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Green Executive Order: Feds Must Cut Emissions 28% By 2020

President Obama may not be able to force Congress to pass climate-change legislation that will cap greenhouse gas emissions. But he can make all of those federal offices and operations -- yup, including non-combat military operations -- to cut their GHG pollution.

Obama ordered Friday all federal agencies must cut their greenhouse gas emissions 28 percent by 2020. It won't be a small feat, either. The federal government is the single largest energy consumer in the United States and spent more than $24.5 billion on electricity and fuel in 2008, according to the White House. The federal government's carbon cuts will be 11 percent deeper than Obama's pledge during climate talks in Copenhagen last year to reduce total U.S. emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

The size of the federal government provides plenty of opportunity to slash GHGs. For example, the feds operate more than 600,000 vehicles.

The cuts to GHGs over the next decade is expected to reduce federal energy use by 646 trillion BTUs. That's equal to 205 million barrels of oil or taking 17 million cars off the road for one year. The White House expects to avoid $8 billion to $11 billion in energy costs through 2020 under this plan.

The plan isn't exactly new, although the details are. Obama signed an executive order on federal sustainability in October that set environmental performance goals for federal agencies. Each of the federal government's 35 agencies have submitted a pollution reduction target for 2020 based on a 2008 baseline. The White House's Office of Management and Budget will review each agency's plan and progress on its goals will be measured and reported online annually.

So, how exactly will the feds reduce their carbon footprint? Think solar, energy efficiency retrofits, hybrid cars and the like. Ten pages of projects planned or already underway were provided by the White House as part of its announcement. Many of the projects use funds from the stimulus bill and aim to create private-sector clean energy jobs.

Here's a sampling of some of the projects:

  • Navy: The USS Makin Island Navy surface ship will use a hybrid energy using gas turbines and an electric drive, which is expected to save $250 million over its lifetime;
  • Army: Fort Bliss in Texas is investing in solar, geothermal, wind and biomass energy to become a net-zero electricity user by 2025. Fort Irwin in California is building a 500 megawatt solar plant in the Mojave Desert, and when finished will be one of the largest solar installations in the country;
  • Environmental Protection Agency: Upgrade its transportation fleet to fuel efficient or hybrid electric or plug-in vehicles to reduce its gas consumption by nearly 30 percent;
  • Smithsonian: The Smithsonian National Zoological Park converted its 2,500-gallon diesel fuel pumps to a 20 percent soybean biodiesel blend.