The EPA Blog The EPA Blog Thu, 21 Jul 2016 14:54:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Rebirth of the Cheat River Thu, 21 Jul 2016 14:29:50 +0000 by Jon Capacasa

Photo credit: Kent Mason, Friends of the Cheat.

Photo credit: Kent Mason, Friends of the Cheat

I vividly remember my experience rafting the Cheat River in West Virginia.  It was in the early ‘80s and I recall a beautiful river valley with steep slopes, lushly forested hillsides, and the tremendous rush of water propelling us along.

Once we got started, there was no turning back.  A train track along the river beckoned as the river ran wilder and wilder, and a spill into the cold, churning waters came as a bracing, not to mention harrowing wake-up call.

Along the way, I also saw some of the impact to the river of pollution from old abandoned mines, such as discolored rocks with an orange coating reflecting acid mine drainage waters coming to the surface and oxidizing in the open air.

And this was even before the mid-‘90s when on two separate occasions, polluted water from an illegally-sealed underground mine blew out a hillside – pouring pollution into Muddy Creek and on into the Cheat, causing catastrophic harm not only to the river, but also to local recreation and the businesses that depended upon it.

Though these were difficult days for the river, thanks to years of Clean Water Act funding and the cleanup efforts of a local non-profit group, the state and others, the raging waters of the Cheat today represent a major success story.  The orange scour still remains in spots, but the mainstem of the river has been restored – serving once again as a haven for whitewater rafting and smallmouth bass fishing.

While work treating acid mine drainage from the river’s feeder streams continues, the restoration has been so successful that it’s getting harder for local roads to accommodate all the traffic from outdoor enthusiasts hoping to experience the Cheat’s wild wonders.

Since 2000, Cheat River restoration efforts have received more than $5.1 million in support, including $2.6 million in funding from EPA’s Clean Water Act Section 319 nonpoint source program through the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, and additional funding from the U.S. Office of Surface Mining and the state. These funds have largely been used by the non-profit Friends of the Cheat for “passive treatment projects” that use limestone beds and other techniques to neutralize acidity and reduce metals.

State statistics show that between 2000 and 2013, restoration work reduced acid mine drainage-related pollution to the Cheat watershed by more than 1.7 million pounds.  In 2014, the Conservation Fund and the Nature Conservancy purchased 3,836 acres of the Cheat River Canyon for preservation and public recreation.

Today, the Cheat plays host to bass fishing tournaments, as well as a robust perch population and even pollution-sensitive walleye – an amazing development considering the condition of the river just two decades ago.

Tell us about your experiences on the Cheat River.


About the author: Jon Capacasa is the Director of the Water Protection Division in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region.

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EPA’s Urban Waters Program Meets Local Needs Working with Community Mentors Thu, 21 Jul 2016 14:21:44 +0000 0

By Benita Best-Wong

I value how mentors from community-based organizations across the country have shaped the EPA’s Urban Waters program into an enterprise dedicated to meeting local needs. The program’s local leaders have demonstrated that revitalizing urban watersheds best catalyzes economic and social benefits when we unite with local partners and grantees to address environmental justice challenges.

Support to empower communities tackling local environmental challenges work is now in our program’s DNA. Our goal is to help local residents and their organizations, particularly those from underserved areas, restore their urban waters and advance community and economic revitalization.

UW Cycle

Click on the photo to learn more at the Urban Water cycle!

To back that goal up, this program has committed to advancing environmental justice in all major elements of our work. Urban Waters provides funding to communities through the Urban Waters Small Grants program and through the Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Grant program, but we strive to be more than a grant-maker. We’ve found a unique niche that can’t be filled through money alone.

Urban Waters is about people – building human connections, human capital, and supporting initiatives that are greater than the sum of their parts. Through the Urban Waters Federal Partnership and the Urban Waters Learning Network, we help communities leverage the abilities and authorities of all our partners, building partnerships across sectors from the local to the federal level to catalyze action and meet our shared goals. In this way, we strive to make sure Urban Waters efforts can be sustained long after an individual project is completed.


Click on the map to learn more about what Urban Waters is doing to assist communities.

These program elements were developed through thoughtful engagement with organizations doing work on the ground. It’s only because these community-based partners raised their voices that we’ve seen such robust partnerships formed and problems solved under the Urban Waters banner.

