Council on Environmental Quality Blog

  • Introducing the National Drought Resilience Partnership

    Today, the Obama Administration is excited to announce a new partnership between seven Federal agencies that will help communities better prepare for droughts and reduce the impact of drought events on families and businesses. The interagency National Drought Resilience Partnership is part of the President’s Climate Action Plan. Federal agencies are already working with communities, businesses and farmers and ranchers to build resilience to drought on the ground, and this Partnership will enhance those efforts.

    Droughts are not new to many communities.  Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events like droughts, storms, floods, and wildfires nationwide.  About two-thirds of the continental United States was affected by drought in 2012, impacting water supplies, tourism, transportation, energy and fisheries, costing the agricultural sector alone $30 billion and causing $1 billion in losses from wildfires.  During this disaster, the Administration provided all available assistance to towns, communities and agricultural producers impacted by drought, and the 2012 drought also highlighted effective planning and preparedness is to helping communities recover and prevent the worst impacts. We heard directly from states, tribes, businesses, and local communities that there was a need for a more accessible “front door” to make it easier to access Federal assistance. That is why the National Drought Resilience Partnership is designed to provide communities with a single point of contact to help them navigate various Federal programs to find the right one for their needs.

    Spearheaded by the Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the immediate focus of the Partnership will be on creating a new, web-based portal to ease access to Federal agency drought resources, hosting more frequent regional drought outlook forums to continue to hear directly from communities, and supporting the coordination of a national soil moisture monitoring network to help improve monitoring and forecasting drought conditions. In collaboration with local, state and regional governments, the Partnership will also undertake a pilot project in a western area hard hit by drought to create a local-scale drought resilience plan that could be applied in other areas.  

    This Partnership reflects the work of the White House Rural Council, and it also follows the President’s November 2013 Executive Order on preparing our communities for the impacts of climate change.  That Executive Order created a Task Force of state, local and tribal leaders to advise the Administration on steps the Federal Government can take to help communities increase preparedness, and committed Federal agencies to examining their programs and policies to make it easier for states and communities to build resilience against storms, droughts and other weather extremes. 

    As we face increasing challenges from severe weather and climate impacts, it is more important than ever that Federal agencies work together effectively and efficiently to support the needs of local communities.  The interagency National Drought Resilience Partnership is another important step in our commitment to helping communities stay strong and resilient in the face of climate change. 

    Nancy Sutley is Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality

  • President Obama’s State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness

    Today, we are excited to announce the members of President Obama’s State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience.

    The anniversary of Hurricane Sandy reminds us how important it is for all levels of government to work together to protect communities and families.  A year ago this week, communities were shattered, families were torn apart, homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed, and lives were upended. But brick by brick, block by block, these communities are rebuilding to be more prepared and resilient. They will come back stronger and the Federal government will continue to stand right by their side as we continue to recover and rebuild.

    In the wake of this disaster, we have learned some valuable lessons about how to prepare our communities and be more resilient to these types of extreme weather events, which are growing more frequent and severe with climate change. Instead of recreating old vulnerabilities during the rebuilding process, we implemented a stronger, uniform flood risk rebuilding standard, and provided resources for more climate-resilient roads and infrastructure, and projects that protect drinking water and buffer communities from flooding.  Much of what we have learned was compiled into the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force report released earlier this year.

    In another important step, today we announced the members of a new Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience to advise the Administration on how the Federal Government can respond to the needs of communities nationwide that are dealing with the impacts of climate change. The President first announced the establishment of this short-term Task Force on June 25, 2013, as part of his Climate Action Plan.

    The Task Force members include bipartisan governors, mayors and tribal leaders from across the country who will use their first-hand experiences in building climate preparedness and resilience in their communities to inform their recommendations for the Administration.

    The Task Force will present their recommendations to the President within a year to guide and shape Federal policy. An Executive Order signed by the President today also directs Federal agencies ranging from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to the Department of Transportation to examine their programs across the board and find ways to make it easier for cities and towns to build smarter and stronger. 

    As co-chairs of the Task Force, we look forward to working with the Task Force members, and other local, state, and tribal leaders, to combat the impacts of climate change.

