climate change

Shorebird Vulnerable to Sea Level Rise

by Nick Holomuzki

It’s August and beach season is in full swing, but people looking to escape the heat aren’t the only ones at the shore.  Each year, the piping plover migrates from the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic to nest and raise their young.

The piping plover is a small, sand-colored shorebird that resembles a sand piper. They are native to the Atlantic coast, the Great Lakes shorelines and to inland lakes in the Great Plains.  In 1985, they were listed as a federally threatened species due to habitat loss as a result of a boom in shoreline development following World War II.

Piping Plover on a beach

Piping Plover on a beach. Photo credit: U.S. FWS

While there has been a large recovery effort in place since the 80’s, another threat is emerging – sea level rise.  The Barrier Islands, which lie off the coast of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, provide ideal habitat for these birds.  Low-lying, wide-open, sandy beaches make these islands so accommodating to plovers; however, these features also make them more vulnerable to sea level rise.

Piping plovers are projected to lose more than 29 percent of non-breeding range and up to 62 percent of its summer range by 2080, according to Audubon Society’s climate model.

EPA is active in addressing the challenges of climate change and sea level rise in a number of ways.  By providing technical assistance, analytical tools and outreach support, EPA has helped state and local coastal resource managers in preparing for a changing climate.  EPA also contributes scientific research to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and shares critical information with a wide array of international stakeholders.

Last August, President Obama and EPA announced the Clean Power Plan – a historic step in reducing carbon pollution from power plants, and last December in Paris, the U.S. committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent compared to 2005 levels by 2025.

Actions to combat sea level rise will benefit the piping plovers.  While we’re enjoying the beach, we can take simple steps to help them as well by keeping our dogs on leashes, cleaning up any food scraps or trash and respecting any areas fenced-off for the protection of wildlife so that these peppy birds have their space to skitter along the shoreline.

 

About the Author:  Nick Holomuzki is a Life Scientist in the Water Protection Division for the EPA’s mid-Atlantic region.  Before joining the EPA, Nick worked for the National Park Service on threatened and endangered species conservation.

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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Mattapoisett rallies to prepare for weather ahead

By Amy Miller

Jeri Weiss, a drinking water specialist at EPA New England, has been working with the people of Mattapoisett this year, making trips and calls to this southeastern Massachusetts town sitting on the edge of Buzzards Bay. Weiss has consulted with officials and residents about the best ways to MattapIMGTEST5_2499prepare for climate change, and she has seen what a community can do when its best minds work together.

Recently, Jeri made the trip down the coast with Regional Administrator Curt Spalding. She hoped that he too could get a look at how Mattapoisett’s officials and Boy Scouts, educators and planners and citizens have come together to help ensure Mattapoisett will weather the weather ahead.

Accompanied by Jane Downing, chief of EPA’s drinking water program, Spalding met with the fire and police chief, the town manager, the water supervisor and citizens, including Nick Nicholson, former town drinking water superintendent, all of whom were proud to present their work.

“It meant a lot to me that [Curt and others from EPA] took the time to come to our town,” said Nicholson in a follow-up note to Jeri.

A cable TV crew talks to a Boy Scout about his flood preparation project.

A cable TV crew talks to a Boy Scout about his flood preparation project.

Because its pumping station is at sea level, Mattapoisett’s wastewater and drinking water systems may be at great risk if, or when, heavy rains come or sea levels rise. The town has been able to take advantage of funding provided by EPA’s Regional Applied Research and Regional Sustainable Environmental Research programs. These funds are allowing Mattapoisett to look at its challenges and identify actions to take if an evacuation was needed.

As project manager, Jeri worked with the town to make sure the community played a part in coming up with solutions.

“This community is so unbelievably fantastic,” Jeri said. “They really took on this project and ran with it.”

One of the things a core group of townspeople did as soon as the project began was to collect stories and pictures of how the town reacted to past extreme weather conditions. Community members were happy to tell their stories and share their memories. Curt heard from them how water flowed over the Route 6 dam during Hurricane Bob in 1991, inundating a drinking water well field. And he was told about a video the town is creating in which more than a dozen people, many in their 80s and 90s, recall how hard the town was hit in the 1938 hurricane.

