EPA in 2009: Progress Report

April 29, 2009

A Revitalized EPA Back on the Job

In keeping with the President Obama's vision, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has embarked on an ambitious effort to restore momentum to EPA's core programs -- healthier air and water, and reduced risks from toxic substances -- while also tackling emerging challenges such as climate change. Underlying this effort is the premise that environmental protection and economic growth are mutually achievable - that we can increase economic activity and create new jobs while we reduce harmful emissions and free ourselves from dependence on polluting sources of energy.

EPA's share of the President's economic recovery funds is more than $7 billion, dedicated to a host of job-creating projects that increase America's investment in water infrastructure, clean-up contaminated sites and reduce toxic emissions. EPA-funded projects are already putting Americans to work and paying environmental dividends.

Looking toward the future, the FY 2010 Obama Administration Budget for EPA provides $10.5 billion, the largest level of funding in EPA's 39-year history. This budget increase will enable EPA to continue to protect the health and environment of Americans where they work, where they play and where they raise their children. And it will help America address new environmental challenges.

Administrator Jackson's Core Values

In her three months at EPA, Administrator Jackson has sent the clear message that the agency is back on the job. The Administrator's first 100 days have been grounded in three core values. These values will continue to inform and guide EPA's work in the months and years ahead.

First, science must be the backbone for EPA programs. Second, EPA always must adhere to the rule of law. Finally, as President Obama has emphasized, EPA's actions must be transparent. Public trust demands that the public's business be conducted openly. On April 23, Administrator Jackson issued a "fishbowl" memo to the EPA's workforce providing guidelines on how the Agency will meet this ened commitment to transparency.

Protecting the Environment and Supporting Economic Recovery

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, signed into law by President Obama, provides $7.22 billion for projects and programs administered by EPA. These programs provide an unprecedented opportunity for EPA to direct funds to our nation's most critical environmental infrastructure needs and energize our economic growth by creating and sustaining a dynamic workforce. The programs include:

  • Water Infrastructure Improvements for Communities: $4 billion for state clean water funding and $2 billion for state drinking water funding. This new infusion of money will help states and local government finance many of the overdue improvements to public waters and wastewater systems that are essential to protecting public health and assuring good water quality. 20 percent of this funding will be targeted towards green infrastructure, water and energy efficiency, and environmentally innovative projects.
  • Brownfield Restorations: $100 million for grants to clean up and return former industrial and commercial sites to their communities for productive use. $5 million dollars is set aside for job training in the assessment and remediation of these sites.
  • Diesel Emissions Reductions: $300 million for grants and loans to help regional, state and local governments, tribes, and non-profit organizations with projects that reduce harmful diesel emissions from vehicles like school buses, garbage trucks, construction equipment, marine vessels, and locomotives. Reducing emissions helps to reduce the risk of asthma, respiratory illnesses and premature deaths.
  • Accelerating Superfund Site Cleanups: $600 million for the cleanup of hazardous wastes from sites. EPA will use this funding to increase the pace of these cleanups already underway, and return the sites to our communities for productive use.
  • Accelerating Leaking Underground Storage Tank Cleanups: $200 million for the cleanup of petroleum leaks that occurred from underground storage tanks. There are approximately 100,000 sites eligible for cleanup where leaks threaten soil or water quality or result in fire or explosion hazards.
  • Responsible Oversight. $20 million for the EPA Office of Inspector General for audits, evaluations, investigations and oversight of the Recovery Act funding to ensure that every penny is spent on projects that benefit Americans.
  • Financial Status to Date. As of April 27, 2009, EPA has obligated more than $1.8 billion to states to fund critical infrastructure and community needs: $1.2 billion through the Clean Water State Resolving Funds; $455 million through the Drinking Water State Revolving Funds; $86.5 million through the Clean Diesel Grant program, and $32 million through the Superfund program. Combined, EPA has obligated almost 30% of its Recovery Act funds.

Some examples of outstanding Recovery Act projects include:

  • In the first EPA-related award under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, EPA announced March 27 that nearly $100 million in environmental funding will be invested in Colorado. This includes more than $65 million for improving drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, $2.5 million for leaking underground storage tanks and $2 million for revitalizing Brownfield sites.
  • In the single largest grant in its history, EPA awarded April 3 more than $430 million to the State of New York for wastewater infrastructure projects that will create thousands of jobs, jumpstart local economies and protect human health and the environment across the state. The state will use the Recovery Act grant to provide money to municipal and county governments and wastewater utilities for projects to protect lakes, ponds and streams in communities across New York.
  • The Iron Mountain Mine Superfund site near Redding, California, will receive between $10-25 million that will make it possible to dredge, treat, and dispose of heavy-metal contaminated sediments in the Spring Creek Arm of the Kewich Reservoir in 18 months, rather than three years.

Restarting Environmental Progress: Implementing EPA's Priorities

Priority Number 1: Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Transitioning to a lower-carbon economy will protect public health, create jobs and open up opportunities for investment in existing and cutting-edge technologies, creating a foundation for future growth.

