Council on Environmental Quality Blog

  • Improving the Health of our Children and Communities: the Clean Air Act

    Adopted into law more than forty years ago, the Clean Air Act represents our fundamental commitment to the health and wellbeing of America's communities and children.  Throughout its history, the Act has been supported and strengthened by leaders in both political parties.  Today, however, some voices in Congress want to use the economic crisis as an excuse to weaken clean air protections for the first time in history.  But as we have known for decades, we do not need to sacrifice the health of the American people to build a stronger economy.  In fact, the health of our economy depends on the health of our communities.  

    By any measure, the Clean Air Act has been a successful investment.  Last year alone, Clean Air Act regulations prevented approximately 160,000 premature deaths, 130,000 heart attacks, and 1.7 million asthma attacks, delivering roughly $30 in benefits for every dollar spent.  These health gains have directly boosted our productivity.  In 2010, Americans avoided an estimated 13 million lost work days and 3 million lost school days thanks to Clean Air Act standards.  Finally, the Act has been a catalyst for innovation, making the U.S. a world leader in advanced pollution controls and clean technologies.  U.S. exports from the environmental technology industry in 2008 were over $43 billion.

    Today, even as Americans use more electricity and drive more miles, local air pollution has fallen thanks to the Clean Air Act.  But many large sources of pollution remain unaddressed and our families bear the costs of this pollution every day.  The Administration is taking a number of important steps to meet our national commitment to clean air and reduce the dangers associated with air pollution that continues to impact the health of our communities, particularly our most vulnerable populations, including children and seniors. 
     
    For example, these communities would benefit from new rules for power plants that will set first-ever national limits for mercury, arsenic and other toxic chemicals and slash emissions of soot and smog that pollute the air we breathe.  While most of the country's power plants have already installed readily available pollution controls, others, including many plants older than the Clean Air Act itself, continue to operate without modern controls.  These long-awaited public health standards will also finally provide a more level playing field for companies, enable investments that are currently on hold, and create jobs building, installing and operating pollution control equipment and new clean sources of electricity.
     
    However, these vital public health standards, overdue by more than a decade and required by court orders, would be blocked and delayed indefinitely by a bill that recently passed the House of Representatives, the TRAIN Act.  The costs of this bill would be massive.  Each year of delay imposed by this bill would lead to tens of thousands of premature deaths, tens of thousands of heart attacks, thousands of hospital visits for respiratory and cardiovascular disease, and hundreds of thousands of childhood asthma attacks and other respiratory illnesses that would otherwise be avoided by commonsense public health standards.
     
    This is just the first in a line of bills attacking core public health protections of the Clean Air Act, as some politicians try to use the economic crisis to push an extreme agenda.  It's time for leaders in Congress to stand-up for the health of our families and communities by rejecting measures that would dismantle the fundamental protections that are needed to keep our country healthy, strong, and prosperous for decades to come.

    Nancy Sutley is Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality

  • An Energy Efficiency Leader at the Department of the Navy

    Editor's Note: This blog introduces readers to Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, a DC-based nonprofit promoting energy efficiency.

    Since assuming her post as the Navy's chief official on energy matters in March 2010, Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Energy, Installations and Environment) Jackalyne Pfannenstiel has been managing over 75,000 buildings and facilities that support Navy and Marine operations around the world. Her sharp focus on energy efficiency has far-reaching impacts within and beyond the military, and it's why she has been selected as the 2011 recipient of the Alliance to Save Energy's Chairman's Award.

    The Honorable Jackalyne Pfannenstiel

    The Honorable Jackalyne Pfannenstiel, Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Energy, Installations and Environment)

    Pfannenstiel believes the Navy must be innovative in the way it uses energy in global missions. When President Obama issued his Executive Order 13514 in 2009 directing Federal agencies to lead in energy, environmental, and economic performance, he lead the way for exactly this type of innovation. At the Alliance, we encourage all government agencies to follow Pfannenstiel’s example by embracing energy efficiency initiatives to demonstrate the remarkable potential of energy efficiency in replicable, achievable ways.

    Our Honorary Chair, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, selected Pfannenstiel for her career-long efforts to drive energy efficiency through her creativity, commitment and innovation. She has worked in both the public and private sectors to save energy for consumers, businesses and governments alike. In this position she now has the opportunity to have an even greater impact, saving the Federal Government and taxpayers money that can be used for other important needs while keeping our country safe. 

    As with its Great White Fleet of 1907, the U.S. Navy is again leading the way as a military power, this time with its "Great Green Fleet" that heavily emphasizes energy efficiency as a first step toward energy independence. With the "Great Green Fleet," the Navy has pledged to:

    • Reduce petroleum use in its commercial vehicle fleet by 50% by 2015;
    • Produce 50% of shore-based energy from alternatives sources by 2020; and
    • Achieve net-zero energy use in 50% of Navy installations by 2020.

    In addition, Pfannenstiel hopes military research and development will drive energy efficiency technology, in the same way that it embraced now-common public technologies like the Internet and GPS.

