Council on Environmental Quality Blog

  • 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.


  • Real Progress on Environmental Justice

    All Americans deserve to have clean air to breathe, safe water to drink, and healthy communities in which to raise their families. These things are an essential part of what it means to live in America.

    But too often, America’s low-income and minority communities bear the brunt of the nation’s pollution. That also means that these communities are disproportionately affected by the many serious – and costly – illnesses that are linked to pollution, and that they are less attractive to the businesses and investments that help create thriving neighborhoods. And unfortunately, these groups often have little say in the decision-making process that can fix these inequities.

    The Obama Administration is working to address these disparities. As part of an initiative led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), Americans across the country are benefiting from new approaches by Federal agencies to ensure healthy, thriving communities. 

    In new annual reports, agencies show the steps they  have taken to ensure they are meeting environmental justice goals, including engaging overburdened communities early and often in decision-making, integrating environmental justice into grant application processes and agency programs, and improving the tools and methods used to identify and address concerns. This work impacts areas ranging from education and labor to health services, housing, and more.  For example:

    • The Department of Veterans Affairs is helping to provide green jobs and workforce development opportunities for veterans in low-income communities.
    • The Department of Labor is now translating educational materials and hazard alerts into Spanish, Chinese, and Vietnamese for non-English speaking workers.
    • The Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is using Health Impact Assessments to proactively address the potential impacts a policy or project may have on overburdened populations’ health.
    • The Department of Education awarded $35 million in Promise Neighborhoods grants to create safe and healthy spaces for children and improve the educational and developmental outcomes of youth in distressed neighborhoods. 
    • The Department of the Interior, building on the America’s Great Outdoors Presidential Initiative, is studying the Federal Government’s urban assets and developing ways to promote work opportunities on public lands in urban areas.
    • The Department of Agriculture worked with American Indian, Native Alaskan, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities and intertribal organizations to meet information needs for protecting their communities from the impacts of climate change, including working with individual tribes on place-based responses to climate change that serve as models for future efforts. 

    Moreover, inter-agency collaboration is setting the foundation for even more progress. The Administration has reinvigorated the Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice, and hosted the first-ever White House Forum on Environmental Justice to engage stakeholders from across the country. In addition, Federal agencies, working together, have released an Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Asthma Disparities and helped communities nationwide improve access to affordable housing, provide more transportation options, lower transportation costs, and reduce pollution through the Partnership for Sustainable Communities.

    We are making great progress, but there is still much work to do. Across the Federal Government, we are committed to better serving communities burdened by harmful pollution, engaging these communities as we work to address environmental issues, and ensuring environmental justice is part of Federal decision-making for the benefit of all Americans. 

    Nancy Sutley is Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality
    Bob Perciasepe is the Acting Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

  • Why We Can’t Afford Arbitrary Budget Cuts for the Public Lands and Waters that Fuel Our Economy

    As CEO of Confluence Watersports, one of the largest manufacturers of kayaks, canoes, and watersports accessories, I naturally value the accessibility of our country’s public lands and waterways – not just for the quality of life they provide or our environmental legacy, but also for the 425 people we employ in South Carolina, about 75 percent of whom work in manufacturing.

    Over the last 5 years, our business has experienced consistent growth, enabling us to expand our workforce and invest in our future.  We recently moved into a new 300,000-square-foot facility, and have committed to investing up to $12 million in capital expenditures over the next few years.  But to thrive as a U. S. manufacturer in this industry, our customers need access to quality on-water experiences.  My business, employees, and community depend on it.  In fact, the entire U.S. economy depends on quality outdoor recreation experiences.

    Outdoor recreation is a huge driver of the U.S. economy.  According to a report published by the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) last year, the outdoor recreation industry supports 6.1 million jobs across the United States, and generates $646 billion in direct spending and $79 billion in tax revenue annually.  The OIA recently released figures tallying the state-by-state impacts of outdoor recreation, including direct spending, jobs, salaries, and tax revenue.

    This week, I joined several outdoor industry colleagues at the White House for a Roundtable on the Outdoor Recreation Economy with officials from the Council on Environmental Quality, National Economic Council, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, and Interior.  Our focus was the economic benefit of getting more Americans outside.  It was a great dialogue among diverse agencies that realize the importance of outdoor recreation for our economy and for our citizens.

