EPA, Philadelphia Announce Agreement to Advance Green Infrastructure for Clean Water

Today marks a milestone for Philadelphia in its drive to become “America’s greenest city.”  This afternoon, the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will join Philadelphia’s mayor to announce a federal-local partnership to advance the city’s path-breaking Green City, Clean Waters plan.  Under today’s agreement between EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Mayor Michael Nutter, EPA and Philadelphia will join in advancing the use of cutting-edge green infrastructure technologies to solve the city’s sewage overflows and create healthier neighborhoods for the city’s residents.

Today’s agreement provides a top-level vote of confidence by EPA for Philadelphia’s green infrastructure approach.  The agreement specifically highlights Philadelphia’s capacity to serve as a model for cities nationwide to embrace green infrastructure to manage stormwater runoff. 

It also provides one more reason why EPA should move ahead with updates to its 20-year-old standards for dealing with runoff pollution, which are long overdue, and should consistently embrace the green infrastructure approach in agreements with other cities to address sewage overflows.     

As I’ve written before, the city’s 25-year Green City, Clean Waters plan, which gained approval from the state of Pennsylvania last June, aims to tackle the city’s biggest water pollution problem by deploying the most comprehensive green infrastructure program found in any U.S. city.  The plan has made Philadelphia the only city to gain a perfect score in NRDC’s “Emerald City” metric, for taking six key actions to maximize green infrastructure investments.

The following video, produced by GreenTreks Network, illustrates how Philadelphia is turning rainwater from a waste that pollutes local waterways into a resource to nourish trees and plants – quite literally greening the city’s neighborhoods in the process:

Under today’s agreement, EPA and the city will develop a federal “consent order” to build on the city’s existing commitments and ensure the success of its ambitious plan.   The federal consent order, anticipated within the next several months, would make Philadelphia the first community to gain formal approval from EPA for using citywide investments in green infrastructure as a tool to comply with the Clean Water Act’s sewage overflow control requirements.  How fitting that such an embrace of 21st century approaches to one of our nation’s most stubborn water pollution problems should come in this 40th anniversary year of Congress's adoption of the Clean Water Act!

More immediately, today’s agreement will bring new resources to a suite of projects on the ground in Philadelphia.   Specifically, EPA will partner with the city on several initiatives, including:

  • greening a public school and adjacent streets, while linking the effort to the school’s science curriculum
  • creating a model green block in a low-income community of color, in partnership with local residents and businesses
  • using projects in Philadelphia as sites for EPA research projects on best practices for green infrastructure design

To learn more about Philadelphia’s green infrastructure initiatives, check out NRDC’s case study of the city in our recent report Rooftops to Rivers II, which profiles 14 cities around the US and recommends steps that EPA, states, cities, and water utilities should take to embrace green infrastructure as the gold – I mean Emerald – standard for cleaning up our urban waterways.