Achieving Tangible Results for Vulnerable Communities

Charles Lee Charles Lee

Charles Lee, Senior Policy Advisor
Office of Environmental Justice, US EPA

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its Environmental Justice FY2017 Progress Report today. It is noteworthy that 2017 marked the 25th anniversary of the founding of EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice. The accomplishments highlighted in the report affirm through action how, after a quarter century of progress, environmental justice (EJ) is deeply ingrained in EPA’s fabric.

An overarching focus of the report is demonstrating tangible results in minority, low-income, tribal and indigenous communities. Here are four results that illustrate progress from the past year:

  1. As EPA’s environmental justice program matured over the past two decades, it grappled with the difficult task of demonstrating environmental outcomes in vulnerable communities. EPA developed measures for several significant national EJ challenges, one of which was fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5). In FY2017, EPA documented that the percentage of low-income people living in areas meeting the PM2.5 National Ambient Air Quality Standards increased from 43% during the baseline period of 2006-2008 to 92% in (2014-2016).
  2. EPA similarly provided national results for enforcement actions and the environment benefits of such actions in areas with potential EJ concerns. For example, 35% of the 217 million pounds of pollutants estimated to be reduced, treated or eliminated from enforcement actions in FY2017 were in such areas. EPA is able to provide these results because the Agency systematically reviews all enforcement actions for EJ considerations. The report also highlights the importance of the EJSCREEN mapping and screening tool, which provides the starting point for these assessments.
  3. EPA and its federal, state, tribal and local government partners continue to collaborate to benefit communities. The Omaha Lead Superfund cleanup, affecting over 175,000 persons in a 27 square-mile area, reduced the percentage of children with elevated blood lead levels from 25% in 1999 to 0.3% in 2017. Other examples of beneficial collaborations are the improved air quality around ports, rail yards and freight distribution centers from $23.8 million in Diesel Emissions Reduction Act funding and the number of community drinking water systems returned to compliance with lead and arsenic standards in the Pacific Southwest.
  4. The report highlights the many ways EPA supports communities as they travel their own journeys to community health and revitalization. For example, with an EJ grant, “Project Oka” helped the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma maintain clean sources of water. An Urban Waters partnership assisted residents of the Martin Pena Channel, one of the poorest and most environmentally overburdened neighborhoods in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in creating an urban farm.

These results are but a few of the many accomplishments highlighted in this year’s progress report. Many of the examples required decades of effort, and are a testament to the long-standing commitment, innovation and hard work of the EPA staff who do this work on a day-to-day basis. They provide lessons for how we can all work together more effectively to address disproportionate environmental impacts, health disparities, and economic distress in our nation’s most vulnerable communities so they are cleaner, healthier and more prosperous places to live, work, play and learn.

Read a full copy of EPA’s FY2017 Environmental Justice Progress Report, as well as previous reports.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

EPA Providing Guidance for Drinking Water After Radiological Emergency

Joel Beauvais Joel Beauvais

By Joel Beavais

What would happen if there was an emergency in the U.S. that caused radioactive material to contaminate drinking water supplies?  What steps could your utilities and government take?

This was one of the challenges the government of Tokyo in Japan had to address following the Fukushima nuclear power plant incident in 2011.  To assist local governments and utilities here at home to plan for such a situation, EPA has developed guidance for use only during nationally significant radiological emergencies, such as a disaster at a nuclear power plant or use of an improvised nuclear device.

This non-regulatory guidance, called a drinking water Protection Action Guide (PAG), will help decision-makers to ensure public health protection during an emergency. The drinking water PAG identifies doses of radiation that should be avoided during an emergency event. The PAG can be used to determine when the use of contaminated water supplies should be restricted and alternative drinking water should be provided – to keep doses to the public as low as possible during emergency situations only. The drinking water PAG levels were calculated based on a maximum one-year exposure and provide a level of health protection roughly equivalent to EPA’s mandatory drinking water standards for radionuclides, which are based on 70 years of exposure.