    The Administration has demonstrated that it understands the significant connection between outdoor recreation, a healthy economy, and a healthy country.  President Obama’s signature recreation and conservation initiative, America’s Great Outdoors (AGO), has led to unprecedented interagency collaboration.  Thanks to AGO, agencies are effectively working with one another and with local communities to reconnect Americans with the outdoors by creating, expanding, and enhancing access to our country’s amazing network of public lands and waters.

    Our country’s remote wilderness, national and local parks, wild rivers and scenic waterways, hiking trails, and bicycle paths span the country and provide places where Americans can seek nature and recreate outdoors.  These places will continue to create jobs and drive the economy if our elected leaders choose to manage and invest in this national outdoor recreation system.

    The national outdoor recreation system intersects with several agencies that will face automatic budget cuts if Friday’s sequester is not averted.  It is important that lawmakers do all they can to ensure that the agencies that manage our recreational assets are not subject to these arbitrary cuts.

    We know the folks we met with this week understand the economic benefits of the national outdoor recreation system.  We look forward to helping them support the recreation economy, and we hope that Congress begins to recognize fully what it means for this country to get outside.  After all, I think most Americans can agree that it is important to promote healthy, happy citizens and a legacy of public lands that future generations have the right to enjoy.  And, I think that all Americans agree that preserving and creating U.S. jobs is a national priority.

    Sue Rechner is the CEO of Confluence Watersports

  • Leading the Effort to Cut Energy Waste

    Today at the White House, CEQ hosted a GreenGov Dialogue on Demand Response that brought together leaders from government, the private sector, non-profits and academia to identify opportunities to reduce our peak energy demand, promote a more stable electric grid, and help the Federal Government save energy and money in its operations. This important initiative is in line with the goal laid out by the President in his State of the Union Address: to cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next 20 years.  The event showcased how the Federal Government is leading by example by setting aggressive energy targets, reducing its carbon pollution, and leveraging Federal purchasing power to curb waste and deliver the best value for the American taxpayer. 

    The event also highlighted other innovations and actions needed to cost-effectively reduce the nation’s peak demand for energy—a strategy that reduces the need to construct new sources of electricity generation.  In particular, leaders discussed the important role that state and local governments play in enabling the nation’s tremendous demand response potential, a role recognized in the National Action Plan on Demand Response.  

    The event kicked off with remarks from White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley, who stressed the themes laid out by President Obama in his State of the Union Address, followed by Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy John Holdren, who announced that the cabinet-level National Science and Technology Council released a progress report outlining the Administration’s most recent achievements in electric grid modernization. The event featured additional keynote speakers including Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff, Commissioner of the Public Buildings Service at the U.S. General Services Administration Dorothy Robyn, Assistant Secretary for the Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability Patricia Hoffman, and Acting Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Installations and Environment John Conger.

    GreenGov Dialogues – such as this one encouraging a conversation on broader use of demand response technology – build on progress made at Federal sustainability events such as the annual GreenGov Symposium, and continue the momentum of Federal agencies' efforts under the Executive Order on Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance. 

    Here is what others are saying about why taking advantage of demand response technology makes sense for Federal agencies and for the private sector:

    Jon Wellinghoff, Chair, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
    "Demand response is a substantial and reliable resource in wholesale electric markets throughout this country. Demand response lowers greenhouse gas emissions, improves the resilience of our nation's power grid and provides cost-savings to consumers. As the largest electricity consumer in the United States, the Federal Government has both a budgetary and environmental responsibility to maximize its participation by federal facilities in the delivery of demand response products to electric energy markets.”

    Terry Boston, CEO, PJM Interconnection
    “Increasingly, PJM is seeing demand response and energy efficiency becoming more competitive with traditional power supply resources.  Our capacity auction last year procured a record 14,800 megawatts of demand response, a seven-fold increase over the past five years and more than 900 megawatts of energy efficiency.”

    Thurman Thomas, Founder and President, Legends Energy Group
    “The Demand Response industry is an example of entrepreneurial activity in the Green Economy. In an industry that did not exist ten years ago, demand response has now provided 200 well-paying jobs and continues to grow in a rust belt town like Buffalo.”

    Sonal Kemkar is Senior Program Manager in the Office of the Federal Environmental Executive at the White House Council on Environmental Quality

  • Taking Action for a Stronger, Smarter, Cleaner Electric Grid

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

    Today, the Obama Administration’s National Science and Technology Council released A Policy Framework for the 21st Century Grid: A Progress Report—an update highlighting the Administration’s most recent achievements to make the Nation’s electric grid stronger, smarter, and cleaner than ever before.

