Council on Environmental Quality Blog

  • USDA Drought Code Sprint: Giving Americans One-Click Access to Federal Drought Relief

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted from the United States Department of Agriculture Blog.  Please note the deadline for submission has been extended to October 24.

    Americans across the country are feeling the impact of the most severe and extensive drought in the last 25 years. We’ve heard from people throughout the United States, asking how they can help. That’s why today we’re launching USDA’s first-ever Drought Code Sprint, a call to developers across the country to use publicly available government information to help farmers, ranchers, and others gain quick and reliable “one-click” access to information on drought conditions and Federal drought relief. Developers can submit their apps using this form by October 24. Some of the most innovative ones will be featured on USDA.gov.

    Crops are withering as a result of this historic drought and feed for livestock is growing ever more scarce and expensive. None of us is immune—these conditions are affecting over 50% of the country and almost 80% of our agricultural land. But our rural communities and family farmers and ranchers are on the front lines, and have been the first to feel the drought’s full effects. They are working hard to overcome these hardships, and the Federal Government has stepped up to help.

    Of course, apps can’t influence the weather or refill our reservoirs. But they can help farmers and ranchers become more easily aware of the kinds of assistance available to them, and they can simplify the process of taking advantage of these options so relief gets to the people who need it as efficiently as possible.

    Some tools we’d love to see include apps that provide “one-click” access to the nearest USDA service centers and available drought programs; county-level drought disaster designations and program eligibility; information on Federal assistance available based on location and sector; types of loans or refinance options available with a handy repayment calculator and eligibility requirements; drought maps; and localized weather outlooks. These are just a few of our ideas but we’re confident that you have even better ones—so get coding!

    To get started, check out these publicly available data sets in the Natural Hazards Data Community on Safety.Data.gov and on the USDA drought website:

    We encourage developers to use other freely available resources on safety.data.gov or the USDA website as well—including Agriculture Weather and Drought Outlook blog posts and Drought Assistance Programs and Information sites—and any other data resources that would be helpful to those affected by the drought.

    Here is a great opportunity to apply American ingenuity and technology to the cause of helping America’s farms. We look forward to seeing your ideas.

     Amanda Eamich is Director of Web Communications at the United States Department of Agriculture

    Brian Forde is Senior Advisor to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer at the Office of Science and Technology Policy

  • Federal Buildings Leading By Example

    I’m thinking of a Federal building.  It is the third oldest federal building in our Nation’s capital. It houses the Federal department in charge of promoting economic growth. And, thanks to a green retrofit, it saves American taxpayers $3.5 million every year. 

    It is the Treasury Building.  This LEED Gold project – the oldest building in the world to earn this designation – is a shining example of how green building is conserving energy, protecting the environment, and saving taxpayers money. There are now more than 800 LEED certified Federal Government projects, representing almost 100 million square feet of space.

    Over the last 18 years, our organization, the U.S. Green Building Council, has worked closely with stakeholders from the public and private sectors to help them deliver the economic and environmental benefits of green building. We have seen wonderful examples of pioneering government activity as well as the pursuit of new opportunities to scale and accelerate innovation for the benefit of the broader building industry.

    The Federal Government (including the military services) oversees approximately half a million buildings, and spends $7 billion a year in energy costs for those buildings. Clearly, improving energy and resource efficiency represents  an enormous opportunity to save taxpayers money and promote the uptake of cost-effective clean energy technologies and practices.

    We have seen tremendous progress to date.  Governments at all levels have chosen to lead by example when it comes to the construction, design and operation of their buildings.

  • Young Americans Building a Sustainable Future

    Today, I had the pleasure of meeting with the extraordinary winners of the Youth Sustainability Challenge.  We launched this challenge this spring to encourage young people from across the United States to tell the world what they’re doing in their communities to foster sustainability – and these winners rose to the occasion.  

    Our winners represent the innovation and talent of young Americans making a difference in communities across the Nation every day.  From college student organizations that create “Solar Streets” in their communities, to youth-directed community micro-grant programs that provide assistance to young people for conservation projects, the winners of the Challenge have all applied their skill, creativity, and energy to make their communities stronger and healthier.