The urban environmental landscape is dynamic; at times, it’s tough terrain with complex and unique challenges arising where communities, development, and environment intersect. While EPA has come a long way working with environmental justice communities to identify and address challenges and inequities together, we still have plenty of work to do. 5

All of us in EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds and the Urban Waters Program consider community voices as critical contributors who shape the way we do business each day. We know we cannot achieve our goals without continued mentorship and guidance from the environmental justice community, and we look forward to taking strides to advance place-based priorities together.

This is why we are so excited for our upcoming Urban Waters National Training Workshop happening July 26-28 in Arlington, Virginia. At this workshop, we look forward to inspiring and strengthening the urban waters movement to build and sustain robust effective partnerships across the country; strengthening our skills in working together with underserved communities to address community-based priorities and environmental justice challenges; and connecting, sharing and learning with other innovators about how to convene, engage and succeed in our partnership work.

To celebrate our community partners, we will be highlighting the work of some of our grantees and workshop participants. So, make sure you come back to learn more about what Urban Waters is doing on the ground!

About the Author: Benita Best-Wong is the Director of the EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds.

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Weekend Activities- July 22nd 2016- July 24th 2016 Thu, 21 Jul 2016 13:06:14 +0000 Friday- July 22nd, 2016

Hike and Draw
6:30 PM- 7:30 PM
Relax and de-stress on four summer evenings with our new program partner The Art Students League. Focusing in on nature and transferring it to paper can be a calming and meditative process. Bring a bottle of water and a light-weight portable chair to the nature center. From there we will venture out with artists Pedro Ramirez and Amy Digi to beautiful sights worth feasting your eyes on. This event repeats every week on Friday between 7/22/16 and 8/12/16.

Saturday- July 23rd, 2016

Living With White-Tailed Deer
Staten Island
11:00 AM-12:30 PM
Come learn about the local white-tailed deer with the Urban Park Rangers!

Fishing and Crabbing
12:00 PM- 2:00 PM
Catch-and-release fishing is a great way to get outdoors and discover nature just a few blocks from home. Our experienced Rangers teach the ethics of fishing and the ecology of our waterways on every fishing program.

Summer on the Hudson: Summer Gaze
2:00 PM- 4:00 PM
Summer on the Hudson welcomes all to join the Amateur Astronomers Association to gaze at the sun through a safe scope and see the central star of our solar system.

Sunday- July 24th, 2016

Northern Manhattan Parks Hike
11:00 AM- 12:30 PM
Meander through parks in northern Manhattan on this one-way hike from Morningside Park to Jackie Robinson Park.

It’s My Park at McCarren Park
9:00 AM- 12:00 PM
This It’s My Park season, volunteer with Good.Clean.Fun. to help care for McCarren Park. When you go exercise in the park, borrow a pair of reusable work gloves from Good.Clean.Fun to pick up some of the trash you may encounter along the way.

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A “Cool” Way to Combat Climate Change under the Montreal Protocol Wed, 20 Jul 2016 19:14:44 +0000 By Administrator Gina McCarthy and U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz

World climate leaders are meeting this week in Vienna for the next stage of international discussions about a global phase-down of climate-damaging hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

This meeting should lay the foundation for a 2016 amendment to the Montreal Protocol – a hugely successful global agreement that has put Earth’s fragile ozone layer on track to full restoration. A 2016 amendment would leverage the same proven mechanisms that helped fix the “ozone hole” to address another serious risk to the planet – HFCs.

When scientists discovered the “ozone hole” in the 1980s, they uncovered a tangible health risk to people and the environment. The ozone layer of our upper atmosphere is a natural sunscreen that protects us from harmful ultraviolet rays. A massive and growing “hole” in the ozone layer threatened to drive up skin cancer rates, harm marine life, ruin crops and even degrade wood, plastic and other construction materials.

The 1987 Montreal Protocol mandated that countries phase out ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) and similar chemicals used widely at the time for air conditioning and refrigeration. With 197 countries signing on, it was the first UN treaty to achieve universal ratification in the United Nations.

The results have been remarkable. The peak ozone hole has shrunk dramatically by more than four million square kilometers (about the size of India), with a full recovery expected by mid-century. And despite fears of economic disruption, the private sector adjusted cost-effectively.

