Council on Environmental Quality Blog

  • 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

  • Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Montreal Protocol

    September 16th marked the 25th anniversary of the ratification of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, one of the world's greatest environmental protection success stories. The United States played a leading role during its negotiation in 1987 and, today, Americans continue to benefit from its impacts. By phasing out the production of chemicals that threatened the ozone layer, the Montreal Protocol today protects the health of billions of people across the world.

    In the 1970s, evidence began to surface that certain products we use every day, from aerosol spray cans to refrigerators, contained chemicals known as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that were depleting the Earth’s protective ozone layer and increasing the level of ultraviolet radiation reaching the Earth’s surface. Overexposure to ultraviolet radiation can cause serious health problems, including higher incidence of skin cancer, and negatively impact our environment by damaging crops and food sources.

    The United States was instrumental in crafting a solution to this risk. On September 16, 1987, twenty four nations, including the United States, signed the Montreal Protocol. Today, all 197 member nations of the United Nations have followed our lead, making it the most widely ratified international environmental agreement in history.

    The Montreal Protocol has been and continues to be a clear and resounding success. The United Nations estimates that global production of ozone-depleting substances has fallen 98% since ratification. As a result, the ozone layer is recovering, and experts project that it will return to its pre-1980 levels as early as 2060.

    When the world first grappled with the challenge of a diminishing ozone layer, few substitutes existed for ozone-depleting chemicals and many observers warned that tackling the problem would impose tremendous economic burdens. But global innovation, led by a number of American companies, proved them wrong. An unprecedented research and development effort has led to the rapid, widespread adoption of low-cost alternatives to harmful CFCs. Today, everyday products that once contained CFCs, from spray cans and computers to furniture and packing peanuts, are produced with ozone-friendly materials.

    These accomplishments have produced real benefits for Americans, preventing sicknesses and deaths, and saving us money on health care costs. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that every dollar invested in ozone protection provides $20 in health benefits here at home.

    The Montreal Protocol has also played a significant role in helping to address climate change. Many ozone-depleting substances are potent greenhouse gases. By dramatically reducing the production of these substances, the Montreal Protocol has so far averted the equivalent of 135 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide worldwide, according to United Nations estimates.

    In the 1970s and 1980s, there was widespread concern that the depletion of our ozone layer would have a long-lasting negative impact on our health and communities. Today, thanks to the United States’ leadership on important environmental issues, we are well on our way toward restoring the ozone layer, and its benefits. On the 25th anniversary of this agreement, it is important to recognize that the success of the Montreal Protocol is not only a cause of celebration, but also a model of how we can work together to build healthier, cleaner communities and spur innovation and economic growth.

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

  • 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