Council on Environmental Quality Blog

  • Helping the next generation discover the San Gabriels

    Editor's Note: This blog introduces readers to Brenda Kyle, a docent at Eaton Canyon. 

    "We heard from the community that for a lot of urban families this is their only big, outdoor space. And too many children in L.A. County, especially children of color, don't have access to parks where they can run free and breathe fresh air, experience nature, and learn about their own environment. And that was Brenda Kyle's experience...for Brenda, for the entire community, this is an issue of social justice. Because it's not enough to have this awesome natural wonder within your sight -– you have to be able to access it." -President Obama, October 10, 2014

    San Gabriel Mountains Infographic 4

    Today, I can assure my nephews that there are no tigers in the San Gabriel Mountains, information that’s helped make me a popular auntie. But I wasn’t always so well-informed. I grew up in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. The main street running through our town paralleled the San Gabriel range, with all northbound streets leading up to the steep mountain sides. As an adult, I noticed the mountains from the stands at a Dodger game and sometimes even used them to navigate. But I had never visited them.

    It wasn’t until I was looking for something inexpensive to do with my daughter that I heard about guided nature walks for families in Eaton Canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains. Turns out, these national public lands are teeming with wildlife (but, to my nephews’ relief, no scary tigers!), cultural history, breathtaking scenery, and gifts of clean air and drinking water. I was an instant convert. Soon after, I became a part-time docent, leading regular hikes for families and offering eye-opening experiences to local young people.

    The more walks I led the more I realized that, even though the San Gabriel Mountains can be seen from almost any point in Southern California, they are often unknown to residents.  Worse yet, that lack of awareness can manifest as neglect. Trash fills the waterways that provide a third of the drinking water for Los Angeles County. Graffiti mars canyon walls. Parking, visitor services, restrooms, educational programs are woefully underfunded and understaffed. 

    The President’s designation of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument last week will help change that. After 10 years – a generation – of work by thousands of local residents, the President has not only protected the crown jewel of Los Angeles, but elevated investment in and visibility of this close-to-home yet uncared for recreational resource. Now, more families will access and enjoy these national public lands. More children will be inspired by the wonders of America’s Great Outdoors.

    In addition, the President’s leadership has sparked private funding for new trails, tree-plantings and river restoration projects in communities all over the San Gabriel Valley.

    These days, as the President mentioned in his speech, I take my two nephews, ages four and five, with me to the mountains every chance I get. They are the second generation to grow up in my tiny foothill town, but, unlike me, these kids go to the San Gabriel Mountains. They can identify two types of sage, as well as buckwheat and sagebrush. They clean up trash to help protect wildlife. They pull invasive mustard weeds to save native plants. They enjoy fresh air and respect the outdoors. 

    And most important, they ask me to take them into the forest. They are eager stewards and explorers of our Great Outdoors. If you ask them why they like the San Gabriel Mountains, they will very enthusiastically tell you: “We can run and play in the river. We can stand in the waterfall. We can see woodpeckers.” Their list is endless, as it should be. The San Gabriel Mountains National Monument – and all of our national public lands – not only expose our children to nature, but to the world.  Thanks to the San Gabriel Mountains, opportunity is now in their vocabulary.

    Brenda Kyle is a resident of Duarte, California, and a docent at Eaton Canyon.

  • Driving Development of Clean Energy

    Since the President took office, we have made unprecedented progress transforming America into a clean energy economy built to last. The amount of electricity we get from the wind has tripled, and solar electricity production has increased by tenfold.

    The Administration has permitted more than 50 utility-scale renewable energy projects on public lands, enough to power nearly 5 million homes and support more than 20,000 construction and operations jobs. The Departments of Energy and Interior are also moving forward on infrastructure projects that will bring clean sources of power online and improve the resilience of our electricity system.

    Today, the Department of Energy finalized a Presidential Permit for the Champlain Hudson Power Express, a transmission line that will deliver renewable hydropower from Quebec to meet New York City's growing energy demand. The project developers estimate the 1,000-megawatt transmission line will save consumers $650 million each year and cut carbon pollution 2.2 million metric tons.

    And we're taking action to drive reliable, affordable, and sustainable hydropower at home. Since the President took office, DOE has provided awards to support more than 30 hydropower projects.

    President Obama firmly believes that the federal government should lead by example. That is why he has set aggressive targets for federal agencies to reduce their energy and water use, and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

    In fact, last year the President announced a bold new goal for the federal government to consume 20% of its power from renewable sources by 2020 – and federal agencies are already stepping up to this challenge in a big way.

