President Biden issued an executive order Wednesday afternoon that would reduce the federal government’s greenhouse gas emissions within the next decade and reach net-zero federal emissions by 2050. The term “net zero” means that any pollution contributing to climate change would be offset with equal measures to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, such as planting trees.
“The Federal Government faces broad exposure to the mounting risks and costs already posed by the climate crisis,” Biden states in the order. “As the single largest land owner, energy consumer, and employer in the Nation, the Federal Government can catalyze private sector investment and expand the economy and American industry by transforming how we build, buy, and manage electricity, vehicles, buildings, and other operations to be clean and sustainable.”
The executive order’s most important components are the standards for reducing emissions from electricity generation, buildings, and transportation.
The order requires that the government use 100 percent net zero electricity by 2030. This includes 50 percent of electricity produced from completely carbon-free sources like solar and wind. Federal buildings would be required to reduce their carbon emissions by half by 2032, and reach net-zero by the year 2045.
“The actions and investment required to achieve these goals will protect the environment, drive innovation, spur private sector investment, improve public infrastructure, and create new economic opportunity,” the order claims.
The federal government would also shift to 100 percent zero emission vehicle acquisitions by 2030, and 100 percent zero emission light-duty vehicle purchases by 2027. The reason for these two different timelines is because some specialized vehicles used in military and agency like the U.S. Forest Service might not be available in fully-electric models within the next six years.
Other provisions in the order include the reestablishment or creation of an office of a federal chief sustainable officer and the formation of a Buy Clean Task Force.
Biden has previously committed to achieving net-zero emissions for the entire nation, including the private sector, by 2050 and the carbon-pollution-free electricity sector by 2035. This order only outlines a small portion of the policies necessary to fulfill that pledge. The White House argues in the executive order that the federal government will “lead by example” and that its buying power will expand the market and reduce the cost of clean energy technologies.
“Administration officials said the size of the federal fleet alone — which includes some 645,000 vehicles — could lower the cost of electric vehicles, batteries and other technology,” reported the Washington Post, which was provided exclusive advance notice of the announcement.
The logistical challenges of the building emission reduction initiative will be difficult. Nearly one-third of U.S. greenhouse gases emissions are caused by heating and cooling buildings. The federal government has around 300,000.
The White House Council on Environmental Quality would need to develop performance standards and guidelines for federal buildings. Then each one’s carbon footprint would be evaluated and everything from office buildings to military bases and park ranger stations would be retrofitted to improve insulation, sealing leaks and so on. Some buildings could produce their own energy, such as rooftop solar panels.
Biden’s effort to reduce federal emissions is not the first, and its long-term implementation would have to be made by future administrations. Then-President Barack Obama signed an executive order in 2015 to cut the federal government’s carbon emissions by 40 percent over 10 years. Three years later, the order was rescinded by Donald Trump.
The president took a rhetorical swipe at Trump’s move in the executive order, writing that it will “reestablish the Federal Government as a leader in sustainability.”