Council on Environmental Quality Blog

  • Leading By Example With Renewable Energy and Energy Management

    President Obama has challenged the Federal Government to lead by example to reduce energy use, pollution and waste in their operations, and save taxpayer dollars as a result. Here at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, we work with the Federal family to help them achieve these goals, and we have seen Federal agencies demonstrate enormous leadership and measurable success as they take this challenge head on. 

    Following the President’s direction, Federal agencies have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent since 2008, and are on track to reach existing renewable energy goals. To build on these efforts, President Obama today issued a Presidential Memorandum on Federal Leadership on Energy Management that directs agencies to go even further.    The Memorandum establishes a new target for Federal agencies to consume 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind by 2020 – that’s more than double the current goal of 7.5 percent. The President first outlined this new goal in his June Climate Action Plan to curb carbon pollution and protect communities from extreme weather and other climate impacts. Meeting this renewable energy target will reduce pollution in our communities, promote American energy independence, and support homegrown energy produced by American workers. It also supports the President’s goal to double renewable energy in this nation by 2020.

    To improve agencies’ ability to manage energy consumption and reduce costs, the Memorandum directs them to use Green Button, a tool developed by industry in response to a White House call-to-action that provides utility customers with easy and secure access to their energy usage information in a consumer-friendly format. Agencies have already reduced energy use per square foot in Federal buildings by more than 9 percent since FY 2008. Green Button will help them identify areas where they can further update their building-performance and energy-management practices to save taxpayer dollars. Agencies will also use the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager to ensure Federal facilities are measuring their energy and water metering data and better managing energy use.

    I look forward to working with agencies as they continue to lead by example in their operations. Meeting the President’s goals will help us responsibly manage taxpayer resources, save energy, and promote healthy American communities.

    Jon Powers is the Federal Environmental Executive at the Council on Environmental Quality.

  • Outlining U.S. Climate Progress On the World Stage

    This week, I am in Warsaw, Poland at the United Nations climate negotiations (COP 19) spreading the word about the President’s Climate Action Plan to our international partners.

    Since the President launched his plan in June of this year, U.S. government agencies have been working to put the plan into action and make progress toward securing a healthy planet for future generations. The plan seeks to cut carbon pollution in the U.S., prepare American communities for potential climate change impacts and help lead international efforts to find a global solution to climate change.

    On Monday, I spoke on a panel about the progress we are achieving through the Climate Action Plan. I was joined by EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe, Deputy Assistant Secretary Jonathan Pershing from the Department of Energy, and Global Climate Change Coordinator Kit Batten from USAID, as well as by Secretary of State John Kerry through a video message. Together, we outlined the important actions underway, including carbon pollution standards for power plants under the Clean Air Act, significant investments in clean energy technology and energy efficiency, and global partnerships to reduce deforestation and advance low emission development.

    Taken together, these actions will help us to achieve our international commitment to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and will position the U.S. as a leader in the new global low-carbon economy.

    Even in the context of ambitious actions to mitigate the causes of climate change, we know we must act to prepare communities for the unavoidable impacts of climate change, which we are already seeing in bigger and more frequent storms, droughts, floods, and other severe weather events. On November 1st, the President signed an Executive Order directing Federal agencies to take necessary steps to help communities to better prepare for the impacts of climate change. In particular, the Order directed Federal agencies to: remove barriers to and incentivize climate-resilient investments; improve natural resource sustainability by making common sense improvements to land- and water-related policies, programs, and regulations; and provide information, data, and tools for climate change preparedness through a climate data platform to inform decisions by state, local, and private-sector leaders.

    At the same time, the President created the Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience – a team of state, local, and tribal leaders from across the United States who will use their first-hand experience in preparedness and resilience to advise federal action.

    Even with the President’s actions to reduce carbon pollution and prepare our communities for impacts we are currently experiencing, one thing is certain – we can’t do this alone.  Everyone – private companies, federal governments, non-profits, think tanks, developed and developing country citizens – must come together and take their part in a global solution to climate change.

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

  • Introducing the National Drought Resilience Partnership

    Today, the Obama Administration is excited to announce a new partnership between seven Federal agencies that will help communities better prepare for droughts and reduce the impact of drought events on families and businesses. The interagency National Drought Resilience Partnership is part of the President’s Climate Action Plan. Federal agencies are already working with communities, businesses and farmers and ranchers to build resilience to drought on the ground, and this Partnership will enhance those efforts.

    Droughts are not new to many communities.  Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events like droughts, storms, floods, and wildfires nationwide.  About two-thirds of the continental United States was affected by drought in 2012, impacting water supplies, tourism, transportation, energy and fisheries, costing the agricultural sector alone $30 billion and causing $1 billion in losses from wildfires.  During this disaster, the Administration provided all available assistance to towns, communities and agricultural producers impacted by drought, and the 2012 drought also highlighted effective planning and preparedness is to helping communities recover and prevent the worst impacts. We heard directly from states, tribes, businesses, and local communities that there was a need for a more accessible “front door” to make it easier to access Federal assistance. That is why the National Drought Resilience Partnership is designed to provide communities with a single point of contact to help them navigate various Federal programs to find the right one for their needs.