In another video being produced by the local cable TV station, Old Rochester Cable TV, police and fire officials warn townspeople about how important it is to be prepared and to have evacuation plans in place.

While Boy Scouts in other towns may be forging trails or building benches, Boy Scout Jared Watson in Mattapoisett is helping his community envision their world after a major flood. The visualization, an Eagle Scout project, involves putting rings on utility poles to show how high water reached in past floods.

The Cable TV station has assigned an intern to take pictures comparing different spots before and after storms. And employees at the library, a beautifully rebuilt historic building where Curt met with the community, are collecting information on flooding and preparedness and putting up displays.

EPA’s role in this is to offer Mattapoisett options for protecting their drinking and wastewater plants – perhaps a wall, or relocation, or modifications on existing infrastructure. The point is to give the town alternatives.

From Jeri’s point of view, Mattapoisett is a model for how communities can work together to prepare.

As impressive as all the planning is, she found the attitude of the town leaders most extraordinary. Town Manager Mike Gagne told her Mattapoisett’s water and wastewater assets are important, but it’s the town’s people that really impress him.

“That,” said Jeri said, “is both admirable and true.”

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Amy Miller is in the Office of Public Affairs at EPA’s New England office.

For more about climate adaptations in Mattapoisett:

http://buzzardsbayaction.org/BBAC_CZM-Resilience-Grants_01282016.pdf

 

http://www.mattapoisett.net/public-health-nursing-services/pages/emergency-preparedness-residents-info

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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Three Ways Climate Change is Harming Marine Species

By Brittany Whited

Earth’s average temperature has risen by 1.5°F over the past century. EPA’s Climate Change Indicator project tracks changes in our environment related to this warming, including observable changes on land like wildfire severity, snowfall, and heavy precipitation. A new indicator on marine species released in the 4th Edition of EPA’s Climate Change Indicators in the US report shows that marine ecosystems are also feeling the heat. We may not be able to “sea” it, but climate change is also affecting our oceans. What does this mean for fish and other marine species?

1. Oceans are getting hotter. Changes in water temperature can affect the environments where fish, shellfish, and other marine species live. As climate change causes the oceans to become warmer year-round, populations of some species may adapt by shifting toward cooler areas.

According to the fourth edition of EPA’s Climate Change Indicators in the United States report, American lobster, black sea bass, red hake, and over a hundred other populations of marine species have already shifted north to cooler waters. And we’re not talking a mile or two – in fact, these three economically important species have shifted their average center of biomass northward by an average of 109 miles over just 32 years. For all 105 marine species studied, the average center of biomass along U.S. coasts shifted northward by about 12 miles between 1982 and 2014. At the same time, these 105 species moved an average of 18 feet deeper.

2. Oceans are becoming more acidic. The acidity of seawater is increasing as a direct result of increasing carbon dioxide levels in the air from human activities, like burning fossil fuels. Concentrations of carbon dioxide are higher than in the last 800,000 years. Carbon dioxide dissolves in water, changing seawater chemistry and decreasing pH (making seawater more acidic). The ocean’s increased acidity results in thinner shells and more shellfish die as they become easier for predators to eat.

Corals are also very sensitive to rising acidity, as it is difficult for them to create and maintain the skeletal structures needed for their support and protection. Corals provide vital fish spawning habitat and support for thousands of marine species. EPA’s Climate Change in the United States: Benefits of Global Action states that without action on climate change, dramatic loss of shallow coral cover is predicted to occur. For example, coral cover in Hawaii is projected to decline from 38% (current coral cover) to approximately 5% by 2050 without significant global action on climate change.

