Council on Environmental Quality Blog

  • Supporting Water Projects that Communities Want

    Ed. Note: This post introduces you to Lynda Hoffman, President of the Missouri and Associated Rivers Coalition (MOARC), a regional nonprofit promoting the beneficial use of water and related land resources.

    In 2007, the Corps of Engineers had completed nearly 10 of 12 miles of channel modification for the Blue River when the City of Kansas City adopted a Green Solutions resolution recognizing the City’s water bodies as vital and valuable natural resources.  Building on their strong foundation of partnership, the local and federal sponsors for the project worked together to rethink the work yet to be done on the channel.  The result: in lieu of massive habitat-disrupting and expensive concrete structures, more habitat-friendly environmental features were incorporated into the remainder of the project, and at a cost savings of over $20 million.  “Turning the Blue River Green” is a successful example of a locally led planning initiative and the construction of a federally authorized project coming together in an innovative way that achieved an outcome desirable to the local community and the Federal agencies involved.  The Obama Administration’s Principles, Requirements and Guidelines (PR&G) for federal water investments are intended to support these locally led efforts. 

    CEQ PR&G Blue River

    When a channel modification project along the Blue River in Kansas City began, community involvement helped replace the project's planned use of habitat-disrupting and expensive concrete structures (left) with more habitat-friendly environmental features that saved the project more than $20 million (right). Photos courtesy of USACE – Kansas City District.

    As communities across the nation suffer effects of extreme weather and the resultant financial and societal costs become understood, local officials are leading efforts to prepare for the impacts of climate change.  A group of policymakers in the central U.S. have formed a Heartland Climate Adaptation/Resilience Project to identify long-term effects and help communities get ready for and cope with increased flooding, water shortages and other potential consequences.  Another promising initiative, the creation of a regional Resilience Working Group, resulted in the Greater Kansas City region being named a U.S. “Climate Action Champion” community by the Obama Administration.  Smart local and regional planning such as this, when integrated with the decision-making processes for Federal investment, can lead to projects that are developed and implemented in a balanced manner, mindful of both economic and environmental benefits while also serving to enhance community resilience.

    There are a lot of places in the Midwest that were founded as river towns, including Kansas City, whose ongoing identity will be forever entwined with its rivers.  The Kansas and Missouri Rivers and others throughout this part of the country opened it to trade and settlement, first serving as navigable routes and then to meet developing municipal and industrial needs.  There are many economic benefits derived from our waterways, like the transport of an abundant harvest from the nation’s bread basket.  But there’s also potential harm from an ongoing flood threat that evolves over time due to several factors, including development trends and climate change.  As a community threaded with rivers and streams, Kansas City recognizes that threat and through policy, planning and projects has taken steps such as their stream setback ordinance to reduce flood risk while also valuing waterways. 

    A saying often used in our region, “If you don’t like the weather, stick around, it’ll change,” may be truer than ever.  In a study that looked at deviations from long-term trends, Kansas City was identified as the most populous city with the most unpredictable weather.  Going forward it will be even more important for our local leaders to be able to work cooperatively with Federal agencies involved in managing water resources under a framework flexible enough to respond to evolving needs in a changing environment, but rigorous enough to produce repeatable results and supportive of informed decision-making that considers social, economic and environmental benefits.

    Lynda Hoffman is President of the Missouri and Associated Rivers Coalition (MOARC)

  • Health Care Leaders Recognize Climate Risk, Take Action

    Two years ago, as Hurricane Sandy swept over cities in the Northeast, many communities were unprepared to deal with the storm’s devastating consequences.  Hospitals and health care workers in New York City were overwhelmed as they struggled to accommodate the influx of patients.  As the generators failed at some hospitals, doctors, nurses, and emergency responders evacuated hundreds of patients by flashlight.  Months later hospitals were still struggling to readmit patients.  In total, health care facilities incurred $3.1 billion in damages from the disaster. 

    Science tells us that we’re likely to face storms that are more frequent and severe in the future. These storms could cause more damage than ever before, and it will cost more taxpayer dollars to recover and rebuild. And it isn’t only storms; climate change also leads to rising sea levels, increased flood risk, and extreme temperatures, all of which can put our health care facilities - and our public health - at risk. For example, warmer temperatures spurred by carbon pollution can worsen smog, soot, and pollen levels, and trigger more asthma attacks and exacerbate other illnesses. And these kinds of impacts are most dangerous for populations that are already vulnerable, including children and the elderly.

    Fortunately, leaders in the health care industry are recognizing this risk. They are leading the way to ensure our health care system is equipped to handle the health challenges presented by climate change, and to ready our hospitals and other health care facilities for the impacts of climate change.  And the Administration is committed to support them in this important work.

