Council on Environmental Quality Blog

  • How Climate-Resilient Schools Serve Students and Communities

    Ed. Note: This post introduces you to Commissioner Kristin Jacobs of Broward County, Florida.

    Here in Broward County, Florida, we are blessed to enjoy a bounty of natural resources—from the unique Everglades on our western border, to the beaches and coral reefs of the Atlantic Ocean coast to our east. But we also recognize that our young people are a tremendous homegrown natural resource. We were delighted that the U.S. Department of Education came to south Florida on September 4 and 5 to recognize our Broward County Public Schools, a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools District Sustainability Awardee, as part of its Green Strides Best Practices Tour celebrating schools that reduce environmental impact and costs, improve health and wellness, and teach environmental education. This celebration also helped to remind us that September is National Preparedness Month, an opportunity for local, state, and federal leaders to bring collective attention to the importance of emergency preparedness and resilience in our communities. 

    CEQ - Broward County Green Ribbon Schools

    Students and staff at Silver Ridge Elementary in Broward County, Florida, gathering to celebrate Broward County Public Schools' participation in the Green Strides Best Practices Tour as a 2014 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools District Sustainability Awardee. Photo courtesy of Broward County.

    Broward County government has a long-standing partnership with the Broward County Public Schools, working to integrate environmental conservation and sustainable best practices into student education, educator training, and facilities management. While this collaboration has generated immediate benefits, promoted the sharing of technical resources, and supported a STEM-based curriculum, these joint investments have also furthered our regional efforts to build a climate-resilient community. Our efforts have involved the installation of drought-tolerant landscapes, expansion of native habitat into the urban landscape, establishment of edible school gardens, and promotion of resilient energy systems, along with comprehensive classroom and community discussions of climate, water issues, sea level rise, and the connection between our urban and natural landscapes.

     As a member of the President’s State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, I have gained a heightened appreciation of the pressures that climate change poses to diverse communities across the nation. Cities, regions, and states all face community and economic risks from extreme weather and other hazards. As a nation, our ability to withstand these risks depends not only upon successful disaster preparedness planning, but also upon smart investments in community development, infrastructure upgrades, and even in the way we operate our schools.

    As we celebrate National Preparedness Month, I would like to celebrate the leadership of President Obama in making climate resilience a focus of federal programs and activities. Working together, we can improve our communities’ security, economic health, and quality of life even in the face of climate impacts and natural disasters. Our natural resources—both our ecosystems and our young people—are counting on us to succeed.

    Kristin Jacobs is Broward County Commissioner and a member of the President's State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience.

  • Modernizing the National Environmental Policy Act: Taking Steps to Improve Efficiency

    The President takes seriously the need for efficient permitting and decision making by Federal agencies. This week, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) is releasing for comment draft Programmatic NEPA Guidance to improve the efficiency and timeliness of Federal agencies’ environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). 

    Since it was signed into law in 1970, NEPA has been a cornerstone of our Nation’s modern environmental protections, ensuring that Federal agencies make informed and transparent decisions when evaluating actions that could have an impact on the environment. NEPA also ushered in a new era of citizen participation in government, providing the public with transparent information about how proposed Federal agency actions will affect their communities and environment. 

    The draft Programmatic NEPA Guidance is part of the Administration’s broader efforts to expedite, modernize, and reinvigorate Federal agency implementation of NEPA. Specifically, the draft guidance will clarify opportunities to conduct efficient and thorough environmental reviews; assist agency decision makers and the public in understanding the environmental impacts from proposed large-scope Federal actions and activities; and encourage a more consistent approach to programmatic NEPA reviews.

    Since President Obama took office, CEQ has taken a series of actions to ensure that NEPA reviews are timely, informative, and useful for advancing decisions that result in better outcomes for our communities and environment. These efforts include:

    ·         providing new resources to assist Federal agencies in improving the efficiency of environmental reviews;

    ·         working with Federal agencies through a pilot program to identify innovative approaches that reduce the time and costs required for effective implementation of NEPA regulations;

    ·         improving conflict resolution practices; and

    ·         integrating and aligning the NEPA environmental review process with other Federal and State environmental reviews.

    Programmatic reviews assess the environmental impacts of actions associated with broad Federal programs or policies, avoiding repetitive analyses that would occur if each action were analyzed individually.  Programmatic reviews may be followed by site-specific reviews, a process known as tiering, or they may serve as stand-alone NEPA reviews. 

    CEQ will continue to work to identify new ways to increase efficient agency decision making while reducing environmental impact. To view the draft guidance, visit www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ceq/initiatives/nepa/programmatic-reviews

    Horst Greczmiel is Associate Director for NEPA Oversight at the White House Council on Environmental Quality

  • Federal Agencies Leading By Example to Reduce Energy Use and Save Money for Taxpayers

    Navy Announces Solar Project

    Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus helps place a solar panel during a ground breaking at the USS Nevada Memorial at Hospital Point. (Photo courtesy of the United States Navy)

    In 2009, President Obama set ambitious energy and sustainability goals to reduce energy use, pollution and waste, and save money in Federal operations. Today, Federal agencies released their annual updates highlighting the progress they’ve made thus far. These annual performance scorecards benchmark agencies’ progress and help them to target the best opportunities to improve.

