December 5, 2013

Obama orders agencies to increase renewable energy use

By Kathleen Hennessey | December 5, 2013 |

President Obama has ordered federal agencies to more than double their renewable energy use over the next seven years, part of his ongoing attempt to find ways to cut carbon emissions without cooperation from Congress.

In a presidential memorandum released Thursday, Obama challenged agencies to get 20% of their energy from renewable sources by fiscal year 2020. The memorandum instructed agencies to try to meet that goal by increasing the use of wind, solar, geothermal and other energy sources to the extent that is “economically feasible and technically practicable.”

The new target is an incremental step toward achieving a previous green energy goal. The White House said it would help agencies achieve a 28% cut in greenhouse emissions by 2020, a benchmark Obama set in 2010. Agencies already have reduced their annual greenhouse gas emissions by more than 15% since Obama took office, the White House said. The Department of Defense, the largest single consumer of fossil fuels in the United States, already has set a 25% target for renewable fuels by 2025.

The memorandum was part of a broad climate change plan Obama released this summer. That document included several executive initiatives, including new regulations for existing power plants that the president said would significantly cut U.S. greenhouse gas output by the end of the decade.

But the document also reflected how limited Obama’s options are for making good on his campaign promises to address climate change.

Many climate scientists and economists contend that Congress would need to pass a carbon tax or emissions trading law to make a real dent in the country’s emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. With little appetite for such measures in the Republican-led House, Obama has had to tackle the root causes of climate change in a piecemeal fashion.

The most high-profile effort has been the Environment Protection Agency’s rule to curtail greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants, and the agency is expected to propose a rule for existing plants in June 2014. Obama has also pledged to halt American financing of the construction of new coal-fired power plants overseas, a stance since adopted in Britain and Scandinavia.

The new renewables target was welcomed by environmental groups. Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, called it “an important step toward doubling down on a clean energy industry.”

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