Council on Environmental Quality Blog

  • Happy National Bike to Work Day

    As the spring weather is upon us, more and more people are taking to their bicycles to get to work. Bike commuting reduces pollution and promotes health and well-being by incorporating active outdoor time into the workday.  In the Obama Administration, that’s something we encourage.

    Last year, some innovative Federal employees in Portland and Seattle decided to challenge each other during the month of May to increase the number of riders in their community.  As part of the White House’s GreenGov Spotlight Community Initiative, we worked with those innovative leaders and challenged the rest of the Federal government to the Federal Bike to Work Challenge for May 2013. All across the nation, Federal employees are straddling their bikes and achieving some exceedingly impressive results.

    There are currently 148 Federal teams and 1,097 riders, of which 260 are new bike commuters. We’re only halfway through May and already these riders have logged 66,000 miles, and more than 5,000 rides commuting to and from work. The Executive Office of the President, with 9 teams made up of 72 riders, has already commuted over 2,644 miles by bike.

    As the Federal Environmental Executive, I am proud of these teams that are reducing pollution and becoming healthier in the process as we burn not gasoline but calories instead.  We hope to continue the growing momentum. Happy National Bike to Work Day!

    Learn More about the GreenGov Spotlight Communities: http://www.epa.gov/fgc/spotlight/index.html

    Jon Powers is the Federal Environmental Executive.

  • Building Infrastructure and Healthy Communities

    When President Obama signed an Executive Order last year to improve Federal review and permitting of infrastructure projects, he did so based on the belief that the Federal Government can work smarter and faster on projects that grow middle class jobs and maintain strong environmental protections for our communities.  We can already see the results of this initiative.  A progress report released today shows how Federal agencies have cut red tape to speed the review and permitting of dozens of major bridge, transit, railway, waterway, road and renewable energy projects, promoting jobs and strengthening our competiveness – and without compromising the important health and environmental protections Americans expect and deserve. 

    Today, the President signed a Presidential Memorandum that takes the next step by institutionalizing the time- and cost-saving tactics the agencies have identified over the past year. These best practices range from expanding use of information technology to cut paperwork and provide agencies with better information faster, to making time-saving collaboration the norm. For example, by having multiple agencies review a project at the same time, instead of one after the other.  The Administration is also working to expand innovative tools to improve environmental outcomes; develop more targeted and relevant environmental reviews; provide more opportunities for public input; and improve collaboration with State, local, and Tribal governments.

    This modernization effort reaches across the Federal Government and will shave months or even years off of project review and permitting decisions, allowing States, local governments and private developers to get started sooner on projects that grow jobs, fix our Nation’s infrastructure, and are good for communities.  It will also protect the health of our communities and give Americans a greater voice in Federal decisions on projects that impact them.  Moving forward, you can track the results of specific projects on the Administration’s Infrastructure Permitting Dashboard, which provides an unprecedented level of transparency into the Federal permitting and review process.

    This work is all part of the Administration’s effort to make America a magnet for jobs by building a 21st Century infrastructure. At a time when we must do more with less, we must operate more nimbly to continue to deliver on jobs and resilient infrastructure for our communities.  Ultimately, we can meet the President’s goal of cutting the timeline in half for major infrastructure projects and create better outcomes for communities and the environment. 

    Nancy Sutley is Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality

  • Protecting Our Interests in the Arctic

    Today, the Obama Administration released the National Strategy for the Arctic Region that outlines our Nation’s priorities in the rapidly changing area over the next 10 years.  The Strategy unifies Federal efforts across these broad goals: advancing U.S. security interests, pursuing responsible Arctic region stewardship, and strengthening international cooperation. The United States is an Arctic nation. As new challenges and opportunities emerge in the region as the result of a changing climate, this strategy builds on the significant work that has already been done by Federal agencies, the State of Alaska, and area Tribes over the past years and decades. 

