Posts Tagged ‘EPA’

posted by | on , , , , | Comments Off on Exposed: Educating and Advocating In a Political Stalemate

By: Kaley Beins

“In order to protect public health from chemical contamination, there needs to be a massive outcry–a choir of voices–by the American people demanding change.” When Lois Gibbs reflected on her 20 years of environmental health activism she wrote this call to action in the context of her activism in Love Canal, NY, the birthplace of EPA Superfund legislation. Now, almost 40 years after the legislation was passed, Americans still face the consequences of toxic exposures from waste sites, industrial pollution, and even consumer products. Movies like Erin Brockovich and Dark Waters dramatize industry contamination of communities, while news stories like the Flint water crisis demonstrate the prevalence of toxic exposures, especially for low income communities and communities of color. 

Yet, legislation to prevent such exposures often dies in committee or, worse, on the lips of the politicians espousing it. While we wait for updated and implemented toxics regulations, we can educate ourselves about environmental health and advocate for policies to prevent, or at least mitigate, toxic exposures. 

One of the trickier parts of being informed is understanding how researchers and government agencies define the exposure levels associated with human health effects. Some evaluations, such as IARC and EPA carcinogenicity classifications, are based on the amount of available data from animal and human studies. However, in my opinion, the most meaningful information on chemical exposures is based on exposure dose, or the amount of a chemical you are exposed to. Unfortunately, these values will vary between agencies, but by knowing how exposure limits are determined, you can better understand how protective (or permissive) environmental policies and guidelines are. 

The largest distinction between set exposure limits in the United States is whether or not they are legally enforceable. Legally enforceable limits are upheld by law and are usually determined by the U.S. EPA, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and state agencies. Non-regulatory agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) publish research and guidelines on chemical exposure limits, but these limits are not legally enforceable. The following is a non-exhaustive list of some federal exposure limits and how they’re determined: 


  • EPA National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) are measures of allowable air pollution for 6 criteria air pollutants as permitted under the Clean Air Act. 
  • EPA Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) is the legal limit for chemicals in drinking water, as enforced by EPA. When determining MRLs, EPA considers the cost and technology required to remove contaminants in addition to the available health data.
  • OSHA Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) are levels of exposure allowed for workers over the course of the work day. 

Not enforceable 

  • ATSDR Minimal Risk Levels (MRLs) are levels derived from toxicological studies in humans or animals. 
  • EPA Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG) is the limit for chemicals in drinking water below which no human health effects are expected to occur. Not to be confused with MCLs, MCLGs are determined only using health data. They may be slightly lower than MCLs. 
  • NIOSH Recommended Exposure Limits (RELs) are levels of exposure that NIOSH recommends workers do not meet or exceed during the work day. RELS are often used to help determine OSHA PELs.

The differences between these values can inform how you and your community use them. However, many chemicals may not have any exposure limits, either because they are not regulated or because insufficient health data exist. Nevertheless, information about chemical exposure levels and the risks associated with them is crucial in promoting environmental health. The following resources can help you stay informed about environmental health risks in your community:

As you engage with contamination issues in and outside your community, you can use these resources to arm yourself with information, then organize locally, collaborate nationally, engage politically, and stay involved. As Baltimore activist Destiny Watford said in an interview, “I realized it is important to question why people invested in something, why things are the way they are, and what can I do to change things in a way that isn’t superficial but gets to the root of the problem.” 


Kaley Beins, MPH is an environmental health researcher who works at the intersection of public health and toxicology. During her career she’s worked with nonprofits, local health departments, and federal agencies, and she’s learned the ins and outs of chemical regulation and exposure, as well as how much of that information is available to the public. Kaley is passionate about education and empowerment as an avenue for environmental justice and health equity. 

posted by | on , , , | Comments Off on How DC EcoWomen Started: Story by EcoWomen Co-Founder Leda Huta

By Leda Huta, EcoWomen Co-Founder and Endangered Species Coalition Executive Director

More than 15 years ago, my friend Alicia Wittink and I hatched a plan to launch EcoWomen. We recognized a need in Washington, D.C. for a space to build relationships among women in environmental fields. While it was in its infancy, we roped in our friend Tracy Fisher to help grow the organization.