It’s important to know that EPA’s new guidance is not for use during normal water system operations and the PAG does not in any way affect or change EPA’s drinking water standards for radionuclides. The PAG does not represent acceptable routine exposures for drinking water. As with all drinking water regulations, water systems exceeding standards, regardless of the reason, are in violation.  EPA expects that the responsible party for any drinking water system adversely impacted during a radiation incident will take action to return to compliance with Safe Drinking Water Act maximum contaminant levels as soon as practicable.  The guidance also does not impact actions occurring under other statutory authorities such as the EPA’s Superfund program, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decommissioning program, or other federal or state programs.

Thinking about these scenarios is certainly not pleasant and we hope that our PAG never has to be used. But EPA takes these actions to ensure that our country can be better prepared to protect public health if emergencies occur.

For more information, please visit https://www.epa.gov/radiation/protective-action-guides-pags

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Environmental Justice Comes to Salt Creek

By Michael Wenstrom

Several years ago I traveled to Pueblo, Colorado in response to a request from a local resident. I was asked to sit in on a meeting to hear a discussion about the presence of a legally-permitted auto dismantling yard and aluminum smelter in a residential neighborhood. The neighborhood was Salt Creek.

Salt Creek Neighborhood, Pueblo, Colorado

Salt Creek Neighborhood, Pueblo, Colorado

The Salt Creek neighborhood contains about one hundred homes and is predominantly Latino. Most of the residents are third generation Americans of Mexican descent. Someone in the community reached out to the Region 8 Environmental Justice Program to ask for help, not knowing just what “environmental justice” was, but knowing something needed to change.

Among Salt Creek residents, there was little understanding of what government did and how and why they made the decisions they made. In this case, residents knew that things were happening in and around their community that were wrong and they wanted to know what to do to protect themselves.

Salt Creek is flanked by a steel mill which emitted more than forty percent of Colorado’s airborne mercury, and by a major coal-fired power plant and, additionally, was home to the smelter noted above.
As I sat in that meeting, in the basement of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, listening to the community share their concerns, little did I know that this would be the beginning of a fifteen year-long odyssey. This meeting was the first of many.

Over time I learned that Salt Creek residents are strong and proud people. They persisted, even in the face of adversary.

The EJ Program began to work to help the community find its voice. We co-sponsored community meetings and invited local businesses, representatives from the city and county and from law enforcement. We talked (in English and Spanish) about what the community cared most about. In most cases, the invited guests listened and learned. In some cases, they tried to deflect the concerns and occasionally, they attempted to bully or confuse the residents. But, Salt Creek would not be deterred.

Among other things, EPA brought a Collaborative Problem Solving grant to the community, engaged with our RCRA Program to address nearby contamination, facilitated meetings with the steel mill and under an enforcement action,  $400,000 in community-based Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) benefitted the neighborhood.

Together, over the years, we saw the steel mill dramatically reduce its mercury emissions, and the local power utility implement ground-breaking emissions controls. Oh, and, yes, the aluminum smelter was moved to a more appropriate location.

In that time, I became friends with some remarkable people, who began to raise their voices and make their community safer, cleaner and healthier. And, on a personal level, I was both proud and humbled by the fact that, together, we were able to make a real difference in the lives of community residents. Through collaboration, persistence and caring, I and my EPA colleagues were able to help a community transform itself.

The attached video is one example of how one Salt Creek resident helped to effect this transformation. Nadine Triste used her common sense, her network of neighbors and, support from the EPA to make a difference. Because of Nadine, and others like her, Salt Creek is forever changed.

