One Year After Executive Order on Efficiency, White House Roadmap Takes us in Wrong Direction
In April, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued implementation guidance to carry out Executive Order 13834, a White House directive that, in theory, is aimed at improving the energy efficiency of federal operations. Unfortunately, particularly when read alongside the president’s egregious proposed budget cuts for the past three years, the documents reveal a continued lack of federal leadership and represent a step backward from efforts under President Obama, President George W. Bush and others to advance the energy efficiency of federal facilities.
Last May, when the White House issued the initial order without the implementation guidance, the Alliance noted a lack of clear planning by the White House and pointed to the removal of firm, forward-looking energy efficiency targets as a troubling sign. The Alliance encouraged the administration to use forthcoming guidance to reinstate targets for agencies, including energy and water intensity of federal buildings, or annual goals for performance contracting.
E.O. 13834 itself offers little in the way of policy. It tells agencies to follow existing law, and it offers a few soft goals: achieve and maintain annual energy and water savings; utilize performance contracting; optimize space; recycle; and shift data centers to the cloud.
CEQ’s implementing instructions don’t go far beyond the order. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 established what were at the time ambitious targets to reduce the energy intensity of federal buildings by 30% by 2015. A few agencies outperformed the targets, but the government-wide average was just 28% by 2018. The new CEQ guidance re-establishes the milestone of 30% without a timeline, essentially extending indefinitely the runway to meet a goal established more than a decade ago that has largely been met already.
The guidance did recommend that agencies utilize comprehensive planning across their portfolio of buildings, but it also tasked agencies with establishing vaguely defined “sustainability targets” annually. Given the challenges in meeting critical agency missions with the inconsistent appropriations process, agencies facing significant budget cuts or funding uncertainty are unlikely to sufficiently invest in high-capital projects and have little incentive to be ambitious lacking a mandate from the White House.
Efficiency Leads from the Front.
Since 1992, energy efficiency has been the first title in every comprehensive federal energy bill, including the Energy Policy Act of 1992, the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which set the energy intensity targets for federal buildings, and the 2007 law, which improved those targets.
Congress has recognized the need for federal leadership. So too have previous administrations. President George W. Bush signed those 2005 and 2007 energy bills, each of which had strong bipartisan support. Agencies under that Bush administration spelled out the need to achieve all cost-effective energy efficiency by 2025:
“Improving energy efficiency in our homes, businesses, schools, governments, and industries…is one of the most constructive, cost-effective ways to address the challenges of high energy prices, energy security and independence, air pollution, and global climate change,” the National Action Plan for Energy Efficiency said.
President Obama, too, led by example by setting a government-wide efficiency goal. In 2011, Obama’s White House also issued a challenge to agencies to issue $2 billion in performance-based contracts to upgrade building efficiency, and in 2014, doubled that target after agencies exceeded the goal. By 2016, agencies had beaten that target as well.
(Image Source: RMI)
Energy efficiency’s multiple benefits make it a critical tool for achieving a host of ambitions, including increased energy security, affordability, reliability, and resilience; reduced energy waste, and utility costs; improved air quality, and public health; avoided land degradation, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions; and economic growth, innovation, and job creation.
Why is it important? It’s important because: of what we know:
- More than 2.35 million workers are employed in energy efficiency.
- Energy efficiency holds the key to unlocking more than 40% of the necessary emissions reductions to meet Paris Accord aspirations.
- The federal government is the number one consumer of energy in the United States, which accounts for 17% of global consumption.
- We are not investing nearly enough.
- Without the impact of energy efficiency, the U.S. would consume 60% more energy than it does today.
We also now know that while we were waiting for the guidance, we started to see bad results trickle in:
- The Energy Information Agency announced that in 2018, the U.S. consumed more energy than at any time in history.
- We learned that in 2018, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions increased by 1.5-2.5%, after falling for three years straight.
- We learned that agency progress on reducing energy intensity had slowed from 5.3% in FY 2016 to just 2% annually in FYs 2017-18.
What is Federal Leadership? It’s Looking Ahead.
The federal government has a duty to “lead by example,” including setting forward-looking targets, as done under previous administrations. As owner of more than 350,000 buildings, the U.S. government has a nearly peerless opportunity to demonstrate leadership. Investment decisions at the federal level can shift or even develop markets. Agencies operating in every U.S. state provide ample proving grounds for development and deployment activities.
Unfortunately, while the Executive Order talks about reducing waste and increasing federal efficiency, the Trump administration has actively tried to eliminate, de-fund, privatize, or otherwise undermine efforts to reduce energy and water waste within the vast complex of federal buildings.
Instead of exhibiting federal leadership on energy efficiency, the U.S. risks becoming energy dormant.