Administrator Gina McCarthy, Remarks at ECOS, As Prepared
Hi, everybody, it’s great to be here. Thanks for the invitation. I think we might have one or two things to talk about since we last met. So let’s dive right in.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the National Environmental Performance Partnership System (or NEPPS), which has helped EPA and states set joint priorities, make the most of our resources, and measure our progress.
Today more than ever, EPA’s partnership with states is the cornerstone of achieving our mission to protect public health and the environment.
Thanks to hard work by EPA, states, and tribes—our nation’s rivers no longer burn, our air is no longer blackened with smog and soot, and we’ve revitalized thousands of contaminated properties.
But not every community has shared equally in those benefits—and we face new challenges that will test our creativity and resolve.
Today I want to talk about some of those challenges, and how we can use them as opportunities to innovate together.
Too often, low-income and minority neighborhoods are still overburdened by pollution. So environmental justice is a major focus at EPA, and we’re working hard to make sure every American enjoys their rights to environmental protection.
Our EJ 2020 Action Agenda will guide our work over the next five years. It’s an EPA-wide roadmap to incorporate environmental justice into all we do, and to make a visible difference in environmentally overburdened, underserved, and economically distressed communities.
I want to thank ECOS for its input on EJ 2020. We recognize states are leaders, too, when it comes to addressing EJ issues. For instance, last month, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed an Executive Order creating a citizens’ committee to advise the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Chaired by Commissioner Stine, this is an important step on community engagement in the regulatory process.
I also want to thank ECOS for its input and partnership on EJScreen, our tool to help local decision-makers and the public see where their communities may be overburdened by pollution.
Our efforts are making a visible difference. In Detroit, EPA is offering technical assistance to help the city safely eliminate blight, making sure dust from demolitions that can include lead and other toxins is safely contained. By the end of the year, 8,000 removed buildings will follow EPA’s best practices for demolition—and other cities, like Flint, Gary, Cincinnati, and Baltimore—are following suit.
In Hinsdale, New Hampshire, EPA worked with community leaders to help make the city more resilient to flooding. And in Texas Colonias, EPA is working with state and local officials to address chronic stormwater flooding, residential exposure to pesticides from agriculture, and health risks from contaminated water.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. We’re currently reviewing public comments on the draft framework for EJ 2020, which ran until July. One of the key points in the draft is the need for EPA to work with states to address the needs of vulnerable communities. We’ve already had several productive discussions with ECOS and individual states, we’re excited to work together moving forward.
Climate change not only threatens our economy and our health—it makes our jobs harder as environmental professionals. No challenge poses a greater threat to clean water, clean air, and our children’s future than climate change—and unfortunately, those who have the least, suffer the most from climate impacts.
As you’re all well aware, President Obama announced the Clean Power Plan last month, EPA’s historic rule to cut carbon pollution from power plants, our nation’s largest driver of climate change.
Last week marked the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a powerful reminder of the need to protect those most vulnerable from climate impacts like more extreme storms, floods, fires, and drought. Our final rule is an important step in the right direction.
EPA received 4.3 million public comments on our proposed rule, and we held hundreds of meetings with ECOS, states, utilities, communities, and others. We appreciated your feedback.
Based on what we heard, our final plan mirrors how electricity already moves around the grid. It sets fair, consistent standards for power plants across the country. It gives states and utilities the time and flexibility they need to adopt strategies that work for them. And, crucially, it gives vulnerable communities a seat at the table as states craft their plans.
We need to make sure the benefits of climate action extend to every community. That’s why we’re creating a Clean Energy Incentive Program that will help states transition to clean energy faster. It’s a voluntary matching fund program states can use to encourage early investment in wind or solar projects, as well as energy efficiency projects in low-income communities.
And because states requested it, we also proposed a model rule they can adopt right away—one that’s cost-effective, guarantees they meet EPA’s requirements, and allows their power plants to use interstate trading. Keep in mind, no plant has to meet the uniform national rates in the plan alone or all at once. Instead, they have to meet them as part of the grid and over time.