We had heard that other efforts to do something similar had sputtered out. But there wasn’t much to lose, except perhaps our pride. We organized the first event – the very first EcoHour – and invited our first speaker—Alisa Gravitz, CEO of Green America. We had no idea if anyone would show up. But 15 or so women did. Today, there are more than 5,000 women in the DC EcoWomen network, and 1,000+ women who attend the chapter’s events each year. There are also four more EcoWomen chapters around the country.

The best decision we made was not allowing the organization to become personality-driven. We didn’t want it to succeed or fail based on one person. We took succession planning seriously, making sure that many women played leadership roles, so that any one of us could step in and chair our board. And we always had exceptional, powerhouse chairs of the board.

We quickly created a volunteer board of talented and hard-working women. The discussions and decision-making processes were always energizing. It felt great to be in the presence of these women and jointly grow an organization. The organization’s strength has always been this diversity and collaboration. It is a community based on openness, respect and connection. And it is a model of leadership that should be expanded.

Our signature event was, and has always been, the EcoHours—happy hour with a dose of eco-inspiration from veteran women leaders in the movement. We had some of the most extraordinary speakers—one of the first female National Park Service rangers, the first woman to have a whole neighborhood transplanted because of toxic pollution, and the first Minister of the Environment in Iraq’s Interim Government. We also had accomplished women speakers who went on to play even more important roles in protecting our environment—continuing to become a Member of Congress or the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Hearing from these heroes gave us hope and they still do today.

Now, EcoWomen is stronger than ever, with amazing leaders taking charge. It is so much bigger than Alicia, Tracy, and I envisioned it could become. It offers women so much, not only in building their professional networks, but also in creating community. Environmental work is hard. This community is incredibly restorative. These smart, cool, funny and able women really do have the power to change the world.

Leda Huta, EcoWomen Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Endangered Species Coalition, has 25 years of environmental experience, managing grassroots, national, and international projects. At Endangered Species Coalition, she leads staff across the country in protecting imperiled wildlife, from the charismatic gray wolf and grizzly bear to less visible species, such as Rusty patched bumblebee. Previous to her role at the Endangered Species Coalition, Leda was the Acting Executive Director for Finding Species, an organization that uses photography to advance wildlife and wild lands conservation. Through this work, she had the good fortune to spend time in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Her work at Resource Conservation Alliance protected forests using a “markets” strategy, working with university presses to shift to eco-friendly papers. Leda has a Bachelor’s of Science degree in environmental science and environment and resource management from the University of Toronto. She is currently studying environmental law at Vermont Law School.

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By Heidi Bishop

As the new administration’s impact on energy policy unfolds, increased interest in pursuing “clean coal” technologies have likely put Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) more squarely on your radar. The new “America First Energy Plan” makes no mention of solar, wind, or other renewable energy resources but does state a commitment to “clean coal technology, and to reviving America’s coal industry, which has been hurting for too long.” For DC EcoWomen active in energy policy, this is a good time to understand the current state of the technology.

While there are several ways to reduce the various harmful emissions from a coal plant so that it can be labeled “clean coal,” most energy plans citing clean coal are referring to the use of CCS as a method for reducing the carbon content from plant emissions to protect coal as a major form of baseload generation. In short, CCS requires a means of separating CO2 from either the fuel or emissions of a power plant, capturing and stabilizing this isolated CO2 in a solid or compressing it in gas, and then storing it over centuries. CO2 can be removed from coal directly through pre-firing degasification, such as in an Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) plant, or through oxyfiring. CO2 can also be removed in post-processing of emissions. Both approaches are feasible, but expensive, and energy-intensive operations that require significant capital expenditures can reduce plant efficiencies by as much as 20%.

CCS is a complex technology, and there are many useful resources available from the DOE, IEA, or the Carbon Capture and Storage Association (CCSA) to learn more. In more mainstream discussions, however, here are two Clean Coal myths you might come across:

Myth 1: Clean Coal Technologies are Market-Ready

Some proponents point to existing pilots for CCS or utility projects underway as proof that the technology is proven for large scale deployment and poised for growth. While there is significant technical potential for CCS in terms of engineering feasibility and substantial amounts of potential underground storage locations, as a commercial matter CCS is still an infant technology that is likely going to be very expensive initially and is not yet available at a broad scale.

