Council on Environmental Quality Blog

  • Local Businesses, Leaders, and Non-profits Working in Unison to Prepare for Climate Change Impacts in California

    Grid Alternatives Solar Install

    GRID Alternatives Team Leader Courtney helps Acting Chair Boots with his first solar panel installation (Photo from GRID Alternatives)

    As the impacts of climate changes become more and more prevalent, the Administration is working hard to create a cleaner, safer and more resilient nation. This week, during a trip to San Jose and San Francisco, Calif., I was able to see firsthand the steps Americans are taking to move towards a clean energy economy and prepare communities for the impacts of climate change.

    Yesterday, I joined state and local leaders for a tour of projects focused on building resilience to climate impacts, including sea level rise, at Ocean Beach in San Francisco. Beach erosion has forced the closure of a section of the Great Highway along the City’s Pacific coast and threatens critical wastewater infrastructure. In response, the City of San Francisco has undertaken an unprecedented and expedited collaboration of city, state, and federal agencies—as well as community stakeholders—to implement a sustainable approach to coastal management.

    The President knows that the best ideas come from the communities facing the worst of climate change impacts, which is why he established a task force of 26 state, local, and tribal leaders to advise him on what they need from the Federal Government to build resilience in their communities. I’ve had the opportunity to meet with many of these leaders on a regular basis, and the innovation they’ve shown at the community level is truly impressive and already informing the way that we’re developing our policies back in Washington.

    Great ideas are also coming from the private sector. Yesterday, at the Silicon Valley Energy Summit at Stanford University I spoke with stakeholders, entrepreneurs, investors, and businesses about new energy innovations and advancements in the United States. It was rewarding to be on stage alongside former Secretary of State, George Shultz, who has been a true leader on the challenging issue of climate change.

    Thanks in part to the Obama Administration’s investment in clean energy – the largest in American history – the United States has more than doubled renewable energy generation from wind, solar, and geothermal sources since 2008. Solar jobs have jumped dramatically in recent years, and it has been growing at a rate faster than any other sector in the country. The costs of solar panels are decreasing, too.

     Earlier this spring, President Obama called for private and public sector commitments to create jobs by advancing solar deployment and energy efficiency. GRID Alternatives, a non-profit in California, responded to this call along with more than 300 other organizations from the private and public sector. Specifically, GRID Alternatives committed to help install 100 MW of solar power on low-income housing across the country by 2024.

    Wednesday, in San Jose, I was able to participate in one of these solar power installations for a local homeowner with GRID Alternatives co-founders Erica Mackie and Tim Sears. On the roof with a group of inspiring volunteers, I installed a solar panel for the first time and the homeowner told me how excited she was about her energy bills decreasing.

    It has never been more evident that we’re transitioning to a clean energy economy, and becoming a country that’s resilient to the impacts of climate change. With the right innovation, investment and commitment, America is on the way to achieving both a healthy economy and a healthy environment.

    Mike Boots is Acting Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

  • Administration Prepares for Hurricane Season, Impacts of Climate Change

    With hurricane season beginning on Sunday, the Administration has been hard at work making sure we’re as prepared as possible. Today, the President convened a meeting with members of his response team to receive an update on these efforts, as well as a briefing on the outlook on the 2014 hurricane season. Federal, State, and local agencies are working together on mobile applications and other innovations that will better inform and involve the public in preparedness and response activities.  

    As a result of our changing climate, more and more communities across the United States can expect to feel impacts like increasingly frequent and severe storms or extended drought and wildfire seasons. In fact, the third National Climate Assessment that the Administration released earlier this month confirms that climate change is already affecting every region of the United States as well as key sectors of our economy.  Local decision-makers in communities most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change know this, as they’re on the front lines of dealing with climate change. And through the President’s State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, we’re working with a group of those decision-makers – all of them proven leaders in helping their communities adapt to the impacts of climate change - to figure out how the Federal Government can best support their efforts. The Task Force will provide its recommendations to the President in the fall, and in the meantime President Obama is doing everything he can to support the work of those leaders and build a safer and more resilient Nation.

    One of the ways we can do this is by investing in the resilience of our natural resources. This week, the United States Department of Agriculture announced the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), a program that will rely on partnerships with regional organizations, non-profits, and the private sector to drive conservation and restoration efforts in the regions where they are needed most. With the government serving as a catalyst, we can spur more private investment in rural America to increase local resilience to drought and flooding, increase water supply, and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

    As we work to improve the resilience of our precious natural resources, we also need to build smarter and stronger, so that our infrastructure can withstand the next storm, and the next. In the Hurricane Sandy-affected region, state and local stakeholders are working with the Federal Government to do just that. Sandy recovery efforts can serve as a model for future investments in building climate resilience in communities all over the country. For example, today the Federal Transit Administration is awarding approximately $167 million to the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey and $67 million to New Jersey Transit from their Emergency Relief Program to help both agencies continue rebuilding and replacing transportation equipment and facilities damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. By strengthening rail systems, ferry terminals, and local infrastructure, the region can be prepared for a future with intensified storms and other extreme weather events. And the Department of Housing and Urban Development today announced a third round of grant funding, totaling more than $2.5 billion, to help four states and New York City continue recovering from Hurricane Sandy.  