    One of the many building blocks of the Arctic Strategy is the Administration’s recently released National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan.  The Implementation Plan translates the Administration’s National Ocean Policy into on-the-ground actions to better leverage Federal resources, streamline decision-making, and encourage collaboration among Federal agencies, states and marine stakeholders on ocean issues. A key focus of the Implementation Plan is the Arctic.  Federal agencies are targeting their work in the Arctic on monitoring the impacts of changing conditions, developing better mapping and charting to aid in safe navigation, improving Arctic sea-ice forecasting, and coordinating readiness for environmental incident response – all actions that support the priorities of the National Strategy for the Arctic Region. 

    The United States has broad interests in the Arctic, from national security to energy development, commerce, environmental protection, scientific research, and preservation of a rich cultural heritage.  All of these interests must be addressed in the context of dramatic changes to the environment and accessibility of the region. Through better Federal coordination, improved access to science and information, and more efficient decision-making, the National Ocean Policy will help achieve the priorities laid out in the Arctic Strategy.  I look forward to the National Ocean Council’s continued contribution to this effort, for the benefit of all Americans.

    To read the National Strategy for the Arctic Region, click here.

    Nancy Sutley is Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality

  • Open Data for Climate and Health Insights

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted from the Office of Science and Technology Policy blog

    Today, in conjunction with a series of landmark steps announced by the Obama Administration to unleash troves of useful data from the vaults of government, the interagency US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) launched a new online tool that promises to accelerate research relating to climate change and human health—the Metadata Access Tool for Climate and Health, or “MATCH.”

    The Administration announcements made today include an Executive Order signed by the President declaring that information is a valuable national resource and strategic asset, and a new government-wide Open Data Policy requiring that, going forward, data generated by the government shall be made available in open, machine-readable formats. The move will make troves of previously inaccessible or unmanageable data more readily available to entrepreneurs, researchers, and others who can use open data as fuel for innovation, businesses and new services and tools.

    MATCH is one such tool, driven by open data, which could open the door for new scientific insights in the public health and climate science communities. It is a publicly accessible digital platform for searching and integrating metadata—standardized contextual information—extracted from more than 9,000 health, environment, and climate-science datasets held by six Federal agencies.

    MATCH Metadata Tool

    Screenshot of the Metadata Access Tool for Climate and Health (MATCH), the US Global Change Research Program's online tool for researchers that offers centralized access to metadata ‐ standardized contextual information ‐ about thousands of government-held datasets related to health, the environment, and climate-science.

  • Green Button: Enabling Energy Innovation

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted from the Office of Science and Technology Policy blog

    Last year, in response to the Obama Administration’s call to action, 35 utilities and energy providers committed to provide 36 million homes and businesses with their own energy usage information in the consensus, industry-standard Green Button format.

    Not only are utilities implementing Green Button Download My Data across the country for homes and businesses to securely download their information, but utilities in California and the Mid-Atlantic are beginning to implement Green Button Connect My Data functionality— making it easier for their customers to securely transfer their own energy usage data to authorized third parties, based on affirmative (opt-in) customer consent and control. These efforts will provide more than 11 million customers with an easy and secure way to automatically and routinely participate in energy saving opportunities.

    Adopting the Green Button standard will enable households and businesses to more easily use web and smartphone apps to pick the best rate plan for them; take advantage of customized energy efficiency tips; utilize easy-to-use tools to size and finance rooftop solar panels; and download virtual energy audit software that can cut costs for building owners and help get retrofits started sooner.

    Today, we’re excited to see Green Button enable energy innovation through new announcements for the industry-led Green Button Initiative:

    • Ecova will take advantage of the Connect My Data platform to save commercial building owners money by offering more targeted energy saving opportunities.
    • Solar City is integrating Connect My Data into its sales consultations to help customers assess solar's potential to reduce home energy consumption and monthly electricity bills
    • MyEnergy is now able to convert your utility bill into electronic Green Button data for you – almost anywhere in the country.
    • WeatherBug-Earth Networks is integrating Connect My Data with its real-time hyper-local weather data to improve load management and save consumers money
    • EnerNOC is using Green Button data to quality check their real-time sensor data, and separately, has published a open data set of anonymized energy consumption data from 100 buildings in the Green Button format
    • Bidgely is using Connect My Data to offer appliance-level energy consumption insights to consumers
    • ChargePoint will use Green Button to report energy consumption data to utilities from electric vehicle charging stations
    • Wegowise is now using Green Button data to drive multi-family and commercial building energy efficiency
    • With support from the Department of Energy, the Pike Powers Laboratory and Center for Commercialization has launched a Green Button app testing center and the Pecan Street Research Institute will also make the largest open set of disaggregated and anonymized consumer energy use data available in the Green Button format.

