Agencies outline plans for curbing fossil fuels, emissions

The White House released federal agencies' sustainability plans yesterday, providing the first detailed glimpse of how the government plans to decrease its greenhouse gas emissions over the next 10 years.

The basics among the 50-plus government agencies and offices are similar: Many plan to cut direct emissions by making infrastructure improvements, reducing fossil fuel use and implementing better maintenance practices. But some agencies are planning to go further. The Interior Department, for example, aims to install renewable energy systems at wildlife refuges and other lands under its control, while several agencies will consolidate their data centers.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) called the plans a "great first step" that will need to evolve under Congress' watch. The reduction goals -- which range from the single digits to 30 percent -- are "pretty ambitious," he said.

"There's no silver bullet to lessening our dependence on foreign oil and lowering the cost of our operations -- but there may be silver buckshot," Carper said in a statement. "Large and small agencies alike have presented strategies and solutions ranging from major building retrofits and on-site renewable energy installations, to reducing office waste and purchasing greener products."

President Obama first directed federal agencies to create sustainability plans in an October 2009 executive order. In January, he announced a governmentwide goal of cutting direct emissions -- such as purchased electricity and fuel usage -- by 28 percent over the next 10 years.


But the most challenging aspect of Obama's plans may be the reduction of "scope 3" emissions, which include indirect emissions that are out of an agency's direct control. Obama aims to decrease such emissions by 13 percent by 2020 -- an estimate based on the reports released yesterday.

Measuring indirect emissions can by tricky, and so far, agencies are limited in what they can promise. Many hope to reach their goals by reducing business travel and providing incentives for employees to carpool or take public transportation to work. The Defense Department, for example, plans to get 30 percent of eligible employees to telecommute once a week.

Agencies will also amp up recycling efforts and explore ways to get reliable emissions information from contracting companies. At the General Services Administration, officials hope to eventually give contracting advantages to companies that conduct greenhouse gas inventories. The agency also aims to divert at least half of its nonhazardous waste from landfills.

"As the workplace solutions provider for the federal government, GSA is uniquely positioned to deliver significant, systemic decreases in greenhouse gas emissions by eliminating our own environmental impact while using our government-wide scope to influence reductions across government," said GSA Administrator Martha Johnson in a statement.

Agencies will be required to update their plans annually, and the Office of Management and Budget will report their progress online, according to a White House press release. If all goes according to plan -- and agencies are able to hit their goals by 2020 -- White House officials say efforts could reduce CO2 emissions by 101 million metric tons.

Click here for the White House's database of agencies' reports.

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