NRG’s Petra Nova plant in Texas, which is paired with enhanced oil recovery to improve its economics, is now up and running as a major success, but the majority of projects are not. Several projects have generally followed a pattern of initial public support, steep cost overruns, engineering problems, eventual public opposition, and suspension or cancellation. Such projects include Future Gen 2 in Illinois. Once the poster-child for CCS, this project was in development as early as 2006, revised beginning in 2010, and then eventually cancelled in 2015. Similarly, the Kemper County IGCC project in Mississippi, which is currently 3 years behind and $4 billion over budget, has recently found that it will be more economic for it to run on natural gas than the coal it was originally intended to use. All of which leads to the next myth…

Myth 2: Clean Coal Plus Lighter Regulations Can Bring Back the Coal Industry

Coal generation and mining have steadily decreased in past years primarily due to competition with low-priced natural gas which makes coal generation uneconomical for a lot of plants. Secondary cases are low load growth, renewable generation, and environmental regulations such as the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) targeting arsenic and metals air pollution from coal and oil plants.

The stayed and now-cancelled Clean Power Plan (CPP) to impose carbon emission restrictions and pricing mechanisms on the power industry is often blamed for impairing coal, but in fact those regulations were not very strong and would have had little impact on an already-suffering coal industry. For example, projections from the Energy Information Administration that do not incorporate compliance with the CPP still include significant retirements of coal resources over the next few years.

Because the falling demand for coal is driven by the availability of lower cost resources, the business case to invest in new coal generation at all is weak—especially for coal with expensive CCS which can increase costs by around 75%.

Despite all these economic forces against coal and CCS, coal generation is not going to be obsolete any time soon. Today’s existing coal plants are often fairly clean in terms of more noxious pollutants like SO2, NOX, and particulates (and can still be improved), have very long engineering lives left, and can continue running on plentiful and fairly cheap coal.

Unfortunately, we are not yet in a position to rely entirely on zero-carbon technologies like renewables because the storage technologies needed to smooth their intermittent availability to meet our consumption patterns are still too expensive for wide use. Technical and economic research in clean coal may still be valuable to address CO2 emissions in parts of the world where coal remains a critical energy supply. Gas-fired power plants also emit CO2, albeit at less than half the rate per kWh as coal, so they also eventually may need CCS. Thus, in many ways, the exact future of clean coal is unsure.

Over the next few years there will be push and pull between regional and national climate policies in the U.S. as well as changes in the economics of competing with natural gas and renewable energy. These influences, however, cannot change the facts that CCS technology is nowhere close to being advanced enough to rapidly expand overnight and that the U.S. coal industry is at best looking to be sustained rather than restored to former levels.



Heidi Bishop is a marketing and policy associate at a consulting firm based in DC. She specializes in energy policy research, identifying business development opportunities, and developing publications. She has worked on a variety of energy policy topics with a focus on new business models for electric utilities, “Utility of the Future” efforts, distributed energy resources, and retail regulatory strategy. Ms. Bishop received her BA and MBA from Salisbury University and a Master of Public Management – Policy Track, Environmental Concentration from the University of Maryland.

posted by | on , , , , , , , | Comments Off on How the U.S. Can Meet Its Climate Pledge

By Manjyot Bhan

I let out a cheer when Leonardo DiCaprio mentioned climate change during his Oscars acceptance speech. But concern about climate extends far beyond the red carpet.

Religious leaders, military officials, mayors, governors, business executives, and leaders of the world’s nations are all speaking about the need to address the greenhouse gas emissions that threaten our environment and economies.

Last December, world leaders reached a landmark climate agreement at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 21) that commits all countries to contribute their best efforts and establishes a system to hold them accountable. COP 21’s Paris Agreement also sent a signal to the world to ramp up investment in a clean energy and clean transportation future.

U.S. goals and the Clean Power Plan

The U.S. committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 level by 2025. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Clean Power Plan was touted as a key policy tool to help reach that goal. However, with the recent surprise stay of the rule by U.S. Supreme Court, can the U.S. still meet its climate pledge? Simply put, yes.

Clean coal plantUnder the Clean Power Plan, the EPA sets unique emissions goals for each state and encouraged states to craft their own solutions. It is projected that the rule will reduce power sector carbon emissions at least 32 percent from 2005 levels by the year 2030.

