Council on Environmental Quality Blog

  • Voice of an Innovator: Equipping Students for 21st Century Jobs

    Editor's note: This blog introduces readers to John J. Sygielski, President of Harrisburg Area Community College in Central Pennsylvania. Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley met with students and educators at the college's green jobs training facility. 

    At Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC), Central Pennsylvania's Community College, we have a long tradition of understanding the educational and training needs of our local industries. We also understand that preparing our students to meet these needs can dramatically increase their chances of securing good jobs when they leave our program.

    HACC Roundtable

    From left, Cindy Reiner, HACC Dean of Workforce Training; HACC President John J. Sygielski; and CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley. The three engage in a roundtable discussion on initiatives that are helping to lead students to the 21st century clean energy economy.

    President Obama's American Jobs Act would invest $5 billion in modernizing community colleges across the country. In addition to making sure colleges are equipped to prepare our students for 21st century job opportunities, modernizing schools will create jobs in the very industries we are training our students for – jobs assessing the energy use of old buildings, and installing green technologies that save schools energy and money.

    Pennsylvania has a number of old industrial sites that need to be reclaimed, restored and put back into alternative use. That's why we offer a brownfields program that trains the technicians who can inspect and remediate the old factory sites and return them to useful life. And because of the growing demand for renewable energy and energy efficiency equipment and services, our college offers training programs in green technologies like photovoltaic technology and geothermal heating and cooling systems; technician training in wind power; and certificate programs for building analysts and energy auditors. In a key example of how these programs meet real-world gaps in the workforce, one of our photovoltaic technology professors uses the training program to recruit employees for his own solar manufacturing company.

    In the end, we embrace green technologies because they are good for our students, for our communities and for our environment. We see great promise for future growth in these industries, and we know that our students will be prepared to take advantage of these new opportunities.

    John J. “Ski” Sygielski, EdD is President of HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, and Immediate Past President of the American Association of Community Colleges

  • A Big Step Forward on Environmental Justice

    Every American deserves to live in a community that fosters health and prosperity. Yet all too often, low-income and minority families live in the shadows of some of the worst pollution in the Nation, leading to higher rates of diseases like asthma, cancer, and heart disease, and threatening the economic potential of their communities. The Obama Administration is committed to addressing these disparities.

    Now, Federal agencies are releasing their Environmental Justice Strategies for public comment. These strategies are tailored to agencies' individual missions, and serve as a road map that will help integrate environmental justice into the programs they run, the policies they make, and the activities they engage in. By identifying potential ways that their work may have disproportionally adverse health and environmental effects on low-income and minority populations, as well as proposing strategies to address the inequalities, Federal agencies are advancing this Administration's unwavering commitment to ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to live in healthy and safe communities.

    The release of the draft Environmental Justice Strategies is just the latest step in Administration-wide efforts to ensure all Americans are protected from environmental and health hazards. In 1994, President Bill Clinton issued an executive order directing federal agencies to participate in a government-wide effort to address environmental justice issues. The Obama Administration revitalized this effort by reconvening the Interagency Environmental Justice Working Group for the first time in more than a decade, engaging community members at a White House Forum on Environmental Justice, and most recently, bringing Federal agency leaders together to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on Environmental Justice. It was through this MOU that agencies committed to developing Environmental Justice Strategies and releasing annual implementation reports. 

    Over the next few weeks, agencies will have open comment periods on their draft strategies to give the public a chance to weigh in. Federal agencies will review all public comments and take them into account before finalizing the strategies early next year. We look forward to hearing from you as we expand the conversation on environmental justice in pursuit of healthy communities for all Americans.

    You can read the strategies and share your ideas here:

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

  • Fort Monroe: A Symbol of our Past, a Promise for our Future

    Editor's Note: This blog introduces readers to Molly Joseph Ward, Mayor of Hampton, Virginia. 

    There is a history lesson that all Americans should know, but it may not have been in your textbooks.

    Just six weeks after the Civil War began, three slaves – Frank Baker, James Townsend and Shepard Mallory – escaped from behind Confederate lines and sought refuge at Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia. Commanding General Benjamin Butler refused to return the fugitives and declared the three men contraband of war. Soon, thousands of enslaved African Americans from all over the region descended on Fort Monroe in pursuit of freedom and sanctuary. This event fundamentally changed the meaning of the Civil War from states' rights to the immorality of slavery, and marked the beginning of the end of slavery in the United States.

