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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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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