First Official U.S. Government Recognition that Greenhouse Gases Pose a Danger to Public Health and Welfare. On April 17, EPA issued a proposed finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare. This finding is based on rigorous science-based analysis of six gases - - carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride - - that have been the subject of intensive analysis by scientists around the world. Science shows that the high levels and concentration of these gases globally are causing an increase in average temperatures and other changes in our climate, such as increased drought, more heavy downpours and flooding, more frequent heat waves and wildfires, greater sea level rise, more intensive storms and harm to water resources, agriculture, wildlife and ecosystems.

California Greenhouse Gas Waiver Request. The Clean Air Act allows the State of California to adopt more stringent motor vehicle air pollution standards with EPA approval. Just five days after assuming office, President Obama directed EPA to revisit the state's request for a waiver that would allow it to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from autos. On February 6, in response, EPA announced that it was re-evaluating an earlier decision to deny the waiver.

New Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Reporting. To collect crucial data for implementing comprehensive climate change programs, EPA published a proposed rule on April 10 that would the create of the first national mandatory greenhouse gas reporting system to require entities that emit more than 25,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year to track, document and report emissions information to EPA on an annual basis. The proposed regulation will be tailored to exempt small businesses, yet cover 85-90 percent of all greenhouse gases emitted nationwide.

Prevention of Significant Deterioration of Air Quality. On February 17, Administrator Jackson announced reconsideration of a Bush Administration memo concluding that the "Prevention of Significant Deterioration" program, established by the Clean Air Act, does not apply to carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants.

Energy Savings for Households. EPA has taken major steps with Energy Star, the Agency's flagship program that helps consumers save money and protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices. On March 30 EPA issued new requirements for Energy Star computer monitors, digital photograph frames and related displays. If all displays sold in the U.S. were to meet this standard the energy savings would reach $1 billion a year and reduce greenhouse gases the equivalent of taking 1.5 million vehicles from the road. EPA also announced on April 9 new Energy Star requirements for commercial refrigerators and freezers that will average 33 percent better energy use than current models - saving consumers $275 million annually and reducing greenhouse gases the equivalent of taking 400,000 vehicles from the road.

Priority Number 2: Improving Air Quality

Improving air quality is a critical national goal. The US continues to face serious air pollution challenges, with large areas of the country that still cannot meet federal air quality standards and many communities still facing health threat from exposure to toxics..

Slashing Mercury Emissions from Cement Plants. On April 21, EPA proposed a rule to establish, for the first time, new mercury emission limits on Portland cement kilns, which are the fourth largest source of mercury emissions in the U.S. Once fully implemented, U.S. annual mercury emissions will be reduced by 81 percent. The EPA rule also address other cement kiln emissions, and will reduce total U.S. emissions of sulfur dioxide by 90 percent, hydrochloric acid by 94 percent, particulate matter by 96 percent, and hydrocarbons by 76 percent. The new rule is expected to save more than a thousand lives each year.

Safer Schools for Kids. In an unprecedented effort, EPA announced on March 31 that 62 schools in 22 states will undergo outdoor monitoring of toxic air pollutants for a 60day period to protect the health and safety of school children who learn and play in urban areas or near industrial facilities. This initiative can be tracked at http://www.epa.gov/schoolair.

Cleaner Air from Ocean Going Vessels. On March 27, EPA announced a new proposal requesting the International Maritime Organization to designate a 200-nautical mile buffer zone along the nation's coastline as an area where oceangoing vessels (which use particularly dirty fuels) must stringently control their air emissions. Ships dock at more than 100 ports in the United States, 40 of which are in urban areas that struggle to meet federal clean air standards. If adopted, this new action is expected to lower maritime sulfur emissions by 98 percent, soot emissions by 85 percent, and nitrogen oxide emissions by 80 percent in these regions, saving 8,300 North American lives annually by 2020.

Reducing Pollutants from New Sources. New Source Review (NSR) is a pre-construction permitting program to ensure air quality is maintained when factories, industrial boilers and power plants are built or modified. On April 27, EPA granted petitions to reconsider three NSR rules that risked increasing pollution and relaxing EPA oversight.

Priority Number 3: Better Management of Chemical Risks

EPA will better manage chemical risks. More than 30 years after Congress enacted the Toxic Substances Control Act, EPA now is revising and strengthening its chemical management and risk assessment programs.

Restoring American Leadership on Global Mercury Pollution Reduction. EPA worked closely with State Department officials at the global environmental summit in Nairobi in February to pursue binding international agreements to lower mercury levels worldwide. The reversal in U.S. policy resulted in an agreement among 140 nations to negotiate binding international controls on global mercury emissions. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that can be spread locally and globally through air and water, and poses significant developmental risks to vulnerable populations such as children, infants or pregnant women.

New Screenings for Chemicals that Affect the Endocrine System. On March 15, EPA announced that 67 pesticide chemicals will be the first to be tested by industry under the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program. The program was created by Congress in 1996 to assess environmental contaminants for their potential to affect the estrogen, androgen and thyroid hormone systems.

