1985 EPA Journal Article: History as Seen by the Regional Administrators

[EPA Journal - November 1985]

On the occasion of the fifteenth anniversary of the agency, the EPA Journal asked EPA's Regional Administrators to look back and reflect on what achievements stand out in their region. The magazine received a variety of responses and they are printed here.

Michael R. Deland, Region 1

The Atlantic salmon has returned to some rivers for the first time since George Washington's day.

Over the past decade and a half, we have witnessed in New England a grassroots revolution against environmental degradation. State and federal lawmakers and civil servants, citizen groups, business and industry, and thousands of caring and dedicated New Englanders are the "militia" that turned things around. The formation of this loose but powerful coalition is the single greatest achievement I have seen since 1970 when EPA was born.

The accomplishments of this coalition are all around us. Levels of most air pollutants have dropped markedly despite doubling and tripling of major pollution sources. Five of six New England states are now inspecting motor vehicles for emission controls or actually testing emissions. Sulfur dioxide trouble spots have been all but eliminated. Working with industry, our states have developed new processes to reduce or eliminate some hydrocarbon emissions.

In 1970, less than 30 percent of our major river mileage was suitable for fishing and swimming. Today the figure is 80 percent. Beaches and shellfish beds are reopening along the coast, and the Atlantic salmon has returned to some rivers for the first time since George Washington's day. Among the remaining 20 percent of river mileage are small streams dominated by industrial effluent and municipal sewage. Here industry is striving to clean its effluent to standards more strict than those for drinking water.

Boston Harbor has been grossly polluted for more than 20 years, but a new Massachusetts Water Resources Authority has been created to attack the problem, and a federal judge in Boston has agreed at EPA's behest to enforce cleanup schedules in the $2 billion repair and construction project that lies ahead.

We are gaining control over the frightening mismanagement of toxic substances and hazardous waste, and correcting waste disposal errors of the past. EPA, the states, and responsible companies have started cleanup or preliminary work at 46 New England Superfund sites, and 36 emergency cleanups have been completed at Superfund sites and other toxic waste dumps.

Good things are happening because the "militia" of citizens, industry, and state government wants progress and is willing to work cooperatively to achieve it. What was the key decision on the part of Region 1? A succession of politically appointed regional administrators each decided to be led, not by political considerations, but by the advice of career professionals based on sound science and technology.

Not all the decisions have been universally popular, but they have earned for Region 1 the trust and public cooperation without which there would have been no revolution and no progress. I thank my colleagues, the people of New England, and their state governments. May the next 15 years be as productive as the last.

Christopher J. Daggett, Region 2

Some of the greatest strides have been made in the war against water pollution caused by municipal sewage discharges.

Cleaning up environmental problems anywhere is a challenge. Producing results in New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands--among the most populated areas in the nation--is a complex battle.

Looking back over the past 15 years, Region 2 can claim some major successes. Some of the greatest strides have been made in the war against water pollution caused by municipal sewage discharges. With impetus from the 1972 federal Clean Water Act, Region 2 has provided more than $6 billion in funds to various municipalities for sewage treatment programs.

Perhaps the most striking results of those funds can be seen in the Hudson River, especially in its harbor area. More than $2.6 billion has been spent to date to treat sewage from New York and New Jersey. In New Jersey, communities used that money to build four plants that treat about 379 million gallons of municipal sewage daily. Another 70 plants in New York treat 593 million gallons of sewage a day that would have been spewed into the Hudson River.

The results are startling. Coliform bacterial levels have dropped drastically due to treatment, preserving the safety of the Hudson's waters for people and fish. With tons of pollutants gone, oxygen levels have improved, luring striped bass, white perch, tomcod, and bay anchovy back to the harbor where they are propagating actively again. Even shellfish beds have reopened in the Atlantic south of Rockaway Peninsula.

The cleanup also means the beginning of a renaissance for New York harbor beaches. For example, Midland Beach on Staten Island reopened about five years ago. Even more beaches in the greater New York-New Jersey metropolitan area are expected to reopen within the next few years as pollution abatement programs continue.