When the plan is fully in place in 2030, carbon pollution from the power sector will be 32 percent below 2005 levels and dropping.
I also want to recognize states like Colorado and Wyoming who are leading on strategies to contain another powerful greenhouse gas, methane, from oil and gas operations. Thanks to ECOS Vice-President Martha Rudolph of Colorado, and Wyoming director Todd Parfit for all their work.
Following their lead, EPA proposed standards this summer to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and V.O.C.s from the oil and gas industry. As you know, the proposal is part of the President’s strategy to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025.
We also finalized our Clean Water Rule this spring to protect the streams and wetlands 1 in 3 Americans rely on for drinking water, and it became effective in 37 states on August 28th.
On August 27th, the District Court for North Dakota granted the requests of 13 states and issued a preliminary injunction on the Clean Water Rule. So what does that mean? Under the court order, the states covered by the suit are not subject to the new rule, and instead continue to be subject to the prior regulation.
So EPA and the Army Corps will continue to implement the prior regulation in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming. These states won’t be able to take advantage of the bright line limitations or the new exclusions in the updated rule.
Everywhere else, the Clean Water Rule became effective on August 28th. The agencies respect the court’s decision and are evaluating these orders and considering next steps in the litigation. We welcome folks taking a close look at the record—the closer the better.
As we move forward, EPA and the Army Corps are launching the first national database for jurisdictional determinations—providing unprecedented transparency and giving folks the assurance that these decisions are being made consistently across the country.
We want to hear your recommendations for streamlining the permitting process to get rid of unnecessary paperwork. And we’re making sure we’re being responsive and providing consistent answers to folks’ questions and information requests. Finally, we established a FACA subcommittee to explore ways to make state assumption of Section 404 permitting more attractive and available to the states.
On that front, EPA is continuously monitoring the situation in Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah following the Gold King Mine incident earlier this month.
In both the sediment and water quality samples EPA has reviewed, concentrations in the watershed are trending toward pre-event conditions. We’re continuing to work with the affected states as well as the Navajo, southern Ute, and Ute Mountain Tribal Nations to ensure safe water for drinking and irrigation.
Thanks again to director Martha Rudolph of Colorado, as well as Secretary Ryan Flynn of New Mexico, and Director Alan Matheson of Utah, for their tireless efforts.
We’re committed to continuing to work with the affected states and tribes to protect public health. EPA has conducted an internal rapid assessment; we await the results of an independent investigation led by the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, supported by the Army Corps of Engineers. EPA’s Office of the Inspector General is also investigating the incident—we await the results of both investigations to better understand what went wrong, and to prevent incidents like this in the future.
Looking ahead, I want to say a few words about E-Enterprise, our shared effort to cut red tape and do business in a smarter way.
We’ve done great work with states to lean business practices, and later this year, we’re taking a major step forward with our E-Enterprise Portal, which will give the regulated community and the public a way to do business with states and EPA more like modern companies do—growing toward a central place to file reports, apply for permits, and get environmental information.
Look, I know this process-oriented work isn’t the reason why most of us get up every morning. But it helps us meet our mission more effectively, so it’s important. Catering our systems to the needs of the end user, making things work better, faster, and more seamlessly, with today’s technologies, and the things we can now do with data, innovation really is the name of the game. And that’s where we’re headed.
Our landmark environmental laws—the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, among others—are the basis for the federal-state partnership. Together, we’ve charted a healthier environmental course than anyone could have imagined 45 years ago.
But we still have more work to do to protect those most vulnerable. President Obama has spoken forcefully about our moral obligation to act on climate to protect our kids.
It’s up to EPA and states to operationalize solutions to the challenges we face—to break them down into small steps, and plug away at them every day.
On that note, I want to turn our attention back to NEPPS. I’m especially proud of the work we’ve done recently with states to talk to each other sooner when it comes to setting joint priorities.
Today, Bob Martineau and I will sign a renewal to that 1995 agreement, further committing our agencies to integrate new approaches to priorities, flexibilities, and efficiencies into our work. Thank you for all you’ve done and all that we’ll do together. Here’s to the next 20 years.