Pacific Southwest, Region 9
Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations
Progress in the Pacific Southwest
This month EPA commemorates its 40th birthday. The agency was created on December 2, 1970, by President Richard Nixon’s executive order, at a time when the nation faced major problems such as thick smog choking city skies and polluted rivers burning. Over the last 40 years, EPA’s Pacific Southwest Office has contributed to the agency’s national efforts and made impressive improvements to the quality of human health and the environment in our own states, territories and tribal lands. Here are just a few of the highlights of the accomplishments within our region:
Clean Land and Water
Since 1970, the number of hazardous waste landfills in the Pacific Southwest region has decreased by 90%.
Of our region’s 128 Superfund sites, over half (53%) have completed the construction of long term cleanup measures such as pumping and treating contaminated ground water. Because we live in the arid southwest, ground water is important source of drinking water, so we are the only region where ground water is pumped, treated, and then used for drinking water, currently generating enough clean water to supply 2 million people. Our region has also led the way with innovative “cleaner cleanups” where environmental impacts are minimized by using solar or other forms of green energy to power cleanup operations. At the Aerojet Superfund site near Rancho Cordova, California, a solar panel “farm” generates 6 megawatts of power to treat contaminated water, the largest such facility on any Superfund site in the nation.
The Pacific Southwest has a large share of contaminated mines that continue to threaten local residents and water supplies. On Navajo tribal lands, EPA partnered with tribes and four other federal agencies in a massive multi-year effort to clean up old uranium mining pollution and to supply safe housing and drinking water to tribal members. Almost 200 homes and other buildings were screened for potential contamination in a combined effort by U.S. EPA and Navajo Nation EPA Superfund Program. We completed demolition and excavations of 37 structures and yards and rebuilt 14 homes. In addition, over $22 million has been committed to build infrastructure for more than 300 homes near contaminated water sources that don’t receive piped water, and to implement a water hauling pilot for up to 3,000 homes.
Protecting Communities, from Tribes to Pacific Islands
More than 42,000 leaking underground storage tank sites have been cleaned up in the Pacific Southwest since the UST program began in 1987, protecting groundwater and other resources.
Environmental justice has long been a top priority in the Pacific Southwest. We have worked with minority and low-income neighborhoods to address disproportionate health impacts from pollution sources, providing millions of dollars in grants and other assistance to create successful partnerships with many local communities. Our special focus on transportation corridors and minority communities in the Los Angeles basin has brought results: In 2009, community projects in the area received two of five nationwide Environmental Justice Achievement Awards: The Fish Contamination Education Collaborative was recognized for raising awareness about the dangers of eating fish caught near the Palos Verdes Shelf Superfund site off the coast of Los Angeles, and the Clean Trucks Program was recognized for its effort to reduce big-rig pollution from the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach by 80% by 2012.
We have also focused our efforts to improve environmental conditions for all of the 147 tribal nations within our region. We have helped 93 tribes in the region to implement their own solid and hazardous waste programs. Since 1987, in partnership with tribes and the Indian Health Service, EPA’s Clean Water and Drinking Water Tribal Set-Aside programs in the region have provided $112 million for 450 projects to improve infrastructure for 65,000 tribal homes. Since 1997, EPA has worked with 12 tribes and spent more than $7 million to investigate more than 120 leaking underground storage tank sites, and clean up and close 21 of them. In 2009, EPA credentialed two Navajo Nation inspectors, the first tribal tank inspectors in the U.S., enabling the tribe to enforce underground tank regulations. Also, EPA’s Tribal Border Infrastructure Program has provided $34 million to tribes for 47 water infrastructure projects serving nearly 10,000 tribal homes near the U.S.-Mexico Border.
Since 1995, the Pacific Southwest Border Office has partnered with Mexican environmental agencies to dramatically reduce sewage pollution along the U.S.-Mexico border and to provide border residents with potable water. Work began in 1996 on renovation and repairs to Mexicali’s existing sewage pipes and treatment facilities, funded jointly by the U.S. and Mexico. In 2007, a new wastewater treatment plant located in the south of Mexicali was completed. The estimated 15 million gallons per day of sewage that once flowed untreated into the New River is now treated prior to discharge. EPA contributed nearly half the $98.6 million cost of the Mexicali wastewater projects, with the Mexican government contributing the remaining funds. Already, these projects have benefited an estimated 635,000 people in Mexicali, and have resulted in the treatment of approximately 40 million gallons per day of sewage.
Pacific island territories such as Guam, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands also receive special focus due to their unique needs. Island governments have worked with EPA to improve inadequate or nonexistent water infrastructure, making significant progress toward the goal of safe drinking water for everyone. The proportion of people with access to safe drinking water in these three areas climbed from 39% in 2003 to 73% in 2008.
Innovation on Air Quality, Climate Change and Waste Reduction
In 1980, there were 19 hazardous waste incinerators in the Pacific Southwest. Today, there are none.
We’ve worked with our local and state partners to address serious air pollution risks throughout the region. Recognizing the significant health impacts of diesel emissions along transportation corridors, we helped create the West Coast Diesel Reduction Collaborative to facilitate adoption of clean diesel technology and lower engine idling emissions. This public-private partnership was the first pilot project of EPA’s national Clean Diesel Campaign, and brought together more than 1,000 partners across seven states in EPA’s Pacific Southwest and Northwest regions, plus Canada and Mexico. Collaborative partners have leveraged EPA grants to create almost $90 million to replace, repower or retrofit diesel equipment, including school buses.
Our region has been at the forefront on the issue of climate change, working to reduce carbon emissions and promote sustainable growth and green building. In 2007, EPA’s Pacific Southwest Regional Office spurred innovation by launching the Lifecycle Building Challenge, a nationwide competition for architects, builders and students that pushed the envelope of green building to include designing buildings for deconstruction and reuse. The Challenge grew into an international competition in 2009 and is now in its fourth year. The annual competition has been widely successful in influencing green building standards and lifecycle principles into the way that buildings are designed.
In Southern California, maximum levels of smog have been cut to less than ¼ of what they were in the 1950s … with nearly 3 times as many people and 4 times as many vehicles.
In 2003, EPA’s Northwest and Pacific Southwest Offices initiated a dialogue with the electronics industry and state and local governments on e-waste: how to reduce the impact of the millions of computers that are sold, used and disposed of every year. The result of that collaboration is the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT). Today, hundreds of large purchasers, from local governments to corporations, use EPEAT for all their computer purchases. EPEAT has become one of the world’s most extensive and influential green IT product rating systems, used in 40 countries. Its registry has more than 1,000 products and more than 30 participating manufacturers.
In addition, innovative and consistent enforcement of the nation’s environmental laws has brought tremendous environmental benefits to the region. The Pacific Southwest has been one of the most successful regions in the use of supplemental environmental projects, in which a responsible party agrees to go beyond paying penalties and undertakes a project to benefit public health or the environment. Using these agreements, we have secured improvements to water treatment systems, reductions in air pollution, cleanup of contaminated soils and groundwater, and pollution prevention projects which will continue to benefit residents of the Pacific Southwest for years to come.
Because of these and many other success stories over the last 40 years, the dedicated EPA professionals in our region continue to enjoy their work and look forward to another 40 years of serving the people and the environment of the Pacific Southwest.
To learn more about recent progress in the region, see our Progress Report 2010. This special anniversary issue includes a 40-Year Environmental Timeline recalling annual milestones since 1970.
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