    Last week, President Obama signed an Executive Order designating Fort Monroe as a National Monument. Now, this 400 hundred year old site belongs to all Americans, and I hope all will have the chance to know its story, and appreciate its beauty.

    Fort Monroe Signing

    From left, Adam Goodheart, Civil War Historian, Washington College; Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va.; Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va.; Mayor Molly Ward, Hampton, Va.; Interior Secretary Ken Salazar; Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.; Lacy Ward Jr., Director, Robert Russa Moton Museum, Farmville, Va.; and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo.; watch President Barack Obama sign a Proclamation to designate Fort Monroe, in Hampton, Va., a National Monument under the Antiquities Act, in the Oval Office, Nov. 1, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    From 1609 until just a few months ago, Fort Monroe was an active military base built on the site known as Old Point Comfort. Here's a little bit about its remarkable history: In 1619, it's where the first Africans arrived in America. Hampton is also where, in 1624, the first African-American child was born, named William Tucker. Robert E. Lee was stationed at Fort Monroe, and Jefferson Davis was imprisoned there at the conclusion of the Civil War. Edgar Allen Poe and Harriet Tubman both spent time at Fort Monroe, and Abraham Lincoln stayed there during the assault on Norfolk, VA – the last time a sitting President was actively involved in a military campaign.

    Hampton is a city of about 140,000 people located in the middle of what is known as "Hampton Roads," consisting of more than 1.6 million people in 17 municipalities. It is home to NASA Langley, Joint Base Langley Eustis, Hampton University and boasts 124 miles of shoreline and gorgeous beaches. Those of us fortunate enough to live here revere the water, our history and our wonderful location, but what our community treasures most of all is historic Fort Monroe. 

    President Obama's decision to designate Fort Monroe a National Monument secures the stature of the Fort in our Nation's history. It also ensures the Fort will remain a vibrant part of our region's economy. Hampton lost more than 5,000 jobs when the Army left the Fort in September. Now, with the work of the National Park Service and a state-led reuse plan, the campus should become a center for recreation, history, business and education. This fortress will continue to be a refuge for those who wish to revel in its natural and man-made beauty for its – and Hampton's – next 400 years.

    Molly Joseph Ward is Mayor of Hampton, Virginia

  • Lending Federal Support as Communities Prepare for Impacts of Climate Change

    Last week the Administration released a report that outlines how the Federal Government is expanding and strengthening the Nation's capacity to better understand, prepare for, and respond to the risks associated with climate change. From the Federal Government's perspective, adapting to the impacts of a changing climate is simply responsible risk management. Working together, communities and the Federal Government can reduce long-term risks and costs, including from projected increases in extreme weather events.

    Here's what others have to say about the importance of this interagency work to build resilience and protect people, property and economies across the country:

    Mayor Mark Mallory, Cincinnati, OH
    "Climate scientists tell us that Cincinnati will experience more frequent and more severe storms as a result of climate change. More frequent and more severe summer heat waves are expected as well. The Cincinnati region is just beginning to identify the things that we will need to do to be prepared for these weather changes. Just like cities plan for natural disasters or outbreaks of the flu, we need to prepare for the effects of climate change."

    Aaron N Durnbaugh, Climate Adaptation Coordinator, City of Chicago
    "As a local government working to prepare our city, citizens and natural resources for a changing climate, the City of Chicago is encouraged to see the coordinated federal climate action presented in the 2011 progress report. The federal efforts supporting cities including building local resilience and making climate science accessible, will create the resilient, healthy and prosperous City envisioned by the Chicago Climate Action Plan and, in turn, the resilient nation envisioned by the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force."

    Mark Tercek, President and CEO, Nature Conservancy
    "We commend the Administration's Climate Change Adaptation Task Force on continued progress toward preparing our nation for coping with the impacts of climate change. We're pleased that the Administration continues to emphasize the essential role natural systems play in protecting Americans from climate impacts. As just one example, our barrier islands and floodplains have protected America's communities from storms for millennia and we need to ensure they continue to do so."

    Laura Spanjian, Sustainability Director, City of Houston
    "The City of Houston is beginning to implement adaptation strategies and tools to address the impacts and risks associated with climate changes that affect Houston's water resources and coastal zones, among other systems. Sustained funding from federal agencies will help cities employ proactive measures, instead of only short-term reactive measures that are detrimental to human livelihood, as well as being cost-prohibitive."

