Category Archives: U.S. EPA

USGS: Energy & Minerals

From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout 1994-2013.

USGS: Energy & Minerals

The Energy and Minerals Mission Area of the United States Geological Survey
(USGS) “conducts research and assessments on the location, quantity, and
quality of material and energy resources, including the economic and
environmental effects of resource extraction and use.” Visitors to the site
can click on thematic sections such as Energy Resources and Mineral
Resources. Each of these areas contains information about each program,
along with fact sheets, databases, and detailed geospatial maps. The
Program News area contains links to documents such as “Understanding the
Global Distribution of Nonfuel Mineral Resources” and a host of summary
documents on mineral commodities. Finally, the site is rounded out by the
Mineral Resources Products area. Here, visitors can look into hundreds of
statistical reports, bulletins, and data sets intended for scientists,
journalists, and members of the general public. [KMG]



GAO report on the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

Great Lakes Restoration Initiative: Further Actions Would Result in More Useful Assessments and Help Address Factors That Limit Progress. GAO-13-797, September 27.
Highlights –

What GAO Found

The Task Force agencies use the Action Plan to implement the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) and use an interagency process to enter into agreements among themselves to identify GLRI projects and with other stakeholders to implement GLRI projects. The Action Plan includes guidance for implementing the GLRI in five focus areas (such as invasive species and habitat and wildlife protection and restoration) that encompass the most significant environmental problems in the Great Lakes. Each focus area includes, among other things, long-term goals, objectives to be achieved by fiscal year 2014, and 28 measures of progress that have annual targets for fiscal years 2010 to 2014.

EPA uses the Action Plan’s measures to assess GLRI progress. However, its methods may not produce comprehensive and useful assessments of GLRI progress for several reasons. Among them, some of the goals and objectives do not link to any measures and, as a result, it is unclear how EPA will be able to assess progress toward them. In addition, some measures track actions that may not lead to the desired GLRI goal. For example, one measure tracks the reduction in concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) in fish as part of the goal to lift all restrictions on consumption of Great Lakes fish. However, stakeholders reported that the measure is too narrow and that mercury and other contaminants need to be addressed as well. Consequently, reducing PCB concentrations in fish is not likely to lead to the desired result of lifting all Great Lakes fish consumption restrictions. Without useful measures, EPA may not be able to determine that GLRI efforts are producing the desired results.

In spring 2013, the Task Force agencies issued two reports about GLRI progress in fiscal years 2010 and 2011, which state whether the targets for the Action Plan’s 28 measures were being met (e.g., 15 of 28 measures met or exceeded in fiscal year 2011), but the reports include few specific examples of progress. As a result, GAO sought further insights into such progress by surveying nonfederal GLRI stakeholders. Overall, 87 percent of respondents cited at least one example of how one or more of their projects had, or was expected to, benefit the Great Lakes ecosystem. GAO and others have reported that quantifying overall Great Lakes restoration progress is difficult, that the environmental conditions of each lake are unique, and, according to a 2006 U.N. report, it is often impossible to attribute specific environmental changes to specific projects or programs.

In response to GAO’s survey, among the factors respondents most often cited as potentially limiting GLRI progress are several outside the scope of the Action Plan, such as inadequate infrastructure for wastewater or stormwater and the effects of climate change. These factors could negatively affect GLRI restoration efforts. For example, as a result of climate change, warming water temperatures can lead to increased numbers of aquatic invasive species and a decline in native ones, a GLRI focus area. The Action Plan touches on these factors but does not state how they will be addressed. In 2012, EPA took steps to incorporate climate change considerations into a small number of GLRI projects but has yet to decide if the GLRI will consider climate change impacts on all GLRI projects. Without addressing these factors in the next Action Plan, EPA will not be able to more fully account for their impacts on GLRI restoration efforts.

Why GAO Did This Study

The Great Lakes contain about 84 percent of North America’s surface freshwater and provide economic and recreational benefits in the Great Lakes Basin. However, the Great Lakes face significant stresses–such as toxic pollution–that have caused ecological and economic damage to the region.

