Council on Environmental Quality Blog

  • A Physician, Scientist and Mother Clears the Air

    Editor's Note: This blog introduces readers to Kari Nadeau, MD, PhD, an Associate Professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine and a pediatrician who specializes in asthma and allergy.

    Recently, both the Clean Air Act and the EPA have been attacked by some who claim that the restrictions on air polluters are too intrusive, too expensive and too burdensome. They go on to question the validity of the EPA's studies. As a physician, scientist and mother of five young children, I believe that it is time to "clear the air". 

    In the United States and particularly in California, we are experiencing an epidemic in asthma and other pulmonary diseases that has reached unprecedented numbers. In the United States, asthma affects approximately 24 million people, of which an estimated 7 million are children. In the United States, asthma is the most common chronic disease in childhood, is one of the most common causes of hospitalization for children, and its incidence has increased dramatically (http://www.aafa.org/display.cfm?id=9&sub=42). According to CDC data, in 1980, 3.6% of U.S. children had asthma. By 1995, that number more than doubled to 7.5% (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/ad/ad381.pdf). Clearly, something needs to be done, and done quickly.

    As a physician, I see and treat patients with allergies and asthma each day I am in clinic. As research scientists, my colleagues and I follow the evidence to find a possible cause. And increasingly, evidence is pointing to air pollution as the culprit. 

    Our research led us to investigate the effects of air pollution on children in Fresno. According to the American Lung Association's State of the Air 2011, of the top 10 most polluted cities, 6 of them are in California, and one of them is Fresno, the center of our study. Our results were published last fall in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: Ambient Air Pollution Impairs Regulatory T-Cell Function in Asthma(http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20920773). Much like the scientific evidence finally proved the link between smoking and lung cancer, our study exposed the critical evidence linking air pollution directly to asthma. Our research showed that the effects of air pollution in Fresno are associated with genetic changes in the immune cells of children. In other words, inhaling polluted air could affect the immune system's ability to do its job. The increasing numbers and severity of asthma are directly related to these genetic changes. These genetic changes are permanent.

    Yet, despite all the evidence implicating air pollution's deleterious impact on public health, some people continue to ignore or attack the evidence. Worse yet, some in Congress are trying to stop the Environmental Protection Agency for taking reasonable steps to clean up our polluted environment. What's so frustrating is we have the technology to clean up the dirtiest sources of air pollution, and still industry and their supporters in Congress refuse to clean up their act. We cannot afford to debate and wait a half century before we clear the air; we must act now. As parents, as citizens, and as a nation, we have a responsibility to provide for the common good and the common health. As long as we have the will to defend our right to clean air, we can ensure that our children's future will be a brighter and healthier one.

    Kari Nadeau, MD, PhD, is an Associate Professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine and a pediatrician who specializes in asthma and allergy. She is a member of the American Thoracic Society Environmental Health Policy Committee and a volunteer physician with the American Lung Association in California.

    Related Entries:
    Improving the Health of our Children and Communities: the Clean Air Act   
    http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2011/10/04/improving-health-our-children-and-communities-clean-air-act    

  • America's Great Outdoors: Results for American Communities

    Today, the Administration released a progress report on President Obama's America's Great Outdoors Initiative (AGO) that shows on-the-ground results for American communities. Built through unprecedented public outreach, AGO represents the President's vision for a 21st century conservation agenda to protect, connect, and restore the parks, rivers, open spaces and working lands American's clearly love.

    Here's what others have to say about how AGO is conserving and restoring critical outdoor spaces, and supporting thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity: 

    "The vision and potential of the America's Great Outdoors initiative is truly extraordinary and the progress made thus far is nothing short of remarkable. These accomplishments are a testament to the power of partnerships, the commitment of communities and the passion of youth. The young leaders of Outdoor Nation are grateful for the leadership of President Obama and his Administration and are actively implementing projects that will result in a lasting legacy of America's Great Outdoors."
    Christine Fanning, Executive Director, The Outdoor Foundation

    "American Rivers commends President Obama and his Administration for the significant progress made thus far in implementing the America's Great Outdoors initiative. Communities across the country took up the challenge to develop new homegrown conservation strategies for the 21st Century. Removing the Elwha River dams on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula; designating new water trails in Illinois, Indiana, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania; and laying the foundation for more water trails to be designated across the country are outstanding examples of how the America's Great Outdoors initiative is helping to protect and restore rivers and reconnect Americans to the natural world. Building on this early success, we look forward to working with the Administration in the coming year in support of the National Blueways Initiative to protect rivers and connect communities, from the Congaree River in South Carolina to the San Joaquin River in California."
    Wm. Robert Irvin, President and CEO, American Rivers

