climate change

Working to Support Communities in Alaska Native Villages

At EPA, we respect the way of life that has enabled Alaska native villages in the Arctic and subarctic to thrive for thousands of years. We take our responsibility to those communities very seriously.  Here in the Alaska Operations Office, our focus is to connect these communities with our national policies and programs, to ensure a robust future in the face of a changing climate.

Last week, President Obama, along with Secretary John Kerry and some of EPA’s senior leaders, traveled to Alaska to see firsthand the effects of climate change and other issues that affect those who live and work here in the far north.  President Obama’s closing remarks at the GLACIER conference summarized the challenges and importance of both mitigating and adapting to climate change.

More than 184 Alaskan villages are at risk from erosion, flooding and permafrost thaw, a problem exacerbated by climate change. Both coastal and interior river system communities face unique challenges.  To explore this, Tami Fordham, our deputy director, traveled to Bethel, Alaska with Jane Nishida, EPA’s Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for International and Tribal Affairs.  In Bethel, they heard from the Association of Village Council Presidents about the challenges facing many communities in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

Jane Nishida, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for International and Tribal Affairs, and Curtis Mann, Brownfields Coordinator, Orutsararmuit Native Council Kuskokwim River standing in front of water

Jane Nishida, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for International and Tribal Affairs, and Curtis Mann, Brownfields Coordinator, Orutsararmuit Native Council Kuskokwim River.

One pressing challenge is removing household hazardous waste and e-waste from remote villages that are accessible only by air or water.  Especially because the Yukon–Kuskokwim Delta is so wet, this material needs a way out of the community to prevent future contamination of important water resources.  With funds from our Indian Environmental General Assistance Program (IGAP), AVCP is actively working on the removal of e-waste. During our visit, they shared the challenges of filling a shipping container and transporting it to a facility where this material can be properly managed.

Throughout Alaska, we are supporting communities with similar solid and hazardous waste projects, and working with state, federal, and local partners to identify solutions.  Our presence in Alaska also enables us to participate with the Collaborative Community Planning for Resilient Alaska Communities and the Sustainable Northern Communities Roundtable, both of which have been working on collaborative community planning.

Alaska is a long journey from Washington, D.C. I appreciate the effort of all of the public servants who took the time to make the trip and join the dialogue with Alaskan communities.

About the author: Dianne Soderlund is the Director of the EPA Alaska Operations Office.  An Alaskan since 1980, she fulfills EPA’s federal trust responsibilities to the state’s 229 federally recognized tribes, and works on a wide range of environmental issues, including air, water, hazardous materials and energy development.

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

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EPA at GLACIER Summit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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EPA’s Clean Power Plan Protects Low-Income and Minority Communities

When President Obama announced the final Clean Power Plan earlier this month, he predicted that some cynical critics would claim the plan harms minority and low-income communities. Then he chuckled and shook his head, because the truth is, failing to act on climate is what stands to hurt vulnerable Americans the most.

Just as the President predicted, in the weeks since the announcement, we’re seeing the usual cast of special interest critics roll out the usual tired, worn out, and frankly, false arguments. Put simply, the Clean Power Plan will not impact affordable, reliable power. It will protect vulnerable communities. And it will save consumers money.

This week marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina—a powerful reminder that low-income and minority communities are the most vulnerable to climate-related impacts like stronger storms, floods, fires, and droughts, and the least able to rebuild after a disaster. And the carbon pollution driving climate change comes packaged with other dangerous soot- and smog-forming pollutants that can lead to lung and heart disease. Low-income and minority Americans are more likely to live in the shadow of polluting industries like power plants, and more likely to be exposed to higher levels of pollution.

When we cut carbon pollution, we also reduce other dangerous pollutants and protect public health. Under the Clean Power Plan, in 2030 alone, the U.S. will avoid up to 90,000 asthma attacks in children and 300,000 missed days of school and work due to respiratory symptoms—saving families the costs of medical treatment and hospital visits.

Martin Luther King III, son of the civil rights icon Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., recently said “The poor and disenfranchised—too often those in communities of color—still disproportionately bear society’s harms through no fault of their own. That truth has compelled the fight for social justice across the spectrum: labor rights, women’s rights—and yes—environmental rights. Because no matter who we are or where we come from, we’re all entitled to the basic human rights of clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and healthy land to call home. Make no mistake, the injustice of climate change and the pollution that fuels it are among this century’s most debilitating engines of inequality.”

