McCain Has Plan to Make Government More Green

Republican John McCain said Tuesday the federal government should practice the energy efficiency he preaches, pledging as president to switch official vehicles to green technologies and do the same for office buildings. Video by AP
By Juliet Eilperin and Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sen. John McCain pledged yesterday that he would make the federal government more environmentally friendly, while Sen. Barack Obama mocked his rival as crafting energy policies that merely pander to voters, in the latest skirmish over which presidential candidate is better prepared to tackle the nation's energy and environmental problems.

In a speech in Santa Barbara, Calif., McCain (R-Ariz.) vowed to "put the purchasing power of the United States government on the side of green technology" by buying fuel-efficient vehicles for its civilian fleet of cars and trucks and by retrofitting federal office space. The pledge comes months after Obama (D-Ill.) outlined a more detailed and ambitious proposal on the subject, virtually ensuring that the next administration will take significant steps to lower the government's output of energy and pollution.

A greening of the government would probably have a major impact on the Washington region, as the modernizing of buildings would spark a mini-construction boom and ease energy demands. Cleaner vehicles would also reduce harmful auto emissions, environmentalists say.

"Every year, the federal government buys upwards of 60,000 cars and other vehicles, not including military or law enforcement vehicles," McCain said as he campaigned with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a prominent GOP environmentalist. "From now on, we're going to make those civilian vehicles flex-fuel capable, plug-in hybrid, or cars fueled by clean natural gas."

Saying that the U.S. government ranks as "the single largest consumer of electricity in the world" because it holds sway over "3.3 billion square feet of federal office space" worldwide, McCain said he plans to reduce the government's carbon footprint by updating its buildings and demanding better standards in new ones.

"By retrofitting where possible, and by applying a higher efficiency standard to new buildings leased or purchased, we can save taxpayers billions of dollars in energy costs and move the market in the direction of green technology," he said.

McCain did not provide details about his plan, causing some public watchdog and environmental groups to question how much energy would be saved.

Obama, who first set his targets last October, has promised that he would make all new federal buildings 40 percent more efficient than current ones within five years, and carbon-neutral by 2025. He has also pledged to increase efficiency of existing federal buildings by 25 percent within five years and to ensure that the government derives 30 percent of its electricity from renewable energy by 2020 -- none of which McCain has promised to do.

President Bush has already instituted energy-efficiency measures for the White House and the government. The changes are not as dramatic as the proposals Obama has outlined, though they are more specific than McCain's.

In January 2007, the president issued an executive order calling on the government to "increase purchase of alternative fuel, hybrid, and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles when commercially available" and to "reduce petroleum consumption in fleet vehicles by 2 percent annually through 2015," among other measures.

He and Laura Bush have also made changes in the White House, replacing all incandescent bulbs in hallways with compact fluorescent lights, installing low-consumption toilets in many places and putting in energy-efficient cooling units.

Speaking at a town hall meeting yesterday in a nature preserve near the Las Vegas Strip, Obama criticized his rival's energy plans, though he did not mention McCain's proposal to "green" the federal government.

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