    "The Flint Hills and Dakota Grasslands are excellent examples of investing in the future of conservation. These precious gifts were given to us to steward, improve and pass along to generations yet unborn. Ducks Unlimited is pleased to partner with the Department of the Interior on these critically important issues and we look forward to doing our part to make the Dakota Grasslands a success." 
    Dale Hall, CEO, Ducks Unlimited

    "The conservation economy—recreation, restoration, and renewable energy—provides tremendous economic benefits to communities surrounding public lands, which are often in the rural areas that need them the most. The administration’s first Progress Report on the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative highlights many examples of the places where conservation of public lands supports jobs while at the same time protecting valued resources like clean air and clean water. Policies that create jobs by protecting public lands should be a part of the discussion that lawmakers have in this time of fiscal uncertainty."
    Christy Goldfuss, Director of the Public Lands Project, Center for American Progress

    "From the Gettysburg battlefield to Montana's Rocky Mountain Front and sage grouse habitat on Western ranches, Americans cherish their history, wildlife, local communities and way of life. The Conservation Fund commends America's Great Outdoors and the Administration for its leadership to conserve our land and waters for the enjoyment of all Americans. Investments from the Land and Water Conservation Fund in our nation's great network of parks, historic sites, public lands and working forests, farms and ranches will yield long term dividends for our children and grandchildren."
    Larry Selzer, President & CEO, The Conservation Fund

    "The Trust for Public Land commends the Administration for its commitment to the important goal of connecting more people to outdoor recreation opportunities. This AGO progress report shows the depth and breadth of the administration's effort over the past year, and builds a strong foundation for maintaining the link between outdoor recreation, healthy communities and a strong economy. From our work across the country - in cities and rural working landscapes alike - The Trust for Public Land knows how much Americans value the great outdoors and are willing to invest in it for the future."
    Kathy DeCoster, Vice President and Director of Federal Affairs, Trust for Public Land

    "It is much easier to take care of something you actually know. This is why the AGO Initiative is so very important; by working to help all Americans experience and enjoy their outdoor spaces, from mountain ranges and wild rivers to farms and city parks, we are making a thoughtful and prudent investment in the future of conservation in this country."
    Adam Cramer, Policy Architect, Outdoor Alliance

    "As stewards of America's State Parks we are pleased President Obama has engaged the nation in a dialog to highlight the importance of funding our public lands at the local, state and national level for the health, inspiration and well being of all Americans. The accomplishments made during the first eight months of the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative are a testament to the commitment by the president and the leaders of his administration to expand access to the outdoors by promoting recreation and investing in parks. America's State Parks strongly supports the AGO mission. We provide a significant economic impact estimated at $23 billion generated from 741 million visits in 2010 to the over 7,000 state park sites across America. The success of the America's Great Outdoors Initiative clearly benefits the health and happiness of all citizens. America's State Parks are pleased to join in supporting that achievement."
    Ruth Coleman, President, National Association of State Park Directors

    "At a time when our lands and waters face unprecedented attacks, America's Great Outdoors is a necessary reminder that Americans strongly support conservation. The report represents a continuation of the open conversation that the Obama administration has been having across the country for over a year. Like President Theodore Roosevelt's vision for conservation at the turn of the 20th century, America's Great Outdoors is a bipartisan conservation initiative for the 21st century. We look forward to working with the president and his administration on full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund as well as the exciting upcoming projects that include landscape-scale conservation in the Crown of the Continent region of the northern Rockies and the northern forests of New England and New York."
    William H. Meadows, President, The Wilderness Society

    "The release of the America's Great Outdoors Progress Report today marks a significant milestone, a time to reflect on “our glorious heritage” and consider our collective responsibility in assuring that our citizens, especially our children and youth, understand the value of the natural gifts they have been given and their role in assuring that the gifts are treasured and maintained for future generations. As noted in the report, Americans care about the legacy they have received and they want to pass along a clean and healthy environment to their children.  On behalf of The Corps Network, representing Service and Conservation Corps across the nation and the 33,000 young people enrolled, I extend appreciation to all who have provided leadership to the America’s Great Outdoors effort, to those who gave input to the report and especially to those who have assumed responsibility for implementation. Progress during this first year is most impressive! The increased focus on youth and young adults is welcomed and appreciated!  We will continue working in support of the America’s Great Outdoors initiative with a special focus on seeing the 21st Century Conservation Corps established. We gladly join forces with partners who see the value in reconnecting with the land. It would be easy in the midst of confusing times to lose sight of the importance of our lands, water and air – the very essence of our being. We cannot allow that to happen."
    Sally T. Prouty, President and CEO, The Corps Network

    "The America's Great Outdoors initiative puts an important focus on the value of conservation to the Western economy and our hunting and fishing traditions. The efforts of the President and Congress to preserve our heritage will also preserve American jobs and our clean water, wildlife, and wildlife habitat."
    Gaspar Perricone, Co-Director, Bull Moose Sportsmen's Alliance