Through its Clean Power Plan, EPA is striving to protect low-income and minority Americans. We received more than 4.3 million public comments on our draft rule, and hosted hundreds of meetings with stakeholders, including vulnerable communities. We heard loud and clear that we needed to make sure our rule didn’t disproportionately impact low-income Americans—and we worked with the Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to ensure that’s the case.

By 2030, the average family will save $85 a year on electricity, thanks to increased energy efficiency measures. In the interim, any small, short-term increase in electricity bills would be well within normal price fluctuations—roughly the cost of a gallon of milk per month. For each dollar spent on the Clean Power Plan, families will see 4 dollars in health benefits alone. And in all, we’ll see $45 billion a year in net benefits thanks to EPA’s plan.

Climate action is an incredible economic opportunity, and to make sure its benefits extend to every community, we’re creating a Clean Energy Incentive Program that will help states transition to clean energy faster. It’s a voluntary matching fund program states can use to encourage early investment in wind or solar power projects, as well as energy efficiency projects in low-income communities.

EPA is also requiring states to demonstrate how they are engaging with communities as they craft customized state plans to meet their carbon pollution reduction goals.

The real threat to affordable, reliable electricity is climate change. More extreme heat and cold cause utility bills to skyrocket, which hurts low-income families the most. And storms, floods, fires, and drought can knock out the power for days or weeks, threatening public health.  That’s why we need to act.

The cynics’ claims are nothing new. We heard the same tired arguments back in the 1990s, when some critics opposed EPA’s limits on acid rain-causing pollution from power plants. They warned electricity bills would go up, and the lights would go off. But they were wrong. Instead of the economic doomsday some predicted, we slashed acid rain by 60 percent—while prices stayed stable, and the lights stayed on. EPA has been limiting harmful pollution from power plants for 45 years, and we have a proven track record of keeping energy affordable and reliable.

We still have work to do to protect vulnerable communities from pollution, but EPA’s Clean Power Plan is a historic step in the right direction. In his announcement, President Obama spoke about our moral obligation to vulnerable communities, to our children, and to future generations to act on climate. The Clean Power Plan will help build a safer, brighter future 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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Clean Power Plan: Power Plant Compliance and State Goals

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

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

Uniform Performance Rates

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

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

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

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

State Goals

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

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

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

A Glide Path

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why We Must Act: For our Families’ Health and our Kids’ Future

Sanaa Brown is ten years old. Like many other girls her age, she loves playing outside. Soccer, dance, gymnastics, tennis, swimming—as her mom likes to say, there’s isn’t a sport Sanaa doesn’t like.

But these days, she finds herself stuck inside more and more often. Sanaa has asthma and environmental allergies—conditions that are only getting worse, thanks to climate change.  Increasingly extreme summer heat [and humidity] near her family’s home in North Carolina mean Sanaa has more and more trouble breathing. After less than an hour outside, she often breaks out in painful hives.

Despite all this, Sanaa refuses to give up. She’s still running all around her house, still giving it her all on the soccer field. Yet, the difficulty breathing, the painful hives—they’re not going anywhere. As her mom admits, pursuing her passion means that Sanaa now has to “deal with the consequences.”

She shouldn’t have to.

I got into public service more than three decades ago as a local public health official in Canton, Massachusetts, because I wanted to make life a little easier for kids like Sanaa. I wanted to make sure they could play outside whenever they wanted to, without having to worry about being able to breathe.

Thirty-five years later, kids like Sanaa are still the reason I come to work every day—because I know that unless we continue the fight to protect our environment, what’s happened to them could just as easily happen to my family or yours. Nothing drives home this threat more sharply than the challenge of climate change.

Climate change, driven by carbon pollution from fossil fuels, leads to more extreme weather—more extreme heat, cold, drought, storms, fires, and floods. Climate change is a global challenge, but it’s also personal. No matter who you are, where you live, or what you care about, climate change is affecting you and your family today.

Our moral responsibility to act is crystal clear—because our families are bearing the brunt of these effects.

Carbon pollution comes packaged with smog and soot that can lead to lung and heart disease. Over the last three decades, the number of Americans living with asthma has doubled. Warmer temperatures from climate change exacerbate air pollution, putting those patients at greater risk of landing in the hospital.

The facts of climate change aren’t up for debate. Scientists are as sure that humans are causing climate change as they are that cigarettes cause lung cancer. We have a responsibility to act because we have a responsibility to our kids, our grandkids, to Sanaa Brown, and to young people across the country and around the world.

