White House to publish agency plans for cutting emissions

In August the Obama administration will publish online agencies' strategies for complying with an October 2009 presidential directive to reduce energy consumption and cut greenhouse gas emissions, a White House official said on Tuesday.

More than 50 plans -- submitted in June -- are tailored to agencies' individual capabilities and needs and include custom targets for cutting emissions of heat-trapping gases. But collectively, they will help the government meet goals outlined in Executive Order 13514, which requires the federal government to reduce greenhouse emissions from direct sources by 28 percent during the next decade, using 2008 consumption as a baseline.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality plans to find tools that will help interested parties sort through and analyze the often dense strategies once they are posted, said Michelle Moore, federal environmental executive, during a leadership breakfast in Washington hosted by Government Executive. The Obama administration also is encouraging agency officials to share ideas and get engaged in the initiative through online forums and the first-ever GreenGov symposium in October, Moore said.

Agency officials have noted establishing a baseline to measure progress will be tricky. But Moore said the Council on Environmental Quality has provided guidance such as spreadsheet tools to help officials calculate indirect emissions from travel and commuting -- the subject of a separate White House directive last week that asked agencies to cut such emissions by 13 percent during the next decade.

"With any process like this, you have to begin somewhere," Moore said. "And we've got … men and women who are part of the federal government, you know, who have not come to the topic of sustainability or energy or greenhouse gases just in the past three years since Madonna started gracing the cover of Vanity Fair on these topics every once in a while, but men and women who have been involved in these issues for 20 or 30 years."

Defense officials said making consistent year-to-year comparisons will be especially challenging given troop drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan, increases in end strength in the Army and Marine Corps, and implementation of base realignment and closure plans. Troop withdrawals and end-strength increases will mean once empty facilities in the United States will be populated again and use more energy, while BRAC could mean the Pentagon is operating three facilities simultaneously as it moves people from old facilities to interim locations to newly constructed buildings.

Despite this challenge, along with difficulties related to collecting data, financial and acquisition systems and the timing of the budget process, Pentagon officials appeared optimistic about making progress on emissions. Shannon Cunniff, director for chemical and material risk management at the Office of the Deputy Undersecretary for Installations and Environment, said to win support for the effort, Defense must articulate how environmental goals relate to its mission.

"As we approached this plan [to respond to Executive Order 13514], it was all about the mission," she said. "So how do you define a strategic plan that sings to the DoD workforce -- to the soldier, the sailor, the service person, as well as the civilian personnel?"

Joe Sikes, director for facilities energy and director for housing and competitive sourcing at the installations and environment office, said the connection between energy use and mission is growing more apparent. Reducing the United States' reliance on foreign oil, for instance, is an important part of Defense's mission, he said, and accomplishing that goal will help reduce costs. Decreasing Defense facilities' dependence on the national electric grid also is critical, so the facilities could keep operating if a natural disaster or attack shut down the grid, he noted.

"The real thing to do here is make sure that everybody understands why getting more energy-efficient is going to allow us to do our mission better," Sikes said. "And I think as a whole, the department really understands that."

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