Council on Environmental Quality Blog

  • Thinking Big: A Landscape-Level Approach to Conservation

    This week, I joined Federal colleagues and other conservation leaders at the National Workshop on Large Landscape Conservation to talk about how the Obama Administration is thinking and planning at a landscape-level when it comes to conservation and natural resource management.

    Our Nation’s conservation challenges are numerous, and they’re too big for any agency, government, NGO, or landowner to handle alone. For example, climate change is putting many of our vital natural resources at risk. Droughts are getting longer and dryer in some parts of the country, and wildfires are causing more devastation than ever before. And some of our most important watersheds are impacted by heavy pollution, threatening local economies throughout the country. We’re also seeing a growing list of imperiled wildlife species, and development of all kinds – from housing to energy to commercial – is encroaching on our outdoor spaces.

    Responding to these challenges involves working across jurisdictions and with all partners, because Mother Nature pays no attention to political or bureaucratic boundaries. That means Federal agencies, tribes, state and local governments, and other stakeholders all have to come to the table and work together. It is this approach – considering all lands and listening to all voices – that best defines landscape-level conservation.

    This is the approach the Obama Administration has been taking from the beginning, whether it’s responding to wildfires, making lands more resilient to climate change, or restoring rivers and lakes. In priority areas like preparing for and responding to climate change, protecting and restoring our water resources, and improving land management for multiple uses, we’ve made important progress over the past five and a half years.

    Just last month, we released the Climate and Natural Resources Priority Agenda along with a series of public and private sector commitments to support it. The Priority Agenda represents a commitment to manage natural resources in a way that optimizes carbon storage and sequestration, and enhances community preparedness through smart and safe natural infrastructure solution.

    We’ve also dedicated unprecedented attention and resources to restoring places like the Chesapeake Bay, California Bay-Delta, Great Lakes, Gulf of Mexico, and the Everglades – each of them national treasures and the lifeblood of local and regional economies. In the Everglades, for example, landscape-scale partnerships have brought together Federal, state, tribal, and private interests to address issues like habitat fragmentation, wildlife protection, and the continued productivity of America’s farms, ranches, forests, and coasts.

    In this Administration, we have made managing for multiple uses a principal tenet of our approach to public lands. Taking an integrated approach to planning and land management is quite simply the only way to meet increasing demands for our natural resources without increasing conflict. The Department of the Interior’s “smart from the start” approach to renewable energy production provides an excellent blueprint for how good planning can prevent conflict. And in our efforts to rebuild and protect populations of endangered wildlife species, enlisting states and private landowners as partners and ensuring consistency and predictability across entire ecosystems is helping build a process that is less contentious and ultimately better for landowners and wildlife.

    There are many other ways we can pursue a landscape-level approach to land management. But in order to get Americans truly invested in conservation and landscape-level thinking, we need to do everything we can to ensure they can connect with treasured outdoor spaces in their communities. That’s been a hallmark of this Administration, and that’s why, this month, the President created the San Gabriel National Mountains National Monument in Los Angeles County, his 13th national monument designation. And the President made clear that he wasn’t doing this to lock away those gorgeous mountains; instead, he was protecting such a beautiful landscape to unlock it “to make sure everybody can experience these incredible gifts.”

    We still have more work to do, and we are committed to continuing our progress. Landscape conservation may never drive news headlines, but if we think bigger and work collaboratively, Americans and our natural systems will benefit from it for years to come.

    Mike Boots leads the White House Council on Environmental Quality. 

  • Good News for the Bees: Supporting Pollinators at Federal Facilities

    Tucked against Washington D.C.’s 9th street expressway, the Smithsonian Butterfly Habitat Garden at the National Museum of Natural History offers an extraordinary space. This enchanting walkway provides people with peaceful, natural refuge from the hustle and bustle of the nation’s capital while also serving as a much needed habitat for the city’s local pollinators. This small but impactful gem mirrors the principles behind President Obama’s June 2014 memorandum, Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, which directs Federal agencies to take steps to protect and restore domestic populations of pollinators.