    In his State of the Union address this month, President Obama recognized that “no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy.” As part of his plan to grow the economy and create middle class jobs, the President called for continued investment in infrastructure, including “self-healing power grids.” In the same address, he also warned against ignoring the “overwhelming judgment of science” that the threat of climate change is real and demands attention. These two calls to action—each independently important to our country’s future—intersect at the Nation’s electric system.

    To date, the Obama Administration has taken a number of important steps to help the Nation prevent and recover quickly from power outages, including by working closely with industry partners to upgrade the electric system with “smart grid” technologies that can detect and prevent outages, improve system efficiency, and better integrate clean energy sources. While we’ve come a long way, recent extreme weather events have reinforced the reality that our work is not done. Many Americans suffered power loss during the spate of strong storms, droughts, and record high temperatures of the past year—all of which, to varying degrees, threatened the operation of the Nation’s electric grid. We can do better.

    Investing to modernize the grid is a common sense approach to enhance energy reliability for consumers, improve security of critical infrastructure, and speed the Nation’s transition to a clean-energy economy. That’s why, in the past year-and-a-half, the Administration has ramped up efforts to build a smart 21st century grid. Since June 2011—in partnership with utilities, communities, and local governments across the country—the Obama Administration has taken concrete steps to:

    • Incorporate New Technology into the Grid. Nearly 13 million smart meters, 5,000 automated distribution circuits, and several hundred advanced grid sensors have been integrated into the Nation’s electric system under the Recovery Act to improve system efficiency and reliability by diagnosing, pinpointing, and solving problems before they disrupt business operations or household activities.
    • Support Grid Modernization in Rural America. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utility Service met its goal of delivering more than $250 million in loans for smart grid technology deployment to rural areas—a step that will help catalyze economic development in those regions.
    • Train an Advanced Workforce for an Advanced Grid. Under the Recovery Act, smart grid workforce training awards comprising nearly $100 million across 50 projects are creating training opportunities to produce the skilled professionals needed to operate a modernized grid. These grants have benefited military veterans by helping them connect to well-paying civilian opportunities. To date, $46.2 million has been distributed.
    • Improve Opportunities for Customers to Save Money. The Green Button initiative, launched in January 2012, has already provided new and improved energy-use monitoring tools to more than 16 million homes and businesses. In the coming year or so, the program is on track to reach another 20 million homes and businesses, with the aim of helping consumers make better-informed energy decisions and save on their bills.
    • Keep the Grid Secure from Cyber and Physical Disruption. The President recently signed an Executive Order to strengthen the cybersecurity of critical infrastructure industries, including the electric power sector. New tools such as the Electric Sector Cybersecurity Capability Maturity Model are being developed for utilities to enhance the protection of critical infrastructure from cybersecurity threats. Other efforts such as the Recovery Transformer program aim to drastically reduce the time needed to recover from downed extra-high-voltage transformers and other physical assets.

    Going forward, the Administration will continue to look for new ways to work with the electric sector and state governments to modernize grid infrastructure, facilitate development of new tools to support a clean and efficient energy economy, empower customers to make smart energy decisions, foster new areas for innovation, and protect our critical infrastructure from threats.

    Continuing our work toward a stronger, smarter, cleaner electric system will benefit American families and communities, and ensure our Nation remains competitive and innovative in a 21st century economy.

    Read the full Progress Report here.

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

    Rick Duke is Associate Director for Energy and Climate Change at the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Domestic Policy Council

  • GreenGov Spotlight Communities: Leading by Example

    As I meet with my Federal colleagues in places like Lakewood, Colorado and San Antonio, Texas, I am often inspired by how individuals have taken to heart President Obama’s challenge for us to lead by example in energy and sustainability within Federal operations.  Over the course of the President’s first term, Federal employees across the country have found creative ways to help us cut costs, reduce our carbon emissions, increase the use of renewable energy, manage our fleet of Federal vehicles, conserve water, and achieve other ambitious goals set by the Administration. 

    In many regions, Federal employees are finding innovative ways to overcome bureaucratic barriers and promote cooperation between Federal agencies and local communities to achieve shared goals.  Their efforts are making the Federal Government more efficient, a better member of the local community, and saving taxpayer dollars.  