    Assistant Secretary Pfannenstiel has amply demonstrated her commitment to energy efficiency, and we look forward to honoring her and other remarkable energy efficiency champions at our Awards dinner this evening.

    Kateri Callahan is President of the Alliance to Save Energy

  • Sacred Power: Growing Jobs and Nurturing Communities

    Editor's Note: This blog introduces readers to David Melton, Chief Executive Officer of Sacred Power Corporation.

    Sacred Power Corporation (SPC) was established in 2001 as Native American owned and operated small business that provides renewable energy solutions to government, commercial and residential customers. "Using the strengths of the Father to Protect the Gifts of the Mother" is our guiding principle, and it has guided us to success.

    SPC has always been at the forefront of renewable energy innovation, beginning with our installation of the first solar carport structure in the State of New Mexico. Nearly eleven years later, that same carport is generating clean energy for the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, NM. With funding from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act and the support of the Obama Administration, we have now put large-scale renewable energy installations in New Mexico Schools for the first time. This allowed SPC to hire people at a time when jobs are scarce. With hundreds of installations across the U.S, SPC now employs 59 people from all disciplines, including engineers, electricians, installers, and office and administrative staff. We're also working with teachers to help them educate and inspire students about the great potential of green technology and green jobs in our communities. And we're working with Tribal Nations on the construction of energy efficient and solar powered Housing and Urban Development homes for lower-income Americans, who spend much of their earnings on their energy bills.

    Sacred Power Solar Array

    Sacred Power's portable solar array/wind turbine combination is transported to nearby schools for clean and efficient energy use.

    SPC's patented stand-alone solar generators provide cost effective rural electrification for Native American homes. This power provides refrigeration for fresh foods, milk, and medicines, and for basic home needs. Unfortunately, there are over 10,000 of these “off-grid” homes scattered across Native Lands in the desert southwest without power, fuel or running water. SPC systems have already helped hundreds of senior citizens, single parent and low income families. 

    We are proud to have over ten Tribal Nations represented among our employees. And we are proud that our remote power systems, energy efficient telecommunication shelters, and grid tie photovoltaic power generators have served public sector customers of Tribal Nations, the U.S. Military, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, U.S. Forest Service, and NASA, to name a few.

    Sacred Power facility tour

    CEQ Chair Sutley tours Sacred Power Corporation.

    At SPC, we know firsthand the potential of renewable energy and green technology to provide good jobs. We hope to take advantage of this potential to continue to grow and sustain our community for years to come.

    David Melton is Chief Executive Officer of Sacred Power Corporation

  • In Service and Commemoration

    This past weekend, our Nation commemorated the 10th anniversary of the tragic events of September 11th. We remembered those we lost and stood with their families and loved ones.

    In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, many Americans were compelled to serve their fellow citizens and communities. As a tribute to that spirit of unity – and to honor those we lost – September 11 has been designated a National Day of Service and Remembrance. On Sunday, we were honored to join CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley for a Day of Service and Remembrance organized by the Volunteer Center for Anne Arundel County in Annapolis, Maryland.

    Sutley Service

    Chair Nancy Sutley delivers remarks at the opening ceremony of Project Green: 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance. (Photo Credit: Mary McGuirt with the Historic Annapolis Patch)

    The day began with a ceremony at the Maryland World War II Memorial to commemorate those who have lost their lives in service. We then joined volunteers, including members of the US Naval Academy Midshipmen Action Group, at Jonas Green Park for clean-up activities including debris collection, weeding, planting native species and controlling storm water runoff to better protect the health of the community and the Chesapeake Bay. Our efforts were focused in the rain garden, where weeding and planting were essential to absorb rain water and improve water quality in the surrounding Bay.

    Rain Garden

    CEQ's Danny Lampton and a local volunteer work in the rain garden just steps away from the Severn River in Annapolis, Maryland.

    The effort was part of the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup, the world’s largest volunteer effort for ocean health. As we got our hands dirty in Jonas Green Park, we were joining nearly half a million others around the world in protecting the coast lines and waterways that are vital to the health of our communities. 

    The day was a humbling and empowering reminder of what can be accomplished when we draw on our national spirit of unity and service.

    Shira Miller and Danny Lampton both work at the Council on Environmental Quality

  • Protecting Marine Life, Protecting Ourselves

    Editor's Note: This blog introduces readers to Hayden Panettiere, who for the past 7 years has been the spokesperson for The Whaleman Foundation and their Save the Whales Again! Campaign.

    Hayden 2

    Hayden Panettiere and Administration officials pose after their meeting to discuss conservation of our world’s great whales. (Left to right): Celeste Connors, Director for Environment and Climate Change, National Security Council/National Economic Council; Actress Hayden Panettiere; Nancy Sutley, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality; and Jay Jensen, Associate Director for Land & Water Ecosystems at the Council on Environmental Quality. (Photo Credit: Jeff Pantukhoff, President & Founder, The Whaleman Foundation)

    About 3 years ago, I had the great privilege of meeting President Obama for the first time while he was on the campaign trail. He told me that some of his fondest childhood memories growing up in Hawaii were when he was swimming in the ocean and saw its wondrous creatures up-close and personal, including dolphins and whales. We spoke of the need to protect them and in particular to stop whaling. Today, the Obama Administration took a step toward doing just that.