 

About the author: Michael Wenstrom has been working in the Region 8 Environmental Justice Program for almost twenty years. In that time, he has focused on working in communities facing an amazing variety of environmental insults and challenges. Most recently, he has been assisting Region 5 in its ongoing work to assist the residents of Flint, Michigan to address their immediate concerns relating to the water crisis and other threats to their environment and their health.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Why Science Matters

Gina McCarthy Gina McCarthy

As someone who has utilized and appreciated science for the better part of my life, I want to take a minute to reflect on the importance of science at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Most people recognize EPA as a regulatory agency, but they may not be aware of the tremendous role EPA plays in protecting public health and its worldwide leadership in science. Without question, EPA is one of the premier public health agencies in the world, and our work helps all Americans have a clean and healthy environment to live, work, and play.

And the very foundation of everything we do comes down to one principle: using science in a factual and nonpartisan way to inform our actions to protect the American people and our environment.

As John Adams said, “facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” This remains as true today as it was when said centuries ago. As we enter a different time in American history with a new Administration and new Congress, one thing must be clear – those chosen to lead this country cannot dictate science or make changes to the way in which science is conducted simply to meet a political or policy outcome. Nor should they minimize the impacts of EPA’s science that has been and will continue to be critical to progress in keeping our kids and communities safe and healthy.

We know full well that as a regulatory agency, we often face a high degree of scrutiny from stakeholders influenced by EPA regulations and policies. That’s to be expected and welcomed. EPA is a world leader in science in critical areas like public health, toxicology, epidemiology, ecology, engineering, risk assessment, and more.

While it is understandable that there will be difference of opinions about policy and even strong opposition to some of the agency’s work, denying the science and facts as determined by a majority of scientists benefits no one. It undermines our global scientific leadership and cedes future opportunities to other nations.

And it is this use of science that fuels our vitally important work that affects every single American. Whether we are working to clean up waste sites, improve air quality, ensure safe drinking water, or advance chemical safety, science guides everything we do. For example, EPA scientists are learning more each day about how air quality impacts human health, with recent research showing that air pollution can affect cardiovascular health and even trigger heart attacks and strokes. That’s important information for all Americans, not just the millions of Americans who have heart disease and for the doctors and nurses whose job it is to keep people healthy. The more we understand the problem, the better we can be at addressing it and protecting the health and environment of our citizens.

We also use our science to keep the nation’s waters clean. For example, we recently partnered with other federal agencies to use satellite data to monitor harmful algal blooms in our rivers, lakes, and streams. These increasing algae blooms can contaminate drinking water sources, make water toxic to people and animals, cause beach closures, and raise drinking water treatment costs. EPA scientists and colleagues developed an early warning system and guidance to help alert and prepare public health officials as toxic algal blooms arise so communities can better manage the environmental, health, and economic impacts.

EPA science is also essential to states and their efforts to protect local communities. EPA’s scientists are often called upon to assist states during emergencies such as the recent chemical spill into the drinking water in Corpus Christi, Texas. EPA worked in close partnership with the city and state to bring its technical experts to the table to help inform decisions about drinking water restrictions.
Yes, we’ve made tremendous progress over the years – we have clearer air, cleaner waterways, and we are doing all we can to protect our fellow citizens by controlling pollution. Just look at a picture of Los Angeles from a few decades ago to see the progress that we have made together. But the challenges we face today are increasingly complex and sometimes even more dangerous than those in the past. Legacy pollutants like lead and new contaminants continue to demand the best science we can offer if we hope to ensure the long-term preservation and protection of our water resources.

Climate change and discovering even new sources of pollution due to improved technologies – these are the very issues that need to be informed by the best science and the dedicated scientists at the EPA.

Through science, we can gain understanding, discover solutions, and show that a healthy environment and a healthy economy go hand in hand. Since the EPA was founded, we have cut pollution by 70 percent while our GDP has tripled.