Better Science and Transparency on Chemical Toxicity. In March, EPA announced a new and improved scientific approach to assess chemical risks to human health by using recent advances in molecular biology, genomics and computation sciences. EPA will be able to screen thousands of chemicals quickly for levels of toxicity and potential harmful effects on both adults and children. EPA also released a new and improved online database to collect information on more than 500,000 man-made chemicals from 200 sources.

Restoring Comprehensive Tracking of Pollutants. EPA announced on April 21 regulations reinstating more comprehensive reporting requirements under the Toxic Release Inventory program, which calls for submission of annual emission and release information by utilities, refineries, chemical manufacturers, paper companies and related facilities for more than 650 chemicals. This right-to-know program is vital for making information on pollution in local communities open and readily available to the public.

Pursuing Environmental Justice. EPA awarded 40 grants totaling $800,000 to state, local, tribal and community groups to help low-income and minority communities that are disproportionately exposed to high levels of pollution and risk. The grants support education, inspection and abatement programs that address lead poisoning, pests, pesticide use, asbestos, and energy efficiency. This is one example of Administrator Jackson's commitment to strengthen EPA's environmental justice programs.

Improving Protection of Children's Health. The Administrator has appointed a new senior advisor to the Office of Children's Health as a first step in revitalizing this important office. Children are a particularly vulnerable subset of the population where sensitivities and exposures to environmental hazards can have much greater harmful effects compared with adults.

Priority Number 4: Accelerating Clean-Up of Contaminated Sites and Reducing Waste

The new EPA envisions communities where blighted properties are transformed into safe and productive parcels, and threats to human health are properly mitigated, leading to jobs and a reinvestment in land, communities, and citizens.

Improved Superfund Cleanups at Federal Sites: In March, EPA reached agreement with the Department of Defense ending a longtime dispute on moving forward with effective and efficient cleanups at 10 remaining Air Force and Army Superfund sites. EPA also worked with the Department of Energy to accelerate Superfund cleanup commitments at more than a dozen DoE sites across the country. The acceleration was facilitated by Recovery Act funding for the Department of Energy sites. Before the recent collaboration and additional funding, a number of cleanup commitments were at risk at several sites where funds had been cut over the past several years.

Protecting Communities from Inadequate Management of Coal Waste. In December 2008, an impoundment failure led to a massive coal ash landslide at the Kingston facility of the Tennessee Valley Authority, flooding more than 300 acres of land, damaging homes and property, filling large areas of the Clinch and Emory rivers and killing fish. Upon confirmation, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson immediately announced a strategy to prepare for future threats. This strategy includes developing an inventory of approximately 300 coal ash impoundments nationwide, and, where warranted, conducting on-site inspections and assessments of the structural integrity of such impoundments, ordering cleanup and repairs where needed. The cornerstone of these efforts is EPA's commitment to propose new regulations by the end of the year that will address the management of coal combustion residuals to ensure that future such environmental disasters are prevented. EPA is also actively engaged in overseeing cleanup efforts at the TVA facility to help ensure, in coordination with state action, that ash removal and disposal protect public health and the environment.

Priority Number 5: Protecting America's Water

EPA will restore water quality protections in our nation's streams, rivers, lakes, bays, oceans and aquifers. EPA will make robust use of its authority to restore threatened treasures such as the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay, address neglected urban rivers, strengthen drinking water safety programs, and reduce pollution from industrial and non-industrial discharges.

Modernizing Water Infrastructure for Communities. The EPA FY 2010 budget provides $3.9 billion, a historic increase, for Clean Water State Revolving Fund and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund grants for states and local governments to finance many of the overdue improvements to public waters and wastewater systems that are essential to protecting public health and assuring good water quality.

Improving Water Security. The EPA budget provides $24 million to fully fund all five Water Security Initiatives in response to the Bioterrorism Act of 2002.

Greater Scrutiny of Water Quality Impacts from Mountaintop Mining. EPA, working with the Army Corps of Engineers, has initiated a comprehensive review of Clean Water Act permitting for new surface coal mining activities affecting water quality and the environment. EPA is also prioritizing the review of individual permits that have the greatest potential to result in environmental harm. EPA will continue to review these permits, and where pending permits raise environmental concerns, work expeditiously with the Corps of Engineers to address those concerns.

New Restoration Efforts for the Great Lakes. The FY 2010 EPA budget provides $475 million for a new, multi-agency initiative to protect the world's largest fresh water resource from environmental threats including invasive species, non-point source pollution, habitat degradation, and contaminated sediment. EPA is actively working with other federal agencies and states to implement this high-priority initiative and target these unprecedented resources to the region's most pressing environmental and public health needs. EPA and its partner agencies will use robust data and performance measures to prioritize activities and track progress toward improved environmental outcomes for this national treasure.

Improving the Health of the Chesapeake Bay. In response to constituent concerns regarding federal attention to the Chesapeake Bay, EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, has created a new position at EPA headquarters and selected a highly regarded Chesapeake Bay expert as her senior advisor for this nationally significant water body. EPA is actively developing a new Chesapeake Bay strategy.