climate change

Climate Action Protects the Middle Class

Last night in the State of the Union Address, President Obama laid out an agenda to protect and grow America’s middle class. From spurring innovation and creating high-skilled jobs here in the U.S. to protecting our homes and businesses, acting on climate change is crucial to achieving this vision.

Fueled by carbon pollution, climate change poses a serious threat to our economy. 2014 was the hottest year on record—and as temperatures and sea levels rise, so do insurance premiums, property taxes, and food prices. The S&P 500 recently said climate change will continue to affect financial performance worldwide.

And when climate disasters strike—like more frequent droughts, storms, fires, and floods—low-income neighborhoods and communities of color are the hardest hit. Climate action is crucial to helping reduce barriers to opportunity that keep people out of the middle class.

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

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Climate Change and Extreme Events Research Showcased at American Geophysical Union Meeting

By Dr. Michael Hiscock

Satellite image of large storm approaching the eastern United States

“Sandy” approaches the U.S. east coast, October 28, 2012. NASA Earth Observatory image by Robert Simmon with data courtesy of the NASA/NOAA GOES Project Science team.

 

Derechos. Blizzards. Polar vortexes. Superstorms. Whatever you call them, you’re probably aware of the extreme weather events that have occurred with increasing frequency the past few years. What you may not be aware of is their complicated relationship with climate change, air and water quality.

Although science will probably never be able to pinpoint the specific cause of any extreme weather event, there is rising evidence that human-caused climate change is increasing the probability of future such events. This will have astounding societal and environmental impacts, as climatic and meteorological extremes can affect the hydrologic and atmospheric processes that in turn impact water availability, and water and air quality for people around the world.

This week, at the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) Fall Meeting, I had the pleasure of convening a technical session focused on the complex interaction between climate change, extreme events, air and water quality. The session, Extreme Events and Climate Change: Impacts on Environment and Resources, was the largest global environmental change session at the meeting, and featured scientists and research teams from 20 different countries. Over two days, we saw more than 70 presentations on how climatic and meteorological extremes have changed and what their impact on resources and the environment will be.

In 2011, EPA released its first grant solicitation (“Request for Applications,” or RFA) to support research exploring the topic of extreme events and climate change. The request, Extreme Event Impacts on Air Quality and Water Quality with a Changing Global Climate, sought research proposals designed to provide the information and capacity needed to adequately prepare for climate-induced changes in extreme events, in the context of air and water quality management. We were looking to support research institutions that demonstrated the ability to develop assessments, tools and techniques, and demonstrate innovative technologies to achieve that.

The 14 institutions we supported, all of which presented at the above mentioned session, are currently seeking to better understand extreme events and establishing ways for climate scientists, impact assessment modelers, air and water quality managers, and other stakeholders to co-produce information necessary to inform sound policy in relation to extreme events and their impact on air and water quality within a changing climate.

The session provided an international networking event for top researchers to showcase their results: to better understand how local and regional extreme events will change in the future; to identify the impacts of extreme events on local and regional
water and air quality; and finally, how to disseminate the information effectively to stakeholders. Collaboration opportunities like this one will lead to comprehensive analyses of extreme events to better form sound policy for preserving and improving air and water quality and protecting human health for generations to come.

About the Author: Dr. Michael Hiscock is a project officer in the Applied Science Division at EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research. He supports scientists and engineers through the Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grants program to improve the scientific basis for decisions on air, climate, water and energy issues.

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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Helping the Hungry and the Environment this Holiday Season

By Gabrielle Posard

Editor’s note: We’re happy to have this blog post from one of this year’s President’s Environmental Youth Award winners.

Five years ago, I was inspired to create a non-profit after learning a shocking statistic: one in five people in our country struggle to feed their families, while billions of pounds of good food are dumped into landfills.

This rotting food is a major source of methane gas, which speeds up climate change. It also wastes precious resources like water and is one of the largest sources of solid waste by weight.

