Council on Environmental Quality Blog

  • 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

  • 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