Last month’s stay does not challenge “whether” EPA can regulate—the court has already ruled that it can—but rather “how” it can regulate. And the stay is not stopping many states and power companies from continuing to plan for a low-carbon future.

Some of the key ingredients that led to success at COP 21—national leadership and a strong showing by “sub-national actors,” including states, cities and businesses—will also be fundamental to U.S. success in meeting its climate goals.

Other federal policy for emissions reduction

A recent event in Washington—held by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions and New America—outlined the gap between existing policy trajectories and the U.S. goal. A secondary outcome of the meeting also explored how federal, state, and local policies and actions can leverage technology to close the gap.

Solar and windAn analysis by the Rhodium Group found that even without the Clean Power Plan, the recently extended federal tax credits for solar and wind energy will help significantly. Existing federal policies on fuel economy standards for vehicles and energy efficiency also support the U.S. goals, as well policies in the works to regulate hydrofluorocarbons and methane emissions from oil and gas operations.

States and cities drive climate innovation

States and cities made a strong showing of support for the Paris Agreement, and they have emerged as leaders in promoting energy efficiency and clean energy.

Additionally, many states are continuing to work toward implementing aspects of the Clean Power Plan. And even those not doing public planning are discussing ways states and the power sector can collaborate to cut carbon emissions cost-effectively. Last month, a bipartisan group of 17 governors announced they will jointly pursue energy efficiency, renewable energy, and electric and alternatively fueled vehicles. The Clean Power Plan stay can be looked at as giving states more time to innovate.

Private sector commitments to climate

Business Climate PledgeMore than 150 companies have signed the American Business Act on Climate Pledge committing to steps such as cutting emissions, reducing water usage and using more renewable energy across their supply chains. One hundred companies have signed the Business Backs Low-Carbon USA, which calls the entire business community to transition to a low-carbon future.

Following the court’s stay, many power companies came out in support of the rule or reaffirmed plans to work toward clean energy and energy-efficiency.

A 2015 UNEP report suggests that beyond each countries’ individual commitments, actions by sub-national actors across the globe can result in net additional contributions of 0.75 to 2 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2020. While it is hard to accurately quantify the specific contributions of U.S. states, cities, and businesses in reducing emissions, they have the potential to accelerate the pace at which the U.S. meets its climate goals.

Manjyot Bhan is a Policy Fellow at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES). She holds a Ph.D. in public administration and environmental policy from American University’s School of Public Affairs and earned her Master’s in Corporate Sustainability from Arizona State University. When she isn’t being a policy wonk, Manjyot enjoys wine-tasting, hanging out with friends, and working out at a barre studio. Manjyot lives with her husband in Washington, D.C. and works across the river in Arlington, VA. 

Follow Manjyot on Twitter @ManjAhluwalia and LinkedIn page.

posted by | on , , , , | Comments Off on DC EcoWomen’s EcoHour with Talia Buford

By Sonia Abdulbaki

DC EcoWomen is a group with a mission “to provide an educational forum for women that empowers women to become leaders in the environmental community and the world.”

Women. Environment. Community.

9RTw2657The monthly EcoHour event sets out to empower these words and apply the mission statement by inviting accomplished speakers to inspire other women with their stories. Talia Buford, a successful Black American environmental journalist, was invited to speak at the September EcoHour event to share her experience with us.

Buford received a degree in journalism from Hampton University and then went on to acquire a master’s degree in law from the Georgetown University Law Center. Currently, she is a reporter for the Center for Public Integrity and formerly an energy reporter for Politico, where she covered natural gas and the Department of Interior and authored the daily Afternoon Energy newsletter. Prior to that, she held a position as legal affairs and municipal reporter for The Providence (R.I.) Journal. The Rhode Island Press Association, the National Association of Black Journalists and the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Foundation have all recognized her work.

Buford spoke fondly of her work at her hometown newspaper in Michigan because it reflected her community. It was while working there that she was exposed to the environmental justice reality created by a power plant near her neighborhood. The issue was reported to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and is still pending for 17 years to date. This issue hit close to home and motivated Buford to investigate on more of the same and to make sure the public and communities like her own were informed.

