President Obama Calls for Reduction in Carbon Emissions

The Federal Government will one day have a much smaller carbon footprint. President Obama recently announced an executive order to slash the government’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from 2008 levels over the next decade.

The directive affects all federal agencies and, in addition to the reduction of pollutants that adversely affect climate change, the government should see financial savings as well. The White House claims that taxpayers will save nearly $18 billion in energy costs. That figure includes carbon limits put in place since 2008.

Since Obama took office, the government has reduced emissions by 17% and increased renewable energy use by 6%, while some agencies have gone even further. The Department of Energy previously set a goal to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 28% by 2020 and has already exceeded that goal, cutting emissions by 34%. The Environmental Protection Agency set a similar goal and has also met it and then some, cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 57%

The Department of Defense tends to have the largest share of whatever it is you’re quantifying; greenhouse gas emissions are no different as the DoD has the largest carbon footprint in the federal government. Already it has reduced emissions by 10%, and is aiming to utilize 3 gigawatts of renewable energy on military installations by 2025—enough to power 750,000 homes.

According to White House Senior Advisor Brian Deese, the executive order is a “triple win: a win for the environment, a win for the economy and for the American taxpayer.” If all the goals set out by the plan are met, it would mean emission reductions of 21 million metric tons, equivalent to taking over four million cars off the road for a year.

By 2025, Obama will be long out of office. But Deese said that he is confident that the next administration will continue along this same path as it simply makes fiscal sense. The federal government is the largest energy consumer in the nation, what with 360,000 buildings, 650,000 fleet vehicles and other assets. Any action that the government takes to curb carbon emissions would have a huge impact, both environmental and financial.

One of the more difficult avenues for cutting emissions—in any organization—is cleaning up the supply chain. IBM, Honeywell, Northrop Grumman and other federal suppliers have agreed to cut their emissions in support of the president’s agenda, as well as other environmentally conscious activities. For example, SRA International, an information technology firm with government contracts, has announced a goal of 35% greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. They also are committing to reducing paper use by 75% and hope to achieve a 90% recycling rate.

“We thought it was important for us to lead by example at the federal government,” Obama said. “We’re proving it is possible to grow our economy robustly while at the same time doing the right thing for the environment and tackling climate change in a serious way.”

The hope is that these actions will lead as an example for the private sector, and not just for those companies with government contracts that the White House can put pressure on. To that point, however, the administration created an online scorecard which will track the largest federal suppliers—those companies that receive more than $1 billion annually in federal business. The scorecard will show if these government contractors have set greenhouse gas reduction targets and if they publicly disclose their emissions data.

The White House hopes that, working together, the federal government and the private sector can have a real impact in the fight against climate change. If the goals set in this executive order are met, cooperation between the private sector and the federal government would lead to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 26 million metric tons between 2008 and 2025. That’s nearly the equivalent of taking seven coal-fired power plants offline for one year.

“We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity,” Obama said during his second inauguration address. “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”

Image: Alex Cheek

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