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Leading By Example: Federal Agencies To Reduce Emissions 28 Percent

Today's announcement from the White House suggests that significant emissions cuts could save money--along with the environment.

Many presidential executive orders go unnoticed, but here’s one that actually merits greater attention. Last October, President Obama issued Executive Order 13514, which (among other things) directed all federal agencies to develop greenhouse gas reduction targets and plans to achieve them. As I remarked earlier, the executive order could be an important indicator of climate change policy in 2010.

Today, the White House announced its target: a 28% reduction in GHG emissions by 2020. Furthermore, the Administration released an extensive list of energy projects that various agencies are planning to use to meet their commitments.

The Executive Order and today's announcement are significant in several respects.

First, as the country’s largest energy consumer, the Federal government has a substantial carbon footprint. According to the White House, today’s target would save the energy equivalent of about 205 million barrels of oil, equivalent to taking 17 million cars off the road.

Second, the 28 percent target is squarely in line with all recent legislation to reduce emissions, and significantly greater than the Administration’s international commitment of 17 percent. Federal agencies are thus setting a strong precedent for the kind of system-wide emissions reductions that are achievable by other large organizations—such as big corporations. They are demonstrating what is possible. And with 500,000 buildings and 600,000 vehicles in its portfolio, emissions reductions by the Federal government will undoubtedly have a positive ripple effect throughout other sectors.

Finally and perhaps most important, the actions announced today will ultimately save the government (and therefore the taxpayers) an estimated $8-11 billion in energy costs over the length of the plan. Much of today’s debate over climate legislation turns on whether we can afford to reduce emissions in a battered economy. If the Federal government plans to save billions of dollars by reducing its own emissions, then the real question is: how can the country afford not to do this?

One last item to watch for: Executive Order 13514 also instructs the Office of Management and Budget to develop a "Scope 3" emissions reduction plan, due later this spring. Scope 3 emissions would include federal contractors and suppliers, which means the significance of today’s actions could ultimately be even bigger. Stay tuned.

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