U.S. EPA

Report: EPA Should Use Sustainability Tools, Embrace Collaboration

Read the full story in Environmental Leader. I posted a link to the report, along with a summary, last week. This article provides a good overview. If you’re interested in the original NAP report on sustainability and the EPA, there’s a link here.

The EPA should incorporate sustainability tools in its decision making and collaborate with private-sector companies and non-government organizations, according to a report by the National Research Council.

The report was created at the EPA’s request, and builds on a 2011 report by the National Research Council, Sustainability and the EPA, which recommended that the EPA develop a “sustainability toolbox” of analytic tools that would help the agency implement a more holistic assessment of environmental, economic and social factors in its decision making.

The report provides several case studies to illustrate how the EPA can incorporate sustainability tools into decisions. One case study illustrates how to build consideration of the “three sustainability pillars” — social, environmental and economic concerns — into the criteria used to select a remedy for a site remediation project.

Environmental Regulation: EPA Should Improve Adherence to Guidance for Selected Elements of Regulatory Impact Analyses

Download the document

What GAO Found

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) used the seven Regulatory Impact Analyses (RIA) GAO reviewed to inform decision making, and its adherence to relevant Office of Management and Budget (OMB) guidance varied. According to senior EPA officials, the agency used these RIAs to facilitate communication with management throughout the rulemaking process and communicate information that supported its regulatory decisions to Congress and the public. However, it generally did not use them as the primary basis for final regulatory decisions.

EPA generally adhered to many aspects of OMB’s Circular A-4 guidance for analyzing the economic effects of regulations including, for example, considering regulatory alternatives and analyzing uncertainties underlying its RIAs. However, EPA did not always adhere to other aspects. Specifically, the information EPA included and presented in the RIAs was not always clear. According to OMB guidance, RIAs should communicate information supporting regulatory decisions and enable a third party to understand how the agency arrives at its conclusions. In addition, EPA’s review process does not ensure that the information about selected elements that should appear in the analyses—such as descriptions of baselines and alternatives considered—is transparent or clear, within and across its RIAs. As a result, EPA cannot ensure that its RIAs adhere to OMB’s guidance to provide the public with a clear understanding of its decision making.

In addition to using Circular A-4 (issued in 2003) to analyze the effects of regulations, EPA used more recent guidance developed by an interagency working group co-led by OMB and another White House office in 2010 for valuing carbon dioxide emissions. Applying this guidance while using Circular A-4 to estimate other benefits and costs yielded inconsistencies in some of EPA’s estimates and has raised questions about whether its approach was consistent with Circular A-4. Circular A-4 does not reference the new guidance and the new guidance does not include an overall statement explaining its relationship to Circular A-4. Without increased clarity about the relationship, questions about the agencies’ adherence to OMB guidance will likely persist.

In assessing EPA’s adherence to OMB guidance, GAO identified two other areas in which EPA faced challenges that limited the usefulness of some of its estimates. First, EPA did not monetize certain benefits and costs related to the primary purposes or key impacts of the rules GAO reviewed, such as reducing hazardous air pollutants and water quality effects. EPA officials said resource and data limitations constrained the agency’s ability to monetize these effects. OMB guidance acknowledges that monetizing effects is not always possible. However, without doing so, the public may face challenges understanding the trade-offs associated with regulatory alternatives. Second, EPA estimated effects of its regulations on employment, in part, using a study that, according to EPA officials, represented the best reasonably obtainable data when they conducted their analyses. However, the study was based on data that were more than 20 years old and may not have represented the regulated entities addressed in the RIAs. EPA officials said they are exploring new approaches for analyzing these effects but were uncertain about when such results would be available. Without improvements in its estimates, EPA’s RIAs may be limited in their usefulness for helping decision makers and the public understand these important effects.

Why GAO Did This Study

Federal regulations, especially those addressing health, safety, and the environment, can generate hundreds of billions of dollars in benefits and costs to society annually. Various statutes, executive orders, and OMB guidance direct federal agencies to analyze the benefits and costs of proposed regulations. These analyses—known as RIAs—can also provide affected entities, agencies, Congress, and the public with important information about the potential effects of new regulations.

According to OMB, EPA regulations account for the majority of the estimated benefits and costs of major federal regulations. GAO was asked to review EPA’s RIAs for recent regulations. This report examines how EPA has used RIAs during the rulemaking process and the extent to which EPA adhered to OMB guidance on selected elements of RIAs for recent rules. GAO reviewed RIAs from a nonprobability sample of seven recent air, water, and other environmental regulations, assessed them against relevant OMB guidance, and interviewed agency officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that EPA improve adherence to OMB guidance and enhance the usefulness of its RIAs, and that OMB clarify the application of guidance for estimating the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In commenting on a draft of this report, EPA stated that it generally agreed with GAO’s recommendations. On behalf of OMB, in oral comments OMB staff said that they neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendations but saw some merit in them.

For more information, contact J. Alfredo Gomez at (202) 512-3841 or gomezj@gao.gov.

Groups to EPA: Stop muzzling science advisers

Read the full story from the Associated Press.

 

Journalist and scientific organizations accused the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday of attempting to muzzle its independent scientific advisers by directing them to funnel all outside requests for information through agency officials.

 

In a letter Tuesday, groups representing journalists and scientists urged the EPA to allow advisory board members to talk directly to news reporters, Congress and other outside groups without first asking for permission from EPA officials. An April memo from the EPA’s chief of staff said that “unsolicited contacts” need to be “appropriately managed” and that committee members should refrain from directly responding to requests about committees’ efforts to advise the agency.

