Council on Environmental Quality Blog

  • 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

  • Chimney Rock Becomes Our Newest National Monument

    Today, President Obama designated spectacular Chimney Rock in southwest Colorado as our nation’s newest national monument, an historic step honoring a place rich in beauty, history and Native American culture.

    With the strong support of the people of Colorado, from the congressional delegation to Governor Hickenlooper to the Native American community and local residents, President Obama has ensured this extraordinary national treasure will be protected for generations to come

    Chimney Rock at Moonrise

    Chimney Rock, designated a national monument on Sept. 21, 2012, was home to the Ancestral Pueblo People about 1,000 years ago and is culturally significant for Native American tribes. The dramatic Great House Pueblo was likely was used as an observatory for the annual summer solstice. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture)

    A thousand years ago, Chimney Rock was home to Ancestral Pueblo People who built more than 200 homes and ceremonial buildings high above the valley floor. Many of the structures remain today, and are designed to perfectly align with lunar events such as seasonal solstices and equinoxes, drawing visitors from across the world. 

    Beyond protecting this special place, this designation also ensures Chimney Rock will be a source of economic opportunity in Colorado, attracting new business and tourism. According to a study commissioned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the national monument designation is expected to double economic activity from tourism in the area over the next five years. Outdoor places like Chimney Rock provide us with opportunities for rest and respite, with a link to our Nation’s proud outdoor traditions and culture, and with jobs and economic opportunities across the country.  In fact, outdoor recreation alone contributes an estimated $650 billion a year to our economy, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

  • 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

    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 and on the USDA drought website:

    We encourage developers to use other freely available resources on 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