Her work as a reporter for The Providence Journal was described as tedious and prolonged, taking the immediacy out of journalism. She expressed that sitting in court, vigorously reporting on cases through serial narratives, was not her calling. Instead, she shifted her focus to reporting on environmental justice and labor issues; those topics have always appealed to her, especially because her loved ones were directly affected by these issues. Buford’s approach was informative, humble and relatable.

"It's important to see women as journalists. It's important to see people of color as journalists. It's because we tell different stories, and that's valuable." - Talia Buford at ??EcoHour?

“It’s important to see women as journalists. It’s important to see people of color as journalists. It’s because we tell different stories, and that’s valuable.”

Recently, Buford reported on the EPA Office of Civil Rights’ response to environmental justice issues. She unearthed various civil rights complaints that were made to the EPA since 1964 that had never been addressed or thoroughly investigated. EPA is reforming their approach, especially with the ability to submit complaints online.

Other issues she has covered include vital pesticide regulation in California, radioactive dumping in New Mexico and issues surrounding the EPA’s environmental racism.

She expressed the importance of journalism, to her community and to her own identity as a Black American woman. The advice she gave EcoWomen was to advocate for ourselves, something she wishes she’d known to do at the start of her career.

Buford was a lovely speaker who spoke with a natural conviction that will resonate with the community of environmental women.

Sonia Abdulbaki is a freelance writer and the vice president at Daly Gray Public Relations, a firm specializing in hospitality. Sonia has extensive experience in the field of communications that includes her work at Green America. She is a contributing writer for Business Traveler magazine and contributing editor for

posted by | on , , | Comments Off on Everyone Needs Clean Water

By Sarah Peters

Water is essential to life, as Congress understood in 1972 when amendments to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, now known as the Clean Water Act, was passed with bipartisan support. We have made significant progress in the following decades, but serious issues remain such as summertime toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie and the chronic poor health of the Chesapeake Bay.



Until now, the Clean Water Act has not kept pace with the times – it was last amended in 1987. One major issue is determining which waterways the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has jurisdiction to protect. Supreme Court rulings in 2001 and 2006 generated further confusion on the limits of the EPA’s regulatory authority.

For the last two years, the Obama Administration and the EPA have worked to write a Clean Water Rule that would clarify this issue. Since the rule was released on May 27th, it has generated opposition from 27 states, the coal industry and the American Farm Bureau Federation. Conversely, environmental groups and the Army Corps of Engineers argue that the new rule does not go far enough.

What does the Clean Water Rule do?

The EPA has outlined the rule’s major provisions on the clean water rule website. The Clean Water Rule will:

  • Define and protect tributaries – any headwaters showing physical signs of flowing water that could affect the health of downstream waterways will be protected.
  • Set measurable enforcement boundaries on waterways near rivers and lakes.
  • Protect specific water features of importance: the Carolina and Delmarva bays, prairie potholes, pocosins, California western vernal pools and Texas coastal prairie wetlands.
  • Emphasize enforcement on streams but not ditches: ditches that are not part of streams and flow only during rainfall will not be protected.
  • Preserve the status quo for waters within Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems.
  • Limit the use of case-specific analyses to waters subject to Clean Water Act enforcement.

The Clean Water Rule will not:


  • Protect any additional waters not historically covered under the Clean Water Act.
  • Place additional regulations on agriculture.
  • Affect private property rights.
  • Change policies on irrigation or water transfers.
  • Take into account land use.
  • Cover features created by erosion, groundwater, or tile drains.

As with many federal agencies, the EPA will have to contend with a future of reduced resources and budgets. The Agency anticipates that from 2014 to 2018 it will conduct 79,000 inspections, compared to the 105,000 inspections between 2005 and 2009.

The Clean Water Rule goes into effect on August 28th and should help the EPA make the most of its’ limited resources. Recent events like the accidental release of toxic mine waste into Colorado’s Animas River highlight the importance of clear and consistent enforcement of clean water protections.