Approximately $1.3 billion has been appropriated to the GLRI, created in fiscal year 2010, which an interagency Task Force of 11 federal agencies, chaired by the EPA Administrator, oversees. In 2010, the Task Force issued an Action Plan for fiscal years 2010 to 2014 to develop a comprehensive approach to restoring the health of the Great Lakes ecosystem. GAO was asked to review the GLRI. This report examines (1) how the GLRI is implemented by the Task Force agencies and other stakeholders, (2) the methods that EPA has in place to assess GLRI progress, (3) the progress identified by the Task Force agencies and nonfederal stakeholders, and (4) the views of nonfederal stakeholders on factors, if any, that may affect or limit GLRI progress. GAO analyzed the Action Plan, surveyed 205 non-federal recipients of GLRI funding, and interviewed Task Force agency officials and nonfederal stakeholders.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that EPA help ensure more comprehensive and useful GLRI progress assessments and account for factors outside of the Action Plan’s scope that may affect the GLRI’s long-term success. EPA generally agreed with GAO’s recommendations.

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Posted by on November 12, 2013 in Great Lakes, Publications, U.S. EPA


U.S. shutdown idles 94 percent of EPA staff

Read the full story at Mother Nature Network.

The EPA is being reduced to 6 percent of its workforce by a government shutdown, disrupting an array of services like pollution cleanup and public health research.
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Posted by on October 3, 2013 in U.S. EPA


EPA to be hit hard in shutdown, could delay renewable fuel standard

Read the full story at Planet Ark.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will take one of the biggest hits of any federal agency if the government shuts down this week, operating with under 7 percent of its employees, according to guidance issued by the agency.

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Posted by on October 2, 2013 in U.S. EPA


GAO Report on environmental health

Environmental Health: EPA Has Made Substantial Progress but Could Improve Processes for Considering Children’s Health. GAO-13-254, August 12.
Highlights –

What GAO Found

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has made substantial progress in addressing more than half of the recommendations GAO made in a January 2010 report concerning the agency’s efforts to protect children’s health. Specifically, EPA has fully implemented five of the eight recommendations made by GAO. For example, for a recommendation that EPA ensure that its strategic plan expressly articulate children-specific goals, objectives, and targets, in September 2010, EPA issued an agency-wide strategic plan that identifies children’s health as a top agency priority with goals, objectives, and targets. In addition, EPA took some steps to address the remaining three recommendations from GAO’s January 2010 report but has not fully implemented them, including a recommendation that the agency strengthen the data system that identifies and tracks development of rulemakings and other actions to ensure they comply with the 1995 policy on evaluating health risks to children.

The Office of Children’s Health Protection (OCHP) has increased its role to ensure that EPA program offices consider children’s health protection in their regulatory activities. Specifically, the EPA Administrator issued a memorandum in February 2010 directing OCHP to take the lead in ensuring that all EPA programs are successful in their efforts to protect children’s health. Since the issuance of the memorandum and the office’s reorganization in July 2010, OCHP has played a greater supporting role in program offices’ development of selected regulations that potentially affect children’s health. However, OCHP has no regular involvement in the Office of Pesticide Program’s (OPP) decision-making process addressing tolerances for pesticide residues. In addition, OCHP officials may not be aware of these decisions, and there are no mechanisms in the tolerance setting process to alert OCHP when matters that could pose a significant risk to children’s health are being considered. Until the disconnect between the direction identified for OCHP in the Administrator’s memorandum and the current process is addressed, OCHP will not have a role to ensure that children’s health protection is considered in the area of pesticide tolerance decisions.