3. More severe storms and precipitation can pollute coastal waters. Warmer oceans increase the amount of water that evaporates into the air. When more moisture-laden air moves over land or converges into a storm system, it can produce more intense precipitation—for example, heavier rain storms. Heavy rain in coastal areas can lead to increases in runoff and flooding, impairing water quality as pollutants on land wash into water bodies. Some coastal areas, such as the Gulf of Mexico and the Chesapeake Bay, are already experiencing “dead zones” – areas where water is depleted of oxygen because of pollution from agricultural fertilizers, delivered by runoff. The phrase “dead zone” comes from the lack of life – including fish – in these waters.

Click to learn what EPA is doing to mitigate climate change and protect ocean water quality and marine species.

About the Author: Brittany Whited is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) participant hosted by the Climate Science and Impacts Branch in the EPA’s Office of Atmospheric Programs. She recently completed her Master’s degree in Public Health from George Washington University and is wicked excited to spend less time studying and more time outside.

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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When it’s hot, we can help “shave the peak”

By Gina Snyder          

“Shave the Peak,” said the email message. My local light department was asking me to join in its efforts to help reduce the summer’s peak electrical demand and with that, also reduce the cost of electricity. The highest electric use runs from June 1 through Aug. 31. There are a few really hot days when everyone is running air conditioning on top of other appliances, which causes a spike in electricity use – the peak.

Air conditioners in particular put a high demand on electricity. The email explained that about 25 GinaElectricusepercent of our electric bill is determined by how well electricity is conserved during that peak time. In my area the peak occurs on a hot weekday afternoon sometime in June through August, usually between 2 and 5 pm.

The defining hour represents the highest point of customer consumption of electricity for all of New England. The prediction of the peak is done by the Independent System Operator – New England. One of the commissioners of our local light department has said nearly $1.1 million could be saved simply by reducing “peak afternoon electricity use.” He noted that this would also cut emissions.

Why would reducing afternoon electricity use lower costs and cut emissions? Mainly because of how electricity is generated and used. Picture electricity flowing through the wires like your drinking water flows through the pipes. When you turn on the faucet, water pours out. When you turn on the switch, it’s as though electricity ‘pours’ into the appliance to make it run.

Drinking water is easy to store, so that if the water treatment plant can’t keep up with demand, there’s a storage tank that has gallons and gallons of water stored to provide water when it’s needed. But we don’t have storage like that for electricity. Instead, as demand goes up, more power plants have to come online.

This means that some power plants run all the time and some power plants only run on the hottest days of the year. The latter plants sit there year round, costing money and maintenance, only to run a few hours or a few days a year. And everyone has to pay to have those “peaking plants” available.

The result is we pay all year for the electricity to be available to us during that very brief peak time. Peaking plants typically are the least efficient and most expensive to run and often come with higher emissions per unit of electricity generated than other plants. To encourage people to avoid using electricity during those afternoons, electric companies have developed rates called “Time of Use” or TOU. In my town, you can sign up for a time of use rate and, by avoiding electric usage during those peak times, save money.

You’d also be helping the environment because peaking plants mostly run on oil or natural gas, with attendant emissions. So by cutting down on power needs during peak times, you can also help lower emissions from those extra plants going online. So, start watching your own “time of use” and see if you can help lower emissions and the cost of electricity in Massachusetts.

You can help by not using appliances like stoves/ovens or washers and dryers during the hottest time of the day, shutting off pool pumps for a few hours, turning off or raising the setting on your air conditioning thermostat a few degrees or cooking dinner on the grill.

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About the author:  Gina Snyder works in the Office of Environmental Stewardship, Compliance Assistance at EPA New England and serves on her town’s climate committee. She llives in Reading, Mass.

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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Celebrating 10 Years of WaterSense

By Joel Beauvais

Did you know that two-thirds of the continental U.S. has experienced drought in the last few years? It has left many utilities grappling with water scarcity and the costs of finding new water resources and treatment.

This makes conserving water is more important now than ever.

This month we mark the 10th anniversary of EPA’s WaterSense program, which has helped save more than 1.5 trillion gallons of water and $32.6 billion on American utility bills.

