Council on Environmental Quality Blog
- Posted byon September 17, 2012 at 5:03 PM EDT
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
- Posted byon September 14, 2012 at 12:53 PM EDT
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!
- USDA Service Center Locator
- USDA Secretarial County Disaster Designations
- Monthly Crop Production Reports
- Weekly Crop Progress and Condition Reports
- Hay Stocks
- National Integrated Drought Information System
- National Water and Climate Center data including SNOwpack TELemetry Network (SNOTEL) and Soil Climate Analysis Network (SCAN)
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
- Posted byon September 10, 2012 at 12:46 PM EDT
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.
- Posted byon August 31, 2012 at 3:52 PM EDT
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.
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
- Posted byon August 30, 2012 at 11:52 AM EDT
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
- Posted byon August 3, 2012 at 9:40 AM EDT
Across rural America, biomass like wood pellets and wood chips is helping communities diversify their energy sources, create jobs, and save money on utility bills. At the Forest Service, we are working to support biomass projects that help us manage wildfire threats, and also serve as economic engines for rural communities. Last week, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced grants of $4 million for renewable wood energy projects that will provide 20 small businesses, tribes and community groups with the technical engineering and design services they need to explore installing wood heat and electricity projects.
A truck is filled with wood chips as part of the process of turning wood into energy (Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture)
As a native of New Mexico, and a member of the Mescalero Apache Tribe, I was raised to appreciate the importance of natural resources and the responsibility we all have to care for our lands. This sense of stewardship has been further enhanced by my 27 years in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, as well as my prior experience as New Mexico State Forester, chair of the Council of Western State Foresters, and co-chair of the Western Forestry Leadership Coalition. I understand that improving the condition of our forests will improve economic opportunities for our tribal and rural communities.
The Forest Service is facing challenges associated with drought, wildfire, invasive species and unprecedented outbreaks of insects and disease. In 2012, the Forest Service estimated that between 65 and 82 million acres of national forests and grasslands are in urgent need of restoration -- more than four out of every 10 acres.
Building relationships and longstanding partnerships with tribes, states, private landowners and other stakeholders will help us address the issues facing the landscapes shared by us all – what we call an “all-lands, all-hands” approach. Working collaboratively with our partners, the Forest Service has announced a schedule to boost restoration and thinning programs by 20 percent each year in areas that face the greatest danger of a catastrophic fire. If we can use some of the woody biomass byproducts of these treatments for heat and electricity, we can leverage this restoration even further.
One of the grants we recently announced will go to Nulato, Alaska, to help the community design a wood-heating system to serve the local school and water plant. This will reduce dependence on costly fuel oil and create local jobs in delivering the wood through local businesses. In Tahola, Washington, the Quinault Indian Nation will design a thermal woody-biomass-fired energy system to serve their community facilities. In Superior, Montana, a wood pellet boiler has the potential to lower energy costs at the Mineral County Hospital’s new critical care center.
The grants build on President Obama’s strong record of supporting rural economies through the White House Rural Council. Established one year ago, the Rural Council has focused on maximizing the impact of federal investment to promote economic prosperity and improve the quality of life in rural communities. You can learn more about the Forest Service’s grant program and work to advance woody-biomass-to-energy projects here.
Arthur “Butch” Blazer is Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment at the U.S. Department of Agriculture
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