Federal government to prioritize US-made, lower-carbon construction materials

Read the full story from The Hill.

The U.S. government will for the first time prioritize the use of American-made, lower-carbon construction materials in federal procurement and federally funded projects, the General Services Administration (GSA) announced on Tuesday.

To realize this goal, the GSA has issued a request for information about the availability of domestically manufactured, locally sourced “low-embodied-carbon” materials — or those that generate fewer carbon emissions during the process of constructing a building.

The move is part of the Biden administration’s Federal Buy Clean Initiative, which aims to stimulate markets for low-carbon products made in the U.S., according to the GSA.

Climate Mapping for Resilience and Adaptation

Climate Mapping for Resilience and Adaptation (CMRA) integrates information from across the federal government to help people consider their local exposure to climate-related hazards. View climate-related hazards in real time and use information on past, present, and future conditions to understand exposure in your area in order to plan and build more resilient community infrastructure.

People working in community organizations or for local, Tribal, state, or Federal governments can use the site to help them develop equitable climate resilience plans to protect people, property, and infrastructure. The site also points users to Federal grant funds for climate resilience projects, including those available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Climate Change: Enhancing Federal Resilience

Download the document.

To reduce federal fiscal exposure to climate change, the federal government needs a cohesive, strategic approach, with strong leadership and the authority to manage risks.

The Big Picture

Between fiscal years 2015 and 2021, selected appropriations for disaster assistance totaled $315 billion. Disaster costs are projected to increase as certain extreme weather events like drought or extreme rainfall become more frequent and intense because of climate change, according to the U.S. Global Change Research Program and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Limiting the Federal Government’s Fiscal Exposure by Better Managing Climate Change Risks has been on GAO’s High Risk List since 2013. This list identifies government operations that, among other things, need transformation to address effectiveness challenges. Managing climate change is on the list in part because of concerns about the increasing costs of disaster response and recovery efforts.

We identified five areas in which government-wide action is needed to reduce federal fiscal exposure to climate change. These areas include the federal government’s roles as:

  1. insurer of property and crops,
  2. provider of disaster aid,
  3. owner or operator of infrastructure,
  4. leader of a strategic plan to coordinate federal efforts, and
  5. provider of data and technical assistance to decision makers.

Federal fiscal exposure to climate change can be limited by enhancing climate resilience—that is, taking actions to reduce potential future losses by planning and preparing for potential climate hazards.

What GAO’s Work Shows

Congress and federal agencies can enhance climate resilience by pursuing opportunities related to the three guiding principles of GAO’s Disaster Resilience Framework—information, integration, and incentives.

GAO’s Disaster Resilience Framework Principles

GAO has made numerous recommendations related to these principles. The examples highlighted below have not been addressed as of September 2022.

1. Information

Congress and federal agencies can help decision makers access climate information that is authoritative and understandable to identify current and future risks and the impact of risk-reduction strategies. A government-wide approach is needed to provide decision makers with the best available climate-related information.

We recommended:

The federal government also needs a comprehensive approach to improve the resilience of the facilities it owns and operates and the land it manages.

We recommended:

2. Integration

Congress and federal agencies can help decision makers integrate analysis and planning to take coordinated action to enhance climate resilience.

We recommended:

  • Developing a strategic plan—with clear priorities, roles, and responsibilities—to guide the nation’s efforts to adapt to climate change
  • Using information on potential economic effects from climate change to help identify significant climate risks and to craft appropriate federal responses

In some instances, congressional action is necessary to enable the federal government to invest in projects to enhance climate resilience and help communities prepare for climate change.

We also suggested that Congress consider:

Federal infrastructure projects, like this system in New Orleans, help protect against coastal storms and flooding

3. Incentives

Congress and federal agencies can enhance federal climate resilience by making long-term, forward-looking risk-reduction investments more viable and attractive among competing priorities.

We suggested that Congress consider:

Challenges and Opportunities

The federal government faces increasing fiscal exposure from climate change, in part because of the complicated crosscutting nature of the issue. GAO’s work shows that opportunities exist for the federal government to develop an approach to manage climate change risks by building resilience into every federal program. In this regard, Congress has taken some actions, like creating programs for water, wastewater, transportation, and electric grid infrastructure resilience projects, in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

More from GAO’s Portfolio

For more information, contact J. Alfredo Gomez at (202) 512-3841 or GomezJ@gao.gov.