However, to phase out CFCs, countries needed viable alternatives. Back in the 80s and 90s, more and more sectors began moving toward hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – chemicals that performed well as refrigerants and were significantly healthier for the ozone layer. But like the chemicals they replaced, HFCs are still damaging to our climate system. In fact, they are hundreds to thousands of times more powerful in warming the planet than carbon dioxide. Rapid growth in the use of HFCs threatens to undo much of our progress in reducing other carbon emissions under the Paris Climate Agreement.

It is time to amend the Montreal Protocol and phase down the use of HFCs in air conditioning and refrigeration – an urgent priority given the explosive actual and projected growth of air conditioning and refrigeration worldwide.

If we succeed, we could avoid up to 0.5 degree centigrade of warming by the end of the century by shifting towards other, less harmful alternatives. Avoiding that half-degree is crucial for limiting global temperature rise to below 2 degrees centigrade and avoiding the most severe impacts of climate change.

Last November in Dubai, negotiators agreed on a path forward to phase down HFCs by amending the Montreal Protocol in 2016. The amendment would mandate countries to replace HFCs, in stages, with climate-friendly alternatives such as hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs) and hydrocarbons.

We have the technologies and chemicals to get this done, and are confident we can produce an HFC amendment that works.

U.S. leaders will take the results of a newly-published Department of Energy report, The Future of Air Conditioning for Buildings, to Vienna. It documents air conditioning’s explosive growth worldwide, especially in developing nations, which could lead to huge increases in the use of HFCs and emissions of greenhouse gases. The report finds that air conditioning energy consumption in countries not part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) could rise 4-1/2 times 2010 levels by 2050 – emitting more HFC greenhouse gases and undercutting the Paris Agreement. Substitute chemicals are available to avoid the use of HFCs and their global warming impacts.

Here are some key findings:

  • For air conditioning equipment categories that account for 95 percent of global residential sales and 35 percent of global commercial sales, climate-friendly refrigerants on the market have demonstrated comparable or superior performance and energy efficiency.
  • Also, climate-friendly refrigerants are already being developed and commercialized in all other major air conditioning equipment categories.
  • The air conditioning industry has steadily improved the energy efficiency of air conditioning units over time, including during the transition out of CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances into HFCs.
  • Given that energy costs account for the majority of lifecycle air conditioning costs, energy efficiency improvements can more than offset increases in upfront purchase costs to consumers that could result from switching to HFC alternatives.

In short, the report demonstrates that the world is making rapid progress innovating toward a world without HFCs. In the near-term we can expect a wide array of air conditioning options that are climate-friendly, energy-efficient and affordable.

And also today, California is announcing that it will contribute half a million dollars toward a nearly $6 million effort launched last June to conduct critical research regarding the safe use of mildly flammable and flammable alternatives to HFCs. The U.S. made this announcement as part of the launch of the Clean Energy Ministerial’s Advanced Cooling Challenge, in order to accelerate updated safety standards to allow widespread use of these climate-friendly refrigerants in the United States and internationally.

As a part of the Challenge, DOE is working with the Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) to support the acceleration of updated safety standards to allow widespread use of climate-friendly refrigerants in the United States and internationally. In support of the Advanced Cooling Challenge, the DOE is contributing $3 million in funding, AHRI is contributing $1 million, and ASHRAE is contributing $1.2 million.

It’s time for the world to come together to address HFCs. And this week’s negotiations are an important step down that path.

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The future holds a cleaner Lake Champlain Wed, 20 Jul 2016 16:13:14 +0000 By Curt Spalding

To stand at the edge of Lake Champlain, looking at the rich blue water in the foreground and the Adirondack mountaintops in the background, is to behold one of New England’s most beautiful landscapes.

On a brilliant summer day, I have seen anglers trolling here for bass, sailors riding the wind and Champlain4children frolicking along the shores. I have seen the commerce that comes with half a million tourists and commuters who are ferried across the lake to New York each year.

But for years, this exquisitely beautiful source of economic growth, local pride and drinking water for 145,000 people has been compromised by too much phosphorus. Runoff from farms, rooftops, parking lots, roads, and forests, eroding stream banks and discharges from wastewater treatment facilities have all added to phosphorus overload.

