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Green gov mandates threatened by budget cuts

Nov. 6, 2011 - 06:00AM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments
Workers install solar panels on Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif. Budget cuts are scuttling agency efforts to meet green government mandates, such as using more renewable energy and producing fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
Workers install solar panels on Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif. Budget cuts are scuttling agency efforts to meet green government mandates, such as using more renewable energy and producing fewer greenhouse gas emissions. (Air Force)

Budget cuts are scuttling agency efforts to meet green government mandates, such as using more renewable energy and producing fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

Many agencies including the Justice, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services departments said funding shortfalls prevented them from meeting one recent goal: making 7 percent of their buildings "green" by December 2011.

To be considered green, a newly constructed building must use 30 percent less energy than a typical building of the same size. Renovated buildings must use 20 percent less energy. Also, they must meet specific standards for water efficiency, recycling, indoor air quality and low-emission paints and sealants, among other things. By October 2015, agencies must double that, so 15 percent of their buildings are green.

DHS said in its newly released sustainability report that it will not be able to meet the 7 percent green building mandate for another year or two and then only if it receives full funding for its planned headquarters complex in Southeast Washington.

Congress has yet to approve funding for the project potentially delaying the relocation of 14,000 DHS employees.

Annual sustainability reports for all agencies were released last week.

Justice said it is unlikely it will meet the 7 percent green building mandate anytime soon. To meet it, the department must make major retrofits to thousands of its buildings by the end of the calendar year.

"Adequate funding is not currently available to upgrade so many buildings in the short term," the agency said in its report.

Health and Human Services said it lacks enough funds to renovate a large inventory of historic properties and laboratories.

The Defense Department said "constrained funding" is forcing it to make more choices on which facilities to prioritize for renovation runways, for example, will be higher priority than a warehouse. In addition, DoD's backlog of needed facility maintenance threatens its ability to meet sustainability goals.

The Transportation Department said it needs more employees and funding to achieve most of its green government goals, most of which are outlined in a 2009 executive order.

Another recent mandate agencies were supposed to meet was to reduce water consumption by 8 percent by Oct. 1. HHS reduced water use by only 0.5 percent.

Rebecca Ranich, co-lead of the federal government energy management and sustainability initiative at Deloitte Consulting LLP, said agencies have made significant progress in measuring their energy use and meeting initial goals but will need to spend funds on the programs with the best return on investment.

"The money is not readily available right now because of the budget challenges we are facing," Ranich said.

Dan Jackson, senior consultant for sustainability solutions at LMI, a nonprofit organization that helped develop federal greenhouse gas reporting protocols, said agencies will have to deal with tighter budgets for the foreseeable future. That's a problem since agencies need funds just to develop accurate energy and greenhouse gas baselines.

A few agencies will be able to meet the mandate. The General Services Administration and the Agriculture Department both said in their reports that they plan to make 15 percent of their buildings "green" by fiscal 2015.

GSA received $5.5 billion from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act in 2009 to put toward more than 256 construction and renovation projects with a goal to make its building portfolio more energy efficient.

The 2009 executive order also set specific targets for reducing direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. The White House pledged that the government overall will reduce direct emissions such as those generated by federal cars and buildings by 28 percent below 2008 levels. Indirect emissions such as those caused by employee business travel and commuting to work must be cut 13 percent.

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