When President Obama made his second State of the Union address, he talked extensively about the importance of addressing global climate change. “For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more,” he said. “But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”
Obama now seems to be making good on those statements. On Thursday, the administration released an executive order directing the federal government to triple its use of renewable energy by 2020, which would bring the government’s renewable energy usage to 20 percent. The order will apply to all federal agencies, including the military.
The Associated Press, which obtained a copy of the executive order before it was published, noted that the federal government itself occupies approximately 500,000 buildings and operates 600,000 vehicles, and purchases more than $500 billion per year in goods and services. The order does not disclose the cost of the transition, but says the goal will be reached “to the extent economically feasible and technically practicable.”
The top priority for federal agencies is installing agency-funded renewable energy on-site at federal facilities, and retaining renewable energy certificates, or RECs. An REC is a certificate that represents the environmental value of one megawatt-hour of electricity. In buying a REC, the government essentially pays a little bit of money in order to claim and keep track of the clean benefit of the electricity produced.
Obama has pledged to address climate change during his second term, and in a June speech detailed a three-tier plan for the administration. That plan would cut carbon pollution in America, lead international efforts to cut global emissions, and prepare the U.S. for the costly impacts of climate change. President Obama framed the action as a moral obligation to do what we can for “the world we leave our children.”
“This is the global threat of our time,” Obama said in June. “And for the sake of future generations, our generation must move toward a global compact to confront a changing climate before it is too late. That is our job. That is our task. We have to get to work.”
But once the President makes an official announcement of the executive order, he will likely face harsh opposition from fossil fuel-backed politicians who have historically opposed his attempts to mandate the use of more renewable energy. After his June speech, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) — a coal insider who maintains an income of almost $2 million from a coal firm — compared the President’s rhetoric on climate change to a “war on America.”
The military has already begun a transition to efficient and renewable energy, after the head of the U.S. Pacific Command cited climate change as “probably the most likely thing that is going to happen … that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.” The Army is now proceeding with its “Net Zero Energy” initiative, which means that on some domestic bases, they will aim to produce as much energy, water, and waste as they consume. Cost and reliability are the primary reasons, but cutting carbon pollution will be one of the outcomes.
The executive order can be read in full here.