Council on Environmental Quality Blog

  • Federal Sustainability: Leading by Example and Driving Innovation

    This week, CEQ Managing Director Christy Goldfuss and I kicked off the 2015 GreenGov Symposium – an event co-hosted by CEQ and The George Washington University – where we highlighted Federal sustainability achievements and discussed strategies to continue meeting sustainability goals. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus joined us to emphasize the all-hands-on-deck approach that Federal agencies must take to address climate change.  We were also joined by GW faculty and staff as well as expert panelists from Federal agencies, private companies, and nonprofit organizations. The participants shared best practices for a variety of sustainability fields, including clean energy, vehicle fleet management, and energy efficiency. 

    CEQ_6.12.15GreenGov

    Christy Goldfuss, Kate Brandt, and GW's Kathleen Merrigan discuss federal sustainability initiatives at the 2015 GreenGov Symposium. Photo courtesy of CEQ

    And there was good news to share.  This week, agencies released their 2014 Agency Sustainability Scorecards. The scorecards show that Federal agencies have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 17.4 percent from 2008 levels. This is the equivalent of taking about 1.9 million cars off the road— roughly the same number of cars registered in the state of Maryland.  Agencies have also reduced water use by 21 percent since 2007 and get nine percent of their electricity from renewable sources.

    For more on how we've achieved this progress, check out the Feds at Work video here

    All of this means we're on track to meet the aggressive new goals President Obama established in March. And agencies aren't stopping there. At the Symposium, the General Services Administration unveiled plans to bring up to 3 megawatts of solar energy to 18 Federal buildings in Washington D.C. In addition, Secretary Mabus announced the Navy’s plan for a project that will bring an estimated 6-8 megawatts (MW) of solar power to Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, also located in Washington D.C. These projects are a part of the Capital Solar Challenge, which the Administration launched last year to deploy more solar energy at Federal locations across the National Capital Region.

    We also announced that 72 MW of solar has already been deployed on Department of Defense (DOD) privatized housing. To encourage additional deployments, DOD is partnering with CEQ to launch the DOD Privatized Housing Solar Challenge. Through the Challenge, we'll work with privatized housing developers to increase the amount of solar energy generated on privatized military housing through the end of 2016.

    Beyond renewable energy, we also announced that the White House has updated its vehicle fleet to include more fuel efficient and alternative fuel vehicles. These new vehicles will reduce GHG emissions by roughly 40% from 2014 levels and optimize the White House fleet composition.

    President Obama is committed to taking action on the global threat of climate change. The GreenGov Symposium made clear that Federal agencies will continue to lead by example to meet that commitment and do their part to ensure ensure a cleaner, safer, and healthier planet for future generations.

     

  • Unlocking Wind Power Across America

    Advancing turbine technology will unlock 700,000 more square miles of wind potential and make it a reality in all 50 states.

    Now available in 39 states, wind power has emerged as an important source of American clean energy – and there’s potential for even more. Today, the Energy Department released a new report – Enabling Wind Power Nationwide  – that shows how the next generation of wind turbines can help expand wind power in all 50 states.

  • Celebrating National Bike to Work Day

    Today is Bike to Work Day, and Federal employees here in Washington D.C. and in cities across the country are leaving their cars at home and biking into work. As the Administration’s Federal Chief Sustainability Officer, I always appreciate the opportunity to applaud Federal employees’ doing their part to reduce the Federal Government’s carbon footprint.

    Biking to work may seem like a small step, but more sustainable commuting – be it biking, walking or using public transportation – benefits everyone. Those benefits include important emissions reductions that protect public health, but there are others as well. Anyone who’s ever been stuck in rush hour traffic understands the value of having fewer cars on the roads. And walking and biking promotes healthy living and fitness.

    For many of my colleagues, Bike to Work day is part of a larger, nationally coordinated Federal Bike to Work Challenge.  This challenge calls on Federal employees to form teams that encourage participants to set commitments, like bike commuting at least once a week during May. Each rider keeps track of their miles online, which spurs some friendly competition between agency teams to log the most miles.

