Obama orders cut in federal government's greenhouse-gas emissions

President Obama Friday told federal agencies to cut energy use to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 28 percent by 2010. Agencies are taking measures ranging from using more solar energy to switching from gasoline vehicles to hybrid vehicles.

By , Staff writer

The White House Friday announced it would move ahead with plans to enact major cuts in energy use that are expected to reduce the federal government’s greenhouse-gas emissions by 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,” President Obama said in a prepared statement. “Our goal is to lower costs, reduce pollution, and shift federal energy expenses away from oil and towards local, clean energy.”

The president last fall issued an executive order requiring federal agencies to “measure, manage and reduce” greenhouse-gas emissions to agency defined goals. As the single-largest energy consumer in the US economy, the federal government spent more than $24.5 billion on electricity and fuel in 2008 alone. If it achieves its target, the government would slash federal energy use by the equivalent of 205 million barrels of oil use annually – the equivalent of taking 17 million cars off the road for one year.

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The government would also save a cumulative $8 to $11 billion in avoided energy costs through 2020 from the 2008 baseline, according to the White House.

While the move will not by itself make a large dent in the nation’s overall emissions, it is a significant step that comes just a day after the Obama administration submitted a pledge to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat to cut greenhouse-gases by 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels. To do that, however, will require congressional approval.

“It’s one of the things government can do to set an example – and something the president is able to do without waiting for Congress to get its act together,” says David Hawkins, director of the Natural Resource Defense Council’s climate center. “Obviously this by itself is not sufficient, but it is a welcome step for the government to come up with a specific reduction plan. I suspect they will find that they can do even better. But 28 percent is still a meaningful number.”

Federal agencies have had their energy-reduction thinking caps on since last October when the president gave the government’s 35 agencies marching orders to develop plans to cut emissions.

The Central Intelligence Agency recently opened two new LEED-certified buildings that should cut energy and water use by 20 to 40 percent. The US Air Force Academy is building solar arrays that will meet its needs for power. The Academy will also cut its energy use by 38 percent, according to a White House list of initiatives.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., will rely on fans rather than air conditioners to cool its computer data center and cut the number of servers from 250 to 50 without a loss of computing power, thanks to a more efficient setup.

The Environmental Protection Agency is upgrading its auto fleet to hybrid and plug-in vehicles, expecting to reduce gasoline use by about 30 percent – cutting emissions by 25 percent. Combined with alternative fuels, the EPA cuts could reach higher than 40 percent.

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