OCHP has worked extensively with a variety of partners to leverage its resources to better protect children’s health. Through its coordination with federal partners, OCHP has helped to improve children’s environmental health in schools and homes. For example, training courses for about 800 participants through the National Center for Healthy Housing are being offered around the country addressing topics such as pest management and energy efficiency. In addition, OCHP has financially supported children’s health efforts in underserved communities across the country by providing grants totaling $1.2 million. For example, OCHP awarded a $100,000 grant to Farm Worker Justice, a group which provides outreach and educational activities for families of farm workers to improve the environmental health of their children. OCHP has also worked with Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units (PEHSU) to help train 15,000 health care providers across the country about the health implications of prenatal and childhood environmental exposures. PEHSUs also work with federal, state and local agencies to address children’s environmental health issues in homes, schools, and communities.

Why GAO Did This Study

Scientific studies have shown that because children’s bodies are still developing, they can be more vulnerable than adults to certain environmental hazards, including air pollutants, pesticide residues on food, contaminants in drinking water, and toxic chemicals in the home. EPA has made protecting children’s health part of its mission by establishing a policy in 1995 to ensure that the agency consistently considers children in its actions and creating OCHP to support those efforts. In a 2010 report, GAO found that EPA had not fully utilized OCHP and other child-focused resources to protect children’s health.

GAO was asked to review EPA’s progress in protecting children’s health. This report determines (1) the extent to which EPA has implemented GAO’s 2010 recommendations on children’s health protection and (2) the role, if any, that OCHP has played in ensuring that key EPA program offices consider children’s health protection in their regulatory activities. The report also describes how OCHP has worked with external partners to leverage its resources. To conduct this work, GAO reviewed relevant laws and EPA regulations and guidance, analyzed EPA data, and interviewed EPA officials and other stakeholders.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends, among other things, that EPA direct OCHP and OPP to establish procedures to identify those tolerance decisions that could pose a significant risk to children’s health and provide opportunities for OCHP involvement when appropriate. EPA generally agreed with GAO.


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Posted by on September 12, 2013 in Environmental health, Publications, U.S. EPA


EPA Launches New Online Mapping Tool for Environmental Impact Statements

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched an interactive web-based mapping tool that provides the public with access and information on Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) filed with EPA for major projects proposed on federal lands and other proposed federal actions. When visiting the website, users can click on any state for a list of EISs, including information about the potential environmental, social and economic impacts of these projects.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to consider the impacts of proposed actions, as well as any reasonable alternatives as part of their decision-making process. For proposed projects with potentially significant impacts, federal agencies prepare a detailed Environmental Impact Statement which is filed with EPA and made available for public review and comment. EPA is required to review and comment on Environmental Impact Statements prepared by other federal agencies.

“This interactive tool makes it easier for the public to be informed about the environment around them,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, which oversees NEPA compliance. “Major projects and decisions have the potential to affect the environment where you work and live. I encourage everyone to check out the tool, stay informed and lend your voice.”

The user can click on a state in the map and is provided with comment letters submitted by the EPA on Environmental Impact Statements within the last 60 days. The tool also provides users with the information they need to identify projects with open comment periods, including how to submit comments.

The tool supports EPA’s commitment to utilize advanced information technologies that help increase transparency of its enforcement and compliance programs. EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance has recently launched the “Next Generation Compliance” initiative, designed to modernize its approach and drive improved compliance to reduce pollution. Learn more about the effort by visiting:

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Posted by on September 11, 2013 in U.S. EPA, Web resources


Environmental resources via Campus Scout

From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout 1994-2013.

Global Warming Science

Many of our readers will no doubt already be familiar with MIT’s excellent OpenCourseWare (OCW), which offers free college-level curricula online to the public. The OpenCourseWare site is well worth a browse, as it offers courses on a variety of useful and engaging subjects such as business, health and medicine, mathematics, fine arts and science. This particular course, which was originally offered to undergraduate students in the spring of 2012, looks at the science behind global warming. Content includes lecture notes, assignments and student projects. The content couldbe used as a springboard for instructors teaching similar classes, or may prove useful to curious individuals looking to learn more about this timely and important topic. [AHT]

