Federal Government

Many federal entities have responsibility for addressing climate change, including:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
EPA is the primary federal agency assigned by Congress to protect human health and the environment from pollution.  EPA’s responsibility for climate strategy includes studying potential impacts; devising appropriate ways to respond; implementing the climate-related authorities of the federal Clean Air Act and other federal environmental laws (including setting and enforcing national standards); and helping businesses, states, local and tribal governments, and the public understand climate science and their obligations to prevent or mitigate adverse impacts.  Nearly half of EPA’s budget goes to environmental grants (to states, local and tribal governments, nonprofits, educational institutions, and others); grants can include funding for climate research, education, and solutions.  More.

U.S. Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ)
CEQ is a tiny agency with a huge mission: promote the nation’s health and well-being for current and future generations by curbing the carbon pollution that is causing climate change and threatening children’s health, advancing clean energy and energy security, protecting the nation’s pristine places and natural resources, and leading by example in the federal government.  The Council’s Chair serves as the President’s principal environmental policy advisor.  CEQ coordinates national environmental policy; oversees the federal government’s own sustainability programs; and monitors – indeed, referees inter-agency disputes about – federal Environmental Impact Statements (“EISs”) when required for federally approved or financed projects, policies, programs, and plans.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Climate change presents real threats to U.S. agricultural production, forest resources, and rural economies.  To mitigate risks, USDA established seven regional hubs to deliver science-based knowledge, technical support, and practical information to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners so they can prepare for, and respond to, drought, heat stress, floods, pests, changes in the growing season, and other impacts from climate change.  USDA’s duties also include helping agricultural producers prevent erosion, improve soil, supply nutrients to crops, suppress weeds, and break pest cycles.  USDA released a carbon management evaluation tool to help farmers and ranchers evaluate the benefits of various conservation practices in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
The Department of Commerce promotes job creation, economic growth, global trade, sustainable development, and improved living standards.  The Department includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the federal agency dedicated to researching our atmosphere and oceans and to understanding and predicting changes in our climate, weather, oceans, and coasts.  NOAA is charged with protecting our oceans, coasts, fisheries, marine ecosystems, and marine commerce.  NOAA’s satellites provide crucial data to NOAA’s National Weather Service and to decision-makers striving to protect life and property during weather catastrophes.  Other NOAA priorities include coastal preparedness, increasing ocean and coastal intelligence, and coastal management and conservation.

U.S. Department of Defense (DOD)
The Defense Department’s focus on climate change is threefold.  With 500 bases, 300,000 buildings, and 2.2 billion square feet of property, DOD’s real property is worth approximately $850 billion.  DOD must protect its facilities, infrastructure, training, testing, and military capabilities from rising sea levels, extreme weather, and other climate change impacts.  Second, DOD spends $4 billion annually on utilities.  DOD aims to reduce energy usage and utilize more renewable energy for mission and monetary benefits.  Finally, DOD recognizes that national security and climate change are linked.  Climate change aggravates existing poverty, drought, food scarcity, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions, potentially forcing millions to migrate, so DOD must anticipate and prepare for accelerated conflict.

U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)
DOE has three main obligations: 1) ensure nuclear security and nonproliferation; 2) expand the frontiers of knowledge through cutting-edge scientific research, especially in the physical sciences; and 3) build the new clean energy economy.  DOE invests in research and development in energy efficient and renewable energy technology, helps accelerate deployment of promising new energy technology, and sets appliance efficiency standards for broad classes of products.  DOE also helps keep electric power flowing to homes and businesses by working to secure the grid from cyber and physical attacks, plan for infrastructure that can withstand extreme weather events, and increase grid efficiency and energy storage capabilities to accommodate more renewable energy sources.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
HHS is our government’s principal agency for protecting the health of all Americans and providing essential human services, especially for those least able to help themselves.  HHS supports a broad portfolio of research related to environmental health generally and the health impacts of global climate change in particular, including research on the health effects of air pollution, temperature, water quality and quantity, infectious disease transmission, agricultural chemicals, and materials used in new technologies to mitigate or adapt to climate change. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) within HHS participate in this research.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
FEMA coordinates federal efforts to prepare for, prevent, mitigate, respond to, and recover from domestic disasters.  Acknowledging that climate-related challenges “such as more intense storms, frequent heavy precipitation, heat waves, drought, extreme flooding, and higher sea levels could significantly alter the types and magnitudes of hazards” facing communities and emergency management professionals, FEMA aims to: 1) partner with climate experts to monitor impacts, identify research needs, and share best adaptation practices; 2) incorporate knowledge of projected impacts into the National Flood Insurance Program, hazard assessments, building and infrastructure construction standards, grant-making strategies, and emergency management workforce training; and 3) support local communities’ adaptation to climate change.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
HUD’s mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all.  HUD’s responsibilities include ensuring housing availability, affordability, and inclusiveness – all threatened by climate change.  (For example, flooding and extreme weather destroy or structurally damage homes; utility and air cooling costs rise during heat waves; and the elderly, impoverished, and chronically ill are especially vulnerable to hyperthermia and often least able to afford higher utility, air cooling, or home maintenance costs.)  HUD is also tasked with helping to create disaster-resilient communities and to facilitate post-disaster relief after climate-related disruptions to transportation, power, and water supplies.