    "Within their AGO Initiative, we applaud the Obama Administration for focusing its staff and funding on key restoration efforts in the Great Lakes, Jamaica Bay, greater Everglades ecosystem and Olympic National Park. This critical work will bring these areas back to life for visitors and native wildlife. In addition, we appreciate all of the work to get children and their parents outdoors and commemorating the Civil War by emphasizing the resulting Civil Rights movement and the need to protect more sacred ground of many battlefields."
    Thomas C. Kiernan, President, National Parks Conservation Association

    "The White House's commitment to America's Great Outdoors is critical to sustaining American jobs, as well as fish and wildlife, clean water and our nation's outdoor traditions. New research shows that the great outdoors and historic preservation generate more than $1 trillion in total economic activity and support 9.4 million jobs each year. America's Voice for Conservation, Recreation and Preservation, a coalition of more than 770 organizations, has united in support of conservation, recreation and preservation programs as a means to create jobs and improve the economy. Consequently, America's Great Outdoors represents a necessary investment in the hunting and fishing heritage and economic well-being that are crucial to millions of American citizens."
    Vaughn Collins, Director of Government Affairs, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership

    "The accomplishments of America's Great Outdoors in such a short time demonstrate the promise of this approach to providing tangible and lasting benefits for the American people. This effort is protecting nature from the grass roots up by encouraging conservation at the community level. In turn, that will help ensure clean water supplies, support jobs in tourism and recreation, preserve working farms and ranches and protect wildlife for people and nature. In fact, a recent study found that the economic impacts of outdoor recreation, natural resource conservation and historic preservation activities in the United States contributed a minimum of $1.06 trillion dollars to the economy, created a $107 billion return on investment to federal, state and local governments through tax revenue and supported 9.4 million jobs. We commend the administration on the progress that has been made, and look forward to continuing this work together. An investment in the great outdoors is an investment in America – one which helps ensure the healthy land and water that are vital to our nation's strength."
    Bob Bendick, Director of U.S. Government Relations, The Nature Conservancy

    "This leadership from the Obama administration on America’s Great Outdoors is a good sign for our businesses that depend on a healthy Colorado River for our economic viability."
    Molly Mugglestone, Coordinator of Protect the Flows, a coalition of 250 businesses that depend on the Colorado River

    "The Student Conservation Association (SCA) is pleased that the first goal of the AGO is to engage young Americans in protecting our nation's lands through the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps. SCA and other youth corps are partnering with the federal agencies to engage diverse you and veterans in this initiative. Together we are protecting America's lands and developing tomorrow's conservation leaders."
    Dale Penny, President and CEO, Student Conservation Association

    "TU appreciates the hard work invested by our federal natural resource agency partners to advance the outstanding goals of the America's Great Outdoors Initiative. In a time of unprecedented budget cuts and reduced institutional capacity, the resource agencies have accomplished a strong record of success in the past year...Today's report is proof that that Nation is moving forward on a strong conservation agenda."
    Steve Moyer, Vice President of Government Affairs, Trout Unlimited

    "The recently released America's Great Outdoors Progress Report shows what the value of outdoor recreation is to this country. The protection of public lands and rivers is very important to our economy and the fly-fishing industry. For us it is simple: public lands are instrumental to the fly fishing industry and the opportunity to enjoy those venues leads to economic activity for our members and the industry we represent."
    Randi Swisher, President, American Fly Fishing Trade Association

    "The President's America's Great Outdoors initiative launched an important conversation about the value of our public lands for the outdoor recreation economy. With the release of this progress report, the president can now demonstrate his commitment to protecting the public lands and rivers near Denver and across the country. Designating new parks and monuments, funding critical conservation programs, and investing in our outdoors heritage protects wildlife habitat, creates recreational opportunity, and leads to economic activity and jobs."
    Maxwell Key, Owner/Founder, Cheeky Fly Fishing

    Jay Jensen is Associate Director for Land and Water Ecosystems at the White House Council on Environmental Quality

  • Better Buildings: A Shared Mission

    Editor's Note: This blog introduces readers to Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO and Founding Chair of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

    Things have changed in the building industry since 2008. Three years ago, the word "retrofit" was more likely to bring to mind Jack LaLanne than better homes and workplaces. Today, more and more people know that retrofits mean better buildings and better places to live and work. Soon, everyone will know.

    What is causing this change? What is moving retrofits and better buildings from water cooler conversations amongst engineers to something worthy of nods of approval across the spectrum of Americans?