    • State Officials:
      • Governor Neil Abercrombie (HI)
      • Governor Jerry Brown (CA)
      • Governor Eddie Calvo (GU)
      • Governor Jay Inslee (WA)
      • Governor Jack Markell (DE)
      • Governor Martin O’Malley (MD)
      • Governor Pat Quinn (IL)
      • Governor Peter Shumlin (VT)
    • Local Officials:
      • Mayor Ralph Becker (Salt Lake City, UT)
      • Mayor James Brainard (Carmel, IN)
      • Commissioner Paula Brooks (Franklin County, OH)
      • Supervisor Salud Carbajal (Santa Barbara County, CA)
      • Mayor Frank Cownie (Des Moines, IA)
      • Mayor Bob Dixson (Greensburg, KS)
      • Mayor Eric Garcetti (Los Angeles, CA)
      • Mayor George Heartwell (Grand Rapids, MI)
      • Mayor Kristin Jacobs (Broward County, FL)
      • Mayor Kevin Johnson (Sacramento, CA)
      • Mayor Michael Nutter (Philadelphia, PA)
      • Mayor Annise Parker (Houston, TX)
      • Mayor Patsy Parker (Perdido Beach, AL)
      • Mayor Madeline Rogero (Knoxville, TN)
      • Mayor Karen Weitkunat (Fort Collins, CO)
      • Mayor Dawn Zimmer (Hoboken, NJ)
    • Tribal Officials:
      • Karen Diver, Chairwoman, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (MN)
      • Reggie Joule, Mayor, Northwest Arctic Borough (AK)

    To learn more about President Obama’s State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, click here.

    David Agnew is Director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs

    Nancy Sutley is Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality

  • Our Forests and Climate Change

    Americans know the importance of forests to our communities and our economy.  They provide jobs and recreational opportunities, filter our air and water, and make up essential habitat for wildlife and natural resources.  But increasingly, we’re also recognizing that forests play an important role in mitigating climate change.

    Recently, President Obama announced a Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon pollution, prepare for the impacts of climate change on our communities and economy, and lead international efforts to combat global climate change. This plan recognizes that America’s forests play a critical role in addressing carbon pollution, absorbing as much as 14 percent of our country’s greenhouse gas emissions each year.  Over the last several decades, forest regrowth on former farm lands, reforestation, and maturing forests have kept our forest growth rates high, helping us absorb even more carbon. 

    At the same time, development of forest lands is reducing the amount of carbon we can absorb now and in the future.  Carbon pollution is also taking a toll on our forests – heat waves, wildfires, pests and drought are all worsened by climate change, reducing our forests’ ability to sequester carbon.   

    It is difficult to predict precisely how much these impacts will reduce the potential of our forests to combat climate change – but we do know that we must start now to find new ways to enhance forests’ ability to absorb carbon and become more resilient. As part of the President’s Climate Action Plan, the Administration is bringing Federal agencies together to tackle this challenge.  An interagency Task Force is working to provide more accurate and consistent annual updates of carbon fluxes from forests and other lands.  This will help us ensure that we have up-to-date information on how major disturbances like wildfires, as well as land development trends, impact the capacity of the nation’s forests to absorb carbon. It will also provide the tools we need to make more effective policy decisions, ensuring land managers are able to take into account the carbon sequestration value of our forests.   The Task Force is also developing new approaches to retain and restore our forests and other important landscapes like grasslands and wetlands.

    America's Forests

    Photo Credit: U.S. Bureau of Land Management

    This initiative will build on the significant work the Administration already has underway to ensure healthy, thriving forests. For example, the Department of Agriculture announced this year the creation of seven new regional hubs to provide research and timely information to farmers and forest landowners as we work together to combat climate change. This work will complement research by DOI Climate Science Centers, in areas such as evaluating management options, projecting forest conditions and carbon storage under climate change, evaluating the effects of changing rainfall and snow conditions, and studying the effects of changing forests on particular species and ecosystem services. This information is helping to inform restoration efforts undertaken by the Forest Service and its partners to make our forests more resilient. And DOI and USDA are working together with other Federal agencies, states, tribes, and private landowners to engage in historic, landscape scale conservation projects that will put critical ecosystems on a stronger footing for the future.

    Climate change poses a tough new challenge for the forest ecosystems that provide so much for all Americans. Following President Obama’s lead, we’re getting ahead of the game – focusing on new partnerships, strengthening interagency collaboration, and ensuring that the best science is available as we take on climate change in the years to come.

