In September, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a five-year plan that outlines the agency’s priorities in its efforts to protect human health and the environment. The (FY) 2011-15 Strategic Plan, submitted to the U.S. Congress and the Office of Management and Budget, is highlighted by five strategic goals, and five “cross-cutting” strategies for business.
According to EPA, the plan “responds to the increasing degree of environmental awareness and the challenges that lie ahead. We have created a streamlined, executive-level plan that sets the agency’s direction, advances the administrator’s (Lisa Jackson) priorities, and will be used routinely by the agency’s senior leadership as a management tool.”
The agency also acknowledged that its plan cannot be implemented without diffiulty. “We know that we will face unanticipated challenges and opportunities that will affect our ability to achieve our objectives and the specific measurable results that we have described.”
Strategic Goal #1:
Taking Action on Climate Change and Improving Air Quality
Several objectives are set forth in the first goal, including addressing climate change, improving air quality, working to restore the ozone layer, and reduce unnecessary exposure to radiation.
Improving air quality, indoors and outdoors, is an EPA priority in the plan. To address the more familiar, outdoor air-quality issues, the EPA is working on a strategy to reduce toxic air pollution from stationary sources by targeting priority categories of sources; reducing pollution in communities; using a more cost-effective “sector-based” approach; and providing tools to help communities and other stakeholders participate in rulemaking. As part of this strategy, the agency indicated it will take advantage of an overlap of certain air toxins and criteria pollutant rules, and coordinate the development and implementation of Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) and New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) “where it makes sense.” This coordination of MACT standard development for specific source categories with other rulemaking efforts may reduce “substantially” the resources needed to develop standards, according to EPA. It also may provide more certainty and lower costs for the industry, simplify implementation for state, local, and tribal agencies, and enhance cost-effective regulatory approaches.
Also, EPA set forth its strategic goals for reducing pollutants and regional haze:
• By 2015, the population-weighted average concentration of ozone (smog) in all monitored counties will decrease 0.073 ppm, compared to the 2009 average of 0.078 ppm;
• The average of inhalable fine particles will decrease to 10.5 ∝g/m3 in 2015, compared to the average of 11.7 ∝g/m3 in 2009;
• Emissions of nitrogen oxides will be reduced from 19.4 million tons emitted in 2009, to 14.7 million tons in 2015; and
• Emissions of sulfur dioxide will be reduced from 13.8 million tons emitted in 2009, to 7.4 million tons in 2015.
As for indoor air quality, the plan cites research into problems with leaky roofs and with heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems that may cause health problems, including asthma and allergies. Exposure to indoor radon is another issue, being responsible for an estimated 20,000 premature deaths from lung cancer each year. Workplace air quality will be addressed, too.
Strategic Goal #2:
Protecting U.S. Waters
EPA is working to advance the Clean Water Act, including exploring ways to improve the condition of the urban waterways that may have been overlooked or under-represented in local environmental problem-solving. Also, the agency intends to be more aggressive in reducing and controlling pollutants that are discharged from industrial, municipal, agricultural, and stormwater sources and vessels. And, EPA indicated it will implement programs to prevent and reduce pollution that washes off the land during rain events.
Strategic Goal #3:
Cleaning Up Communities and Advancing Sustainable Development
In addition to promoting sustainable and livable communities, restoring land, and strengthening human health and environmental protection in Indian Country, land preservation is an EPA objective. In response to the RCRA’s mandate to conserve resources and energy, the EPA will focus on strategies that emphasize sustainable materials management by identifying and reducing or minimizing waste at all life-cycle stages, from extracting of raw materials through end of life.
EPA states it will focus on improving resource use through evaluating the environmental impacts of life-cycle stages of a material, product, or service, including identifying greenhouse gas (GHG) benefits. The agency will develop national strategies that consider using less environmentally intensive and toxic materials, and continue to promote downstream solutions (reuse and recycle, conservation).
Strategic Goal #4:
Ensuring the Safety of Chemicals and Preventing Pollution
The agency set forth two objectives: ensuring chemical safety and promoting pollution prevention. Over the next five years, EPA will implement risk-management actions for chemicals that pose unreasonable risk to the environment or human health through careful consideration of the ways that “the most vulnerable populations” may be affected. It indicates it is strengthening rules for tracking chemicals in commerce and adding chemicals and data requirements to inform both EPA and the public better about releases of toxic chemicals into the environment.
Also, EPA is increasing its evaluation of confidentially claims in order to make all health and safety data for chemicals in commerce more available to the public, to the extent allowed by law.
Strategic Goal #5:
Enforcing Environmental Laws
“Vigorous civil and criminal enforcement” is central to achieving the goals, according to EPA. Criminal enforcement underlines its commitment to pursue the most serious pollution violations, it states, and it will focus on cases across all media that involve serious harm or injury; hazardous or toxic releases; ongoing, repetitive or multiple releases; serious documented exposure to pollutants; and violators with significant repeat or chronic non-compliance or prior criminal convictions.
Additionally, the agency will pursue increased transparency as an effective tool for improving compliance, making information on violations available and understandable.
Plans for future program evaluations continue to include cyclical reviews of R&D programs, geared to ensure that research priorities meet future challenges.
In addition to setting evaluation tools and working to make their efforts easier to grasp, the EPA set forth “cross-cutting fundamental strategies.” These are meant to set expectations for the “changing way” the agency approaches its work.
The cross-cutting strategies are: (1) expanding the conversation on environmentalism; (2) working for environmental justice and children’s health; (3) advancing science, research, and technological innovations; (4) strengthening state, tribal, and international partnerships; and (5) strengthening the EPA’s work force and capabilities.
“It is up to us to embrace this moment, so our children and grandchildren can have a cleaner, healthier future,” EPA Adminstrator Lisa Jackson concluded. “We will face new challenges, new opportunities, and new possibilities for achieving our visionof a cleaner, greener, and more sustainable environment.”
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