Environmental Protection Agency: Learn the Issues

This page from the United States Environmental Protection Agency provides information on many significant environmental health issues. In addition to providing general interest information on topics like radon, acid rain, and asbestos, the site also delivers an interactive resource that allows users to learn more about concerns specific to their area. Under Where You Live, visitors may enter their own location to access a special MyEnvironment section of the site. Here one can access air and water quality data or view an interactive map of their local area. The map feature provides data on Superfund Sites, risk of cancer due to environmental concerns and much more. A section with teacher resources, games and quizzes for K-12 students is also provided. [AHT]

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: Lesson Resources for Teachers

Science teachers around the country and the world have a good friend in the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. They have brought together dozens of helpful teaching aids in this fine corner of their website. There are booklets, fact sheets, websites, and flyers all arranged into neat and tidy sections. The Booklets area includes “You and Your Genes-Making it in a Tough Environment” and “Guide to Keeping Laboratory Notebooks.” The Fact Sheets section includes overviews of endocrine disruptors, allergens, and environmental factors and breast cancer risk. Additionally, the Interviews with Scientists/Researchers section is quite inspiring and features conversations with a lung doctor, an environmental analyst, and a microbiologist. [KMG]

Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT

Based at MIT, the Knight Science Journalism program offers fellowships and workshops to journalists seeking to increase their understanding of science, technology, medicine, and related fields. It’s a great resource for these persons and for the general public as well. The Tracker section offers “peer review within science journalism” via daily commentary on items dealing with health & medicine reporting, environmental issues, and related matters. Visitors can offer their own commentary and suggest additional resources and links. Additionally, within the Media Gallery,
visitors can find video pieces, slideshows, and audio links. The video pieces are the real highlights here and include conversations on social media and journalism and reporting on energy issues. Additionally, visitors can sign up to receive their updates via RSS feed or Twittter. [KMG]


Testimony on chemical regulation from the GAO

Chemical Regulation: Observations on the Toxic Substances Control Act and EPA Implementation, by Alfredo Gomez, director, natural resources and environment, before the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, House Committee on Energy and Commerce. GAO-13-696T, June 13.
Highlights –

What GAO Found

GAO reported in June 2005 that EPA has historically faced the following challenges in implementing the provisions of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA):

  • Obtaining adequate information on chemical toxicity and exposure. EPA has found it difficult to obtain such information because TSCA does not require companies to provide it; instead, TSCA requires EPA to demonstrate that chemicals pose certain risks before it can ask for such information.
  • Banning or limiting chemicals. EPA has had difficulty demonstrating that chemicals should be banned or have limits placed on their production or use under section 6–provisions for controlling chemicals. The agency issued regulations to ban or limit production or use of five existing chemicals, or chemical classes, out of tens of thousands of chemicals listed for commercial use. A court reversal of EPA’s 1989 asbestos rule illustrates the difficulties EPA has had in issuing regulations to control existing chemicals.
  • Disclosing data and managing assertions of confidentiality. EPA has not routinely challenged companies’ assertions that data they provide are confidential business information and cannot be disclosed. As a result, the extent to which companies’ confidentiality claims are warranted is unknown.

GAO reported in March 2013 that EPA has made progress implementing its new approach to managing toxic chemicals under its existing TSCA authority but, in most cases, results have yet to be realized. Examples are as follows:

  • EPA has increased efforts to collect toxicity and exposure data through the rulemaking process, but because rules can take 3 to 5 years to finalize and 2 to 2 1/2 years for companies to execute, these efforts may take several years to produce results. Specifically, since 2009, EPA has (1) required companies to test 34 chemicals and provide EPA with the resulting toxicity and other data, and (2) announced, but has not yet finalized, plans to require testing for 23 additional chemicals.
  • EPA has increased efforts to assess chemical risks, but because EPA does not have the data necessary to conduct all risk assessments, it is too early to tell what, if any, risk management actions will be taken. In February 2012, EPA announced a plan that identified and prioritized 83 existing chemicals for risk assessment; the agency initiated assessments for 7 chemicals in 2012 and announced plans to start 18 additional assessments during 2013 and 2014. At its current pace, it would take EPA at least 10 years to complete risk assessments for the 83 chemicals.