    Green Button is also adding value in the public sector. In Washington, DC, for example, the local government is working with the utility company Pepco to acquire details on energy usage in local government buildings, in order to identify opportunities to conserve energy, save money, and meet local sustainability goals. The Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR program also just launched a new version of the Home Energy Yardstick tool that incorporates a Green Button feature. The Yardstick helps people compare their home’s actual energy performance to other homes.

    As energy innovation continues to show promise for growing our economy, protecting privacy remains a priority for the Administration. To that end, DOE is helping to facilitate a multi-stakeholder process with utilities, privacy advocates, and others to develop a code of conduct that will help clarify for consumers and providers how energy usage data should be protected and when it can be shared.

    Green Button is part of a comprehensive grid-modernization strategy, and recent estimates indicate that the Administration’s early smart grid investments have generated significant economic benefits for the American public. Investing in a modern grid – and continuing smart partnerships through the Green Button initiative - are important components of our strategy to cut energy waste in half by 2020 - and build a stronger, more resilient, and more competitive economy.

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

    Nick Sinai is Deputy US Chief Technology Officer at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

  • Protecting Our Environment and Our Health: Earth Day + National Take-Back Day

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted from the Office of National Drug Control Policy blog

    Is your medicine cabinet filled with old bottles of half-used prescriptions? They might seem harmless, but that medicine can spell disaster if misused, and disposing of prescription drugs the wrong way can harm our Nation’s water supply and our environment. That’s why today on Earth Day, we want to encourage you to participate in Take Back Day on April 27th to get rid of old medications and keep your family, and the planet, safe.

    Clean out your medicine cabinet

    A medicine cabinet full of unneeded or expired medicine poses a risk to your loved ones, especially young people. In 2010, prescription drugs were involved in over 22,000 deaths. Of those, over 16,000 involved opioid painkillers like Vicodin® and OxyContin®.[1]

    In the United States, more people die from prescription drug overdoses than from heroin or cocaine overdoses —combined.[2]

    According to a recent Monitoring the Future study – the Nation's largest survey of drug use among young people – prescription drugs are the third-most abused category of drugs after marijuana. In addition, the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that over 70 percent of people who abused prescription pain relievers in the past year got them from friends or relatives the last time they used them.[3] Over 50 percent of teens in a 2008 survey said it was easy to get prescription medications from their parent’s medicine cabinet.[4] Getting rid of those old medicines is an easy step you can take to remove a temptation—and maybe save a life.

    Be careful about the medicines you flush

    You might think flushing all your old pills down the toilet is the best way to dispose of them, but that’s not necessarily true. Medicines that go down the drain end up in our water supply, where they can damage the environment and harm animals.[5] We don’t know if these drugs in the water supply might also harm people, but experts believe antibiotics in the water might make it harder to treat certain pathogens in the future.[6] To make sure, visit the FDA’s page on safe drug disposal guidelines to find out which medicines they recommend flushing.

    President Obama and the White House Council on Environmental Quality are committed to clean water, and want to reduce contaminants in drinking water, including contamination from improperly disposed medications. So we’re encouraging everyone to participate in the Sixth National Drug Take-Back Day on April 27. On Take Back Day, local law enforcement and community groups team up with the Drug Enforcement Administration to collect unused medications so they can be disposed of safely. Visit the Take Back Day website to find a collection site near you.

    Safe medication disposal tips

    Can’t make it to Take Back Day? Here is how to dispose of prescription drugs safely:

    • If there are no specific disposal instructions on the medication, take it out of its original container and mix it with an undesirable substance like coffee grounds or cat litter to discourage people and animals.
    • Place the mixture in a sealable bag and put it in the trash.
    • To protect your privacy, before throwing out a medicine container, scratch out all identifying information on the prescription label to make it unreadable.