    The President stands with the communities all over the U.S. as they prepare for hurricane season, and for the impacts of climate change that are affecting us now, and will continue to affect us in the future.  

    Mike Boots is Acting Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality

  • GreenGov: Connecting Government and the Private Sector

    Earlier this month, the President announced $2 billion in new commitments in energy efficiency by the Federal Government through the use of energy performance contracts, a great example of how the Administration is working with the private sector to improve energy efficiency. All over the country, Federal agencies are leading by example by using less energy, cutting costs, and reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions. But the Federal Government can’t do it alone. Partnerships between the Federal Government and private sector make commitments to energy efficiency and sustainability a reality.

    Last week, the Council on Environmental Quality hosted the GreenGov Workshop on Renewable Energy Purchasing and Development, which brought together Federal agency directors, private sector leaders, and a wide range of other stakeholders committed to clean energy. The workshop encouraged dynamic conversation on the importance of renewable energy for the future of both business and the Federal government. 

    Presenters, including keynote speaker Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, shared lessons learned and innovations in renewable energy deployment for Federal agencies, the use of alternative financing for renewable energy investments, and success stories from both industry and the Federal government. Private sector partners offered their perspective on improving the contracting process while Federal agency presenters provided examples of innovations such as using previously contaminated lands for renewable energy siting and sharing contracting expertise between agencies.

    The President firmly believes that the Federal Government should lead by example in improving energy and cutting harmful carbon pollution, which is why he set aggressive targets for Federal agencies for reducing their energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and water use. Through this initiative, the Federal Government – the largest energy consumer in the U.S. economy –  has already reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent – the equivalent of permanently taking 1.8 million cars off the road. As we envision a future that is more resilient to climate change, it is imperative to understand the value of partnerships between the Federal government and the private sector. GreenGov helps strengthen those partnerships and build a more energy efficient future.

    As two new additions to the Council on Environmental Quality, we’re looking forward to working with Federal agencies and the private sector to keep leading by example.

    Kate Brandt is the Federal Environmental Executive and Angela Barranco is the Associate Director for Public Engagement at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.  

  • Leading by Example to Reduce Carbon Pollution and Waste Less Energy

    In his speech at Georgetown University last summer, President Obama laid out his plan to cut the carbon pollution that drives climate change. One of the ways he said we can do that is through wasting less energy – which will save money for American families, businesses, and the Federal Government.

    Following up on that commitment, the President today announced that the Administration is doubling down on energy efficiency in Federal buildings with an additional $2 billion investment in energy upgrades to federal buildings over the next three years. This investment, when combined with the President’s initial 2011 commitment of $2 billion, makes for a total of $4 billion in performance contracts through 2016. This means that the Federal Government will be using long term energy savings to pay for up-front costs, at no net cost to taxpayers.

    Energy Performance Contracts drive economic development, utilize private sector innovation, and increase efficiency. They have received broad bipartisan support, along with support from the National Association of Manufacturers and the Chamber of Commerce. The President’s investment in energy upgrades will save billions in energy costs, promote energy independence, and create tens of thousands of jobs in the hard-hit construction sector. We’ve already seen impressive progress here – actual savings through the use of performance contracts has far exceeded the savings guaranteed by the contracts.

    The President firmly believes that the Federal Government should lead by example in improving energy and cutting harmful carbon pollution, which is why he set aggressive targets for Federal agencies for reducing their energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and water use. Through this initiative, the Federal Government – the largest energy consumer in the U.S. economy –  has already reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent, the equivalent of permanently taking 1.8 million cars off the road. Today, building on these efforts, the White House announced that it has completed installation of American-made solar panels on the First Family’s residence as a part of an energy retrofit that will improve the overall energy efficiency of the building.  The retrofit includes the installation of energy-saving equipment such as updated building controls and variable speed fans, as well as 6.3 kilowatts of solar generation. Watch the behind the scenes installation of solar panels on the roof of the residence here:

    Acting on climate is more urgent than ever. The third National Climate Assessment that was released on Tuesday showed that climate change is already affecting every region of the United States as well as key sectors of our economy. The additional investment in energy upgrades for Federal buildings will help improve energy efficiency across the economy and reduce the carbon pollution that drives climate change.

    Mike Boots is Acting Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

  • Helping Local Leaders Prepare for the Impacts of Climate Change

    This week, the Obama Administration released the third U.S. National Climate Assessment, the most comprehensive and authoritative report on U.S. climate impacts ever generated. The report makes clear that climate change is already affecting every region of the country, as well as key sectors of our economy.