Some of those beach reopenings will come on the heels of a major advancement in the water quality of a seven-mile stretch of the Hudson. The water quality standards for the area, spanning from the northern tip of Manhattan to just south of the Tappan Zee Bridge, have been upgraded to fishable and swimmable levels as a result of improved waste treatment on the river.

Another more visible and massive sign of improvements to come for the Hudson River is the North River Sewage Treatment Plant near the George Washington Bridge. Starting this December, the North River project will treat some 180 million gallons of sewage generated daily in Manhattan.

While tremendous progress in water pollution control has been made over the years, many challenges remain. Our programs to curb conventional pollution in the Hudson River are being fortified with more recent efforts to identify and control toxic chemicals.

Region 2 has kicked off an aggressive program to pretreat industrial wastewaters--especially those contaminated with toxics--before they ever reach municipal sewage treatment plants and slip into the Hudson. This program represents a major effort for EPA Region 2 in the next decade.

James M. Seif, Region 3

Region 3 has had a history of responding to environmental emergencies long before Love Canal and Superfund became household words.

EPA's Middle Atlantic Region has improved the quality of the environment immeasurably through its emergency response activities. In fact, Region 3 was responding to environmental emergencies long before Love Canal and Superfund became household words.

In the early and mid-1970s, Region 3 participated in the cleanup of a number of tanker accidents on the Delaware River and the devastating aftereffects of tropical storm Agnes. These emergencies required the cleanup of hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil and chemicals.

In the later 1970s, our regional also dealt with hazardous waste emergencies under the oil spill cleanup provisions of the Clean Water Act (CWA). For example, the contamination of a warehouse in Youngsville, Pa., by PCBs was first addressed using CWA emergency funding. Later, Superfund money was used to complete removal of contaminated soil and the monitoring of ground water.

Since the passage of Superfund, Region 3 has been one of the nation's leaders in quickly addressing hazardous waste problems through use of the emergency provisions of the law. Region 3 will soon reach its one hundredth Superfund immediate removal action. To date, this has included the removal of 12,600 drums, 31,700 tons of contaminated soil and sludges, and over 1.2 million gallons of hazardous substances. Details such as these are often overlooked in accounts of Superfund accomplishments.

All these activities have not only had a positive impact on the environment, but have also helped to shape the public's perception of EPA as an agency that can be looked to for help in emergencies.

Jack E. Ravan, Region 4

By 1973, the body of water was well on its way to being once again a functioning estuary.

In Florida's Escambia Bay during the late 1950s, fishing nets were filled mainly with slimy growths, a variety of wastes, and very few fish.

Into the 1960s, fish kills abounded and the estuary at Pensacola received nationwide attention. News pictures of piles of dead menhaden and other fish species were not uncommon.

Enrichment of the bay created algae blooms which fostered millions of fish. However, during critical conditions the same algae caused lowered dissolved oxygen which suffocated the fish.

Through the efforts of Florida's regulatory agencies and predecessor agencies of EPA, efforts were undertaken to reduce the industrial waste being discharged into the estuary. These efforts were successful, and by 1973, when Region 4 sent its Escambia Bay Recovery Study team to evaluate the estuary and recommend recovery programs, the body of water was well on its way to being once again a functioning estuary.

Industrial discharges no longer were rendering fishing nets useless and desirable sport fish were beginning to move back into the river and bay system. Young striped bass were placed in the river to see if a viable fishery could be established. They survived and provided a long desired sport fishery. There is optimism that continued improvement will lead to a self-sustaining fishery of striped bass.

Also, the team studied the demise of seagrass beds which took place during the 1940s and 1950s, using photographs furnished by the Florida Department of Transportation and previous studies by state scientists. During the 1973 study by Region 4, the recovery team found that seagrasses were beginning to increase in the estuary.

Recent reconnaissance of the system indicates an even greater expanse of seagrasses, with coverage of several acres in at least three areas. Fishermen are trawling for shrimp for the first time in many years, and there is a blue crab fishery throughout the system.