    It’s clear the pollinators are in need of this kind of protection. Threatened by loss of habitat and quality food sources, as well as the improper use of pesticides and herbicides, populations of honey bees, native bees, birds, bats, and butterflies have been declining over the past few decades. Managed honey bee colonies, for example, have declined steadily over the past 60 years, from 6 million in 1947 to just 2.5 million today. These losses are a huge threat to global food production and the economy. Honey bees enable the production of at least 90 commercially grown crops in North America, and pollinators contribute more than $24 billion to the U.S. economy each year.

    CEQ 10.22 White House Pollinator Garden

    White House Pollinator Garden located on the South Lawn. Photo courtesy of CEQ.

    That’s why the President believes the Federal Government should lead by example in expanding the acreage and quality of pollinator habitat. Today, as called for in the Presidential Memorandum, we are releasing revised guidance on Sustainable Designed Landscapes to help Federal agencies incorporate pollinator friendly practices in new construction, building renovations, landscaping improvements, and in facility leasing agreements at Federal facilities and on Federal lands. Facility managers can use the updated guidance to actively examine their current buildings, grounds, and practices for opportunities to transition to a richer diversity of pollinator-friendly plant species.

    By integrating pollinator-friendly strategies into everyday design, operations, and maintenance activities, Federal agencies can have a big impact. Every day, agency managers make routine decisions that could affect pollinator populations. The easy-to-use guide will help ensure the best possible decisions are made, supporting pollinator health and habitat on millions of acres of Federal land. Additionally, the guide will serve as a valuable resource for further research on pollinators and the plant species that support them.

    The new guidance isn’t the only good news for pollinators today. The General Services Administration announced today its own guidelines for facility design, construction, and management to better protect pollinators. And this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is hosting the 14th Annual North American Pollinator Protection Campaign International Conference.

    With the new guidance, Federal agencies can start taking the steps necessary to protect and restore pollinator populations now. Places like the Butterfly Habitat Garden - and even the South Lawn of the White House – provide models for implementation across the nation.

    View the revised guidance here.

    Kate Brandt is the Federal Environmental Executive at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.



  • Helping the next generation discover the San Gabriels

    Editor's Note: This blog introduces readers to Brenda Kyle, a docent at Eaton Canyon. 

    "We heard from the community that for a lot of urban families this is their only big, outdoor space. And too many children in L.A. County, especially children of color, don't have access to parks where they can run free and breathe fresh air, experience nature, and learn about their own environment. And that was Brenda Kyle's experience...for Brenda, for the entire community, this is an issue of social justice. Because it's not enough to have this awesome natural wonder within your sight -– you have to be able to access it." -President Obama, October 10, 2014

    San Gabriel Mountains Infographic 4

    Today, I can assure my nephews that there are no tigers in the San Gabriel Mountains, information that’s helped make me a popular auntie. But I wasn’t always so well-informed. I grew up in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. The main street running through our town paralleled the San Gabriel range, with all northbound streets leading up to the steep mountain sides. As an adult, I noticed the mountains from the stands at a Dodger game and sometimes even used them to navigate. But I had never visited them.

    It wasn’t until I was looking for something inexpensive to do with my daughter that I heard about guided nature walks for families in Eaton Canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains. Turns out, these national public lands are teeming with wildlife (but, to my nephews’ relief, no scary tigers!), cultural history, breathtaking scenery, and gifts of clean air and drinking water. I was an instant convert. Soon after, I became a part-time docent, leading regular hikes for families and offering eye-opening experiences to local young people.

    The more walks I led the more I realized that, even though the San Gabriel Mountains can be seen from almost any point in Southern California, they are often unknown to residents.  Worse yet, that lack of awareness can manifest as neglect. Trash fills the waterways that provide a third of the drinking water for Los Angeles County. Graffiti mars canyon walls. Parking, visitor services, restrooms, educational programs are woefully underfunded and understaffed. 

