White House Conference on Green Infrastructure

Katherine Baer speaking at the White House to the Council on Environmental Quality

Katherine Baer speaking at the White House Conference on green infrastructure | American Rivers

Last week I had the great opportunity to attend and speak at a White House Conference on Green Infrastructure convened by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the Environmental Protection Agency designed to bring together leaders in this area to figure out how to move forward the smart use of rain gardens, green roofs, permeable pavement and other techniques as a key strategy for clean water and vibrant communities.

The level of energy in the room was high all day, from the welcoming remarks by CEQ’s Nancy Sutley, all the way through to the final break-out reports.

I spoke about our experience working to advance green infrastructure in Toledo, Ohio through demonstration projects, partnerships and policy change. One project funded through stimulus money, the Maywood green streets revitalization project, has reduced flooding in basements and monitoring results show the City could save millions by using green infrastructure instead of expanding their deep tunnel that carries sewage and stormwater when it rains.

Others addressed funding and financing. Matt Millea, of Onondaga County, New York, spoke about the Save the Rain program and how they are trying to bundle many smaller, decentralized projects together to apply for larger loans instead of having to fund them all separately. Jason Scott with Eko Asset Management Partners talked about new opportunities to drive private financing to green infrastructure.

As Nancy Stoner, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Water noted, people are no longer arguing about whether green infrastructure works as an effective way to manage polluted stormwater runoff. Now, the questions are about how to build on the good work being done around the country – in places ranging from Milwaukee, WI to Lancaster, PA to Los Angeles – to make use of these approaches a key component of water management more broadly.

Many communities are starting to integrate green infrastructure into their local policies and permits, and American Rivers supports building from these examples to adopt minimum performance-based stormwater standards nationally. This would provide consistency, level the playing field, and more effectively protect our rivers and communities from polluted stormwater runoff. We additionally need continued federal funding dedicated to catalyzing innovative projects, while looking for ways to capture new revenue sources, including those from the private sector.

There were many ideas put forward last week, including tax credits for green infrastructure and the benefit of better coordination across federal funding sources – we’re looking forward to working with others to move some of these ideas forward for cleaner rivers and healthier communities.

Dr. Rob Roseen speaks to the Council on Environmental Quality at the White House

Dr. Rob Roseen, speaking at the White House Conference on green infrastructure | American Rivers