The federal government aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 28 percent by 2020, the White House announced Friday.
The ambitious target — larger than the 20 percent reduction initially considered by the administration — represents the aggregate targets proposed by 35 agencies earlier this month.
Nancy Sutley, who heads the White House Council on Environmental Quality, commended agencies for setting aggressive targets that she said will demonstrate the nation's commitment to improving the environment and spur the development of clean energy technologies.
"Everyone is very pleased. It's a real deep commitment from federal employees to do their part," Sutley said in a conference call with reporters.
The federal government is the largest energy consumer in the United States, powering 500,000 buildings and 500,000 vehicles. Achieving the reduction in greenhouse gases will cut the government's electric bill by between $8 billion and $11 billion through 2020 and reduce carbon emissions by 88 million metric tons, Sutley said. The energy savings translates to taking 17 million cars off the road for a year or not consuming 205 million barrels of oil.
President Barack Obama in October ordered agencies for the first time to measure their greenhouse gas emissions and set targets for reducing them by a predetermined percentage by 2020, compared with 2008 baselines.
The Defense Department, which has more buildings and cars than any other federal agency, will reduce its emissions from non-combat activities by 34 percent by 2020, compared with a 2008 baseline, said Dorothy Robyn, deputy undersecretary of Defense for installations and environment.
The Pentagon's buildings and commercial vehicles, which will be subject to the reduction effort, account for a quarter of the department's energy consumption and 40 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions, Robyn said.
The Treasury Department has pledged to cut its emissions by a similar amount, 33.3 percent, said Daniel Tangherlini, assistant secretary for management.
Tangherlini, who also serves as Treasury's chief financial officer and chief performance officer, said the department believes it can achieve the emissions reduction without spending any additional money on its buildings and fleets. Instead, planned investments in building upgrades, new vehicles, energy purchases and leases will be modified to ensure they result in lower emissions, he said.
"We just need to make sure we make the right investment choices to lower our emissions level," he said.
Sutley said the White House was leaving it up to each of the 35 agencies to publicize their individual emissions reduction targets. Agencies proposed a wide range of targets that reflect their various sizes, a White House spokesperson said. Defense represents a relatively large percentage of the total reduction, since the department generates more emissions from its activities than any other.
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., who held a hearing earlier this week on the administration's green government efforts, called the targets "aggressive, but realistic."
Agencies already are taking actions that will contribute toward them meeting their targets, such as installing solar arrays, tapping landfills for renewable energy and replacing older vehicles with fuel-efficient hybrid models, Sutley said.
The targets announced today reflect emissions generated by buildings and vehicles owned by the government and by purchased electricity, which are known as Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions. Indirect emissions from such activities as employees commuting to and from work, business travel and the production of goods and services purchased by federal agencies are classified as Scope 3 emissions. Agencies in June will propose targets for reducing those emissions.