Agencies Release Sustainability Plans, Include Climate Change Adaptation

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Federal agencies Feb. 7 released their third annual sustainability plans, which for the first time include steps to adapt to climate change.

The adaptation plans outline initiatives to reduce the vulnerability of federal assets, programs, and investments to climate change impacts such as sea level rise and more frequent and severe weather, the White House Council on Environmental Quality said.

Federal agencies are required to develop sustainability plans outlining how they will meet environmental and energy goals set in Executive Order No. 13,514, which was issued by President Obama in 2009. Agencies are required to reduce petroleum use in vehicles by 30 percent by 2020, improve water efficiency by 26 percent by 2020, divert or recycle 50 percent of waste by 2015, and meet other targets under the order.

The climate change adaptation plans are part of larger agency sustainability plans. Agencies also included fleet management plans and strategies to purchase more biobased-products in their sustainability plans in 2012.

The 2012 sustainability plans were reviewed by CEQ and then approved by the White House Office of Management and Budget before being made publicly available.

The climate change adaptation plans will be open for public comment for 60 days.

The sustainability plan for the Agriculture Department states that the department has reduced indirect greenhouse gas emissions by more than 12 percent since 2008, has reduced potable water use by nearly 19 percent since 2007, and has purchased or generated renewable energy equivalent to nearly 20 percent its total electricity use.

The sustainability plan for the Interior Department states that the department has reduced potable water intensity by more than 11 percent since 2007, among other reductions.

EPA to Help Vulnerable Coastal Communities

Building the country's capacity to adapt to climate change is part of the Environmental Protection Agency's mission to protect human health and the environment, the agency said in its climate change adaptation plan.

Climate change is likely to increase tropospheric ozone levels over broad areas of the country, which may increase the vulnerability of U.S. citizens to air pollution, EPA said. As a result, it may be more difficult to attain or maintain ozone standards, which may require EPA to implement new control measures, the agency said.

Climate change will also affect the quality and availability of drinking water supplies, and EPA may need to take action to address these issues, the agency said. Increasing heavy-precipitation events from climate change may increase the pollutants in runoff, dirtying streams and threatening public health, EPA said.

EPA said it will integrate climate change adaptation planning into its programs and policies; increase the resilience of EPA facilities in coastal areas to protect them from severe weather, flood damage, and sea level rise; and help communities in vulnerable areas, such as low-lying coastal areas, reduce their exposure to climate change impacts.

Groups Laud Agency Plans

Elizabeth Martin Perera, senior Washington representative at the Sierra Club, said in a Feb. 7 statement: “It's good to see the government coming to terms with the impacts of climate disruption at the agency-level and now we hope these agencies will rapidly transition to a low-carbon and more resilient future. The Sierra Club is happy to see the government release these plans that evaluate risks and vulnerabilities of both the short- and long-term effects of climate disruption on everything the government does.”

Daniel Weiss, senior fellow and director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress, said in an emailed statement: “The horrible devastation from super storm Sandy and other recent climate related extreme weather events makes it essential that EPA and other federal agencies help communities protect their residents and infrastructure from future floods, drought, heat waves, storms, and wildfires.

“At the same time, the federal government must adopt policies to reduce the industrial carbon pollution responsible for climate change, beginning with existing power plants,” he said.

By Avery Fellow  

The federal sustainability plans are available at

The EPA climate change adaptation plan is available at

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