Sarah Peters is a Gettysburg College alum with a B.A. in Environmental Studies. She is currently doing volunteer Geographic Information Systems (GIS) work at the Wilderness Society and frequently volunteers for the Sierra Club.

posted by | on , | Comments Off on Be Wary of Chemical Safety “Reform”

By Brianna Knoppow

It’s a curious thing that only after Senator Frank Lautenberg died did his life’s work – to enact chemical reform legislation – finally start to pick up momentum. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (S. 647) was introduced in March of 2015 and is ostensibly meant to modernize the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The TSCA is so toothless that of the approximately 85,000 chemicals produced, the EPA has tested 200 chemicals, banning only five. Though Lautenberg worked for more than a decade to make chemical reform a reality, only recently have Congress members worked to make TSCA reform a priority. With a record 40 co-sponsors, one might initially assume that the bipartisan bill really is designed to protect Americans from the most harmful of chemicals.

Remember the Healthy Forest Initiative of 2003, a giveaway to the timber industry? Or the proposed Clear Skies Act of 2003 – which was really an attack on the Clean Air Act? Naming S. 647 a “Chemical Safety” bill is likewise disingenuous.

For many proposed bills, compromises must be made, but occasionally the compromises deviate the bill so far from its original intent that passage may do more harm than good. There are a few major issues that need to be resolved in S. 647:

  • unnamedCurrently states are the leaders in the realm of chemical regulation, having adopted laws and regulations that restrict the sale or use of products containing harmful chemicals. Minnesota just passed a bill restricting certain flame retardants. Maine is phasing out BPA in baby bottles. Iowa restricts the use of mercury-containing thermostats. According to a joint statement by the attorneys general of New York, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Oregon and Washington, “ In contrast to the existing law, S. 647 would prevent states from adopting new laws or regulations, or taking other administrative action.”
  • Though it makes sense from an industry perspective to have to adapt one’s products to regulations that are uniform throughout the country, the bill has the potential to bar states from creating or implementing new regulations if the EPA is studying a chemical or even considering regulating it. There could be years in which the EPA is studying the chemical and no state is permitted to regulate it. It’s easy to see where the chemical industry support of the bill came from.
  • With monumental cuts to EPA it’s unlikely the agency will have the staff or resources to conduct studies within the proposed deadlines. Though S. 647 allows the EPA to collect industry fees, these fees are up to a cap, rather than until the work is done and the studies are complete.
  • The chosen chemicals. EPA would be required to create a list of ‘low priority’ chemicals, which will then be barred from undergoing a full evaluation. Additionally, with an ‘industry request’ policy, industry – not the EPA – has the power to determine the majority of chemicals the agency evaluates. Industry probably won’t be basing its decision by which chemicals pose the greatest threat to human health.

CongressWho supports S. 647? Republicans and a plethora of moderate democrats. As for environmental stalwarts, Senator Barbara Boxer came up with a competing bill of her own that includes stricter standards for chemical safety evaluations. So far though, it has not been given the light of day. The House also has a proposed bill of its own. As for S. 647, until it addresses the above concerns and is in the spirit of Senator Lautenberg’s tireless work to protect public health, the “Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act” is not worthy of Lautenberg’s name…or passage.

To summarize the three proposed TSCA reform bills:

Bill name Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (S. 647) TSCA Modernization Act of 2015 (H.R. 2576) Alan Reinstein and Trevor Schaefer Toxic Chemical Protection Act (S. 725)
Main bill sponsor Sen. Udall, Tom [D-NM] Rep. Shimkus, John [R-IL] Sen. Boxer, Barbara [D-CA]
Co-sponsor count 40 (21 R, 19 D) 16 (8 R, 8 D) 5 (4 D, 1 I)
Funding Fees, with a cap Appropriations Industry would be required to provide the funding necessary to do timely safety reviews.
Number of chemicals reviewed Gives EPA up to five years to start safety reviews of 25 chemicals and would allow the agency up to seven years to assess each one. EPA will initiate 10 assessments per year. Start evaluating 75 chemicals within five years and would allow only up to six years for each one.

Brianna Knoppow works in the environmental field in D.C. and enjoys biking, kayaking, and foraging for wild mushrooms. She has an M.S. in Environmental Science & Policy.

posted by | on , , , , , | Comments Off on Why Should You Care about the Social Cost of Carbon?