    The third National Climate Assessment released earlier this year made clear that climate change is already affecting every region of the country as well as key sectors of the economy. The President firmly believes that the Federal Government should lead by example in improving energy efficiency and cutting harmful carbon pollution. This is the fourth time agencies have publicly released their energy and sustainability scorecards as part of the Administration’s efforts to increase transparency and accountability in Federal operations. 

    The Federal Government is the largest energy consumer in the U.S. economy, and agencies’ improvements in energy efficiency and reductions in cost and waste are already making a difference.Today, the Federal Government announced:

    • Greenhouse gas emissions from Federal facilities have been reduced by 17 percent since 2008, the equivalent of permanently taking 1.8 million cars off the road— roughly the same number of cars registered in the state of Alabama;
    • Nine percent of Federal Government electricity is now from renewable sources, surpassing our own benchmark for fiscal year 2013 of 7.5 percent and ensuring that we are well on our way to reaching our new goal of 20 percent renewable energy by 2020; and
    • Federal Government potable water use was reduced by 19 percent below 2007 levels.

    These are big steps towards meeting our goals, and are saving taxpayers money. And we are working to do more.

    For example, the Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus yesterday announced new renewable energy projects at the Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe, Hawaii, and Camp Smith in Aiea, Hawaii. The projects are expected to generate an estimated average savings of $1.6 million for taxpayers during their first year of operation. These projects will also avoid the burning of 54,000 barrels of imported oil, and reduce CO2 emission by 20,000 tons, the average annual energy use of over 5,000 Oahu homes.

    The President has called for action in addressing climate change, and the Federal agencies are answering that call. With Federal Agencies working to lead the way in sustainability, the U.S. can build a healthier economy and a cleaner environment. 

    Kate Brandt is the Federal Environmental Executive at the Council on Environmental Quality.

  • Building Drought Resilience in Montana

    Earlier this week, President Obama announced a series of new steps the Administration is taking to help communities prepare for the impacts of climate change. Increasing preparedness and resilience throughout the country to impacts like extreme weather, flooding, and more severe drought is a major component of the President’s Climate Action Plan. And to do so, the President is committed to working closely with governors, mayors, tribal leaders and other decision-makers who are seeing the impacts of climate change on their communities firsthand.

    Right now, with much of the western part of the country facing severe drought conditions, we’re reminded why it’s so important to build the nation’s resilience to drought. While no specific drought can be attributed solely to climate change, we do know that certain climatic factors can influence droughts, making them more frequent and severe. That’s why, through the National Drought Resilience Partnership (NDRP), a partnership of seven agencies, the Administration is making it easier for states, cities, and individuals to access Federal drought resources by linking information such as monitoring, forecasts, outlooks and early warnings with longer-term drought resilience strategies in critical sectors such as agriculture, municipal water systems, energy, recreation, tourism and manufacturing. 

    On Wednesday, at the beautiful Gates of the Mountains on the Missouri River just outside of Helena, Montana, the NDRP joined Montana Governor Steve Bullock in announcing a new climate resilience demonstration project in the Upper Missouri River Basin. Anne Castle, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Water and Science, joined Governor Bullock at the event, noting that the demonstration project  “will build on and complement, not replace, existing drought planning and preparedness efforts in the Upper Missouri River Basin. There is already a strong foundation of Federal and state partnerships and the NDRP demonstration project will harness and coordinate existing efforts by Federal agencies and tailor the response to the unique needs of Montana watersheds.”

    The initiative is focused on how improved drought preparedness at the local, state and tribal levels can be achieved through enhanced coordination of Federal agency resources. The idea is to demonstrate how drought resilience can be improved when Federal agencies go “all-in” to help with coordinating and focusing resources on specific watershed basins.  And, with the Upper Missouri River Basin currently not facing drought conditions, the project will allow for the tough conversations among state, local, tribal and Federal partners to happen without a crisis looming.

    Governor Bullock has already shown commendable leadership on drought preparedness, and has been essential in bringing this multi-agency collaborative model to his state. The content and scope of NDRP-Montana Upper Missouri River drought resilience demonstration is likely to evolve over time as we work closely with the Governor, tribes, local communities and watershed organizations.  These folks are on the front lines of dealing with drought and know best what they need to build a long term drought resilience strategy. Lessons learned from this local demonstration will help the NDRP develop better programmatic support for drought resilience at the national level and in other parts of the country.

    All of the NDRP agencies are looking forward to learning from this important demonstration project. In the meantime, the Administration will continue to look for opportunities to support state, local, and tribal leaders as they prepare their communities for drought and other impacts of climate change.

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

  • 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