In addition, it is unclear whether EPA’s new approach to managing chemicals will position the agency to achieve its goal of ensuring the safety of chemicals. EPA’s Existing Chemicals Program Strategy, which is intended to guide EPA’s efforts to assess and control chemicals in the coming years, does not discuss how EPA will address identified challenges. Consequently, EPA could be investing valuable resources, time, and effort without being certain that its efforts will bring the agency closer to achieving its goal of ensuring the safety of chemicals.

Why GAO Did This Study

In 1976, Congress passed TSCA to give EPA the authority to obtain more health and safety information on chemicals and to regulate chemicals it determines pose unreasonable risks of injury to human health or the environment. GAO has reported that EPA has found many of TSCA’s provisions difficult to implement. In 2009, EPA announced TSCA reform principles to inform ongoing efforts in Congress to strengthen the act. At that time, EPA also initiated a new approach for managing toxic chemicals using its existing TSCA authorities.

This testimony summarizes GAO’s past work describing: (1) challenges EPA has faced historically in regulating chemicals and (2) the extent to which EPA has made progress implementing its new approach, and challenges, if any, which persist. This statement is based on GAO reports issued between 1994 and 2013.

GAO is not making new recommendations in this testimony. In prior reports, GAO suggested that Congress consider statutory changes to TSCA to give EPA additional authorities to obtain information from the chemical industry and shift more of the burden to chemical companies for demonstrating the safety of their chemicals. In these reports, among other things, GAO recommended that EPA require companies to provide chemical data they submitted to foreign governments, require companies to reassert confidentiality claims, and develop strategies for addressing challenges that impeded EPA’s ability to ensure chemical safety. EPA’s responses to these recommendations have varied.

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Posted by on June 13, 2013 in Publications, Regulation, U.S. EPA


New GAO report on U.S. EPA chemical assessments

Chemical Assessments: An Agencywide Strategy May Help EPA Address Unmet Needs for Integrated Risk Information System Assessments. GAO-13-369, May 10.
Highlights –

What GAO Found

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not conducted a recent evaluation of demand for Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) toxicity assessments with input from users inside and outside EPA. Specifically, EPA issued a needs assessment report in 2003, which estimated that 50 new or updated IRIS toxicity assessments were needed each year to meet users’ needs. However, GAO did not find sufficient support for the estimate. In addition, IRIS Program officials recognize that the 2003 estimate does not reflect current conditions, but the agency does not plan to perform another evaluation of demand. Without a clear understanding of current demand for IRIS toxicity assessments, EPA cannot adequately measure the program’s performance; effectively determine the number of IRIS toxicity assessments required to meet the needs of IRIS users; or know the extent of unmet demand.

The IRIS Program’s chemical nomination and selection process, which the agency uses to gauge interest in the IRIS Program from users inside and outside of EPA, may not accurately reflect current demand for IRIS toxicity assessments. The 75 chemicals that were nominated in response to EPA’s most recent 2011 nomination period may not reflect demand for a number of reasons. For example, given the long-standing challenges the IRIS Program has had in routinely starting new assessments, according to some EPA IRIS users, they chose not to nominate new chemicals for assessment. Also, EPA has not clearly articulated how the IRIS Program applies the criteria it uses to prioritize the selection of chemicals for IRIS toxicity assessment–including how it determines the circumstances under which an IRIS toxicity assessment is or is not needed. Consequently, for chemicals that were nominated but not selected for assessment, it is not clear how many, if any, were excluded from consideration because they did not meet the IRIS Program’s selection criteria because the IRIS Program determined that an IRIS toxicity assessment was not needed–or, alternatively, if they were not selected due to resource constraints or other reasons.