Sadly, a third of the food that’s grown and bought in the U.S. gets wasted and thrown away. Millions of tons of fruit and vegetables rot in fields because they are misshapen or discolored. Major retail grocery chains are more likely to throw away fruits, vegetables, dairy and meats than to donate them to food banks. Although the federal “Good Samaritan Food Donation Act” protects grocers, growers, and food companies from liability, many are unaware of the legislation.

Most food reaching its “best before date” or “freshest by date” remains edible for up to one week if refrigerated properly. Foods with short shelf lives are most often tossed in grocery store dumpsters, but that food is often the healthiest. Diverting that good food to food banks instead of dumping it lowers the company’s dumpster fees, has potential tax benefits and reduces landfill waste.

The non-profit I founded addresses critical environmental concerns created by commercial food waste; millions of pounds of healthy short shelf life foods can feed hungry children instead of clogging landfills. We’ve also provided volunteer opportunities to thousands of teens across multiple states. Most of these teens were previously unaware of the environmental issues food waste creates and had never volunteered before to help the environment.

The holidays are a time many Americans give thanks for what they have, and want to help those who are struggling. We invite you to get involved this holiday season to decrease food waste, help alleviate hunger, and raise awareness about commercial food waste.

Gabrielle at the food distribution her non-profit, Donate Don’t Dump, runs where over 4,000 pounds of rescued food go to hundreds of people twice a month. This year, they were credited with an increase of over 1,000,000 total pounds in rescued food donations for one food bank alone, which went to feed families, not landfills.

Gabrielle at the food distribution her non-profit, Donate Don’t Dump, runs where over 4,000 pounds of rescued food go to hundreds of people twice a month. This year, they were credited with an increase of over 1,000,000 total pounds in rescued food donations for one food bank alone, which went to feed families, not landfills.

About the author: Gabrielle created Donate Don’t Dump as a way to get surplus and short-dated food from grocers, growers and food companies donated to the hungry instead of dumped into landfills. Her non-profit is 100% volunteer and teen-run with over 4,000 participants.

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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Drinking Water Infrastructure: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

By Vince Gallo

A huge investment is needed to maintain the massive network of infrastructure that delivers water to our taps.

A huge investment is needed to maintain the massive network of infrastructure that delivers water to our taps.

Did you ever think about how that clean, clear, and safe drinking water makes it to your kitchen faucet? Or, when you pass one of those huge, blue water towers: why it’s there? Most of us have never really considered the vast amount of infrastructure needed to bring water from its source to your tap. In reality, the network of pipes, pumps, power generators, reservoirs, and fixtures responsible for delivering drinking water is massive.

Safe drinking water infrastructure can be described as a silent industry, one we tend not to think about until it is not working properly. Floods, hurricanes, spills, and other emergencies are often the only times we give drinking water infrastructure any thought at all. Maybe that’s because in the last four decades, since passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974, we have been blessed with the promise of a continuous supply of fresh, safe drinking water.

One of the key successes of the Safe Drinking Water Act is the amount of financing provided by the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund or DWSRF. The DWSRF was established by the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996, and it has been a major success.

The DWSRF works like this: EPA grants funds to each state which are deposited into a special dedicated loan fund, where recipients (typically public water systems) also deposit a 20% match for each grant. The state then lends these funds to individual water systems to improve existing infrastructure or to build new systems. The water systems repay the loans to the state DWSRFs over 20 or 30 years, and – in some cases – some or all of the loan can be forgiven if the system serves an economically disadvantaged community.

Since EPA awarded the first DWSRF grants in 1997 the progress has been remarkable. In the mid-Atlantic, EPA has provided over $1.8 billion in assistance for water infrastructure assistance. Across the country, the DWSRF grants combined with the state match contributions, loan principal and interest repayments, earned interest, and funds borrowed via municipal bonds, have made possible $30.1 billion (with a “B”!) in financial assistance to public drinking water systems. That’s a lot of pipe!

Though the success of the DWSRF program is indisputable, many challenges remain. The current financing need for public water infrastructure is estimated at $384 billion and growing. At the same time, changes in water resources due to a changing climate complicate the task of reliably providing safe drinking water.