    Brian Holland, Director of Climate Programs, ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability USA
    "The Council on Environmental Quality's Progress Report on Adaptation demonstrates the success achieved by federal agencies in building resilience in partnership with local communities. In working with our 550 local government members in the US, ICLEI has clearly identified a need for local-federal climate collaboration and has seen critical federal resources in action. This report lays the groundwork for continued partnership with the cities and counties that are on the front lines of extreme weather events and climate resilience."

    J. Wayne Leonard, CEO, Entergy Corporation
    "A meaningful discussion on climate change cannot stop at mitigation. The solutions must also include adapting to and resilience against its most negative consequences. Today's report recognizes that the livelihoods of people living in coastal communities, the sustainability of rich natural resources that support our economy and the security of residential, commercial and industrial assets are at great risk if we don't devise and implement plans to protect against, and recover from, the adverse effects associated with climate change."

    Bennett Freeman, Vice President for Sustainability and Research, Calvert Investments
    "Investing in climate preparations can create American jobs at home and spur exports abroad. We support efforts by the Administration to prepare for and respond to climate change impacts in vulnerable communities." 

    Jim Taft, Executive Director, Association of State Drinking Water Administrators
    "ASDWA appreciates the efforts of the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force in developing this Action Plan. We believe the six principal recommendations of the Action Plan (along with the various supporting actions) are sound and appropriate. In particular, the call for the compilation of the best available data/information, coupled with use of appropriate decision-making tools will be of considerable benefit to drinking water utilities as they consider meeting both the quantity and quality challenges posed by a changing climate. We also support the holistic approach to this challenge under the banner of integrated water resources management (e.g., promoting both efficient use of currently available water resources as well as careful consideration of future water resources). The Action Plan should prove beneficial to both drinking water utilities and state drinking water programs as they consider their future roles and actions."

    Paul Fleming, Manager, Climate & Sustainability Group, Seattle Public Utilities
    "Identifying, assessing and managing the risks and opportunities associated with climate change is not just about understanding the physical impacts of climate change, but also the managerial, technical and policy implications. From strengthening data observation systems, to calling for stronger coordination between federal and local governments to promoting flexible decision making, the National Action Plan reflects the multi-dimensional nature of the intersection between climate change and water."

    Ken Kirk, Executive Director, National Association of Clean Water Agencies
    "Climate change will affect water more than any other resource, and NACWA commends CEQ for recognizing the challenges facing wastewater utilities in adapting to and in mitigating the impacts of climate change. NACWA is especially pleased that CEQ recognizes the importance of integrated water resources management for managing these impacts, and the need for improved data to enable utilities to make better long-term decisions in the face of climate change. With utilities facing huge financial challenges as a result of the economic downturn, studies that help in planning for the additional costs and investment that climate change will necessitate are particularly helpful."

    Susan Ruffo is Deputy Director for Climate Change Adaptation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality

  • Taking Action to Protect our Nation from Climate Change Impacts

    Across the United States and the world, climate change is already affecting communities, livelihoods, and the environment.  We must understand and adapt to a changing climate, including more frequent extreme weather events such as heat waves, drought and floods, and continued sea level rise.  Taking action now to manage climate risks can be viewed as an insurance policy for the Nation's future health and economic prosperity.  The Federal Government will work in partnership with states and local communities to help make our nation more resilient and prepared to address the challenges and opportunities that will arise from a changing climate.

    By considering how climate change may affect people, businesses, and communities, as well as its own services, operations, and assets, the Federal Government will be in a better position to promote economic growth and enhance our security.  Working with diverse stakeholders, Federal agencies are preparing for a range of climate and extreme weather impacts that put people, property, local economies, and ecosystems at risk.

    To highlight these actions, today we are releasing a new report that outlines the Federal Government's progress in expanding and strengthening the Nation's capacity to better understand, prepare for, and respond to extreme events and other climate change impacts.  This report, produced by the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, provides an update on actions in key areas of Federal adaptation, including: building resilience in local communities, safeguarding critical natural resources such as freshwater, and providing accessible climate information and tools to help decision-makers manage climate risks. 

    Click here to read the full 2011 report.

    Based in part on numerous listening sessions and public outreach events with a wide range of stakeholders, "Federal Actions for a Climate Resilient Nation: Progress Report of the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force," highlights the progress toward implementing those recommendations.  This report follows the Task Force's October 2010 Progress Report to the President that recommended the Federal Government strengthen the Nation's capacity to better understand and manage climate-related risks.

