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Leading by Example on Clean Energy

Sean Pool explains how the president’s emissions targets for the federal government will save taxpayers money and smooth the transition to a clean energy economy.

The Denver Federal Center, pictured above, is already working to improve its energy efficiency by installing 35 acres of roof-mounted solar panels, enough to supply all of its electricity needs. (Flickr/Jeffrey Beall)
The Denver Federal Center, pictured above, is already working to improve its energy efficiency by installing 35 acres of roof-mounted solar panels, enough to supply all of its electricity needs. (Flickr/Jeffrey Beall)

Today President Barack Obama announced that federal agencies would cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 28 percent in 2020. The White House projects these measures will save taxpayers $8 billion to $11 billion in energy costs annually—about one-third to nearly half of current energy spending. The amount of energy saved is the equivalent of 205 million barrels of oil per year, and the pollution cuts will be equivalent to taking 17 million cars off the road.

The president made crystal clear during his State of the Union address that the adoption of clean-energy and global warming policies is essential to create jobs, increase American energy independence, and cut pollution. While the Senate continues its work on comprehensive bipartisan energy legislation, the president is using his existing executive authority to achieve these goals—as he demonstrated today.

On October 8, 2009, Executive Order 13514 for “Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance” instructed each of the 35 federal agencies to perform a self-evaluation of their ability to reduce global warming pollution, and the target announced today is the aggregate of their commitments. Since the federal government is the nation’s largest energy consumer, the 2020 target is a very substantial reduction and much more aggressive than the economywide targets in pending legislation.

In addition to the obvious benefits of energy savings and pollution reductions the target will also help build critical new capacity for the federal government to accurately measure, report, and reduce greenhouse gas pollution—something it has never had to do before. This expertise will be invaluable as the government moves to enact and enforce future laws limiting pollution from large private polluters.

What’s more, this program will boost growth in domestic clean-energy technology industries, “shift[ing] federal energy expenses away from oil and towards local, clean energy.” This will spark new demand for energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies, driving investment, spurring clean-energy business growth, and creating clean-energy jobs.

The White House noted that agencies are already moving full steam ahead:

“Agencies are already taking actions that will contribute towards achieving their targets, such as installing solar arrays at military installations, tapping landfills for renewable energy, putting energy management systems in federal buildings, and replacing older vehicles with more fuel efficient hybrid models.”

Here are a few specific examples of what some federal agencies are already doing to increase efficiency and reduce pollution:

  • The Department of Health and Human Services has upgraded the energy management systems in several of its buildings, saving the agency $93,000
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs will construct a wind turbine electricity system for its medical center at St. Cloud, Minnesota
  • The Environmental Protection Agency will upgrade its vehicle fleet to increase fuel efficiency by 30 percent, reducing pollution by 25 percent
  • The Denver Federal Center will install 35 acres of roof-mounted solar panels, which is enough to supply 100 percent of the facility’s electricity needs
  • The Central Intelligence Agency’s two newest buildings will be LEED certified, reducing energy and water use by 20 and 40 percent, respectively

The clean-energy investments the president ordered will generate work for America’s engineers, electricians, manufacturers, and construction workers who will produce, build, and retrofit the federal government’s many properties around the country. This will help smooth the transition to the clean energy economy by ensuring a stable source of demand for clean-energy technologies, workers, and services over the next decade.

By moving forward now to invest in clean-energy technologies, President Obama has ensured that the federal government will lead by example creating jobs, saving money, and reducing pollution all at the same time.

Sean Pool is the Special Assistant for the Energy Policy team.

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