    The great thing about the report is that it takes all of this important scientific information and packages it into practical and usable knowledge to plan for the future climate change impacts that could take place in regions across the country. This complements the information provided in the President’s Climate Data Initiative, which spurs innovators to use open data to build tools communities need to better understand, manage, and prepare for the real-world impacts associated with climate change. Maps of future sea-level rise, for instance, can help builders decide where to break ground out of harm’s way, while other online tools can help water utility operators identify potential threats to the local water supply.

    All across the country, local decision-makers and leaders are hungry for this type of actionable science, as they plan for a future with more frequent and severe extreme weather, extreme temperatures, and other climate change impacts. I have the privilege of working with local decision-makers to address these climate change-related challenges in my role as Co-Chair of President Obama’s State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. Community leaders are often the first to face the harsh realities of climate change, and the 26 members of the Task Force have proven themselves effective leaders in helping their communities prepare for climate impacts.

    Just last week, I joined Governor Peter Shumlin, a member of the Task Force, in Vermont, where many folks are still recovering from the devastating effect that Hurricane Irene had on the state. It’s been almost three years since the storm, but, driving around, you can still clearly see some of its impacts. Roads are washed away in some places, and there are houses and buildings severely damaged. There’s a lot of work to be done, but under Governor Shumlin’s leadership, the state of Vermont is making great progress in rebuilding smarter and stronger, so they can be ready for the next storm.

    Governor Shumlin’s experience with this kind of resilient rebuilding effort will ultimately help inform the Task Force’s recommendations to the President on disaster preparedness. And the National Climate Assessment will provide key information to leaders all over the country who – like Governor Shumlin – are working to make their communities more resilient.  This kind of information-sharing and partnership is exactly what we need to build a safer and more resilient Nation. 

    Next week, senior Administration officials and local leaders will gather together in Des Moines, Iowa, for the next Task Force meeting, and I look forward to continuing this important dialogue to identify ways we can work together to prepare for the future.  The Task Force will deliver its final recommendations on how the Administration can respond to the needs of communities nationwide dealing with the impacts of climate change this Fall. 

    Mike Boots is Acting Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality

  • Creating New Opportunities For Americans To Buy Green Homes

    Ed. Note: This is cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

    This week, HUD partnered with the White House to host a Green Mortgage Appraisal Roundtable with national leaders from the lending, realtor, homebuilding and appraisal industries.

    The roundtable discussion was an initiative of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and one more step in a series of actions the Administration is taking to accelerate the adoption and use of energy efficient improvements in single-family homes. The event highlighted actions both the Federal government and industry can take to achieve market transformation in this area. We discussed ways that industry leaders can address key challenges when valuing high performance, energy efficient single-family homes and improvements.

    For many Americans, this is a key “pocketbook issue.” According to the National Association of Realtors’ Annual Home Buyer/Seller Profile, 87 percent of people surveyed said a home’s heating and cooling costs were “important” or “very important.”

    There has been a substantial increase in interest in energy efficient or green homes – as well as solar energy – in America. Energy Star Certified Homes now account for as much as a third of all new homes and the number of homes built to such green standards as LEED for Homes, Enterprise Green Communities Criteria, the National Green Building Standard, and regional or local certifications, continues to grow.

    With help from Administration programs at HUD and the Department of Energy, the industry has been working to meet this rapidly growing demand. Between 2009 and 2012, more than 1.25 million existing homes were upgraded to improve their energy efficiency.

    We are also expanding the toolkits of consumers and the housing industry to make sure energy information is being shared. The Department of Energy’s Home Energy Score offers a “miles per gallon” type rating that can easily be applied to homes across the country. The Federal Housing Authority (FHA) has made significant progress in updating existing policy for its energy efficient mortgages. These steps include:

    • Making it easier to use the FHA PowerSaver program for home energy retrofit loans;
    • Updating the FHA energy efficiency policies, including solar and wind technologies, weatherization and the Energy Efficient Mortgage;

    And the housing industry has also taken key steps to help homeowners better understand the quality of energy efficient homes. Qualified assessors now score homes on a scale of 1 to 10 and provide recommendations for cost effective efficiency improvements. A growing number of Multiple Listing Services include green data fields and toolkits in their markets. Appraisers are also developing energy efficient appraisal reports, tools, and training that have the potential to catalyze the industry.

    Early evidence is showing that these are not only smart investments for long-term cost savings and our environment, but they are also having “contributory value” for homeowners. A recent study by the University of North Carolina with IMT showed that loans on Energy Star Certified Homes are a good bet - foreclosure rates are one third lower than non- Energy Star homes.

    The roundtable was also an important forum for assessing the barriers to accurate and reliable valuation of energy efficient or green homes, and identifying actions financial institutions, government agencies, builders, appraisers, and realtors can take to support these efforts. Working together with the housing industry, we can improve the way American’s buy their homes, save middle-class families money, and help preserve our environment.

    Carol Galante is the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) Commissioner and Assistant Secretary for Housing and Harriet Tregoning is the Director of the Office of Economic Resilience.