    In a meeting with the President's environmental policy advisor, Nancy Sutley, and several officials from the Administration, I thanked and applauded President Obama for taking action today against Iceland's illegal slaughter of fin and minke whales, which is in direct violation of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) commercial whaling moratorium.

    Hayden

    CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley, Hayden Panettiere and Administration officials meet to discuss President Obama's message to Congress regarding Pelly Certification and Icelandic Whaling.

    Tens of millions of U.S. citizens, including myself, have written or emailed the President and his Administration supporting these actions under the Pelly Amendment. I am grateful that the President and our government have listened and will be raising this issue with Iceland at the highest levels. They will continue to monitor the companies involved and examine other options available to us.

    These include the diplomatic measures just announced here today, such as directing the State Department to examine Arctic cooperation projects, and where appropriate, link U.S. cooperation to the Icelandic government changing its whaling policy and abiding by the IWC moratorium on commercial whaling. It also calls on Iceland to cease its commercial whaling activities.

    It has been the policy of the United States to support the conservation of the world's whale populations through science based policies and leadership within the International Whaling Commission. Just recently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which leads the U.S. delegation to the International Whaling Commission, signed a "sister sanctuary" agreement with France to support the protection of endangered humpback whales, and they are currently working with Bermuda to declare a sister humpback whale sanctuary there as well.

    Also, at the 2010 meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Agadir, The US delegation, by the request of our organization, introduced a five-year study by Dr. Roger Payne and Dr. John Wise that showed how toxins and pollutants are being dispersed throughout the world's oceans and up the food chain. It outlined how these pollutants are not only a serious health threat to marine life, including apex predators like dolphins and whales, but also pose serious health threats to humans.

    By protecting marine life and our oceans, ultimately we are protecting ourselves. President Obama recognizes this and has repeatedly supported innovative and conservation-minded efforts, not only at the International Whaling Commission, but with the unprecedented forward thinking demonstrated in his National Ocean Policy.

    Hayden Panettiere is an Actor and the International Spokesperson for The Whaleman Foundation & the Save the Whales Again! Campaign

  • Supporting Veterans: "We have a plan, now we need community progress"

    Editor's Note: This blog introduces readers to Colonel James D. McDonough, Jr., U.S. Army (Retired), President & CEO, Veterans Outreach Center, Inc., which in partnership with New York State’s Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) has successfully trained and placed 90 percent of their graduates in full-time green technology jobs.

    In the next five-to-six years over one million servicemembers are projected to leave the military and return to their communities all across this country. While today these great Americans are 'employed' by the Department of Defense they will soon leave that structured and familiar life to become veterans (and family members) of their armed forces, which for many served as the singular source of great pride, confidence and comfort throughout a decade of prolonged and grueling combat, separation and loss.

    I for one am worried, for if what we see every day in our organization continues, these men and women are in for some real challenges. In many ways, Rochester, New York is a blessed community – caring, giving, and trying to do its best - but we are just one community. Western New York is second only to Metropolitan New York City with regard to its veteran (and family member) population. Our organization – Veterans Outreach Center, Inc. – is woven into that community fabric as the nation's oldest independent and community-based non-profit serving veterans and their family members. The community tells me frequently that we're lucky in this community, because here we have an organization whose mission in life is to serve veterans and their families.

    Other communities are not so lucky and geography seemingly takes on greater importance when becoming a veteran.  Geography seems to matter because where you choose to live can ultimately have a direct bearing on the level of resources available to support veterans' needs. Some will be fortunate, others may not be so fortunate. The time has come to recognize that caring for veterans (and their families) is not just the Government's job; it is instead every community's business to embrace veterans for their example, their commitment to serving others, and their passion for service. 

    We have a plan – the President has articulated well this Administration's commitment to serving veterans and their families – whether in the form of greater and predictable funding for VA healthcare, expansion of veterans benefits (including education and job training), or the First Lady's Joining Forces Challenge for communities to become more involved in the responsibility to care for those currently serving in our armed forces or now as veterans. Just last month the President and Administration added more value to the plan by pledging to commit additional resources to specifically help all servicemembers transition from service and find meaningful employment, perhaps the biggest challenge faced by today's veterans and families.

    At a time when some question where we're headed as a Nation, I know one thing: our commitment to those who serve their country is unwavering. That commitment is on plan and now it's time for progress, real progress, not by Government so much as by communities.

    Now we need community progress – Every community has the opportunity to contribute, small and large. Employers can. Colleges can. Healthcare providers can.  Businesses can. Our community dedicates a portion of their giving every day, whether through volunteerism or otherwise. Rochester, New York has a rallying point in its arsenal of caring – Veterans Outreach Center, Inc – and all communities could have such a unifying force if they took inventory of their strengths available through citizenship and example. 

    Colonel James D. McDonough, Jr., U.S. Army (Retired), is President & CEO, Veterans Outreach Center, Inc.