More climate baby steps: Federal government to reduce its own carbon pollution by 100 million tons

With hopes of squeezing a national clean energy and climate bill out of the 111th Congress rapidly dimming, many are now asking whether the federal government can use its existing authority to reduce global warming pollution. One issue on which the Obama Administration has shown leadership is in using executive authority to reduce the emissions of the federal government itself (see here). CAPAF’s Sean Pool has the story.

Last week, the President upped his ante by announcing that the federal government would reduce carbon pollution from indirect sources, such as employee travel and commuting, by 13 percent by 2020. This goes above and beyond previous commitments made to reduce emissions from direct sources by 28 percent by 2020, under last year’s Executive Order 13514.

A recent press release illuminates some key facts:

“Every year, the Federal Government consumes more energy than any other single organization or company in the United States,” said President Obama.

“That energy goes towards lighting and heating government buildings, fueling vehicles and powering federal projects across the country and around the world. The government has a responsibility to use that energy wisely, to reduce consumption, improve efficiency, use renewable energy, like wind and solar, and cut costs.”

The Federal government is the single largest energy consumer in the US economy. It owns 600,000 vehicles, owns and manages nearly 500,000 buildings, and paid a $24.5 billion utility and fuel bill in 2008. Meeting these targets will engage the nearly 2 million men and women across the country who are employed by Federal agencies.

This new commitment to reduce indirect emissions by 13 percent, when added together with previous plans under the executive order to reduce direct emissions by 28 percent, will cut pollution by 101 million metric tons annually by 2020. That has the same air-cleaning power as taking roughly 20 million cars off the road.

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Reducing pollution and increasing energy efficiency also means saving money on the government’s utility bills, which means big savings for taxpayers in the long run. Official White House estimates project that the measures implemented under Executive Order 13514 will save taxpayers $8 billion to $11 billion in avoided federal energy costs annually. The Executive Order is also expected to create clean energy jobs by stimulating demand for products from the innovative and high value-added cleantech and energy efficiency industries.

While reducing federal emissions seems like a pretty small step compared to comprehensive climate legislation that reduces pollution and creates jobs in all sectors of the economy, lets keep in mind that under any previous president, it would have felt like one giant leap.

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Sean Pool is a Special Assistant for the Center for American Progress Energy team, and also serves as an acting editor for scienceprogress.org.