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Federal government to cut greenhouse emissions 28% by 2020, Obama says

January 29, 2010 |  9:29 am
The federal government is aiming to slash its greenhouse gas emissions 28% by 2020, President Obama said today.

The government is the country’s single-largest energy consumer, having paid nearly $25 billion for electricity and fuel in 2008, accounting for roughly 1.5% of the total spending on primary energy in the U.S.

The new goal, based off a 2008 baseline and spawned by an executive order, would help avoid $8 billion to $11 billion in energy costs over the period.

The move could reduce energy use by the equivalent of 646 trillion BTUs, or 205 million barrels of oil, having the effect of taking 17 million cars off the road for one year, the White House said.

Currently, the government runs 600,000 vehicles and 500,000 buildings, said Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

“We have a responsibility to lead by example in sustainability and in our efforts to build a clean energy economy,” she said in a conference call today.

The Treasury Department, for example, is hoping to cut its emissions by a third, said Daniel Tangherlini, assistant secretary for management and chief financial officer.

The Defense Department, which owns 300,000 buildings and 160,000 commercial vehicles, is trying to reduce emissions in its non-combat areas by 34%, said Dorothy Robyn, deputy undersecretary for installations and the environment.

Currently, the department’s installations and fleet account for around a quarter of Defense’s energy consumption and roughly 40% of its emissions, she said. In 2008, the department spent $20 billion on its energy bill, and another $14 billion in 2009 after oil prices slipped.

While the department will report energy use from its combat, or operational activities, Robyn said the sector would not be subject to a reduction target.

“For us, this is all about mission effectiveness,” Robyn said, calling energy a “life and death” issue. Heavy reliance on fossil fuels, which must be transported in heavily guarded convoys to troops stationed in places such as Iraq, can be dangerous she said.

“We are doing a lot, and we will be doing more,” she said. “It’s a challenge, and we like challenges.”

Executive order 13514, which Obama signed Oct. 5, required all federal agencies to submit a target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to the environmental council and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget by Jan. 4. The 28% goal announced today was compiled by aggregating the 35 reports.

Once agencies become more energy efficient and begin adopting alternative energy sources such as solar and wind and switching to hybrid or electric cars, the plan could spark private-sector jobs, drive long-term savings and boost innovation, according to the government.

-- Tiffany Hsu