How did we do this? Through the power of partnerships the WaterSense program has transformed the marketplace for products that save water, saved Americans’ money, and protected the environment. WaterSense has partnered with more than 1,700 manufacturers, retailers and distributors, water and energy utilities, state and local government, non-profit and trade organizations, irrigation training organizations, and home builders.

Today, thanks to working with industry and other partners, American families and businesses can buy WaterSense-labeled products that use at least 20 percent less water and are independently certified to perform as well or better than standard models. In fact, Americans can choose from more than 16,000 available models of WaterSense-labeled products for bathrooms, commercial kitchens and irrigation systems.

Already, more than 700 families around the country have cut their energy and water bills by up to $600 because they live in WaterSense-labeled new homes that can save about 50,000 gallons of water every year, compared to a typical home. Homeowners and businesses can hire any of the 2,200 WaterSense certified irrigation professionals to help design, install, and maintain an irrigation system that delivers a healthy landscape while minimizing waste.

Last week I had the opportunity to visit a product design laboratory of one of our valued WaterSense partners, Kohler Company. Kohler has been a partner since 2007, offering more than 600 models of WaterSense labeled products and becoming an eight time WaterSense award winner. Kohler, like many of our partners, has brought leading-edge innovation to U.S. customers by designing and testing new toilets, faucets, shower heads, and more for efficiency and performance. It was great to talk with Kohler’s sustainability and design team about what has made the partnership work and to hear their thoughts for the future.

I’m proud that the WaterSense label has become an international symbol that consumers and businesses can rely on for superior performing water-efficiency products. We couldn’t have accomplished our successes without the strong partnership we have built with our network of partners representing all sectors of the economy. Working hand-in-hand with these partners helps this nation protect our water supply and meet the challenges of climate change.

I encourage you to join a Twitter Chat we are hosting tomorrow at 1 p.m. to celebrate the anniversary and answer questions about how to save water this summer. To join the conversation, follow @EPAWater on Twitter use the #WaterSense in your messages during the chat.

Learn more about WaterSense and actions you can take to save water at: www.epa.gov/watersense.

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

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Protecting Drinking Water by Becoming Climate Ready

By Joel Beauvais and Andrew Kricun, Executive Director for the Camden County (NJ) Municipal Utilities Authority

From Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Homer, Alaska, drinking water and wastewater utilities across the country are working with EPA to prepare for climate change. These forward-thinking utilities are following the science that shows climate change brings increased water shortages in some parts of the country, while other areas grapple with increased stormwater runoff, flooding, and sea level rise. These utilities and their surrounding communities know that these climate impacts will continue to exacerbate existing challenges to the country’s aging water infrastructure.

This is a public health challenge that affects both the quantity and quality of our drinking water and the integrity of the infrastructure we rely on to deliver and treat water.

To meet these challenges, EPA has developed a number of tools to help utilities understand climate science and adaptation options under the Climate Ready Water Utilities initiative. We have released two new tools that promote water utility preparedness and resilience—an adaptation information exchange which offers utilities a platform to share best practices and lessons learned, and an adaptation workshop planner helps users conduct successful climate change adaptation workshops, generating materials tailored to the needs of water sector stakeholders and their communities.

The Climate Ready Water Utilities initiative also highlights the good work water utilities like the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority (CCMUA) are doing to ensure the long-term viability of their operations. Faced with a projected rise in river levels and an increase in the magnitude and frequency of intense precipitation and flooding, CCMUA has implemented a number of adaptation measures, using CRWU resources like the Climate Resilience Evaluation and Awareness Tool (CREAT) that will help guarantee the sustainability of its wastewater services.

By integrating water conservation and green infrastructure adaptive measures into its infrastructure investment plan, CCMUA is minimizing costs, reducing energy consumption, increasing the resiliency of its operations and protecting public health and the Delaware River from combined sewage flooding and overflows. Also, CCMUA is already saving nearly $600,000 per year in electricity costs and is expected to save close to $2 million per year in electricity costs when green energy projects are completed.

