Obama orders feds to cut energy use, emissions

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 5, 2009 

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama on Monday ordered the federal government -- the nation's largest energy user -- to cut its greenhouse gas emissions and to reduce its impact on the environment.

The president's executive order also requires all agencies to conserve water, reduce waste and use the government's enormous purchasing power to buy more environmentally sound products. Once the changes in place, they could touch everything from the kinds of vehicles in federal fleets to the use of recycled paper and non-plastic utensils in government cafeterias.

Obama's edict is the first time a president is requiring the federal agencies to reduce their overall greenhouse gas emissions. In January 2007, then-President George W. Bush signed a similar executive order that required the government to improve energy efficiency, but he didn't require greenhouse gas-reduction targets.

Monday's order came a little more than two months before an international negotiating session on a new global plan to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases. Other countries are looking for action from the United States, which contributes about 20 percent of the gases that accumulate in the atmosphere. Mandatory economywide emissions reductions imposed through congressional legislation probably won't be ready in time for the international negotiations.

The reductions that the president set in motion Monday with a stroke of his pen, however, would be a step in the same direction. Nationwide, the government has 500,000 buildings, runs more than 600,000 vehicles and buys more than $500 billion a year in goods and services.

The White House said the order would result in substantial energy savings, which would mean savings for taxpayers.

It won't be known until the individual agencies report their targets how much they've cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Although the agencies set their own plans, the White House gave some requirements, including a 26 percent improvement in water efficiency and a 30 percent reduction in the use of petroleum for vehicles. Both goals are to be accomplished by 2020.

The White House Office of Management and Budget plans to grade each agency's ability to meet its own target and post the results on the Web.

The order doesn't apply to military operations. Even so, the Department of Defense will be asked to reduce its energy use in other ways, such as in the use of more energy efficient buildings at its installations around the country. Parts of the Pentagon have been given independent certification for sustainability, including a subway entrance and the library and conference center.

The executive order, however, calls for agencies to do more than they have so far on energy savings.

"This executive order builds on the momentum of the Recovery Act to help create a clean energy economy and demonstrates the federal government's commitment, over and above what is already being done, to reducing emissions and saving money," Obama said in a statement.

The Recovery Act, last winter's economic-stimulus measure, set aside about $80 billion for clean energy projects, including renewable energy generation on some federal properties.

Some of the things the order requires:

  • Buying greener products. Federal agencies will be asked to think of such things as buying Energy Star appliances and many other sustainable products.
  • Buildings. New buildings after 2030 will be required to have net-zero-energy use. Reducing energy intensity — energy use per square foot -- in all buildings.
  • Vehicles. Use more vehicles that run on electricity or alternative fuels, or bicycles. The order gives agencies extra time -- 240 days -- to figure out how to reduce emissions in indirect ways, such as reductions in employee travel and package shipments.

ON THE WEB

The White House press statement and a link to the executive order

"Climate Literacy: The Essential Principles of Climate Science"

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