    Youth Sustainability Challenge Winners

    Council on Environmental Quality Deputy Director Gary Guzy speaks during a panel discussion at the White House with representatives from the winning teams of the Youth Sustainability Challenge (White House Council on Environmental Quality)

    You can learn more about the innovative projects of our five winners by watching their short videos, which we featured at the“Rio+20” U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in June.  At the conference, we also sponsored a Forum on Youth Action to highlight the commitment and creativity of these young people and the millions like them across the United States and the globe. 

    To complement these events, today, the Challenge winners came to Washington, D.C. to meet with senior environmental policy-makers from the Administration, like EPA’s Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe. They discussed how young people can lead their campuses, schools, and hometowns in environmental initiatives.  They also met with youth engagement leaders from the White House and EPA, and learned more about programs like EPA’s EcoAmbassadors. 

    These remarkable young people have reminded me of the importance of harnessing the creativity and passion of America’s youth in facing the critical issues of our day.  Young people today have remarkable new tools and connective technologies at their fingertips to understand the world and others’ experiences, to generate and share solutions to sustainability challenges, and to inspire action. Here in Washington, we will continue to factor their insight and enthusiasm into our work.  As they return to their schools and communities, it is our hope that the dialogue we had here during their visit will serve as a foundation for fresh initiatives and innovative solutions to our shared global challenges.

    Gary Guzy is Deputy Director and General Counsel for the White House Council on Environmental Quality

  • What the New Fuel Economy Standards Mean for You

    When President Obama came into office, fuel efficiency standards for cars had not budged for two decades, and American consumers were losing out as a result.  Thanks to the newest fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards finalized this week, the Administration has now guaranteed steady improvements for our cars and light trucks from model year 2011 through 2025. 

    The Administration’s standards represent the single biggest step the U.S. has ever taken to reduce dependence on foreign oil and cut harmful carbon pollution, and they will save consumers more than $1.7 trillion at the gas pump.  They were supported by a diverse crowd of stakeholders – including 13 major auto companies that together represent more than 90 percent of U.S. sales, as well as the United Auto Workers, consumer groups, and environmental organizations.

    This action is clearly historic, but what will it mean for individual car buyers?  Because numbers like $1.7 trillion can be hard to grasp, here are answers to a few commonly asked questions about what the new fuel efficiency standards mean for Americans.

    1. What will the effect of the 54.5 mpg target be on drivers?

    An easy way to think about the effect of these standards is that average fuel efficiency of a car or light truck purchased in 2025 will be roughly double what these vehicles were required to achieve before 2011, when the Administration’s first round of new standards took effect.  So if you currently fill up at a gas station every week, you’ll only need to stop every two weeks.

    2. Will more efficient vehicles still be affordable?

    Yes.The incremental costs of technologies that improve vehicle efficiency are recouped several times over by savings at the gas pump. In fact, consumers purchasing a vehicle with a standard 5-year loan can expect to benefit from day one as fuel savings offset higher payments in the very first month of ownership.

    Another way to think about it: net savings (after accounting for any vehicle cost increase) for the owner of an average 2025 vehicle will be equivalent to a drop in fuel prices of $1 per gallon.

    3. Will I still have the option to choose a large car with these standards?

    Absolutely. The standards are designed to preserve consumer choice and allow you to choose the vehicle size that best meets your needs. Although we often talk about a 54.5 mpg-equivalent average for the industry, individual fuel economy and emissions requirements actually vary based on the size of a vehicle. A manufacturer’s fleet comprised of smaller cars must meet a higher mpg target than a fleet made up of larger vehicles, reflecting the different fuel economy capabilities of smaller and larger vehicles.

    The standards also do not require specific technologies, but instead allow automakers to meet their fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas targets however they choose. In fact, manufacturers are expecting to deliver the required savings with a wide range of vehicle technologies. While these include advanced vehicles – like natural gas, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, electric, and fuel cell vehicles – they also include very substantial improvements in gasoline and diesel vehicles, from advanced transmissions to highly efficient engines to improved aerodynamics. As a result, consumers will have many options to save on fuel.

    4. Do I have to wait until 2025 to save?

    There’s good news on that front too. The standards deliver steady year-after-year improvements (see chart above), and purchasers of new vehicles today are already saving at the pump as a result of the Obama Administration’s first round of car and truck standards. As we’re seeing in showrooms today, automakers are stepping up and selling some of the most fuel efficient and cleanest vehicles ever available.