As a mom, I feel the weight of this responsibility every time I look at my three children. At EPA, I feel it every time I walk the halls and remember our mission: to protect public health and the environment. That’s why we’re not shying away from this challenge. We’re not waiting. We’re taking action now.

The transition to a clean energy future is happening even faster than we expected—and that’s a good thing. It means carbon and air pollution are already decreasing, improving public health each and every year. The Clean Power Plan accelerates this momentum. It will slash carbon pollution from the power sector by nearly a third compared to where we were a decade ago. And when we cut carbon pollution, we also cut the smog and soot that come with it. That’s going to make a real difference in the lives of kids and families everywhere.

By 2030, we’ll see major reductions of pollutants that can create dangerous soot and smog, translating to significant health benefits for the American people. We’ll avoid up to 90,000 asthma attacks that would have ruined a child’s day. Americans will spend up to 300,000 more days in the office or the classroom, instead of sick at home. And up to 3,600 families will be spared the grief of losing a loved one too soon.

We’re acting now because lives are at stake.

Two years ago, President Obama told the students of Georgetown University that he “refuse[d] to condemn their generation… to a planet that’s beyond fixing.”

Two months ago, Pope Francis reminded us that “young people demand change,” and called upon “every person living on this planet” to take a stand for our children, and theirs to come.

A child born today will turn fifteen in the year 2030 – the year when the full benefits of the Clean Power Plan will be realized. The actions we take now will clear the way for that child – and kids everywhere – to learn, play, and grow up in a world that’s not only clean and safe, but full of opportunity.

 

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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6 Things Every American Should Know About the Clean Power Plan

By EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

Today, President Obama will unveil the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Clean Power Plan—a historic step to cut the carbon pollution driving climate change. Here are six key things every American should know:

1. IT SLASHES THE CARBON POLLUTION FUELING CLIMATE CHANGE.

Carbon pollution from power plants is our nation’s biggest driver of climate change—and it threatens what matters most – the health of our kids, the safety of our neighborhoods, and the ability of Americans to earn a living. The Clean Power Plan sets common sense, achievable state-by-state goals to cut carbon pollution from power plants across the country. Building on proven local and state efforts, the Plan puts our nation on track to cut carbon pollution from the power sector 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, all while keeping energy reliable and affordable.

2. IT PROTECTS FAMILIES’ HEALTH.

The transition to clean energy is happening even faster than we expected—and that’s a good thing. It means carbon and air pollution are already decreasing, improving public health each and every year. The Clean Power Plan accelerates this momentum, putting us on pace to cut this dangerous pollution to historically low levels. Our transition to cleaner energy will better protect Americans from other kinds of harmful air pollution, too. By 2030, we’ll see major reductions of pollutants that can create dangerous soot and smog, translating to significant health benefits for the American people. In 2030, we’ll avoid up to 3,600 fewer premature deaths; 90,000 fewer asthma attacks in children; 1,700 fewer hospital admissions; and avoid 300,000 missed days of school and work. The Clean Power Plan is a historic step forward to give our kids and grandkids the cleaner, safer future they deserve.

3. IT PUTS STATES IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT.

The Clean Power Plan sets uniform carbon pollution standards for power plants across the country—but sets individual state goals based on states’ current energy mix and where they have opportunities to cut pollution. States then customize plans to meet their goals in ways that make sense for their communities, businesses, and utilities. States can run their more efficient plants more often, switch to cleaner fuels, use more renewable energy, and take advantage of emissions trading and energy efficiency options.

Because states requested it, EPA is also proposing a model rule states can adopt right away–one that’s cost-effective, guarantees they meet EPA’s requirements, and will let their power plants use interstate trading right away. But states don’t have to use our plan—they can cut carbon pollution in whatever way makes the most sense for them.

The uniform national rates in the Clean Power Plan are reasonable and achievable, because no plant has to meet them alone or all at once. Instead, they have to meet them as part of the grid and over time. In short, the Clean Power Plan puts states in the driver’s seat.

4. IT’S BUILT ON INPUT FROM MILLIONS OF AMERICANS.

The Clean Power Plan reflects unprecedented input from the American people, including 4.3 million comments on the draft plan and input from hundreds of meetings with states, utilities, communities, and others. When folks raised questions about equity and fairness, we listened. That’s why EPA is setting uniform standards to make sure similar plants are treated the same across the country.

When states and utilities expressed concern about how fast states would need to cut emissions under the draft Plan, we listened. That’s why the Clean Power Plan extends the timeframe for mandatory emissions reductions to begin by two years, until 2022, so utilities will have time to make the upgrades and investments they need to.