  • Strengthening Climate Resilience during National Preparedness Month

    Our Nation also faces longer wildfire seasons, more severe droughts, heavier rainfall, and more frequent flooding in a changing climate.  That is why, as part of my Climate Action Plan, we are committed to building smarter, more resilient infrastructure that can withstand more frequent and more devastating natural disasters and to supporting our communities as they prepare for these impacts.” – President Obama, National Preparedness Month Proclamation

    When the President signed a proclamation designating September as National Preparedness Month, he recognized that preparedness has become more important than ever in the context of our changing climate. Throughout the past month, the Administration has made important progress in supporting communities across the country – and around the world – as they prepare for the impacts of climate change we can’t avoid. Federal agencies, community leaders, and private sector industries have all taken steps that will help secure a more resilient future. 

     For example, in June the President announced he was creating a $1 billion competitive fund to help vulnerable communities build more climate resilient infrastructure.  And this month Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro formally launched the National Disaster Resilience Competition to aid communities that have suffered major disasters in recent years and are taking steps to rebuild smarter and stronger. Additionally, Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced 40 new projects that will share a $3.59 billion disaster relief fund.  This money will allow states still recovering from Hurricane Sandy to create stronger, more reliable public transportation systems that can withstand future storms.

    These new steps are responsive to what we’ve learned from the governors, mayors, county officials and tribal leaders serving on the President’s State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. Working closely with the Task Force, the Administration is learning a great deal about how to best support communities throughout the country by removing barriers to resilient investments, modernizing Federal grant and loan programs, and developing new information and tools for decision-makers.

    But climate change is a global challenge and demands a global response. That’s why, last week at the UN Climate Summit, President Obama announced a new set of tools that harness the unique technological and scientific resources of the United States to help vulnerable countries strengthen their climate resilience.  The President also announced an Executive Order requiring Federal agencies to take climate resilience into account while designing their international development programs and investments.

    These actions demonstrate international leadership at a crucial time, and President Obama made it clear that the United States will continue to step up to the plate. That means involvement from all sectors, not just the Federal Government. After the Climate Resilience and Insurance Roundtable among industry leaders and senior White House officials in June, last week representatives of the property insurance industry released a joint statement highlighting the costs of extreme weather events and the importance of resilience. The five major insurance organizations that released the statement committed to engaging in a dialogue with the Administration to find ways to “better identify, communicate, and reduce the physical and economic risks and costs of extreme weather, and to increase resilience to such events.”

    National Preparedness Month may be over, but carbon pollution has been building in our atmosphere for decades, and we’re going to continue to feel its impacts well into the future.  The White House is committed to working across sectors to help leave behind a safer and more resilient planet.

    Mike Boots leads the White House Council on Environmental Quality. 

  • Better Buildings Challenge Expands to Take on Data Centers

    Data center energy use has grown rapidly in recent years and is expected to continue to grow. In 2013, U.S. data centers consumed about 100 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity, representing more than 2% of all U.S. electricity use. If all U.S. data centers were just 20% more efficient, we could save more than 20 billion kWh by 2020 as a nation. That translates to roughly $2 billion in cost savings.

    That’s why the President’s Better Buildings Challenge is expanding to take on data centers with 19 new partners today.  The Better Buildings Challenge was launched in 2011 to help American commercial, industrial, and multifamily buildings become at least 20 percent more energy efficient by 2020.  Across the country, Better Buildings Challenge partners have completed upgrades to more than 9,000 facilities with 2,100 buildings improving efficiency by least 20 percent, and another 4,500 by at least 10 percent, compared to their baseline years. 

    The new partners joining the Better Buildings Challenge today include national laboratories; Federal agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Defense, and the Social Security Administration; as well as companies including CoreSite Realty Corporation, ebay inc., and Staples. For example, the Social Security Administration recently announced that its new national data center in Frederick, Maryland, will use about 30 percent less electricity than a typical data center. 

    These partners are pledging to improve the efficiency of data centers which altogether are currently consuming more than 90 megawatts of power:

    • Argonne National Laboratory
    • CoreSite Colocation Realty Corporation
    • U.S. Department of Defense, Defense Information Systems Agency
    • Digital Realty
    • U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration
    • ebay, inc.
    • Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory
    • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
    • The Home Depot
    • Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
    • Los Alamos National Laboratory
    • Michigan State University
    • National Aeronautics and Space Administration
    • National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center
    • National Renewable Energy Laboratory
    • Schneider Electric
    • Social Security Administration
    • Staples
    • U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs

    The Department of Energy will work with the data center owners and operators to improve efficiency when Challenge partners install emerging IT systems and technologies. Like all Challenge partners, the new data center partners will work with the Department of Energy to share publically their results and savings, which will be made available on the Better Buildings Challenge website.