    To connect these local efforts with the broad goals in the President’s Executive Order on Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy and Economic Performance, we have selected six teams to follow throughout the year to see what they can accomplish when they work together.   These teams include multiple Federal agencies as well as non-profits, local utilities, and private companies.  We are calling them the GreenGov Spotlight Communities.  Some of the teams have been working together for years and have a few energy and sustainability projects under their belts.  Other teams are just getting started on new projects that have great potential. 

    Located all over the country, these Spotlight Communities can help other Federal communities by sharing their lessons learned and breaking down barriers to sharing resources among different Federal agencies.  

    Here is a short overview of our GreenGov Spotlight Communities.  We look forward to learning from them, and from the many Federal communities that are finding innovative ways to work smarter and better for Americans.

    • Car Sharing - Chicago, IL: Peace Corps, General Service Administration (GSA), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will create a roadmap to vehicle sharing with other agencies.  There are many opportunities to analyze changes to fleet management through a strategic interagency motor pool, commercial car sharing, and alternative transit benefit options.  In the next year, this pilot project will produce quantifiable results that will provide best practices for other small-to-medium sized agencies looking for flexible fleet solutions.  The pilot aims to show how interagency partnerships can reduce an organization’s carbon emissions, save money, and positively impact employee satisfaction. 
    • Federal Aggregated Solar Procurement Pilot - Greater Northern CA: EPA, GSA, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Energy - Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP), and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are working on a joint procurement of renewable energy.  The project in Northern California will bring together multiple Federal agencies and one private company to demonstrate that combined procurement offers economies of scale, resulting in lower electricity bills for individual sites and promoting use of renewable energy in the Federal Government. 
    • Federal Bike to Work Month Challenges - Portland, Seattle, Boise, Anchorage, and East Coast Cities: The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, EPA, and non-Federal stakeholders, including Cascade Bicycle Club in Seattle, Washington and Bicycle Transportation in Portland, Oregon, are seeking to spread the success of their 2012 Northwest Federal Challenge as part of National Bike to Work Month.  During last year’s inaugural challenge, 522 Federal riders from more than 20 agencies, two government branches, and four states logged 65,274 miles commuting to work and back, saving almost 64,000 lbs. of carbon emissions and burning three million calories.  In 2013, this program will work with other Federal employees in other cities across the country interested in helping to expand the challenge and share their toolkits.  
    • Comparing Non-Traditional Water Treatment Cooling Towers – Lakewood, CO: GSA, DOE, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory will analyze and implement several non-chemical cooling tower water treatment systems that have the potential to reduce GSA building operation costs and building energy bills through improved chiller efficiency.  Cooling towers exist in many government buildings, consume large amounts of potable water, and contribute greatly to annual operation costs related to utilities and maintenance.  GSA will use the results of these initial studies to determine how they can help Federal buildings nationwide conserve energy and water, and save money. 
    • National Capital Region Climate Risks Preparation and Adaptation Pilot – Washington, DC: GSA, EPA, Internal Revenue Service (IRS), National Capital Planning Commission, U.S. Global Change Research Program, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the District of Columbia Government will evaluate the risks posed by the impacts of climate change – for example, increased or more severe extreme weather events – to the IRS's Washington D.C. building. The team will help establish priorities for creating a preparation and adaptation plan for the IRS building and surrounding areas to protect programs and infrastructure. The plan could be adaptable to many Federal buildings in the National Capital Region.
    • Seattle Federal Executive Board’s Business Case for Sustainability - Seattle, WA: The Seattle Federal Executive Board (SFEB) officers who represent the participating Seattle Area Federal Community and their respective agencies (Social Security Administration, GSA, and Department of Commerce as well as the SFEB Executive Leadership Council that represents an additional 18 Federal agencies) will work to build the business case for shared sustainability efforts across the Federal Government.  In 2013, the Board and supporting agencies will: develop a story submittal form to make it easier for agencies to contribute business cases; aggregate regional financial impact based on stories submitted, agency participation, consolidated savings, and other data; determine best methods to publicize successes; and encourage non-participating Federal communities in the region to contribute. This effort will demonstrate how FEBs can play an integral role in coordinating regionally located Federal entities that are working towards shared Executive Order goals.

    Jon Powers is the Federal Environmental Executive at the White House Council on Environmental Quality