    All over the country, American communities depend on hospitals to provide essential services – at all times and under every possible circumstance. That’s why today, as part of the President’s Climate Action Plan, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is releasing a voluntary climate resilience guide for health care providers, design professionals, policymakers, and others to promote continuity of care before, during, and after extreme weather events. The new guide addresses a wide range of health care facility vulnerabilities and identifies best practices that health care organizations can adopt to improve their climate readiness.

    Also today, a group of leaders from the health care industry, professional associations, and other organizations have announced their commitments to using the guide to strengthen the resilience of the health care system in the face of a changing climate. And today at the White House, we are bringing together many of these leaders to share their experiences and discuss the best ways to move forward. The conversation will include Secretary Burwell, Counselor to the President John Podesta, and Dr. Holdren, President Obama’s science advisor.

    In addition to the climate resilience guide, HHS is developing a suite of online resilience tools for health care facilities to add to the Administration’s new web-based Climate Resilience Toolkit, which provides easy, intuitive access to dozens of Federal tools that can directly help planners and decision makers across America conduct their work in the context of a changing climate. The Toolkit was released last month in response to feedback from the President’s State, Local, and Tribal Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. In their recommendations to the President, the governors, mayors, tribal leaders and other officials on the Task Force highlighted efforts to preserve human health and build resilient populations as a major theme.

    Leaders in the health care industry understand that climate resilience across all sectors is vital to the safety, security, and prosperity of our nation.  In fact, according to an independent study by the National Institute of Building Sciences, every dollar spent on building resilience to hazards saves the nation four dollars in future benefits. The Administration will continue to support health leaders – and leaders in all industries  - as they work to build a healthier, safer, more prosperous nation.

    Mike Boots leads the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

  • Action at Home, Leadership Abroad: Our Path to Climate Progress

    This week I traveled to Lima, Peru, for the United Nations climate negotiations (COP 20), an important meeting in the effort to achieve an international climate agreement. Here in Lima, representatives from countries all over the world are gathering to highlight their progress in curbing the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change and lay the groundwork for an international climate agreement.

    Throughout the week, I shared with our international partners the impressive progress the United States has made since COP 19, held in Warsaw last year. We have worked with states and industry leaders to propose new national limits on harmful carbon pollution from power plants, and we’ve collaborated with governors, mayors, Tribal leaders, and county officials to support communities preparing for the impacts of climate change.

    We have also played a leading role in international efforts to combat climate change. Just last month, in an historic joint announcement, President Obama and Chinese President Xi announced our two countries’ respective post-2020 carbon pollution reduction targets. And that same week, President Obama pledged $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund, reflecting the U.S. commitment to reduce carbon pollution and strengthen resilience in developing countries, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.

    So it’s clear that the U.S. commitment to leadership on climate change is stronger than ever. Over the past few days, I have been highlighting that leadership in discussions with environmental ministers and government officials from around the world, as well as scientists, state and local leaders, business leaders, and advocates who share the President’s belief that we have a moral obligation not to leave behind a planet that is polluted and damaged.

    Some of the sessions throughout the week addressed the already apparent impacts of climate change, including to our most treasured and vulnerable places like the Arctic. Other panels focused on progress in implementing the President’s Climate Action Plan, including EPA’s Clean Power Plan. I also heard about action taken at the subnational level in other countries, and shared how states, cities, and tribes have demonstrated bold leadership in the face of climate change here in the U.S.  And one of the discussions explored actions that reduce emissions and build resilience at the same time, such as advancing green stormwater infrastructure and investing in sustainable and resilient transportation.

    As part of the week’s events, CEQ hosted two events aimed at getting the word out about President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. The first brought together a group of Administration and White House officials to share how the U.S. is staying on track to meet the President’s bold goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the range of 17 percent by 2020. The other event addressed our efforts to support communities as they prepare for the impacts of climate change and highlighted the work of members of the President’s State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, including Mayor Ralph Becker of Salt Lake City, who participated via video, and Governor Jerry Brown of California.

    The steps we’ve taken at home to tackle climate change have made the U.S. a credible voice for climate action on the international stage. And that’s important, because climate change is a global challenge that demands a global response. COP 20 in Lima will help pave the way for an international agreement to be reached at COP 21 in Paris in December of 2015.

    As we move towards Paris, the Administration is going to keep pushing forward on all fronts at home to cut carbon pollution, invest in clean energy, boost energy efficiency, and build community resilience. We’ll continue to set ambitious goals, and we’ll remain on track to meet them. Because, as the President said at the UN Climate Summit this year, our children deserve such ambition.

    Mike Boots leads the White House Council on Environmental Quality

  • 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