Council on Environmental Quality Blog

  • Building the Future: Innovative Water Infrastructure

    Today, more than 80 percent of Americans live, work, and raise their families in urban areas.  At the same time, much of our infrastructure, including our water infrastructure, is decades old and in need of costly repairs.  As former city officials, we appreciate how important it is for the Federal government to be a good partner, and that means making it easier for cities and towns to pursue the policies that make sense for their communities.

    This Administration has made smart infrastructure investment a priority, both to create jobs and to build a strong future for our cities. A lot of important work is also done at the local level, where decisions are made about building codes, local transportation options, and whether to invest in sustainable infrastructure.  Communities value clean water, and a safe, healthy environment. So today, many cities are looking for more innovative, cost-effective approaches to managing their polluted storm water. Replacing concrete with porous pavement, employing green roofs and rain barrels, restoring creeks and wetlands, and increasing tree cover can help cities absorb rain water rather than funnel it to sewer systems. This kind of green infrastructure can also help beautify communities, make them more attractive to businesses and investors, and help them better withstand extreme weather.  These projects are often much less expensive and less disruptive than building bigger or newer concrete storm water systems – something everyone can appreciate in a time of constrained resources. 

    Cities of all sizes offer living proof.  Green infrastructure is helping to manage polluted stormwater and sewer overflows and providing a range of benefits in cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, Portland, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Syracuse, Seattle and Lancaster, PA.  We’ve gathered input from city managers, mayors, and policy experts about how the Administration can be helpful in this effort, including at a White House Conference on Green Stormwater Infrastructure in September.  Now, we’re bringing federal agencies together to align their resources to make it easier for municipalities to build and invest in green infrastructure.  

    Federal agencies have a range of programs that are providing support to projects across the country.  We’re going to start by encouraging and facilitating greater use of existing programs at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Forest Service, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. We’re also going to support efforts to leverage federal funding programs, green infrastructure set-asides, and other resources to mobilize private financing.  At the same time, EPA is making updates that will allow cities greater flexibility to take advantage of creative financing options for storm water infrastructure, including private funding. 

    Private organizations also are seeing the potential of green infrastructure.  For example, today the Rockefeller Foundation announced it will provide seed money for a new RE.invest initiative, a public-private partnership that will help selected cities to leverage private financing for sustainable storm water and sewer systems.  This program will provide local governments an innovative model for working with the private sector to broaden green infrastructure options.  These kinds of partnerships are an encouraging step to support clean and healthy cities, and save taxpayer dollars. 

    We understand the challenges cities face in meeting the needs of their residents day in and day out.  The Administration is committed to working across federal agencies, with states, cities, counties, towns and private sector and non-profit partners, to promote healthy and prosperous communities and help make sustainable, resilient green infrastructure options more accessible across the Nation.

    Nancy Sutley is Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality
    David Agnew is Director of Intergovernmental Affairs

  • From Sea to Shining Sea, and Everything in Between

    If you ask someone to describe their favorite outdoor activity, you will get dozens of answers. And the best part is that no matter the answer, you are able to find a place to do it right here in America.

    America is blessed with an amazing network of public and private lands and waters—from remote wilderness areas and local parks, to wild rivers and reservoirs, to hiking trails, bicycle paths, forests, and coastlines. Together, these places are the fabric of our nation’s outdoor recreation system that supports a $646 billion recreation economy, a quality of life that sustains local communities, and an industry that supports more than 6.1 million American jobs.

    America's Great Outdoors

    Gallatin National Forest, a popular recreation area in Montana's Northern Rockies (Photo Credit: Colin McWilliam, U.S. Forest Service)

    It is as a businessman in the outdoor recreation industry and an outdoor enthusiast that I applaud the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative (AGO). In April 2010, the President charged his cabinet “with developing a 21st century conservation agenda.” Just this week, the Administration released the America’s Great Outdoors 2012 Progress Report, highlighting five core components:

    • Connecting Americans to the Great Outdoors
    • Expanding Access to the Great Outdoors
    • Establishing Great Urban Parks and Community Green Spaces
    • Conserving and Restoring Large Landscapes and Working Lands
    • Enhancing Rivers and Other Waters

    Why does AGO matter? Well, AGO directly addresses how Americans connect and access our nation’s public lands. As it exists today, the management and funding of our nation’s public lands and waters fall under a myriad of different local, state, and federal jurisdictions and agencies. The complexity of our current system demands better communications across agencies and a holistic approach to the challenges and needs facing our public lands.  Achieving this is at the heart of AGO.

