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Prepared Remarks of OMB Director Shaun Donovan, Greenbuild 2016

Today, Director Donovan highlighted the Administration’s efforts to make the places we live and work both more energy efficient and more resilient.

Editor’s Note: Today, OMB Director Shaun Donovan delivered remarks at the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo’s Combined Summits Closing in Los Angeles, CA. The conference brought together industry leaders, experts and frontline professionals dedicated to sustainable building in their everyday work. Director Donovan spoke about the Administration's focus on reducing emissions while also protecting communities against the risks of climate change, new initiatives aimed at making the places we live and work both more energy efficient and more resilient, and how we can carry these efforts forward. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery.


It’s good to be back here at Greenbuild, especially at this moment of transition.

I remember vividly when a new face came on to the national stage with a funny name and a vision for a better world.

I remember when, in 2008, he was giving big speeches about hope and change.

“Change comes from within,” he said, “and it begins with us as individuals, as a community.”

There were skeptics then, as there are now. But he delivered. And it will be hard saying goodbye to this remarkable leader I – and we all – have come to know.

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s put our hands together for Rick Fedrizzi.

Now, as you know, there’s another leader whose term ends soon. And it’s been the great honor of my life to serve in President Obama’s Cabinet for eight years.

The Administration’s Legacy | A New Era of Responsibility

When we started eight years ago, America was in the throes of an economic storm. A meltdown on Wall Street had precipitated huge job losses – and wiped out wealth – on Main Streets all across America.

As storms often do: This one hit our most vulnerable families the hardest. And the storm brought to the surface long-term issues that had been brushed aside for too long.

Stagnation of wages. Growing inequality. Underinvestment in infrastructure, education, and health care. All of these structural issues came to the surface. The storm made us focus not just on the immediate impact of Wall Street’s recklessness – but the much longer trend of irresponsibility.    

We’ve seen storms – not just economic storms, but storms of wind and rain and floods – have this same effect – uncovering the longer trend of irresponsibility – again and again.

We saw it after Hurricane Katrina – how the storm exposed the underinvestment that had persisted for so long – long before the wind and rain and floods swept through. It came to the surface: The underinvestment in schools, infrastructure, and communities. And the storm exposed the vast disparities in New Orleans across class and race.

When we arrived in Washington, our mandate from President Obama on the economic storm was clear: We needed to worry about not just spurring recovery, but also about rebuilding the economy on a firm foundation – we needed an economy that worked for everyone and an economy built to last.

And in every natural storm that’s followed, like the rebuilding effort I led after Hurricane Sandy, the mandate has been the same. Rebuild stronger. Do the responsible thing. Focus on the long-term.

And if there’s any question whether this approach works, look at the economy: Today, we’re on our longest streak of total job growth on record, our workforce is the most productive and skilled in the world, and, in 2015, household incomes grew at the fastest rate on record, while the poverty rate fell faster than at any point since 1968.

Doing the responsible thing. Focusing on the long-term. This is a playbook that works.

Through Your Lens | Climate Risk

There is a reason long-term issues often get ignored, and why it takes a storm to jolt us into action: We are better at dealing with threats that are easy to see and feel – threats that are close and unavoidable.

Two years ago – for the first time – we included the growing costs of climate change as a new chapter in the Federal Budget. In just the last decade, we found that extreme weather and wildfire alone cost taxpayers over $360 billion. That’s bigger than the individual, annual GDP – economic output – of 35 U.S. states.

Yet, that analysis is not as vivid – or gripping – as the images from Katrina or Sandy; those move us to action; they bring the point home.

For me, as a native New Yorker, the power of Superstorm Sandy registered most vividly in the neighbors who lost their homes, the friends who lost their businesses, and a colleague who lost his daughter. 

Among other things, Sandy cemented this realization: climate risk is no longer long-term. It’s not far away. It is here – and it is real.

No one understood this better than President Obama. That’s why he knew that we needed to focus on reducing emissions AND protecting our communities.

What’s more, he understood that peoples’ concerns about the impacts of climate change close to home can spur action to address climate change globally

Too often in the past, those who sought to reduce greenhouse gas emissions cast aside talk of adaptation and resilience as waving the white flag. Now with the President’s leadership, emissions reduction and resilience go hand in hand.

Current Action

Today, consistent with this idea, I’m announcing a series of new initiatives that are about making the places we live and work both more energy efficient and more resilient.

With these announcements, it’s not just about energy efficiency – but with drought, it’s about water efficiency too. It’s not just about the building envelope keeping the heat in – but with fire, storm and flood, it’s about keeping the elements out.

We’re doing this in the same way that we’ve approached all of our work in this Administration, with a focus on breaking down silos and barriers – silos across federal agencies, barriers between the public and private sectors.

