White House's Sutley sees new greener mindset

Thursday - 10/7/2010, 7:09am EDT

WFED's Jason Miller with Nancy Sutley, chair, White House Council on Environmental Quality

Click below to hear the interview

Download mp3

By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

Agencies now can get to work measuring the greenhouse gas emissions of the more than 500,000 federally owned and leased buildings across the country over the next three-and-a-half months.

The White House Wednesday issued guidance giving agencies specific steps to take to develop this GHG baseline on buildings, transportation, acquisition and several other areas.

"To achieve the goal we need to know what we are doing now and to show improvement so it's important to develop this tool for agencies to use so they can measure and report their greenhouse gas emissions," said Nancy Sutley chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality in an interview with Federal News Radio Wednesday at the GreenGov Symposium in Washington. "This builds on good work done outside the government and also things the federal government has learned about how you measure greenhouse gas emissions."

President Obama set a Jan. 31, 2011 deadline for the first report to create a baseline in his October 2009 Executive Order. The President set a governmentwide goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 28 percent by 2020.

Sutley said the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) has estimated what the government's emissions are, but to meet the 2020 goal, it needs a much better figure.

"This tool will help us get a more accurate reading and also look agency-by-agency so agencies can figure out where the best opportunities for them to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions are," she said. "There are a lot of different ways people have thought to measure greenhouse gas emissions protocol, but there are some things about the federal government and the way the federal government operates that are pretty specific to the federal government. So we thought it was important to build on work that has already been done but to tailor it for the federal government."

The guidance details the operational boundaries for scopes 1, 2 and 3 under the Oct. 5, 2009 Executive Order calling for the government to be more energy efficient.

"Section 2 of E.O. 13514 describes the requirement for agencies to conduct and submit comprehensive inventories of GHG emissions (reporting), as well as the requirement to develop agency-wide targets for emissions reductions (reduction)," the guidance states. "These are two separate and discrete tasks. An inventory is an evolving assessment of emissions and sinks that improves over time as we gain more complete understanding of the methods, underlying processes, and activities taking place."

The guidance states there are two ways to develop a single inventory-centralized or decentralized-and provides calculation and reporting methodologies for both.

"Regardless of the approach used to develop a GHG inventory, the data must be aggregated to the agency level for reporting," the directive states. "Federal agencies will improve and update data associated with their GHG inventory baselines over time as the federal community continuously improves its ability to identify and account for these emissions. The data required to develop an agencywide inventory will likely be drawn from multiple levels throughout an agency's organizational structure."

CEQ will create a Federal GHG Accounting Workgroup this year to serve as a central place to share best practices, develop accounting and reporting recommendations, create technical guidance and tools and address inconsistencies in the current data collection processes. The workgroup also will provide recommendations to update the guidance for 2011.

Additionally, CEQ will try to make it easier for agencies to report their baseline inventories. The Energy Department's Federal Energy Management Program will create an online GHG reporting portal. The software will automatically calculate emissions in an effort to limit burdens on agency reporting.

Sutley said the challenge most agencies will face is how to measure GHG based on their missions. But she said agencies are motivated to measure and reduce their emissions.

Sutley said a year into the effort under the Executive Order agencies have shifted in their thinking. She said agencies understand how energy efficiency is a big part of their mission, whether it's the Defense Department, the environmental Protection Agency or the National Archives and Records Administration.

Several agencies already are making progress. Agriculture Department Secretary Tom Vilsack said his agency is making significant progress in reducing its energy footprint.

He said the agency has reduced its energy intensity by 22 percent, procures 5 percent of its energy from renewable resources and seen a 21 percent reduction in use of water.

"We see there is an opportunity at USDA to promote, not just in USDA but across the government the need for us to focus on biobased product purchasing," Vilsack said. "We have a biopreferred program. We are charged with the responsibility of encouraging folks to look for ways in which to utilize biopreferred products. Today we have sanctioned 4,500 different individual items that can be purchased by federal agencies that are biobased."

USDA also is working on the final rule to let producers voluntarily label items that are biobased.

Sutley said the White House also is taking specific steps to reduce its GHG emissions, including having a bikeshare station on the grounds of the White House.

She added that CEQ also has put LED lights outside to help cut down on the energy usage. The White House installed LED lights in the press room and the cafeteria is using plates, cups and silverware that are made from recycled materials.

"For the White House, you see employees asking and coming up with ideas for how we can run the complex in a greener way," Sutley said.

In addition to these two initiatives, the White House announced Tuesday it was putting solar electricity panels and a solar hot water heater on the roof of the residence.

"We've been working on this for a long time," Sutley said. "I think it shouldn't come to a surprise that doing something on the actual White House is complicated and certainly it's a historic building, it is a building with tremendous security needs and it's a very visible symbol of our nation so it takes a lot and a lot of people working together."

(Copyright 2010 by FederalNewsRadio.com. All Rights Reserved.)