Other utilities are encouraged to follow in the footsteps of CCMUA by leveraging the tools and resources offered through the Climate Ready Water Utilities initiative. By fostering collaboration and greater awareness of a changing climate future, EPA and CCMUA are working to ensure that the water sector can make better informed investment decisions today.

To learn more about Camden’s use of EPA’s Climate Ready Water Utilities tools watch this video: https://youtu.be/_w9Omq3ZMQg

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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An Important Milestone for Secure Carbon Dioxide Storage

By Joe Goffman

If we are to address climate change effectively, we need to reduce emissions of the carbon pollution that is causing our earth to warm, leading to far-reaching impacts upon our health and environment. One strategy that can allow large emitters of carbon dioxide – such as power plants or large industrial operations – to significantly reduce their greenhouse gas emissions is to deploy carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).

CCS is a suite of technologies that capture carbon dioxide (CO2) at the source and inject it underground for sequestration in geologic formations. Enhanced oil recovery (where CO2 is injected to facilitate recovery of stranded oil) has been successfully used at many production fields throughout the United States and is a potential storage option.

As CCS has grown in promise and practice, we have developed standards and guidelines to protect our health and ensure that the CO2 injected underground remains there safely. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, we have comprehensive rules for both traditional enhanced oil recovery injection wells, and for wells engaged in large-scale sequestration, to ensure that CO2 injected underground does not endanger our drinking water. Our Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program (GHGRP) has also developed a rigorous – and workable – accounting and monitoring system to measure the amount of greenhouse gases that are injected safely underground rather than emitted as air pollution. The GHGRP complements the injection well standards, and requires reporting facilities to submit a plan for reporting and verifying the amount of CO2 injected underground. Once the plan is approved, facilities report annual monitoring activities and related data. The GHGRP air-side monitoring and reporting requirements provide assurance that CO2 injected underground does not leak back into the atmosphere. Together, the comprehensive regulatory structure achieved through the injection well standards and GHGRP assure the safety and effectiveness of long-term CO2 storage.

The milestone that we’re marking is that the first such “monitoring, reporting, and verification” plan under the GHGRP was submitted by an enhanced oil recovery facility located in Texas and managed by Occidental Permian, Ltd., a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum Corporation (or “Oxy”). We have recently approved the plan, which allows Oxy to begin reporting annual data to the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program, starting with data for 2016.

Oxy voluntarily chose to develop and submit a comprehensive plan in order to track how much carbon dioxide is being stored over the long-term. Oxy’s plan shows that our Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program framework provides value to companies, as well as to EPA and the public, to help track how much carbon dioxide is being stored and provide confidence that the carbon dioxide remains securely underground over time. Strong and transparent accounting methods are critical for measuring progress towards our nation’s greenhouse gas reduction goals. As more power plants and large facilities consider CCS as a means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we have at the ready a proven framework to ensure accurate accounting for CO2 stored underground.

For more information on the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program, see: https://www.epa.gov/ghgreporting

To see Oxy’s MRV plan, see: https://www.epa.gov/ghgreporting/denver-unit

For more information about EPA’s activities to address climate change, see: https://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/EPAactivities.html

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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Gamify the Grid! New EPA game Generate! Helps Students Understand the Relationship between Climate Change and Energy Production

By Rose Keane

When you’re teaching someone, sometimes you never know what’s going to stick. Some people need to hear the information, others might need to read it, but chances are the best way to get someone to remember is to have them try it themselves.

EPA researcher Rebecca Dodder is helping teachers provide middle school and high school students with these kinds of opportunities through her new Generate! game, a board game that requires the player to consider the costs and benefits of the type of energy we use and impacts on air quality and climate.

Hands-on learning! Kids play the Generate! game during Earth Day festivities at EPA’s campus in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Hands-on learning! Kids play the Generate! game during Earth Day festivities at EPA’s campus in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Having students actually grapple with the realities of financial limitations, carbon emissions, and limited natural resources makes the lesson much more tangible and long lasting. I had the chance to see these connections being made when students came to EPA’s campus in Research Triangle Park, N.C., to play the game during Earth Day festivities.

