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Obama orders upgrades to energy efficiency of federal buildings

President Clinton will lead similar effort to invest in improving private sector facilities.

President Obama on Friday issued a presidential memorandum implementing a $2 billion plan to upgrade federal buildings for energy efficiency. The move follows the administration's earlier jobs push and Obama's more recent efforts to draw attention to the jobs bills stalled in Congress.

"Upgrading the energy efficiency of America's buildings is one of the fastest, easiest, and cheapest ways to save money, cut down on harmful pollution, and create good jobs right now," Obama said in prepared remarks. "But we can't wait for Congress to act. So today, I'm directing all federal agencies to make at least $2 billion worth of energy efficiency upgrades over the next two years-- at no up-front cost to the taxpayer. Coupled with today's extraordinary private sector commitments of $2 billion to upgrade businesses, factories, and military housing, America is taking another big step towards the competitive, clean energy economy it will take to win the future."

During a Thursday conference call with reporters, White House National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling said former President Clinton, who last February was tapped to coordinate the administration's private-sector job creation effort, would join Obama, with support from Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue and others, to announce a paired $2 billion effort in the private sector to modernize commercial and industrial properties to save on energy costs.

Within the government, the $2 billion program will use contractors to upgrade federal properties, and will be paid for through savings in energy costs, according to Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients. On Feb. 3, Obama issued an executive order and announced "The Better Buildings Initiative," on which Friday's move builds.

"It's a win-win-win," said Sperling, noting the plan will promote energy efficiency, create jobs and pay for itself. "It's a game-changer for the cause of energy-efficient buildings across the U.S." The number of jobs created will be in the tens of thousands, Sperling said, though he was reluctant to compete with estimates from academia he said are coming.

The private sector effort, backed by 60 mayors, university chiefs and labor leaders will bring commitments to upgrade 300 manufacturing plants encompassing 1.6 billion square feet of commercial property in industrial, municipal, hospital, university, community college and school settings. The commitment is to upgrade energy performance by a minimum of 20 percent by 2020.

"Investments in building retrofits and energy efficiency can make a real difference in the American economy, by creating jobs, growing our industries, improving businesses' bottom lines, reducing our energy bills and consumption, and preserving our planet for future generations," Clinton said. "I am proud the Clinton Foundation has been able to help develop and grow President Obama's Better Buildings Challenge."

The government effort will tap the expertise of private energy-saving contractors whose progress will be tracked with "transparency" on government websites. Zients cited as a model the replacement of aging heating and cooling equipment at Charleston Air Force base, which he said was fully paid for through energy savings, and now saves $2.6 million annually.

Under the memorandum, agencies have until Jan. 31, 2012, to report their planned implementation schedule described by guidance from the Energy Department's Federal Energy Management Program, the Office of Management and Budget and the Council on Environmental Quality.