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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Jim Connaughton
Chairman, Council on Environmental Quality

April 22, 2008

Jim Connaughton
Good afternoon. Thank you for joining me as our nation celebrates Earth Day. We are already enjoying a spectacular Spring in Washington and Earth Day activities abound. Everyone can participate in efforts to conserve natural resources and protect our environment – and President Bush is committed to continuing decades of progress in making our air cleaner, our water purer, and our natural resources better protected. I look forward to answering your questions.

Sara, from Albany NY writes:
What exactly is Earth Day? Why is there an Earth Day?

Jim Connaughton
On April 22, 1970, 20 million people across America celebrated the first Earth Day. It was a time when cities were buried under their own smog and polluted rivers caught fire. Now Earth Day is celebrated annually around the globe. Through the combined efforts of the U.S. government, grassroots organizations, and citizens like you, what started as a day of national environmental recognition has evolved into a world-wide campaign to protect our global environment—a campaign that truly is now a part of our daily lives, not just a one day event every year.

Earth Day has become a great tradition in our country. It’s a day that reminds us that we must be good stewards of our natural resources. To the President, Earth Day is a reminder that we can’t take our land and resources for granted. The President and Mrs. Bush believe we have responsibilities to conserve what we have, and work to make it better.

Sally, from Bismarck, ND writes:
What is the President doing for Earth Day?

Jim Connaughton
Good afternoon Sally. Thank you for joining me. The President is in New Orleans, Louisiana hosting Mexican President Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Harper for the North American Leaders Summit. They took time out their schedule today to join New Orleans Mayor Nagin for a tree planting ceremony to commemorate Earth Day. The President planted a Shumard oak tree as a reminder of our global duty to protect the environment. New Orleans lost about 250,000 trees to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita – about 50,000 of those trees were in public spaces like Lafayette Square. Replanting trees is vital not only to recovery of the city’s character, but also its environment.

Environmental issues of common concern and action have also been part of the leaders discussions during these meetings. I know that they already have spent a significant amount of time discussing climate change and energy issues. They just issued a statement a few minutes ago. Check out the White House website and read what they had to say!

In addition to the President’s activities, members of the President’s Cabinet are participating in Earth Day events all across the country.

China, from KCMO writes:
On this particular Earth Day, we find ourselves in a dire situation with Global Warming and all its side affects. What is our government doing to help heal our planet before it is to late?

Jim Connaughton
Thank you for your question. Over the past seven years, the President has taken a rational, balanced approach to the serious challenge of climate change. In 2002, the President announced a path for the United States to slow, stop, and eventually reverse the growth of our greenhouse gas emissions. In 2002, he announced the first step: to reduce America's greenhouse gas intensity by 18 percent through 2012. I'm pleased to say that we remain on track to meet this goal even as our economy has grown 17 percent. In 2006, we actually had a net decrease in emissions. US performance in tackling emissions compares very favorably with what other developed countries have actually been able to achieve during this period. Since 2001, the President has requested and Congress has appropriated on the order of $45 billion for climate-related science, technology, observations systems, international assistance, and tax incentive programs.

Just last week, the President announced the next step -- a new national goal to stop the growth in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. The growth in emissions will slow over the next decade, stop by 2025, and begin to reverse thereafter, so long as technology continues to advance. To achieve this goal we are going to accelerate and significantly expand on our prior efforts with a wide range of recently enacted mandatory programs, new incentives, and technology partnerships. A few months ago, Congress passed and the President signed the 2007 energy legislation, which responds to the President’s “Twenty in Ten” challenge in last year’s State of the Union Address to improve vehicle fuel economy and increase alternative fuels. The Renewable Fuels Mandate will increase the use of renewable fuels by 500 percent – requiring fuel producers to supply at least 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel in the year 2022. The Vehicle Fuel Economy Mandate specifies a national mandatory fuel economy standard of 35 miles per gallon by 2020, which will increase efficiency by 40 percent and save billions of gallons of fuel—the Department of Transportation just announced today the proposed rules for this program. Additionally, a new lighting efficiency mandate will generate a 25 to 30 percent improvement by 2012-2014 and 70 percent by 2020. A new appliance efficiency mandate will lead to more than 45 new standards for appliances. And, codifying an Executive Order the President issued last year, a new federal government operations mandate will reduce the energy consumption of Federal Government facilities 30 percent by 2015, increase renewable fuel use by 20 percent, and make all new Federal buildings carbon-neutral by 2030. Taken together, these and other landmark actions will prevent billions of metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from entering the atmosphere.

