Water Action; the Tookany/Tacony Frankford Watershed Partnership; and the Philadelphia Sustainable Business Network, I was reminded of the type of diverse partnership that called for additional clarity in defining protected waters.

While the Clean Water Act has protected our right to safe and pristine waters for more than 40 years, determining protections under the Act for streams and wetlands became confusing and complex following Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006. Many different entities representing local governments, industry, and environmental groups asked EPA for clarification of what is a “water of the United States.” The proposed rule responds to the request and is designed to clear the confusion and provide a more definitive explanation.

This is critical because the health of our larger water bodies – our rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters depends on the network of streams and wetlands where they begin. These streams and wetlands benefit all of us by trapping floodwaters, removing pollution, recharging groundwater supplies and providing habitat for fish and wildlife. They’re also a source for outdoor recreation activities, providing essential economic benefits. One in three Americans and more than 1.5 million Philadelphians get at least some of their drinking water directly or indirectly from seasonal, headwaters, or rain dependent streams.

The City of Philadelphia and its partners made history in promoting clean water. Your input can help ensure that future generations enjoy a history of clean and healthy waters. EPA is accepting public comments through October 20, 2014.

 

About the Author: Randy Pomponio is the Director of the EPA Region 3 Environmental Assessment & Innovation Division. He enjoys learning about our fascinating ecosystems and experiencing them through hiking, fishing, scuba diving, and best of all, sharing them with his children and grandchildren.

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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Improving Access to Environmental Data through ECHO

By Rebecca Kane

I work at the Environmental Protection Agency because I care about protecting communities from pollution. I believe that information is critical to taking action, be it working with stakeholders to affect local policies or empowering citizens with tools to reduce their environmental footprint.

I manage EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online website, known as ECHO, which provides information about environmental inspections, violations and enforcement actions for EPA-regulated facilities, like power plants and factories. As one of our most important and popular resources, ECHO houses information about more than 800,000 facilities nationwide, and last year, it was visited more than 2 million times. I consider it an important tool to staying informed about my community in suburban Washington, DC.

Recent updates to ECHO allow me, and all who want to stay informed about environmental issues in their community, to find information more efficiently and accurately. Here are some examples of how these upgrades help me use the data:

  • We’ve brought back the popular Clean Water Act features, and now it’s easier to find data about water violations and inspections.
  • I can search for Clean Water Act dischargers based on type of pollutants discharged. For example, I can quickly find facilities in the area that discharge metals and check to see whether they are meeting their permitted discharge limits. This matters if my family wants to fish or swim in nearby streams and rivers.
  • When I download data to analyze violations at facilities near my neighborhood, I can see information that’s been updated within the week.
  • I can now encourage web developers to build EPA’s enforcement data directly into their own web pages and apps, because ECHO reports are now built on web services.

I’m proud to be a part of ECHO’s continued development, and there’s more to come as we continue to advance our commitment to inform and empower the public. We’re always working on enhancements to ECHO, and welcome your feedback about the site.

About the author: Rebecca Kane is a program analyst who has worked at EPA for 13 years. She’s spent most of her time in the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance and is leading the ECHO modernization effort.

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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Setting the Record Straight on Waters of the US

Nancy Stoner, Acting Assistant Administrator for Water

Updated July 7, 2014

There’s been some confusion about EPA and the Corps’ proposed “Waters of the U.S.” rule under the Clean Water Act, especially in the agriculture community, and we want to make sure you know the facts.

We know that we haven’t had the best relationship with the agriculture industry in the past, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t and we can’t do better.  We are committed to listening to farmers and ranchers and in fact, our proposed rule takes their feedback into account.

The rule keeps intact all Clean Water Act exemptions and exclusions for agriculture that farmers count on. But it does more for farmers by actually expanding the list of up-front exemptions. We worked with USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service and the Army Corps of Engineers to exempt 56 additional conservation practices. These practices are familiar to many farmers, who know their benefits to business, the land, and water resources.

Farmers and ranchers are on the land every day, and they are our nation’s original conservationists. The American agriculture economy is the envy of the world, and today’s farmers and ranchers are global business professionals—relying on up-to-the minute science to make decisions about when to plant, fertilize, and irrigate crops.

Both EPA and farmers make decisions based on facts—so here are the facts about the proposal.
When Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, it didn’t just defend the mighty Mississippi or our Great Lakes; it also protected the smaller streams and wetlands that weave together a vast, interconnected system. It recognized that healthy families and farms downstream depend on healthy headwaters upstream.  But two Supreme Court cases over the last 15 years confused things, making it unclear which waters are “in,” and which are “out.”

That confusion added red tape, time, and expense to the permitting process under the Clean Water Act. The Army Corps of Engineers had to make case-by-case decisions about which waters were protected, and decisions in different parts of the country became inconsistent.

So EPA and the Corps are bringing clarity and consistency to the process, cutting red tape and saving money. The proposed Waters of the U.S. rule does not regulate new types of ditches, does not regulate activities on land, and does not apply to groundwater. The proposal does not change the exemption for stock ponds, does not require permits for normal farming activities like moving cattle, and does not regulate puddles.

