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Obama uses L.A. program as a model for going green

The president orders federal agencies to set high goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cut energy use, save water and recycle more.

October 06, 2009|Jim Tankersley

WASHINGTON — Urging the government to "lead by example," President Obama ordered federal agencies on Monday to set ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cut energy use, save water and recycle more.

The order calls for a 30% cut in vehicle fuel use by 2020, a 50% increase in recycling by 2015 and the implementation of high-efficiency building codes.

It also instructs agencies to set goals within 90 days to reduce the heat-trapping gases scientists blame for global warming.

The measures echo a Los Angeles sustainability program launched under the direction of then-Deputy Mayor Nancy Sutley, who now heads the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

The federal government, which operates 600,000 fleet vehicles, occupies 500,000 buildings and employs 1.8 million workers in civilian jobs, is the nation's largest energy user.

White House officials said the initiative, which is detailed in an executive order and does not require congressional approval, would yield significant energy and environmental benefits and -- because of Washington's huge role as a consumer -- encourage savings throughout the economy.

"The power to do very simple things to conserve energy will do dramatic things to save money," Sutley said in an interview. "By setting aggressive standards, the federal government helps to move the market."

No cost estimates were provided, but officials said initial expenses -- mainly to make buildings more energy-efficient -- would be largely covered by the federal stimulus program.

The long-term goal is for the program to pay for itself.

Once agencies set goals and the council approves them, the Office of Management and Budget will publish a "scorecard" of how the agencies are faring.

Sutley said the initiative builds on the experience of Green LA, a 2007 program to reduce Los Angeles' greenhouse gas emissions by 35% by 2030. That program includes measures such as strict efficiency standards in building codes and drawing power from renewable-energy sources.

Romel Pascual, L.A.'s environment director, called Obama's order "quite impressive" and said it incorporated much of the Green LA initiative, which he said is on track to meet its goals.

"We're certainly ready to be an example" for the nation, Pascual said.

Environmental groups say Green LA, despite some struggles, is a good model for a comprehensive federal plan.

The city has succeeded in adopting a more efficient vehicle fleet, conserving water and cleaning up its port, said David Pettit, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Santa Monica.

But it has found it more difficult to increase tree planting and move away from energy derived from coal.

V. John White, director of the California-based Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies, said Obama's push could enjoy greater success based on scale alone.

"Clearly, the federal government could do a lot in terms of new, green construction of federal buildings," he said. "It really helps to have a clear mandate."

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jtankersley@latimes.com

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