Although Escambia Bay is recovering, new problems are emerging in the form of commercial development and housing along the shoreline. A concerted effort must be initiated to counter this threat to the water quality of the estuary.

Valdus V. Adamkus, Region 5

Our efforts have led people to realize that there is no "away."

EPA's fifteenth anniversary affords us a unique opportunity to, Janus-like, reflect on where we've been and where we've yet to go. The first 15 years have been a period of idealism, turmoil, and growth highlighted by an evolving appreciation for the complexity of the problems we face and the development of an increasingly sophisticated array of tools to deal with them.

In our first 15 years, we found that addressing the obvious issues served only to pull back the curtain and reveal the enormity and complexity of the task still ahead. Concerns about parts per million have paled as we find our detectable limits moving to parts per billion and even parts per quadrillion.

As the power of our science increases we are made even more aware of how all environmental problems overlap. Unlike in our early years, we can no longer treat problems from the perspective of a single medium. Air, water, waste, and toxics are no longer single-issue or single-source problems. We have had to become more sophisticated in the way we deal with them.

Hence, our most important accomplishments over the last 15 years have not been the cleaning of particular rivers or communities. Rather, our major achievement has been learning to use and develop tools that will serve us over the next 15 years as we deal with environmental problems that are more complex and interwoven.

The enormity of the task still remaining will require an active leadership role by the states. In Region 5, the concept of state-federal partnership embodied in the very early legislation has been aggressively pursued by both the states and the regional office. As the states have acquired the necessary program capability, they have been delegated more control over the structure and direction of environmental programs.

But our states have done more. They have been innovators in a wide variety of programmatic and administrative areas. The willingness of our states to assume the responsibility for environmental management has been a major factor in the successful environmental programs of the last 15 years.

This willingness to take on active leadership roles comes from an understanding in Region 5 that our economic well being is inextricably linked to the health of the environment. We have learned that we need not be forced to choose between jobs and the environment. We want and can have both.

But perhaps the biggest impact which we and the states have had is on the people we serve. Our efforts have led people to realize that there is no "away." The environmental problems we face can't be shipped downstream, downwind, or down the road. As Pogo declared years ago, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

In the coming 15 years this sense of community and responsibility for cooperative efforts to solve common problems must be sustained if, at the year 2000, we are to be able to look back and see the kind of progress which we see lately.

Dick Whittington, P.E., Region 6

The referrals were of such quality that they stand as examples for other regions to follow.

Vinyl chloride was listed as a hazardous air pollutant by EPA under the Clean Air Act in 1975. This cancer-causing substance was one of the first substances so listed. National emission standards for vinyl chloride were set in 1976.

Subsequent EPA studies showed that almost 50 percent of the operating vinyl chloride plants in the nation were located in EPA's Region 6 area (Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas).

In early 1982, the region began a major vinyl chloride enforcement program to bring these plants into compliance with the standards.

During the following year and a half, Region 6 staff evaluated the data on file, obtained additional information from industry, coordinated numerous policy decisions with its Washington, D.C. counterparts, and developed necessary technical and legal documents for referring cases to EPA Headquarters and the Department of Justice for litigation.

The referrals were of such quality that they stand as examples for other regions to follow--and Region 6 often is consulted by other regions about case preparation.

As of August 1985, 15 vinyl chloride cases, based on referrals from the region, had been filed in various district courts--13 in Louisiana, one in Oklahoma, and one in Texas. Five cases have been settled, producing a total of $800,000 in fines. Fines ranged from $50,000 to $625,000.

Since the first regional case was filed in July 1983, the states have taken a more aggressive enforcement stance, and there has been a marked decrease in vinyl chloride relief valve discharges. For example, one company dropped from 40 such discharges between 1980 and 1983 to four between 1983 and 1985. Another company dropped from ten to two such discharges during the same period.

Region 6 is continuing its aggressive vinyl chloride enforcement program and is expanding the program to cover other hazardous air pollutants.