Here in the mid-Atlantic, the DWSRF has supported projects to meet challenges like drought conditions by funding water line replacement and water metering projects which help preserve water resources. The DWSRF has also helped water systems build resilience to flooding by using DWSRF funds to locate new water infrastructure outside of flood-prone areas. Projects like these mean that the DWSRF is well-positioned to leverage its success into the future, where it will be a major player – albeit not the only one – in finding and funding solutions to increasingly complex water resource challenges.

Wow! All this talk has made me thirsty. I think I’ll drink a nice, cool glass of water straight from the tap, thanks to the Safe Drinking Water Act and the DWSRF.

About the author: Vince Gallo is a financial analyst in the Office of Infrastructure and Assistance in EPA’s Water Protection Division. He has over 25 years of experience in the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund programs. Outside of the office, Vince enjoys traveling.

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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Your Engagement Protects Public Health, Bolsters Climate Action

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. That’s why a year and a half ago, President Obama announced a national Climate Action Plan to cut the carbon pollution fueling climate change, prepare communities across America for climate impacts, and lead the world in our global climate fight.

A centerpiece of the President’s strategy is EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan. In June, we proposed a plan that would cut carbon pollution from power plants to protect public health and move us toward a cleaner, healthier environment for future generations, while supplying the reliable and affordable power our country needs for a healthy economy and job growth. 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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Combating Wasted Food: Good for the Environment, Good for Your Bottom Line

Here’s a really smart way for businesses – from restaurants to grocery store chains to hotels and more – to boost their bottom lines: Reduce wasted food.

This week we’re holding a week of action on wasted food. It’s all about sustainability – environmentally and economically – and how we meet the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet the needs of tomorrow.

In 2012, the United States threw away about 35 million tons of food – more than any other type of waste going to landfills. When that wasted food gets to the landfill, it rots, generating methane gas – one of the most potent contributors to climate change. All of this waste also squanders the water, energy, nutrients and money used to transport that food.

At the same time, many Americans don’t know where their next meal will come from. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that, in 2012, 14 percent of households regularly did not have enough food to live active, healthy lifestyles.

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

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Let’s Talk About Feeding People, Not Landfills

We throw more food into landfills than any other material. A typical family of four loses about $1,600 each year by tossing out wasted food, which rots in landfills generating methane gas and contributing to climate change.

What can you do to reduce the amount of wasted food while you’re at home or at work? Composting, donating safe untouched food to local food banks, buying only what you need by planning your menus for the week, and using leftovers are just some of the ways you can help feed people, not landfills.

One in six Americans struggle to put food on the table. Donating your excess canned and dried foods to food banks and shelters can help those in need while protecting the environment.

To learn more, or ask me questions about what you can do, join our Twitter Chat on Friday, November 21 starting at 10:30 am ET. I will be joined by other Agency experts to answer your questions and share tips on how each of us can play a significant role in reducing wasted food. On Friday, use the hashtag #NoWastedFood and follow @EPAlive to participate in the food recovery conversation.

Food is too good to waste, so let’s be part of the solution and divert food from landfills.

About the author: Mathy Stanislaus is the Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response

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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Highlighting the Health-protective Properties of Alaskan Berries (your Elders already knew)

November is Native American Heritage month. Throughout the month, we will be featuring blogs related to Tribal Science.

By Mary Ann Lila

I was ecstatic when the EPA Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Program put out the request for applications for the study of tribal resources and climate change. My office mate was a rural sociologist, so we put our heads together and wrote up a plan for research that we’d been hoping to tackle for years: wild Alaskan berries.

Native Alaskan elder and researcher examine a wild plant.

“Wildcrafting” with a Native Alaskan.

Regions of the Alaskan arctic tundra are considered to be on the ‘front lines’ of climate change. The dramatic consequences of climate-related shifts are most evident around coastal areas. For example, the retreating glaciers, and the shrinking sea ice that diminishes hunting territory for walrus and polar bears.

