Obama sets targets on agencies' greenhouse-gas emissions

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 30, 2010

President Obama set specific greenhouse-gas emissions targets for the federal government Friday, saying it would aim to reduce its emissions by 28 percent by 2020.

The executive order, which covers 35 government agencies that must submit plans to the Office of Management and Budget by June for meeting the target, takes aim at the nation's single-largest energy consumer, although it represents a small fraction of total U.S. energy spending.

The federal government spent more than $24.5 billion on electricity and fuel in 2008, Obama said, which is roughly 1.5 percent of the country's total energy spending. According to Nancy Sutley, who chairs the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the government operates about 500,000 buildings and 600,000 vehicles.

"President Obama recognizes that it's the federal government's responsibility to lead by example in sustainability and on our efforts to build a clean-energy economy," Sutley told reporters in a telephone news conference, adding that the plan aims to save $8 billion to $11 billion in energy costs through 2020. The 28 percent reduction will be compared with 2008 levels of emissions.

Sutley estimated that completion of the plan would amount to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 88 million metric tons by 2020 -- equivalent to taking 17 million cars off the road for one year. The Office of Management and Budget will score each agency on annual performance toward meeting the goal and will release the score card to the public.

The Obama administration has been pressing for legislation that would reduce U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions 17 percent compared with 2005 levels by 2020, which would affect everything from power plants to private vehicles, but it remains unclear whether this proposal will pass the Senate.

The new order is not as sweeping as it could have been: It does not, for instance, include emissions stemming from the activities of federal suppliers or from federal employees' commutes. And although the Defense Department pledged Friday to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions 34 percent in noncombat areas by 2020, that pledge does not include combat operations, which account for 62 percent of the department's carbon footprint.

"That would not be responsible," said Dorothy Robyn, deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment.

But conservatives such as Patrick Creighton, a spokesman for the Institute for Energy Research, criticized Obama for boasting that the initiative would "shift federal energy expenses away from oil and towards local, clean energy."

"It is indeed easy to cast demagogic aspersions on oil -- and then leave the podium to board an aircraft that runs entirely on fuels derived from it," said Creighton, whose group is funded in part by the energy industry.

The announcement came on the same day that television network al-Jazeera released a purported audiotape from al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden blaming the United States for climate change and demanding a boycott of American goods. "All of the industrialized countries, especially the big ones, bear responsibility for the global warming crisis," bin Laden said in the tape.

Staff writer Anne E. Kornblut contributed to this report.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company