    Spearheaded by the Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the immediate focus of the Partnership will be on creating a new, web-based portal to ease access to Federal agency drought resources, hosting more frequent regional drought outlook forums to continue to hear directly from communities, and supporting the coordination of a national soil moisture monitoring network to help improve monitoring and forecasting drought conditions. In collaboration with local, state and regional governments, the Partnership will also undertake a pilot project in a western area hard hit by drought to create a local-scale drought resilience plan that could be applied in other areas.  

    This Partnership reflects the work of the White House Rural Council, and it also follows the President’s November 2013 Executive Order on preparing our communities for the impacts of climate change.  That Executive Order created a Task Force of state, local and tribal leaders to advise the Administration on steps the Federal Government can take to help communities increase preparedness, and committed Federal agencies to examining their programs and policies to make it easier for states and communities to build resilience against storms, droughts and other weather extremes. 

    As we face increasing challenges from severe weather and climate impacts, it is more important than ever that Federal agencies work together effectively and efficiently to support the needs of local communities.  The interagency National Drought Resilience Partnership is another important step in our commitment to helping communities stay strong and resilient in the face of climate change. 

    Nancy Sutley is Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality

  • President Obama’s State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness

    Today, we are excited to announce the members of President Obama’s State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience.

    The anniversary of Hurricane Sandy reminds us how important it is for all levels of government to work together to protect communities and families.  A year ago this week, communities were shattered, families were torn apart, homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed, and lives were upended. But brick by brick, block by block, these communities are rebuilding to be more prepared and resilient. They will come back stronger and the Federal government will continue to stand right by their side as we continue to recover and rebuild.

    In the wake of this disaster, we have learned some valuable lessons about how to prepare our communities and be more resilient to these types of extreme weather events, which are growing more frequent and severe with climate change. Instead of recreating old vulnerabilities during the rebuilding process, we implemented a stronger, uniform flood risk rebuilding standard, and provided resources for more climate-resilient roads and infrastructure, and projects that protect drinking water and buffer communities from flooding.  Much of what we have learned was compiled into the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force report released earlier this year.

    In another important step, today we announced the members of a new Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience to advise the Administration on how the Federal Government can respond to the needs of communities nationwide that are dealing with the impacts of climate change. The President first announced the establishment of this short-term Task Force on June 25, 2013, as part of his Climate Action Plan.

    The Task Force members include bipartisan governors, mayors and tribal leaders from across the country who will use their first-hand experiences in building climate preparedness and resilience in their communities to inform their recommendations for the Administration.

    The Task Force will present their recommendations to the President within a year to guide and shape Federal policy. An Executive Order signed by the President today also directs Federal agencies ranging from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to the Department of Transportation to examine their programs across the board and find ways to make it easier for cities and towns to build smarter and stronger. 

    As co-chairs of the Task Force, we look forward to working with the Task Force members, and other local, state, and tribal leaders, to combat the impacts of climate change.

    • State Officials:
      • Governor Neil Abercrombie (HI)
      • Governor Jerry Brown (CA)
      • Governor Eddie Calvo (GU)
      • Governor Jay Inslee (WA)
      • Governor Jack Markell (DE)
      • Governor Martin O’Malley (MD)
      • Governor Pat Quinn (IL)
      • Governor Peter Shumlin (VT)
    • Local Officials:
      • Mayor Ralph Becker (Salt Lake City, UT)
      • Mayor James Brainard (Carmel, IN)
      • Commissioner Paula Brooks (Franklin County, OH)
      • Supervisor Salud Carbajal (Santa Barbara County, CA)
      • Mayor Frank Cownie (Des Moines, IA)
      • Mayor Bob Dixson (Greensburg, KS)
      • Mayor Eric Garcetti (Los Angeles, CA)
      • Mayor George Heartwell (Grand Rapids, MI)
      • Mayor Kristin Jacobs (Broward County, FL)
      • Mayor Kevin Johnson (Sacramento, CA)
      • Mayor Michael Nutter (Philadelphia, PA)
      • Mayor Annise Parker (Houston, TX)
      • Mayor Patsy Parker (Perdido Beach, AL)
      • Mayor Madeline Rogero (Knoxville, TN)
      • Mayor Karen Weitkunat (Fort Collins, CO)
      • Mayor Dawn Zimmer (Hoboken, NJ)
    • Tribal Officials:
      • Karen Diver, Chairwoman, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (MN)
      • Reggie Joule, Mayor, Northwest Arctic Borough (AK)

    To learn more about President Obama’s State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, click here.