The agencies’ goals align with those of farmers: clean water fuels agriculture—and we all depend on the food, fuel, and fiber that our farmers produce. We at EPA and the Corps welcome input on the proposed rule to make sure we get it right.

Here are clarifications on a few points of confusion about the proposed rule. For further information, check out:

http://www2.epa.gov/uswaters/questions-and-answers-about-waters-us-pdf

The EPA and the Army Corps are NOT going to have greater power over water on farms and ranches.

  • The Clean Water Act and its regulations have multiple exclusions and exemptions from jurisdiction and permit requirements.  The proposed rule does not change or limit any of them.
  • The agencies also worked with USDA to develop and publish through an interpretive rule, a list of NRCS agricultural conservation practices that will not be subject to CWA permitting requirements.  These practices encourage conservation while protecting and improving water quality.

The proposed rule will NOT bring all ditches on farms under federal jurisdiction.

  • Some ditches have been regulated under the Clean Water Act since the 1970s.
  • The proposed rule does not expand jurisdiction.
  • For the first time, the agencies are clarifying that all ditches that are constructed in dry lands, that drain only dry lands, and don’t flow all year, are not “waters of the U.S.” This includes many roadside ditches, and many ditches collecting runoff or drainage from crop fields.
    • Ditches that are IN are generally those that are essentially human-altered streams, which feed the health and quality of larger downstream waters. The agencies have always regulated these types of ditches.
    • Ditches that are OUT are those that are dug in dry lands and don’t flow all the time, or don’t flow into a jurisdictional water.
  • Farmers, ranchers and foresters continue to receive their exemptions from Clean Water Act Section 404 permitting requirements when they construct and maintain their ditches, even if ditches are jurisdictional.

The proposed rule does NOT mean permits are needed for walking cows across a wet field or stream.

  • Normal farming and ranching activities are not regulated under the Clean Water Act.

The proposed rule will NOT apply to wet areas on fields or erosional features on fields.

  • Wet areas on crop fields are not jurisdictional.
  • The proposal specifically excludes erosional features from being “waters of the U.S.”

EPA and the Corps are NOT taking control of ponds in the middle of the farm.

  • The proposed rule does not change existing practice regarding farm ponds.
  • The rule does not affect the existing exemption Congress created under section 404 for construction and maintenance of farm or stock ponds.
  • The proposed rule would for the first time specifically exclude stock watering ponds from jurisdiction in rule language.

http://www2.epa.gov/uswaters/questions-and-answers-about-waters-us-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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The L.A. River: A Winding, Twisting Tale of Survival

By Jessica Werber

I spent most of my formative years in Los Angeles, taking walks down a concrete pathway that I didn’t even realize was part of the LA River. I would jump from side to side, run back and forth, and slide along the warm sun-baked cement. I wasn’t splashing in puddles because there was no water that I could see, feel, or hear. It was all concrete.

The story of the LA River began long before I was born. In 1913, the city increased in density and the LA Aqueduct was built. The river’s historic flow pattern led to winter flooding, which resulted in millions of dollars in property damage and dozens of deaths. By the mid-1930s, local municipalities started flood control efforts to abate winter flood flows, and the Army Corps of Engineers was tasked with designing a flood risk management system. The end result was the river that I would later come to know as my concrete playground.

More than 70 years later, in 2007, LA took steps to restore the river to a more natural state. The city drafted the LA River Revitalization Master Plan, with a long-term vision benefiting water quality, flood protection, and community revitalization. Congress directed the Army Corps of Engineers to develop a feasibility study covering different restoration options, which was released for public comment in September 2013. Non-government organizations engaged in local activism and you, the American public, sent in your opinions and ideas.

In 2010, right before I started my fellowship at EPA, the agency took an active role in protecting the LA River by designating all 51 miles a “traditional navigable water” under the Clean Water Act.  In 2013, EPA commented on the Corps’ feasibility study and explained that the principles guiding the effort are part of the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, which promotes clean urban waters, water conservation, connecting people and their waterways, encouraging community involvement, and promoting economic prosperity. I believe the restoration of the LA River will help to fulfill these goals for the communities in LA, and I hope people in LA recognize how much effort it takes to restore a river as large as this one.

Look at the two pictures below:

Existing view of Taylor Yard in Los Angeles, CA

Existing view of Taylor Yard in Los Angeles, CA

 

Proposed restoration of Taylor Yard in Los Angeles, CA

Proposed restoration of Taylor Yard in Los Angeles, CA

They are of Taylor Yard, a 247 acre former railroad site near downtown LA. They show the difference between the existing site and a proposed alternative, which replaces the old railroad yard with lush vegetation.

Viewing these contrasting images, I’m transported back to my former life in LA. Adjacent to my bedroom window was a concrete channel that echoed the voices of directors screaming “ACTION!” at the studio across the way. It seems as if action will indeed be taken. By the time my future children visit the LA River, I hope they can appreciate it for what it really is: a river full of life and spirit…and, of, course rushing water.

About the author: Jessica Werber is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education Participant in EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds. She is also a licensed attorney.

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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