    Drew McConville is Senior Advisor to the Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality

  • Helping Communities Diversify Their Energy Sources

    Across rural America, biomass like wood pellets and wood chips is helping communities diversify their energy sources, create jobs, and save money on utility bills. At the Forest Service, we are working to support biomass projects that help us manage wildfire threats, and also serve as economic engines for rural communities. Last week, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced grants of $4 million for renewable wood energy projects that will provide 20 small businesses, tribes and community groups with the technical engineering and design services they need to explore installing wood heat and electricity projects. 

    Woody-Biomass-to-Energy Projects

    A truck is filled with wood chips as part of the process of turning wood into energy (Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture)

    As a native of New Mexico, and a member of the Mescalero Apache Tribe, I was raised to appreciate the importance of natural resources and the responsibility we all have to care for our lands. This sense of stewardship has been further enhanced by my 27 years in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, as well as my prior experience as New Mexico State Forester, chair of the Council of Western State Foresters, and co-chair of the Western Forestry Leadership Coalition.  I understand that improving the condition of our forests will improve economic opportunities for our tribal and rural communities.

    The Forest Service is facing challenges associated with drought, wildfire, invasive species and unprecedented outbreaks of insects and disease. In 2012, the Forest Service estimated that between 65 and 82 million acres of national forests and grasslands are in urgent need of restoration -- more than four out of every 10 acres.

    Building relationships and longstanding partnerships with tribes, states, private landowners and other stakeholders will help us address the issues facing the landscapes shared by us all – what we call an “all-lands, all-hands” approach. Working collaboratively with our partners, the Forest Service has announced a schedule to boost restoration and thinning programs by 20 percent each year in areas that face the greatest danger of a catastrophic fire. If we can use some of the woody biomass byproducts of these treatments for heat and electricity, we can leverage this restoration even further.

    One of the grants we recently announced will go to Nulato, Alaska, to help the community design a wood-heating system to serve the local school and water plant.  This will reduce dependence on costly fuel oil and create local jobs in delivering the wood through local businesses. In Tahola, Washington, the Quinault Indian Nation will design a thermal woody-biomass-fired energy system to serve their community facilities. In Superior, Montana, a wood pellet boiler has the potential to lower energy costs at the Mineral County Hospital’s new critical care center.

    The grants build on President Obama’s strong record of supporting rural economies through the White House Rural Council. Established one year ago, the Rural Council has focused on maximizing the impact of federal investment to promote economic prosperity and improve the quality of life in rural communities. You can learn more about the Forest Service’s grant program and work to advance woody-biomass-to-energy projects here.

    Arthur “Butch” Blazer is Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment at the U.S. Department of Agriculture

  • Growing Our Economy Through the Great Outdoors

    It comes as no surprise that all living things require clean land, air and water. Does the U.S. economy require the same? A new report from the Outdoor Industry Association says, yes! According to the report, recreation in the United States supports 6.1 million jobs and drives $646 billion a year in direct consumer spending on recreational gear and travel. Even during these challenging economic times, the outdoor industry has been growing at a steady rate of 5 percent annually.

    President Obama has proposed a $450 million investment in the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) for fiscal year 2013. The LWCF is a critical tool for protecting our forests, parks, rivers, open space and local sports fields.  By using revenues from oil and gas drilling to invest in Federal, state and local conservation efforts, the LWCF has been used over the last 50 years to provide recreational opportunities in nearly every county in the Nation. Congress should follow the President’s lead by funding the LWCF, which will protect and enhance the local and state parks enjoyed by fly fishing enthusiasts around the country.

    At the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, we understand the importance of protecting our public lands and fostering the economic contributions of outdoor enthusiasts. Manufacturers and retailers of fly-fishing products are not looking for a handout. What we envision is our Nation’s leaders working together to protect the public lands where citizens can use our products and ensure future generations have the same opportunities to recreate as we do today.  We should all be able to agree that protecting the public’s access to the outdoors now and for future generations is not only common sense, but also the ideal job creator.

    Ben Bulis is the President of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association