Most of our regions’ lakes, rivers and streams contain some amount of naturally occurring phosphorus. But each waterbody can hold only so much phosphorus before it creates an ecosystem choked with algae that suffocates wildlife and makes waters unsafe for swimming. Lake Champlain has been over its limit for decades now, especially in the narrow, southern portion of the lake, and St. Albans and Missisquoi Bays.

However, we have reason to feel assured that the future will bring a cleaner and healthier Lake Champlain. This month my colleagues at EPA issued the final version of a new plan that spells out how much phosphorus the various parts of this lake can support. This document, called a “Total Maximum Daily Load” plan sets new required pollution reduction targets for the Vermont sources of phosphorus to the 120-mile-long lake that separates northwestern Vermont from northeastern New York.

Cham[plain2The new limits, along with a state law passed last year give the state responsibility for reaching the targets, and for coming up with the controls necessary for achieving these goals. I have watched state and environmental leaders work long and hard to shape the plans and policies and I am confident that the programs, regulations and permits they are now working to put in place will succeed in reducing phosphorus levels from farms, commercial developments, roads, and forests.

The new limits were developed in collaboration with the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, the Department of Environmental Conservation, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets and the Vermont Agency of Transportation, who each have a role in the success of this plan. The new plan reflects years of work and input from many organizations and people across the Lake Champlain basin.

While the new limits are a major milestone on the path to reducing phosphorus pollution in Lake Champlain and in preventing the algae blooms, much work still has to be done to make the lake as healthy as it can and should be. Nearly everybody who lives, works or vacations in the basin contributes to the problem in some way and it will take an “all in” effort to bring the lake back to good health. Our EPA staff will be there to help our partners and ensure we achieve the desired levels. And we’ll issue report cards to help all of us and the public keep track of the progress.

One of my biggest joys in working at the New England office of the Environmental Protection Agency is witnessing the restoration of our beautiful lakes. Lake restoration happens slowly and requires effort over many years, particularly for large lakes like Lake Champlain, but I’m optimistic that the key ingredients are in place to bring about gradual recovery of this special body of water.


Curt Spalding is regional administrator of EPA’s New England office.

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Water Security Test Bed Experiments: Combating Contamination with Frozen Drinks? Wed, 20 Jul 2016 16:03:09 +0000 By Christina Burchette

What do frozen drinks have to do with EPA research? Water pipe decontamination testing in Idaho!

I’m guessing that you’re probably skeptical or confused by this point. Of course, scientists at the Water Security Test Bed (a full-scale replica of a water distribution system) didn’t actually use sugary ice to decontaminate water pipes—though if sugar could do to pipes what it does to my teeth it would probably be very effective. The reality was a little more complicated than that, but just as fascinating!

A silver truck holds the ice pigging slurry

To create this slurry, ice was made in two large ice tanks connected to a truck where the mixture was stored. Researchers ran a hose from the truck to one end of the test bed pipe.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, EPA researchers at the test bed did an experiment to see if a method called “ice pigging” could effectively remove anthrax from drinking water systems. Ice pigging is a physical method that scours the insides of the water pipe with an icy mixture called a “slurry,” similar in texture to a frozen margarita.

The difficulty with decontaminating a drinking water system after an anthrax contamination would be that anthrax spores can stick to the inside of pipes and may continuously contaminate water running through the system. Ice pigging could potentially slough off the anthrax spores that remain in the pipes, but the method needs further testing to see if it could be an effective alternative to harsher chemicals typically used to inactivate the spores.

The researchers didn’t actually use anthrax, but instead Bacillus globigii (BG), which is a non-pathogenic anthrax surrogate – it acts like anthrax in the study but doesn’t present the same level of danger.

A hose pumps water into a large water bed

The ice slurry exiting the pipe into the wastewater holding lagoon

Here’s how the study worked: samples were taken before ice pigging for comparison purposes. Then, researchers stopped the water flow and injected the slurry inside of the pipe to try and physically remove the BG spores.  Once the slurry mixture was inside of the pipe, the water was turned back on so the pressure could push the slurry through the pipe to scour it. After all of the slurry had been pushed from the pipe, researchers took more samples. Then, to prepare the pipes for another test, researchers filled the pipes with bleach and let it sit overnight for extra decontamination purposes (and then they sampled again).

