Federal Agencies Outline Plans to Cut GHG Emissions

by | Sep 13, 2010

The White House released federal agencies’ sustainability plans, providing the first detailed glimpse of how the government plans to decrease its greenhouse gas emissions over the next 10 years, the New York Times reports.

The 56 government agencies and offices that would implement the plans have a similar challenge: To cut direct emissions by making infrastructure improvements, reducing fossil fuel use and implementing better maintenance practices. But some agencies are planning to go further. The Interior Department, for example, aims to install renewable energy systems at wildlife refuges and other lands under its control, while several agencies will consolidate their data centers.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) called the plans a “great first step” that will need to evolve under Congress’ watch. The reduction goals — which range from the single digits to 30 percent — are “pretty ambitious,” he told the New York Times.

“There’s no silver bullet to lessening our dependence on foreign oil and lowering the cost of our operations — but there may be silver buckshot,” Carper said in a statement. “Large and small agencies alike have presented strategies and solutions ranging from major building retrofits and on-site renewable energy installations, to reducing office waste and purchasing greener products.”

President Obama first directed federal agencies to create sustainability plans in an October 2009 executive order. In January, he announced a goal of cutting direct emissions — such as purchased electricity and fuel usage — by 28 percent over the next 10 years.

But the most challenging aspect of Obama’s plans may be the reduction of “scope 3” emissions, which include indirect emissions that are out of an agency’s direct control. Obama aims to decrease such emissions by 13 percent by 2020.

Measuring indirect emissions can by tricky, and so far, agencies are limited in what they can promise. Many hope to reach their goals by reducing business travel and providing incentives for employees to carpool or take public transportation to work. The Defense Department, for example, plans to get 30 percent of eligible employees to telecommute once a week.

The Veteran’s Administration said it will consider sustainability and energy efficiency in all its purchases.

Likewise, the General Services Administration plans to use its purchasing power to “green the supply chain” by buying energy-efficient products and creating a more robust federal market for sustainability practices by leveraging its ownership of large numbers of federal facilities, the Federal Times reports.

GSA also is pressing vendors to offer incentives to their suppliers to use environmentally sustainable supplies.

“Over the next two years, GSA is looking to find ways to incentivize — not require — companies to measure and report their GHG emissions and initiate a process by which contracting advantages could be given to companies that conduct greenhouse gas inventories,” the report said

The U.S. Postal Service, with over 33,000 facilities may have the largest impact of any of the agencies. The USPS Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan describes the agency’s goals and targets, and cited many milestones already reached by the agency, including its recycling and mail-back programs, electric and alternative fuel-powered vehicles and Cradle to Cradle Certified™ mailing and shipping supplies.

Agencies will be required to update their plans annually, and the Office of Management and Budget will report their progress online, according to a White House press release. If all goes according to plan — and agencies are able to hit their goals by 2020 — White House officials say efforts could reduce CO2 emissions by 101 million metric tons.

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