Morris Kay, Region 7

Charcoal kilns no longer spew forth the heavy clouds of particulates that hung low in the Ozark Mountain valleys.

Environmental quality changes usually evolve almost imperceptibly and are often hard to measure, but in the late 1960s and early 1970s the outfalls below large meat packing plants located in Omaha, Neb., and Council Bluffs, Ia., ran red with blood and offal. Large grease balls clogged water intakes many river miles below the plants on the Missouri River. Farther west, runoff from huge cattle and swine feedlots ran unchecked into small streams and rivers, killing literally thousands of fish.

Enter EPA. With the aid of the states, regulations were developed to control runoff from feedlots. Effluent guidelines were established for the meat packing industry and the effect on water quality in Region 7 has been dramatic.

Not so obvious has been the considerable improvement in air quality in the region during the last 15 years. Charcoal kilns no longer spew forth the heavy clouds of particulates that hung low in the Ozark Mountain valleys. Fugitive dust from the sentinels of the plains, the grain elevators that dot the countryside across the region, is now captured before it escapes to the environment. Emissions from lead smelters have been reduced significantly, and the quality of air in those areas is markedly improved.

Open, burning dumps have virtually been eliminated in the region. Dumps that have been closed are monitored closely to detect any leaching that may pose a threat to that precious natural resource, groundwater. Nearly 80 percent of the drinking water supply for the entire region comes from groundwater. In most instances, it's good, clean, sweet water and every effort is being made to keep it that way. Groundwater protection continues to be a high priority in the region.

Nearly five years ago one of the most complex environmental problems the region has ever faced began to emerge. Dioxin contamination has ow been confirmed at more than 40 sites in Missouri. Refinements in sampling techniques, grid sampling to assure acceptable cleanup levels, quality controlled and quality assured data, and community relations techniques are just a few of the experiences we have to share with other regions from this extremely resource-intensive effort.

Perhaps the most exciting environmental achievement, and one that has not only regional and national implications but international impact as well, is the successful destruction of dioxin in the field by the agency's mobile incinerator. Man had created this unwanted byproduct, dioxin, but not until this year in a remote rural area of northern Barry County, Mo., did the mobile incinerator prove that man could indeed, destroy this toxic chemical successfully and safely. Truly an environmental achievement.

John G. Welles, Region 8

Region 8's most significant contributions to environmental protection are the ways we get the job done.

On October 1, 1971, EPA's Region 8 was non-existent. But by mid-month, a crew of almost 45 had started shaping the process of environmental protection in the Rocky Mountain Prairie Region. During the years since, Region 8 has felt growing pains, stretched, grown stronger, and had many environmental successes. While single actions or accomplishments are vital in gauging environmental protection, we believe that Region 8's most significant contributions to environmental protection are the ways we get the job done.

The major way we get the job done is through partnerships with states in accordance with national policy. This integrated approach to environmental management is complex, and it is not always easy. But, better than anything else we know, given good communication and good will, it works.

Coupled with our state/EPA agreements, enforcement agreements and tribal agreements, state delegation is the firm foundation on which environmental protection is supported and carried out in Region 8. While we take our oversight role seriously, we believe the most environmentally beneficial way to work with our delegated states is as responsible partners.

Cooperative processes also greatly facilitate environmental problem-solving in the region. For example, contamination believed to have originated from a part of the Lowry landfill east of Denver threatens a local aquifer. A task force established by the Governor of Colorado in 1980 and moderated by the League of Women Voters is the forum through which the many interested parties are working toward solutions: city, county, state and local agencies, an estimated 200 potentially responsible parties, neighborhood associations, and local and national citizen advocacy groups. Recently, Clean Sites, Inc., was engaged by private parties to assist in efforts to apportion costs. Before these cooperative processes were in place, progress was eclipsed by confrontation.