PFAS Strategic Roadmap: DOE Commitments to Action 2022-2025

The PFAS Strategic Roadmap: DOE Commitments to Action 2022-2025 establishes and details the goals, objectives and steps that the Department of Energy is taking to address PFAS. Specifically, DOE commits to:

  • Research current and past uses and known or potential releases of PFAS.
  • Investigate PFAS concentrations in DOE-supplied drinking water and in the environment at DOE sites. 
  • Proactively prevent PFAS from entering air, land, and water at levels that can adversely impact human health and the environment.
  • Clean up PFAS identified contamination to protect human health and ecological systems.
  • Leverage the expertise at DOE National Laboratories to enhance PFAS research.
  • Support inter-agency and cross-sector collaboration to identify and employ promising technologies.
  • Provide clear and credible information to our employees, local communities, and regulators.
  • Engage with stakeholders to help inform an effective Departmental PFAS strategy.

The Department is finalizing an initial assessment report that will summarize the results of a preliminary evaluation of known historic or current PFAS uses, PFAS occurrence in the environment, and regulatory and stakeholder interactions at DOE program sites.

The government set a colossal wildfire. What are victims owed?

Read the full story in the New York Times.

Two prescribed burns got out of control, becoming New Mexico’s largest recorded wildfire. But despite the backlash, experts say it’s necessary to thin forests in a region primed for destruction.

Federal suppliers to be required to report carbon emissions

Read the full story at Bloomberg Law.

The Biden administration will soon propose a rule requiring major companies that supply goods and services to the federal government to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions, a White House official said Wednesday.

The rule will be distinct from—but similar to—the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s March proposal that requires publicly-traded companies to report their carbon emissions in their registration statements and annual reports, according to Andrew Mayock, federal chief sustainability officer at the Council on Environmental Quality.

He provided few details about the proposal, except to say it will require suppliers to report on greenhouse gases, “report on climate risk, and required to set science-based targets,” and that it will be issued “in the very near future.”

DOE invests $6 million in geothermal heating and cooling technologies at federal facilities

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has selected Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to receive up to $6 million to help expand the deployment of geothermal heating and cooling technology at federal sites. The federal government is the nation’s largest energy user, consuming nearly 1% of all end-use energy in the United States. Installing these carbon-free heating and cooling systems at federal sites will support President Biden’s goal to make the federal government carbon-neutral and help demonstrate the benefits and potential of this technology.  

“Geothermal heating and cooling is renewable, versatile, and critical to decarbonizing buildings as well as the economy as a whole,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Kelly Speakes-Backman. “Scaling up deployment of geothermal heating and cooling technology on federal sites will help reduce costs and energy demand, ultimately saving taxpayer dollars and leading by example to decarbonize our economy.” 

This funding will provide technical assistance for geothermal energy deployment at federal sites, helping reduce or replace electricity demand, offset peak loads to the grid, and add resiliency and security to local energy systems.  

The team receiving this funding is led by ORNL and includes three other national labs, two universities, a state agency, and an industry partner who all bring strong expertise in the low-temperature geothermal space. ORNL and its partners—National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Illinois State Geological Survey, International Ground Source Heat Pump Association, Oklahoma State University, University of Wisconsin-Madison—will establish a technical assistance framework with an innovative workflow that will result in more accurate models and recommendations as well as deployment-ready reports. The team will also conduct data analysis, carry out resource characterization, perform site surveys, and design geothermal heating and cooling systems in support of deploying geothermal energy at federal sites. 

This effort supports and is enabled by the Federal Geothermal Partnership, a collaboration between the Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO) and the Federal Energy Management Program. 

New webinar Series for federal contractors on managing greenhouse gas emissions in federal procurement

A new series of webinars for federal contractors on managing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is now available on YouTube. The webinars were developed by EPA and the General Services Administration (GSA) to help federal contractors aid the federal government in meeting its goal of net-zero emissions from procurement by measuring and publicly disclosing their GHGs, setting science-based targets and identifying opportunities to reduce climate impacts.

Read more about the Biden-Harris administration’s goals for sustainable procurement in Executive Order 14057 and the accompanying Federal Sustainability Plan.

EPA updates resources to help federal purchasers meet the Biden administration’s sustainability goals

Read the full story at National Law Review.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on February 4, 2022, the release of a “new and improved” Framework for the Assessment of Environmental Performance Standards and Ecolabels for Federal Purchasing under its Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) program, as well as a webpage highlighting ecolabel criteria that address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). EPA states that “[t]hese actions are a key step in implementing President Biden’s Executive Order on Catalyzing Clean Energy Industries and Jobs through Federal Sustainability and the accompanying Federal Sustainability Plan.

Biden administration promises to buy ‘clean’ industrial materials

Read the full story in the New York Times.

The Biden administration on Tuesday will set out a strategy for buying “clean,” lower-emissions steel, cement, aluminum and other industrial materials for federal agencies and projects, part of its effort to reduce carbon emissions from industrial manufacturing.