But in the arctic, the climate also exerts a decisive impact on terrestrial plants, including the wild indigenous berries that thrive even above the tree line, the most hostile environments throughout the state. Frequently these berries (mossberries, salmonberries, bog blueberries and more) also proliferate around Alaska Native communities, where they are one of the only wild edible resources from the land (most other foods are obtained from the sea or as shipped-in commodities).

Berries that have adapted to flourish in the arctic are able to survive environmental insults by accumulating a cornucopia of defensive, natural plant chemicals. The chemicals help to buffer the berries against the ravages of climate extremes, but once ingested, these same chemicals can be healthy. They help Alaskan natives resist many insults of chronic diseases, including the power of the berry to inhibit diabetes symptoms.

Will climate change have an effect on this revered native resource? On the one hand, moderating temperatures may allow berry harvests to occur more routinely. On the other hand, the moderating climate may lead to competing species invading berry habitat. And perhaps most importantly, will the berries fail to accumulate protective plant chemicals at such high concentrations? The answers aren’t immediately clear, and only long-term, sustained studies will begin to unravel the true impacts of climate change on the berry resources.

November is Native American Heritage Month.

November is Native American Heritage Month.

In our work, the Tribal communities around Point Hope, Akutan (in the Aleutian Islands) and Seldovia have been gracious hosts to the analyses, and have been receptive to learning more about how science tests demonstrate the power of the berries against disease targets.

Not only have the Elders joined in the science based studies, but they’ve gladly contributed the background traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) about how berries have been historically valued and used in their communities, as a control of blood glucose and a healthy metabolism. Elders have been happy to show the youth in the Tribal communities, with their own eyes, that modern science agrees with, and validates TEK.

About the Author: Mary Ann Lila is the Director of the Plants for Human Health Institute at North Carolina State University. Her research team has worked for nearly a decade in Alaska with the berries and other native wild plants, which she considers to be the prime example of how plants’ adaptations to harsh environments ultimately protect human consumers of that plant.

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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Today’s historic Clean Air Act settlement keeps key climate change effort on track

By Cynthia Giles

Our rules to combat climate change – like all environmental protection rules – only work when they are implemented in the real world. Today, we are delivering on our commitment to make sure that happens, through a settlement with the automakers Hyundai and Kia who sold more than 1 million vehicles that will emit close to 5 million more metric tons of GHGs than what they had certified to us.

Hyundai and Kia will forfeit 4.75 million GHG emission credits that they can no longer use to comply with the law, or sell to other automakers. That’s 4.75 million metric tons of greenhouse gases that could have been emitted if we hadn’t taken this action, equal to the emissions that come from powering more than 433,000 homes for one year.

They will also pay a $100 million penalty, the largest in Clean Air Act history. The size of this penalty demonstrates how significant these violations are, and reinforces our commitment to level the playing field for automakers that play by the rules. Hyundai and Kia will also spend millions of dollars on a series of steps—including improved vehicle testing protocols—to prevent future Clean Air Act violations.

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

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EPA Releases Roadmap for Agency to Prepare for a Changing Climate

Two years ago this week, Super Storm Sandy slammed into the East Coast, causing approximately $65 billion dollars in damages, as well as loss of life and immeasurable suffering for the people of that region. In many ways, that storm was a wakeup call on the need to better prepare for extreme weather and a changing climate.

Today, we know the climate is changing at a rapid rate, and the risk for extreme weather events is increasing. And that’s why the Climate Change Adaptation Plans we’re releasing today are so important. EPA’s overall plan, prepared in support of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and Executive Order 13653 (“Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change”), provides a roadmap for how we’ll work with communities to anticipate and prepare for a changing climate.

Given our critical responsibilities for protecting human health and the environment, we recognize the need for smart, strategic and effective responses to new threats and challenges. This plan delivers just that. It reflects serious thinking about how the work we do can be disrupted by a changing climate and ways that we can begin to reduce those potential risks. And it reflects our commitment to support communities all across the country that are already grappling with questions of resilience to current and future climate changes.

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

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