Obama: Fed's GHG Emissions Must Drop 28% by 2020

A national cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gasses might be in limbo, but that hasn’t stopped President Obama from announcing on Friday an emissions reduction target for federal operations. The president, fulfilling an executive order signed in October, said the federal government will reduce its emissions by 28 percent by 2020 over a 2008 baseline year. “Our goal is to lower costs, reduce pollution, and shift federal energy expenses away from oil and towards local, clean energy,” Obama said in a statement.

The federal government – occupying nearly half a million buildings, operating more than 600,000 vehicles and employing more than 1.8 million civilians – spent more than $24.5 billion on electricity and fuel in 2008 and is the largest energy consumer in the U.S. economy. Federal departments and agencies will achieve emissions reductions by measuring their current energy and fuel use, becoming more energy efficient and shifting to clean energy sources like solar and wind, the statement said.

The announcement should be welcome news for the growing number of firms, such as Kleiner Perkins-backed Hara and German software giant SAP, developing products and services that help organizations track and manage their carbon emissions. Companies that help building owners reduce energy use through efficiency measures, as well as renewable energy developers, also stand to gain from the new federal mandate.

While the new target is limited to federal departments and agencies, private businesses are increasingly looking to track and understand their carbon emissions across their operations. Earlier this week, the Security and Exchange Commission issued guidelines on what publicly traded companies must disclose to investors about climate-related effects on their businesses. One issue they must consider is the potential risk to profits from environmental protection laws, such as those mandating a reduction in green house gas emissions.

In related news, the Obama administration  yesterday gave notice to the United Nations that the U.S. will aim for a 17 percent emissions cut by 2020 over 2005 levels. The Copenhagen Accord agreed by the U.S. and other countries at U.N. talks in December calls for governments to submit non-binding climate plans by the end of this month. But the final U.S. 2020 emissions goal depends on Congress passing a climate bill.

Besides calling for reduced emissions, the executive order signed last fall requires federal agencies to meet other sustainability goals. Those goals include a 26 percent improvement in water efficiency by 2020, a 50 percent recycling and waste diversion by 2015, and the implementation of a net-zero-energy building requirement by 2030. The government said agencies are already taking actions toward these goals. The Central Intelligence Agency, for example, has recently opened two LEED-certified buildings that reduce energy and water use over conventional construction, and the Environmental Protection Agency is upgrading its fleet over the next decade to hybrid-electric and plug-in vehicles.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia. Photo by Paul Morse for the White House.

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