But to encourage states to stay ahead of the curve and not delay planned investments, or delay starting programs that need time to pay off, we’re creating a Clean Energy Incentive Program to help states transition to clean energy faster.

It’s a voluntary matching fund program states can use to encourage early investment in wind and solar power projects, as well as energy efficiency projects in low-income communities. Thanks to the valuable input we heard from the public, the final rule is even more fair and more flexible, while cutting more pollution.

5. IT WILL SAVE US BILLIONS OF DOLLARS EVERY YEAR.

With the Clean Power Plan, America is leading by example—showing the world that climate action is an incredible economic opportunity. By 2030, the net public health and climate-related benefits from the Clean Power Plan are estimated to be worth $45 billion every year. And, by design, the Clean Power Plan is projected to cut the average American’s monthly electricity bill by 7% in 2030. We’ll get these savings by cutting energy waste and beefing up energy efficiency across the board—steps that make sense for our health, our future, and our wallets.

6. IT PUTS THE U.S. IN A POSITION TO LEAD ON CLIMATE ACTION.

Today, the U.S. is generating three times more wind energy and 20 times more solar power than when President Obama took office. And the solar industry is adding jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the economy. For the first time in nearly three decades, we’re importing less foreign oil than we’re producing domesticallyand using less overall.

Our country’s clean energy transition is happening faster than anyone anticipated—even as of last year when we proposed this rule. The accelerating trend toward clean power, and the growing success of energy efficiency efforts, mean carbon emissions are already going down, and the pace is picking up. The Clean Power Plan will secure and accelerate these trends, building momentum for a cleaner energy future.

Climate change is a global problem that demands a global solution. With the Clean Power Plan, we’re putting America in a position to lead. Since the Plan was proposed last year, the U.S., China and Brazil – three of the world’s largest economies – have announced commitments to significantly reduce carbon pollution. We’re confident other nations will come to the table ready to reach an international climate agreement in Paris later this year.

 

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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Cooking Up Solutions to Climate Change

By Natalie Liller

EPA’s 5th annual Science of Climate Change Workshop

EPA’s 5th annual Science of Climate Change Workshop

June 15-19th, 2015 marked EPA’s 5th annual Science of Climate Change Workshop—and even more importantly, it summoned the latest group of talented high-school-aged students to learn about the science behind taking action on climate change. This year, the program focused on climate science and the impacts of climate change. World-class scientists, engineers, and policy experts demonstrated their research and led hands-on activities to encourage innovative thinking.

The program’s goal is to reach out to students with a keen interest in science and climate change and equip them with the knowledge and resources to go out into their homes, schools, and communities to raise awareness and to encourage others to act. EPA’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Outreach Program, under the leadership of Director Kelly Witter, is engaging these young, bright, and enthusiastic students to extend their knowledge on climate change and build their confidence to become the scientific leaders of their generation.

EPA's Seth Ebersviller, Ph.D. shares the latest cookstove innovations.

EPA’s Seth Ebersviller, Ph.D. shares the latest cookstove innovations.

As a part of their week-long education, the students were able to see sustainable energy being harnessed while speaking to the scientists and engineers about their work. During one session, the students learned about the technology behind biomass-burning cookstoves and solar ovens with Seth Ebersviller, Ph.D., an EPA Post-Doctoral Fellow. With this first-hand exposure, the students constructed their own solar ovens using recycled pizza boxes and aluminum foil and then baked cookies. These excited students were able to take their knowledge on solar power and apply it to an everyday need—cooking.

Unfortunately, it is not all “milk and cookies.” There is a monumental need for change on a global scale to combat the effects of climate change, present and future. Witter believes that students will be the largest advocates for climate awareness because “they understand and appreciate the science.” She hopes that through this program the students will take their “enthusiasm and passion for protecting the environment and share it with their peers to make a difference and help slow the impacts.” And they are doing just that—six program students are already working on educating their peers with hopes of creating a Climate Club chapter at their respective schools. Cassidy Leovic (Riverside High School) said that the goal of the clubs will be to “inform peers on what they can do,” focusing on energy conservation and sustainable food choices. EPA is thrilled to see these students taking action and looks forward to seeing them continue to foster this enthusiasm and change in the coming years.

About the Author: Natalie Liller is a sophomore at Appalachian State University, majoring in Political Science, Pre-Legal Studies and Environmental Science. This summer she is interning at EPA to focus on educating students on environmental science and climate change.