    The President’s designation of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument last week will help change that. After 10 years – a generation – of work by thousands of local residents, the President has not only protected the crown jewel of Los Angeles, but elevated investment in and visibility of this close-to-home yet uncared for recreational resource. Now, more families will access and enjoy these national public lands. More children will be inspired by the wonders of America’s Great Outdoors.

    In addition, the President’s leadership has sparked private funding for new trails, tree-plantings and river restoration projects in communities all over the San Gabriel Valley.

    These days, as the President mentioned in his speech, I take my two nephews, ages four and five, with me to the mountains every chance I get. They are the second generation to grow up in my tiny foothill town, but, unlike me, these kids go to the San Gabriel Mountains. They can identify two types of sage, as well as buckwheat and sagebrush. They clean up trash to help protect wildlife. They pull invasive mustard weeds to save native plants. They enjoy fresh air and respect the outdoors. 

    And most important, they ask me to take them into the forest. They are eager stewards and explorers of our Great Outdoors. If you ask them why they like the San Gabriel Mountains, they will very enthusiastically tell you: “We can run and play in the river. We can stand in the waterfall. We can see woodpeckers.” Their list is endless, as it should be. The San Gabriel Mountains National Monument – and all of our national public lands – not only expose our children to nature, but to the world.  Thanks to the San Gabriel Mountains, opportunity is now in their vocabulary.

    Brenda Kyle is a resident of Duarte, California, and a docent at Eaton Canyon.

  • Driving Development of Clean Energy

    Since the President took office, we have made unprecedented progress transforming America into a clean energy economy built to last. The amount of electricity we get from the wind has tripled, and solar electricity production has increased by tenfold.

    The Administration has permitted more than 50 utility-scale renewable energy projects on public lands, enough to power nearly 5 million homes and support more than 20,000 construction and operations jobs. The Departments of Energy and Interior are also moving forward on infrastructure projects that will bring clean sources of power online and improve the resilience of our electricity system.

    Today, the Department of Energy finalized a Presidential Permit for the Champlain Hudson Power Express, a transmission line that will deliver renewable hydropower from Quebec to meet New York City's growing energy demand. The project developers estimate the 1,000-megawatt transmission line will save consumers $650 million each year and cut carbon pollution 2.2 million metric tons.

    And we're taking action to drive reliable, affordable, and sustainable hydropower at home. Since the President took office, DOE has provided awards to support more than 30 hydropower projects.

    President Obama firmly believes that the federal government should lead by example. That is why he has set aggressive targets for federal agencies to reduce their energy and water use, and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

    In fact, last year the President announced a bold new goal for the federal government to consume 20% of its power from renewable sources by 2020 – and federal agencies are already stepping up to this challenge in a big way.

  • Strengthening Climate Resilience during National Preparedness Month

    Our Nation also faces longer wildfire seasons, more severe droughts, heavier rainfall, and more frequent flooding in a changing climate.  That is why, as part of my Climate Action Plan, we are committed to building smarter, more resilient infrastructure that can withstand more frequent and more devastating natural disasters and to supporting our communities as they prepare for these impacts.” – President Obama, National Preparedness Month Proclamation

    When the President signed a proclamation designating September as National Preparedness Month, he recognized that preparedness has become more important than ever in the context of our changing climate. Throughout the past month, the Administration has made important progress in supporting communities across the country – and around the world – as they prepare for the impacts of climate change we can’t avoid. Federal agencies, community leaders, and private sector industries have all taken steps that will help secure a more resilient future. 