By Tamara Toles O’Laughlin

I recently attended a briefing on the Social Cost of Carbon (SCC) sponsored by the Ayres Law Group and it set my wonky heart ablaze. It featured panelists from advocacy, policy, economic, and legal backgrounds who vividly discussed the future of this calculation which is intended to bring environmental damages or externalities back into the conversation on federal enterprise regulation. While eating up the jargon and enjoying the jockeying between doctorates, I thought that it might be fun to write a blog post and make it plain since, numbers aside, it’s actively being used to help humans calculate damages to the environment over large expanses of time, when they make stuff.

05a.Industrial.PC.VA.4jun06_(167428560)The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines the SCC as the economic damages assessed per metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions. Plainly put, it is the dollar figure attached to a specific amount of global carbon pollution. In the real world, this figure is used to develop a cost/benefit analysis that helps a project manager, developer or government define the savings realized by avoiding an action that puts carbon dioxide into the air we breathe.  Assigning costs and liabilities helps businesses make decisions about where and whether to set up shop.  The SCC is intended to make it easier to capture the full picture/bottom line on climate impacts by attaching that impact to dollars spent now and in the future. Government uses this calculation to define the present benefit of rules it makes to stem the negative effects of activity on the environment later.

President Obama has been an increasingly vocal advocate for an aggressive response to the impending reality that American style energy use has a negative global impact that contributes to climate change through increased greenhouse gas emissions.  Cap and trade was originally proposed as a means to limit these impacts by creating a controlled system (delineated by a reduced impact target) for a steadily decreasing number of permits (i.e. rights) to pollute. It failed to get through the Senate and the President responded with a series of executive actions, including mandates, regulations, measurements, and fees to allow federal agencies like the EPA and the Department of Energy (DOE) to do what Congress could not, i.e. something.

The SCC monetizes the cost of doing business so that policies directed at big picture mitigation of climate change can fight static cost estimates with dynamic cost estimates. It also provides a neat and tidy-ish calculus as the reason to take or not take an action in the business world, making it a business decision regardless of whether it is a moral one.  It is a heck of a conversion that transforms trees, air, and life itself into figures, regression charts, and tables. In doing so, it engages large scale undertakings in their own language of profits and losses.

unnamedThere is some controversy about how the SCC is formulated. In fact, there are varying opinions on whether and how to fix that cost, what numbers accurately make up an appropriate period of time to measure impacts, and items such as what amount is an accurate reflection of the feasibility of an air conditioner or heat pump regulation, or whether a community building project gets beyond the environmental impact assessments required under the National Environmental Policy Act.   

Beyond fixing the issues of how much time captures the complete damage of carbon and whose dollar amount best represents that loss, SCC is important because it helps decision makers know what science to apply, how dangerous an activity will be, and what species, environments, and ecosystems will be affected by the increase in carbon represented by an activity. So why care? Because we should all know how far into the future our infrastructure decisions affect warming seas, mass migration, species extinction, and ecosystem failure. And that information isn’t just for wonks.

For more in- depth discussion of SCC Fund Models and other enviro tech details click here and here.

Tamara is an environmental advocate focused on social and environmental justice issues. She holds degrees from The City College, City University of New York and Vermont Law School.  Tamara has been a DC EcoWomen Board Member on the Professional Development Team since August 2014. Her hobbies include reading boring books about politics and neuroscience, writing diatribes about what she reads,  travel, and yoga. 

posted by | on , , , , , | Comments Off on Water in Washington: At Risk from Fracking?

A miracle happens several times a day. You walk to your kitchen sink, twist a knob, and clean, drinkable water cascades down from the faucet and into your hands.

This water has weathered miles of travel. It may have been recycled and treated hundreds of times over; from a sink in New York City, down a river to a well in Delaware, through a drainpipe and to a spring in Maryland, to be treated and cycled until it finally reaches your faucet.

Most of the time, you drink clean water without a moment’s thought. But it takes an incredible amount of work, upkeep, and regulation to ensure that the water you drink won’t make you sick.

A potential threat to our water safety has unsurfaced. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is suspected of contaminating the water supplies of several states across the country. As fracking continues to expand, this threat grows as well.

How dangerous is fracking for our water?

Hydraulic fracturing is the use of chemicals and materials to create horizontal fractures to stimulate production from gas and oil wells. Scientists worry that these chemicals may threaten groundwater either when underground or during the waste removal process.