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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CEC Meeting a Win for Public Health in North America

Administrator Gina McCarthy closes the 2015 CEC Council Session in Boston.

Administrator Gina McCarthy closes the 2015 CEC Council Session in Boston.

Last week, I was thrilled to host the Canadian Environment Minister and Mexican Environment Deputy Secretary at the 22nd Regular Session of the Council for the Commission on Environmental Cooperation (CEC) in my hometown of Boston.

The CEC is an organization created by the United States, Canada and Mexico to address environmental concerns in North America—because pollution doesn’t carry a passport. As Chair, I represented the U.S. Government on the Council and took the lead in discussing our future as neighbors and allies in protecting public health and the environment.

Impacts from climate change like more extreme droughts, floods, fires, and storms threaten vulnerable communities in North America and beyond. And along the way, those who have the least suffer the most. That’s why our three nations are committed to working together to tackle climate challenges. I’m looking forward to continuing our cooperation this fall in Paris as we work to bring about concrete international action on climate.

At this year’s session, the Council endorsed a new 5-year blueprint to help us tackle environmental challenges our nations face together. We’ll focus on climate change: from adaptation to mitigation; from green energy to green growth; from sustainable communities to healthy ecosystems. The plan presents our shared priorities to make the most of each other’s efforts to address environmental challenges.

Looking toward the future, we discussed the possibility of using the CEC as a way to address climate impacts on other important environmental challenges like water quantity and quality, renewable energy, energy efficiency, and oceans.

During our conversations, EPA’s Trash Free Waters program caught the interest of the other ministers on the Council. Through community outreach and education, EPA is working to reduce the amount of litter that goes into our lakes, streams and oceans. We discussed ways we could build on its success and expand it to other cities in North America.

Administrator Gina McCarthy with Leona Aglukkaq, Canada's Minister for the Environment, and Rodolfo Lacy Tamayo, Mexico's Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources, at the 22nd Annual Council Session of the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation.

Administrator Gina McCarthy with Leona Aglukkaq, Canada’s Minister for the Environment, and Rodolfo Lacy Tamayo, Mexico’s Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources, at the 22nd Annual Council Session of the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation.

The Council also reaffirmed the CEC’s Operational Plan for 2015–2016, which is focused on producing tangible outcomes and measurable results. The plan proposes 16 new projects that bring together our experts on work like reducing maritime shipping emissions to protect our health from air pollution, and strengthening protections for monarch butterflies and pollinators.

We named a new roster of experts on traditional ecological knowledge from Canada, Mexico and the United States. Alongside science, traditional knowledge helps us understand our environment, helping us better protect it. The experts will work with the CEC’s Joint Public Advisory Committee (JPAC) to advise the Council on ways to apply traditional ecological knowledge to the CEC’s operations and policy recommendations.

We also announced the third cycle of the North American Partnership for Environmental Community Action grants, a program that supports hands-on projects for low-income, underserved and indigenous communities across North America. The program supports communities’ climate-related activities and encourages the transition to a low-carbon economy.

We ended the meeting with Mexico assuming chairmanship for the upcoming year. It’s an honor to work with our neighbors to address environmental challenges head-on, and to make sure North America leads on global climate action. When we do, we protect our citizens’ health, our economy, and our way of life. Learn more here.

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

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Home Energy Audits are Easy and Worth Your Time

By Curt Spalding, Regional Administrator

I had a great visit recently with a couple of eager young energy consultants sent by my electric utility, and I’m feeling rather good about the results. I learned that all in all, my 2,500-square-foot colonial home is reasonably energy efficient. And I learned that I can invest just $1,000 to make improvements that will more than pay me back in three years.

Since EPA New England is encouraging residents across the region to take advantage of home energy audits, I asked my utility, National Grid, to audit my house. I wanted to find out first-hand what happens in these audits, which, by the way, are often offered for free.

Even though I am the regional administrator at EPA’s New England office, my experience was pretty much what any homeowner could expect – if you ignore the two suited, but very polite executives that trailed me and the consulting engineers eagerly checking on everything from my boiler, insulation and wiring to my refrigerators, stoves and windows.

The entire visit was actually quite fun, but then, I love this kind of stuff. And in just two to three hours I found out that the areas where I thought I was doing well with energy efficiency were not always that great. I learned that my 93-year-old four-bedroom colonial could use a bit more insulation, and that it hosts an attic fan that turns on when it shouldn’t. I was also surprised to hear that the high-priced, energy-efficient air conditioner I so proudly purchased was installed wrong. The installers hadn’t connected the duct work correctly, so I’ve been cooling a 100-degree attic, in addition to our living space.

