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Biden Order Will Make Federal Operations Carbon-Neutral by 2050

Agencies have just six more years before they must stop buying polluting cars.

President Biden will sign an executive order on Wednesday to drastically change how federal agencies conduct their business, pledging government operations will no longer have a net impact on carbon emissions by 2050. 

The order sets specific deadlines for agencies to meet: by 2030 their net annual electricity use must be free of carbon pollution; by 2035 they must stop purchasing emission vehicles; and by 2045 they must establish net-zero emission buildings. Federal agencies face "broad exposure" to the risks of climate change, the Biden administration said on Wednesday, and should lead by example in mitigating those risks, protecting public health and creating new economic opportunities.

“The executive order will reduce emissions across federal operations, invest in American clean energy industries and manufacturing, and create clean, healthy, and resilient communities,” the White House said on Wednesday. “The president is building on his whole-of-government effort to tackle the climate crisis in a way that creates well-paying jobs, grows industries, and makes the country more economically competitive.”

Each agency will have to set annual targets to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, with the goal of slashing those most directly in their control by 65% by 2030. The Office of Management and Budget will soon issue detailed guidance for setting those goals and agencies will then have 90 days to create them. Agencies will similarly have three months to develop their carbon-free electricity plans, with OMB leading a working group to help craft benchmarks to reach the administration’s targets. 

While agencies have until 2035 to phase out their purchases of all emission vehicles, they will have just six years to do so for all regular cars, trucks and vans, or “light-duty vehicles.” Agencies will again have to submit annual targets, including plans for electric vehicle charging stations, elimination of unnecessary vehicles and conversion of polluting to emission-free vehicles. The governmentwide effort will also have its own working group to oversee progress. 

A $1.9 trillion package of Biden’s social and climate spending priorities that has passed the House includes $3 billion for the General Services Administration to electrify its fleet and $6 billion for the U.S. Postal Service to do so, though the final details of the bill are still being negotiated in the Senate. 

By 2032, agencies will have to cut emissions in all federal buildings, campuses and installations by 50% compared to a 2008 baseline on the path to making them completely net-zero by 2045. Starting next year, the White House outlined in a memorandum accompanying the order, all new, large construction and modernization projects will have to include federal building designs that are net-zero emissions and reduce waste and water usage. Agencies have until 2030 to ensure at least 30% of their current facilities are retrofitted to eliminate emissions, following advice from yet another working group.  

Biden is also directing agencies to leverage their purchasing power, asking the General Services Administration to ensure at least 75% of all the federal government's rented space constitutes "green leases" as defined in previous sustainable federal buildings guidance. Agencies will also have to purchase sustainable products, such as those with the Energy Department's "Star" designations. The order also creates a procurement working group and a "buy clean" task force. 

The Office of Management and Budget and the Council of Environmental Quality will seek to hold agency management accountable for the requirements of the order, scheduling at least annual reviews to ensure compliance. Agencies must identify the training and resources they need to implement their goals. That could include additional staffing and adjusting human capital planning, OMB said, adding agency leaders must adapt performance plans of managers and employees to include the goals of the order. Agencies must tap someone in leadership as a chief sustainability officer to oversee those efforts.