Council on Environmental Quality Blog

  • Tribal Leaders: It's Time to Bolster Native Community Climate Resilience

    Ed. Note: This blog introduces you to Chairwoman Karen Diver and Mayor Reggie Joule.

    Tribes and Alaska Native Villages feel the brunt of a changing climate in direct and significant ways that undermine their cultures, economies, and the overall general welfare of their citizens.  Unfortunately, they are too frequently left out of Federal and state climate preparedness and resilience efforts, both in terms of planning and disaster response.  And they generally lack sufficient governmental capacity and financial resources to prepare for and respond to major climate-related events on their own.

    These are the overriding messages we heard from tribal leaders across the country while serving on the President’s State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. Hundreds of tribal leaders provided their input and recommendations through a number of listening sessions, webinars and questionnaires.  These outreach efforts were facilitated by the fine network of Federal agency tribal liaisons.

    We are extremely pleased that the Task Force acknowledged a wide range of tribal needs and recommendations in its report submitted to President Obama on November 17.  Early on in the process, it became clear that responding to climate change has to be a shared responsibility that shouldn't be constrained by our respective political boundaries, geographical locations or cultures. The report reflects the Task Force’s collegial efforts to find common ground, mutual interests and consensus solutions to the challenges that tribal, state and local governments face in preparing for climate change. 

    From a tribal perspective, the Task Force’s recommendations affirm that, while Native communities are affected by climate change in ways similar to other communities, Tribes and Native Alaskan Villages feel the effects of a changing climate in ways that are unique to their lifeways, geography, and relationships with the Federal Government.  Accordingly, the Task Force offers recommendations that are consistent with government-to-government relationships, Federal treaty obligations and trust responsibilities, and the fact that Native communities are inextricably tied to their places for meeting their subsistence, cultural, spiritual and economic needs.

    The Task Force’s recommendations mark the beginning of a process, not the end. President Obama’s commitment to addressing the impacts of climate change is clear, and we are encouraged by the readiness of Federal agencies to digest these recommendations and determine what they can do to implement them. To aid in these implementation efforts, we are pleased to offer a set of supplemental recommendations focused on the specific and unique perspectives of Native communities.  They provide greater detail and fully integrate the wide range of input and recommendations that we received from other tribal leaders. 

    Our hope is that these broader and more detailed recommendations will inform the work of the White House Council on Native American Affairs and its newly formed Climate Change Subgroup.  It has been an honor serving on the Task Force.  The needs of Native communities in relation to climate change are urgent and significant.  The time to act to protect and assist our communities is now.

    Karen Diver is Chairwoman of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Reggie Joule is Mayor of the Northwest Arctic Borough. 

  • A Toolkit to Help Communities Respond to a Changing Climate

    It’s been a big week for the United States’ efforts on climate change. On November 12, President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced historic actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Today, we’re announcing important steps that the Administration is taking here at home to help communities respond to and prepare for a changing climate.

    Today, the State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience – a group of leaders from across the country who are working to boost resilience efforts in their communities – released recommendations on ways in which the federal government can support actions to address the impacts of climate change.

    In response to early input from the Task Force, the Administration has developed the Climate Resilience Toolkit, a website that provides centralized, authoritative, easy-to-use information, tools, and best practices to help communities prepare for and boost their resilience to the impacts of climate change.

    You can access the toolkit here:

  • NASA is Working off Earth, for Earth

    Ed. Note: This blog is cross-posted from the NASA Blog

    At NASA, we have a unique perspective on Earth.  Every day, we observe its grandeur from our International Space Station orbiting 250 miles above the planet and capture a wealth of scientific data about how our planet is changing from our fleet of Earth observing satellites.  This year, with the launch of five Earth-observing missions -- more Earth-focused launches in a single 12-month period than we’ve had in more than a decade -- NASA will be able to deliver even more crucial data to scientists trying to understand our changing planet.

    Back on Earth, we can't escape the impact of climate change on our facilities and operations.  Today, we are releasing our annual Sustainability Report and our Climate Change Adaption Plan that detail the steps NASA is taking to reduce carbon emissions, save energy and cut costs for the American taxpayer; as well as a review of the key challenges we face as a result of climate change.

    The reports confirm that NASA's critical launch pads and other facilities are vulnerable to beach erosion; currently, 66 percent of our assets are within 16 feet of sea level located along America's coasts. This threat will only increase as sea levels rise and storm intensity increases.

    Electrical black-outs and brown-outs associated with heat waves threaten energy utilities that provide power NASA uses to receive and process data from space.

    Rocket engine testing at Stennis Space Center depends on surrounding forests to buffer the noise and vibrations from testing, which requires a constant evaluation of our climate resilience.

    That's why we believe it is so important to steward our agency's use of natural resources and to plan for future mitigation of the impacts of a changing climate.  Our 2014 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan examines eleven goals including fleet management, greenhouse gas reduction, and climate change resilience and pollution prevention.  It shows that in 2013, NASA made significant progress on sustainability measures.  For example, we surpassed our petroleum reduction and alternative fuel usage goals, reducing use of petroleum by nearly 37 percent last year, while increasing use of alternative fuels 297 percent over 2005 benchmarks.

    NASA is also focusing on the security of our energy and water supplies. Since 2010, we've reduced the amount of water we've used for industrial, landscaping and agricultural purposes by 70 percent.  NASA developed an Energy Security Plan (ESP) template to provide Centers with a guideline to generate their energy/water security plans based on their local conditions. 

    Stewards at NASA Centers are evaluating risks, proposing adaptation strategies, and integrating strategies into existing management plans.

    NASA's work in this area has captured national attention.  Today, NASA’s Director of Center Operations for the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Joel B. Walker, received a 2014 GreenGov Presidential Award, recognizing his commitment to leading by example on sustainability issues. Joel developed and implemented a multifaceted sustainability management approach that has focused on areas of energy and water reduction, green purchasing, reducing the generation of hazardous waste and increased diversion of waste through recycling initiatives.  Under his direction, Johnson Space Center has constructed seven certified green buildings, which use 100 percent green power and has reduced potable water use by 15 percent annually and composted over 85,000 pounds of food waste.  Clearly Mr. Walker’s leadership has set the standard for sustainability

    Through our management of climate risks and incorporation of sustainability principles into operations and planning, NASA is a resilient enterprise in service to the nation.  We will continue to provide stellar research that improves our knowledge of earth science, including data and analyses to better understand climate systems. 

    Charles Bolden is Administrator of NASA

  • Making Plans and Making Progress: How the Federal Government Can Lead by Example

    Five years ago this month, President Obama signed his Executive Order on Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance, setting new energy, climate, and environmental targets for federal agencies. The targets are aggressive, but under the President’s leadership, agencies have made significant progress in cutting carbon pollution, improving energy efficiency, and preparing for the impacts of climate change.

    Through this initiative, federal agencies have already reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent – that’s the equivalent of taking 1.8 million cars off the road. And today, more than 9 percent of our energy comes from renewable sources, on our way to meeting a goal of 20 percent by 2020. We’ve also cut our potable water use by 19 percent, enough water to fill nearly 49,000 Olympic swimming pools.

    This progress means we’re on track to meet the President’s goals. But with more than 360,000 buildings, 650,000 fleet vehicles, and $460 billion in annual purchasing power, the federal government is the largest energy consumer in the U.S. economy, so we can’t rest here.

    That’s why, today, to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the Executive Order, federal agencies released new plans for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for climate change impacts such as flooding, sea level rise, severe weather, and temperature extremes.

  • 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.