Whether or not fracking actually contaminates groundwater has caused a lot of controversy. Though there have been over 1,000 reported cases of contamination related to fracking, many scientific studies remain inconclusive.

That’s not for lack of trying. The Governor of Maryland has recently proposed spending $1.5 million to research the dangers of fracking in the state. And the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently working on a study on “the dangers posed to drinking water sources by hydraulic fracturing,” due in 2016.

Could fracking affect the water in DC?

Currently, there is no hydraulic fracturing taking place in or around the District of Columbia. However, this might soon change, as Maryland opens up for fracking (amid protests from environmental groups). And extensive fracking in West Virginia may have even caused the earthquake that cracked the Washington Monument.

As fracking threatens to become a considerable part of our energy landscape, water safety is increasingly important.

Learn More at EcoHour!

Is fracking safe or unsafe? We’ll leave it up to you to decide. But before you do, you might want to learn more.

The task of protecting our water falls at the federal level to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). There are a surprising amount of complications surrounding something as simple and pure as water. We EcoWomen are lucky enough to hear from Nancy Stoner, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Water, at our July EcoHour.

Nancy Stoner is a woman who lives and breathes water safety, and surely knows both sides of the argument. There are millions of websites giving one opinion or another about fracking, but sometimes it’s best to hear from the person working in the middle of it all.

Reserve your seat at EcoHour today!

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Getting Closer to the Heart of Life – An EcoWomen Success Story

No matter how far down the path, you can always change course. You can always aim to get closer to the heart of your life.

Abigail Daken currently works for the Energy Star program at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but it took a long time, and many transitions, to get to where she is today.

The Energy Star program is a vehicle for people who care about the planet to get the information they need about ethical consumption, to live according to their values. It’s extremely difficult to live lightly and efficiently on this planet, especially in our country – but programs such as Energy Star are a key part to reaching a sustainable society, according to Abi.

Abi loves her job because her work is in line with her values – living lightly, and forming a connection with other people and with the world around her.

You’d probably take it as a given that someone working for the EPA would hold environmental sustainability as a core value. But it wasn’t always this way.

Since she was young, Abi has loved being outside, being in nature. But that love didn’t translate right away into a career path. She graduated with a degree in Physics, and took on a job designing electronics, which she stayed with for ten years. As the years went on, she became disenchanted by the attitude of casual waste in her workplace – driven primarily by (distorted) costs.

Things started changing when she joined the Washington Ethical Society – a humanistic religious congregation – which helped clarify her morals and encouraged her to find a career more in line with her values.

So she asked herself: “What would 15-year-old me think of myself now?” And realized she needed something different.

Through the Ethical Society, she met her husband, and eventually found a new community. Together, the two of them moved into a co-housing community in Silver Spring called Eastern Village- another major turning point.

The co-housing community was a dream. Living with like-minded people, in a LEED certified building, no less, was something she dreamed about when she was 15 (well, perhaps not the LEED-certified portion).

A sunlight winter day in the Eastern Village Cohousing Community

What’s more, the co-housing community eventually led her to her job at EPA. But not without another transition first!

Ready to change her career path, but discouraged by the prospects of an entry-level position in the sustainability field, Abi enrolled in graduate school. At the University of Maryland, she enrolled for the Masters in Engineering and Public Policy. Through that program, and through her connections at the co-housing community, she started working with the EPA.

Throughout this experience, Abi became a mother. There were a couple of breaks along the way when she had her first and second child. She says that becoming a mother might have impacted the timing of her career – but it has added many gifts as well. Now, her whole life is in line with what she cares about: she lives in a closely knit community with a husband and two kids, and works for a job she believes in.

But the transition never ends. In fact, she predicts her life changing again in the near future, after an interest sparked in economics – particularly, ecological economics, and something called the “steady state economy.” She explains, “I’m getting closer and closer to the heart of my life.”

Abigail left me with a few words of advice: Volunteer for what you believe in. Invest time in the things you love doing. And, as is often heard in DC: network! The groups she joined, similar to DC EcoWomen, provided her with the opportunity to meet people in different fields but similar morals.

I hope DC EcoWomen provides its members with the same clarity and opportunities that Abigail Daken received throughout her transitions. No matter what outlet you choose, always look to get closer to the heart of life.

Abigail and her family on 'Bike to Work Day'