    America’s Great Outdoors is about both the outdoor recreation economy and the legacy that we will leave for future generations. Our choices today honor the foresight of our nation’s earliest leaders to protect and preserve our country’s lands and waters. But more importantly, when people go outside, they directly experience this legacy in every park, trail, river, and coastline found in our great country.

    The outdoor industry already taps into this legacy to create a healthier, happier, and economically vibrant America. I am glad to know that President Obama is working to do the same.

    Will Manzer is CEO of Eastern Mountain Sports and Chair of the Outdoor Industry Association Board of Directors

  • Energy Datapalooza: Unleashing the Power of Open Data to Advance our Energy Future

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

    Imagine it is a scorching hot summer day, and your smart phone beeps, asking if you’d like it to raise your home thermostat a degree or two to save money. Or, envision an easy-to-use software package that lets a building owner perform virtual energy audits at a fraction of the cost of in-person audits, so real savings are calculated instantly, building upgrades launched sooner, and construction jobs created faster.

    These are the kinds of advances that are on display today at the White House as more than 150 of America’s entrepreneurs, software developers, energy experts, and policy makers come together for an Energy Datapalooza. The gathering is a chance to celebrate new products, services, and apps that are advancing a secure, clean energy future—all built with freely available data from the government and other sources.

    The event includes demonstrations of mobile apps and web-based services that are available to families and businesses today, as well as previews of future inventions. In addition, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu will honor the winners of the Department of Energy’s inaugural “Apps for Energy” challenge, whose inventions include innovative applications such as: Leafully, which uses creative comparisons to help consumers understand how their actions impact the world and their wallet; Melon Power, which helps building owners easily calculate their Energy Star score; and VELOBill, which makes it easy to visualize energy usage data, compare it to peers, and make a plan to save energy.

    The day includes several exciting announcements. The Energy Department is launching a new “Vehicles Data Challenge” aimed at spurring technologies that can increase fuel efficiency and protect against distracted driving. And utilities and software companies are announcing the launch of “Green Button Connect My Data” in California and the Mid-Atlantic. Green Button Connect My Data enables energy customers to securely and automatically transfer their own energy data to authorized third parties, if they choose to do so. It builds on previous commitments under the Green Button Initiative to help consumers download their own energy data to their desktops.

    The Energy Datapalooza will demonstrate how private-sector entrepreneurs are creating jobs and helping Americans save money, using open data as their fuel. To keep the momentum going, the Energy Department is announcing the release of 20 new datasets, three new application programing interfaces to make data easily accessible by software developers, and hundreds of qualified data links in the Energy.Data.Gov community.

    For a full list of announcements from the Energy Datapalooza, please see this fact sheet.

    Steven Chu is U.S. Secretary of Energy, Todd Park is U.S. Chief Technology Officer, and Nancy Sutley is Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality.

  • GreenGov 2012: Leading by Example

    On September 24-26, 2012, the third annual GreenGov Symposium will convene leaders in the public and private sectors here in Washington, DC for a focused dialogue on energy and environmental sustainability in the Federal Government.  The Symposium, co-hosted by the Council on Environmental Quality and the Association of Climate Change Officers (ACCO), is two days of nearly 60 informative sessions, including panel discussions with leading experts, best practice case studies, and 101-education sessions. We will be wrapping up the third day with a series of workshops, roundtable discussions, and training opportunities.

    One of the exciting features of this year’s Symposium is the option to watch a live web stream of some of our most innovative sessions.  This means that our keynote sessions, as well as at least one session from each of the tracks will be available online in real time for anyone who cannot attend GreenGov.  Another great feature of this year’s Symposium is a new session track – Public-Private Partnerships and Third Party Financing.  Financing might not be the first thing that comes to mind when talking about energy and sustainability, but it is an incredibly important part of our progress and our future capacity when it comes to saving energy and money in the Federal Government.  Innovative financing ideas and partnerships can help us reap the benefits of capital-intensive projects, such as energy retrofits, without the need to provide the upfront capital required for construction.  