    Robert Bonnie is Under Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and the Environment

    Anne Castle is Assistant Secretary for Water & Science at the Department of the Interior

  • Nominate a White House Champion of Change: Veterans on the Front Lines of Advancing Clean Energy and Climate Security

    Ed. Note: This blog is cross-posted from the White House Champions of Change blog

    In answering our nation’s call to service, America’s veterans understand the challenges of energy availability and the threats of a changing climate on the safety and effectiveness of our troops and our national security. From the dangers and logistical challenges of transporting vital energy supplies to concerns of natural resource scarcity, these heroes have been on the front lines dealing with the security implications of a changing climate.

    Upon returning home from service, many veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have continued to serve, using their specialized skills and experiences to advance energy efficiency and renewable energy, make communities more resilient to the effects of climate change, and improve our nation’s energy security. In his Climate Action Plan, the President emphasized that failing to address climate change will threaten millions of people around the world and increase security risks. Improving preparedness and promoting energy independence helps strengthen national security and makes our troops and communities safer.

    In early October, which the President designated “Energy Action Month”, the White House will recognize “Champions of Change” – Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are leading communities to prepare for the impacts of climate change and transition to a clean energy economy. We need your help to identify these veterans and recognize their extraordinary efforts. Champions may be veterans who are:

    • Entrepreneurs working to implement technologies or techniques for clean energy, energy efficiency, or other new approaches to combat climate change
    • Professionals working to make military bases, cities, or other communities resilient to extreme weather or sea level rise
    • Businesspeople finding solutions that make communities energy independent and create jobs in clean energy

    Help us recognize veterans who are leading and educating their communities on solutions to combat climate change. Click here to nominate a Champion of Change today! After following the link, select "Veterans in Clean Energy and Climate Security" as your nomination category. Please submit nominations by 5:00 PM on Wednesday, September 4th. We look forward to hearing from you!

    Rohan Patel is the Associate Director for Public Engagement at the Council on Environmental Quality


  • Reducing Wildfire Risk and Protecting Our Drinking Water in a Changing Climate

    Americans are all too familiar with the devastation catastrophic wildland fires can wreak on the landscape. Fire takes lives, destroys homes, impacts wildlife, and devastates millions of acres of valuable forests and grasslands every year. But what is lesser known is that these fires also severely damage watersheds—the very lands that provide clean and abundant drinking water for millions of Americans every day.

    To address this problem, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell this week announced an historic agreement between the Department of Agriculture's Forest Service and the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation to focus on proactively restoring forest lands around important watersheds and preventing costly, destructive wildfires in these areas. 

    The partnership is included in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan as a means to reduce wildfire risk, protect critical infrastructure, and lessen the impacts of climate change, which include higher risks of large and destructive wildfires. The damage caused to rivers, dams, and irrigation systems after a wildfire can be tremendous. Clearing out the sediment and ash left behind is costing the nation millions of dollars every year, and the impacts of climate change are expected to continue to intensify.  Climate change also exacerbates dry conditions, which can slow the natural recovery time after a wildfire. 

    Wildfire Sediment Deposit

    Heavy rains after a wildfire caused this heavy sediment deposit (Photo Credit: R. H. Meade, U.S. Geological Survey)


  • Cutting Costs and Modernizing Buildings through Performance-Based Contracting

    Editor’s Note: On June 19th, the White House Council on Environmental Quality brought together leaders from government, private industry, non-profits, and academia at a White House event to highlight President Obama’s $2 billion commitment to improve the energy efficiency of Federal buildings through performance contracting.  Below, U.S. Department of Transportation Assistant Secretary Brodi Fontenot shares some of the innovative ways his agency is using performance-based contracting to conserve energy, cut waste, and save taxpayer dollars.

    The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) operations encompass more than 10,000 buildings in all 50 states, from air traffic control centers and research facilities to our regional offices and headquarters. That kind of range complicates our efforts to green our internal operations and infrastructure, yet over the last two years, DOT has improved its sustainability performance across all seven measures of the OMB Sustainability and Energy Scorecard.

    To achieve those results and continue to move forward on sustainability, we are trying to use every tool available.  One tool that has served us well is Performance-Based Contracts (PBCs). A PBC is a tool where a company makes improvements at little to no upfront capital cost and is paid through the savings from the project over many years. It is a win-win-win for government, industry, and the environment.

    These contracts are an important vehicle for meeting our energy and water goals. PBCs are attractive because they are a low-cost tool with limited upfront capital investment that emphasizes performance. DOT has dedicated sources of funding for some building improvements, but PBCs present a vital tool to stretch the value of taxpayer dollars.