Council on Environmental Quality Blog

  • 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

  • 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