This year, the Commerce Department will investigate the feasibility of a bicycle share program. The Agriculture Department's Risk Management Agency will redraw planting zone maps for the purposes of insuring nursery-grown plants. And the Department of Defense will scale down its fleet of gas-guzzling Humvees.
These are all examples of steps federal agencies will take in 2013 in an effort to deal with the risks of future climate change. The Obama administration released its first climate change adaptation plans Thursday, as part of the annual sustainability reports.
"It's an expression of the realization that the impacts of climate change aren't something that are going to happen way, way in the future," said Joe Casola, staff scientist and program director of science and impacts at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. "They're happening now, and in some ways, agencies' missions are put at risk by the threats of climate change, and they need to take action and mainstream considerations of climate into a lot of their decisionmaking."
This is the third year the agencies have released the reports, a review of sustainability accomplishments and a guide for goals. In 2009, President Obama signed Executive Order 13514, which set targets for cutting waste and pollution from the administration's operations and required agencies to complete these reports.
"The Federal Government is seeing the results of three years of effort in the form of reduced utility bills, more efficient operations, and less waste and pollution," said Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, in a statement Thursday. "Agencies are demonstrating significant progress on sustainability initiatives that are good for American taxpayers and good for American communities."
Many of the plans also lay the groundwork for actions that will cut not only pollution but costs in the face of the rising price tag of climate change.
"USDA's costs for administering services such as disaster assistance, crop insurance, conservation and energy programs, and technical assistance are likely to increase as a result of climate change," said the $145-billion-a-year agency in its report. "Severe weather and other climate-related events such as associated excess moisture, drought, pest infestations, and heat stress place pressure on the capacity of agencies to meet demands."
This year's sustainability plans will also include fleet management plans and bio-based purchasing strategies. President Obama told agencies to buy more bio-based products in a presidential memorandum last year.
U.S. EPA, the agency responsible for regulating environmental health and safety, gave examples of needs that will arise as climate change encroaches on the agency's ability to perform. These include better maps of precipitation patterns to plan for long-term water infrastructure; measurements of extreme weather impacts on EPA's disaster response planning; understanding how strange weather can wear down contaminated areas and solid waste facilities; and predicting effects of climate change on energy efficiency programs, as energy supply and demand fluctuate.
EPA's goals in the plan include taking action to mitigate climate change and retain air quality, protecting the nation's waters and reducing community exposure to contaminants by cleaning up communities.
USDA's oversight occurs over one of the widest spans in the administration and includes rural communities, forests, biotechnology, nutrition, water use and agricultural trade.