The results from this exciting experiment will be out sometime next spring, and the researchers already have several other decontamination experiments planned for the coming months. Personally, I hope they use ice cream next time.

Before I leave, I’d like to give a little plug for the Water Security Test Bed (WSTB): Previous full-scale testing at the WSTB has proved that it’s important for researchers to perform experiments in conditions as close to real life as possible because it can provide better data and insights on decontaminating real water systems than pilot or bench scale experiments—which means that our infrastructure and public health are better protected from emergencies.

EPA invites water sector researchers and other federal agencies to collaborate in ongoing research or initiate new areas of investigation at the WSTB. If you’re interested in partnering with us, please contact Jim Goodrich at

Watch the video below to learn more about the Water Security Test Bed:

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

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We’re at Our Best When We Work Together: The 2016 Wildfire Smoke Guide for Public Health Officials Tue, 19 Jul 2016 16:09:54 +0000 By Wayne Cascio and Susan Stone

The summer wildfire season is upon us and almost every day we hear of communities endangered by wildfire or wildfire smoke.  Even now, as we write this blog, there are more than 20 large wildfires across the U.S. that could be affecting your health.  So, when wildfires threaten, where can public officials, communities, and individuals turn for the most up-to-date public health guidance?  They can look to the 2016 Wildfire Smoke: Guide for Public Health Officials.  The Guide has been a trusted source of information for those responsible for protecting the public’s health and welfare since 2001.

cover of the wildfire guideThe updated 2016 guide is an easy-to-use source of information that outlines whose health is most affected by wildfire smoke, how to reduce exposure to smoke, what public health actions are recommended, and how to communicate air quality to the public.  This just-published guide is the product of a collaborative undertaking by federal, state, and non-governmental wildfire experts. These include EPA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Forest Service, California Air Resources Board, California Department of Public Health, Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

The recommendations are founded on scientific evidence, and EPA researchers have contributed much to our understanding of the adverse health effects of wildfire smoke.  Today, EPA researchers are actively working to increase what we know about the health effects of the smoke produced by different kinds of natural fuels such as grasses, pine and hardwood forests and peat.  We are learning about the chemistry of the emissions of wildfires, how the smoke is transported, and how it changes over time.  We are also looking at ways to identify communities at particularly high risk from the health effects of wildfire, and how policies related to air quality could consider wildfire smoke.

The increasing size and severity of wildfire in the U.S. over the last three decades represents one of the many complex environmental health challenges we face today that are best solved through the cooperation of local, state and federal government, public health organizations, communities and individuals.  The fact that wildfires are contributing to a greater proportion of our air pollution, and impacting populated areas more frequently underscores the importance of this challenge.  The 2016 Wildfire Smoke: Guide for the Public Health Officials represents a great example of cooperation to meet an environmental challenge and protect the health of the public.

You can learn more about the health effects of wildfires, obtain current fire advisories, and learn what to do before, during, and after a fire on the AirNow website, a place to get information on daily air quality forecasts based on EPA’s Air Quality Index.

USDA Forest Service Active Fire Mapping Program

Learn about EPA’s wildland fire research

About the authors:

Dr. Wayne Cascio spent more than 25 years as a cardiologist before joining EPA’s Office of Research and Development where he now leads research on the links between exposures to air pollution and public health, and how people can use that information to maintain healthy hearts.

Susan Stone, senior environmental scientist in EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards, is the Air Quality Index team leader, the project lead for revisions to the wildfire guide, and contributor to EPA wildfire health research.

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Water Infrastructure is Everyone’s Business Tue, 19 Jul 2016 15:43:49 +0000 By Joel Beauvais

Safe drinking water and effective wastewater management are basic building blocks of public health. Too often, we neglect our infrastructure until it fails. We need to invest in America’s water infrastructure – and we need to be strategic about doing it right – especially in disadvantaged communities.

We’ve known for years that our nation’s investments in water and wastewater infrastructure weren’t keeping up with the needs—which EPA estimates at $655 billion over the next 20 years. But those struggles are not the same everywhere—they are most acute in low-income and small communities.

In the wealthiest country on Earth, clean water needs to be available to everyone–no matter what part of the country you live in, no matter how much or how little money you make, and no matter the color of your skin.