    The 2010 Progress Report identified freshwater resources as a priority area for greater attention.  On June 2, 2011, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released a draft "National Action Plan: Priorities for Managing Freshwater Resources in a Changing Climate," for public review and comment. Today, CEQ also announced the final Action Plan that responds to public input.  This final Plan will be the foundation for Federal agency efforts to manage freshwater resources as the climate changes.  It is designed to help freshwater resource managers assure adequate water supplies, safeguard water quality and aquatic ecosystems, and protect human life, health and property.

    Click here to read the full Managing Freshwater Action Plan.

    The Obama Administration remains committed to protecting the Nation from the critical impacts of climate change.  Responding to demand from local, state, and Tribal governments and communities, the Task Force will focus in coming years on reducing the Nation's vulnerability to extreme weather and climate events; enhancing regional coordination among Federal and non-Federal actors; strengthening and leveraging non-Federal partnerships; and implementing Federal agency adaptation planning.  The Task Force will provide an update on Federal adaptation progress in March 2014, following the release of the 2013 National Climate Assessment Synthesis Report.

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

    Dr. Jane Lubchenco is Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

    Dr. Steve Fetter is Principal Assistant Director of Environment for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

  • We Can Clean the Air, Create Jobs and Power the Economy at the Same Time

    Editor's Note: This blog introduces readers to Ralph Izzo, Chairman, President and CEO of Public Service Enterprise Group.

    As one of the largest electricity generators in the U.S., we, at Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG), believe that EPA's air pollutant regulations should be viewed as an opportunity to modernize the nation's electric power infrastructure. PSEG has been a long-time advocate of these Clean Air Act regulations and has put its money where its mouth is, investing over one and a half billion dollars in improvements to its coal-fired plants. These regulations will not only improve air quality for our nation's citizens, but will also create jobs and an active marketplace for emissions trading.

    Frankly, action is long overdue. The air pollutant regulations proposed by EPA are in response to the D.C. Circuit's rejection of two rules (the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) and the Clean Air Mercury Rule) originally proposed by the Bush Administration. Thus, these regulations do not come out of the blue. The regulatory process for regulating toxic air emissions commenced over two decades ago, and the court concluded CAIR was "fundamentally flawed" in 2008. 

    For our part at PSEG, we believed it made good business sense to be proactive in positioning our generation fleet to meet what the rules would require.  During the past five years, we have invested more than $2 billion to replace inefficient, older generating units and upgrade our existing facilities in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. These air quality standards are achievable with the appropriate investment. For example, nearly 60 percent of all coal-fired boilers that submitted data to EPA are currently achieving the Utility Toxics Rule's proposed mercury standards. Existing pollution control technologies have demonstrated their mettle, and they need to be further deployed throughout the nation.

    Our experience shows that it is possible to clean the air, create jobs, and power the economy at the same time. For example, our New Jersey coal plants with their various pollution-control systems have been able to reduce, by over 90 percent, emissions of mercury, acid gases and soot. Installing the systems created approximately 1,600 construction jobs and enabled us to add dozens of full-time positions. We are proud of these results and proud to have facilities that are among the cleanest coal stations in America. 

    Reliability is a critical consideration at all times in the electric power industry. We believe our industry is capable of meeting these clean air rules while maintaining electric system reliability. The U.S. bulk power system, at an aggregate level, has adequate spare capacity to absorb potential retirements. Many of the uncontrolled units, which are most likely to retire, are smaller, inefficient units and companies are already making retirement decisions independent of the Utility Toxics Rule due to fundamental economics. Moreover, the electric industry has a proven track record of adding additional generating capacity and transmission solutions when and where needed and of coordinating effectively to address reliability concerns.

    The Clean Air Act gives affected sources three years from the issuance of the final rules to comply with the regulations. Further, if there are isolated reliability issues in areas of heavy demand as a result of implementing the air regulations affecting the electric sector, existing risk management procedures under the Clean Air Act, the Federal Power Act, and other statutes already provide EPA, the Department of Energy, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the President with tools to address unforeseen impacts on electric system reliability on an individual basis.

    Simply put, the time is overdue to implement the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. Doing so will help provide much needed certainty to invest in capital-intensive projects such as power plants that operate for 40 years or longer. Having these regulations in place will make it clear what the energy industry needs to do. In contrast, any significant delay for these rules will only perpetuate uncertainty where clarity is needed. The time for action is now.

    Ralph Izzo is Chairman, President and CEO of Public Service Enterprise Group