Here’s how it works.  In the first round, students select which sources of energy—for example, coal, natural gas, nuclear, solar or wind—that they would like to use given a finite amount of resources (in this case the number and types of energy pieces). Each energy source comes with its associated installation and maintenance costs, and the aim is to meet energy demands (filling up the full board space) while spending as little as possible.

The second round, however, made things a bit trickier. As with our energy sources in real life, there is a cost associated with the carbon emissions of each energy piece, with heavier costs for higher carbon-emitting sources like coal, and smaller or no carbon costs for the renewable energy sources. These costs refer to the idea that for each ton of carbon dioxide emitted, there are increased costs to communities from climate change. As students factored these numbers in, they realized their original plan was no longer sustainable and also way too expensive. You could practically hear the groans coming from each group’s table when the final tallies came in.

In the third round, students were offered pieces called “efficiencies,” which represent our behaviors, consumer choices, and energy efficient appliances. These pieces incur relatively small costs initially (for example, how much it would cost to replace your washer and dryer), but in the long run actually save the player money. “Think about it,” Dodder said to the students, “A lot of these big decisions are out of our control, like whether or not to build a nuclear power plant, for example. The thing about the smaller energy efficiency pieces is that’s all the stuff that we can change – it’s all in our control.”

Making climate change and its impacts tangible for younger generations can be extremely difficult, but games like Generate! make these kinds of activities fun, educational, and remind the students that their energy choices are in their hands. Educators can use this game to help their students recognize the relationships between energy usage and climate change, and encourage them to investigate their role in the carbon cycle further.

Dr. Dodder’s innovative approaches to educating the younger generation about science and her research contributions are being recognized today at a ceremony in Washington, DC where she will receive a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists.

Learn more about the Generate! game and download your copy here.

About the Author: Rose Keane is an Oak Ridge Associated Universities contractor with the science communications team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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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Particulate Matter in a Changing World: Grants to Combat the Impacts of Climate Change

By Christina Burchette

There are certain things that are always changing: the weather, fashion trends, and technology (which iPhone are we on again?) are a few that come to mind. I can always count on the fact that these things won’t stay the same for long. But there are other things that I typically expect to remain the same: I expect to get hungry around lunchtime, I expect the bus to come every morning, and I expect to be able to breathe clean air. I don’t even think about the possibility of these things not happening—until something changes.

I definitely don’t think about air quality often or expect it to change. As long as I’m breathing and well, why would I? But in reality, air quality changes every day, and over time it may change a lot depending on how we treat our environment—and we need to be ready for these changes. This is why EPA recently awarded research grants to 12 universities to protect air quality from current and future challenges associated with climate change impacts.

Climate change is affecting air quality by influencing the type and amount of pollutants in the air. One type of pollutant present in our air is particulate matter, or PM. Long-term exposure to PM is linked to various health effects, including heart disease and lung function, and it doesn’t take a high concentration to affect our bodies. The more PM there is in the air, the more likely we are to be affected by health conditions.

landscape of Death Valley National Park with dust storm

A dust storm in Death Valley National Park

With EPA Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grants, university researchers are approaching the future of air quality from multiple angles with a focus on learning more about the PM-climate change relationship. They will study the impacts of increased wildfire activity that generates PM, often called soot, in the Rocky Mountains. They will look at the impacts that climate change and land use change have on the development of dust storms in the West and Southwest; and they will evaluate the best means of energy production in California where air quality is among the worst in the nation to reduce health care costs and lower levels of PM and greenhouse gases.

Over the next few decades, climate change will be the catalyst for various environmental trends, so finding a way to manage the impacts of these trends is essential to protecting our health. The work these grantees do will help to inform air quality managers and others to make sustainable and cost-effective decisions that keep our air quality at healthy levels and protect public health and the environment. That way, future generations will think of good air quality as something we can expect.

To learn more about these grants and read the abstracts, visit the Particulate Matter and Related Pollutants in a Changing World results page.