    Alternative financing is just one area where the Federal government is leading by example when it comes to finding innovative solutions to our energy and sustainability challenges.   We are looking forward to having more than 1,000 attendees at the Symposium this year as we continue to grow the community that is leading by example on energy and environmental sustainability.  I hope that if you can’t make it to DC for GreenGov, you’ll be sure to tune in online.

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

  • Chimney Rock Becomes Our Newest National Monument

    Today, President Obama designated spectacular Chimney Rock in southwest Colorado as our nation’s newest national monument, an historic step honoring a place rich in beauty, history and Native American culture.

    With the strong support of the people of Colorado, from the congressional delegation to Governor Hickenlooper to the Native American community and local residents, President Obama has ensured this extraordinary national treasure will be protected for generations to come

    Chimney Rock at Moonrise

    Chimney Rock, designated a national monument on Sept. 21, 2012, was home to the Ancestral Pueblo People about 1,000 years ago and is culturally significant for Native American tribes. The dramatic Great House Pueblo was likely was used as an observatory for the annual summer solstice. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture)

    A thousand years ago, Chimney Rock was home to Ancestral Pueblo People who built more than 200 homes and ceremonial buildings high above the valley floor. Many of the structures remain today, and are designed to perfectly align with lunar events such as seasonal solstices and equinoxes, drawing visitors from across the world. 

    Beyond protecting this special place, this designation also ensures Chimney Rock will be a source of economic opportunity in Colorado, attracting new business and tourism. According to a study commissioned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the national monument designation is expected to double economic activity from tourism in the area over the next five years. Outdoor places like Chimney Rock provide us with opportunities for rest and respite, with a link to our Nation’s proud outdoor traditions and culture, and with jobs and economic opportunities across the country.  In fact, outdoor recreation alone contributes an estimated $650 billion a year to our economy, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

  • Delivering Energy Savings to Taxpayers

    It is no secret Americans everywhere are looking for more ways to save. From electricity bills to gas pumps, families and businesses are turning over more stones to save on their energy use. 

    The Federal Government is no different. As the nation’s top energy consumer, there is great potential to deliver energy savings to taxpayers. Thankfully, there is a giant opportunity right in front of us: Commissioning.

    As with ships, commissioning for new buildings is meant to assure that systems are properly installed and operate within specifications. Commissioning identifies and corrects such errors as fans installed backwards or wired to stay “always-on,” faulty equipment, and improperly programmed building energy systems. Properly done, commissioning includes training so building staff can provide high performance operation.

    However, over time, building performance tends to drift. Building use can change, equipment can be altered, and new staff are not always fully trained.  Equipment may no longer operate within specifications; leaks may go unrepaired.  The result is that energy performance suffers, along with occupant comfort.  This can drive up energy costs and our bills. Without a quality-assurance process, problems may go unfixed for years and even decades.

    Recommissioning (or retrocommissioning for a building not previously commissioned) can be thought of as a “tune-up” to restore and enhance building performance. Commissioning agents work with building operators to do this. Good recommissioning includes training so operators can keep buildings operating optimally long after the process.

    And the savings offered are impressive. A Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study of 643 buildings across 26 states found that commissioning led to median energy savings of 16 percent in existing buildings and 13 percent in new construction.

    Most of this vast potential remains untapped – but change is coming. California and New York City both recently began including commissioning as part of their strategies to advance building efficiency, and the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 established commissioning as part of its Federal energy management goals and requirements.                                                                                                                                         

    As the operator of more than 500,000 buildings covering 3.1 billion square feet, the Federal Government is leading by example here. But they cannot do it alone. Add in 5 million commercial buildings totaling 72 billion square feet and commissioning becomes a prime opportunity for business and government to come together to help Americans save money and power the economy forward.

    Commissioning and other innovative ideas will be discussed at the upcoming 2012 GreenGov Symposium, which will focus on sharing ways to create jobs and save taxpayers money by making the Federal Government more sustainable and energy efficient.   

    Kateri Callahan is President of the Alliance to Save Energy