    Last year, over 2,100 Federal riders participated, 400 of them new bike commuters. They logged more than 266,000 bike commute miles, avoiding about the same number of pounds of CO2 emissions. Plus, the Federal Bike to Work Challenge has introduced new riders to bike commuting and has helped make biking an integral part of organizational culture across the Federal community. President Obama has set an aggressive goal to reduce the Federal Government’s direct greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2025 in his recent Executive Order on Federal Sustainability. Through the Executive Order, the President has directed Federal agencies to not only cut emissions from direct sources like buildings, but also from indirect sources like employee commuting. Culture changes like those promoted through the Federal Bike to Work Challenge will play an important role in helping achieve these goals. 

    I am proud to see initiatives like the Federal Bike to Work Challenge gain popularity each year, and was happy to see so many riders, both Feds and non-Feds, out on National Bike to Work Day today.  Have fun, be safe and keep up the good work!

    Kate Brandt is the Federal Chief Sustainability Officer at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. 

  • The Value of the National Environmental Policy Act

    Imagine if the Federal government decided to build a six-lane highway straight through your neighborhood, and you had no voice in that decision.  Fortunately, we no longer have to confront this scenario – thanks to the National Environmental Policy Act. Today, we take for granted that the public has a right to participate in the Federal decision-making process, but in fact it was NEPA that first established this right.  And NEPA has a remarkable 45 year history of driving better quality projects and better outcomes for communities. 

    Here are a few facts to keep in mind about this landmark environmental law – which was passed with strong bipartisan support to protect people of all backgrounds across the country, and has been emulated around the world. 

    NEPA leads to better economic and environmental outcomes for communities.  There are countless examples of environmental reviews uncovering better project alternatives. Here’s just one example of how this works: At the site of an important Brownfield redevelopment project in South Providence, Rhode Island, the NEPA process for the Providence Community Health Center helped to reveal the existence of potential residual contaminants from lithography chemicals and underground tanks at the historic site.  Thanks to NEPA, the Department of Health and Human Services was able to take the necessary steps to move forward with the funding of the redevelopment project in a way that protected human health and minimized the potential for future liability.

    More than 90 percent of environmental reviews are completed in a matter of days or weeks.  Agencies conduct hundreds of thousands of environmental reviews each year, and the overwhelming number of these use categorical exclusions, the least intensive form of NEPA review.  By reducing paperwork and costs, categorical exclusions prevent delays for projects or actions that Federal agencies have previously determined to have no significant effects on the environment. 

    NEPA doesn’t dictate decisions. NEPA requires that decision makers are thoughtful and transparent about considering the environmental impact of projects.  But NEPA doesn’t require agencies to choose the project with the best environmental outcome – in fact it doesn’t dictate any part of their decision about whether to pursue a project. Agencies select projects for a host of different reasons – but NEPA makes sure Americans are aware of the consequences and have a voice in the process.

    That’s not to say there isn’t always room for improvement.  Under this Administration, the Council on Environmental Quality has led an historic effort to modernize how agencies implement NEPA to improve transparency, public involvement, and efficiency.  This includes using technology to increase efficiency and public participation; conducting pilot projects to reduce time and cost involved in preparing NEPA reviews; releasing guidance for agencies that outlines efficiencies that can and should be used for all types of NEPA reviews; and issuing guidance on how agencies can comply with NEPA during emergency situations that demand immediate action.  These efforts support the President’s directive requiring agencies to modernize review and permitting of infrastructure with the goal of reducing the aggregate timelines for major infrastructure projects by half.

    In the latest step under this modernization initiative, in December we released updated draft guidance for agencies on how to consider greenhouse gas emissions and the impacts of climate change in their NEPA analyses.  Considering climate change and its impacts on Federal decisions falls squarely within the scope this bedrock environmental law. Many agencies are doing this already, and Federal courts have said they should.  What is missing is consistency in their approach. The guidance will provide agencies with a reasoned approach to addressing a clear environmental impact – climate change – in their environmental reviews.

