President Obama ordered the government today to reduce energy use -- cutting everything from the electricity used in office buildings to the petroleum used in fleet vehicles -- in an effort to slash its greenhouse gas emissions 28 percent by 2020.
"As the largest energy consumer in the United States, we have a responsibility to American citizens to reduce our energy use and become more efficient," Obama said in a statement. "Our goal is to lower costs, reduce pollution, and shift federal energy expenses away from oil and towards local, clean energy."
Obama's emissions target comes more than three months after he signed Executive Order 13514, which required each federal agency to submit a 2020 target for cutting emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases. The order also required federal agencies to conserve water, cut waste, support sustainable urban development and use their buying power to promote the growth of "environmentally responsible" products and technologies.
The nation's largest landlord, the General Services Administration owns or leases more than 340 million square feet of office space in more than 8,500 buildings. The Energy Department estimates that all public and private buildings account for about three-quarters of the nation's electricity consumption and half of its greenhouse emissions.
The emissions goal announced today is an aggregate of 35 agency targets, uses 2008 as a baseline and encompasses direct emissions only. The cumulative effort will cut emissions by about 88 million metric tons, energy use by about 646 trillion British thermal units, and energy costs by between $8 billion and $11 billion, Obama administration officials estimate.
"You can't manage what you can't measure," White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman Nancy Sutley said in a conference call with reporters.
By June, each federal agency must send the White House Office of Management and Budget a sustainability plan. Several federal agencies are already using federal stimulus money to trim their carbon footprints; their efforts include installing solar panels on rooftops and buying hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles, Sutley explained.
"We believe that much of this is already paid for," she added.
Several agencies' emissions-reduction goals surpass the overall target. The Treasury Department plans to cut its emissions 33.3 percent during the next decade. The Defense Department plans to cut its "carbon bootprint" in noncombat areas by 34 percent, said Dorothy Robyn, the agency's deputy undersecretary for installations and environment.
Base buildings and vehicles account for about 25 percent of DOD's energy use but almost 40 percent of its emissions. Field operations, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, account for the bulk of DOD's emissions. However, setting an emissions cap on those operations would "not be responsible," she underscored.
"Energy can be a matter of life or death in a combat setting," Robyn added.
The president's executive order includes an exception for the Defense Department. Federal agencies should ensure that 95 percent of new contract actions -- with the exception of weapons systems acquisitions -- meet Energy Star and other federal energy-efficiency benchmarks. Such products should also be water-efficent, bio-based, and low or nontoxic, according to the order.
Consistent with those rules, U.S. EPA plans to buy plug-in electric cars and other alternative-energy vehicles, ultimately cutting petroleum consumption 30 percent during the next decade. The Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado plans to cut data center electricity consumption by 65 percent.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security, called Obama's overall emissions-reduction target "aggressive, but realistic."
"The best thing about reducing energy use is that it's not just good for the environment -- it saves money, too," Carper added in a written statement.
Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope used the occasion to urge the Senate to pass legislation that would set economywide targets for cutting emissions and generating renewable energy. The House passed such a bill last summer ((H.R. 2454), and Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are crafting companion legislation.
"In addition to slashing our dangerous dependence on oil and creating millions of new jobs, clean energy legislation will restore American industry, rebuild the middle class, and rescue our economy by putting it back on a path to long-term, sustained prosperity," Pope said.
The United States will promise the international community that it will reduce emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, State Department climate envoy Todd Stern said yesterday. The Obama administration's target, which comes as part of an international climate accord brokered in Copenhagen last month, is consistent with the House bill's target (E&ENews PM, Jan. 28).
Click here to read Obama's executive order.