The American people demand clean air and water, food free of harmful pesticides, products free of harmful toxics, and their communities resilient to climate change. They also demand that we use the best science and research to define challenges and come up with solutions. And while there will always be political changes in Washington, the use of science at the EPA and its core mission will continue. That is the timeless goal at the EPA – to protect public health and the environment – and with clear science as the very bedrock of those goals, EPA’s mission will continue to endure for years and years to come.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Finding Value(s) in our Stories and Waters

By Emily Simonson

I’ve never had so many people wanting to talk to me in my life than I did while working the USA booth at the Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador. Drawn in by the flag towards the outside of our booth space, people browsed the EPA materials on the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, the Agency’s efforts on climate change, and guidebooks on protecting drinking water sources, materials from USAID and the State Department. A steady stream of people – the general public and conference go-ers perusing the displays at the conference exhibition – were keeping me busy.

“I love New York. I used to study there.”
“In Mexico, water is an important women’s issue, but we need to find ways to engage men.”
“I want to learn how rural and urban governments can work together to manage water here in Ecuador.”
“What can you do for the river in my city?”

 While the topics ranged from polite conversation to details on projects and technical information, a few themes struck me. Boiling it all down, each conversation was about values: opportunity, equity, participation and democracy, striving to do better.

Coming from my ORISE fellowship with the Urban Waters Program at EPA, I was in Quito to learn, volunteer at the USA booth, and support a program partner, the Caño Martín Peña Community Land Trust (CLT) from San Juan, who had just won the 2016 World Habitat Award. I got even more out of the experience than I’d hoped.

As part of the group that scheduled the programming for the USA areas, I’d arranged for members of the CLT to present their work in the exhibition space. The CLT’s story of community members organizing to grant land tenure to those living along the Martín Peña channel while working with partners to reclaim the channel from decades of pollution really reflected the values people had expressed all day. Several of those in the audience stuck around to talk with members of the CLT, because their story resonated with challenges they were facing in their own communities.

The CLT’s story and mission reminds me that water is central to both urban livability and sustainability. When people envision a better community they often talk about access to water for recreation, drinking, health and sanitation, and business. The ways people access and interact with water (especially in our cities) can reveal so much about the progress we’re making towards building cities that reflect the values we can all agree upon.

I really appreciated that our booth and the rest of the exhibition spaces were open to the public. The candid conversations happening there revealed just as much, and possibly more, as the high level conference sessions about what it’s going to take to realize the equitable, sustainable, and democratic cities of tomorrow that our communities deserve.

Moments like the ones I experienced do not just put into perspective that the issues we work on at EPA transcend the country’s boundaries. The knowledge and models we contribute at events like Habitat III are shared in a language that also crosses borders and is spoken by people of many citizenships– it’s the language of our values, our daily patterns of living, and our aspirations and actions for our communities.

The Habitat III Conference focuses on the future of our planet’s cities and how to implement the New Urban Agenda, a document on urban sustainability created by contributions from governments and civil society organizations from around the world. EPA lent expertise to this document on several topics, including lead, water, and food waste issues.

About the author: Emily Simonson is an ORISE Participant with the Urban Waters Program in EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds. Emily enjoys travel, hiking (urban and scenic), running, and reading.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Keeping Up Our Great Lakes Momentum

Cameron Davis Cameron Davis
A Lake Erie algae bloom seen by satellite courtesy of NOAA/NASA

A Lake Erie algae bloom seen by satellite courtesy of NOAA/NASA

We as people will always need clean water.

With more than 90 percent of the nation’s fresh surface water, few if any places tell the story of the need for and work to protect public health as it relates to fresh water than the Great Lakes.

We started down this trail together by calling for a “new standard of care for the Great Lakes,” to leave them better for the next to the next generation than the way we found them. Since then, we’ve punched the accelerator on Great Lakes protection and restoration by:

  • Establishing a “Great Lakes Trust”—If you believe like I do that clean water, air and land is our life support system, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has been a much-needed investment through thousands of projects to improve water quality, rebuild habitat, educate the next generation, and many others efforts from Duluth to Buffalo and points in between.
  • Taking a “zero tolerance policy” toward invasive species—When in 2009 evidence appeared of silver and bighead carpin the Chicago Area Waterway System, agencies scrambled to patch together their authorities to prevent an invasion of the Great Lakes. By forming the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee, they institutionalized their efforts and, so far, have kept the fish out.
  • Revitalizing the U.S.-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement—For the first time in a quarter century, the policy that guides how the two federal governments coordinate now addresses threats to the Great Lakes from climate change, habitat, invasive species, and others.There are many other accomplishments that deserve mention—such as reducing toxic mercury, rebuilding Lake Ontario coastal wetlands with International Joint Commission, and others—than can be detailed here.But maybe the most important milestone in the journey is that it has not been top-down. It is the growing partnership of states, tribes, municipalities, businesses, environmental organizations, academia and individual citizens who simply “show up.” We’ve seen this through the Agreement’s Great Lakes Executive Committee, the federal agencies’ Great Lakes Advisory Board, and others.It is through this vibrant ecosystem of people and jurisdictions that the remaining work—and there is much still to do—will carry forward the effort to protect and restore one of the Earth’s most magnificent and vital life support systems.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

From Contaminated to Revitalized: The Story of The Yards

By Barbara Smith


Have you ever wondered how visions like this become realized?
This is the story of how the U.S. Government is partnering with private sector developers to transform a once-contaminated property on the Anacostia River in Washington, DC, into a vibrant riverfront destination/community.

Believe it or not, the vision for a vibrant riverfront community came from this brown space, the Washington Navy Yard (WNY).

Image provided by EnviroMapper by EPA

Image provided by EnviroMapper by EPA

In early 1960’s, the WNY, located in southeastern Washington, DC, was recommissioned from its former use as a weapons manufacturing site to its current use as a Navy office/administration location. As part of the transition, in 1963, the WNY transferred 55 “excess” acres to the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) to develop into federal office space. The GSA named its new acquisition the Southeast Federal Center (SEFC).


However, the 55 acres had been heavily industrialized, with many abandoned factory buildings where ship boilers and large naval guns were manufactured from pre-World War One to post-World War Two. When GSA received the property in 1963, there were no regulations governing the clean-up of contaminated properties or how to identify and investigate contamination on these properties. Without funding to transform the former industrial site into office space, GSA made little progress in developing the SEFC site to its full potential.

Then, in 2000, Congress passed the SEFC Public/Private Development Act to assist GSA in developing the area. The Act allowed GSA to partner with private sector developers to plan and develop the SEFC parcels for eventual sale or lease. GSA’s master plan shifted from creating federal offices to creating office, residential, retail and public uses for the site.
Since the federal government works to protect human health and the environment, GSA worked with us to properly assess the property and any contamination found. This assessment is in accordance with the requirements of the Resource Conversation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
GSA conducted a site-wide investigation and continues to clean up any contamination found on the individual parcels prior to development.
The investigation, conducted under our RCRA Corrective Action Program, found that previous intensive industrial use had left contaminants in the soil. The picture above shows soil testing taking place at the site to see which contaminants are present.

Several soil removals have been completed, including removing PCB-contaminated sediment from storm sewers and on-site soil contaminated with petroleum and metals. GSA continues to remove contaminated soil from the surface and at depth from parcels being prepared for development.

GSA removed an old wooden seawall on the Anacostia River and replaced it with a modern concrete and steel pier.

Image provided by Kea Taylor/Imagine Photography

Image provided by Kea Taylor/Imagine Photography

The above picture is the first parcel that was developed and sold, known as the “Department of Transportation (DOT) Parcel.” During the site investigation, groundwater contaminated with gasoline was found at levels above EPA drinking water standards. The sources of this contaminated groundwater were leaking underground storage tanks from an off-site former gas station and possibly some on-site contamination.

The groundwater has been treated and contaminant levels are stable or declining. The office building has a moisture/vapor barrier and is supplied by public water which ensures that workers and pedestrians are not exposed to contaminants.

