Council on Environmental Quality Blog

  • A Clear Answer to Clean Water

    Editor's Note: This blog introduces readers to Dave White, Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)

    How important is water? Well, it’s not a question I have to think too hard about. What I can tell you is that without it, there wouldn’t be any humans or critters roaming the earth.

    In the U.S., we use a little more than 400 billion gallons of water a day. According to the UN, in the worldwide picture about one in five people lack access to a clean, improved water source.

    At USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) we view clean water as a top priority. Every day, our employees work with farmers and ranchers to improve on-farm water management—using a systems approach to avoid, control and trap pollutants.

    Field View

    A pasture on Gary Price's 20,000 acre "77 Ranch" which is located within a watershed that provides drinking water for over 40 percent of Texas' population.

    The type of pollutants we are working to control, through our conservation actions or “practices” are farm waste, fertilizer, sediments, pesticides and herbicides. Our goal is to stop these at or before the edge of a field, so they don’t run into the water. And that’s why we recently created the National Water Quality Initiative.

    Through this effort we are focusing on priority watersheds in every state, where on-farm conservation investments have the best chance to improve water quality. To do this, we took an in-depth look at the impaired waterways list and then we asked for input from our local and state partners to pick the watersheds that were ultimately selected as a focal area.

    We launched the National Water Quality Initiative with $33 million dedicated for farmers and ranchers, with financial assistance for any size agriculture operation to help reduce the loss of excess nutrients and sediments from their fields. We expect to show how the actions of farmers and ranchers can remove a stream from the impaired list.

    When large numbers of farmers take action together in one area, in one watershed, it can make a difference—it can stop an algae bloom or keep bacteria from reaching a drinking water source. And clean water is absolutely critical for the freshwater ecosystems that 44,000 aquatic species call home.

    In Texas, ranchers Gary and Sue Price have been working with NRCS and the Navarro Soil and Water Conservation District for over 35 years to implement conservation practices on their ranch which lies in the Trinity River Basin—an area that provides water for over 40 percent of Texans.

    Gary Speaking

    Gary, right, and Sue Price have been implementing conservation practices for more than 35 years they on their "77 Ranch" and they have submitted an application for the new national water quality initiative.

    The Prices began addressing water quality several years ago when they converted a portion of their cropland to a wetland. Wetlands are the clean water sponges, or kidneys, of the land. They minimize soil erosion and are excellent wildlife habitat. The couple also installed a riparian buffer with native plants. This buffer acts as a filter while creating habitat for both bobwhite quail and Rio Grande turkey.

    If you are a farmer, rancher or forest landowner interested in signing up, you can check a map online and see if you are located in a priority area. If you prefer the in-person route, we have USDA service centers in almost every county, and you are always welcome to stop in and complete an application. Applications must be submitted by June 15, 2012 in order to be considered for this fiscal year’s funding opportunity.

    Since the White House Rural Council was established last June, the Council has provided a forum for increasing conservation work and creating jobs in rural America. Through the National Water Quality Initiative, we will have measurable progress achieved with support from the Rural Council.

    Follow NRCS on Twitter.

    Dave White is Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)

  • Green Button Momentum

    [Editor's Note: This blog has been cross-posted from the Office of Science and Technology Blog.]

    To make it easier for business and consumers to save energy and money, we need to make it easier for them to understand how they use energy. That is why the Obama Administration partnered with the utility industry and issued a challenge to them to make it easier for electricity customers to get secure online access to their own household or building energy-use in a consumer- and computer-friendly format, called “Green Button.”

    In addition to empowering consumers and business to make informed decisions, Green Button data can fuel new products and services. By putting customers in control of their own energy data, they can choose which private sector tools and services can help them manage or upgrade their own household or building energy performance.  

    Today, responding to a call by President Obama to help families and businesses take better control of their energy bills, a number of companies announced their commitment to use the Green Button standard in their products. These companies include: 

    • Autodesk
    • C3
    • EnerNOC
    • Hara
    • Johnson Controls Inc.
    • Pulse Energy
    • U.S. Green Data

    These companies join a growing universe of companies that have already announced they are developing applications or services for business, consumers, and utilities using the Green Button industry standard.

    That means over 31 million households and businesses will be able to use web and smartphone apps to pick the best rate plan for them; take advantage of customized energy efficiency tips; utilize easy-to-use tools to size and finance rooftop solar panels; and better use virtual energy audit software that can cut costs for building owners and help get energy upgrades started sooner.