We are working internationally as well. As a contribution to discussions under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, President Bush brought together the world’s major economies for a series of high-level meetings to recommend ideas for how to move forward on energy security and climate change issues after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. The seventeen countries represented are among the largest energy users and emitters of greenhouse gas emissions. I am his personal representive in these meetings--which have been very constructive. As part of this process, the group is discussing a long-term global goal for reducing greenhouse gases, how mid-term nationally defined strategies to promote energy security and reduce greenhouse gases can be reflected in a new agreement, and what steps we can take immediately to address emissions from large sectors (such as power generation, transportation, and aluminum and steel manufacturing), to finance clean energy technologies, and to eliminate tariffs and other barriers to global investments in these technologies. The President will join the other leaders for a Summit this summer to pull these recommendations together

The President believes addressing climate change is a long-term effort and must be done without harming our economy or hurting American workers, something that would simply move emissions from America to other countries and do little or nothing to address the environmental problem. Climate change and the closely related challenge of energy security must be addressed together, and we must engage with developed and major emerging economies in ways that respect their own aspirations for growth, poverty eradication, and opportunity for their people.

John, from Maryland writes:
How are we doing meeting the Pesident's goal of moving past no-net-loss of wetlands?

Jim Connaughton
Thank you John. As you may know, throughout much of our nation’s history we have been losing millions of acres of ecologically important wetlands. On Earth Day 2004, President Bush declared that the nation had at last accomplished the government’s twenty year old policy of “no net loss of wetlands in America” (which his father as President had established). President Bush then announced that it was time for a new policy that would produce an overall increase of our nation’s wetlands. To accomplish this, the President committed to restore, improve and protect at least three million acres of wetlands in five years. Today, I am pleased to announce in this Earth Day that we achieved that goal well ahead of schedule, with 3.6 million acres already protected, restored, and improved. This was the result of major conservation programs, incentives, regulations, and most importantly, the efforts of thousands of hunters, fishermen, boaters, farmers and other citizen conservationists all across the country.

And we must continue on this path. America’s wetlands are the habitat for thousands of species of wildlife – up to half of all North American bird species nest or feed in wetlands, and about half of all threatened or endangered species use wetlands. Our wetlands help trap pollution, help clean the water, and reduce the impact of floods.

Joyce, from Singapore writes:
Hello May I know how environmental friendly is The White House? Thanks

Jim Connaughton
Hello Joyce – this is one my favorite questions, since I work in the White House! I have had the privilege to be part of a very motivated and creative team that has worked to make the White House complex a leading example of the practical things that can be done to be sensible stewards of the environment.

The President and Mrs. Bush have had a strong personal interest in improving the environmental profile of the White House (an interest that extends to the ranch in Texas, where their house and grounds management are state of the art when it comes to environmental stewardship). One thing we have done is to significantly improve the energy efficiency of the White House—good for the environment and saves the taxpayer money. For example, we replaced all the incandescent bulbs in hallways with compact fluorescent lights through the entire White House complex. We replaced incandescent EXIT signs with LED signs (which sip energy and last a long time). Motion sensor lighting has been installed where appropriate. We upgraded the heating and cooling systems with energy efficient cooling units, installed solar heating systems in the grounds maintenance building to provide energy for heating water, and now use digital temperature control units. The White House now has low consumption water toilets in many locations, and lawn sprinklers are on timers at all buildings. We now use green cleaning products, paper towels made out of recycled materials, and organic or non-toxic pesticides such as soaps and vinegar.

The White House also participates in a comprehensive waste and recycling program. We use alternative fuel vehicles and recycle excess computers and equipment. One hundred percent of our IT office equipment meets the Energy STAR requirements.

We even added enhanced environmental features when we completely tore up and renovated Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House a few years back. I think we quadrupled the number of trees lining this famous avenue, installed drip watering system (underground--prevents wasting water), and installed energy efficient lamps. If you search the White House website, there is some interesting information and footage from this historic effort.