These announcements focus on three key steps: increasing the availability of data and consumer information, encouraging higher standards, and leading by example – through the Federal footprint.

The first step is having access to the right data – allowing us to know the risks before setting more accurate, ambitious standards. That is why today, we’re expanding the availability of data and information for three sets of stakeholders: consumers, states, and owners and builders.

For consumers, the Departments of Agriculture (USDA), Veterans Affairs (VA), and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will now encourage the use of WaterSense labeled fixtures, which have already saved more than 1.5 trillion gallons of water, $33 billion in water bills, and 78 metric tons of carbon emissions since the program began ten years ago.  Through targeted consumer information for some 2 million homes per year, we can unlock savings for families, and put water resources on a more sustainable path.  

For states, the Department of Energy is releasing a new analysis this week that will help states make the case for consistently adopting the most recent versions of the model building energy codes when they are published every three years.

The analysis shows that if energy codes are strengthened, homeowners, building owners, and tenants could save over $100 billion on energy bills and reduce carbon emissions by over 800 million metric tons over the next quarter century.

And for owners and builders, HUD will now collect detailed data on the energy and water performance of 2.2 million multifamily homes, unlocking key energy and water efficiency data needed to benchmark property performance, save money on utility costs, and streamline allocation of financial resources.

Now with the right data, we can encourage higher standards around the country.  

Today, HUD, USDA, and VA – the three agencies that collectively make up more than 20 percent of America’s single family mortgage market – have informed their lenders, borrowers, and stakeholders about the importance of using robust standards designed to strengthen homes. This new guidance will prioritize resilience in the face of increasingly intense natural disasters. Further, these stronger standards will improve energy and water efficiency.

In addition, in the coming weeks, HUD and USDA will announce a new opportunity for the public to weigh in on the energy efficiency standards for the new homes they support, making improvements in energy efficiency a requirement for these homes.

Together, these actions could impact almost 2 million households and a mortgage market of approximately $400 billion dollars per year.

Finally, we need to demand the same of ourselves in the federal family as we do of you.

That is why today, I’m announcing an extension of our Federal performance contracting challenge.  Since the beginning of the Obama Administration, we’ve been able to place nearly $4 billion in energy efficiency performance contracts into the Federal procurement pipeline.

Energy performance contracts allow for energy savings without the upfront capital expense – by repaying the initial installation with the energy cost savings. Builders are put to work. Taxpayers save money. And the planet is better off.

We’ve leveraged this public-private partnership to unlock the investment infrastructure, energy efficiency jobs, and savings to the taxpayer that come with the performance contracts. 

Now, we’re building on that success. And we are expanding the challenge to water efficiency as well. Our new goal is not only to seek $2 billion in additional energy performance contracts but also to achieve 2 billion gallons of water savings.  We believe this new commitment will support 32,000 jobs and remove approximately 300,000 cars worth of carbon emissions.

These important efforts build upon nearly eight years of progress, progress in taking the long view, in choosing the responsible course.


In fact, it was nearly eight years ago, at his inauguration that the President said: “What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility – a recognition on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept, but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.”

Make no mistake: addressing climate change and making our country and our world more resilient to its effects: these are difficult tasks.

15 of the 16 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001 and the planet’s average surface temperature has risen a full degree Celsius during the industrial era. The Arctic sheets are melting faster. The drought here in California – has cost the state billions of dollars. And we’re seeing the toll on public health, especially among the most vulnerable.

But we’ve got reason to be optimistic. President Obama’s focus on the long-term and his commitment to taking responsibility has helped spur action not just here at home, but around the globe.

Last year, more than 195 countries came together around the Paris Agreement, an enduring framework to enable the world to ratchet down carbon emissions over time. And just today, the European Parliament voted to ratify the Agreement – which means that the accord will go into effect in the coming weeks.

Few, other than the President, thought it would be possible for this step to happen before he left office. Prior agreements have taken years to take effect, when they’ve worked at all.   

At home, we’re seeing more states lower emissions and increase renewables and energy efficiency. Here in California, you extended your ambitions to reach 50 percent renewables. And what’s most exciting is that it’s within your grasp.

You know this work best. You’ve built this field brick by brick. And your leadership – USGBC – will keep us building stronger for the future.

I commit to you that the President and all of us on his team will continue to lead, every day that remains until January 20th.

But we all know how much work is left. I’m counting on you – more important he’s counting on you—to carry it forward. And even after our current jobs come to an end, we will stand shoulder to shoulder with you in the work ahead.

On behalf of President Obama, I thank the US Green Building Council and World Green Building Council for your vision, and thanks to every one of you here today for your leadership.  Together we will build a more sustainable future for generations to come.  Thank you.


Shannon Buckingham is the Associate Director for Communications and Strategic Planning at the White House Office of Management and Budget.