    As private-sector commitments continue to grow, the Department of Energy is doing its part to spur options for consumers. The Department of Energy announced yesterday the consumer choice winners of it first Apps for Energy contest, based on the Green Button standard, to help consumers gain new insights, take action, and save on their utility bills.

    The Better Buildings Initiative – another Administration-inspired, industry-driven effort – also marked a milestone today. The Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) announced its commitment to be a Better Buildings Challenge Utility Ally. Through the Better Buildings Challenge, PG&E will provide commercial building energy efficiency multi-measure programs that will reach 30 million square feet of the commercial customer class by 2015. The commitment from PG&E builds on those of existing challenge partners and allies which include over 300 manufacturing facilities, represent 1.6 billion square feet of real estate and comprise $2 billion in financing.

    Nancy Sutley is the Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Todd Park is the US Chief Technology Officer.

  • Harnessing America’s Energy Future in the Great Lakes

    Editor’s Note: This blog introduces readers to Victoria Pebbles, Program Director at the Great Lakes Commission based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

    Last week, the Great Lakes Offshore Wind Energy Consortium met for the first time. This fledging group is comprised of representatives of five states (Il, MI, MN, NY and PA) and 10 federal agencies that signed a federal-state Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on March 30 this year to cooperate on siting offshore wind in the Great Lakes. Not dissimilar to international protocols which set forth rules for intergovernmental cooperation, the three non-signatory states can sign the MOU at any time in the future.

    The MOU aims to “promote the efficient, expeditious, orderly and responsible evaluation of offshore wind power projects in the Great Lakes.” Signatories are committed to documenting their existing regulatory frameworks for offshore wind by June 30, 2013. This “regulatory roadmap” will provide a starting point for identifying opportunities to improve coordination and efficiencies with evaluating applications for offshore wind projects. The agreement also commits the signatories participate in pre-application consultations and joint application reviews — a practice that sometimes occurs with other projects but one that should become more standard practice as a result of the MOU. Ultimately, signatories are also committed to applying lessons through the Consortium when evaluating future offshore wind proposals. 

    The best lessons are learned from actual experience. At this time, all eyes are on Lake Erie where the only active Great Lakes offshore wind project is being planned for a 20-30 megawatt (MW) pilot project seven miles offshore downtown Cleveland. The developer, Freshwater Wind, enjoys broad-based community support from the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo), a private, non-profit regional corporation working to build wind turbines in Lake Erie and stimulate an offshore freshwater wind industry.

    Companies all around the Great Lakes see the offshore wind industry as a catalyst for employing the region’s outstanding engineering and manufacturing assets to design and build the offshore wind turbines; and using the region’s natural assets, the Great Lakes and connecting waterways, to move these large products to other parts of the country and overseas. 

    That is why it is important for the Great Lakes Offshore Wind Energy Consortium to carefully complete its work. Then, when more proposals for offshore wind in the Great Lakes come, and they will come, states and federal agencies will have a rational policy framework for evaluating proposed offshore wind power projects in the Great Lakes that is efficient, expeditious, fair, and responsible. 

    Victoria Pebbles is Program Director at the Great Lakes Commission

  • Increasing Energy Efficiency and Reducing Costs in Federal Buildings

    As part of GSA’s core responsibility of delivering savings to government agencies, GSA has awarded a contract with IBM to work with leaders in the building sciences industry to install low-cost, high-value, networked technologies in 50 of the federal government’s most energy intensive buildings. This smart building strategy will connect building management systems to a central, cloud-based platform, improving energy efficiency and saving up to $15 million in tax dollars annually.

    Under the terms of the contract, IBM will develop an innovative system to monitor, in real-time, building performance nationwide and stream data to a central facility.  This, in turn, will give employees and building managers useful information on building operations allowing for faster analysis and more informed decision-making. Additionally, when the system is fully integrated, the buildings’ tenants and managers will be able to view the performance of their buildings on public dashboards with analysis on energy savings and recommendations on how to further increase efficiencies.

    As additional federal buildings are constructed and other facilities are upgraded, those buildings will also be managed with this platform. We expect that this initiative will keep buildings performing at peak efficiency and increase cost savings across the federal portfolio.