EPA has not implemented an agencywide strategy for addressing the unmet needs of EPA program offices and regions when IRIS toxicity assessments are not available, applicable, or current. Specifically, EPA does not have a strategy for identifying and filling data gaps that would enable it to conduct IRIS toxicity assessments for nominated chemicals that are not selected for assessment because sufficient data from health studies are not available. IRIS Program officials stated that no agencywide mechanism exists for EPA to ensure that chemicals without sufficient scientific data during one nomination period will have such information by the next nomination period or even the one after that. These officials acknowledged that better coordination across EPA and with other federal agencies could help address the issue. EPA also does not have agencywide guidance for addressing unmet needs when IRIS toxicity assessments are not available, applicable, or current. In the absence of agencywide guidance, officials from select EPA offices stated that they used a variety of alternatives to IRIS toxicity assessments to meet their needs, including using toxicity information from other EPA offices or other federal agencies.

Why GAO Did This Study

EPA created the IRIS database in 1985 to help develop consensus opinions within the agency about the health effects from chronic exposure to chemicals. The health effects information in IRIS–referred to as IRIS toxicity assessments–provides fundamental scientific information EPA needs to develop human health risk assessments. GAO was asked to review the effectiveness of EPA’s implementation of its IRIS toxicity assessment process. This report determines the extent to which (1) EPA has evaluated demand for IRIS toxicity assessments from users inside and outside EPA; (2) EPA’s process for nominating and selecting chemicals for IRIS toxicity assessment accurately reflects demand; and (3) EPA has implemented a strategy for addressing any unmet agency needs when IRIS toxicity assessments are not available, applicable, or current. To do this work, GAO reviewed and analyzed IRIS nomination data, among other things, and interviewed EPA officials. GAO did not evaluate the scientific content or quality of IRIS toxicity assessments.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that EPA evaluate demand for IRIS assessments; document how the agency applies its selection criteria, including the circumstances under which an IRIS toxicity assessment is or is not needed and; develop an agencywide strategy including, at a minimum, coordination across EPA offices, as well as with other federal agencies, to identify and fill data gaps, and providing guidance that describes alternative sources of toxicity information. EPA agreed with the first two recommendations and partially agreed with the third.

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Posted by on June 10, 2013 in Publications, U.S. EPA


Harvard University Recognizes EPA Renewable Energy Program as a Top Government Innovation

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) RE-Powering America’s Land Initiative was recognized as one of the Top 25 Innovations in American Government by Harvard University. The initiative, started at EPA in 2008, encourages development of renewable energy on potentially contaminated lands, landfills and mining sites.

“We are honored that EPA and the RE-Powering Initiative have been recognized for its promotion of innovative land revitalization. The EPA saw an opportunity to return contaminated or potentially contaminated lands to productive reuse while supporting renewable energy development,” said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. “As President Obama has made clear, investments in American-made renewable energy are vital to our economic security and environmental health.”

The RE-Powering Initiative supports the transformation of liabilities into assets for surrounding communities. Since RE-Powering’s inception, more than 70 renewable energy projects have been installed on contaminated sites or landfills. These early projects represent over 215 MW of installed capacity, which could power approximately 35,000 homes, and provide a foundation for future development as demonstrations of the latest technologies in both renewable energy and remediation design.

The Harvard Innovations Award is funded by the Ford Foundation and administered by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Over 400 government initiatives have been recognized since the Innovations program began in 1985.

“These Top 25 innovations in government offer real, tangible ways to protect our most disadvantaged citizens, educate the next-generation workforce, and utilize data analytics to enhance government performance,” said Stephen Goldsmith, director of the Innovations in Government program at the Ash Center. “Despite diminishing resources, these government programs have developed model innovations that other struggling agencies should be inspired to replicate and adapt to their own communities.”

In 2000, the EPA Brownfields program was recognized as the Innovations in American Government’s overall award winner. Final award selection for this year is anticipated later in 2013.


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