    We are proud of our efforts to make sure that NEPA continues to serve Americans.  We keep working with the public, communities, state and local governments, businesses and all stakeholders to ensure they have a seat at the table in the Federal decision-making process – just as NEPA intended.  

    Taryn Tuss is Communications Director at the White House Council on Environmental Quality

  • Taking Action for America’s PrepareAthon!

    When a disaster hits, Americans often have to act fast to keep their families safe and protect their homes and businesses from harm. But responding to an emergency takes more than fast action. To ensure an effective response, Americans must prepare in advance to identify the risks they face, know which steps to take to prepare, and understand their community’s plan.

    That’s the idea behind America’s PrepareAthon! National Day of Action. As a nation, we’ve made great progress building and sustaining national preparedness, but we still face diverse threats that challenge our collective security and resilience. And today, individuals, families, and communities across the country are coming together to take action to prepare for some of those threats, including tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, wildfires, and winter storms.

  • The Land and Water Conservation Fund: Congress Must Act to Fulfill Commitment to Communities

    For 50 years, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been one of the most popular and effective tools used to protect and restore special places like the Everglades. By reinvesting revenues from offshore oil and gas development, the Fund has made it easier for people to enjoy to the outdoors for hunting, fishing, and other recreation and protected iconic places like National Parks and Civil War battlefields. And, as Secretaries Vilsack and Jewell noted in an Earth Day op-ed, “the law has been regarded as one of the most successful programs for recreation and conservation investments in our history.”

    But if Congress doesn’t act, the Land and Water Conservation Fund will expire in September.

    That’s why, when President Obama visited Everglades National Park on Earth Day, he called on Congress to reauthorize and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The Fund has supported our work to restore the natural water flow of the Everglades, and other important restoration and conservation efforts across the country.

    CEQ President Obama in the Everglades

    President Obama visits Everglades National Park on Earth Day 2015, where he called on Congress to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

    Just this week, the Department of the Interior announced that investments from the Fund would be used to enhance parks in eight cities’ underserved neighborhoods. Three million dollars in investments will be used to renovate damaged storm water systems, protect wildlife habitats, and provide outdoor education programs. These types of investments are critical for getting more young people connected to the outdoors.

    And today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that the Fund has been used to protect another treasured place: the historic Campbell property within the George Washington-Jefferson National Forest along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. With support from the National Park Service, the Conservation Fund purchased the 317-acre property last year and conveyed it to the U.S. Forest Service. The new protections preserve portions of the Appalachian Trail and the Spy Rock scenic overlook, support unique wildlife habitats and ecosystems, and provide new access for hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreational activities.

    None of this would be possible without the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

    Secretary Jewell hit the road earlier this month to make the case for full funding, talking with landowners, battlefield preservationists, wildlife biologists, and a variety of other leaders and citizens about how their communities benefit from the Fund.  At the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area in Georgia, Atlanta, area residents enjoy hiking, biking, and other recreational activities along a beautiful stretch of the Chattahoochee River – all because of the Fund. And in 2014, visitors spent over $123 million and supported over 1,700 jobs – clear evidence that smart conservation efforts strengthen local economies. And the Fund can do even more to benefit the community. Secretary Jewell also visited the Appomattox Court House National Historic Park in Virginia, where she toured the site of some of the Civil War’s final battles. Here, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been leveraged to expand the park and recently helped protect the area around McClean House – the site where, 150 years ago this week, the Civil War effectively ended with Robert E. Lee’s surrender. The Fund has preserved historically significant sites like this all over the country.

    Though these two places are very different, the message she heard was the same: Americans want to see investments in the parks and public lands they love. They want to protect special places that celebrate our natural heritage and rich history, and they want to make sure more Americans have access to safe outdoor spaces and natural landscapes.

    It’s time for Congress to honor the bipartisan commitment made over 50 years ago and ensure that our children and grandchildren get to enjoy America’s treasured outdoor spaces the same way we have.

    Christy Goldfuss is Managing Director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.