    Kate Brandt is the Federal Environmental Executive at the White House Council on Environmental Quality

  • Fond du Lac Band leads climate resilience efforts on Lake Superior Chippewa Indian Reservation

    CEQ Karen Diver Blog

    Acting Chair Boots and other Administration officials visit tribal Chairwoman Karen Diver at the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indian Reservation to learn about the Tribe's efforts to prepare for the impacts of climate change. Photo courtesy of CEQ.

    Last Friday I had the pleasure of visiting the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indian Reservation.  I was joined by Raina Thiele, Associate Director of White House Intergovernmental Affairs, and Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes, Deputy Assistant Secretary at the Department of the Interior. We toured the reservation and facilities with tribal Chairwoman Karen Diver, a member of the President’s State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, and the Tribe’s Resource Management Division.

    Over the course of the day, I visited Deadfish Lake, where the Tribe is working to restore wild rice harvests; Simon Creek, where the Tribe monitors hydrology; a newly installed bridge, which replaced a large stretch of road that had been washed out due to a major 2012 flood; and the Fond du Lac Ojibwe School’s community and journey gardens.

    As a member of the President’s Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, Chairwoman Karen Diver is responsible for advising the Administration on how the Federal Government can better support communities across the country that are dealing with the impacts of climate change.

    As a result of her efforts, and the efforts of her fellow tribal leader task force member, Mayor Reggie Joule of Alaska’s Northwest Arctic Borough, the Administration announced a new Tribal Climate Resilience Program to help tribes prepare for climate change at the fourth and final task force meeting.  We look forward to continuing to work closely with Chairwoman Diver and tribal leaders across the country as they prepare for the impacts of climate change. 

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

  • Celebrating a Milestone in Conservation – and the Law that Made it Possible

    Just a few weeks ago, I was at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History remembering an unfortunately dark moment in conservation history – exactly a century before, on September 1, 1914, the last known passenger pigeon died in a Cincinnati zoo. You can see “Martha,” as they called her, on display at the museum – stuffed, mounted and behind glass.

    And now today, we mark an historic milestone of a far different sort on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. At Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and I were privileged to announce that thanks to concerted conservation efforts by area landowners and other partners, the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel has recovered from the brink of extinction. 

    So why did the passenger pigeon become extinct, while the equally common fox squirrel now thrives across much of its historic range?

    The answer is simple. Unlike the passenger pigeon, the Delmarva fox squirrel was protected and aided in its recovery by the Endangered Species Act.

    In fact, the fox squirrel was one of 67 species listed under the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1967 and later extended protection by the federal law that succeeded it, the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

    The successful recovery of the Delmarva fox squirrel is a testament to the dramatic benefits provided by the ESA. Prior to its protection, the species experienced a dramatic decline as the forests it depended on in the Delmarva Peninsula were cleared for agriculture and development. Its range was reduced by more than 90 percent, and in the mid-1960s there was a very real possibility that it would vanish entirely.

    Yet here we are, less than 50 years later, with the Delmarva fox squirrel thriving again. And it wouldn’t have happened without the tools and protections provided by the ESA.  Delistings like this one also remind how the Endangered Species Act can catalyze improvmements to natural habitats that promote ecosystem and community resilience in the face of a changing climate, and how it can be an incentive for community investment by improving regulatory predictability and providing certainty for people and businesses. 

    The ESA has been an unheralded gift to the nation — an expression of our deep desire to conserve biodiversity, the health of the habitat that sustains wildlife and humans alike, and our willingness to work for it.  For more than 40 years, the law has been remarkably successful, preventing the extinction of more than 99 percent of the species listed as threatened or endangered since 1973. Its protections have helped the Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners reverse the death spiral of hundreds of species, while recovering dozens more. We can take enormous pride in the recovery of species such as the bald eagle, American alligator, Steller sea lion and other species against astounding odds – just like the Delmarva Fox Squirrel today.

    If we want a world with polar bears, condors, and salmon, then we have to make deliberate choices to find a place for them. But as the Delmarva fox squirrel shows, it can be done.

    If you could step back in time and prevent the extinction of the passenger pigeon, would you?  If you answered yes, you have a historic chance to prevent many other equally senseless tragedies; to change the course of history by taking a stand, here and now in favor of species conservation.

    The challenges we face today are daunting, but no more so than those faced by our ancestors a century ago. Like them, we need to have the courage to envision something better and grander than the status quo. Thankfully, we have the Endangered Species Act to help us bring people together across the landscape to make our shared vision of healthy, sustainable ecosystems for both wildlife and people a reality.

    Dan Ashe is Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.