If I correct these issues, about 60 percent of the $2,500 cost of improvements will be paid for by tax credits and government subsidies, leaving me with just a $1,000 bill. Oh and, they also gave us 10 free LED light bulbs to replace less efficient ones.

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Subsidies and programs already in place in New England put us ahead of the curve of national policy. The US Clean Power Plan, which EPA expects to finalize this summer, will require all states to draft a plan to help cut carbon pollution from the power sector by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. EPA suggests states look at using less fossil fuel, using fossil fuel more efficiently, cutting back on demand and increasing the use of low emission, no–emission or renewable resources. Every state can tailor its own best plan based on their needs.

Each state has its own incentives, and many provide free audits. EPA also offers the ENERGY STAR Home Advisor, an online tool to help consumers save money and improve their homes’ energy efficiency through recommended home-improvement projects. Simple actions, like upgrading a bathroom showerhead, can save thousands of gallons of water a year, which translate to lower water and energy bills.

I asked for a utility audit because I wanted to take part in a program EPA encourages. I wanted to see what is was like to have a home energy audit. It was so satisfying I felt compelled to wander over to neighbors, utility folks trailing behind me, and share with them the lessons I had learned from my audit. I know the improvements I make may only be a tiny difference in the nation’s emissions, but if each of us makes a few recommended changes, it quickly adds up to a big deal.

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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Heat Waves and Climate Change: Learning from History and Looking Ahead

By Allison Crimmins

Twenty years ago this week, Chicago suffered from a historic heat wave.  Families tried to stay cool in backyard wading pools and the news begged people to check on their older neighbors, who refused to turn on their air conditioning because it would cost too much. An estimated 700 people died from the heat during that two-week period, many of them elderly (learn more about heat-related mortality). Behind this grim statistic were real people and communities. An oral history of the heat wave published last week by Chicago Magazine has eloquently captured some of these stories of suffering.

heat-deaths-example-download-2014We know climate change will bring more frequent and intense heat waves to the U.S.  Twenty years later, are we twenty years wiser? In terms of preparing for another heat wave or “adaptation planning,” I’d say yes. Chicago’s Climate Action Plan is working to make the city cooler through urban planning (such as preserving green landscapes) and becoming better prepared to respond to future heat waves. But what about addressing the greenhouse gas emissions causing those more frequent and intense heat waves in the first place?

EPA’s recently released report Climate Change in the United States: Benefits of Global Action looks at projected heat-related deaths in 49 U.S. cities (representing about 1/3 of the population) under two scenarios: one where the world takes action to cut global emissions and one where it doesn’t. The risks of inaction are sobering. Without action to reduce global greenhouse gases, the average number of extremely hot days is projected to more than triple from 2050 to 2100.extreme-temp-fig-1-downloadBut there is good news. Taking action on global climate change is estimated to result in significant public health benefits by substantially reducing the risk of extreme temperature-related deaths across the U.S. Extreme temperature mortality can be reduced by 64% in 2050 and by 93% in 2100, compared to the scenario where the world does not take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  That means approximately 12,000 fewer people could die each year from extreme temperature in the 49 modeled cities in 2100. Inclusion of the entire U.S. population would increase these numbers. Activities to adapt to more frequent heat events can help reduce heat mortality, but reducing emissions is still important to saving lives. Including the assumption that cities take significant steps to prepare for extreme heat into the analysis, emissions reductions could still prevent 5,500 deaths per year by the end of the century.

Scientists have been calling on the world to reduce carbon pollution for more than twenty years. The United States has the opportunity and the ability to lead the world in global actions to cut carbon pollution that, by the end of this century, could avoid 12,000 heat-related deaths each year– not to mention save the lives of 57,000 people every year who could die prematurely from the adverse air quality impacts associated with climate change. I can think of no more important reason than that to take action on climate change now.extreme-temp-fig-3-downloadAbout the author: Allison Crimmins is an environmental scientist with EPA’s Climate Change Division, where she focuses on the impacts and risks associated with climate change, especially on human health. Prior to joining EPA, she earned one Masters degree in oceanography by exploring past climates in ocean sediments and a second Masters’ degree in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School. She lives, works, and judges the occasional science fair in Washington, D.C. but still cheers for the Chicago Bears.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.