To fix the problem, we’ll not only need innovative financing to leverage more investment, but we’ll also need to help these communities build capacity—so they can sustainably manage and operate their water systems, get access to those funds, and put them to good use.

We have to start by confronting the same ingrained, systemic challenges that threaten our country’s water resources – a resource that’s essential to every human being on the planet.

  • That means taking a serious look at America’s aging water infrastructure – in both urban and rural communities across the country – and asking ourselves what needs to be done to upgrade it.
  • That means finding better ways to address legacy pollutants, while striving to better understand the risks of emerging pollutants—and what they mean for water treatment technologies moving forward.
  • That means asking hard questions about how we achieve environmental justice—and how we deal with the long-term disinvestment in low income communities that contributed to situations like the terrible one we saw in Flint.

Everyone needs to bring their tools to the table—at the local, tribal and state level—along with utilities, investors, community advocates, and civil society. There’s a lot of innovative work going on out there, and we need to share and leverage each other’s ideas and expertise.

Joel Beauvais speaks from behind the conference panel table with four other presenters facing a room filled with conference attendees.

Joel Beauvais, Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water, speaks on a panel about best practices in water infrastructure funding coordination in Washington, DC.

For one thing, we need to make sure our current funding is working as hard as it can. Some states have been especially successful in leveraging EPA capitalization grants into more money—that can be lent to borrowers at below-market interest rates. We need to transfer these lessons to all states.

We also need new tools. EPA is getting started with one new one—our Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, or WIFIA, authority, to provide loans for large infrastructure projects. We hope to have rules on this out by the end of this year.

Finally, we also need to attract more private capital into the infrastructure market. This is not a new idea—many communities have been doing this for years, but we need to apply lessons learned to other parts of the country.

We know that for our infrastructure to stand the test of time, we have to build sustainability and climate resilience into our designs. EPA’s Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center was created a year and a half ago to provide innovative financial and technical guidance to communities.

Already, they’re helping communities across the country make better-informed decisions about financing resilient, sustainable infrastructure projects—consistent with their local needs. We’re doing it through direct outreach, tools, and strategies shared in regional water finance forums and everyday conversations. We also provide technical assistance grants to help small systems get the technical, managerial, and financial capacity they need to stay sustainable over the long term.

The WaterCare project, announced earlier this year, is also helping communities in need by offering targeted financial and technical planning and guidance.

And EPA is developing a drinking water action plan that focuses on addressing environmental justice and equity in infrastructure funding. We’ll be releasing that later this year.

We are committed to working with all of you to strengthen our nation’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. Our health—and our national security—depend on it.


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Technical Report Highlights Auto Industry’s Success Meeting Fuel Economy and GHG Standards Mon, 18 Jul 2016 22:25:10 +0000 By Janet McCabe and Dr. Mark Rosekind, Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

In 2010, the Obama Administration took a historic step to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and decrease carbon pollution by putting in place fuel economy standards and greenhouse gas standards for cars and light trucks for model years 2012 through 2016.  A second round of standards finalized in 2012, expanded the program through Model Year 2025.  These standards – what we call the National Program – are already making a big impact: reducing carbon pollution from the atmosphere while saving consumers money at the pump.

The auto industry has responded to the program with continual innovation – showing that a common sense approach to regulation that provides lots of flexibility can help drive American ingenuity. We are seeing fuel efficiency technologies enter the market faster than nearly anyone anticipated. In fact, auto manufacturers over-complied with the standards for each of the first three years of the National Program. All of this has taken place during a period of record vehicle sales.

The National Program reaches out nearly a decade into the future – to 2025. When the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) developed the program, we agreed to do a “mid-term evaluation” to assess the standards for the 2022-2025 model years (MY).  We said back in 2012 that the mid-term evaluation would be a rigorous assessment of these standards, and would look at the best available data on emission control and fuel economy-improving technologies, costs, market developments, and other factors.

Today, we took the first step in that process. EPA, DOT, and California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) jointly put out an in-depth draft Technical Assessment Report (TAR). This comprehensive and robust report, informed by extensive stakeholder outreach and substantial technical work by the three agencies over the past several years, will inform EPA’s future determination on whether the standards are appropriate for MY 2022-2025 and NHTSA’s future rulemaking for those years. The report itself is not a rulemaking or decision document and does not change any of the existing legal requirements under the existing National Program—but it shows how much progress has already been made.