About the Author: Christina Burchette is an Oak Ridge Associated Universities contractor and writer for the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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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EPA “Aim High” Success Stories on Climate and Air Quality

By Administrator Gina McCarthy

The public health case for climate action is compelling beyond words. The interagency Climate and Health Assessment released last month confirms that climate change endangers our health by affecting our food and water sources, the weather we experience, and the air we breathe. And we know that it will exacerbate certain health threats that already exist – while also creating new ones.

As we celebrate the recent signing of the historic Paris Agreement by countries around the world, there’s no better time to reflect on EPA’s many ongoing efforts to fight climate change and protect the air we breathe.

As part of our “Aim High” effort to highlight success stories from across the agency, I asked EPA staff to share examples of their work to protect public health by taking action on climate and air quality. Here are some highlights:

Child with pinwheel and blue sky in the background.Asthma Awareness Month: Asthma affects nearly 23 million Americans and disproportionally impacts low-income and minority communities. In the U.S., the direct medical costs of asthma and indirect costs, such as missed school and work days, amount to over $50 billion a year. Every May, EPA leads a National Asthma Awareness Campaign to increase public awareness about asthma risks, strengthen partnerships with community-based asthma organizations, and recognize exceptional asthma programs that are making a difference. Every year, this effort reaches 9,000 groups and individuals and provides them with the information and motivation to take action.

Group photo of employees from EPA and the Ghana Environmental Protection Agency .U.S EPA Africa Megacity Partnership: EPA’s environmental program in sub-Saharan Africa is focused on addressing the region’s growing urban and industrial pollution issues, including air quality and indoor air from cookstoves. The World Health Organization estimates that exposure to smoke from cooking causes 4.3 million premature deaths per year. EPA and the Ghana Environmental Protection Agency are working together under the Africa Megacities Partnership to develop an integrated air quality action plan for Accra. As a result of this partnership, Ghana EPA has already made significant progress using air quality monitoring and analysis and is serving as a model for other African cities with limited data, that want to take action.

Group of people by reservoir impacted by drought.Climate Change and Water Utilities: Between 1980 and 2015, the United States was impacted by more than 20 major droughts, each costing over one billion dollars. EPA staff in the Office of Water developed an easy-to-use guide to assist small- to medium-sized water utilities with responding to drought. The Drought Response and Recovery Guide for Water Utilities, release last month, includes best practices, implementation examples and customizable worksheets that help states and communities set short-term/emergency action plans, while also building long-term resilience to drought. EPA staff also developed an interactive drought case study map that tells the story of how seven diverse small- to medium-sized utilities in California, Texas, Georgia, New Mexico, Kansas, and Oklahoma were challenged by drought impacts and were able to successfully respond to and recover from drought.

Screenshot of EPA Region 1 Valley Indication Tool.Outreach on Risks from Wood Smoke: Exposure to particle pollution from wood smoke has been linked to a number of adverse health effects. Valleys in New England, where terrain and meteorology contribute to poor dispersion of pollutants, are especially vulnerable during winter air inversions. EPA Region 1 used publically available study results, databases and in-house Geographic Information System resources to develop “The Valley Identification Tool” that identifies populated valleys throughout New England that are at risk for wood-smoke pollution. Using this tool, EPA and state air quality managers and staff can better plan air-quality monitoring, outreach, and mitigation.

Biogas facilityBiogas to Energy: Water Resource Recovery Facilities (WRRFs) help recover water, nutrients, and energy from wastewater. EPA Region 9 is working with WRRFs to boost energy production through the addition of non-traditional organic wastes ranging from municipally collected food scraps to the byproducts of food processing facilities and agricultural production. As a result of these efforts, some of these facilities are becoming “energy positive,” producing enough energy to power the facility and transferring excess energy into the electricity grid for use by others. EPA, in collaboration with universities and industry, is also working to collect and share information on co-digestion practices and biogas management technologies. This work helps improve understanding of the air quality impacts of biogas-to-energy technologies and helps state and local governments, regulators, and developers identify cleaner, geographically-appropriate and cost-effective biogas management options.

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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