     For example, in June the President announced he was creating a $1 billion competitive fund to help vulnerable communities build more climate resilient infrastructure.  And this month Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro formally launched the National Disaster Resilience Competition to aid communities that have suffered major disasters in recent years and are taking steps to rebuild smarter and stronger. Additionally, Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced 40 new projects that will share a $3.59 billion disaster relief fund.  This money will allow states still recovering from Hurricane Sandy to create stronger, more reliable public transportation systems that can withstand future storms.

    These new steps are responsive to what we’ve learned from the governors, mayors, county officials and tribal leaders serving on the President’s State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. Working closely with the Task Force, the Administration is learning a great deal about how to best support communities throughout the country by removing barriers to resilient investments, modernizing Federal grant and loan programs, and developing new information and tools for decision-makers.

    But climate change is a global challenge and demands a global response. That’s why, last week at the UN Climate Summit, President Obama announced a new set of tools that harness the unique technological and scientific resources of the United States to help vulnerable countries strengthen their climate resilience.  The President also announced an Executive Order requiring Federal agencies to take climate resilience into account while designing their international development programs and investments.

    These actions demonstrate international leadership at a crucial time, and President Obama made it clear that the United States will continue to step up to the plate. That means involvement from all sectors, not just the Federal Government. After the Climate Resilience and Insurance Roundtable among industry leaders and senior White House officials in June, last week representatives of the property insurance industry released a joint statement highlighting the costs of extreme weather events and the importance of resilience. The five major insurance organizations that released the statement committed to engaging in a dialogue with the Administration to find ways to “better identify, communicate, and reduce the physical and economic risks and costs of extreme weather, and to increase resilience to such events.”

    National Preparedness Month may be over, but carbon pollution has been building in our atmosphere for decades, and we’re going to continue to feel its impacts well into the future.  The White House is committed to working across sectors to help leave behind a safer and more resilient planet.

    Mike Boots leads the White House Council on Environmental Quality. 

  • Better Buildings Challenge Expands to Take on Data Centers

    Data center energy use has grown rapidly in recent years and is expected to continue to grow. In 2013, U.S. data centers consumed about 100 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity, representing more than 2% of all U.S. electricity use. If all U.S. data centers were just 20% more efficient, we could save more than 20 billion kWh by 2020 as a nation. That translates to roughly $2 billion in cost savings.

    That’s why the President’s Better Buildings Challenge is expanding to take on data centers with 19 new partners today.  The Better Buildings Challenge was launched in 2011 to help American commercial, industrial, and multifamily buildings become at least 20 percent more energy efficient by 2020.  Across the country, Better Buildings Challenge partners have completed upgrades to more than 9,000 facilities with 2,100 buildings improving efficiency by least 20 percent, and another 4,500 by at least 10 percent, compared to their baseline years. 

    The new partners joining the Better Buildings Challenge today include national laboratories; Federal agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Defense, and the Social Security Administration; as well as companies including CoreSite Realty Corporation, ebay inc., and Staples. For example, the Social Security Administration recently announced that its new national data center in Frederick, Maryland, will use about 30 percent less electricity than a typical data center. 

    These partners are pledging to improve the efficiency of data centers which altogether are currently consuming more than 90 megawatts of power:

    • Argonne National Laboratory
    • CoreSite Colocation Realty Corporation
    • U.S. Department of Defense, Defense Information Systems Agency
    • Digital Realty
    • U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration
    • ebay, inc.
    • Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory
    • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
    • The Home Depot
    • Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
    • Los Alamos National Laboratory
    • Michigan State University
    • National Aeronautics and Space Administration
    • National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center
    • National Renewable Energy Laboratory
    • Schneider Electric
    • Social Security Administration
    • Staples
    • U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs

    The Department of Energy will work with the data center owners and operators to improve efficiency when Challenge partners install emerging IT systems and technologies. Like all Challenge partners, the new data center partners will work with the Department of Energy to share publically their results and savings, which will be made available on the Better Buildings Challenge website.

    Kate Brandt is the Federal Environmental Executive at the White House Council on Environmental Quality