    David Agnew is Director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs

    Nancy Sutley is Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality

  • Our Forests and Climate Change

    Americans know the importance of forests to our communities and our economy.  They provide jobs and recreational opportunities, filter our air and water, and make up essential habitat for wildlife and natural resources.  But increasingly, we’re also recognizing that forests play an important role in mitigating climate change.

    Recently, President Obama announced a Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon pollution, prepare for the impacts of climate change on our communities and economy, and lead international efforts to combat global climate change. This plan recognizes that America’s forests play a critical role in addressing carbon pollution, absorbing as much as 14 percent of our country’s greenhouse gas emissions each year.  Over the last several decades, forest regrowth on former farm lands, reforestation, and maturing forests have kept our forest growth rates high, helping us absorb even more carbon. 

    At the same time, development of forest lands is reducing the amount of carbon we can absorb now and in the future.  Carbon pollution is also taking a toll on our forests – heat waves, wildfires, pests and drought are all worsened by climate change, reducing our forests’ ability to sequester carbon.   

    It is difficult to predict precisely how much these impacts will reduce the potential of our forests to combat climate change – but we do know that we must start now to find new ways to enhance forests’ ability to absorb carbon and become more resilient. As part of the President’s Climate Action Plan, the Administration is bringing Federal agencies together to tackle this challenge.  An interagency Task Force is working to provide more accurate and consistent annual updates of carbon fluxes from forests and other lands.  This will help us ensure that we have up-to-date information on how major disturbances like wildfires, as well as land development trends, impact the capacity of the nation’s forests to absorb carbon. It will also provide the tools we need to make more effective policy decisions, ensuring land managers are able to take into account the carbon sequestration value of our forests.   The Task Force is also developing new approaches to retain and restore our forests and other important landscapes like grasslands and wetlands.

    America's Forests

    Photo Credit: U.S. Bureau of Land Management

    This initiative will build on the significant work the Administration already has underway to ensure healthy, thriving forests. For example, the Department of Agriculture announced this year the creation of seven new regional hubs to provide research and timely information to farmers and forest landowners as we work together to combat climate change. This work will complement research by DOI Climate Science Centers, in areas such as evaluating management options, projecting forest conditions and carbon storage under climate change, evaluating the effects of changing rainfall and snow conditions, and studying the effects of changing forests on particular species and ecosystem services. This information is helping to inform restoration efforts undertaken by the Forest Service and its partners to make our forests more resilient. And DOI and USDA are working together with other Federal agencies, states, tribes, and private landowners to engage in historic, landscape scale conservation projects that will put critical ecosystems on a stronger footing for the future.

    Climate change poses a tough new challenge for the forest ecosystems that provide so much for all Americans. Following President Obama’s lead, we’re getting ahead of the game – focusing on new partnerships, strengthening interagency collaboration, and ensuring that the best science is available as we take on climate change in the years to come.

    Robert Bonnie is Under Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and the Environment

    Anne Castle is Assistant Secretary for Water & Science at the Department of the Interior

  • Nominate a White House Champion of Change: Veterans on the Front Lines of Advancing Clean Energy and Climate Security

    Ed. Note: This blog is cross-posted from the White House Champions of Change blog

    In answering our nation’s call to service, America’s veterans understand the challenges of energy availability and the threats of a changing climate on the safety and effectiveness of our troops and our national security. From the dangers and logistical challenges of transporting vital energy supplies to concerns of natural resource scarcity, these heroes have been on the front lines dealing with the security implications of a changing climate.

    Upon returning home from service, many veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have continued to serve, using their specialized skills and experiences to advance energy efficiency and renewable energy, make communities more resilient to the effects of climate change, and improve our nation’s energy security. In his Climate Action Plan, the President emphasized that failing to address climate change will threaten millions of people around the world and increase security risks. Improving preparedness and promoting energy independence helps strengthen national security and makes our troops and communities safer.

    In early October, which the President designated “Energy Action Month”, the White House will recognize “Champions of Change” – Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are leading communities to prepare for the impacts of climate change and transition to a clean energy economy. We need your help to identify these veterans and recognize their extraordinary efforts. Champions may be veterans who are:

    • Entrepreneurs working to implement technologies or techniques for clean energy, energy efficiency, or other new approaches to combat climate change
    • Professionals working to make military bases, cities, or other communities resilient to extreme weather or sea level rise
    • Businesspeople finding solutions that make communities energy independent and create jobs in clean energy

    Help us recognize veterans who are leading and educating their communities on solutions to combat climate change. Click here to nominate a Champion of Change today! After following the link, select "Veterans in Clean Energy and Climate Security" as your nomination category. Please submit nominations by 5:00 PM on Wednesday, September 4th. We look forward to hearing from you!

    Rohan Patel is the Associate Director for Public Engagement at the Council on Environmental Quality