    Certainly no single event, person, or organization has caused this groundswell of understanding, but examples of leadership abound. We've had President Clinton preach rolling up our sleeves and getting to work on retrofits. We've had the Empire State Building go green to save green and show everyone that it can be done anywhere, in any building. We've seen cities as different as New York City and Charlotte, N.C. take it upon themselves to go further in existing buildings in unique and creative ways. And most recently President Obama has demonstrated his commitment to the Green Building industry when he issued in October 2009 Executive Order 13514, which requires Federal agencies to move to green building practices. Since then we have seen agency after agency stand-up greener buildings. Also as part of the American Job Act, President Obama is making investments in Green schools by proposing a $25 billion investment in school infrastructure that will modernize at least 35,000 public schools. 

    Here at the U.S. Green Building Council, we've seen an explosion in the number of existing buildings attaining LEED. We certified almost 20 times more existing buildings in 2010 than we did in 2007.

    But potentially most impactful in the building industry has been the attention from the White House and President Obama. If you had asked me or anyone else in 2007 how many times the next President and Vice President would say "retrofit" in front of the entire nation, even the most optimistic of us would not have come close. People have lots to say about what goes on in Washington, D.C., but in this case our leaders got it right.

    One agency in particular has been tasked with focusing all that attention: the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). CEQ has the thankless but crucially important job of coordinating the Departments of Energy, Agriculture, Labor, Education, Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency. No small task.

    In homes, CEQ spearheaded the Recovery Through Retrofit initiative at the request of the Vice President's Middle Class Task Force, and is progressing in implementing the multi-pronged strategy to improve homes across the country. A home energy label, better trained workers, and access to financing are the deliverables in this ambitious plan.

    In commercial buildings, CEQ is the lead on implementing the President's Better Buildings Initiative through a variety of programs at the Department of Energy and the Small Business Administration that look to cut energy bills by $40 billion (with a B) per year.

    Nancy Sutley and her staff are doing yeoman's work behind the scenes to raise the profile of energy efficiency, retrofits, and green buildings broadly, and we are thrilled to award them our 2011 Leadership Award for Organizational Leadership in the Public Sector. While we know their efforts have had impact today in defining retrofits for the country, I'd venture to guess that we’ll value those impacts tenfold a decade from now. 

    CEQ and the White House have managed to make retrofits real in the minds of so many Americans, and for that they are worthy recipients of the 2011 Leadership Award, given today at this year's Greenbuild International Conference & Expo in Toronto. But even beyond that, I'd like to personally thank them for so elegantly capturing the mission of the U.S. Green Building Council, our members and our community: Better Buildings. Enough said.

    Rick Fedrizzi is President, CEO and Founding Chair of USGBC

  • Modernizing Our Electric Grid, Creating Jobs

    Today the Obama Administration announced it would accelerate the permitting and construction of seven proposed electric transmission lines. This move will speed the creation of thousands of construction and operations jobs while transforming the Nation's electric system into a modern, 21st century grid that is safer and more secure, and gives consumers more energy choices. This announcement follows in a long line of this Administration's initiatives that demonstrate the commitment to job creation and modernizing America's infrastructure. See what stakeholders are saying below:

    Pam Eaton, Deputy Vice President for Public Lands, The Wilderness Society:
    "Building responsibly-sited power lines to access world-class renewable resources can put thousands of Americans to work, bring cost-effective clean power to people who need it, and help some of the rural counties in the West hardest hit by the economic downturn. We are counting on the Administration to focus its laser-beam attention on those lines that will truly bring our best renewable energy resources online efficiently and effectively with special attention to safeguarding our unique Western landscapes and communities."

    David G. DeCampli, president of PPL Electric Utilities, and Ralph LaRossa, president of PSE&G:
    "We applaud the administration's efforts to ensure that high-priority electric infrastructure projects are built and placed in service in a timely way. The Susquehanna-Roseland transmission line will improve electric service reliability for millions of people. As an added benefit, its construction will create thousands of jobs." 

    Tom C. Wray, Project Manager, SunZia LLC:
    "The SunZia Transmission Project welcomes the creation of the Administration's Rapid Response Team and its focus on federal agency process improvements for environmental reviews and permit issuances. The preparation of SunZia's Draft Environmental Impact Statement is in its 27th month and the prospect for interagency cooperation to obtain expeditious review is a very positive development. The RRTT's coordination and oversight is a needed and welcome evolution in what can become an otherwise an unnecessarily lengthy, difficult process."

    Carl Zichella, Director of Western Transmission, NRDC:
    "The Obama administration believes, and so does NRDC, that we can accelerate transmission approvals without cutting corners on environmental or cultural reviews. This pilot program demonstrates that enhanced coordination can play a critical role in accomplishing the President's clean energy goal and cut emissions in the West by 80% in 2050. We look forward to contributing, both through the interconnection planning efforts now underway and directly with the agencies implementing the program."

    See CEQ's initiatives for more information on the Rapid Response Team for Transmission.

    Neal Kemkar is Deputy Associate Director for Energy and Climate Change at the White House Council on Environmental Quality

  • 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