Partnering in Kentucky – Environmental Success through Cooperative Federalism

Mary S. Walker, Acting Region 4 EPA Administrator

By Mary S. Walker
Acting Region 4 EPA Administrator

As Administrator Wheeler visits Kentucky this week, I am proud to note the progress the Bluegrass State is making when it comes to environmental protection. The collaboration between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with the Commonwealth of Kentucky is an excellent example of positive environmental outcomes achievable through a cooperative federalism approach.

Here are some examples of Kentucky’s progress on air quality, taken from the Kentucky Division for Air Quality’s recently released 2018 annual report:

  • Over the last 20 years, statewide averages of sulfur dioxide levels have fallen by more than 90%.
  • Between 2000 and 2017, annual fine particulate matter concentrations dropped by more than 50%.
  • As of 2018, ambient air monitoring data demonstrate that all of Kentucky is meeting the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter.

Given the advances Kentucky has made in protecting the environment, EPA has undertaken a series of actions to give Kentucky greater control in environmental regulation. Here are just a few examples:

  • On March 29, EPA approved Kentucky’s revisions to the Kentucky Regional Haze State Implementation Plan (SIP), replacing the “one-size-fits-all” federal implementation plan (FIP) imposed by EPA in 2012. EPA took this action quickly – 14 months ahead of our statutory requirement – because of the importance to the commonwealth.
  • In 2018, EPA approved Kentucky’s SIP related to ozone interstate transport, avoiding the need for a federal plan.
  • Last summer, EPA approved Kentucky’s request to opt out of the federal reformulated gasoline program for the northern part of the state, easing fuel-cost concerns while maintaining air quality standards in the area.

All of these actions stem from our recognition that when states are allowed to take the lead on environmental protection, they can create state-specific solutions that maximize efficiency, reduce costs for their citizens, and ensure continued progress in environmental protection.

The Obama Administration imposed more than 50 FIPs on states. EPA has worked to convert many of these into SIPs, averaging almost one FIP-to-SIP per month since March 2017. This includes action on regional haze FIPs for more than a dozen states, including Kentucky.

EPA heard and responded to the concerns of Governor Bevin and the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet in developing the proposed Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, which addresses the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from existing coal-fired power plants. The ACE rule would replace the 2015 Clean Power Plan (CPP), which was stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court and has never gone into effect. The ACE proposal is more consistent with the Clean Air Act as well as the administration’s commitment to affordable, reliable energy.

We are successfully rebalancing the power between Washington and the states as we promote state leadership in environmental protection, resulting in tangible environmental results for the American people. The citizens of Kentucky can breathe easier, as air quality improves and regulatory burdens decline.

About the author: Mary Walker is the the Acting Administrator for EPA’s Southeast Region (Region 4). In this capacity, she leads EPA’s efforts to protect human health and the environment in the eight southeastern states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee, as well as six federally-recognized tribes. Read more.

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.

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Monitoring Progress in the Bay

by Jim Edward

EPA Regional Administrator Cosmo Servidio observes underwater grasses growing at the Susquehanna Flats. (Photo by Jim Edward/Chesapeake Bay Program)

August and September were very wet and rainy months in most parts of the Chesapeake Bay region. But on September 19, there was a break in the clouds, which was fortunate for those of us going on a water quality monitoring “cruise” in the northern portion of the Bay.

Maryland Secretary of Natural Resources Mark Bolton invited EPA Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Cosmo Servidio, Water Division Director Cathy Libertz, and me to join him and his staff on their research vessel to observe their tidal Bay monitoring team in action.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) monitoring teams do water quality monitoring cruises of the tidal Chesapeake Bay on a regular basis during the year. They take samples at numerous stations during three-day cruises beginning in the south at the mouth of the Bay and finishing up north where the Susquehanna River meets the tidal Bay.

We began by visiting one of DNR’s fixed monitoring stations where the team took various measurements including water temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, Ph, turbidity and chlorophyll a. They also took water samples to test for levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment, which are the three pollutants Bay jurisdictions are working to reduce under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load.

Monitoring the Bay and its tributaries allows the Bay Program to detect changes that take place, improves our collective understanding of the Bay ecosystem, and reveals trends that provide valuable information to policy makers.

The second leg of our cruise on a smaller boat enabled us to venture out into an area in the upper Bay known as the Susquehanna Flats. This is the longest contiguous bed of underwater grasses in the Chesapeake Bay, spanning approximately 10 square miles near the mouth of the Susquehanna River.

Underwater grasses are important because they offer food to invertebrates and migratory waterfowl, shelter young fish and crabs, and keep the water healthy by absorbing excess nutrients, trapping suspended sediment and slowing shoreline erosion.

Our hosts were concerned that we wouldn’t be able to see much of the grass beds due to the unusually high amounts of rain we had this summer. Since June 1, more than twice the normal amount of rainfall has fallen over a broad swath from Washington, D.C., up through Maryland and central Pennsylvania, resulting in higher river flows into the Bay. Measurements show freshwater flows into the Bay this August were the highest ever recorded.

Despite these conditions, we saw many of the dozen or more species of underwater grasses that live in the Bay. While cloudier than usual, we still could pick out large stands of widgeon grass, wild celery and some hydrilla. I found it awe-inspiring to be out in the middle of almost 10,000 acres of underwater grasses.

It will be interesting to see next time what impact the record rainfalls and associated nutrient and sediment load increases will have on Bay water quality and the abundance of the underwater grasses.

We will see if the resiliency we are trying to build by putting best management practices on the land will help to minimize any potentially adverse impacts to water quality, underwater grass fisheries and habitats.

The Bay Program’s scientists will undoubtedly be making comparisons to Hurricane Irene, and Tropical Storm Lee, and other high-flow events to see if the resilience of the Bay ecosystem is improving as much as we have been working toward.

About the author: Jim Edward is the Acting Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program. He plays a lead role in coordinating the U.S. EPA’s activities with other federal agencies and works with state and local authorities to improve the water quality and living resources of the Bay.

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.