This effort goes well beyond the White House to the entire federal government. Last year the President signed an Executive Order requiring Federal Agencies to lead by example in advancing the Nation's energy security and environmental performance needs through effective environmental, energy, and transportation management. For example, this includes improving energy efficiency by 10 percent in the next ten years (something that took the government twenty years to accomplish in the past). You might be amazed to know that because it is so big, the U.S government is one of the world’s largest users of energy (more than most countries). So we can make a real difference. The President’s order also directs agencies to buy fuel efficient vehicles and to increase the use of renewable fuel to 20%. And all new federal government buildings have to meet some of the toughest standards for green building design and operation. Some of the examples I gave you of what is happening in the White House are being repeated all over government facilities here in the US and around the world.

We just issued a report today on the government’s performance from 2004-2006. If you want to take a look at the outstanding results, click on

Isaac, from Chicago writes:
What is the administration doing for ocean conservation?

Jim Connaughton
I love that this question about ocean conservation is coming from Chicago—our nation’s fourth coast (on which I had the pleasure of living for five years)! As a scuba-diver, sailor, and all around water guy, this subject is a particular personal passion.

I thought I’d start with a quote from one of the President’s speeches: “The vibrant beauty of the oceans is a blessing to our country. And it's a blessing to the world. The oceans contain countless natural treasures. They carry much of our trade; they provide food and recreation for billions of people. We have a responsibility, a solemn responsibility, to be good stewards of the oceans and the creatures who inhabit them.”

In 2004, the President released his Ocean Action Plan to promote an ethic of responsible use and preservation of our oceans and coastal resources. One of the first things the President did was create a committee of Cabinet Secretaries and senior advisors (that I am fortunate to chair) accountable to the President for doing what the Ocean Action Plan says we are supposed to do. We are probably the only country in the world that is giving ocean conservation this level of attention. With respect to the 88 actions in the President's plan, we have met or are on schedule to meet all commitments. More than a quarter of the existing actions have activities that “moved beyond” the initial commitments. I’ll describe a few examples. The President’s budget request for 2009 includes $217 million for the President’s Ocean Initiative, $62 million more than was requested for 2008, and about $64 million more than Congress approved in the recent 2008 omnibus appropriations act. This is a portion of much larger sums we spend across the government on ocean conservation, regulation, and management. President Bush created the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument, enabling nearly 140,000 square miles of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to receive our Nation’s highest form of marine environmental protection. At a ceremony with native Hawaiian elders in March 2007, Mrs. Bush gave the Monument a native Hawaiian name: Papahânaumokuâkea--easier to pronounce than you think and a beautiful symbol of our nation’s cultural heritage. The Monument is the largest single area dedicated to conservation in the history of our country and one of the largest protected marine areas in the world. In December 2007, the Administration announced its support for six nations in Southeast Asia as they enhance coral conservation, promote sustainable fisheries, and ensure food security—known as the “Coral Triangle Initiative.” The U.S. intends to commit $4.35 million in new funds to this initiative. In October 2007, President Bush signed an Executive Order to conserve two of America’s most popular recreational fish – striped bass and red drum – for the recreational, economic, and environmental benefit of present and future generations. President Bush proclaimed June 2007 as National Oceans Month – calling upon Americans to learn more about the role oceans play and ways we can conserve them. To underscore the importance of ocean education, Mrs. Bush designated the J.L. Scott Marine Education Center as a Coastal Ecosystem Learning Center – the 21st partnership between the Federal Government and a marine education center. With a strong new bi-partisan law, we are on track to ending overfishing in American waters and rebuild our fish stocks for sustainable fishing for decades to come. We are working internationally on similar measures, including seeking an end to destructive fishing practices on the high seas that destroy the vital habit that sustains the fish that we depend on for food.

Americans know that we must preserve our natural heritage and safeguard the environment for future generations. The easiest thing every American can do to preserve our oceans is to put trash in an appropriate receptacle. Whatever ends up on the street can end up in the sea. Something as simple as a plastic pen could find its way into the water, where it could cause harm to birds and other creatures on islands halfway around the world. Do your part to prevent this!

Jim Connaughton
I appreciate the opportunity to answer your questions about the importance of Earth Day and how we can protect our environment. I hope this discussion was informative. To learn more about the President’s environmental policies, please visit /infocus/environment/

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