 

ITEP Announces Cooperative Agreement to Support Exchange Network

We are pleased to announce that ITEP has begun work with the Tribal Governance Group (TGG) and EPA’s Office of Environmental Information (OEI) to support tribal involvement in the National Environmental Information Exchange Network (NEIEN or “Exchange Network”). The NEIEN is a collaborative endeavor that strives to support better environmental decisions through improved exchange of, and access to, environmental data and information.

This effort will focus on expanding tribal participation in the NEIEN, which is guided by representatives from States, Territories, Tribes, and EPA. ITEP will work with tribes to facilitate a unified tribal voice amongst the NEIEN partners, and identify ways to help foster projects and initiatives that are both relevant and sustainable for tribes. To that end, ITEP will be reaching out to tribal representatives to assess current needs, priorities, and challenges with respect to Exchange Network activities.

Additionally, ITEP will facilitate an annual meeting for tribes, EPA and other NEIEN partners, where there will be ample opportunities to share and learn from tribal perspectives and experiences. We welcome the participation and input of all tribes, not just those currently involved in NEIEN projects. If you have any feedback on dates, topics, presenters, etc. for the upcoming meeting, please click HERE or contact us directly.

Website & Newsletter

A new website is under development which will contain additional information and resources for tribes and the NEIEN, and an email news list has been established for periodic announcements and updates. To be added to the listserv, send an email message to: listserv@lists.nau.edu with a single line of text in the body of the message that reads: subscribe NEIEN_TRIBAL-LISTSRV your_first_name your_last_name (eg: subscribe NEIEN_TRIBAL-LISTSRV Joe Smith). The email address used to send the message will be added to the subscriber list to receive future email updates from the listserv. You may need to check your JUNK or SPAM folders for an email from listserv@lists.nau.edu and approve the sender. Alternately, you may request to be added simply by contacting ITEP at:

Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals
Northern Arizona University
Box 15004
Flagstaff, AZ  86011
Lydia.Scheer@nau.edu

Use EPA’s ECHO tool to discover which companies in your community comply with environmental regulations

From the ECHO web site.

ECHO provides integrated compliance and enforcement information for about 800,000 regulated facilities nationwide. Its features range from simple to advanced, catering to users who want to conduct broad analyses as well as those who need to perform complex searches. Specifically, ECHO allows you to find and download information on:

  • Permit data
  • Inspection dates and findings
  • Violations
  • Enforcement actions
  • Penalties assessed

EPA designed ECHO to help you quickly conduct specific tasks. Tasks are grouped into four primary categories, each of which you can access by clicking on a tile on the home page:

  • Search Community — perform a location-based quick search. Enter an address, city, state, or zip code to retrieve a list of regulated facilities within the specific geographic area. Summary-level data are presented initially, but detailed facility data are only a click away.
  • Explore Facilities – conduct a targeted search for facilities based on detailed criteria such as type of search (e.g., enforcement and compliance activity). Summary data are initially presented in a default view that you can further customize. You can also download data sets and analyze detailed facility reports. Additionally, you can search enforcement and compliance data or find EPA enforcement cases.
  • Create Maps – access data visualization tools that allow you to view and interact with published maps or create your own.
  • Analyze Trends – display  trends in compliance and enforcement data through dashboards, maps, and charts, as well as access other EPA tools designed to identify pollution sources, including:
    • Greenhouse gases
    • Wastewater discharges
    • Toxic chemicals

To learn more about finding compliance information using ECHO, take a look at the advanced searching guide, Become an ECHO Pro.

Substantial Improvements Made in EPA’s IRIS Program, Report Says

Read the press release from the National Research Council.

A new congressionally mandated report from the National Research Council says that changes EPA has proposed and implemented into its Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) process are “substantial improvements.”  While acknowledging the progress made to date, the report offers further guidance and recommendations to improve the overall scientific and technical performance of the program, which is used to assess the hazards posed by environmental contaminants.

EPA to Work with Ports to Improve Environmental Performance

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is hosting the “Advancing Sustainable Ports” summit to mark the kickoff of a new EPA initiative to recognize ports that take action to improve environmental performance. EPA will also award $4.2 million in grant funding for clean diesel projects at six U.S. ports.

“Ports are the main gateway for U.S. trade and are critical to our country’s economic growth, yet the communities surrounding ports face serious environmental challenges,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “Today we demonstrate that through collaboration and innovation we can achieve the goals of economic growth and environmental stewardship.”

Most of the country’s busiest ports are located in or near large metropolitan areas and, as a result, people in nearby communities can be exposed to high levels of pollution. For example, diesel powered port equipment can seriously impact air quality for nearby residents and generate substantial greenhouse gas and black carbon emissions. Implementing clean air strategies at ports will reduce emissions and provide health benefits from improved air quality for workers and families who live nearby.

Over the past eight months, EPA has led a national conversation on ports, which brought together a wide variety of stakeholders from community organizations, port authorities, shippers, local governments and academia for three themed webinars to share information, goals, and successes of ports in reducing emissions and improving environmental performance. Through this process, EPA set the stage for the development of a new port recognition initiative that will provide additional incentives to improve a variety of environmental issues including improving local air quality, reducing carbon emissions, and addressing environmental justice issues. In addition, EPA’s new ports initiative program will work with port authorities to develop emission measurement tools, which will help ports better understand their energy use and environmental impact.

The grants awarded today will help six ports improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions, by providing $4.2 million in Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) grants to retrofit, replace, or repower diesel engines resulting in immediate emissions reductions in harmful pollution. The grant recipients are the Port of Seattle, the Port of Hueneme, the Port of Tacoma, the Maryland Port Administration, the Virginia Port Authority, and the Port of Los Angeles.