Another example: a situation involving an estimated 4,000 people in a Denver suburb began to unfold in 1982. An unusually high number of cancer cases apparently existed in area children. Some residents feared another Love Canal and requested EPA help. Within weeks, EPA, state and county health departments, area and national advocacy groups, and Congressional representatives linked together to attempt to identify the cause of the cancers. Although several months of extensive investigation found no environmental cause for the disease, the lingering fear that exposure to some unidentified contaminant triggered the disease was removed because the investigation had credibility. This case demonstrated how combined efforts for environmental fact-finding and understanding can produce results acceptable to all in the problem-solving process.

The challenge to protect the environment will not grow easier. As population and tourism grow in the mountain states, the need for environmental protection will expand proportionally. In the final analysis, successful delivery of environmental services in the future will depend on dedicated people both within EPA and in organizations with which we work closely to get the job done.

Judith E. Ayres, Region 9

Supported by EPA's resources and technical skills, the state-managed construction grants program has yielded major water quality payoffs.

Region 9 takes great pride, at this fifteenth anniversary of EPA, in the attainment of a highly productive state/EPA partnership in environmental management. This successful program grew out of the 1970s' sudden population growth, dynamic economic and technological changes, and environmental challenges undreamt of 15 years ago.

While the public was demanding increased federal programs to contend with omnipresent environmental issues, the availability of resources did not increase to meet those demands if we were to continue to operate in a centralized federal mode.

A shift to shared management became an option for meeting Congress' and EPA's imperatives for environmental protection. Program delegation to the states was seen as one solution to the environmental challenges.

Over 15 years, delegation agreements between the regional office and states were fostered and developed. We saw delegation as strengthening programs at the state and local levels. By making federal resources available to the players close to conditions within their states, we were able to respond more quickly to the environmental concerns and priorities of an awakening public awareness.

The pioneering delegation to California of the construction grants program in 1972, and, by 1982, to all of the states in Region 9, established a precedent-setting national model. This single event symbolizes and validates the inherent strength of our states.

The effectiveness of Region 9's delegation program is demonstrated by the fact that about 80 percent (more than $3.5 billion) of all construction grant funds Region 9 has provided to its states under the Clean Water Act have been obligated through the delegation process.

Supported by EPA's resources and technical skills, the state-managed construction grants program has yielded major water quality payoffs: the preservation of pristine Lake Tahoe, the revitalization of the American River and other recreational waterways, and the protection of our West Coast beaches, bays, and marine ecosystems.

From the construction grants program has emerged the concept of delegation as a tool for creating federal/state partnerships to implement environmental mandates. By utilizing our combined resources to forge an effective operating partnership, Region 9 has provided the environmental leadership to advance state pollution control programs. EPA and the states have made significant progress together in cleaning up our air and water and in protecting and preserving the natural systems which create the beauty of the Pacific Southwest and sustain its people.

Ernesta B. Barnes, Region 10

Throughout the region, the pattern of enforcement established back in 1977 continues to this day.

If there has been a single moment in the past 15 years when the environmental movement fully came of age in the Pacific Northwest, it was on the October afternoon in 1977 when a U.S. District Court judge in Seattle ordered two Puget Sound pulp mills to comply with the terms of their wastewater discharge permits issued by the State of Washington.

The two mills were among the last of the pulp mills in the Pacific Northwest which had failed to meet the July 1977 deadline for adhering to the discharge requirements of the Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972. Lawyers from EPA and the U.S. Attorney's office had gone to court to insist that the national effluent limitations for pulp mills were to be obeyed by all members of that industrial category.

The judge's ruling--and subsequent agreements by all Puget Sound mills to pay more than $1 million in penalties for missing their permit deadlines--not only upheld the law, but also demonstrated that EPA could work successfully with the U.S. Department of Justice to fulfill the law and to protect the environment.

Nowhere in the Pacific Northwest has this teamwork been more evident than in efforts to preserve Puget Sound. This year, for example, through efforts of EPA and the U.S. Attorney, criminal convictions--producing jail terms and penalties in excess of $1 million--were obtained against a Seattle corporation and its officers for discharging hazardous waste into Puget Sound.

Throughout the region, and for all the laws EPA administers, the pattern of enforcement established back in 1977 continues to this day.