Image courtesy of Capitol Riverfront BID

Image courtesy of Capitol Riverfront BID

The other developed portions of the SEFC are known as ‘The Yards’. The Yards is a part of the revitalization and redevelopment of properties along the Anacostia River in Washington, DC known as the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative, which includes the Nationals Baseball Stadium just down river, adjacent to The Yards. The Yards Park (shown above) is located within The Yards and includes an entertainment/performance area, boardwalk and now a marina. This public park was made possible by GSA, the developer, Forest City Washington and the city of Washington, DC.

Image courtesy of Capitol Riverfront BID

Image courtesy of Capitol Riverfront BID

The Anacostia River Trail is also a result of the redevelopment. This picture shows a section of the River Trail located by The Yards Park.


Almost half of The Yards development parcels are complete, with total build out scheduled for 2025. What was once an urban, industrial environment is now a revitalized area, anchored by redevelopment.

Our RCRA Corrective Action program continues to oversee the environmental investigation and clean-up process to ensure that development and future land use will be protective of human health and the environment.

About the author: For the last 15 of her 25 years with EPA Region 3, Barbara Smith has been working in the RCRA Corrective Action group, working with Facilities in transforming their contaminated properties into cleaner, safer places to live and work. Barbara looks forward to living in a log cabin in the middle of nowhere someday.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

EPA Launches Clean Water Act Jurisdictional Determination Website

Joel Beauvais Joel Beauvais

By Joel Beauvais

We live in a society that increasingly allows us to visualize information and data on our phones, TVs, and computers. That’s why I’m excited to announce that EPA is once again demonstrating its commitment to transparency in decision-making by launching a new website that helps the public see where the Clean Water Act applies. The website will increase public understanding of the types of waters that are protected by the Clean Water Act.

The launch of the website supports a commitment made by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy to develop a publically available website to house Clean Water Act jurisdictional determinations. EPA worked in coordination with the Corps to develop a website that includes all CWA jurisdictional determinations made since August 28, 2015, the effective date of the Clean Water Rule. This includes jurisdictional determinations made under both the Rule and under the previous regulations while the Rule is stayed. Note that the website only makes use of information that was already publicly available online and does not display all waters of the United States subject to the Clean Water Act, only those for which a jurisdictional determination has been requested.

The website is the first to gather and interactively display jurisdictional determinations under the Clean Water Act across the country. This builds upon the existing  jurisdictional determination public interface on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Headquarters website.

Users are able to search, sort, map, and view information from jurisdictional determinations using different search parameters and filters. The easy-to-navigate website provides information about the presence or absence of jurisdictional waters where landowners requested jurisdictional determinations, and only makes use of public information. The website will increase and improve transparency regarding agency decision-making on Clean Water Act geographic jurisdictional matters.

I anticipate that the website will also improve jurisdictional determination requests, as the public will be able to easily access information from nearby and related determinations. Increased public access to information about how our jurisdictional decisions are made can assist landowners by providing information about the locations and types of resources that are and are not protected by the Clean Water Act.

We look forward to hearing feedback from stakeholders in the weeks and months ahead regarding website functionality and usability. We are committed to increasing the public’s access to information about how our decisions are made, because this is a key component of making the agencies’ programs more consistent, predictable, and environmentally effective.

For more, visit: https://watersgeo.epa.gov/cwa/CWA-JDs/.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Embracing Data for a More Efficient Government

Robin Thottungal Robin Thottungal

By Robin Thottungal

Innovators across the federal government are leveraging the power of data to address some of our most complex national challenges.

Data allow us to discover patterns, connect the dots and identify opportunities for innovation. Data should not be buried in spreadsheets, filing cabinets and static reports; they should be accessible at the push of a button or a quick internet search.

For the past year, I have had the privilege of representing EPA in the Federal Data Cabinet, a community of over 100 innovators across approximately 50 agencies. Together, we identify which tools and guidance are needed to sustain the people, practices and policies of a data-driven government.