    GSA’s plan to meet the requirements of President Obama’s Executive Order on Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance (EO13514) includes a goal of reducing energy consumption in federal buildings by 30 percent by 2015. Smart building technology is yet another approach that GSA is taking to increase performance and decrease costs in government buildings. It’s clear that this GSA initiative will begin a new chapter in energy efficient strategies that will deliver important savings to the taxpayer.

    For additional information on GSA’s smart building efforts please visit:

    Dan Tangherlini is Acting Administrator of the General Services Administration.

  • Environmental Justice: From Strategic Planning to Action

    What does it take to integrate environmental justice principles into our programs and services? 

    The answers poured in enthusiastically from senior officials across the Federal Government at a recent special Deputy Secretary-level meeting of the Environmental Justice Interagency Working Group. I hosted this meeting along with U.S. EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe to mark the completion of an historic strategic planning effort.

    Building on the Obama Administration's commitment to strong environmental and health protections for all Americans, Federal agencies and offices have been revisiting and re-invigorating their approach to environmental justice. We set out our roadmap for concerted Federal Government action last year in an interagency Memorandum of Understanding, in which agencies committed to publishing environmental justice strategies and annual progress reports on their implementation of those strategies. When the deputies gathered at our meeting, the final strategies had just been released. To ensure their relevance and rigorous implementation, the strategies reflect public input, and they focus on engraining environmental justice principles in core Government practices and programs. 

    We agreed it was time to transition from strategic planning to action. As a Working Group, we decided that  to succeed, we must prioritize our actions and leverage existing resources as much as possible, including through developing and expanding public-private partnerships and sharing best practices across agencies. I jotted down the following examples to give you a sense of what this means in practice:

    • Deputy Secretary David Hayes described the Department of the Interior's work with private companies to help provide renewable energy to remote Native Alaskan communities.
    • Assistant Secretary Howard Koh from the Department of Health and Human Services indicated that the health impact assessment tools that the Department is developing will enable federal decision-makers across the Government to identify and consider public health impacts, including those that disproportionately apply to low-income and minority communities.
    • The Department of Energy and the Department of Housing and Urban Development are developing staff and stakeholder training on environmental justice principles which may be applicable to other Federal offices as well.

    As someone who worked in the Federal Government when we first began considering environmental justice principles two decades ago, I am heartened by where we are headed today. With newfound direction and momentum, we are answering the call for systematic and durable applications of environmental justice principles to our programs and services, so we can see meaningful results.   

    Gary S. Guzy is Deputy Director of the Council on Environmental Quality

  • Supporting our Troops with Better Energy Options

    Last night, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta addressed an Environmental Defense Fund reception in honor of the Department of Defense's leadership in advancing our nation’s security though transformative 21st century clean energy and environmental initiatives. 

    He remarked that from a security and financial perspective, we have a deep commitment to finding better energy options. For example, reducing the amount of fuel used by our equipment translates to fewer loads for supply convoys, which insurgents have targeted in places like Afghanistan. And the less we spend on fuel and energy, the more we have for other critical defense priorities. That's why, next year, DoD will invest almost $3 billion in energy efficiency and renewable energy. You can read Secretary Panetta’s remarks here.

    For our combat forces, we're investing in better generators and microgrids for our combat bases, hybrid engines for ships and vehicles, and more efficient aircraft. While some of these investments are long-term, many will result in immediate returns. For example, the Marine Corps’ Experimental Forward Operating Base (ExFOB) has been testing energy efficient and renewable technologies that make the Marines more flexible, agile, and lethal. 

    The Marine Corps KickOff Their 2012 Experimental Forward Operating Base initiative at Camp LeJeune, NC

    The Marine Corps kicked off their 2012 Experimental Forward Operating Base initiative at Camp LeJeune, NC on May 2 with Assistant Secretary of Defense Sharon Burke. Marines across Afghanistan are using energy efficient and renewable technologies to become more flexible, agile, and lethal. (Photo from the US Marine Corps)

    3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment deployed in 2010 with first generation ExFOB gear. The results spoke for themselves. The Marines operated two patrol bases solely on renewable energy, reduced energy use by 90 percent at a third base, and executed a three-week foot patrol without battery resupply, reducing load on Marines by 700 lbs. In less than a year, technologies demonstrated at this first ExFOB were deployed widely to combat forces in Afghanistan.