Obama Signs Executive Order to Cut Government Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 40 Percent
The federal government contributes only modestly to the U.S.'s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But hoping to spur others into action, President Obama announced today that he will issue an executive order that will cut the federal government's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 40 percent by 2025, including across its entire supply chain.
"As part of his commitment to lead by example to curb the emissions that are driving climate change, today President Obama will issue an executive order that will cut the federal government’s greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent over the next decade from 2008 levels—saving taxpayers up to $18 billion in avoided energy costs—and increase the share of electricity the Federal Government consumes from renewable sources to 30 percent," said a White House statement. "Complementing this effort, several major federal suppliers are announcing commitments to cut their own GHG emissions."
The new actions and commitments are expected to reduce GHG emissions by 26 million metric tons from 2008 levels by 2025. The administration is also releasing its Federal Supplier Greenhouse Gas Management Scorecard where the public can track GHG emissions for all major federal suppliers and their progress in reducing them. Together, these suppliers receive more than 40 percent of all federal contract dollars, more than $187 billion dollars, with Lockheed Martin, which already has and discloses emissions targets, leading the list at more than $32 billion.
The government itself spends more than $445 billion on goods and services, making the impact of this executive order even greater.
"The President’s action today will build on the federal government’s significant progress in reducing emissions to drive further sustainability actions through the next decade," according to the White House statement. "In addition to cutting emissions and increasing the use of renewable energy, the Executive Order outlines a number of additional measures to make the Federal Government’s operations more sustainable, efficient and energy-secure while saving taxpayer dollars."
Those measures include making sure that 25 percent of their energy comes from renewable sources by 2025, reducing energy use in federal buildings by 2.5 percent a year and reducing water intensity in federal buildings by 2 percent a year in the next decade, and reducing per-mil GHG emissions from federal vehicle fleets by 30 percent by 2015, including increasing the percentage of zero-emission and plug-in hybrid vehicles.
“Earthjustice applauds President Obama for issuing an Executive Order today that aims to make a significant cut in carbon pollution—the pollution responsible for climate change—from the government sector," said Abigail Dillen, Earthjustice’s vice president of litigation for Climate & Energy. "The President recognizes that the federal government can lead the way in expanding our use of clean, renewable energy, a key step on the path to end our nation’s unnecessary dependence on fossil fuels that harm our health and the environment.”
The administration also hosted a roundtable today to bring together some large government suppliers to talk about their GHG reduction targets or make public their first-ever commitments to such targets. The White House release a detailed fact sheet explaining the actions they intend to take.
The companies participating in today's roundtable include IBM, GE, Honeywell, SRA International, Humana, CSC, AECOM, Northrup Gruman and Batelle, among others. All revealed their GHG emissions reduction targets and other sustainability goals. IBM, for instance, announced two new goals. The company said it would reduce carbon emissions from its energy use by 30 percent over 2005 levels by the end of 2020, a reduction of 20 percent over its previous goal. And it said that it would get 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020 and that these will be purchases directly matched to its operations, not offsets. Other companies announced similar goals.
Though the President's executive order is a step in the right direction, Greenpeace points out that a policy banning coal, oil and gas extraction on public lands would have an even bigger impact on the climate crisis.
“It’s good to see President Obama call for more renewable energy to reduce carbon pollution from the federal government’s operations, but his administration needs to get serious about the federal government’s much bigger carbon problem—fueling the climate crisis by giving away our coal, oil and gas from federal lands and waters," said Greenpeace climate and energy campaign director Kelly Mitchell.
"President Obama and Interior Secretary Jewell can take immediate steps that would have a real impact: rejecting Shell’s plans to drill for oil in the Arctic and putting a moratorium on the sale of federal coal. We also need a comprehensive plan to address the broader problems of federal fossil fuels and climate change, but our land, water, and climate are threatened by fossil fuel companies and outdated federal rules right now, and these are two immediate steps the Obama administration could take.”
Earlier this week, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell delivered a speech calling for “an honest and open conversation” about the federal coal program and climate change. According to a Greenpeace report, last year the federal coal program leased 2.2 billion tons of taxpayer-owned coal during the Obama administration, unlocking 3.9 billion metric tons of carbon pollution. The report also found that the average price per ton for those coal leases was only $1.03, while each ton will cause damages estimated at between $22 and $237, using the federal government’s social cost of carbon estimates.
A new report today from the Center for American Progress and the Wilderness Society provides new data, including that, “Federal lands and waters could have accounted for 24 percent of all energy-related GHG emissions in the United States in 2012.”
Last June, President Obama and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency unveiled their historic Clean Power Plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power plants—the country's largest source of GHG emissions—cutting carbon emissions by 30 percent over 2005 levels by 2025.
Obama said then, "Right now, there are no national limits to the amount of carbon pollution that existing plants can pump into the air we breathe—none. We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury, sulfur and arsenic that power plants put in our air and water. But they can dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air."
His announcement today of the government's own actions demonstrates the importance of such goals, a rebuke to the dozen states suing the federal government claiming that the Clean Power Plan is illegal and a burden to the states.
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From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
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