Here are some highlights:

Automakers are innovating in a time of record sales and fuel economy levels.  We are seeing technologies that reduce emissions and improve fuel economy entering the fleet at faster rates than originally expected.  These technologies include turbo charging, engine downsizing, more sophisticated transmissions, vehicle weight reduction, aerodynamics and idle stop-start, along with improved accessories and air conditioning systems.  Vehicle sales are strong (six straight years of increasing sales through 2015 for the first time since the 1920s, leading to an all-time high in 2015), and the auto firms overall are over-complying with the standards. Every single vehicle category, from subcompacts to pickup trucks, offers cleaner choices for consumers.

Manufacturers can meet the standards at similar or even a lower cost than we had anticipated in the 2012 rulemaking. Automakers have a wide range of technology pathways to choose from, but the TAR shows that manufacturers can meet the current standards for MY 2022-2025 primarily with conventional gasoline vehicles that use internal combustion engines with well-understood technologies.  This finding is consistent with what the National Academy of Sciences found in a comprehensive 2015 study.

Many manufacturers are meeting future standards with today’s vehicles. There are many vehicles – from many manufacturers – meeting future standards several years ahead of schedule.  In fact, there are over 100 car, SUV and pick-up truck versions on the market today that already meet 2020 or later standards.

The National Program is designed to enable consumers to choose the vehicle they want, from compact cars to larger trucks suitable for carrying and towing heavy loads, while helping owners enjoy improved fuel economy with a reduced environmental footprint. Rather than setting a single fuel economy target number for all vehicles, the National Program establishes separate standards for passenger cars and light trucks, with standards for trucks being generally less stringent than the standards for cars.  This approach protects consumer choice, and at the same time, it improves efficiency and emissions for all types of vehicles.  Even with lower than expected gas prices, which has resulted in a shift in consumer choice, the draft report shows that the standards mean more fuel efficient options no matter type or size vehicles consumers choose to buy.

Today’s report demonstrates that the program is working – reducing oil consumption and protecting the environment while saving consumers money. We are taking comment on the report and look forward to hearing from all interested stakeholders.

More information on the midterm evaluation, including the new report, can be found at and

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This Week in EPA Science Fri, 15 Jul 2016 20:17:43 +0000 By Kacey FitzpatrickResearch, Go!

It will take five minutes for that PokéStop to refresh—need something to pass the time? Check out the latest in EPA Science!

Drought Resilience and Water Conservation
In many areas of the United States, the frequency, intensity, and duration of drought events are increasing. EPA is conducting research and working with stakeholders to better understand the impact of drought on water quality and availability, and to provide solutions to help communities conserve water. Learn more about Drought Resilience and Water Conservation

Summer in the Research Lab
Missouri University of Science and Technology student Katherine Bartels is spending the summer studying the Tillamook Bay salt marsh in Oregon through EPA’s Greater Research Opportunities Fellowship program. Learn more about her research project in the article Bartels travels west on ‘Grand Challenge’ topic with EPA.

Researchers at Work
EPA’s Justin Conley is a postdoctoral researcher investigating the toxicity of endocrine disrupting chemicals and new approaches for water quality monitoring. When he is not in the lab, he is busy brewing beer and exploring the outdoors. Meet EPA Researcher Justin Conley!

Transform Tox Challenge Workshop

The “Innovating for Metabolism” Semi-Finalists Workshop, part of the Transform Tox Testing Challenge, took place at EPA’s Research Triangle Park facility on last week.  The goal of the challenge is to develop a solution that allows all ToxCast and Tox21 in vitro assays to be retrofitted with metabolism.  The workshop brought together Stage 1 semi-finalist, agency experts, and other leaders in the field to discuss the Tox21 and ToxCast programs, the semi-finalist proposals, and feasible expectations for the remainder of the challenge.

group shot of everyone at the tox test challenge workshop

Innovating for Metabolism Semi-Finalists Workshop Participants including semi-finalists, workshop presenters, workshop panel members and others with interest in the challenge.


Need more science?

Mark your calendars—here are some of our upcoming events.

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. She is a regular contributor to It All Starts with Science and the founding writer of “The Research Recap.”

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