Looking with a bird’s eye view at government-sized programs

To see a single, integrated view of our operations, we need to be able to explore data visually. Interactive dashboards and platforms can cut through increasing data volume and complexity.

For example, my team is building a data analytics platform to further enable evidence-based decision making across EPA. By integrating all of our acquisitions data into a single dashboard, called the Spend Visualization and Strategic Sourcing Savings Tracker, we can create a clear picture of EPA’s logistics and supply chain.

EPA's Strategic Sourcing tool leverages the Agency’s full buying power in order to reduce acquisition administrative costs and develop long-term, mutually beneficial partnerships with best-in-class providers of products and services.

EPA’s Strategic Sourcing tool leverages the Agency’s full buying power in order to reduce acquisition administrative costs and develop long-term, mutually beneficial partnerships with best-in-class providers of products and services.

 

The EPA Spend Tool enables our Office of Acquisitions Management (OAM) to accurately monitor, compare and answer questions regarding EPA spending.

The EPA Spend Tool enables our Office of Acquisitions Management (OAM) to accurately monitor, compare and answer questions regarding EPA spending.

Looking beyond EPA, there are many other stories to tell from Federal Data Cabinet members. For example, the General Services Administration is empowering business analysts to manage and support basic federal agency functions with their Data-2-Decision (D2D) platform. D2D moves analysis beyond describing the past; it allows users to diagnose reasons for events, prescribe ways to achieve desired outcomes and forecast future scenarios.

Increasingly, federal agencies are working together to see an even bigger picture, and these collaborations are causing positive advances across the board. In an effort to improve health outcomes, strengthen food security programming and monitor land use change, the U.S. Agency for International Development partnered with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to create GeoCenter, a geospatial analysis platform. The platform was immediately useful for pinpointing the most effective methods for preventing the spread of malaria in Mozambique.

Placing information in the hands of decision-makers

What happens when tech platforms unveil the patterns behind the data? Policymakers across the government can establish smarter, evidence-based policy. Decision-makers can target interventions and focus on the biggest opportunities. Researchers can design studies with more insightful results.

EPA has been a leader in sharing data with researchers, businesses and the environmental community. For the past 20 years, we have published much of our data on EnviroFacts, a single point of access to environmental activities that may affect air, water and land across the U.S. By enabling users to find, map and analyze information, we facilitate others to make informed decisions that rely on cross-cutting information.

Health and Human Services also set a precedent by publishing an interactive map that uncovers geographic discrepancies in chronic disease among Medicare beneficiaries. The Mapping Medicare Disparities Tool provides policymakers and researchers with a quick and easy way to identify vulnerable populations and target interventions that address racial and ethnic disparities.

The Mapping Medicare Disparities (MMD) Tool is a user friendly way to explore and better understand disparities in chronic diseases.

The Mapping Medicare Disparities (MMD) Tool is a user friendly way to explore and better understand disparities in chronic diseases.

Federal employees are not the only decision-makers who benefit from a data-driven government though. Citizens benefit too! Who else better understands the important issues impacting communities across America? Opening government data has empowered citizens to track trends and make informed personal decisions.

Do you want to ensure that you’re supporting businesses with a proven commitment to labor rights? The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has an online enforcement database for that. The data, covering more than four decades, include details on the roughly 90,000 OSHA inspections conducted every year.

Or do you want to understand more about the environment around your home or school? EPA’s online tool, My Environment, allows the public to learn more about air, water and land based on a search location. It also provides key resources that address local environmental challenges for citizens wanting to engage more with their communities.

Data is key to improving performance and services

The best government is one that delivers the right services, using the most cost-effective methods. By unleashing innovative technology, we are getting deeper, more meaningful insights about federal services and processes—and we are getting more efficient at delivering what citizens need most.

Take, for example, how the Internal Revenue Service is using data to enhance some of their important services. Processes for tax preparers, tax software developers and taxpayers have all improved. In addition to improving processes, their data-driven approach has resulted in a total of almost $1.7 billion dollars in revenue protected over just four years.

