Obama Signs Executive Order Cutting Federal Government Carbon Emissions

CREDIT: Dennis Schroeder, NREL

On Thursday morning, President Obama signed a new executive order that requires the federal government to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2025 from 2008 levels. A fact sheet distributed by the White House noted that this could boost government renewable energy sources to 30 percent, and save taxpayers $18 billion in energy costs.

Calling this action a “triple win: a win for environment, a for the economy, and for the American taxpayer,” White House Senior Advisor Brian Deese told reporters that this executive order will “raise the bar” beyond previous actions the President has taken to confront climate change head-on.

One reason is that it’s not just federal agencies that will commit to cutting carbon pollution. Several major federal suppliers, such as Lockheed Martin, General Electric, and IBM announced new voluntary commitments to cut their own emissions as well. With suppliers and agencies jointly shrinking their carbon footprints, the White House estimates that greenhouse gas emissions will drop by 26 million metric tons – 5 million from the private sector, 21 million from the public sector. In total, this is the equivalent of taking 5.5 million cars off the road for a year.

A new scorecard will allow citizens to keep track of how individual suppliers are doing on greenhouse gas management.

CREDIT: whitehouse.gov

Deese said these were new, “very ambitious goals,” beyond what the companies would do normally. He noted that IBM, for example was committed to cutting energy-related greenhouse gas emissions 35 percent by the end of the decade against 2005 levels.

He said the administration was “very confident” that this progress would continue past the end of the President’s term because these goals make financial sense for the agencies that will be implementing them.

When Obama rolled out his Climate Action Plan in 2013, he noted that the federal agencies had already cut their emissions by 15 percent since 2009, and pledged to have the government powered by 20 percent renewable sources by 2020.

In 2009, the President signed an executive order that directed agencies to “increase energy efficiency” as well as “measure, report, and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions from direct and indirect activities.”

A year later, he set the goal more specifically: a 28 percent cut in direct greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, and a 13 percent drop in indirect emissions. The White House estimated that doing this through a combination of energy efficiency, cutting petroleum usage, and boosting renewables would avoid between $8 and $11 billion in energy costs.

The Pentagon has been pursuing a smaller energy footprint for years, as it saves money and saves lives. Operationally, some of the worst threats are attacks on convoys bringing fuel to forward operating bases. If those bases can stop relying on a loud diesel generator in lieu of a quiet renewable power source, it can help protect lives. When domestic bases consume less energy through efficiency, EVs, and renewable power, there is more room in the budget for other priorities.

It’s starting to work. In Fiscal Year 2013, the Defense Department’s total energy use had fallen to its lowest level on record (records began in 1975). DoD’s energy consumption is massive even on a global scale, with nearly 300,000 buildings on 500 installations across the globe. The EIA, which reported the data, noted the drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan as one cause. It also highlighted lower government building energy use since the 2007 energy bill set initial goals – energy intensity had dropped 17 percent in FY 2013 compared to 2003.

Outdoor LED lights could save the U.S. more than $6 billion per year, by using 80 percent less energy than the incandescents they would replace.

The Department of Energy has conducted several gateway demonstration projects in museums to see if LED lights could handle environments that demand high-quality lighting. For the most part they did, with thousands of dollars in energy savings in one demonstration gallery at the Smithsonian American Art Museum alone, earning back the investment within 18 months.

One blind spot in federal carbon emissions, however, is taxpayer-owned oil, gas, and coal extracted from public lands. According to a new report from the Center for American Progress, emissions from federal lands and waters could have accounted for nearly a quarter of the country’s total energy-related emissions in 2012. The real number may never be known, however, because the Interior Department, which is in charge, does not have a comprehensive plan to measure and cut emissions from public lands energy extraction.