U.S. Department of Interior (DOI)
Created to handle the nation’s internal affairs, the Interior Department encompasses such wide-ranging mandates that it is jokingly called “the Department of Everything Else.”  DOI manages one-fifth of U.S. land, 35,000 miles of coastline, and 1.76 billion acres of the Outer Continental Shelf.  Additional duties include: upholding the federal government’s trust obligations to 562 Indian tribes; conserving fish, wildlife, endangered species, and their habitats; and managing water supplies for more than 30 million people.  The Department addresses how climate change affects these land, water, wildlife, cultural heritage and tribal resources.  Its eight regional climate science centers synthesize climate change impact data and engage federal agencies, states, local governments, and the public in crafting strategies to manage climate change.

U.S. Department of State
The State Department represents the United States in international negotiations about climate policy and participates in the development of domestic climate and energy policy.  Its initiatives span reducing domestic carbon missions, developing transformational low-carbon technologies, and improving observation systems on climate impacts.  The Department also focuses on the impact of climate change on water security because water-related stresses (e.g., water shortages, poor water quality, or floods) risk famine, instability, state failure, regional tensions, damaged ecosystems, and interference with the global economy.  The Department prepared the Environmental Impact Statements for the controversial Keystone XL, a proposed pipeline to transport crude oil from Canadian oil sands to U.S. refineries.

U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)
DOT exists to ensure our transportation system is fast, safe, efficient, accessible, convenient, and enhances quality of life.  Transportation emissions – primarily from fossil fuel combustion – are the largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions after electricity generation.  In conjunction with EPA, therefore, DOT sets standards for fuel economy for passenger cars and light trucks through its National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and manages a public education initiative, “It All Adds Up to Cleaner Air.”  DOT also funds state and local agency projects to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality, promotes bicycle and pedestrian use and safety, and conducts initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft.

U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP)
USGCRP coordinates and integrates federal research on changes in the global environment and their implications for society. Begun as an initiative of President George H. Bush in 1989 and later mandated by act of Congress, USGCRP responds to Congress’s call for comprehensive, integrated research to “assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change.”

Thirteen federal entities participate in USGCRP, overseen by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. USGCRP produces the National Climate Assessment, a status report about climate change science and impacts, every four years.  The next report is due in 2014.

U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Besides developing space technology and exploring space, NASA conducts aeronautics research on such topics as how to meet growing demand for air mobility with more fuel efficient, safer, quieter, and more environmentally responsible aircraft.  NASA’s earth science satellites also transmit data on Earth’s atmosphere, climate, oceans, land ice, forests and other features.  Earth scientists use this data to examine what drives climate change and amplifies or diminishes its effects and to form a current picture of our changing climate.  For example, a recent NASA study found that heat from warm river waters draining into the Arctic Ocean contributes to the melting of Arctic sea ice each summer.

U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)
SEC, among other things, regulates what information public companies must disclose to enable investors to make sound decisions.  SEC guidance warns climate change might trigger disclosure obligations.  For example, laws, regulations, international accords, and treaties on climate change might require expenditures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Climate change impacts might damage facilities or equipment, disrupt supply or distribution chains, limit access to (or raise costs of) water, agricultural products, natural resources, or services, or alter demand for a company’s goods or services.  Climate change might also affect costs of doing business — raising insurance premiums, reducing insurance availability, limiting credit in flood zones – or expose companies to monetary sanctions or damage claims.


State, Local, and Tribal Governments

The governments of States, localities, and tribal regions also have a broad array of agencies responsible for health, environment, energy, natural resources, and water.  State, local, and tribal agencies may also address climate-related aspects of: transportation, commerce, education, housing, land use, agriculture, forests, fisheries, wildlife, and disaster preparedness.  Collectively, their policies and practices significantly affect the U.S. response to climate change.

For example, fourteen States and the District of Columbia have begun to prepare for climate change by developing an adaptation plan (though no State has completely attained the goals in its plan.) Georgetown University’s Climate Center is tracking State and local progress on adaptation.


Jackie Brookner, Coyote Creek Filter (detail)
© Jackie Brookner, 2008. Courtesy of the artist. More

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