As another example, look at how the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) incentivizes high performance for all health insurance providers that participate in the Federal Employee Health Benefit (FEHB) program. OPM uses a data approach to benchmark clinical quality, customer satisfaction and resource use. With this approach, OPM reinforces quality health care for all its 8.2 million FEHB federal employees, retirees and family members, and holds 97 health insurance carriers accountable.

A multiplier effect across the government

We have already seen what a tremendous impact the data-driven approach has made in the services provided by individual government agencies. What we are seeing now is the multiplier effect, sparking change across the federal government.

This multiplier effect explains the success of the Department of Commerce (DOC)’s Data Academy, which educates and empowers DOC employees to make data-driven decisions. The agency is improving its service delivery to businesses, which strengthens America’s competitiveness.

Here at EPA, data enthusiasts have formed communities of practice to build capacity to operate in a data-driven manner. For example, EPA’s Geospatial program provides regular training, workshops and webinars on Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Going forward, my team will further empower the agency with training and support to visualize and analyze data using advanced, innovative methods.

We have worked hard to create a safer, smarter, more responsive government – one that keeps pace with our quickly changing world – by better leveraging our data. With data in our toolbox, we can answer new questions, arrive at deeper insights and make better decisions to improve outcomes.

All citizens benefit when the government saves time, talent and resources; becoming more efficient paves the way for new economic activity and social benefits.

Data are some of our most valuable national assets, and we are working hard to use them even better.

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

From My Lake to All Lakes: EPA’s National Lake Assessment

By Sarah Lehmann

As I do every year, this summer I spent my vacation on my favorite lake – Rainy Lake.  Rainy is a 228,000-acre lake harboring more than 2,200 islands; it straddles the U.S./Canada border between Minnesota and Ontario.  For me, it’s a place for family and friends to get together and fish, swim, watch wildlife, pick wild blueberries and generally relax without the buzz of cell phones, email, or internet.

This year we had an especially large gathering of family and friends.  We all enjoyed fishing for walleye, northern pike and small mouth bass — and then eating our fresh catch within hours; jumping off “High Rock” into the lake below; seeing bald eagles fly overhead; and hearing the haunting sounds of loons call in the evening.

Unfortunately, according to EPA’s recently published National Lakes Assessment, four out of ten lakes in the U.S. suffer from nutrient pollution.  Excess levels of the nutrients phosphorus and nitrogen from sources such as fertilizer, stormwater runoff, wastewater and even airborne industrial discharges can cause drops in dissolved oxygen and harmful algal blooms. These conditions pose a threat to fish and wildlife, as well as human health. The assessment also finds an association between excess nutrient levels and degraded communities of biological organisms such as the small aquatic insects that are an important part of the lake food chain.

Here at EPA, we are working with our federal, state and local partners to reduce nutrient pollution through a mix of regulatory and voluntary programs.  Just a few of these actions include working with states to identify waters impacted by nutrient pollution and develop plans to restore waters by limiting nutrient inputs; supporting efforts by landowners to adopt stream and shoreline buffers that slow erosion and protect waters from nutrient overload; and providing funding for the construction and upgrading of municipal wastewater facilities.

My grandparents purchased this rustic Rainy Lake getaway for my family more than 40 years ago.  I know that our ability to enjoy this amazing gift – and to pass it down in the same condition to future generations – depends on maintaining the lake’s clean water and healthy, natural shorelines.  The National Lakes Assessment provides information we can use to protect and restore all the Rainy Lakes around the country that are so precious to us all.  To learn more, please visit the National Lakes Assessment website including our innovative interactive dashboard to delve into additional findings and learn more about your conditions in your region.

About the author:  Sarah Lehmann works in the USEPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds and is the team leader for the National Aquatic Resource Surveys (NARS).  The recently released National Lakes Assessment  is the latest in the NARS series. 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.